Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mutations and Jeremiah

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 (NASB)

This verse has been on my mind this past week, for several reasons really, but, as one of those verses that we quote all the time, its not one that usually has that much of a deep impact on my day to day life. It is quite sad to think about how mundane I can allow God's word to become, simply by not seeking to live in a way that shows that I believe it to be true... but something happened this week in my life that brought me back to some previous postings and ultimately back to this jewel of a verse...

If you trace back through my family history, you will find that longevity is something that is an apparently foreign concept to the men and women in my ancestry. There are many exceptions to this, but by and large, we don't live extremely long lives. In particular, on my mom's side of things, you find a large number of women who have died in their 40's and 50's, most of whom never see their 60's. The list includes my own mom (51), her mom (47), and a couple of her aunts (mid-40's)... they joined the group of women in their family who died of an extremely metastatic, fervently devastating, and  aggressive ovarian cancer. Thanks to the advances in medical technology and our growing understanding of our genetic code, mom was able to be tested for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOCS). It turns out that her family has been passing along a disastrous mutation known as BRCA1 R1699W. This mutation raises the lifetime risk of contracting an aggressive breast or ovarian cancer, most often deadly in less than 5 years, to just over 80% before the age of 60. Better yet, assuming only 1 parent is a carrier, you stand a 50/50 shot of passing it along to your children. 

Towards the end of her life, mom and I were talking about this whole mess, and she asked (to put it nicely) that I get tested, she wanted to know that her newest (at that point) granddaughter would be given every opportunity to not have to go through the battle she was enduring. She prayed exhaustingly long prayers that her children and grandchildren might be spared, or that new studies that she was a part of might shine new light on prevention and treatment of the disease. I didn't get around to being tested as early as she would have wanted...

My sisters both were tested, both came back with no signs of the mutation. This surprised me a little, both sisters (from a genetic standpoint) remind me more of my dad, but there is a good amount of mom in both of them, and the gene seemed so apt at getting itself passed along, but there they both were, with kiddos of their own, not having to worry about them having passed the gene along. So there I was, the most like my mom, the only one left untested...

I grew up hearing about how much more I resemble her side of the family, physically, even my personality, was so much more her. I have a lot of my dad in me too, but my defining characteristics were so much more mom... each of us kids had a 50/50 shot of being mutated, both sisters came through clean... I froze. Even with all of my harping to patients and their families on the importance of education and gathering knowledge to best prepare for moving ahead in their lives, I was terrified to get tested. Mom's voice, and her infectious smile, burned on me... my wife kept reminding me of the need to get it done... mom's oncologist, and his NP, would stop by in the unit and ask when I was coming by... I fought it for a year and a half, a month ago, I finally went and got tested.

The past few weeks were a new kind of stressful, the fate of my life potentially largely altered, my gorgeous kids' future weighing heavily on a sheet of paper... I just knew I would be a carrier of the gene. 

This past Wednesday, I got a letter, in large, bold print NO MUTATION DETECTED... 

I cried, probably would have cried either way, but I cried... I sent my dad a text, he cried... my wife and I ate dinner, we tried to wrap our minds around the implications. This mutation was not going to be responsible for my future, or my kids'... we were restored to the (still saddening) baseline population cancer risk rates. And Jeremiah 29:11 came to my head... For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.

There is a reason why the gene stopped at this point, a reason why 3 kids managed to not get the once rampant mutation, and why 6 grand-kids did not either. My dad and I agreed, God has a plan for this family that required (for some reason I will likely never understand) the pain and suffering on many people in my ancestry, a plan to move forward from where we are now. I can't wait to see how God will use each of us, if we let Him. I don't know His plans, but I know that there is a reason each of us kids did not inherit this mutation, and why we won't pass it along to our kids. 

I would have liked to have gotten this news before mom passed away, I can only imagine the deep joy and relief she would have felt. I know she's smiling.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Perfection in Glory

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who was listening to a podcast by Greg Kokul, in the podcast, someone had called in to ask a question. The basic query was something like this: We are told that, if we are saved, when we die, we go through a process of glorification in which we are perfected in glory. We are also told that God, and God alone is perfect, so, how can we be made perfect, wouldn't that wrongly place us at the same level as God?
Kokul's response was pretty great, and was something along these lines: we must first understand that the Greek word used to convey the perfection of God is not the same word as is used to refer to us being perfected in glory. God's perfection is in all things for all times, it is global perfection that our minds cannot grasp. Our perfection is much more about the completion of a good work to allow full, perfect dedication to the purpose for which we were created, to glorify God.

To simplify this idea, Kokul used the analogy of a pen. I want to use his enology and expand on it a little here:

When a pen comes together with paper to compose great poetry or wonderful symphonies, it is acting in perfection for its created purpose, yet if we take the same pen and try to plant a garden with it, it becomes dirty, broken, and unable to fulfill its created purpose with the same level of completeness. That pen will never again write great works unless there is a master pen-smith who can restore it completely back to its original condition. Only though this complete revamping can the pen ever hope to one day continue its purpose. The same is true of each of us, we attempt to utilize our lives for many purposes that do not mesh with our created purpose, we get beat up, dirty, and broken. We can try, in vain, to continue our works on our own, failing to complete the work we were created to do, or we can submit ourself to our own Master Creator for a complete overhaul of the things we allowed this world to break. The repair process is what we refer to as sanctification. As we undergo this process, bits and parts of us begin to function properly again, and with the help of our Repairer, we are able to see fruitful benefits if the work being done within us. But it is not until that work is completed that we are able to function perfectly, restored to our created purpose. This is glorification, we are restored back, into the perfected working condition to accomplish the task we were first created to do, and then allowed to do it for all eternity without fear of breaking again.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A review of Subversive Kingdom

Way back... Far too far back really, I accepted a deal. I have not, to this point kept up my end if the bargain. I'd like very much to correct that, and so tonight I'd like to (finally) post a few words about Ed Stetzer's book Subversive Kingdom:

I accepted an offer put out in Ed Stetzer's blog that he was looking for a few handfuls of bloggers to read his newest book Subversive Kingdom and write a review on their blog, and copy it to Amazon... In exchange, one would receive a free copy of the book... I thought to myself, "hey, I'm kind of a blogger... and I really like Stetzer's writing... and I would love to read that book!" I had attempted to check out the book from my local library, only to find they don't shelve it or any if his books...

I was quite excited to read this book, as I had been at a Kingdom Advance conference prior to receiving the book and heard Stetzer speak on many of the topics he had written about. The book does not disappoint in any way of being another great piece of writing from him. It follows along the same missiological ideas as previous works I had been confronted with, but took the concepts of truly living a "sent" life that is "compelled by love" and broke it down into practical application of what it truly looks like to live as a subversive agent if the gospel. To steal a line from the book, it gives clear instruction of our need to live as exactly what we are, the rebellion against the rebellion.

Ed Stetzer has an amazing heart for the spreading of the gospel in practical, direct, tangible ways that truly impact our communities. He embraces the words that Christ gives his disciples that people will know we are Christ's by our love for others. His writings speak against the modern, lazy Christianity that reeks of the world and is no longer focused in declaring the glory of God.

I greatly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in knowing how we can live as agents of Christ in a very real way.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

When things get real

There is something that God has been working on teaching me for the past year or so, maybe not even that long, but it is an idea that has been brought to the forefront of my mind multiple times. It is really a pretty simple concept, and important for us to understand as Christians when it comes to how we are to serve those around us. I have recently learned that it is also equally true for Christians to understand it in our own lives when it comes to obedience.

The basic idea is this: a person will agree with or follow any idea they hear, up until it becomes real to them. At the point that it becomes real, they must react and make a choice. This choice is one that will alter the course of their life from then on.

We see this all the time, whether we recognize it or not. Matt Chandler explains it in The Explicit Gospel by saying that when a person hears Biblical truth, they are in a position that requires response. As Christians, we cannot be responsible for the response of others to these truths, we must allow God to work in the heart. Mark Driscoll refers to it with a statement he often makes when he is preaching something that is difficult to understand or accept, he will say that it is his job to tell the truth, but yours to respond to it.

For me, this came to a head recently on a decision I had to make for my family. To spare the details, I will simply say that I had to choose between an earthly good and a Godly stance on an issue. I was faced with responding to what I know is truth, knowing the correct response would hurt people close to me. I could have buried my faith, and my head, in the sand... in the name of peace, or I could stand for the truth. I wrestled with this for a long time, looking at the ripple effect on many people I care about, but I kept coming back to the universal truth that sin is sin, and God takes it seriously. I kept coming to a place of understanding that just because our culture today is willing to accept certain sins as norms in our culture, doesn't mean that its right. I had to choose to stand against, not in condemnation of the people I care about, but to help show that I do not support their choice. It came to a point that I had to make them understand that my love for them includes the need to stand up at times and let them know they are making a choice that lies in direct opposition to the word of God. My choice to be a follower of Christ got very real to me in this time... in a way I feel it was called onto the carpet. Its not the first, nor will it be the last, we all face the types of trials. We all face times when we know we need to stand up for the commands of God, especially when it is difficult. We find a line in the sand drawn, and we have to choose where we stand... in this instance I chose to stand with God, in hopes that my doing so will help these people take a long look at the choice that they are making, and will respond appropriately.

What about you, when was the last time that you were faced with something becoming too real? Are you faced with it now? The reality of who God is, the reality of what Christ has done, demands a response. I hope you choose to respond in faith and obedience, not choosing to shy away or hide so that you don't stand against the wrong things of this world. I hope I have learned through this experience that, while it is hard and it really sucks to hurt someone you love, it is God that I must ultimately answer to. I thank anyone who knows more details on this situation and has been praying for me.

I'll leave by saying this, in the words of my dad, you are ultimately responsible for you. If you don't like something, change it. If you are unhappy with how something in your life is going, fix it... I'll go one further though, if you are seeking change, or a fix, seek God. Allow God to guide your changes and your fixes, submit to Him and choose to respond.