A NEW HEART

pigsAnd I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. [Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NLT)]

Last Friday, doctors in Maryland made history when they transplanted a genetically modified pig’s heart into a human in a last-ditch effort to save the life of David Bennett, Sr. A medical first, Bennett was too ill to qualify for a routine heart transplant or an artificial ventricular assist device. The 57-year-old’s prognosis is uncertain and it will be months before doctors know whether the transplant can be deemed a “success.” As with any organ transplant, the main risk is that of organ rejection and Bennett will need potent immunosuppressing drugs for the remainder of his life.

I remember how astonished the world was back in 1967 when Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first human-to-human heart transplant. The news that a surgeon had cut open someone’s chest, lifted out a diseased heart, and successfully replaced it with a healthy one from a dead donor was astounding. Although that first heart transplant recipient lived only eighteen days, today’s recipients have an 85% chance of living one year and a 69% chance of surviving five. The survival rate continues to decrease through the years with only 50% of heart transplant recipients living ten years and just 15% making 20 years. In spite of the risks, last year over 50,000 transplant candidates worldwide vied for the 5,000 hearts that were available. Sadly, there just aren’t enough hearts to go around.

54 years ago, the medical journals were wrong when they credited Dr. Bernard with the first heart transplant; God has been replacing hearts for ages! He takes our damaged hearts of stone, hearts unwilling to respond to Him, and replaces them with a new heart and spirit. After accepting His new heart, we have no need for immunosuppressive drugs because the new heart won’t be rejected. Unlike transplant candidates, we don’t have to meet specific criteria or put our names on a waiting list. Everyone qualifies and all we have to do is repent! The best news is that there’s no heart shortage and we don’t have to wait for someone to die; Jesus did that for us 2,000 years ago!

Even with a pig’s heart, Mr. Bennett won’t to want to live in a sty, cool off with a mud bath, snuffle in the soil, or start eating a mix of corn, soybeans, sorghum, and wheat. While his new heart will give him a new lease on life (at least for a short time), it will not change him. He will be the same man with the same favorite activities, world view, media preferences, attitudes, likes and dislikes, morals and principles he had before surgery. On the other hand, the new heart God gives us will make a huge change in us. We will have a new mind, new preferences, new spiritual gifts, new beliefs and morals, a new love for who and what we may have hated, and a new aversion to things we once might have loved. Rather than getting immunosuppressant drugs, we will receive an infusion of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control! Getting a new heart in God’s hospital also yields a far better survival rate—no death, only eternal life!

O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there thy cheerful beams. [Augustine]

Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live! [Ezekiel 18:30b-32 (NLT)]

I will give them hearts that recognize me as the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly. [Jeremiah 24:7 (NLT)]

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MAY WE NEVER FORGET

Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. … Praise the Lord, everything he has created, everything in all his kingdom. Let all that I am praise the Lord. [Psalm 103:1-2,22 (NLT)]

little blue heronThe Bible is filled with evidence of God’s goodness and the great (and miraculous) things He’s done for His people. Daniel emerges unscathed from a lion’s den, David defeats Goliath and the shepherd boy becomes a king, wisdom and riches are given to Solomon, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego aren’t even scorched from a fire. Water is parted more than once, the walls of Jericho collapse, jail doors miraculously open, and storms cease at a word. Armies are led to victory, manna falls from heaven, fish and bread multiply, the barren give birth, the sick and lame are healed, and the dead rise. The Bible is full of marvelous accounts of miracles, majesty, and triumphs.

While probably less noteworthy, God’s hand has been as present in our lives as it was for David, Moses, the Apostles and everyone else in the Bible’s Hall of Faith. Although it wasn’t the Red Sea or the Jordan River, He’s kept us from drowning in the deep waters of life and, while it wasn’t a fortified city like Jericho, walls that blocked our way have tumbled down more than once. It may not have been 135,000 Midianites against only 300 of us as it was for Gideon, but He’s given us victory over foes just as formidable when the odds were just as bad. Instead of a fiery furnace, He’s gotten us out of hot water many times and, while it probably wasn’t lions or an invading army, He’s saved us from plenty of perilous situations. We may not have the enormous wealth or wisdom of Solomon, but God has given us more than enough of both.

Let us never forget that God didn’t stop working in people’s lives when the last words in Revelation were penned. Our stories may not be as exciting and astonishing as those in the Bible, nevertheless, they are every bit as wonderful and worthy of thanks and praise. We’ve emerged unharmed when we should have been hurt, been nourished when hungry, been loved and comforted in our anguish, and been helped when we lost all hope. Jesus freed us from the chains of sin and the prison of despair and gave us a new life and the Holy Spirit! Indeed, God is good!

The Psalmist tells us never to forget all the good things God has done and yet, considering these past two years, it’s easy to do just that. As we face what promises to be an equally trying 2022 and the various challenges of a continuing pandemic, flight cancellations and delays, a still broken supply chain, and extremes in weather (along with countless other troubles), let us remember the many blessings of the past and appreciate the little blessings of each day.

Praise the Lord, oh my soul; let all that I am praise the Lord!

Count your blessings instead of your crosses.
Count your gains instead of your losses.
Count your joys instead of your woes.
Count your friends instead of your foes.
Count your smiles instead of your tears.
Count your courage instead of your fears.
Count your full years instead of your lean.
Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.
Count your health instead of your wealth.
Count on God instead of yourself. [Author unknown]

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the Lord. Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given. [Psalm 105:1-5 (NLT)]

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METAMORPHOSIS

monarch metamorphosisJesus said to him, “For sure, I tell you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the holy nation of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? How can he get into his mother’s body and be born the second time?” [John 3:3-4 (NLV)]

The being “born again” concept in Christianity isn’t an easy one to understand, yet we see it demonstrated whenever we look at a butterfly. Take the monarch, for example; it starts out as a tiny egg that hatches about four days after being laid. That’s its first birth. The caterpillar actually eats its way out of the shell before munching on the leaf where the egg was laid. Over the next ten to fourteen days, it eats and grows, shedding its skin every time it gets too tight. The full-grown caterpillar then spins silk and attaches its hind end to a leaf, hangs upside down and sheds its skin for the fifth and final time. When the new skin forms, it hardens and takes the form of a chrysalis. The monarch’s chrysalis is a beautiful jade green with little specks of gold and looks like a case that could be used to hold a jewel. Over the next ten to fourteen days, the caterpillar undergoes a metamorphosis. During this stage, the DNA that makes wings is switched on and something almost miraculous happens. When the transformation is complete, the chrysalis bursts open and out emerges a full-grown butterfly. It is born again! The new butterfly hangs onto the chrysalis for a bit, drying its wings and getting stronger, before taking flight and becoming the thing of beauty God meant it to be.

The monarch caterpillar looks and acts nothing like the monarch butterfly and it’s hard to believe they are actually the same creature but they are! The DNA sequence of the caterpillar is identical to that of the butterfly it becomes. The caterpillar, however, no longer exists—it has to die to become a butterfly, much as a person’s old self must “die” when he becomes a follower of Jesus. When we’re “born again,” like the butterfly, we have the same DNA of the person we once were and yet we’re an entirely different creature.

Unlike the butterfly, however, the change is internal not external. Moreover, caterpillars have no choice about whether or not they will become butterflies—they just keep eating and growing and shedding and nature takes its course. On the other hand, people do have a choice about whether they will experience their metamorphosis. They can choose to remain wrapped up in the dark chrysalis of unbelief, a hidden jewel than will never reach its potential, or choose to be reborn in Christ. While there is a scientific explanation for the near-miraculous transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, science can’t explain the miraculous transformation that occurs when we are reborn, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts, and we become the things of beauty God created us to be.

We know that our old life, our old sinful self, was nailed to the cross with Christ. And so the power of sin that held us was destroyed. Sin is no longer our boss. When a man is dead, he is free from the power of sin. And if we have died with Christ, we believe we will live with Him also. [Romans 6:6-8 (NLV)]

You have now become a new person and are always learning more about Christ. You are being made more like Christ. He is the One Who made you. [Colossians 3:10 (NLV)]

I have been put up on the cross to die with Christ. I no longer live. Christ lives in me. The life I now live in this body, I live by putting my trust in the Son of God. He was the One Who loved me and gave Himself for me. [Galatians 2:20 (NLV)]

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PRAISE HIM

Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy house of worship, praise him under the open skies; Praise him for his acts of power, praise him for his magnificent greatness; Praise with a blast on the trumpet, praise by strumming soft strings; Praise him with castanets and dance, praise him with banjo and flute; Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum, praise him with fiddles and mandolin. Let every living, breathing creature praise God! Hallelujah! [Psalm 150 (MSG)]

water lilyI’d gotten sidetracked taking pictures of the water lilies at the Botanic Gardens. I looked around for my husband and saw him sitting quietly on a nearby bench. Although his head was down, I knew he wasn’t snoozing. Sitting down beside him, I said, “He really is amazing, isn’t He?” We both spent a few minutes reflecting on how great our God is and thanking Him for using all 120 of the crayons in his heavenly box when he made the flowers. He’s an extraordinary artist!

Thanks and praise—we tend to lump them both together and, yet, they’re not really the same. Thanks are for gifts given; praise is for the giver of the gifts! For example, we thanked our children for the on-line cooking class that came with a box of all the necessary exotic ingredients shipped to our front door but praised them for finding such a unique, fun, and delicious present! A friend thanked me for writing this blog but it was her praise for my writing that put a smile on my face.

While it’s easy to thank God for his many gifts, I question, “Who am I to praise God for His splendor and works?” Perhaps it’s because I feel so insignificant and inept in comparison to our great and magnificent God. I tend to think we should have competency in an area for our praise to be of value. For example, while I would feel comfortable thanking virtuoso pianist Lang Lang for giving a concert, no matter how amazing I thought his performance, my lack of musical expertise would keep me from praising his interpretation of the piece or the amazing way he recovered from a career-threatening injury. While I take nature photographs, I can’t hold a candle to the work of a photographer like Thomas Mangelsen. While I could thank him for sharing his work, because I know nothing of f-stops, apertures, ISO, or shutter speeds, I question whether praise from someone who is an amateur like me would mean anything to him.

If I feel unqualified to praise mere humans, no wonder I’m hesitant to praise God. Yet, when I think about it, praise is praise, whether it comes from an expert or simply an appreciative fan. We don’t need to be accomplished in a field to know what we find inspiring, beautiful, remarkable, or impressive and something tells me that sincere praise is always music to someone’s ears.

My small brain can’t fathom the 4,500 stars I might see tonight let alone the 300 billion in the Milky Way and the estimated 70 billion trillion stars God scattered in the universe. I have enough trouble understanding the way bees make honey let alone how God managed to think up some 950,000 other kinds of insects. Try as I will, I can’t truly grasp how a cherry blossom becomes a juicy sweet cherry or how the 86 billion nerve cells in my brain make it possible for me to breathe, walk, talk, and chew gum at the same time. I have no idea how God managed to think up giggles, rainbows, bird songs, dolphins, water lilies, butterflies, peonies, strawberries, giraffes, snow, or sunsets. Nevertheless, I realize it’s not necessary to be an expert in astronomy, entomology, biology, zoology, botany, or any other science to appreciate and praise the work of our magnificent God. Our praise is music to His godly ears and surely will put a smile on His divine face.

On this day of Thanksgiving, let’s be sure to add a little praise to our thanks. Well done, God; well done!

Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out. Is there anyone around who can explain God? Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do? Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advice? Everything comes from him; Everything happens through him; Everything ends up in him. Always glory! Always praise! Yes. Yes. Yes. [Romans 11:33-36 (MSG)]

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WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? 

Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus. [John 12:10-11 (NLT)]

Golondrinas - NMWhile Scripture tells us about Martha and Mary, the first mention of their brother is when his sisters sent a message to Jesus that Lazarus had taken sick. By the time Jesus returned to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead four days and placed in a tomb. After Jesus called for him to come out, the once dead man, still wrapped in his graveclothes, emerged. The next we know of Lazarus is that he was present when Martha served a dinner in Jesus’ honor. Because the testimony of those who’d witnessed his miraculous resurrection had spread like wildfire, people gathered there to see the living Lazarus and Jesus, the man who brought a dead man back to life with just a few words.

After that dinner, Lazarus vanishes from the gospels as quickly as he appeared. If we were filming Jesus’ life, the role of Lazarus would be a bit-part without any lines. Nevertheless, this nondescript man played a pivotal role in the gospel story. With the exception of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Lazarus’ return to life is the most amazing miracle of the gospels. So, what happened to the man?

The raising of Lazarus sealed Jesus’ fate and, since Lazarus’ existence threatened the Jewish establishment, it may have sealed his, too. Along with their plot to kill Jesus, the priests plotted to kill HIM, as well. They wanted Lazarus dead because he was a living witness to Jesus’ power. While it is believed that Lazarus fled to avoid capture, we know that Jesus did not.

Did Lazarus’ miraculous escape from death change him? How could it not? Yet, I think of Justin, a young man for whom our church was praying. The picture of health, he collapsed due to a ruptured aorta and was “dead” for more than 15 minutes. The doctors warned his family that Justin’s survival was improbable and, if he were to survive, he would suffer severe brain damage. To everyone’s astonishment, however, Justin was walking, lucid, and speaking clearly less than ten days later; his only complaint was the soreness in his chest. His amazing recovery is nothing short of a miracle. Justin, however, does not believe in God or miracles. With no logical medical explanation for his survival, I wonder if that will change. Will his miraculous recovery and second chance at life cause Justin to reconsider his atheistic stand? Only God knows.

As for Lazarus, the rest of his story is mere speculation. While he may have remained in Bethany, church tradition holds that he moved to Cyprus, eventually became the bishop of Kition, and died a natural death in 63 AD. Yet other church historians believe Lazarus and his sisters moved to Gaul where he became the bishop of Marseilles and was beheaded by the Emperor Domitian. The only thing we know for sure about Lazarus is that he died a second time and that, some day in the future, Jesus will raise him from the dead once again. As for Justin, we know that he, too, will die a second time. Whether or not he will defeat death a second time is entirely up to him!

Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. [1 Corinthians 15:22 (NLT)]

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INCOMPREHENSIBLE BUT REAL

moebius band - moebius stripAnd I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you will know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. [John 14:16-17 (NLT)]

 I tell you the solemn truth, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not so difficult to accept for a working proposition as any one of the axioms of physics. [Henry Brooks Adams]

Writing about our Trinitarian God yesterday, reminded me of the Möebius strip (or band). Ever since my college roommate showed me one, I’ve been fascinated by it. To make one, take a paper strip, give it a single twist and tape the ends together to form a loop. If you draw a line from the seam down the middle of this strip, the line will meet itself back at the same seam but on the other side of the paper. If you continue drawing the line, it then meets at the starting point (and will be twice the length of the strip of paper) without ever needing to lift your pen. This single continuous line shows that the Möebius strip has only one boundary or surface. Imagine an ant crawling in a straight line along the length of that twisted and taped strip. It would return to its starting point having traversed every part of the strip without ever crossing an edge. Basically, something that looks as if it has two sides (and was made by a piece of paper that did), actually has only one surface or side.

If you cut this once-twisted piece of paper down the center line, you’ll end up with one long strip that now has two twists and two surfaces. If you cut that strip again, you end up with two intertwined strips and it just gets more confusing after that! German mathematician August Möbius’ discovery of the oddity in 1858 resulted in the development of a new field of mathematics called topology. While there are all sorts of algebraic and geometric explanations for this simple but remarkable piece of paper, I understand none of them.

Although I see how the Möebius strip could be applied to conveyor belts, continuous-loop recording tapes, and typewriter ribbons, I don’t understand its application in physics, music, engineering, chemistry, or topology. Understanding how it happens, however, isn’t necessary for me to know what happens when I take a strip of paper, give it a single twist, and tape it together!

For me, comprehending the Holy Trinity is a bit like my fuzzy understanding of the Möebius strip. I know it exists but I’m not quite sure how it works. I’ve experienced it but I can’t explain it. That the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God while, at the same time, the Father is neither Holy Spirit nor Son, the Son is neither Holy Spirit nor Father, and the Holy Spirit is neither Father nor Son is beyond human understanding!

Even without understanding how God is one in essence but has three united persons in that essence, I know our Triune God exists. Scripture tells us there is only one God and yet it also tells us that God exists in three persons. All three were present at Jesus’ baptism and He spoke of them. Moreover, just as I’ve witnessed the reality of a Möebius strip, I’ve witnessed the reality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they work in my life. That the concept of one in three and three in one is complex and puzzling doesn’t mean it isn’t real! Even though it’s beyond our understanding, like the Möebius strip, all we have to know is that it’s true!

Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God. [John Wesley]

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)]

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