As I’m sitting here this cool spring morning in my office, I’m a little numb to the fact that only three mornings ago I woke up in the desert of Puerto Penasco, Mexico, where last week our group of almost 50 intrepid nomadic carpenters spent a HOT week building a couple of houses over Spring Break. (We actually spent four days travelling, and three days building.) But it’s always a blur looking back, and it’s always amazing to me that over the span of three days two entire houses can be built from scratch. Here in the states you can spend three days on hold just trying to find a human who can answer a question about your cell phone bill!
I’ve done this 19 times now, but the whole process is still thrilling to me! This house-building “miracle” we participate in every spring is truly a “something from nothing” story–but can you imagine how much more amazing it must be to be the recipients of the house? When we roll up on day one, typically all that’s there is maybe an ancient trailer, or a dilapidated shanty tacked together from scavenged pallets, tin, a few boards and some tar paper. (This year’s recipients already had very small homes, but very large, growing families…they needed more space!!) By our standards the best of these houses are rather pitiful and forlorn—but it’s the product of what they can do by themselves. Nearby we find the staked-out footprint of the 242 square-foot house we’ll build for them. Only a footprint. No foundation, no walls, no roof, no house—nothing but a huge pile of sand and gravel, 30 sacks of cement, a stack of lumber and a couple boxes of nails. These are raw—very raw—materials, to which we will add buckets of sweat.
To the persons living in that shanty, what we are about to accomplish in 3 days is, in most senses of the word, impossible—personally, practically, physically. While I have no doubt the resourceful people of Mexico would certainly be able to build a house themselves, the folks we build for could never imagine ever being able to afford it. So to them, it must seem a miracle. Not about their merit, but about their need. Not about their effort, but about being chosen. Not about repayment or debt—completely about acceptance and gratitude. We drive up to a shanty and some bare ground and that carefully-guarded precious pile of materials that have also miraculously appeared in the last day or two, then three days later we leave behind a small but sturdy house with a door, windows, foundation and roof. And some very happy homeowners!
Now hang with me, as I’m changing lanes. The Christian life is really the same story. We start with our own old nothing and end up with a new everything that is amazing and priceless and incredible—far beyond even what we might ever have imagined. We’re found spiritually, just as we are, living in the “dilapidated shanty” of our own best efforts, a life that is the cobbled-together cumulative pitiful mess of our own making—our own resourcefulness, wisdom, self-effort and strength, built on a foundation also as flawed and inadequate as its builders. The “pallets and tar-paper” of our own do-it-yourself domains are obvious: pride, greed, lust, anger, fear, ignorance—the list of human building materials could go on and on—these are the best we can do by ourselves.
And then something incredible and impossible happens. Against the backdrop of our abject and pitiful poverty, we learn that we’ve been chosen for a “new house”—a new and better and brighter and richer existence than we might have hoped for—but this comes to us in an unexpected way. It’s not about our merit, it’s about our need; it’s not about our effort, but about being chosen; nor is it about something we could repay as a debt, but completely about our acceptance and gratitude. Paul explains it this way in Ephesians 1:4 ff—“…he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and his will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us…” It’s about grace, purely and simply. It’s about the pleasure of our Father. It’s all His sweat, all His equity, all of His blood. And none of our own—because all of ours would never be even more than a miniscule fragment of enough. His is just that. Enough!
A couple thousand years ago something else truly amazing happened in only three days: a man was killed and buried on a Friday and then on Sunday He walked out of the grave alive. It seemed impossible, too good to be true—but it was true. And it is in fact because of that very truth of all truths that we are able to step from the old house we’ve built ourselves into the new one provided for us entirely by the grace of God. In the words of Watchman Nee, “Our old history ends with the cross; our new history begins with the resurrection.” As we move toward the blessed season of Easter, I hope you’ll spend some time considering the “house Jesus built” for you, and allow yourself to marvel and be amazed in the simple fact that you were chosen even before the foundations of the world were laid. And as you think about His power over all creation, including you, think about what can happen in three days.