02 Jun 2009

You Can’t Compartmentalize the Gospel

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In biology compartmentalization is the formation of cellular compartments, like the nucleus, intercisternal space, and cytosol. In computer science compartmentalization is taking abstract behavior and narrowing it down into containers of data classified according to structure. In engineering compartmentalization is the technique of separating two or more parts of a system in order to prevent malfunctions. In firefighting compartmentalization is confining smoke or fire to a single or multiple rooms for the purpose of limiting its spreading. In Psychology compartmentalization is a symptom or skill of a person who can split their personality into two different consciousnesses.

In each one of these disciplines we discover that compartmentalization has to do with identifying one particular function and confining it’s relevant boundaries. That sort of sounds mumbo jumbo, but what I’m getting at is that very few things effect everything. Most things only effect a few things and can be properly seen as having a very individual and unique function. The gospel is something different because it effects all of life.


It’s one of the reasons Christianity is not a religion, because it can’t be categorized or compartmentalized into being just one thing. The gospel effects the way you think and feel and pursue everything…relationships, money, spirituality, family, work, leisure, and time.

We like things we can compartmentalize because then we can control them. If I can put something in its place, into a compartment, there is a limit to how much it can speak into or influence various areas of my life I may not want it to effect.

For example, your job fits into the compartment of work. Sure when I’m there I may have to dress a certain way, act a certain way, and respond to certain people a certain way…or I might get fired. But my job is only allowed to have a say when I am on the clock, during work hours. When I go home my boss has no say into how I dress or act in my own home. My job is not allowed to influence or effect other facets of my life.

The gospel is the opposite. There are no facets of our lives the gospel does not address and speak into. Recently I took two weeks off of preaching. One for my 8 year wedding anniversary and one to support and care for my wife who just ran her first marathon, 26 miles. The next morning after the marathon my wife’s legs could barely function, much less make us all breakfast…but I can’t cook anything except microwave popcorn, so I took our family out to breakfast for bagels.

A nice cinnamon sugar bagel sounded real good. I told the guy at the register twice I wanted it toasted with the honey almond cream cheese. But when our order came up both my wife and daughter’s bagel was toasted with the cream cheese already spread…but mine, it was cold and the cream cheese was on the side in a little cup. I was annoyed. I took my bagel to our seat, held it in my hand so I could spread on the cream cheese and ended up getting sugar and cinnamon all over the palm of my hand. My annoyance level began to seriously rise. I got up, went to the soda machine, washed my hand off in water, dried it with some napkins and threw them on the table in frustration.

My wife lovingly looked at me smiling and very softly said to me, “Duane, do you need the gospel right now?” At first I was put off…What did the gospel have to do with my bagel? But then I stopped and took in her question. It was piercing, right to the heart. As I began to process my heart with her, I realized the gospel I was believing in right then was that my happiness and joy comes from everybody performing correctly all the time. The gospel I was teaching her and my daughter is that life is only good when I get what I want the way I want it. My god-complex, me wanting to be god, was at work again.

What I needed in that moment was exactly what my wife gave me. She said something to the effect that I wasn’t really upset about the bagel but that for some reason I had put a lot of stock in that bagel as the goal of my life that morning for my peace and enjoyment…but she said only Jesus can provide that because he died for people who don’t listen well and mess up things like bagels, people like me. I didn’t have a leg left to stand on. In that moment I realized and remembered that the greatest sense of security and joy I can ever experience comes from believing Jesus came and died for me, me, who’s desire to be my own God is far worse than a dude messing up a bagel order.

The gospel is unique because it addresses the heart. It addresses our motivations and reactions. There is nothing off limits. Once we turn to Jesus and find ourselves putting trust in him, we will increasingly find many places and ways where we need his work to work in us. You can’t put the gospel in a box and make it stay in one place, it just doesn’t work like that. It will come in from the outside when you least expect it and challenge you to lay down your arms and embrace the provision of the savior. Even when you’re trying to eat a bagel.

Where or how is the gospel working in you these days? What idols, motivations, identities and hopes is it addressing? Rather than protect ourselves and assume we’ve got the gospel and are good to go, we need to stop thinking we can compartmentalize the gospel as an accomplished project now neatly tucked away in our suitcase for heaven. The gospel is here and now…alive and at work…increasingly bringing out more and more stuff so we can be more and more and more like Jesus.

Jesus, would your gospel have its free reign in me and in your people.
- Pastor Duane

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