Saturday, April 23, 2011

Because He...

Because He emptied Himself of all but love, you can be filled.
Because His body was broken, your life can be whole.
Because His blood was shed, your sin can be forgiven.
Because He submitted to injustice, you can forgive.
Because He finished His Father’s work, your life has worth.
Because He was forsaken, you will never be alone.
Because He was buried, you can be raised.
Because He lives, you don’t have to be afraid.
Because He reached down to you, you don’t have to work your way up to Him.
Because His promises are always true, you can have hope!

Anne Graham Lotz

Friday, April 22, 2011

What Good Friday Means: A Parable

A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside. “I hate you!” she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away.

She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play. Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her. California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.

Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun.

The good life continues for a month, two months, a year. The man with the big car—she calls him “Boss”—teaches her a few things that men like. Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there.

She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline “Have you seen this child?” But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child. Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.

After a year, the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. “These days, we can’t mess around,” he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit. When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores. “Sleeping” is the wrong word—a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard. Dark bands circle her eyes. Her cough worsens.

One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry. She needs a fix. She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she’s piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind: of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball.

God, ,why did I leave, she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart. My dog back home eats better than I do now. She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.

Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.”

It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.

Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. “Dad, I’m so sorry. I know I was wrong. It’s not your fault; it’s all mine. Dad, can you forgive?” She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years.

The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City. Tiny snowflakes hit the pavement rubbed worn by thousands of tires, and the asphalt steams. She’s forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves. Every so often, a billboard. A sign posting the mileage to Traverse City. Oh God.

When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks. That’s all we have here.” Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She checks herself in a compact mirror, smoothes her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice. If they’re there.

She walks into the terminal, not knowing what to expect. Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepares her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads “Welcome Home!”

Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad. She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know…”

He interrupts her. “Hush, child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing About Grace? (story based on Luke 15:11-32)

See also Ephesians 2:1-10:
"You were...But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love,..."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Skipping Friday

We Christians focus on Jesus' life up through roughly the cleansing of the temple, and also on his empty tomb. Both of which are *critical* to His incarnation & the reason for his coming. But to our shame, we minimize events beginning at the last supper & all of the "icky" stuff about crucifixion & abandonment & torture & "why have You forsaken me?" & such. Here's my challenge to myself based on this week; I welcome you joining me in it: spend some serious time pondering Mark 14 & 15. Toss in Isaiah 53 & Psalm 22. Then go to Romans 3. Then wind up at Ephesians 2: 1-10.

Some under-pondered & under-taught things that were vividly on display on that Friday:
--the wrath of God
--the justice of God
--the suffering of Christ, beginning in the Garden well before the crucifixion

Let's ponder them a bit, shall we?

God's wrath & God's justice. Imagine with me a god who does not hate sin & evil. Would such a god be worthy of worship? Nope.

Now ponder with me the God Who is There (to borrow Francis Schaeffer's wonderul description). We like to think of Him as a great big blob of Grandpa-like love...One who excuses everything with a wink and a "don't worry about it". Here's the irony of picturing God that way: on one level, it's true; on another, it's offensive; on yet another, it severely understates God's love.

The Grandpa-God image is true to a point. God's love is not hard for me to grasp, because I'm John Benton's grandson, and John Benton loved me intensely (as he did all of us grandkids!). He lavished time on us & took us to Goodson's store for peanuts & taught us how to crack pecans. I remember one time he killed a snake with his walking stick & his foot, just because one of his grandsons was (is) terribly afraid of snakes. He also took a *deep* satisfaction in watching us grow up to elementary school age & do what boys do. Papa had dreamed of having a bunch of grandsons before there were any of us; I'm grandson #4 of 7, with 3 granddaughters in the bunch as well.

But the Grandpa-God image actually is offensive when taken logically. The image requires a god who winks at & excuses evil. Not just little boys being little boys; willful evil. No justice required, & none expected in this life or in the next. 17 years ago right now, Rwandans were killing each other at a staggering rate (~10,000 per day...for 100 days in a row). The Grandpa-God would at best say "well, I don't like it, but...oh well..." The gas chambers & ovens @ Auschwitz? Excused. The killing fields of Pol Pot? Wink & a smile. Millions dying in Stalin's Gulag? Oh happens...

Aren't you glad we serve a just God? I know I am...

Well, I am when His justice is aimed at "those people" (whoever those people are; clearly someone other than me). When I recall that He is *always* just--even with me!--I get very nervous very quickly.

Two of the most haunting verses in all of Scripture:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth...Romans 1:18

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed...Romans 2:5

Both of those haunt me. And drive me to devastating grief combined with unfathomable joy as I re-read about events of Good Friday.

The grief part is because God's justice requires Him to deal with sin. My sin. Which is great & deserves destruction.

The unfathomable joy part is from reminding myself from Scripture that He HAS dealt with my sin.

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5b-8

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ...Ephesians 2:4-5

And that is both the horror and joy of Good Friday. Jesus drank the cup of God's righteous, just wrath fully & completely for all who are in Christ.

It. Is. Finished!

And that, ladies & gents, is what we meant by "amazing grace." I pray I never, ever get beyond the "But God" there in Ephesians 2:4-5 & the "made Himself nothing" part of Philippians 2:6.

One more thing:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11

He Is Risen!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The 10th Leper

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers...

Wonder why they were hanging out together. Wonder why they came to meet Jesus.

As to the first, my hunch is that shared misery & despair is somehow slightly less miserable. Which, of course, is still true for us today.

As to the second, as lepers, it's quite likely that nobody ever was willing to be "met by 10 lepers." These people were expected to stay away from "regular" "healthy" people. In fact, they were expected to announce their presence from a distance with loud cries & bells & such. "Unclean!" At which point, the other people would steer clear.

...who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

Put yourself in their shoes. Do you hear the anguish in their cry? In their "standing at a distance"? Can you imagine?

When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.

A rather odd directive, huh? Show yourself to the priests? But what about the illness?? Turns out their biggest need was not to become disease-free after all. (Please re-read that sentence slowly.) Their. biggest. need. was. not. to. become. disease-free. after. all.

Neither was that my biggest need in 2005 (initial cancer diagnosis) & in 2008 (stage IV metastatic melanoma). To be sure, the need for physical healing was all up in my grill then. As it is now, as I face yet another cancer surgery in May. But it was NOT my biggest need, and is not now.

Inner-city Dallas-area pastor Tony Evans once said (paraphrased) "If a man's poor, that's bad. If a man's an addict, that's bad. If a man's hungry, that's bad...But if a man dies without Christ, you just hit him with a blow that he'll never recover from for all of eternity."

This is NOT to minimize the overpowering terrible darkness that is leprosy. (A set of skin diseases that, in that day, were deemed highly contagious & incurable.) There are still leper colonies today, including one over in LA. Of course, stage IV metastatic melanoma is also a dreadful, deadly skin disease that is pretty much considered incurable. One which brings a considerable amount of totally-understandable "Eww, gross!" reactions from folks. Which is why this morning's reading in Luke (note: originally written several weeks back) went straight to my heart... (Important clarification if anyone wonders: I was a believer in the saving grace of Jesus Christ long before I began walking the cancer road. Just so you know.)

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.

Note that Luke's account picks up with the lepers enroute to attend to their religious duties. Note also that attending to their religious duties was surely a command that seemed very bizarre & misplaced to them. But they were obedient anyway. (Pause to let this sink in & be applied...They. Were. Obedient. Anyway.) Are we, or does our obedience depend upon the "reasonableness" or "propriety" of the request? Yeah, I didn't like my answer either.

"One of them"...One. Out of ten. What did he do? Turned back to express his thanks. While praising God. (Pause again to let this one sink in & be applied too...)

One more thing: the one was a Samaritan. Which means he was not to be part of "polite society." He was to be considered an outcast. Basically, racism & cultural bias were deeply against him. And yet, (a) he did what was commanded, and (b) he alone was thankful.

Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Wonder where the rest—the "proper" people who were religiously observant & accepted by society—were...


And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Bold & italic stuff throughout this post is taken from Luke 17:11-19)

Note that the outcast was commended for his faith. Note that he was told to rise & go his way. Note that all 10 were healed, but only one was commended for his faith. Note further that the 10 were healed before there was any evidence of #10's faith. (Well, except for their initial cries for mercy).

Am I the 10th leper?

Am I the one who turns back to say "Thank you, Jesus, for my healing!"? The one who is commended for great faith? The one who marvels for the rest of his days at his healing?

Or am I one of the 9? The regular, entitled, ungrateful crowd? Am I like so many who, upon receiving miraculous healing, react with something like "Finally! About dadburn time!" Who feel entitled to good health 24/7/365. (entitled based on what, I haven't a clue...) Who never really acknowledge Jehovah Shammah—The Lord Who Heals. Who never say 'Thanks."

Much to ponder in Luke 17.

Join me in pondering, won't you?

And please pray for this blogging leper to be the 10th one & not one of the 9.



Saturday, April 02, 2011

The May MDA Festivities (Schedule)

So, I just got the final sched of my upcoming MDA fund the week after graduation. Gonna be a busy week…*sigh*

Mon 5/16

8:45 – Blood collection

9:10 – Chest XRay

10:50 – Check in for CT Scan (translation: get IV attached)

11:20 – CT Scan of Chest

2:00 – Complete Pulmonary Function Test (translation: “Zero Fun, Sir!” Lots of breathing exercises & such)

(Aside: I can think of THOUSANDS of better ways to celebrate one’s birthday than doing all of this stuff! )

Tues 5/17

1:00 – Meet w/ Surgeon to get results of Monday’s tests (typically a short meeting that's very crucial to the process; this is the official "it's on" meeting)

2:30 – Check in @ Anesthesia Assessment Ctr

2:45 – Anesthesia Assessment (measurements, etc; usually not a biggie)

Wed 5/18

DO NOT GO ANYWHERE NEAR MDA; eat *lots* of good Tex/Mex & seafood; relax/hang out/etc. (OK, none of that’s on the official MDA schedule, but neither is anything else on that schedule. This is always one of the best days on the MDA surgery schedule. *laughing*)

Thurs 5/19

**Scalpel Time** (Dr. Mehran prefers to operate 1st thing in the a.m. usually; my guess is that we’ll arrive @ 6 a.m.-ish)


My part is rather easy: just show up & get heavy drugs & go to lala land; SHE is the one who has to sit in the waiting room & watch the clock…m o v e…v e r y…s l o w l y while waiting for her name to be called.

I’ll probably be in the hospital for 2-3 days after (Lisa can stay in the room w/ me on her own tiny foldout bed). These days are basically a progressive un-plugging from various machines & monitors as I make progress. They are *not* the most restful couple of days. Especially not for Lisa. I, of course, will have the magic pain pump hooked up; thus, I'll be OK w/ the distractions. *smile*

Then we will likely stay in a hotel there for another day or two just to make sure all of my systems & wound-healing & such are functioning properly, & then head home. Lisa will have to do all of the driving on the way back, sadly for her. Plus, I’ll have to get out & walk for 10 minutes or so every hour to avoid clotting. Thus, the trip home will probably take 11 or more hours. On the plus side for her, the pain meds make for an entertaining blend of animated conversation + deep sleep with virtually no transition time between the two. Or so I’m told. ;-{)}

The preliminary word—NOT from the surgeon (important clarification!)—is that I’ll probably be more or less out of commission for 7-10 days after surgery. The further prelim word is that this will be much less involved than my last summer’s surgery, which required a couple of months to fully recover. I like the 7-10 day deal much better…J

One more reminder: My medical Dr. is very confident about this one; I’m told the surgeon is too. Therefore, we are too.

Thanks much for all your prayers & acts of service & ministry to us. MAYBE, this will be the last one & the C-word won’t come back, & I can release the prayer time to other causes besides my health situation. (In the mean time, we welcome your prayers!) Lisa & I are most humbled by & MOST grateful for you.

With love & hope,


2 Corinthians 4:6-8,16-18