Before me on my desk sits something most people never get to see - pictures of the inside of my body. Less than a week ago I had knee surgery. Number ten but who's counting? The photos were taken using an arthroscope. They tell the story of a middle-aged knee. They also teach a timelss theological lesson.
More than two decades ago years of jumping out of airplanes and carrying heavy combat loads took their toll. At the early age of twenty-one I was told that I had degenerative arthritis, a very scientific name for "bad knees." Taking a medical discharge from the Army, I embarked on a new life. Ten years later the prophecies of orthopedic gloom and doom came true. My knee was getting progressively worse having experienced five knee surgeries in six years. It was done even if I wasn't.
The doctor's progrnosis wasn't good. I had three options, he said. One, live with it. Two, joint replacement at 32. Three, an investigative procedure that lacked long term studies to verify its usefulness. Not ready to jump on the knee replacement merry-go-round, unhappy about the prospects of maybe having to replace the replacement every five to ten years, I opted for number three.
In August of 1997, I was given the gift of an active life through the death of a man just two years my senior. He died of a heart attack. I received a significant portion of his knee. Through the generosity of a grief-stricken family I'll never meet, I was given a chance to walk hopefully pain free through a meniscal allograft.
The surgery was long. The recovery longer, longer in fact than if I had gone the route of an artificial replacement. At the end of eight months, and two more minor surgeries later, I was able to hobble around a softball field. For the next twelve years, I was able to do what I wanted physically. No pain. All gain.
In fact, this summer I was in the best shape I've been in for years. I'd walked all over central Europe. I'd been enjoying long, brisk walks with our German Shepherd puppy. I was feeling frisky. I was ready to start running again just to push the edge of my fitness envelope.
Then I slipped, literally. A minor accident threw it all away. At the time my initial thought was, "Wow, that could have been bad." Three days later I realized that it was. A month later an MRI confirmed what I already knew. I had torn my donor's meniscus. I was about to hop back on the surgical carousel.
Last week I had my first knee surgery in twelve years, far longer than I could have hoped for back in 1997. I stayed awake for this one. I wanted to watch. I wanted to see what the doctor saw.
What we saw was interesting. There was the scar tissue. Reddened flesh appeared on the screen giving testimony to the recent injury and related swelling. And, there it was, the meniscus, his meniscus. Except, now it was now my meniscus. It was mine not just because it had been placed in my body. It was mine because it had been grafted in. It was literally mine as my blood flowed through it. It was mine as my nerves felt its pain. It was mine even down to the DNA. It was like me because it was mine. It had become mine the moment it was engrafted.
The same principle holds true in salvation. At the moment of regeneration, we are grafted into the family of God. We become part of the true Israel - Christ. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit our hearts begin to beat with a passion for and the passions of Christ. We share His joy. We feel His pain. We are no longer our own. We are his. And, over time, we become more and more like Him because we have been engrafted.
Rather than receiving twelve years of respite, our spiritual engrafting provides an eternity of new life. While the struggles of our present earthly existence cause momentary, light affliction, the life to come for those who are in Christ Jesus will last forever. There will be no more heartaches, no more pain. He has taken our heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh. He died so that we might live.
The prognosis for my knee is good. The surgeon believes that I have many years of pain-free life left in my meniscus. Barring any further accidents, I hope to have this knee for a long time to come. Yet, I realize that all it would take is a small slip, a misstep on a wet surface and that desire would be torn, replaced with pain and eventually metal. Ultimately, my meniscus is on loan. One way or the other, it's going back to nature, either at death or one piece at a time.On the other hand, the gift of life that I've been given through Christ's death cannot be taken away from me because I cannot be taken away from him. I am His. I am in Him forever. Amen.