Archive for the ‘Personal Reflections’ Category

Now in those days…

Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.  1 Samuel 3:1

My parents took me to college as a freshman, made sure I was registered and then made the 4 hour drive back home. I called them once or twice a week for the first two months as I was homesick. But before long, the dorm became my new home and my phone calls to my parents became less and less frequent. I found out later in life that my parents would call me frequently, but I never received the calls as we didn’t have call waiting or message machines in those days. I was rarely in my room except to sleep, which often was long past the time my parents had gone to bed for the night. And so contact with my parents became somewhat rare.

This experience reminds me of what life with God too often can become. He calls, but I’m too busy to answer. Sometimes I don’t even have the ringer of my phone turned on. I may even have my messages turned off. I am busy with work, pleasure, chores, ministry, thoughts, ambitions, dreams, heartaches, pain, failures, successes, and much, much more. Even if I did have my messages on, I wouldn’t have time to listen to them. Before I know it, I am “Now in those days…”

“Now in those days” has a context. Eli was so busy cleaning up the messes his wayward sons were making as priests that he didn’t have time to listen to God. His sons didn’t want to listen to God as they were determined to do as they pleased. Everyone else in Israel was busy with their lives as they had plenty to worry about with their crops, their own families, and hostile nations all around them.  And so the messages from God were either ignored, unnoticed, or deleted. “Now in those days” God must have felt isolated, rejected, and alone. I can’t even imagine the pain God must have felt in those days. His own children wouldn’t even pick up the phone when He called. Even though His angels were around Him and He experienced the love within the Trinity Itself, there must have been a huge hole in His heart to be cut off from His children. Nothing is quite right when you can’t talk with those you love so much. 

We know God was always there for the Israelites in those days because we read a few chapters later in 1 Samuel 12:22, “For the Lord will not abandon His people, because that would dishonor His great name. For it has pleased the Lord to make you His very own people.” Abandoning His people would dishonor His name because God is love. To stop calling on you and me is not in His nature, no matter how often we delete His messages. It would bring shame upon Him to stop contacting you because He is wired to connect, to love, to reach out, to talk and listen and understand you. 

I don’t know about you, but I am ready to listen to the messages God is sending me every moment of every day. But to do that I will need to turn on my awareness of God in the occurrences, circumstances, and conversations with people I have throughout each day. The best way I have found to do be aware of God throughout the day is to set aside some time each morning to listen to Him though prayer, meditation, and reading His Word. What steps will you take to ensure you hear the messages God is sending to you?

Trials are Brief, Love is Forever

I have been in my new job for 5 weeks now working in a large hospital system. It has been challenging, rewarding, fun, and frustrating all at the same time. It’s easy in such transitions to focus on the difficult times and the trials. The trials of life can become heavy burdens that are overwhelming if we do not keep them in their proper perspective. 

And so I came across two verses in Scripture today that when placed side by side give me great comfort in my times of trial and discouragement. In Psalm 39:4 we read these words from David, “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.” When we get discouraged, realize our own shortcomings, face our personal failings, or experience trials that seem to weigh us down, life can feel eternal on this earth. We cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel at such times in life. And so David asks for God to show him just how short this life is. 

It reminds me of the pain in childbirth I witnessed so many times as an obstetrician. There were times the pain was too great to bare because there was no end in sight for the mother going through it. But as her physician, I knew it was actually brief when compared to the rest of her life. Many times I knew the pain would be over within 20-30 minutes. But when the pain is severe, even 10 minutes feels like a lifetime. And so it is with our trials in life. We tend to lose perspective as we experience the pains of our failings and circumstances of life.

It’s at such times that we can rejoice in the fact that this life is short. That would sound morbid if it weren’t for a verse written by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” What a wonderful promise! Our trials are temporary. Our failings are fleeting. Our discouragements are dissipating. But faith, hope, and love are FOREVER! The really cool thing about these eternal aspects of life is that we can have them now. We don’t have to wait until we put on immortality when Jesus comes.  We can have hope that changes our outlook right now. We can have faith that changes our reality right now. We can have love that springs eternal right now.

And so as I experience the trials of transitions and face my personal demons that know just what to say to discourage me, I embrace the reality that the trials are brief, but the victory is eternal. I have experienced God’s love that is the foundation of my faith which gives me hope. The next time you are discouraged for whatever reason, remember that the source of that discouragement is temporary, but the Source of your courage is eternal because it is based in faith, hope, and love. Embrace your faith. Hold fast to your hope. And live in God’s love.

Do I Really Love Jesus More than My Kids?

Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.”  “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”   Luke 18:28-30

I’m a dad and I think that every parent would easily say there is nothing they love more on earth than their own children. When my son was only 2 years old, he slumped into unconsciousness while sitting at the dining room table eating lunch. I panicked. I had no idea what was happening. As a physician I knew I needed to check for a pulse and breathing. As a dad I was paralyzed with fear. I instinctively picked him up and took him to my bedroom where I placed him on the bed. I quickly realized I was useless and needed to get him to the emergency room where there would be a doctor who could actually help him. We lived a block from the hospital at the Subic Bay Naval Base so within 5 minutes my son was being evaluated by a doctor who could actually be of benefit. He was diagnosed as having a petit mal seizure. Today he is in great health at the age of 28. But in that moment in the Philippines, I would have paid any price, even my own life in exchange for his life. That is when I realized how much I love each and every one of my children.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells me I need to love Him more than my own children! That’s a lot of love. When I think about what Jesus is saying here, I think about my own kids. I have to ask myself if I really love Jesus as much, let alone more, than I love them. I have walked away from a lucrative medical practice because I love and trust Jesus. I trust Him with my life. But I honestly do not know if I love Him more than my own kids. I’m just being honest. And yet there is no one or no thing on this earth that can give me the peace I receive when I submit my life to Jesus. When I talk with Jesus and hear His voice in my life, there is nothing on earth that comes anywhere close to that experience. 

Perhaps the question I need to ask myself is this, Would I follow Jesus even if my kids said they would never talk to me again? It’s a sobering question. I am thankful I have never been faced with such a decision. But it does makes me think about my relationship with Jesus, which is exactly what He wants me to do. So instead of trying to measure my love for Jesus, I will spend time with Him everyday. I will talk with Him throughout this day and each coming day. I will listen to His voice. I will treasure the time I have with Him. I will do what He asks. I will follow where He leads. I will embrace the journey as I revel in His presence. And I will leave the measuring up to Him.

 

 

Where is the Kingdom?

The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.  Luke 17:20-21

I know a lot of Christians who spend loads of time identifying the signs of the coming Kingdom. They have charts and time lines and all of the signs clearly delineated. They know what signs have been fulfilled and what signs are yet to come. In fact, many people I know believe that if you don’t have a firm grasp on the prophetic time line for the return of Jesus, then your eternal salvation is at risk. But this is anything new. The Pharisees, of all people, were asking the very same question. They wanted to know the visible signs that could be seen & verified of the Kingdom of God. 

But Jesus disappoints them with His answer in Luke 17:20-21. What I get from His answer is that I need to be worried about what is IN me, not what is happening around me. Why? Because what is in me will determine how I respond to the circumstances around me. When Jesus is in me, it doesn’t matter what is happening around me. When Jesus is in me, I have peace, wisdom, insight, and strength to overcome any temptation, any battle, and any foe. When Jesus is in me, I know His voice. When Jesus is in me, I am certain I will recognize His presence when He returns. 

It was in May 2011 that I competed in a triathlon. The water was cold and I could never catch my breath to swim effectively. I had to keep my head above water the entire time as I swam the side stroke for one mile. It was painful as I felt a severe shortness of breath the entire mile. I was overwhelmed, but I regrouped to be able to bike and then finally struggle to complete the run. It was a painful experience. And yet I took pride in completing the race. It wasn’t until February 2012 that I realized the cause of those symptoms was severe coronary artery disease. You see, what is in us will always affect how we respond to the circumstances around us. Internal health always determines external fitness. It may take a while for the heart disease to slow us down, but it will. 

And yet we continue to focus on the externals of life. We want power and fame and money and possessions that make us look great, but mean nothing if our hearts are not occupied by Jesus and His love. We focus on what we can DO in His church and forget that we need to BE with Him. When we look for the signs of His coming tomorrow to the neglect of His presence today it’s like competing in a triathlon with severe heart disease. Jesus, the Master Physician, will heal your heart and bind your wounds so that you will not be overwhelmed in life. Sometimes we simply need to slow down, focus on God, and follow the advice we read in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God…” Then you will be living in the Kingdom of God today!

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.

Seeing Dimly Can Bring Life Into Focus!

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.    I Corinthians 13:12

I was in high school when my grandfather was dying with Parkinson’s disease. I waited with the rest of the family in the ICU waiting room. We sat there for hours on end waiting for a word from the doctor as to the condition of grandpa. When the doctor came to us, everyone stopped to listen. He seemed to have all the answers. He had grandpa’s life in his hands. He was actively combatting disease. He was “the man!”

Meanwhile, the pastor sat with us through the ordeal. He prayed with us, but from my perspective didn’t have much to offer. It was the doctor who was in charge. It was the doctor we were waiting to hear from, not the pastor. This, of course, was from the perspective of a kid who had wanted to be a doctor since five years of age. I wanted nothing else in life. There couldn’t possibly be anything more exciting, more rewarding, more stimulating than being a doctor. Doctors had a perfect life with no problems and not struggles.

My perspective changed when I became a physician. Don’t get me wrong. I loved practicing medicine. There were things I experienced and witnessed that I would not trade for anything. But the reality of being a doctor was quite different from what I had seen as a kid in high school. The reality was sleepless nights, interrupted dinners, and missed school plays. There were the constant phone calls in the middle of the night and the stress of having someone’s life in my hands. There were the patients that I had no answer for their disease. Being a doctor was much more difficult than the picture I had as a kid.

Just like I could not see the true nature of being a doctor before I had arrived in the halls of a hospital as a physician, I cannot see the true nature of my pain, suffering, loss, and struggles before I have arrived on the streets of gold as a child of God who has put on immortality in the twinkling of an eye. Until we get there, our only choice to know the true nature of all the issues we face today is to talk with the One who has been here and is now there – Jesus! Jesus is our physician we can talk to understand the real purpose of life.

So when you’re discouraged, tell Jesus. Open His Word, read His experiences, learn from His life. When you don’t think you can go on another day because of the struggles you face, listen to Jesus. Take a hike in nature, talk with a Godly friend, listen to Christian music, meditate on His Word, let Him speak to you. Argue with Him if you must. Share your frustrations and doubts. He wants to hear what you have to say.

One day when Jesus comes to gather us home, we will understand our pain, suffering, loss, and struggles from a new perspective. We will see the real purpose of our struggles that today we can only see dimly. But dimly is better than not at all. I am still thankful for the years I was a physician that only happened because I had seen dimly what a physician’s life is all about by talking and observing physicians as a kid. We can only see partially now. Jesus walks by our side and explains all that we can possibly understand. But we will never fully understand until we arrive in our heavenly home. 

And so we walk by faith. Those of us who trust in God do so because of the reality of how His perspective actually does change our lives. And I do understand just enough to keep me going forward in His loving arms. I have talked with Jesus enough to see, though dimly as it may be, that He loves me and is always there for me. When I focus on Jesus, my issues come into the perspective of His love, His plan, His vision for my life. Seeing dimly brings life into focus.

 

Preparing for the Wedding Feast

Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself.  Revelation 19:7

Perhaps the most interesting wedding reception I ever attended was in a northern province on the island of Luzon in the Republic of the Philippines. It wasn’t really a reception, it was an event, a feast. It lasted for three days and included a grand procession through town as the the pigs and the caribou were presented to be a part of the feast. There was music and laughter and conversation and fun and games. There was food for everyone throughout the event, but on the third day there was a feast like I’ve never seen before. The presentation and variety of the food was spectacular and endless. 

And it wasn’t just the feast that was so incredible, the bride was magnificent. I knew her because she was a family practice resident at the US Navy Hospital at Subic Bay Naval Base. I knew she had been preparing for this event for more than a year. She had been thinking about it, dreaming about it, planning for it, and preparing herself for it. And on the day of the feast, she was indeed ready! 

John describes a wedding feast in Revelation 19. We are the bride. Jesus is the groom. Today, Jesus is courting us. He came to this earth, took on our humanity, lived among us, and took on our sins as the Lamb. Though He is a conquering Lion, we know Him as the Lamb. He is inviting us to the wedding feast. But just as the bride in my story, we need to be preparing ourselves for the grandest feast the universe will ever witness. The prospect of preparing myself for such an event would be a daunting task except for one thing – the Lamb. 

You see, in the epic love story of Revelation, the Groom who is the Lamb comes to prepare with us. He doesn’t leave us alone to prepare for the wedding feast. This is what Jesus says about getting prepared for this marvelous event: “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20) Jesus wants to sit down with you and me to share a meal together today! 

The only preparation needed for the wedding feast in Revelation 19 is to feast on His Word, listen to His voice, and live in His will TODAY! Imagine, getting a taste of the wedding feast today! Imagine sitting with the Lamb today! Let the love affair with the Lamb begin today!

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