Holy moments…

Here’s a couple of glimpses into Hannah’s journey in the NICU I thought would serve as an encouragement:

“For the typical baby at 26 weeks, the chances of survival are about 75%. Because of what she has been through, and our concerns about her lungs, I would put her chances at about 5%.” The doctor giving us a pre-delivery consultation.
“She’s exceeding all our expectations” Two different nurse practitioners

One nurse practitioner’s face showed her amazement on day 3 as she sat with us looking at Hannah.  She had overseen Hannah’s care the first night at the worst time.  She didn’t say much, but her face said it all on that third day.  Intermittently, she would shake her head in looking at Hannah and smile.  I hope this experience renews her passion for why she’s a nurse; that nursing is a holy vocation, a wonderful opportunity for hands-on love; especially with the children in the ICU who are visited very little.  As I’m writing, there’s a nurse sitting in a rocking chair to my left with a child we have not seen visited once.  The child often cries, but the nurses come by to touch and to let the child sleep on their shoulder, and he calms right down.

“We want her to get to 40% oxygen or less on the ventilator, but her lungs just can’t support her” a nurse said the first night when she was at 100%.  Hannah hit 40% oxygen early Saturday morning, with a low of 38%.  She’s bumped up and down a bit from that point, but she’s generally holding steady at 40-42%.

“We’d like the ‘mean’ of her blood pressure to be at least her gestational age (26), but we’d love for it to be at 30 or more” spoken the first night when her blood pressure mean was in the mid-teens.  Hannah’s blood pressure rose after the first night, and now the “mean” consistently measures anywhere from 38-43, excellent for her age.

“We’re going to start feeding her breast milk today.  Don’t be surprised though if she doesn’t digest it, or has significant problems.  Almost all our preemies have trouble from the very beginning.”  Said on Thursday.  She’s been fed 15 times since then, with only two times where she didn’t digest the milk because she was on her back.

And below I’d like to share a little summary of quotes, encouragements, and other words from friends affected by this crisis.  Each of these are reminders we are always changing (for better or for worse), and crises have a way of sharpening that change; who we become results from the decisions we make.  I’ve seen many people growing in their ideas and practice of prayer especially.  People have realized that prayer, seriously practiced (especially when carried by a community), changes the world.  Period.  Here is the summary:
“God is showing you Himself in your suffering and prayer and you’ll never be the same again.”
“Each day of Hannah’s life, we praise you! we praise you!”
“I’m so thankful that we serve a God who can wrap us close and give us comfort in times like this.”
“I have lost 10lbs and dropped 20+ points on my bottom number for blood pressure… Lord, I’d like to donate those pounds and points to Hannah Myers. Thanks & Amen.”
“She was swaddled in a blanket, but I think just being that close to our voices and feeling our breath….there was just something supernatural about it! God is faithful!”
“The night she was born God had me read Exodus 14:13. It’s talking about the Egyptians. Moses had brought the children of Israel out and they were asking him, “Did you bring us into the desert just to let us die?” He told them not to be afraid. The egyptians they saw that night they would never see again. God told me that was for Hannah and her situation and that what we were seeing that night we would never see again.”
“May these tough days soon pass into weeks and months of steady growth, and later become a powerful story of God’s strength and mercy.”
“Prayers flow with tears words cannot express.”
“I am sitting in Bethany’s hospital room after having just spent some time with our precious Hannah…. She was ever so sweetly laying on her side, spontaneously grinning and it was the sweetest thing you’ll ever see….”
“I woke up at 3 this morning and prayed for Hannah. I trust I’ll get to meet that little miracle someday.”
“Life has a way of feeling ordinary. But this situation makes everything brighter.”
“They said they were losing her and wanted to know if Nate and bethany wanted to hold her before she passed away…. well, God wasn’t done yet…”
“How this situation appears does not dictate the outcome. “No, despite all these things, OVERWHELMING VICTORY is ours through Christ who loved us.” Romans 8:37″
Before Bethany’s water broke, when she was experiencing serious bleeding and complications, in a discussion in a men’s group about intercessory prayer, a friend shared: “I’ve never really practiced, or felt drawn to using the imagination in prayer.” About an hour later, after fifteen minutes of quiet prayer together, he said, “I don’t really know what to do with this, but while we were praying, I saw two people. One was definitely Bethany, the other I assumed was you. Bethany had a round, full belly, and all I felt was joy, joy, joy.” (this experience is where Hannah got her middle name)

And now, for you. What are you learning through participating in a proactive way in this crisis?

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An excerpt from this morning’s sermon at Cincinnat COB

“Humble Yourselves, Discipline Yourselves, Be Steadfast”
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

…we have no reason to fear what even the most powerful empire in the world can do to us or the most well-placed bullet because we get to bear witness to a powerful love.  It is this awareness, this belief that has led followers of Jesus into the darkest, most violent places on Earth to proclaim and live the transformative message of Jesus and the way of life he redeems us to.  Or, it has led followers of Jesus into parts of our society that aren’t necessarily desirable, has led us to desire healing and hope in places of brokenness.

Believing this message should, I emphasize should lead Christians to look at their society around them, searching for places and relationships of brokenness that we can then move towards, engage with; instead of separating ourselves from, insulating ourselves from brokenness.  Unfortunately, the pattern of response to brokenness in Cincinnati, like many cities, is people abandoning, leaving behind, running away from darkness because we don’t like to feel uncomfortable, insecure, stretched, or frustrated.  People move into an ever-increasing ring of suburbs to find a place of security, leaving behind communities falling apart.  We then build beltways and interstates that keep us from having to see and engage those communities on a daily basis, and they slide into our subconscious; only coming up when we are forced to detour through them.

Precious few churches choose to obey the courageous call of Jesus to seek out places of brokenness and put down roots there.  This community of Cincinnati Church of the Brethren and our community Vineyard Central have attempted to be faithful to the call of God in this way.  But it has been rough going, for us and for you.

For one thing, we’ve found that we don’t have the tools to be able to handle pain and brokenness very well, because we’ve been shaped by a gospel of pain avoidance.  Several weeks ago, I heard a story from a man named Scott Dewey that connects with this truth.  Scott is a follower of Jesus, and Scott caught a vision to move to the slums of Bangkok, Thailand with his wife.  There are any number of preventable diseases there in the slums that primarily result from unclean drinking water.  Scott wanted to solve those problems, and bring hope to the slums.  So they said, “Here I am Lord, send me” and they went.  Three years later Scott rolled over in bed one morning and said to his wife, “Melanie, I can’t do this any more.  There’s too much pain here.”  After three years, they hadn’t solved the unclean water problem and Scott had been crushed by the pain and darkness of life in the ghetto.  Scott, however, chose to reflect on his thinking instead of just abandoning the place, and he came to one crucial awareness.

They had entered that neighborhood to do ministry for people there.  They had come with a gospel they believed provided hope.  And Scott realized as he thought about the pain and darkness crushing him that the people who had lived in that ghetto all their lives had a greater capacity to deal the with the pain and still find little cracks of hope than he did.  Scott found out that the gospel and the community he came from was one that was not familiar with pain, did not seek out pain, struggle, and brokenness and therefore he didn’t have the resources to deal with the pain there in Bangkok.  What Scott learned was that the people he had come to minister to were in fact ministering to him in how to live with pain and suffering.  What Scott learned through them was a fresh understanding of the gospel that does not bring hope through avoiding pain but through embracing it and finding God in the midst of it…

Link to full text here.

Honor the birth of the king by imitating and obeying him

Last month, at the beginning of Advent, I wrote some troubling thoughts I had been having about Jesus’ kingship.  I acknowledged the struggle of Jesus setting an example of kingship that blows my (our) entire concept of kingship right out of the water.  My thoughts reminded of the writing of Richard Hays, who was the first to show Revelation as something different than the methamphetamine dream it always seemed like to me.  He showed how the Jesus of John’s Revelation is revolutionary and consistent with the ministry of Jesus. I can’t think of a better way to honor Christmas than to post an excerpt of Hays’ convicting writing.

As you read, remember
Jesus was born to a teenage mother
was revealed early to lower class shepherds
spent most of his life in relatively lawless, uncouth Nazareth
hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, and the diseased
He taught the powerless they were powerful without using the tools of the powerful
In a pampered society where we are tempted to curry favor from and long to be like the “wealthy” and “powerful,”how does the Incarnation challenge our idea of who we should desire to primarily “be with”?

I leave you with Richard Hays. Read through to the end. It’s totally worth it. Merry Christmas.

“In the book of Revelation, Christ’s lordship stands in flat antithesis to Caesar’s.  The fundamental political claim of this resistance document is shown in the hymn sung by loud voices in heaven at the blowing of the seventh trumpet: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.’  (11:15)

God’s kingdom is not some otherworldly realm; rather, Christ has taken control over “the kingdom of the world.”  Thus, unlike Luke, who presents the conflict between Rome and the gospel as incidental, Revelation makes it inevitable and necessary, for the lordship of Christ necessarily excludes all other claims.  No compromise is possible…No wonder, then, that John has been exiled and his churches are facing persecution; they really do stand against the Roman Empire.

The crucial difference between the Zealots of Israel and that of the church, however, appears clearly when we consider the central Christ-centered metaphor of Revelation:  Jesus is ‘the Lamb that was slaughtered.’  This image, used of Jesus twenty-eight times in Revelation, first appears in the heavenly throne-room scene, where someone is being sought  to open the scroll with seven seals.  John begins to weep because no one is deemed worthy to open the scroll, but he is comforted by one of the ‘elders’ who sits in the presence of God’s throne: ‘Do not weep.  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that  he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’ (5:5).  The description leads us to expect Jesus to appear as a glorious figure…but when the ‘lion of Judah’ appears in the heavenly throneroom to open the scroll, he does not come in conquering kingly form; rather, we see his true aspect:  ‘Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered…’ (5:6).  The shock of this reversal discloses the central mystery of the Apocalypse:  God overcomes the world not through a show of force but through the suffering and death of Jesus, ‘the faithful witness’ (1:5).  The comments of David L. Barr accurately assess the effect of this image reversal:

A more complete reversal of value would be hard to imagine…the Lamb IS the Lion.  Jesus is the Messiah, but he has performed his messianic office in a most extraordinary way, by his death.  Yet his death is not defeat, for it is just this that makes him worthy to open the scroll revealing the will of God.  Jesus conquered through suffering and weakness rather than by might.  John asks us to see both that Jesus rejects the role of Lion, refuseses to conquer through supernatural power, and that we must now give a radical new valuation to lambs; the sufferer is the conqueror, the victim the victor.

Rome rules by the power of violence, but the one who is the true King of kings and Lord of lords rules by virtue of his submission to death- precisely the opposite of armed violence against the empire.  That is why he alone is worthy.

When, in the climactic battle scene in Revelation 19, Jesus appears as the conquering rider on a white horse, he is ‘clothed in a robe dipped in blood.’  Our first inclination is to see this as a mark of the divine warrior splattered with the blood of enemies whom he has killed, as in Isaiah’s symbolic vision of a figure who  comes in ‘garments stained crimson’:

I trampled down peoples in my anger,
I crushed them in my wrath,
and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.  (Isa 63:6)

In Revelation 19:13, however, the rider’s robe is dipped in blood BEFORE the battle, and he is leading ‘the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure’ (19:14).  Thus, once again we are dealing with a  dramatic symbolic reversal:  the rider is the Lamb, and the blood with which he is stained is his own.  He is called ‘the Word of God,’ and the sword with which he strikes down the nations comes from his mouth.  We are to understand that the execution of God’s judgment occurs through the proclamation of the Word…those who read the battle imagery of Revelation with a literalist bent fail to grasp the way in which the symbolic logic of the work as a whole dismantles the symbolism of violence.  Oliver O’Donovan perceptively describes the literary effect:

There is, of course, as has often been observed, something highly paradoxical about the picture of the Prince of Martyrs constituting himself at the head of an army of conquest.  It is an image which negates itself, canceling, rather than confirming, the significance of the political categories on which it draws.

A work that places the Lamb that was slaughtered at the center of its praise and worship can hardly be used to validate violence and coercion.  God’s ultimate judgment of the wicked is, to be sure, inexorable.  Those who destroy the earth will be destroyed (11:18); those who have shed the blood of the saints and prophets will find their own blood poured out on the earth.  But these events are in the hands of God;  they do not present a program for human military action

As a paradigm for the action of the faithful community, Jesus stands as the faithful witness who conquers through suffering.  The church follows Jesus by bearing prophetic witness against the violence, immorality, and injustice of an earthly empire that claims the authority that belongs rightly to God.