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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 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!

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.

The Call

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”   Genesis 12:1

The word “leave” evokes anxiety in me. I had two older sisters who would leave me to go to a boarding high school every year. I have fond memories of spending summers with my grandfather on the farm when I was a kid, but leaving was always difficult. My first airplane flight was to Atlanta when I was 16 years old to see my sister and her newborn son. I will never forget the sadness of leaving them the day it was time for me to go home. And then there was the day when it was time to leave home for college. It was a scary place. I had never lived apart from my parents, and now I was in another state – all alone. When I arrived at college I discovered my roommate didn’t want to room with me. And so there I was, in a new place, feeling rejected and all alone as my parents had to leave for home. 

And yet, with every “leave” is a new horizon. I would leave my grandparents to enjoy my friends at home. When it was time to leave my sister and nephew, I found myself back in high school. When it was time to leave home for college, I found a roommate who has been a friend for life. But even experiencing the gain that can come from leaving, I still find it very difficult.

As I consider how God calls us, I find it interesting that His call often begins with the word “leave.” We see it in Genesis 12:1. And every call from God that I have experienced has began with the same word, “leave.” God told me to leave my dream of being a doctor behind as I went to Andrews University to study theology. He then gave me permission to leave the pursuit of pastoral ministry in favor of medical school. But then He clearly called me to leave my medical practice many years later. I was in the wilderness of uncertainty about my future for over 7 months when I received a call from the Richland Adventist Church to be their pastor. Perhaps the most difficult call from God for me to hear and process was the call to leave this very church. But it wasn’t until I could clearly identify the fact that God was calling me to leave Richland that I could grasp where to go with any clarity. 

And so before I was ever called to Denver, I was called to leave Richland. When you are in a place you love, leaving is sad. When you are with people you love, leaving brings anxiety. But when God calls, He also supplies the courage, strength, wisdom, and gifts necessary for the way forward. He also gives peace in the journey. Following God’s call ultimately brings peace that covers any anxiety, and gives joy that alleviates any sadness. It is this peace and joy that ultimately confirms the call, and for me, the very existence of God in my life.

Perhaps, just perhaps, God calls us to leave what we are doing to follow Him in new adventures because He is calling all of us to leave this world for His Kingdom. On that glorious day when Jesus returns to gather those who have responded to His call home, we will have to first leave this home. Are you ready to leave? Are you listening for His call?

 

Who Are You Arguing With?

“So my [Gamaliel’s] advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”  Acts 5:38-39

When I was a physician in active practice I noticed that debates in hospital committees that would affect my salary and patient responsibilities were much more civil than those in the church board about things like the color of the carpet and the songs to be sung during the worship service. I was intrigued by this phenomenon that I was a part of as much as anyone else. I asked myself, Why am I more threatened by opposing opinions at church than I am at the hospital? After all, one could argue that I had much more to lose in the hospital debates than in any debate at church. The hospital committee could make decisions that could cost me literally tens of thousands of dollars each year and require that I stay on the hospital campus when I would otherwise be at home with my family. The only consequence of losing an argument at church would be to endure blue carpet when I wanted red or a song that I didn’t care much about.

Then I came across this story in Acts 5. Here we find the that Pharisees wanted to kill Peter and the apostles for teaching others about Jesus. They revered their own opinions to the point that they could not see where God was active all around them. They were not willing to look beyond their own tradition, their own bias, and their own point of view. In my experience, we can all easily fall into this trap. When we do this, we confuse tradition with fundamental truth about God. We then are at risk of turning every disagreement into a battle fought on a hill we are willing to die on. This makes every disagreement a battle of life or death. 

But what if we took Gamaliel’s advice in our text for today? What would it look like for you to allow another person’s idea to be pursued in your church or your family even though you disagreed with it? Do you trust God enough to reveal the truth about that idea, plan, or program in His time? I know it’s not easy. I know it can seem messy at times. But the alternative seems much worse to me. Without an atmosphere of learning from one another, respecting one another, and allowing God’s Spirit to move in one another, we are only left with our own opinions and our own biases and our own traditions. We could then end up like the Pharisees who thought truth was in their acquisition of knowledge rather than in their relationship with God expressed and experienced in their interactions with one another. 

Jesus prayed that His followers would be able to experience unity when He prayed, “I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” (John 17:23)  Unity can only be experienced as we are in relationship with Jesus and one another. This comes as we listen to one another, accept one another, and be patient with one another as we allow God to reveal His will to us as we live in Him. If we refuse to experience the unity Jesus prayed for us to experience, we may just find ourselves fighting against God, Himself, rather than others.

Are You Honoring God?

But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name is great among the nations,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  Malachi 1:11

I grew up in Indiana thinking my state was not only the best in the U.S., it was the best place in the world. I would hear of fellow Hoosiers like the legendary John Wooden who coached the UCLA men’s basketball team for many years and wonder why he didn’t coach at Indiana University or Purdue. I mean, how could someone from Indiana live anywhere else on earth? But I didn’t just feel this way about my state, I also felt this way about my church. We had the “truth” in contrast to every other church or belief system that was somehow deluded into believing lies.

It is easy to think and behave as if the world revolves around me and the “us” I choose. It’s easy to look at anyone who is different from me as someone who does not have favor with God. And yet God loves all people. We read in Romans 2:11 that “God shows no partiality.” God told Malachi that the Israelites were defiling His altar by bringing offerings to God that were blind and lame. In other words, they gave God what they didn’t want themselves. They were hoarding their wealth and giving from their abundance rather than sacrificially from their heart. God looked around the earth and saw people from other nations other than Israel who were honoring His name far beyond what His “chosen” ones were doing. But they were smug in their assurance of being better than anyone else simply because they were from Israel.

It is my experience that the Christian Church is too often like Israel of old. When I rode my bicycle across the country to raise awareness and money for diapers in 2012, I often found the Church of Jesus uninterested in helping the disadvantaged while those outside the Church were donating their time, money, and talents to relieve suffering all around them. I was humbled to see people giving to others rather than taking a vacation or buying another car. In Malachi we read that God’s name is honored when we sacrificially give our best talents and our most treasured gifts for those we would otherwise judge and condemn. I often imagine how God must hang His head in distress when He sees those of us who profess His name refusing to honor His name. We have opportunities every day to honor Jesus. He told us in Matthew 25:41, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” 

What would it look like in your life to truly honor God? How are you treating Jesus? 

Are You Afraid of God?

I was afraid because you are a hard man to deal with, taking what isn’t yours and harvesting crops you didn’t plant.  Luke 19:21

I was a sophomore in high school when Tim’s dad drove us to school early one morning. Tim was my best friend who lived next door to me. We did everything together. And usually Tim would drive us to school, but his car was in the shop. His dad drove up a ramp to take us to the back door. What he didn’t realize is that there was a staircase next to the ramp. As he drove away, Tim’s dad drive down the staircase rather than the ramp. We heard a sound of grinding metal as he got stuck on the landing halfway down the stairs. As you can imagine, this drew lots of attention in addition to taunts and laughter. I was embarrassed. I did not want anyone to know that I had anything to do with that car or Tim’s dad. As silly as it sounds to me today, I was afraid of what others would think of me. I stood just inside the school doors frozen in fear. I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what to do. I watched a group of guys lift the car and move it far enough to be able to drive away.

Fear is a crazy thing. It can paralyze us and cloud our judgment. And so when we have not experienced God’s love and mercy, we can become afraid of His law and judgment. Jesus tells a story of how we can look at God the wrong way. He described three servants who were given silver by their king before he was to be crowned king in a distant empire. He entrusted them with his riches and instructed them to invest for him while he was gone. He would return one day to see what they had done with the silver. The first two servants invested well, but the third was afraid of the king. His fear caused him to hide the silver in the ground rather than invest it. He was so afraid of the king that he became paralyzed to inaction. He hid his silver. He acted as though the king did not exist and hoped for the best.

As I think about it, there is no difference between my fear of what others would think of me and the servant’s fear of his king. Both fears cause inaction. Both fears prevent loving action to invest our talents in the lives of others. There is a fear of God we are to have in our lives that is an awe of His love and mercy prompting us to action. We read of this fear in Psalm 89:6-7, For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?

You know you have the proper fear of God when you want to be in His presence each morning rather than hiding from Him. You have the right fear of God when you move toward others to lend a helping hand. You know you fear God in a way that gives life when you can think clearly in the midst of temptation. Every time I want my own way, succumb to my own desires, and refuse to take up my cross and follow Jesus, I become afraid of God. This fear always paralyzes. It always prevents us from living freely in God’s kingdom. 

So what’s the solution? Focus on God’s love. Accept His love. Seek His love because we read in 1 John 4:18 , There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

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