Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cut It Out

It could be in you and me right now - a silent killer. A disease that will take us quickly and unexpectedly or slowly and painfully. But it could be there. I know that sounds a bit morbid, but, hey, Halloween was just a few days ago so I'm rolling with it. Seriously, though. It's true. How many people do you know in your life that seemed fine one day, and then not so fine the next? I think the key here is regular checkups. How many potentially lethal diseases and illnesses have been avoided or abated because of this? On the flip side, how many seemingly healthy people get sick out of nowhere and maybe even pass away? And of those how many thought, "I'm good. I don't need a regular check up" - only to find they were wrong.

A lot of diseases have the moniker of "silent killer", but I think cancer is the one that deserves that title the most. It seems to come out of nowhere. Regular checkups can help to prevent or catch this awful disease which takes over a half million lives a year and is the cause of 23% of all deaths in this country. But what if you have it? How far would you go to remove it - if you could? There are so many treatments for cancer - each as extreme as the rest. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Surgery. Bone marrow transplant. Stem cell transplant. And more. None of these are light treatments. All are extremely difficult with the understanding that they still may not work. But, again, how far would you go?

I read recently about a 31 year old Canadian woman, Janis Ollson, was having extreme back pain while pregnant with her second child. Doctors initially thought that the pain was related to a difficult pregnancy. But they soon found that they were wrong. She had bone cancer and it was not treatable with radiation or chemotherapy. So they all had a choice to make - a choice that is hard to even imagine. They have her cut in half in order to remove the tumor. This they did, and she lived. This is the only time in history this has happened when the patient lived. In fact this type of surgery is usually only performed on cadavers. The doctors amputated her legs, cut off her lower spine, as well as half of her pelvis so they could remove a tumor that was the "size of a calzone" - the biggest they had ever seen. She now has one leg fused to her body, as well as a prosthetic leg and pelvis. She now utilizes a wheelchair, walker, or crutches to get around. but she is alive and cancer free.

What an amazing story.

I wonder how far we would go in her shoes from a physical perspective. But what about looking at this as a spiritual analogy? In a spiritual sense, sin is a cancer. It's in all of us, and without regular checkups, it can be hard to detect let alone difficult to cure. If left unchecked it can be destructive - even deadly. The Bible has some extreme things to say about sin and how to handle it. Consider the following verses:

Matthew 5:29, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away..."

Matthew 5:30, "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away..."

The Bible is serious about sin. In fact, James 1:15 says this, "...sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."

So why play with it? Why ignore it? Why hide it? Why think about it? Why do it? Why do we allow it free reign when we know for a certainty what it's going to do? If you and I were told that we have cancer, we would be aggressive about eradicating it by any means possible. Because we know what it is and what it can and will do if left alone. We would even cut it out. And that's what we need to do with sin - we need to cut it out. We need to keep short accounts. We need regular checkups. And we have every means necessary spiritually speaking to make sure that sin does not win. And don't be fooled by thinking that you and I "fall into sin". It is a gradual progression down a slippery slope of not heeding the need for repentance before that big fall sends us over the edge into an abyss of pain, consequences, or worse. 

I hope this is helpful and challenging. I only write it because I have been challenged by my own failure in this area. We need to live in freedom from sin.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Clarity Of Church Bells

I have a confession to make - I am not a good Christian. I know this - not because somebody told me that, but because the Holy Spirit has revealed it to me this weekend. And it took church bells to help me see it. More on that later.

It's been a hard 14 months for Erin and I - on every level. The highlight of the last year has been finding a church home - not just going to church, but actually calling a church...home. That is a big deal, and I'm not sure that everyone who is a Christian knows what that feels like. That's been huge for us. And it has come at the right time for us, because, apart from that, things haven't gone our way. You name it we've been hit by it. And, honestly, the hits just keep on coming. I'm not going to get into the details of it all. But we're exhausted and fatigued, and we're really looking forward to the holidays and extra breaks (except for the fact that Erin has a difficult surgery coming up over Christmas). So, yeah, it's been a hard year plus.

Erin and I usually take a daily walk around our little historic town of Lebanon, OH. We live just three blocks from downtown and we love walking to town, stopping at shops, talking to shop owners, grabbing a chocolate at the Golden Turtle or a cupcake at Manna, probably a coffee for Erin and a frozen or hot chocolate for me. I'm not sure how completely healthy that is, but it usually is relaxing. Except for this weekend. As we took our walk, we decided to go to Manna (again). We each got a mini cupcake and a drink, and then we got some extras to take to some friends of ours from church who lived just up the street (they told us recently they haven't been there yet). So we did that, and talked with them a bit. It was nice, but I was distracted. As we left, Erin had a hair appointment - again, just up the street. I walked her there and then I walked the rest of the way back home. It didn't dawn on me at first that I was heads down in heavy thought. I was wearing discouragement like a coat - paying no attention to the beauty of the day. And then my ears picked up one of my favorite sounds - church bells pealing a familiar hymn. Having grown up in a Baptist church surrounded by hymns, my ears recognized the song immediately - "What A Friend We Have In Jesus". And my heart just squeezed as I remembered the words, "...Oh what peace we often forfeit, Oh what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, Everything to God in prayer." Two things struck me right then as I continued walking listening to those noonday chimes: 1) My prayer life stinks; and, 2) How I miss those hymns. I purposed to go home and dust off the hymnal on my bookshelf to revisit that hymn. And, upon doing so, I just sat there and tried to let the message hit home. And I prayed, as best I could, because there is a lot built up in me. But it was a start. And I'm not talking about vain repetitions. I'm talking about just pouring my heart out to God. I've got a long way to go both in my prayer life and in getting through these accumulated challenges, but of one thing I am certain - I have a friend in Jesus. I am reminded of Hebrews 4:15 (ESV), "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." Amen.

"What a Friend We Have in Jesus"
Text: Joseph M. Scriven, 1820-1886 
Music: Charles C. Converse, 1832-1918 

1. What a friend we have in Jesus, 
 all our sins and griefs to bear! 
 What a privilege to carry 
 everything to God in prayer! 
 O what peace we often forfeit,
 O what needless pain we bear, 
 all because we do not carry 
 everything to God in prayer. 

2. Have we trials and temptations? 
 Is there trouble anywhere? 
 We should never be discouraged; 
 take it to the Lord in prayer. 
 Can we find a friend so faithful 
 who will all our sorrows share? 
 Jesus knows our every weakness; 
 take it to the Lord in prayer. 

3. Are we weak and heavy laden, 
 cumbered with a load of care? 
 Precious Savior, still our refuge; 
 take it to the Lord in prayer. 
 Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? 
 Take it to the Lord in prayer! 
 In his arms he'll take and shield thee; 
 thou wilt find a solace there.