A Temporary Home

(Our Christmas letter generated enough comments that I decided to publish to a wider audience.)

Dear friends and family,

As most of you know, 2014 was a year of transition for our family. We sold our Mableton home and moved into a newly constructed home in Kennesaw, Georgia. We are so thankful to God for this new house. It has so many great features for Gwendolyn, like a roll-in shower and lots of hardwood floors for her to walk around on in her gait trainer. There is plenty of room for the boys, inside and outside. The location also puts us much closer to our fantastic church (Burnt Hickory Baptist) and great schools for all of our children.

But it was the in-between time, the time we were in a rental house, that I want to share about with you. We jokingly called it our “Acworth Exile.” The rental house was very small, had stairs to Gwendolyn’s bedroom, and was not ready for us when we arrived (no bathrooms were completely finished/working). We had to deal with lots of dust and bugs. And half the garage was full of the landlord’s stuff. It was temporary and a work in progress.

There were some good things, though. All the appliances were new. The location was close to Aidan’s school. We had access to a pool and basketball court. The lease was month-to-month. And, we knew it was temporary. Our new house was being built. We could go see the progress (though sometimes it seemed slow) and imagine what it would be like to move in. So, we crossed off the days on a Steelers calendar and made it work. It was just temporary.

Jesus, who is God Himself, left His forever home to temporarily make his home among us. He gave up His divine rights and power to become an infant, a child, then a man of no privilege. He became a servant to those whom He created and who could not fathom His purpose. We were not prepared for Him. He had to deal with dust and bugs. He left the grandeur and perfection of heaven to sweat, and cry, and hurt, and hunger, and ultimately to be rejected and killed. But He decided we were worth the temporary move. As it says in Hebrews 2:9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

1298 Hamilton Creek Drive is not our permanent home, either. As believers in Jesus, we trust Him when He said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:2-3). Jesus is preparing a new heaven and a new earth as our forever home! So, while there is pain and heartache here — while there are temporary laughs and glimpses of eternity – while we gratefully accept our tasks and responsibilities for now – our real home is yet to come. We can’t always see the progress, and we don’t know how many days to mark on the calendar, but God is a builder we can trust. We can imagine (a little) what it will be like to move in. Throughout time, God’s people “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:16)

Our prayer for your family is that Christmas will remind you of Jesus’ temporary home with us and then you will turn your faith toward that city which God is building for those who trust in Him.

May God bless your temporary home and prepare you for the eternal one!

How Far Our Nation Has Turned From Thee

A villanelle inspired by the book of Jeremiah.

How far our nation has turned from Thee
To Whom we once pledged our faith and trust.
But yet You call to us, “return to Me.”

Choosing chains, yet declaring we are free
Still earth-bound to our own pleasure and lust.
How far our nation has turned from Thee!

Pursuing wisps of fame, power and prosperity
We forsake what is right and just.
But yet You call to us, “return to Me.”

Bowing to desire, but not bending our knee,
Our occasional pleas for help scatter as dust.
How far our nation has turned from Thee!

Praising the sins we ought to flee,
We claim it is Your commands that should adjust.
But yet You call to us, “return to Me.”

Worshiping all but You, why can’t we see
Your judgments upon us are discipline not disgust.
How far our nation has turned from Thee
But yet You call to us, “return to Me!”

Applies equally to Judah at the time of Jeremiah or the United States today.

2013: The Reading List

Our family uses the new year as an opportunity to set goals for the next year. I assess my reading list, too, to wisely plan my scarce reading time. I am publishing this here as a way of building accountability and starting a discussion of these (and other) great books. Here goes:

1) Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels – Kenneth Bailey. I freely admit that I am a Bible geek. I am always intrigued by historical or cultural studies that aim to shed more light on the Scriptures. I don’t remember how I came across this book, but I put it on my Amazon wish list and received it for Christmas. I can’t wait to start this one.

2) The One Year Christian History – Rusten and Rusten. Another Christmas gift, this is a daily devotional using events throughout history to demonstrate God’s character and interaction with us. So far, I have been reading this each day and enjoying it. Some of the stories are familiar (Jim Elliot and Auca people), while some are new to me (J. Gresham Machen). In the fall, I am hoping to be teaching a class on Christian history since the New Testament. This is just fueling the fire.

3) Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church – N.T. Wright. I was introduced to this book on David D. Flower’s blog, The Centrality and Supremacy of Jesus Christ. I realize that Christians are often lazy or just wrong in our terminology and vocabulary of heaven and the life to come. I look forward to thinking theologically through this. I expect it to add the inspiring works on heaven and the new earth I have enjoyed by Joni Eareckson Tada and Randy Alcorn.

4) Hosea, NICOT commentary on Hosea (J. Dearman) and BST commentary on Hosea (Kidner) – our LifeGroup is studying Hosea, Jonah, and Amos in the coming quarter. I have just started my study on Hosea. I have already been touched and educated about this difficult prophet by these two writers. Looking forward to more!

5) Not a fan – Kyle Idleman. Our church is going to be reading and studying this book together in February and March. I don’t know much about it yet.

6) Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis. While I do not enjoy science fiction as much as the fantasy genre, I decided to at least try the first book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy. I am about half way through this relatively short first book. I have been distracted with other reading (and getting some sleep!), but it shows promise.

So, what are you reading (or planning to read) this year? Are the books above worth the time? How will God use the books you read to change you?

Did E’er Such Love and Sorrow Meet?

People are asking very legitimate questions about suffering during these days after the Newtown shootings. Below is part of our family’s Christmas newsletter in 2005, the year we got Gwendolyn’s diagnosis and watched her suffer through seizures almost every day. 

Christmas is a time of contrasts. So many people generously give to others in need. But there seems to be so much need. Families put up lights and decorations while darkness clouds their relationships. We shop and spend and wrap gifts and cook and party to the point of fatigue, and then we complain that there isn’t enough time or money to enjoy these days. We mumble, “Happy Holidays” and wonder why we have lost the spirit of the season.

Some might say that Christmas is escapism. For a short time we try to forget about the troubles in the world. Tsunamis, wars, and hurricanes have challenged our compassion and understanding. Can there really be a God who cares and who can do anything about it?

We have wrestled with this question even more personally this year [in 2005]. Can we trust God when Gwendolyn’s seizures don’t seem to stop? If He can heal her, why doesn’t He?

God is not silent about suffering. One of oldest books in the Old Testament, Job, is a story about suffering. Job was a righteous man. God blessed him with many children and possessions. But one day, that all changed. His livestock was stolen. His servants were killed. And even his children died in a storm. Then he lost his health, suffering painful boils all over his body.

How did Job respond? He did not curse God; he did not sin. He kept trusting God. Job’s friends were convinced that Job (or his children) had sinned and deserved God’s punishment. They debated with Job and begged him to repent. Job fought back and asked God for a fair hearing. Surely God would correct this injustice.

Finally, God appeared. “Instruct me,” He asked. “Tell me where you were when I laid the foundations of the world? Where were you when I created the stars?” Job finally understood. His circumstances were not determined solely by his behavior. God had a larger plan. And He didn’t explain it all to Job.

We don’t always get what we deserve. And thank God for that! Usually we deserve much worse than we get. Why do we struggle so much when adversity comes? Because pain hurts, and we don’t like it. But the truth is that God has never left us, never forsaken us, and never stopped loving us.

Jesus didn’t initially get what He deserved either. The King of Kings was born in poverty and then cruelly executed. But His perfect life and death and subsequent resurrection made a way for us. Now, He is exalted in His rightful place. And we can have eternal Life and a home with Him forever. Jesus is the answer for suffering.

Horror Movies and a Little Theology of Fear

Today is Halloween, an observance when much of our society celebrates fear, evil, darkness, and the paranormal/supernatural. While children dress up to rake in candy, many teens and adults search for the next scare. Hollywood obliges this year with these movies and themes: “Silent Hill: Revelation 3D” (demonic world), “Paranormal Activity 4” (demonic possession), “Sinister” (supernatural killer), “VHS” (gore, abandoned house), “#holdyourbreath” (serial killer and possession), and “Smiley” (serial killer). How lovely!

The Theology of Horror

When “The Blair Witch Project” came out (1999), I went to see what all the hype was about. The movie did a great job of creating an overwhelming sense of dread and fear. You never really saw or understood what was happening. All you saw were the fearful reactions of the victims as they eventually succumbed to an unseen evil. It was spooky and effective. It was the first time after a movie that I ever looked around the parking lot carefully before heading toward my car. Once in my car, I stopped to think about why I would be scared. Then it hit me, in the “Blair Witch Project” there was no God. It had lured me into creepy forest away from His light and truth.

This same theological assumption is the basis for fear in most scary movies: “There is no good God that can help you.” Evil is unrestrained, unstoppable (Jason, Michael, Freddy), and unredeemable. The unwitting victims are left alone in an uncaring universe. Most of them die. Look at the tag line from this year’s “Sinister”: “Once you’ve seen him, nothing can save you.” It is the absence of God that creates terror.

Healthy Fear (of God)

The Bible assumes that fear is a natural human reaction to the unknown and even the supernatural. When angels appear in the Bible, their first words to quivering humans are usually, “fear not.” Fearing God is a good thing. He is the judge of all people. His ways are often inscrutable. And His commands are absolute. Sometimes, we get so comfortable with our grandfatherly images of God that we forget He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that it is a bad idea to keep on sinning after knowing the truth: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:30-31)

Paralyzed No More

But this kind of reverential fear is far from what horror movies exploit. There the fear is of evil (not the holiness of a righteous God), uncertainty (not a sure judgment), helplessness (not God’s omnipotence), and being alone (not the continual presence of God). Horror movie fear paralyzes. Fear of God motivates us to change our direction back to Him. Proverbs 1:7 says “the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge.”

Still, God does not leave us paralyzed by earthly fears. He restrains evil, and Satan will not win. Jesus casts out the demonic. They have no authority over Him. He guides our future. He is always with us. He loves us more than we deserve or can understand. These are the truths that drive out the paralyzing fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18

So, let’s walk away from those earthly fears fueled by Hollywood. (After my revelation about the theology of “Blair Witch Project,” I have not seen any more horror movies.) But, let’s recover a healthy fear of our Creator and Judge.

“I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” Jesus in Luke 12:4-5

So-Called “Three-Parent IVF” is a Bad Idea, Medically and Theologically, (Part 2)

In part one, I discussed the medical background and risks of a potential IVF treatment for certain mitochondrial diseases. In this final part, I will explain the theological problems the procedure presents.

God is the Author of Life
In Acts 3:15, Peter calls Jesus the Author (or Prince) of life. The word translated as author/prince is “archegos,” which comes from a root meaning “first,” “source,” “head,” or “ruler.” It is used of military leaders, city founders, or originators/authors. Jesus is also the “archegos” of our salvation in Hebrews 2:10 and the “archegos” of our faith in Hebrews 12:2. It is God (through Jesus) who created life. He is still the Creator, and life is His most extravagant creation. It is usurping His position, then, to assert our own right to create life (according to our image and wisdom) as this procedure attempts to do. Quite simply it is overstepping our bounds. The Bible calls this crossing of the line “transgression,” one of its word pictures for sin.

The Scriptures are full of examples of God’s power to give life. From Abraham’s and Sarah’s son born in their old age (Isaac), to Hannah’s son, Samuel, to the birth of John to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age, to the virgin birth of Jesus to Mary, to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is no denying God’s miraculous power to give life. Melanie and I have also experienced this miraculous power. After years of infertility, God stepped in and brought life to us — not when we thought it was best, but when He knew it was best. (We really thought it was the worst possible time, but that is a story for another day.) We did not need IVF; we just needed to trust God to be Author of life. He gave us our first born son, Aidan, and our parenting journey began.

God is the Authority Over Life
The additional meanings of “archegos” teach us that Jesus (who is God) is not just the source of the beginning of life; He is also the authority (or captain) over life. The context of Acts 3:15 sheds important light on this. Peter was explaining the healing of a lame beggar outside the Temple. He had been lame since birth, yet God had a marvelous plan for his life. In the name of Jesus, Peter and John brought complete healing to this man to the amazement of all who had seen him lame for years. As Peter explained that the risen Jesus was the power behind the miracle, they proclaimed Jesus (the one the Jews had killed) as the Author of life. This was vividly demonstrated by the indisputable healing of the beggar. Who are we, then, to say that God has no plan for those who suffer from disease? While certainly there is room for us to relieve suffering and offer healing, it is not our purview to try and eliminate suffering as if we were the masters over life. There is great value in suffering that today’s quick fix culture fails to consider. Even in disease and suffering, God is still good. It is in our suffering that we can truly experience His goodness.

God in Our Lives
We have also experienced this first hand. Gwendolyn suffers having an incurable mitochondrial disease. For years, she had dozens to hundreds of seizures per day. Now she does not sit on her own or talk on her own or lots of other things that an eight year old girl should do. We suffer to care for her and provide for her. Her schedule is draining. We deal with therapists and doctors and special education teachers and insurance and medical supply companies and all manner of difficulties (even churches that won’t help). And, yet, we see great good in our journey. Without Gwendolyn, we would never have understood compassion as we do now. We wouldn’t know as much about selfless love. And we would not have known how sweet a personality can shine through even without words without having Gwendolyn. We do not understand all that God is doing, but we have found that He is good. He is the Authority over life.

Our trust of God as the Author and Authority over life was tested again in the birth of Lincoln, our youngest. Science said that we would have a 25% chance of having another child like Gwendolyn. There is no random chance with God, though. We trusted Him that whatever He chose to do would be good and right. Even after a miscarriage, we trusted God as the Author of life. And he blessed us with a great little boy. Lincoln has no symptoms of mitochondrial disease and is a joy to our whole family.

So, this so-called “three-parent IVF” process is medically perilous (part one) and an affront to the Author of life. The researchers should walk away from it now.

SOURCE
archo” article in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

So-Called “Three-Parent IVF” is a Bad Idea, Medically and Theologically (Part 1)

Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre at Newcastle University in England are trying to win government approval for a new in-vitro fertilization (IVF) technique to supposedly eliminate some mitochondrial diseases from being passed from mother to child. Sensational headlines are calling this “three-parent IVF” or “designer babies.” You might wonder why I am tackling this topic on a Bible blog. This is actually is a perfect opportunity for some theology practice. Biblical knowledge has to be applied to the problems of today, or it is just trivia.

Medical Facts
We receive two kinds of DNA at conception. Nuclear DNA (over 3.3 billion base pairs) comes equally from mom and dad. Each cell has one copy of this genetic blueprint. We also receive mitochondrial DNA (16,569 base pairs), but this comes only from mom. Since we have lots of mitochondria in each cell, there are lots of copies of the mtDNA in each cell. According to the best theories of researchers, mtDNA is only involved in the process of turning sugars (or fats) into energy. They do not think it has any impact on identifiable characteristics (height, eye color, etc.).

The IVF procedure under consideration fertilizes an egg from the mom with a known mtDNA defect with sperm from dad. The nucleus of the fertilized egg is then transplanted into the “hollowed out” egg from a woman who has no known mtDNA defect. The resulting child, then, has nuclear DNA from mom and dad and the mtDNA from a second woman. It is true that the mtDNA is just 0.1% of the total nuclear material. It is stretching the facts to declare the second woman a second mother. (However, the legal and ethical issues surrounding the recipient’s notification and donor’s rights would have to be addressed.)

Medically Unsound
Despite the small percentage of total genetic material being replaced, I think this is a very risky medical option that may not even be needed. Most mitochondrial diseases (75%) are linked to something other than mtDNA defects (nuclear DNA, environmental factors, etc.). This procedure would not avoid any of these causes. Even a known mtDNA defect does not guarantee that a mom’s children will exhibit symptoms. One defect, called LHON, causes severe vision problems. But it only occurs in 50% of boys and 10% of girls with an affected mother.

Secondly, researchers do not know every mtDNA mutation that might cause a mitochondria-related disease. A mtDNA transplant would not guarantee perfectly healthy mtDNA. An unidentified defect might be passed along from the donor. Researchers also do not understand all the complex interactions of nuclear DNA with mtDNA. It is clear that in most cases of mitochondrial disease (not maternally inherited), some nuclear genes are involved. Replacing the mom’s mtDNA with another woman’s mtDNA brings the risk of actually causing new problems because of the unknown interactions between nuclear DNA and mtDNA. (UPDATE: This recent research demonstrates how a single gene defect in the nucleus or mitochondria may not cause a problem, but the combination does.)

I admit, I am not a doctor or genetic specialist. However, as an educated layman, there are so many unknowns and uncertainties that the risk seems unjustified. Hurting families should not be test cases, especially when there are clearly superior options, such as adoption or even trusting God.

Personal Background
Why am I singling out this procedure for examination? Our daughter Gwendolyn has a mitochondrial disease. We have had to learn about mitochondrial diseases and genetics. We have had to make decisions weighing medical science against faith. Gwendolyn’s exact genetic diagnosis is still unknown, but it suspected to be autosomal recessive (coming as a combination of nuclear genes from mom and dad). They have not found a specific defect in her mtDNA (which came from Melanie). This type of inheritance implies a 25% risk for us having another child with all of Gwendolyn’s severe symptoms.

In part two, I look at the theological problems with this procedure…

SOURCES
mtDNA and Mitochondrial Diseases
“Mitochondrial Disease Inheritance and Genetics
And three make the perfect baby
“Three-Parent IVF Could Reduce Disease, But Stirs Debate
Ethics debate opens into ‘three-parent’ IVF technique
Mitochondria vs Nucleus