Tuesday, August 16, 2011

transplant timing

Meet Stu and Jackson. A father and his bright-eyed 6-year old son. They share a bond that is more than family. Stu and Jackson had heart transplants in the same week.

Stu's heart had been failing for some time and, eight months ago, he was placed on the transplant list. On July 27, his close-knit community began a 30-day prayer initiative asking God for the perfect donor. Five days later, the phone call came that a donor had been identified and Stu and Teresa made their much-anticipated drive to Medical City in Dallas. At 7 a.m., they were at the hospital waiting for the donor heart to arrive and, by 2 p.m., Stu had been wheeled back to pre-op. At 4 p.m., Stu received word that the donor's family withdrew consent. Disappointment ran deep for a man who was still confident in God's faithful provision and a community of friends who continued to stand firm with compassionate support.

Rewind the tape a month earlier. Stu and Teresa brought Jackson (then 5 years old) to Pantego Bible Church to talk with Keith Smith about getting baptized. As Pastor Keith listened to Jackson's emerging faith, he encouraged Jackson with a book that he could take home to learn more about Jesus. His heart wasn't ready.

Jackson was scheduled with a follow-up conversation with Pastor Keith on August 3. Because of his father's sudden dash to the hospital, the meeting was expected to be delayed. But, because of his daddy's missed opportunity, Jackson was able to keep his appointment. He sat in Keith's office and expressed unwavering, articulate faith in Jesus. Now, his heart was ready. In a moment, he was new.

Miraculously, on August 6, Stu received another call. The donor heart was good and the surgery was successful. Stu's recovery was spectacular. And, nine days later, he returned home to a crowd of supportive friends. In a moment, he was new.

In Ezekiel 36:26, God expressed the coming covenant this way: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Jesus came to perform a heart transplant--to replace calloused, hardened hearts that are opposed to God with vital, pulsing hearts that beat for a relationship with God. The story of Stu and Jackson remind me that each spiritual transplant is the work of God. We may never know why Stu received the second transplant instead of the first one. But, I'm confident that the God who makes hearts beat was operating before the surgeons ever were. Similarly, I have no idea why God providentially arranged for Jackson to talk with Pastor Keith on August 3 instead of July 27. But, heart-change is always according to God's timetable, not ours.

This week, we begin a sermon series on personal evangelism and the story of these two heart transplants encourage me with great freedom when it comes to sharing my faith. I have no idea where people are on their spiritual journey. I cannot be sure whether their "body" will accept or reject the message. I don't control the time or receptivity. All I can do, as a Good News donor, is give away my faith. And, I trust God to do the rest.

Monday, August 8, 2011

the heart of the matter

Yesterday, I preached on James 5:1-6. It's one of those passages where a casual gloss of the text could easily lead the reader to conclude that the passage doesn't apply to them. Who of us thinks we're really rich? What's the standard of luxury? Few of us have unpaid farmers who have mowed our fields. So, we do nothing.

But, the Bible is written to get to the heart of matters. And, while a text may not seem applicable to me on the surface, there's always a deeper principle that God has designed to impact my life [see 2 Timothy 3:16-17]. For example, the deeper principle of James 5:1-6 is the stockpiling of resources to benefit oneself to the loss of others who needed the resources more. While I didn't think that I had personally refused blessing to anyone in need, the Lord brought to mind the saving of mission resources in our church budget "for a rainy day." This potential "hoarding" of mission riches stood in stark contrast to the the growing famine in the horn of Africa. Poor people desperately need what we could give. We just needed to apply the biblical principle and act.

And we did. Pantego Bible Church committed $40,000 to famine relief through our partnership with World Vision, a ministry that has a long track record of caring for children and families in the developing world. Through government grants, this contribution will be matched five times, for a total of $200,000!

The remarkable thing is that a seemingly irrelevant passage suddenly sprung personally to life! This is the way God's Word operates. If we really don't want to be changed--to continue living a Christ off-centered life--then the Bible will never be more than ancient letters written for someone else. But, if we approach the Bible expecting to be changed, we position ourselves where the Holy Spirit can take us beyond the surface facts to the heart of the matter.