Wednesday 2/25/2015 4:56 AM
I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, before the advent of sunscreen. I have fond memories of chasing lizards in empty lots, jumping my bike over mounds of dirt, hiding in an irrigation ditch while rolling oranges across the street to try to get cars to run them over, playing in the irrigation with my skim board, which was simply a piece of unsanded, unvarnished plywood, climbing trees, playing cowboys and Indians with guns forged from a block of wood and bows and arrows made from oleander branches and a piece of string, and, best of all, swimming in my friends’ pool and having water balloon fights to cool off. I also have unpleasant memories of severe sunburn, the result of spending countless hours in the hot sun. The summer heat in Phoenix is overwhelming and my pallid complexion was no match for the sun’s brutal rays so I spent much of my time peeling dead, sunburned skin from my body.
A few years ago those years of sun exposure caught up with me. At a regular checkup my dermatologist discovered a small carcinoma on my back. She excised it and, since then, I regularly return for checkups. Each time I visit, she discovers various scaly patches of skin on my face, ears, and forehead. The technical name for such a patch is actinic keratosis. They are an indicator that my skin is sun-damaged, not really a big surprise given my history. Left untreated, about ten or twenty percent of these spots will eventually turn into squamous cell carcinoma, so they are considered to be pre-cancer cells. To treat this condition she pulls out her can of liquid nitrogen and gives each of them a shot. Over the course of a week or so they turn red and then flake off, leaving new, fresh skin in their place.
At my last visit she said that the number of keratoses on my forehead was too numerous to treat with the liquid nitrogen so she prescribed a cream to put on my forehead, which affects the same result. For the past two weeks I have been faithfully applying the cream to my forehead. When I apply it there is a burning sensation and, over time, my forehead has turned red and blotchy. The medication seems to be doing the job but the process is slow, uncomfortable, and unsightly.
My devotional theme for the week is “we shall all be changed.” The opening affirmation in my devotional book is based upon 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” More than once this week I was struck by the irony of the reference to unveiled faces, given the current state of my own, but I have also been intrigued by the transformation into the image of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit that is referenced in the next phrase.
The medication I am using on my forehead has, as its goal, a transformation of my skin from something that poses a potentially serious threat to my health into something that protects my health and improves my complexion. I have the responsibility of applying the cream to my forehead so the medication can do its work. The Holy Spirit has the goal of transforming my sinful self into the image of Christ. I also have a responsibility in the transforming work of the Spirit. Colossians 3 describes my job, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. … But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. … Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
My assigned scripture today includes Isaiah 43:18-19, verses that were meaningful to me when I made the move from teaching at Valley Christian to teaching at Cerritos College. Today it connoted a different meaning. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” This morning these verses reminded me of Paul’s advice in Ephesians 4:22-24, “You were taught, with regard to you former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
I did not treat my sun-damaged skin for years. Eventually the probabilities overwhelmed me and one spot turned cancerous. Left untreated, sin in my life will eventually lead to an even more deadly consequence. Thank God that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I am able to put off my old nature and put on a new one. I pray that I will have the discipline to do my part in this process and trust God to bring it to completion, especially when it seems slow and uncomfortable.