Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Do You Believe in Miracles?

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?

The Promise and Potential of New Beginnings

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. 

Do You Have Any Bleating Sheep?

When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”   

“Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.   1 Samuel 15:13-14

King Saul had been given the mission to completely wipe out the Amalekites. He was to take no plunder, receive no personal gain other than the eradication of sin in the lives of the Israelites. He did indeed destroy everything that was not of value to him. But he kept the best sheep and cattle for his personal gain. Of course he was going to use some of these prized animals to offer sacrifices. But even in offering them for sacrifices he knew that his stature would increase among his people. How often do we serve others for our own gain? How often do we obey God’s commands to the extent that we profit?

I have often gone on God’s errands as I hear His calling in my life. Just like King Saul, I have fought battles and won victories for the glory of God. I look back on my time as a pastor and am thankful for the calling and the opportunity to grow. But truth be told, there have been too many times when I have fought God’s battles with my armor. I have too often confused my agenda with His agenda. I have too often co-opted His mission for my selfish gain. It is easy to rationalize the meaning of love and service for others to fulfill my own needs. There have been times when I felt the need to DO something rather than wait for God’s clear direction. And I must admit that there have been times when I sought personal recognition as the spoils of battle while on God’s mission.

I, like King Saul, have argued that I am on God’s errands and thus have obeyed Him. It is true that God can use our actions to help others even when our motives are impure. But this is not an argument in favor of impure motives. This simply highlights the power of God’s love who can transform our acts that come from misguided motives into acts of redemption. But the fact remains that God still desires our heart above all else. He is only concerned with our actions as they demonstrate the condition of our heart. This is why Samuel replied to Saul’s protest that he had done God’s mission when his heart was not aligned with the heart of God:  “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”   1 Samuel 15:22-23

This may seem harsh until you remember that all God is seeking are men and women after His own heart. Enter King David. He had plenty of flaws, plenty of evil deeds. We could talk for weeks about the disastrous choices David had made. And yet David still lived from the heart and allowed God to teach him, mould him, grow him, and transform him. We can only be taught, moulded, grown, and transformed in the heart. God is a heart surgeon, not an orthopedic surgeon. It is with your heart that you submit to Him. It doesn’t matter what you have done or what you will do. The only thing that really matters is the condition of your heart. This is where the battle takes place.

It’s time we focus on matters of the heart, matters of being, and let the doing take care of itself. It’s time to stop judging one another’s actions and focus on allowing God to live in our hearts. It’s time we live from the heart, feel with the heart, and believe in the heart… of God.

What Do You Expect?

As they [Peter and John] approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money. Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”   Acts 3:2-6

When my daughter, Sally, asked me to run a marathon with her, I expected to get into shape. I had tried several times in the past to run on a regular basis. I would buy the right shoes and running clothes to be successful. I would set aside a time each day to run. But something would always happen that derailed my best efforts. So I decided to give this a try with Sally with the expectation that I would simply be more fit. 

We see a story in Acts of man who had temporal expectations of his needs being fulfilled at the temple. He was taken to the temple to get a little money to survive another day. He was being reasonable. He was not asking for the world. Like me with running, he simply wanted to be a little better off for the experience. But Peter knew God had so much more to give this man. So he said, “Look at us!” It’s as if Peter was slapping him in the face to get his attention. He was at the temple of God, after all! He was at the place where miracles occurred, lives were changed, sins forgiven, and power experienced. 

But instead of giving him money, Peter healed the man in the name of Jesus. The fact is that Jesus gives us far more than we ask if we can only accept it. But our expectations can get in the way. This man was focused on his own condition thinking he could never change, never be healed, never be able to be a blessing to anyone else. And so he was seeking a few coins to make it on this earth without thought of the new earth. He was seeking temporal gain without a burning desire for eternal transformation. He was living in his own kingdom rather than the Kingdom of God. 

The goal of completing a marathon changed my approach to running. I read books on how to train, what to eat, when and how far to run. Sally was my Peter. When I made excuses, she said, “Look, we can do this!” Once I began, I realized I had failed at running in the past because I had only focused on the temporal expectations. Once I began training for a marathon, those meager expectations were shattered by the reality of the eternal and spiritual benefits God had in store for me. Running became an obsession that changed my life. I found it to be a spiritual experience that helped me face issues in my life I didn’t even realize were there. I learned the connection between my mind and my body. In the process, I learned the importance of living from the heart that allowed me to connect with Sally, and others, in ways I never thought possible. It was during my training runs that I connected in God more deeply that allowed me to hear His call into pastoral ministry.

What are your expectations for life? What are your expectations today? Too often we live for temporal benefits alone. We go to work expecting nothing more than a paycheck. We do our errands expecting nothing more than getting bills paid and the groceries bought. But God is saying to each one of us each day, “Look at ME!” When we look at Him, He will heal our broken hearts, correct our screwed up thoughts, and transform our weakened lives. When we focus on the temporal, the best we can do is get in a little better shape. When we look at Him, we gain the eternal realities of faith and love that become a part of everything we do in every circumstance with every person every day.

The Paralysis of Fear

Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.  Luke 8:35

When I entered private medical practice after serving as an OBGYN physician in the US Navy, I was concerned about being busy enough to earn a good living. In other words, I was worried about money. In retrospect, my practice grew quickly and the money flowed freely. But money remained a major concern of mine throughout the years I was in private practice. And my concern about money was a major factor that prevented me from making a transition into pastoral ministry earlier than I did. I wondered what life would be like making so much less money. I worried about my future, my retirement, my lifestyle. That’s right, I was focused on ME.

This focus robbed me of the joy that only comes from recognizing God’s activity in and around us. We can become so focused on our own issues, our own struggles, our own pleasures, and our own desires that we prevent ourselves from seeing the joy found in God’s miracles that happen every day. When this happens, we become afraid of losing what we have, whatever it is we have focused upon, and will do anything to keep it. My primary issue was making enough money. So I feared anything that might reduce my income. When we are afraid, we become paralyzed and cannot see life clearly. We cannot see the struggles of others clearly because we are living in fear of our own issues. Fear magnifies our own struggles while minimizing the struggles of others.

That’s what we see in the story of Jesus healing the demon possessed man in the region of the Gerasenes in Luke 8. This man was homeless and naked before he met Jesus. He had been thrown out of town because his behavior was too unpredictable. He frightened people. Then Jesus came to town. Jesus didn’t ignore the man because Jesus was not afraid. In fact, Jesus engaged with the man and then cast out the demons into a herd of pigs. Once entering the pigs, the demons drove them off the cliff into the lake to drown. Imagine losing your herd of pigs. Those pigs represented a lot of money. And just like that, they were gone. This struck fear in the hearts of the people in town.

When the people from the town confronted Jesus about this incident, they saw this man who had been wild, homeless, and naked now sitting at the feet of Jesus with peace, a sense of belonging, and nicely dressed. But they couldn’t see the miracle in this man’s life that brought joy and happiness because of their focus on their own issues and concerns. They were no longer afraid of the once demon possessed man. They were now afraid of Jesus. That fear prevented them from seeing the obvious miracle sitting right in front of them.

But I can understand that fear. From the outside looking in Jesus’ way doesn’t always make sense. It’s hard to see how making less money can improve your lifestyle. It’s hard to see you how giving up control to Him can help you get control of your life. It’s hard to see that sacrificially helping others actually helps yourself. But that’s exactly what happens when you step out in faith to follow Jesus. He cast the demons out of the man in the region of the Gerasenes. I encourage you to allow Him to cast out your fear in the region of your heart. When you focus on Him, life comes into focus for you.

Living in the Kingdom of God

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.  1 Corinthians 15:58

My daughter, Sally, has been competing in Ironman events since 2010 with the dream of qualifying for Kona. The Kona Ironman is the Holy Grail of the sport. The only way to compete in Kona is by qualifying at a sanctioned Ironman race, or by invitation. It is very difficult to earn a spot at Kona as evidenced by the fact that were only 50 spots available at the Ironman Wisconsin on September 7, 2014 for over 2,200 athletes. 

Sally hired a coach after her second Ironman when she realized there would be little chance of training adequately to qualify for Kona without help. And so she has been on a tireless journey since that time to achieve her goal. There have been many weeks and even months when it seemed impossible to keep training. She had some successes in reaching milestones along the way. But there were plenty of failures as well. But on September 7, she reached her goal by running her race, trusting her coach’s plan, and staying focused for the entire 10 hours, 51 minutes, and 54 seconds that it took her to complete the race. This was quite an improvement from her Ironman time of 12 hours, 56 minutes, and 55 seconds in 2011.

Making it to Kona is all about the training and sticking with the coach’s plan. The same is true with God’s Kingdom. The only difference is that there are as many spots for God’s Kingdom as there are people. God wants EVERYONE! He does not want to exclude anyone. We are all called to the Kingdom of God. But what does it look like for us to live in His Kingdom? Paul tells us to “be strong and immovable.” This is easier than making it to Kona because our Coach is the Rock. He is strong. He is immovable. And when you allow Him access to your heart, He gives you all the strength and stability necessary to live in His Kingdom.

The amazing thing about God’s Kingdom is that we are invited to live in it today! We don’t have to wait for the prize. But we do need to submit to Jesus. When we listen to His voice, hear His plan for our lives, and allow Him to lead us every step of the way, we are living the dream! I have found that as I keep my eyes on Jesus, He supplies everything I need to make it through the race of life. Making it to Kona is pretty cool. But living in the Kingdom of God is absolutely out of this world even as we live in this world. 

What is Your Picture of God?

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”  Revelation 7:10

When I transitioned from a small two-room school with a total of 30 students in grades 1-8 to a public junior high school with 1,100 students in grades 7-9, it was difficult to say the least. But the biggest problem I faced was what I told myself about the other kids. I told myself that they would not like me or accept me. I told myself that I was different and that I wasn’t smart enough. After all, I had been attending a small Christian school which had given me the idea that the world “out there” was a dangerous place with dangerous people who would destroy me if I got too close to them. This was the picture I had in my mind of these kids.

So when I saw a group of kids in my new junior high school laughing as I walked by, I thought they were laughing at me. When I saw a kid smoking behind the building, I thought all of the other 1,099 kids were smoking at every opportunity. When I saw one kid picking on another kid, that only confirmed that they “all” were bullies and that they were just waiting for the chance to pick on me. So the picture I had in my mind of the other kids affected the way I interacted with them. Over time, I realized my picture was distorted. It took a couple of years to deconstruct this negative picture I had painted in my mind, but by one positive experience at a time I ended up with a more accurate picture that allowed me to have friends and enjoy my public school years. I ended up graduating from the public high school with many friends and an experience I wouldn’t trade.

The picture we have of God is the most influential picture we have that colors our life. If our picture denies His existence, then we see everything around us as occurring by chance and without purpose. On the other hand, if my picture has an angry God who is looking to destroy me, then I live in fear and with pervasive guilt. There are as many pictures of God as there are people on the planet. And I do not mean to simplify the pictures in this short blog. The point I have discovered in my life and I want to share today is that the picture you have of God matters. It matters a lot! It affects your life whether you want to admit it or not. 

And the picture of God that I see in Revelation 7:10 is a God who offers salvation to every one. Yes, Jesus the Lamb came to this earth to live as a lamb, as one of us and one with us. And salvation is offered to us through His life, death, and resurrection. This is the gospel message. But salvation also comes from God the Father! When Jesus was on this earth risking everything by living in a sin-filled world, His Father was sitting on the throne keeping everything running so we could ALL be together one day. It is the Father who risked His Son for you and me. It is the Father that keeps us alive by grace. It is the Father who makes every allowance possible for your happiness, joy, and peace. 

I don’t know about you, but I find it harder to watch my kids go through a painful experience than to go through it myself. The picture of God I see in this short verse is one of love, sacrifice, responsibility, and commitment to you and me. God has done and is doing everything in His power to provide a way for us to be reunited with Him. This is the story of Revelation. This is the story of the Bible. And this is the picture of God – love. And this is why John paints the picture of salvation as coming first and foremost from the Father!

When we actually have this picture in our hearts and minds, we will be able to see the world and other people through the eyes of God. Yes, your picture of God matters. What does your picture of God look like? What if you saw yourself in that picture? What if you were sitting next to Him or at His feet or on His lap or in His arms? How would that change your day? Think about it. Maybe it’s time to repaint your picture!

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