Sunday, November 25, 2007

Four Anniversaries

This is a special blog posting because it comes at a special time of the year for me—the commemoration of four anniversaries. Within a seven-day period this month I celebrated my physical birthday, my spiritual birthday, the fourth anniversary of my heart transplant, and Thanksgiving Day.

How should I rank these in order of importance? Well, if I had never been born, nothing else would matter to me, since there would be no “me.” I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, of an Italian mother and a Scottish-Irish-English-Welsh father. Like you, I had no choice in the matter.

I did have a choice in the second most important event—my spiritual birthday. I was nineteen years old, living just north of Philadelphia, when I came to God years ago on the basis of John 1:12 and John 3:3. (By “John” I am referring to the biblical book of “John”—the fourth gospel.) It was Thanksgiving Day, and while driving my car home from an appointment that morning, I prayed (with my eyes open) and cried out to God for forgiveness and mercy, and asked the Lord Jesus Christ to enter my life and give me a new heart—a spiritual transformation known in the Bible as the new birth.

I had been troubled by biblical texts that taught clearly the need for every person to trust Jesus Christ as Savior from the spiritual death and separation from God that are the natural condition of everyone born into this world. Even though I had been a religious person all my life, going to church every Sunday and even serving the church in other ways, I knew that I was not a child of God in the biblical sense of the term. I was not a true Christian. I had not had the spiritual transformation that Jesus spoke of as necessary for eternal life.

I had been spending a lot of time in the New Testament, especially the third chapter of John’s gospel. Here Jesus declared to Nicodemus, a member of the ruling religious council of Jesus’ day, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (v. 3). Nicodemus was surprised by these words, so Jesus explained to him that he was talking about a spiritual birth. First comes the physical birth, when, with the help of our mother’s amniotic fluid, we are born of water. Then, when we personally believe in and receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are born of the Spirit (v. 5, 16). We are, therefore, “born of water and the Spirit.” As Jesus said, “flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (vss. 5, 6). The whole third chapter of John and the book of Acts helped me greatly in coming to Christ. After eight months of studying the New Testament and agonizing over the decision I knew I had to make, God’s Holy Spirit pulled me into his eternal kingdom on that Thanksgiving Day.

Did I have a choice in the matter? On the one hand, it seems as though I did. Of course I did! It seems foolish to even question this point. But then we read these striking words concerning Jesus: “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). This scripture passage teaches that we become children of God through receiving Christ, but then it seems to say that our human decision was not really a factor in the new birth. The apparent contradiction is just that—an apparent one. There is no true contradiction here. Our spiritual change, being born again, is totally accomplished by God, yet it happens through the consent of our will. He is the one who changes us. He re-creates us and brings us into his kingdom by a second birth. No one else can accomplish this transformation.

However, this miraculous work of God takes place when we yield our will to his will. When we do as John 1:12 says, namely, “receive” him and “believe in his name,” God then gives us a new heart and makes us a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yes, we have a choice in the matter of our eternal destiny. But the work of regeneration or re-creation itself is all of God (Titus 3:5-7). It is not by any works or effort of our own. The remarkable gift of salvation is just that—a gift of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). No matter how you have lived so far in life—as a “good” person, a “bad” person, or some of each—if you have not yet personally received Christ and his gift of salvation, you are what the Bible refers to as “lost.” I urge each of you reading this blog to make this decision now. It is the most important choice you will ever make, and the consequences of this choice, whichever way you decide, are eternal.

Another recent celebration—the fourth anniversary of my heart transplant—was also a decision of God, but also of mine. When I was encouraged in the spring of 2003 to pursue the heart transplant option once again (after having been on the list for almost two years previously and then off it for a time), I wanted God to guide me and direct the whole process. But I chose to allow the doctors to prepare me for the eventuality. Someone died in November of that year, about a week before Thanksgiving, and I was given the person’s heart. The thoracic surgeons removed my badly diseased heart and implanted a new one. Eight days later, I came home from the University of Minnesota hospital, adjusting each day to my new bodily condition and way of life.

I had a choice to allow my name to be on the transplant list, and to go through with the surgery if a heart became available. Before I made the choice, however, I struggled over the cost and risk of the operation, and the probability of complications and side effects from the whole procedure and the medications I would need to take the rest of my life. The doctors told me, “When you get a heart transplant, you trade one disease for another.” I have found that to be true. The past four years have not been easy, but I believe I made the right choice.

One year ago, because my new heart was doing poorly, I was encouraged to get on the list again, to receive another transplant. I believed then, and I believe now, that I should not get on the list again. I know that the doctors do not expect my heart to last much longer, but I am leaving the whole situation in God’s hands. I have no criticism for those who would choose to receive a second heart transplant, but it does not seem to be God’s path for me. I simply do not have the peace in my heart that I should pursue that option.

The final event I celebrated during the recent seven-day span was Thanksgiving Day. In the United States this took place on November 22. Wherever you live, and whether and when your country has a special day to give thanks, I trust that you choose to be grateful. The act of expressing gratitude is life-giving and life-renewing, and I have learned, by experience, the remarkable truth of Philippians 4:6, 7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Thank you, blog friends, for reading this to the end. Please feel free to post your thoughts, and to interact with one another about the issues raised. Some of you have much to contribute to the readership, or to ask of others, and I encourage you to do so. Let us all choose to thank God for life and daily provision, and for the deep peace of mind he gives to those who receive him as Savior and Lord. May God be near to you until our next message time. God bless you always!


Anonymous said...

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful reflections, Bob. I rejoice with you for each day the Lord gives us life.

I am so thankful to the Lord for your life and ministry, and all you have meant to so many people, including me!

May the Lord continue to bless you with a sense of his presence.


Kim said...

Hi Bob,
Thanks so much for sharing your stories (all of them!)

I've not heard your faith story before. It has similarities to mine. Though raised in a Christian family, our heritage didn't emphasize a personal commitment so -- I never made one and never really knew it was an important and necessary step. Finally as an adult I had an encounter with God that changed my life and heart.

While it frustrates me to no end that I could be a church goer and not hear about that important step, it makes me all the more determined to share my own story!

THANK you for sharing yours!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dad!
I just heard a really thought-provoking benediction in our pastor's sermon at church this past Sunday the 25th. It was from Brennan Manning, who you and I both respect and enjoy a lot, I think. The general idea of it was, "May your plans all be frustrated and come to nothing so that God's plans may be fully realized in your life." That needs to be true for each and every one of us, amen?
Your daughter Joni

Anonymous said...

Hi Joni,

Thanks for the great benediction from Brennan Manning. There is powerful truth in those words. Yes, I have always appreciated Brennan Manning -- I've talked with him several times when he's been here at Bethel. He and I know a lot of the same Franciscan priests from the 1950's and 60's. I had them as HS teachers and he knew them as priests with his order in PA.
Re. the benediction, it hurts when our plans are not fulfilled, but there is nothing like the joy that God gives when we are living in his will.
Love you lots,Dad

Anonymous said...

Hello, Bob. Wentworth talked about you in Action prayer meeting today, and we hadn't realized your transplanted heart is failing.
We are grateful that God is giving you time to bless others with your thoughts on this stage of your life. What a path you and Judy are travelling! How do people do it without Christ?

My favourite benediction?
Heb 13:20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,
Heb 13:21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.
It just seems to have everything that matters - and He is still equipping and using you.
We have just joined Action for whatever the Lord has for us there, including a child sponsorship programme.
Blessings on you and Judy. Love,
Neville & Merle

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing your thoughts and perspective. I continue to pray for you--and appreciate you sharing back to us the lessons you are learning.

In Christ,