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Indecision

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My nephew, David, posted the following on his Facebook wall about a year after losing his younger brother in a car accident.

It interesting how much one’s views can be altered by experiences. Before my little brother’s death I was an organ donor. It’s seemed like a simple decision at the time. As I checked the box on the drivers’ license form, I distinctly remember thinking,  “I’m not going to need them. Heck, might as well let someone else who does have them.”

Then my little brother, Scott, got into his car drove off to meet his older brother, Marshall, for a concert. He never got there. Scott was an underage consenting organ donor. He was declared brain dead sometime early on  the Saturday morning following the accident. No brain activity, no blood flow in his brain. He was dead. He would never wake up. Yet he was on life support, most of the rest of his body unharmed. A perfect donor patient. At this point my family had a decision to make. Did we want to go through the organ donating process with Scott’s brain-dead body, or did we simply want to unplug the machines and let the rest of his body realize it was dead? My family decided that Scott would have wanted to be a donor. If Scott had not been a minor, we would have had no say in this matter. He would have been a consenting organ donor of legal age to make the decision for himself. And so my parents got to sit in the hospital for two days and watch their son be dead but not dead. I finally made my way home on the afternoon of the first day, and I saw my little brother for the fist time. He looked like he was sleeping. I wanted to shake him. “Scott, wake up! We’re all here for you, buddy.” He did not wake up. He would never wake up. I sat with him a while. At one point a cheery nurse came in and checked his vital signs. She was very pleased to see how fast his body had come out of shock. Finally, on Sunday evening they wheeled Scott off to the operating room where they harvested his organs. He was finally, truly dead. I remember, it was raining. The organ donating process had taken a heavy toll on Scott’s loved ones, especially my parents.

At that point I decided: I was not going to be an organ donor. I simply could not put my family through that again. I was so adamant about it that I took a permanent marker and blacked out the word “Donor” on my driver’s license. A few weeks later, I was going through security on my way to Korea. The security lady looked at my driver license and said “You don’t want to be a Donor?” I looked her straight in the eyes and said adamantly, “No I do not.” A few weeks after that, I went to the DMV. I was prepared to pay the $35 in cash to have them print me an new driver’s license. I wanted three things changed. I wanted a “Good” picture taken, I wanted my address updated, and I wanted my donor status changed. I told horror  stories at work and warned people to think twice about becoming a donor.

And then my parents told me about a chance meeting they had with the man who got my little brother’s heart. My parents were both very encouraged by meeting him and realized that the agony of dragging out my little brother’s death had allowed someone else to live. After hearing Mom and Dad talk about him, I wanted to meet this man whose life my brother’s death had saved. For the record, I have not changed my driver license back. I’m still mulling over whether I ever will.

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Plus and Minus

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Ever notice how every good thing has a flip side? I’m not talking about dualism, where every virtue has an equal and opposite vice. No, I’m talking about the flip side of positive motivation. The Bible is full of it. Look at the number of times people are told to fear God, and compare it to the times they are told to love the Lord. Love and fear are plus and minus, two sides of the same motivation.

I see it most clearly in my closest relationships. I love my wife; I fear disappointing her. I love my children; I fear what may befall them. I love God; I fear him.

My son is serving his second tour in Afghanistan. He has excellent training, and I know that his missions are well-planned and that he is well-protected. I also know that he is fighting against a remorseless enemy. There are people who will try to kill him if they can. I love my son, and I fear for his safety. Because I love him, I pray for him and support him however I can. But if love fails to motivate me, fear for him will still drive me to do the same things: I will still pray and support him.

I have heard it said that fear is wrong, that it cedes authority to the devil in my life. But I don’t find any biblical warrant for such a view. The Bible never diminishes the virtue of an appropriate fear. Only in one oft-quoted passage am I told that perfect love drives out fear. I confess; my love is not perfect. At times I need fear to help me stay on track.

As a child I loved my parents. Yet there were times when I was tempted to do things I knew I shouldn’t. At those times love seemed weak and inconsequential. The desire to do wrong was strong within me, and love alone was not sufficient to hold me back. Then fear came to my aid. For I knew that if my mom or dad found out what I was about to do, I would catch it. Fear of punishment saved me from doing risky things. In the same way, my heavenly Father threatens terrible punishments for willful disobedience to his instructions. His threats are not meant to chill my love for him; on the contrary, they are meant to strengthen my fear of him. If I fear him, perhaps I will not do what he has forbidden. If I fear him, perhaps I will do what he commands.

Love is strong. It is stronger even than fear. When love is perfect, it drives out fear because there is no longer any danger of the disobedience that leads to punishment. But as long as I am still fallen, still capable of disobedience, still willing to say, “Not your will but mine,” I need fear. Indeed, I pray for fear to keep me from stumbling when my love is cool or God seems distant. I would rather be terrified than lost.

Jesus told his followers not to fear those who can kill the body but can do no more. Instead, he said, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” This kind of fear leads to security and safety. It is mixed with reverence and awe. It is like the fear that prompts mountain climbers to go through rigorous training and invest in first-rate equipment. They know what the mountain can do to them. Other fears—fear of looking ridiculous, fear of embarrassment—become insignificant. In the same way, Jesus intends that our fear of God would sabotage every lesser fear. The great power of the first-century Christians was that they did not fear death; they feared God too much to fear anything else.

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All Things

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He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

All things.

I used to think this meant that God would give me things I want. He already gave me Jesus. He won’t withhold anything else. But if you read a little further, you find out what things Paul has in mind:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Trouble? Hardship? Persecution? Why would a loving Father give me that? But wait. He didn’t spare his own Son. Why would he spare me? Did Jesus have trouble? Check. Hardship? Check. Persecution? Check. Yet Jesus remained so secure in his Father’s love that he could face all those things. He even faced something we do not have to face: God’s rejection.

My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me? (Matt 27:46)

But to us he says:

Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you. (Heb 13:5)

So our loving Father graciously gives us all things—trouble, hardship, persecution—along with Jesus. Because it turns out that life always comes at us with trouble, doesn’t it? We have accidents. We lose jobs. Friends and loved ones die. But now we regard all these things as gifts graciously given by God, who assures us of his surpassing love by giving Jesus too.

How tempting it is to think when trouble comes that God hates us or is displeased with us or at least doesn’t care about us. Then we remember Jesus, and the sacrifice God made for us to demonstrate the incomparable greatness of his love for us. This, too, comes from (or was allowed by) my loving Father, the same Father who showed how great his love is by sending Jesus. I am sad. My soul is downcast. I grieve. And yet….

In the midst of my pain, I know he loves me. While grieving, I remember his goodness. Though I do not understand, I trust.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

All scriptures taken from Romans 8 (NIV) unless otherwise noted.

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