Archive | July 2018

Blood Donation

blood donation

I have been donating blood for decades (and donating platelets more recently).  I don’t do it for the free T-shirts they give away.  I don’t do it for the enjoyment of having a needle inserted in my arm.  I don’t do it because I enjoy having my energy depleted.  And I don’t do it because I have nothing else to do with my time.  I do it only because I believe that donated blood can help another person (indeed I know people whose lives have been saved because of donated blood).

In a book Dr. Paul Brand wrote with Philip Yancey, Brand describes a way in which his own family benefited from donated blood.  He writes,

“Some years ago an epidemic of measles struck Vellore and one of my daughters had a severe attack.  We knew she would recover, but our other infant daughter, Estelle, was dangerously vulnerable because of her age.  When the pediatrician explained our need for convalescent serum, word went around Vellore that the Brands needed the ‘blood of an overcomer.’  We did not actually use those words, but we called for someone who had contracted measles and had overcome it.  Serum from such a person would protect our little girl.

“It was no use finding somebody who had conquered chicken pox or had recovered from a broken leg.  Such people, albeit healthy, could not give the specific help we needed to overcome measles.  We needed someone who had experienced measles and had defeated that disease.  We located such a person, withdrew some of his blood, let the cells settle out, and injected the convalescent serum.  Equipped with ‘borrowed’ antibodies, our daughter fought off the disease successfully.  The serum gave her body enough time to manufacture her own antibodies.  She overcame measles not by her own resistance or vitality, but as a result of a battle that had taken place previously within someone else.

“There is a sense in which a person’s blood becomes more valuable and potent as that person prevails in numerous battles with outside invaders.  After antibodies have locked away the secret of defeating each disease, a second infection of the same type will normally do no harm.” (In His Image, p. 94-95)

Interestingly, when Jesus ate the Passover meal just before His death, He also spoke of the power of “donated” blood.  He gave to His disciples a cup of wine and said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Jesus did not pour out His blood for us upon the cross to get a free T-shirt.  Nor did He do it because He enjoyed having nails driven into His hands and feet.  He gave up His blood for one reason: To save our lives.

By taking upon Himself our sin, our guilt, our struggles, and even our death, then by rising from the dead, Jesus’ blood became the “blood of an overcomer.”  By “donating” His blood to us, our lives can be saved.

When we take the cup of communion, we admit that we need the blood of an overcomer, and we declare that we put our hope and our trust in the blood Jesus poured out for us.  As Dr. Paul Brand adds, “Today, when we partake of Communion wine, it is as though our Lord is saying to us, This is My blood, which has been strengthened and prepared for you.  This is My life which was lived for you and can now be shared by you.  I was tired, frustrated, tempted, abandoned; tomorrow you may feel tired, frustrated, tempted or abandoned.  When you do, you may use My strength and share My spirit.  I have overcome the world for you.”

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Authenticity

Image result for picture of my grandfather's blessings

I am deeply moved and challenged by a quote by Rachel Naomi Remen in her book My Grandfather’s Blessings: “When we do not live coherently with ourselves, something begins to erode in us.  We may survive, but we will never be whole or fully alive.  Perhaps losing integrity with yourself is the greatest stress of all, far more hurtful to us than competition, time pressure, or lack of respect.  Our vitality is rooted in our integrity.  When we do not live in one piece, our life force becomes divided.  Becoming separated from our authentic values may weaken us.”

I recognize that I am not always whole or fully alive.  I acknowledge that I do not always live “in one piece.”

How is an “authentic” life to be lived?

Sometimes I feel torn between what I want to do and what I know is right to do and good to do.  Sometimes I hold back from blurting out what I think or what I feel as I exercise needed self-control.  Some of these times I feel my soul weakened by being separated from my “authentic values.”  Other times I end up feeling a sense of relief or even empowerment as I sense that I have responded to a higher calling.

How did Jesus live out this authentic life?  How did He combine personal integrity with a depth of merciful love?

He spoke truth to the Pharisees; He threw out the moneychangers from the temple; He allowed a sinful woman to wash His feet; He washed His disciples’ feet while also warning them that they would betray Him; He wept at the tomb of His friend; He prayed in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Somehow in all of this He lived and interacted with people genuinely.

Jesus, I don’t know how to do it in my own life, but help me to keep looking honestly at You and how You did it, and help me to keep abiding in You honestly so that Your love and integrity may grow in me.

Look Beyond the Bird Poop

bird poop

Jacob developed a mindset early in life that became his modus operandi—it became the way in which he handled life.  The mindset was this: Do unto others before they can do it to you.  He believed you have got to out-trick the tricksters and out-hustle the hustlers.  He came to believe that you make your place in life by pulling it over on others.

As a second-born twin, Jacob came out of the womb hanging onto the heel of his brother’s foot.  At this, his parents gave him the name Jacob, which means, “One who takes by the heel,” or “One who supplants.”

That became Jacob’s life.  He persuaded his brother to trade his birthright for a bowl of soup.  He deceived his father into giving him the blessing that was intended for his brother.  He spent over a decade being hustled by and, in turn, out-hustling his uncle and father-in-law Laban.

As the years went on, Jacob became convinced that his approach to life had worked, that he had successfully out-tricked and out-hustled his brother, his father, his uncle, and even the laws of nature.

But there’s a problem: We come to see and understand only those things we are familiar with.  If the only thing we are familiar with is manipulation, that’s the only thing we see.

In his book, Rumors of Another World, Philip Yancey writes, “I once heard the missionary author Elisabeth Elliot tell of accompanying the Auca woman Dayuma from her jungle home in Ecuador to New York City.  As they walked the streets, Elliot explained cars, fire hydrants, sidewalks and red lights.  Dayuma’s eyes took in the scene, but she said nothing.  Elliot next led her to the observation platform atop the Empire State Building, where she pointed out the tiny taxi cabs and people on the streets below.  Again, Dayuma said nothing.  Elliot could not help wondering what kind of impression modern civilization was making.  Finally, Dayuma pointed to a large white spot on the concrete…and asked, ‘What bird did that?’  At last she had found something she could relate to.” (p.17)

Dayuma was thrust into a world of modern technological wonders, but the only thing she could make sense of, thus the only thing she could truly see, was a bit of bird poop.

Throughout his life, God had surrounded Jacob with unconditional love and blessings, but Jacob didn’t understand those things; all he could see and comprehend was the bird poop of manipulation.

So, in response to the first prayer of Jacob recorded in the Bible (Genesis 32:9-12), God reached out to Jacob in the only way Jacob understood: God grabbed hold of Jacob and wrestled with him (Genesis 32:22-30).  Then God threw out Jacob’s hip so that Jacob clung to God and asked God for a blessing.

Interestingly, the blessing God gave to Jacob was a change in his name.  no longer would he be known as Jacob, “Supplanter.”  From now on he would be called Israel, which means “God strives with him.”  (The footnotes in your Bible may tell you that Israel means “he struggles with God,” but I take exception to that interpretation.  In all of Scripture, “El,” the word for “God,” is never the object, the One that something is done to.  Always “El” is the subject, the One who takes the action.)  It is not that Jacob strives with God it is that God strives with Jacob and for Jacob.

The new name is a message to him that the key to life is not in his own striving but in the striving God does on his behalf.  The new name is a message to him that the real joy of life is not in what he gets as a result of his schemes, but in holding onto the One who holds onto him.

 

The Horrible Story

Abraham & Isaac

The most difficult tasks in my life as a minister have come when I have been called upon by the Sheriff’s Department to notify a parent that his or her child has died, or when I have been asked to be with a mother whose baby has just died.  The death of a child rips a parent’s heart apart.  It is the most unfair, ugly, horrible thing that can happen to a person!

With that in mind, the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac (recorded in Genesis 22) has got to strike us as one of the most unfair, ugly, horrible passages in the Bible.  We must be careful not to read this passage stoically, turning off our emotions, ignoring the horror of what is asked of Abraham.

If we are to read this passage honestly, we need to face the heartbreak, the pain, the agony, the anger, and the confusion of this passage.

Abraham’s neighbors believed in gods who were cruel and vicious, who demanded self-mutilation and child-sacrifice from their followers.  But Abraham was under the impression that the God who had called him was different.  Repeatedly Abraham had experienced this God to be a God of mercy, compassion, and justice.  Yes, Abraham’s God had pronounced judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, but it was a judgment against their wickedness, not an act of spiteful jealousy.  Even then, God announced His judgment to Abraham beforehand, and He swore to Abraham that He would spare the entire city if even 10 righteous people could be found in it.

Why would this God–the God of mercy, compassion, and justice—ask Abraham to take the life of his son, the child God had promised to him, the child for whom he had waited so many years?  How could a father take the life of his only son whom he loved dearly?

As it turned out—after all the fear and agony of the passage—Abraham does not have to take his son’s life.  Going into it, Abraham told his son, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8), and that’s exactly what happened.  God provided a ram that was caught in a thicket.

Why, then, is this passage included in the Bible?  Why are we forced to endure such heartbreak, pain, agony, anger and confusion as we read this story of Abraham and his son?

Because we need to understand and appreciate the travail of a Father who will actually make such a sacrifice of His Son.

Though Abraham did not have to go through with sacrificing his own son on Mount Moriah, he called the place “The Lord Will Provide,” and it continued to be said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided” (Genesis 22:14).  It was on that mountain that Jesus gave His life for us.

All of the heartbreak, pain, agony, anger, and confusion we anticipated in the story of Abraham and Isaac is realized in the story of Jesus’ death for us:

Be careful not to read the story of Jesus’ death stoically, turning off our emotions, ignoring the horror of what takes place: Jesus sacrificed His life for us!  Only one thing can account for this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son….” (John 3:16)

Questions about God

cutting a covenant

Many years ago, Margaret Hopper Taylor, who had served many years as a Presbyterian missionary to Japan, struggled through a painful and fatal illness.  She wrote a piece of prose entitled “Lament” which begins with her complaints and questions:

 

O Ruler of the universe, there drops before me a dark curtain shutting out the light of years ahead I had hoped to spend on Your beautiful earth.  The physicians say my body houses a killer disease.  They have no cures.  Earth’s healers cannot heal.  Their treatment is painful and debilitates.  This frame that has carried me where I wished to go for 60 years now totters and weakens.  Physical pain and lethargy I can bear, but am I never to see the ethereal glory of the cherry trees across the sea unwrap their heavenly beauty again?  Will the emerald isles of the Inland Sea not rise once more before my eyes?  Is the handclasp of friends soon to be no more?  How can I say goodbye to the sons of my womb and their children?  Heaviest of all is the thought of the final closing of my eyes on the loved face of my life’s partner, who cares for me in my illness as gently as a father does his little child.  Is this Your will, O God?

When despair sets in, when life disappoints us, when our backs are up against the wall, questions gush out of our soul: Is this Your will, O God?  Where are You?  Do You care about me?  Are You real?  Can I trust You?

Is it permissible for us to question God or to voice our doubts?

Well, Abram, one of the first great heroes in the Bible expressed such doubts and raised such questions.  After journeying to a land God had promised to give to him and waiting for many years for children to inherit the land, Abram’s frustration spurts out of his soul.  In verse 2 he asks, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”  In verse 3 he adds to his complaint, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”  In verse 8 he does it again: “O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

How does God respond to Abram’s expression of doubt?

Notice first what God doesn’t do: God doesn’t strike Abram dead or injured for doubting; and God doesn’t throw Abram away; and God doesn’t even scold him.  God always responds well to genuine prayers—even when those prayers are an expression of our doubt.

What God does may seem surprising to us.  God tells Abram to bring some animals.

Abram understands the meaning of this.  He knows that this has to do with cutting a covenant, wherein two parties walk through the blood of severed animals, proclaiming, “This covenant is now sealed with blood.  May it be done to me, as it has been done to these creatures, if I should ever break the covenant we have established between us.  And may it be done to you, as it has been done to these animals, if you should ever break the covenant we have established between us.  If you or I should ever break this covenant, may the one who breaks the covenant pay for it with his life!”

As it turns out, though, only God walks through the blood.  God takes the full weight of the demands of the covenant upon Himself.

What kind of God is this who walks through the blood of severed animals rather than demanding that of us?  What kind of God is this who swears upon Himself the loss of His own life if the covenant should be broken?

This is the kind of God whom Abram can trust to keep His promise.  This is the kind of God whom we can trust even in the darkest and most troublesome times of our lives.  This is the kind of God who will stop at nothing in His commitment to us!

 

Something has gone wrong. Yet….

The fall

Something has gone wrong.

We, as human beings, were made from God’s love and we were made to live into God’s love.  We were designed to find fulfillment and satisfaction in God’s love.

But love cannot be forced upon us.  By the nature of love, love must be a choice.  In his book A Grace Disguised, Jerry Sittser explains, “More than anything, God covets our love.  But real love can never be forced.  Freedom is what makes love possible in the first place.  That is why God will never coerce us into a relationship.  Faith allows us to chooses God in freedom.”

Sadly, Genesis 3 reveals what happens in us when we turn our backs on the love we were designed for, when we pursue satisfaction or fulfillment void of God.

Oswald Chambers remarks, “The root of all sin is the suspicion that God is not very good.”  That’s what Eve and Adam struggled with in Genesis 3.  Was God holding back from them the chance to have their eyes opened and to be like God?  Larry Crabb puts it this way: “The serpent suggests that there is a goodness that God hasn’t made available to Eve.  She reaches for that supposed goodness.”

Out of that suspicion that God was not entirely good to them, Eve and Adam chose the route of disobedience rather than obedience.  They chose to pursue happiness apart from and away from God.

Did they end up with satisfaction and fulfillment?

No, they ended up falling into a cesspool of problems.

Suddenly shame became the driving force of their lives.  Out of shame, they sewed fig leaves together to cover up their nakedness.  Charles Darwin claims, “Shame is what distinguishes us most markedly from the animal world.”  Kahlil Gibran states, “Should we all confess our sins to one another we would all laugh at one another for our lack of originality.”  Gibran recognizes that all of us struggle with the same sins, but we don’t admit them to each other because we are all driven by shame.

And fear hijacked their hearts.  Adam and Eve hid from God because they were afraid.  Larry Crabb comments, “Fear is…the first and strongest emotion felt after Adam and Eve took it on themselves to arrange for their maximum enjoyment of life.”  Ever since then all of us struggle with fear.

They fell short of the good God intended for them.  Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend write, “In trying to become God, they became less of themselves.”  In Romans 3:23, Paul summarizes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

And they adopted habits of inadequate cover-ups (fig leaves are worthless as clothing, but that is what Adam and Eve use to try to cover up their shame, and we have been trying inadequate cover-ups ever since) and of blame (Adam is quick to blame Eve for giving him the fruit, and Eve is quick to blame the serpent, and we are quick to blame as well).

Yet the God who made Adam and Eve out of love and for love, still reached out to them out of love and for love.  Despite their rebellion against God, and despite how desperately they try to hide from God, He still comes looking for them.  Rather than walking away from them, God walks into the garden asking, “Where are you?”

No matter how much we rebel against God and try to hide from Him, God still pursues us because His love for us is permanent.  In his journal, which turned into the book The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom, Henri Nouwen writes, “Your love, insofar as it is from God, is permanent.  You can claim the permanence of your love as a gift from God.  And you can give that permanent love to others.”

Something has gone wrong in us, but God’s love carries on!