Mercy and Compassion

The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. Psalm 145:8

It is easy to get caught up in defending my rights, my causes, my property, my beliefs, my theology, my world. Perhaps this is because we each face struggles, temptations, and injustices every day. These injustices can be as minor as someone cutting you off in traffic making you late for work, or cutting your pay even though you deserve a pay raise. But life is not about the injustices or the lows of life. Neither is it about the accolades and the highs of life. Rather, life is about how we respond to such circumstances. 

Yesterday I had a man return our chair he had taken to remove, as best he could, the paint he had spilled on it. We felt the need to repaint the interior of our home we recently moved into as the color scheme was actually depressing to me. We chose a paint company who had a good reputation, although quite expensive. But I felt they were worth it because I believed this company would make things right and do a superior job. The work crew consisted of two very polite and industrious hispanic men who spoke very little English. I grew to appreciate these men as they were conscientious, always on time, and took pride in their work.

After completing the job, there were some touch ups I requested to have done next to the stairs where new carpet had just been installed. In the process of touching up some missed spots on the wall, my painter friend spilled a gallon of paint on the new carpet and an upholstered chair in the living room. He frantically and diligently cleaned up the mess. He took the chair home to clean it more thoroughly. When he returned the chair, I was impressed that he had done a remarkable job, but I could still see the paint stain. I was ready to call the owner of the company and submit a claim, which he had previously told me that he would cover without a problem. However, the man who had painted my house and then spilled the paint requested that I not call the owner because he would lose his job. He explained, through an interpreter (his son), that he is simply a contract worker and would be required to pay for any damages out of his own pocket. He told me that he would make it right and pay for a replacement chair and new upholstery. I told him the estimated cost of such a replacement and I realized he would have to work a month to replace the damaged chair.

As I thought about this situation, I was saddened at the injustice my painter friend was experiencing in the work place. He is a hard worker and very talented. But more than that, he is honest and just. I was troubled throughout the night, and then this morning I read Psalm 145:8. God convicted me that my friend was worth far more than a perfect chair. I then texted by friend a thank you note telling him I would not mention this incident to the owner of his company and that the chair and the carpet look great. For now, I will keep the chair with it’s paint stain as a reminder of the injustices that people all around me endure.

I am thankful for the mercy and compassion God extends to me and how He has extended a measure of that to my friend through me, however reluctant I was to do so. I know a burden, however temporary, has been lifted this day from his shoulders. And I have a gift in the form of a slightly damaged chair sitting in my living room as a testament to God’s mercy and compassion in my life.

They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.  Psalm 78:11

What is a miracle? If I can explain an event, a cure, a phenomenon, is it still a miracle? I have always been a skeptic, but during medical school I seriously questioned the entire concept of miracles. Over time, I lost my sense of wonder and amazement. After all, there was nothing mankind could not categorize, explain, or control given enough time for adequate research. I came to see miracle cures as inaccurate diagnoses and inexplicable natural phenomena as subjects for future research. In a very real sense, science is the study of miracles. And the more we study, the more we describe, categorize, & understand, the less wonder we have in life. But does it need to be this way? Can we still have a sense of wonder and a recognition of miracles even when we can describe how and why they happen?

I stepped onto the labor and delivery unit to assume call coverage for the night. There was only one patient in labor. I’ll call her Maria. She had been in labor for several hours by the time I arrived. She was in extreme discomfort, had a history of a prior C/Section in Mexico and had no medical records with her. Maria did not speak English and I did not speak Spanish. She did not know what type of uterine incision her doctor in Mexico had made, which was very important for me to know as a vertical uterine incision would increase her risk for uteri rupture. After a complete examination, I determined she needed a Repeat C/Section.

In the OR we delivered the baby without incident, but found a uterine rupture into her left broad ligament that had dissected into her retroperitoneal space. Without describing the pelvic anatomy in detail, let’s just say that Maria’s condition was life-threatening. We began giving her blood transfusions and worked deep into the night trying to stop her bleeding. Hours later, the uterus removed, extensive dissection with cautery and ligation of vessels completed, her bleeding had decreased to a slow ooze. There was nothing else we could do. And so we completed the procedure and took Maria to the recovery room.

In the recovery room, Maria’s vital signs worsened despite continued blood transfusions. I honestly did not know what to do. I knew there was nothing more I could do for her surgically. I went to Maria’s bedside and she looked at me with her eyes piercing into my soul. Her eyes seemed to say, “I am dying. Can you save me?” After lingering with her for several minutes, going through every option in my brain, and feeling helpless, I remembered a new program that had been recently instituted at the hospital. The radiology department had hired an “interventional radiologist.” He had occluded blood vessels supplying blood to cancer tissue. This had always been done in nonemergency cases under very controlled circumstances. He had never done any pelvic procedures, and had never occluded any ruptured vessels. But I called him, nonetheless. He decided to give it a try. It worked!

The next day, I visited Maria. We could only communicate through our eyes, the tone of our voice, and our touch. Her eyes sparkled and said, “Thank you.” She had the biggest smile I had ever seen. And even though I could explain the procedure that had saved Maria’s life, I knew I had witnessed a miracle. When I looked into her eyes, I had a sense of awe and wonder for life. I believe we see miracles all around us every day. The lack of recognizing such events as a smile in the midst of adversity, a laugh in the face of tragedy, a helping hand in a time of helplessness, an encouraging word in the middle of grief and loss constitute miracles that bring life and courage and strength to our inner beings. Yes, I believe in miracles. And I believe they happen every day all around us. Will you allow life to wow you today? What might cause a sense of wonder in your life today? Do you believe in miracles?

As a veteran, I pause each Memorial Day to consider the many who have given their lives in service to their country. I have witnessed firsthand their dedication and commitment to, and their love for our country. My dad was a glider pilot during WWII and participated in many missions over France and Germany. He rarely talked about the war other than to tell me it was not pleasant, but he never doubted its necessity. The only story he ever told me about his time in the U.S. Army was how his best friend died as he took his glider through power lines to clear the way for my dad to land his glider behind enemy lines on D-Day. It’s a story about love and self-sacrifice. 

And then there was my encounter with young Marines when I was sent on a 10-day training exercise in San Antonio, Texas as an OBGYN intern at Bethesda Naval Hospital. I had the privilege of going on night maneuvers as well as combat training with them as part of the medical team. These men and women were totally committed to one another in service to their country. Each one of them was ready to die for each other in combat, if necessary. I will never forget the look in their eyes and the love and respect they had for one another. Before that day, I had never met anyone who was consciously ready to die for me and willing to put themselves in deadly situations for me.

What I have learned about the men and women we honor on Memorial Day is that they gave their lives because of the love they have for the person next to them in the heat of the battle. Yes, there is no doubt they love their country. But their country is embodied in that person standing next to them. And they will fight, protect, and battle for the life of that person, even if it means giving up their own life. At the end of the day, even war as we know it today is personal. It is about loving the person next to you as you fight for the freedom of all. Don’t get me wrong, I abhor war and have mixed feelings about some of the wars our country has chosen to fight. And yet I know there is evil in the world that at times requires the insanity of war. I find it amazing that in the midst of the insanity of war is the most sane motivation in the world – love.

And so it is in our personal lives. We are in a battle between good and evil every day of our lives. Some scientists estimate the average person makes 10,000 choices a day. Let’s just say 10% of those choices have moral implications. That’s 1,000 moral choices every day that have moral implications. That is 1,000 choices that love becomes the primary motivator. And the issue becomes the object of our love. Do we love others, or are we only focused on ourselves?

Paul describes life as a battle. In Ephesians 6 he tells us to put on God’s armor for this battle of life. And then he says in 1 Timothy 6:12, Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses.

Jesus came to this earth and gave His life for each one of us because He loves us. Through His death, we have eternal life. Jesus fought the good fight of “the faith” which is to love God and others. He battled satan in the Garden of Gethsemane and won by choosing love of others over love of self! He was crushed by your sin and mine as He bore every sin of humanity on the cross that day. He won the war on Calvary! But the battles rage on as the enemy has not yet surrendered. We are trapped behind enemy lines. And just as my dad trusted his buddies would fought the good fight to rescue him, so Paul encourages us to fight the “good fight” today. It’s a fight to keep our focus on Jesus. It’s a fight to allow love to motivate everything we do. It’s a fight for the true faith that is based on love, not self. 

On this Memorial Day as we honor the men and women who have loved others to the point of death, let us remember the command from Jesus for us to love God and one another as we apply the admonition of Paul in our lives to fight the “good fight.”

The Life of the Party

The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone.  John 1:4

Have you ever met someone who was the “life of the party?” You know, that person whose personality is so big that her mere presence fills the room. It’s the guy who transforms a boring gathering into a fun and memorable time by telling stories that somehow motivates everyone else to tell a story. Before you know it, hours have passed and it’s time to go home. But not before you feel energized, renewed, uplifted. And why? All because of the words, the stories, of him or her who shared from the heart and ignited your heart.

Such is the story of creation. John paints a picture of Jesus being the “Life of the party” on earth. There was nothing but chaos on this earth. In Genesis 1 we read the earth was without form and was void. There was no life. There was no heart. And then Jesus showed up. He came into a chaotic, lifeless, meaningless space and became the “Life of the party.” If Jesus is there, there is a gathering of life, meaning, purpose, healing, and love. He will turn your gathering into a party. He will transform your chaos into beauty. He will mold your doubt into faith. He will lift you from the pit of despair to the mountaintop of grace. And He does all of this through the power of His WORD!

When the principles of quantum physics are applied in leadership and organizations, we see the power of leadership and the energy of an organization are proportional to the truth of the information and the extent to which it is shared with every person in that organization. Our words matter. Why? Because they reflect our thoughts and beliefs. Jesus is THE Word. He embodies truth and hope and love. The fact that John describes Him as the Word reveals a deep truth about Jesus — He is more than the sum of truth, hope, and love because He is the Word imparting the power of the eternal truth, the everlasting hope, and the unconditional love of His Father to transform, regenerate, and recreate our lives today.

So when you take time to talk with Jesus, try giving the Word time to transmit His message of truth, hope, and love to you. Take time to listen, absorb, appreciate, and understand the Word. In my experience, this is time well spent. After all, the Word spoke the world into existence. Imagine what the Word can do in your life and mine today. He wants to bring life to your party!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  John 1:1

As an obstetrician, I witnessed the beginning of literally thousands of lives. At least the beginning of when the parents could touch and feel and hold that precious life. And so the beginning of life is an exciting time filled with promise and potential. No matter how many times I had the privilege of attending the delivery of a newborn infant, I was always awed by the beginnings of life, by the first breath, the first cry, the first arch of the back and stretching of the arms. I could be dead tired and wishing I didn’t have to get up when the call would come that Mrs. Smith was ready to have her baby. But once I held Mrs. Smith’s baby, I had new life as I held the beginning of her baby’s new life.

Yes, there is something almost magical about beginnings. The beginning of a new school year for a student has the promise of new insights and understandings of her world. The beginning of a new project at work has the anticipation of a better approach to a problem or new set of clients or even a new salary when it is completed. The beginning of a new season is especially sweet for Chicago Cubs fans as there is a new start and a new chance to finally make it to the World Series! And so we find ourselves almost obsessed with beginnings. We desperately want to know our own beginnings as we constantly seek for new beginnings because we endlessly mess up our last beginnings.

Perhaps this is why John begins his Gospel by telling us that in THE beginning, that is the beginning of this world, the Word already existed and that Word was actually God. God, a Being who has no beginning, is beyond our comprehension precisely for that reason – He has no beginning. Whether you believe everything we know today had its beginning with a big bang or by the Word of God, something existed prior to our beginning. I find it comforting to understand that just as I know my parents existed before me, the very first parents in the world knew God existed before them. Such a knowledge gives context, meaning, purpose, and a sense of belonging to our beginning. 

The truly amazing thing about experiencing the beginning is the potential of new promises and the promise of new potentials. Just as God created to give us our beginning with the promise of His unconditional love, He recreates us with the potential to love unconditionally. And so our very existence speaks to the facts of not only our beginning, but the reality of new beginnings. We sleep each night because we cannot physically continue without resting to have a fresh beginning each day. Likewise, we must give our trials, burdens, and failings to Jesus because we cannot spiritually continue without resting in Him to have a fresh beginning each day.

And so today I rejoice in the fact that in the beginning was the Word. Because Jesus IS the beginning, I can have a new beginning each day. No matter what happened yesterday or the day before, I can choose to have a new beginning today – in Him. The Gospel is all about beginnings. There is joy in the beginnings. There is peace in the beginnings. There is love in the beginnings. What beginning will you choose today? May you experience the full potential of God’s promise to forgive and transform you today. 

I have been in my new position for nearly 9 weeks. During that time I have been grieving the separation from close friends, the loss of a church family, and my role as a pastor all while I have embraced my new calling to help our Adventist hospitals in Denver to recapture their mission to “extend the healing ministry of Christ by caring for those who are ill and by nurturing the health of the people in our communities.” The first part of this mission is straightforward and one that every healthcare system in America strives to do with excellence. But the second part of the mission is much more difficult for one primary reason – the varying definitions of health and widely differing opinions on what it means to be healthy.

How do you define health? Can a person who has been paralyzed from the neck down in a motor vehicle accident be healthy? Can a young man diagnosed with terminal cancer live his last months of life healthy? Is health more than the absence of disease? The answers to these questions are profoundly influenced by our understanding of the words of Jesus in John 10:10, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. Could it be that Jesus is talking about health as He contrasts a life lived in subjection to the thief as opposed to the life lived in submission to the Giver?

I think of Mary who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer while I was an OBGYN resident in training at Bethesda Naval Hospital many years ago. I first met Mary when I was an intern. I had been on her surgical team that removed her tumor and had the privilege of caring for her during that initial hospitalization. She had a positive attitude and lifted my spirits every time I saw her. She returned for chemotherapy and so I saw Mary over the years as an intern, then as a second year resident, and finally as the chief resident on the oncology service. Three years later, after two courses of chemotherapy and a two years of being declared disease free, Mary was admitted to treat symptoms that were caused by the recurrence of the cancer. Despite her desire to overcome the cancer, this disease had not stolen, killed, or destroyed her spirit. Mary was happy and even counted her cancer as a blessing! She told me that the cancer had helped her see the true meaning in life. It had given her the gift of recognizing the smell of flowers, the singing of birds, the smiles on faces, and the love of friends in her path. As Mary laid in that hospital bed ready to die, she was somehow full of life. In fact, Mary was the very picture of an abundant life Jesus has promised each one of us in John 10:10.

Health has much more to do with who we are than with what we have. We may HAVE wealth along with success and yet BE miserably unhappy, stressed, and alone. On the other hand, we may HAVE terminal disease along with chronic pain and yet BE abundantly happy, filled with peace and love. And so health has more to do with love and the fruit of the Spirit than it does with any physical ailment or dis-ease we may experience on this earth.

And so I embrace the mission of the South Denver Adventist hospitals because it embodies the mission of Jesus to bring life abundantly to all people through two key words – “caring” and “nurturing.” This is what Jesus did as He walked on this earth to raise hope, inspire purpose, strengthen faith, bring love, and give life to all who were willing to receive. He not only cares for us when we are down and in need of help, but He nurtures us every step of the way. Jesus invites us all to be healthcare workers dedicated to caring and nurturing those around us. So how is your health? Are you ready to BE healthy?

Set Me Free!

In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free.  Psalm 118:5

When I was 10 years old, I yearned for the day I would be free. I suspect this thinking has been pretty common among kids since Adam & Eve were expelled from the Garden. As a child, parents make rules that seem to restrict freedom. That was certainly true for me. When I wanted to play, my parents had chores for me to do. When I wanted to stay up late at night to watch TV, I was told to go to bed. When I didn’t want to eat liver and onions, I was told that I had to because liver was good for me. (Not everything parents tell their children is in their best interest! But that is another topic for another day.) And so I yearned for the day when I could be free to make my own decisions. 

Well, that day came all too quickly. Before I knew it, I was an adult with the ability to choose how and where I spend my time, and in what activities. Sometimes those activities were uplifting. And sometimes they were self-destructive. As I look back at my own life and the decisions I have made, both good and bad, I find that I make them in the pursuit of freedom. I want to be my own person. I want to do and think and be what makes me happy, what I want to do, without any encumbrances from outside influences. In other words, I want to make my own rules. Perhaps this is the human condition, the pursuit of freedom that we think can only come if we make the rules and disregard any other rules. 

It is my observation that addictive behavior comes from a disregard of God’s rules in favor of my own rules in the pursuit of freedom. One reason it doesn’t work to make our own rules is that they often come out of our deepest fears and greatest dysfunctions. The fear of rejection, the need for approval, the desire for success can cause me, and I’m sure many others, to write some crazy rules. Work can become an addiction as I forever seek one more accolade, one more “atta boy”, and one more impossible task made possible.

But true freedom does not come from our fears. True freedom is not in doing more things to make us feel better about ourselves. True freedom does not come from attempting to rewrite the laws of nature, as if we could. True freedom comes from living within the rule of love that brings life, happiness, joy, and peace. Said another way, when love rules, freedom reigns.

King David knew something about writing his own rules for life that brought heartache rather than peace, bondage rather than freedom. And so he wrote Psalm 118 as a hymn to be sung on the way to a festival of worship. It is an anthem to be sung when we go to worship God. And part of this anthem is an acknowledgement that freedom emanates from God, not us. The circumstances of life that are outside of us and the demons of life that are within us can make us feel like we need to rewrite the rules of life in order to experience freedom. But this is a lie from the devil, himself.

The truth about freedom is that it is given to us every time we call out to God in distress. When we reach out to God, spend time with Him, talk with Him, and clear some space in our heads to be with Him, we experience freedom. He will replace our misguided thoughts about ourselves and our self-destructive beliefs about life that enslave us with thoughts of unconditional love and abiding acceptance that will set us free. True freedom allows us to live in joy and peace as we are motivated by faith, hope, and love. These are the eternal rules of the universe that bring everlasting freedom. May we live by His rules. May we lift one another up in our pursuit of freedom. May we never again write our own rules, but rather submit to the rule of our all powerful, all loving, indwelling God.

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