The Hope of Wholeness

For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord. ~ Jeremiah 30:17

I hadn’t seen what I’d call the “real Aaron” for about 2 months.

From the moment he had his cancer surgery in Boise on March 11, Aaron has been, to varying degrees, a shell of himself.

Yesterday I took Aaron to a foot doctor appointment. The nurse who checked him in made mention that on his last visit in 2018 he weighed 153 pounds. Ever since his diagnosis, he’s hovered between 125 and 130 pounds. That’s a lot weight loss.

Beyond the typical struggles of recovering from a serious surgery, Aaron has run the gamut of chemo side effects. He’s literally been impacted from head to toe: dehydration, dizziness, heartburn, various digestive struggles, bone pain, and numb fingers and toes. Overall, he’s been lethargic, weak and easily exhausted.

I’m still resolutely focused on the big goal of eradicating the cancer. But it has been difficult to watch Aaron’s body broken down in so many ways. In fact, because he was dragging so much, his doctor decided to give him a week off of chemo treatment in order for his body to regain some strength.

And, thankfully, due to the respite, Aaron woke up this morning resembling much more the person he was before this crazy journey started. He was bright-eyed and displayed his unique sense of humor. He didn’t need help moving around. He teased the dog. All without one complaint or mention of pain.

Since he’s only about halfway through his chemo treatment, we will very likely go through another season of struggle. But today gave me hope that in about a month we will get to see the “old Aaron” emerge for good.

And as I often do, I couldn’t help but tie a situation like Aaron’s to a bigger issue.

When I think of the big picture story of the Bible, it’s a message of God seeking to bring broken creation back to a place of wholeness and well-being. And part of that fallen creation is us!

As it stands, we are not the people God created us to be. We are broken. That’s because human beings, along with the entire universe, are marred and marked by the effects of sin.

Imagine God’s sadness to know that, although human beings were first created in his image and without fault, we now suffer from the consequences of our fallenness.

Simply put, we are spiritually sick. In fact, the Bible says that we are spiritually dead.

Romans 3:23 puts in like this: “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”

This brokenness shows up in the ways we think, feel and act. Don’t believe humanity is scarred by sin? Just turn on the evening news.

Every human struggles in one way or another. No one is perfect.

Thankfully, humanity is not beyond redemption. There is hope for restoration.

Through Christ, God is actively working to bring us back to what was once humanity’s “normal.”

The Hebrew word that describes God’s goal for us (and all creation) is shalom. It’s a word that describes several aspects of well-being such as completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord

On earth, this work is spread out over our lifetime. Day by day, as we yield ourselves to God’s grace and power, God transforms our hearts, minds and wills to be more conformed to his perfect ways.

And when we leave this planet, we will, in a moment, be completely restored. We will have returned to the original condition God made us to be.

Today I got to see the “old Aaron” emerge from the cloud of surgery and chemo. The sad part is he still has about 4 weeks of chemo to go. And with it, another series of side effects. But when he’s done, I’ll be anxiously waiting for the old Aaron to return for good. I look forward to him having clearer mind, stronger body and lifted spirits. (And a fresh, new head of hair.)

Revelation 21:5 has Jesus offering a powerful promise to a sick, struggling universe: “I am making all things new.”

Because of this declaration, we can be encouraged by the hope of wholeness.

Doing the Hard Work

“I must take care above all that I cultivate communion with Christ, for though that can never be the basis of my peace – mark that – yet it will be the channel of it.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

This spring I noticed my lawn was full of a lot of dead, compressed grass (which is typical after the snow season). The weight of the snow simply smashes everything flat. The result of all this grass flattening is the lawn doesn’t grow as well as it should. Basically, it can’t breathe.

To resolve this issue, I bought a small, electric de-thatcher. Which is amazing! All I have to do is run the machine over the lawn and the de-thatcher pulls up all the dead grass and leaves it in little haystacks all over the top of the grass. It’s amazing how easily the machine works. It’s almost effortless.

But then I have to rake up all the thatch and toss it in the trash. Which is laborious and kind of boring. It takes but minutes to de-thatch the lawn. It takes hours to clean it up.

But, if I don’t do the hard work of cleaning up, I’ll never gain the result I seek: a richer, thicker, greener lawn. I’ll have only moved the dead grass from the bottom of my grass to the top.

Lately, I’ve been bumping into this verse from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14 CSB)

Typically, this verse is attributed to salvation. The idea being that those who pursue Jesus’ pathway toward life will find it leads to heaven. Which I’m on board with. But I wonder if the concept of a harder, more arduous path could also be applied to our ongoing spiritual development as well.

I find the things that really promote deep spiritual growth are usually quite hard for us. And in a lot of cases, the degree of difficulty will determine whether we invest our time and energy in our own Christian maturity.

Things like prayer. Or study. Or slowing down to spend time with God. It could be meaningful service that costs us time, energy or resources. Each of these practices demand a lot from us. And so we may choose other activities that aren’t as strenuous. In essence, we are choosing the wide, easier path that doesn’t demand much of us.

But I believe the depth of our spiritual life is in direct correlation with how much of the hard work we are willing to do. We must foster personal self-discipline in order to complete the harder practices of the Christian life.

Steve Lawson wrote:

“Growth in personal holiness is largely determined by our progress in self-discipline. Without this foundational discipline, there can be no advancement in grace. Before other disciplines can be administered, whether in the home, business, or church, there first must be self-discipline.

De-thatching my lawn was pretty easy. But raking up the dead grass felt like a grind. But unless I removed the dead grass, my lawn wouldn’t look one bit better.

As the saying goes: “Anything that comes too easy probably isn’t worth doing.”

How to Win While Losing

“Losing is only temporary and not encompassing. You must simply study it, learn from it, and try hard not to lose the same way again. Then you must have the self-control to forget about it.” ~ John Wooden

This evening I was doing two things at the same time.

I was watching the Gonzaga-Baylor NCAA title game. And I was polishing up my notes for my Sunday message out of the Sermon on the Mount.

Obviously, with Spokane less than 30 miles from our house, I was pulling for the Zags.

But it was obvious from the get-go that Baylor came out with more energy and greater determination.

(As an excuse for the loss, I’d like to think that Gonzaga burned up all their passion on their win over UCLA two days before.)

On this night, there was no denying that Baylor was the better team.

The Zags were, sadly, the losers.

But then I stuck around long enough to catch the post game interview with Gonzaga coach Mark Few.

And as Few spoke, I found my spirits being lifted.

The more Coach Few talked, the more I could tell he was a man of character and healthy perspective.

-He graciously congratulated Baylor on their victory.

-He spoke of his love for his players and how he sought to encourage them in the face of a loss on national TV.

-He marveled that his team could actually win 31 games in one season, and saw it as a gift to be enjoyed rather than grow bitter because of one loss.

-He told his players that the difficult emotions they were experiencing would pass.

Coach Few didn’t come across crestfallen, but grateful. He displayed an air of peace, joy and humility.

Interesting, so much of the Sermon on the Mount of which I was studying is about living differently than the rest of the world.

-Its a call to make peace rather than fight

-Its the challenge to go the extra mile

-Its the invitation to be people of our word

-Its Jesus summoning us to shine like lights in a dark world

-Its a bid for us live humbly in a world filled with pride

One can’t read Jesus’ sermon without realizing it’s a call to live in contrast to how people typically live.

A lot like how Mark Few displayed himself during the post-game interview.

My hunch was that Coach Mark Few would follow in the footsteps of many other coaches who have confronted loss with anger, frustration, blame or defiance.

But what I saw was more than good sportsmanship. I believe I was witnessing deep character being revealed.

Few offered a fresh perspective that I imagine his players couldn’t help but notice.

And because Coach Few was placed on the national stage, we also got to see the type of man he is: a winner in the face of losing.