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Sunday, November 6, 2011

The cells of life


"Any and every Israelite—this also goes for the foreigners—who hunts down an animal or bird that is edible, must bleed it and cover the blood with dirt, because the life of every animal is its blood—the blood is its life."
(Leviticus 17:13-15 The Message)

The life is in the blood - the blood is its life.  These words speak volumes to those that suffer from incurable diseases of the blood.  The inability of the body to produce the right quantities of blood cells, the response of the body to produce too many of one type of cell over another, all create such "imbalance" and leave a person fighting for life.  The truth is that the very life of each and every man and woman is nothing without the blood!

This week, my dearest friend will go through the process known as hematopoietic stem cell phoresis for the purpose of donating those life-giving cells to her brother who is fighting for his life with leukemia.  The process involves injections that will increase her white blood cell count by sending her body into a period of over-producing white cells.  Within her blood fully mature white cells will circulate, along with tiny "baby" white cells known as "stem cells".  Both carry an important function and will be "harvested" to be given to her brother.

As I considered the importance of what she is doing, some thoughts came to mind that I hope will speak to you as clearly as they have spoken to me.

- Those "mature" white cells already have a "job" in the body.  They are there to fight off disease - surrounding "bad stuff" in our body and removing it.  In fact, when a virus or bacteria attempts to "set up shop" in our bodies, those mature white cells are called into service in astronomical ways.  They envelope the "invading" virus or bacteria, forming a secure "covering" that encapsulates the bad stuff.  The white cells actually work to damage the invading "bad stuff" so that they cannot any longer affect the body.  

As I thought about that, I began to see the importance of each of us in the Body of Christ.  There are "mature" believers within the Body of Christ, called upon from time to time to keep the "immature" and "unknowing" of our Body safe and secure.  Sometimes we call this "standing in the gap" for another.  As mature believers, we are able to recognize the "threat" that certain "invading beliefs", "unwelcomed attacks", and "cunning compromises" have dramatic power to "take down" the weak.  There is no greater sacrifice that we can offer but to stand in the gap for the one who is weak and unable to stand alone.

- Those "stem cells" have the potential to mature - they just need a "safe" environment in which to grow.  The "stem cells" have growing to do - but if they are in an environment that is "hostile" to their growth (such as what happens when a patient undergoes chemotherapy), they will be killed off before they ever have a chance to develop.  They learn their work of providing life-giving aid to the body as they are able to develop.  The same is true of those in the Body of Christ who are "young" in their faith.  They need a safe place to grow.  In fact, white cells do all their development "in the blood".  The red cells do all their development in the bones.  That means that the white cells actually develop as they "journey" through the body. 

These stem cells will "learn" from the mature cells around them.  If they see the mature white cells performing their designed roles well, they will have great "role-models" to pattern their growth after.  The Body of Christ needs strong "role-models" - those that can exemplify the attributes of what it means to be embraced by grace, to stand in strength against enemies that seek to harm, and to be on the ready for every attack.

- The stem cells have to "settle in" within the body of the one receiving them in order to begin to do their work.  As the stem cells are removed from the donor, they are given to the one needing them.  Then the work begins.  The stem cells go right for the bone marrow of the one receiving the transplant.  They have to "engraft" in order to begin their work.  They are actually going to give life to the one receiving them.

The immature believer has so much life to give - they just need a place to develop - to engraft.  It is in the engrafting process that the opportunity to grow and affect dramatic change within the body.  That is exactly what new believers do for the Body of Christ - they keep a continual growth and development experience occurring.  

- The stem cells of the donor become the defense of the recipient.  The "immune" defense of the donor is transferred to the transplant recipient - giving the recipient new, or lost, immunities.  The immunities provided actually help the recipient fight off disease and will hopefully kick the leukemia into remission.

Immunity is not always something we get to experience just because we were "exposed" to something.  In fact, I have had the measles, have been exposed to them multiple times, and have had many booster immunizations.  I just cannot seem to develop "enough" immunity to say that my blood "titer" level is high enough to fight off the disease if I am exposed again.  The same is true in the Body of Christ - just because we have been exposed to a particular circumstance does not mean that we will be able to handle it on our own.  We need the "immunities" of each other to help us walk through it!

I know I probably did not do justice to this whole process of blood stem cell transplant.  My hope is that I gave you a little food for thought.  You see, life really is in the blood - and the blood is our life.  The greatest "gift of life" was given in the shedding of blood on the cross.  The greatest "gift of life" we can embrace is the "engrafting" of the blood of Christ in us.  It has the power to change us!  It has the power to "save us" - the blood is truly our life!