Posts tagged ‘discipleship’

What Bad Things Has God Given You?

Job replied, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?”    Job 2:10  

When I was an OB/GYN resident at Bethesda Naval Hospital, we had morning rounds every weekday. During this time each resident would present the history, diagnosis, and treatment of each of the patients she/he had been assigned. There were times the attending physicians (those who were ultimately in charge of all patient care) would praise us for our technical abilities or diagnostic skills. But there were many instances of criticisms from the attendings, or even worse. Once I was asked to report the very next day on endometriosis, a benign gynecologic disorder that can cause pain and infertility. My attending wanted me to outline the causes of the disease, diagnostic testing options, and the therapeutic modalities. I was up most of the night preparing this paper due the next day. It was painful. It was humiliating to be called out in front of my fellow residents. And yet it helped me to not only learn about endometriosis, but to develop the habit of doing the necessary research to benefit my patients each and every day.

Job is described in chapter 1 as a man who was blameless and a man who had complete integrity. He loved God and followed His commands in his life. We read that Job was a family man who prayed and sacrificed for his children. He had been blessed with wealth as he was selfless, hard working, and humble. And then we read that he lost his farm animals, his sheep, his workers, and his children. If such losses weren’t enough, Job then lost his health. As he sat in agony with boils covering his entire body, Job responds to the the advice of his wife to curse God with a very insightful question, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?”

This is a tough question. None of us ever want to receive bad things. But before I think about what it means to receive something bad from God, I think about what it was like to endure morning rounds at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Those were bad times. I dreaded the hour from 7-8am every weekday. And yet I learned to develop the intellectual discipline necessary to care for my patients throughout my career as a physician. I have even learned to accept the good with the bad from my friends which has taught me innumerable lessons about unconditional love, forgiveness, honesty, trust, and transparency that have made my life richer.

And so I resonate with Job’s rhetorical question. Some of the greatest blessings in my life have come to me when I have embraced the bad things from God. When I pray for humility, he brings morning rounds into my life. When I pray for a deeper love of humanity, he shows me the need to forgive. When I pray for insight, He uses the Word to expose my need to change a habit. And when I pray for forgiveness, he shows me how I need to confess my faults. Perhaps we should be thanking God more for the bad things He gives us than the good things!  

 

The Wall

Then Eliashib the high priest and the other priests started to rebuild at the Sheep Gate.   Nehemiah 3:1

Every summer my family would go to Riviera Beach, Florida for two weeks. One of my favorite pastimes was building a sand castle on the beach. The first time I tried to build one, I would just begin to see it take form when a large wave would come to destroy the whole thing. I tried building further from the shore, but there wasn’t enough moisture in the sand to hold its shape. So I finally learned to build a large wall and a moat before I even started to build the sand castle. This then prevented the waves from destroying my precious, but vulnerable, work of art. 

The Israelites returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed some 70 years earlier. Nehemiah tells us that the process of rebuilding the temple began first with rebuilding the Jerusalem wall for the same reasons I learned to build a wall and a moat around my sand castle. Israel had many enemies who would love to destroy the temple at the first opportunity. The same is true today. In 2 Corinthians 6:16 Paul writes the “…we are the temple of the living God.” And just like in Nehemiah’s day, we are to build a wall of protection around our temple. But what does that look like? Does that mean I need to withdraw from the world and build a physical wall of protection between me and people who do not believe in God?  That doesn’t make any sense when we remember that Jesus tells us to the salt of the world which requires contact with those who do not have God’s amazing flavor in their lives. The answer lies within Nehemiah’s decryption of how the Jerusalem wall was rebuilt.

We discover in the third chapter of Nehemiah that the high priest began the work on the wall by rebuilding the Sheep Gate. The high priest began the process, not the chief architect or master builder or head deacon or building committee chairperson. No, it was the high priest who started to rebuild at none other than the Sheep Gate. In Luke 23 we see that Jesus, our High Priest and Lamb of God, began rebuilding the wall of  protection around the temple to be built in each one of His followers as He withstood the attacks of the earthly high priest and the Roman governor. Jesus went to the cross and nailed our sins to that cross as He died for you and me. There is no greater protection than rendering our sins powerless in our own lives. Jesus began the wall of protection that would extend to every human being who had ever existed, did exist, and would exist in the future. But the story of protection doesn’t end there.

Nehemiah chronicles the process in chapter 3 by telling us that THEN the son of this person and that person rebuilt the next section, and BESIDE him was…, and THEN there was…, and BEYOND him was…, and the NEXT GATE was….  This goes on until the end of the chapter when we read in verses 31-32, “Then he continued as far as the upper room at the corner. The other goldsmiths and merchants repaired the wall from that corner to the Sheep Gate.” And so the wall was repaired all the way back to the beginning point at the Sheep Gate.

Jesus involves us, you and me, in the rebuilding and repairing of the wall of protection around the temple. Could it be that Jesus created the church so that His followers would come together in prayer, unity, fellowship, ministry, and service to others for the purpose of building a wall of protection around His people, His temple on earth? That means you help me build the piece of the wall that I need most while I help you build the piece of the wall you need most.  We all have different vulnerabilities and weaknesses. We all have issues and struggles. We are all involved in a spiritual warfare against principalities and powers not of this earth. When I read Nehemiah 3 with the Church of Jesus Christ in mind, I see a picture of this person next to that person beside another person, and beyond her was yet another person. And though they were all working on the same wall of protection, they each had their own specific part to play in a particular area of expertise.

It makes me realize that perhaps we should be asking questions like: What part of the wall am I working on? Who is next to me? Who is just beyond me? And am I working on the wall Jesus is building, or am I working on my own wall?

How Do You Measure Success

Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good. It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.  Psalm 127:1-2

Since I was in grade school, I have been driven to succeed to a standard I set for myself. When we played kick ball at recess I wouldn’t feel like I had succeeded unless I had kicked the ball over the roof of the school, which was an automatic home run until I did it so many times that the teacher to make it an automatic out. In high school I needed to get A’s in honor classes to feel successful. And when I was ranked 21st out of 660 graduating seniors in high school, I felt like a failure. In college, I needed to have the highest score on every test and set the curve in every class. When that did not happen, I had failed in my mind.

Deep down in my heart I knew there was something wrong with my drive to succeed. But what was it? How was it wrong? Gradually I began to realize that success is not so much in what I do, but in who I am. I could be first in the class, but it still didn’t feel right if I had not enjoyed the class, made friends along the way, and had grown closer to God with an increased self-awareness. This first hit me in high school when I decided that I would pursue theology rather than medicine in college. This is when my journey began in earnest to allow God to be the master builder of my life. When I allow Him to build my house, success is defined by Him as I remain in Him.

Knowing that He is the Builder of my house is comforting indeed, but I still struggle with wanting to help Him or take over His job completely. And I don’t think I’m the only one to struggle with this issue. The truth is that many, if not most of us struggle with it to one degree or another. It is so easy to accept a measurement of success for ourselves that is not from God. We see in others strengths, talents, and gifts that we do not possess, and become tempted to feel inadequate, if not like total failures. When this happens, we start building again on our own. 

There are two major reasons we do this in my experience. The first is that we have never taken the time to listen to Jesus and know His plans for us. We feel dissatisfied with life at some level and decide we need a new car or location or job or something other than what we have in order to be happy and successful. But every decision we make apart from Jesus is a brick we have laid in our house rather than Jesus. The more we take over His job, the more dissatisfied we will be.

The second reason we build our life on our on own without Jesus is that we don’t trust His plan. In this instance, we know His plans. We understand what He is building in us. But we aren’t happy with it. Life isn’t going the way we want. And so we fire Jesus as our master builder, though we still want Him to be our Savior. We still expect to live in the house He is building right now for us in heaven. It’s just that we don’t like the house He is building for us to live in right now on earth. But if we don’t like His house plans for us on earth, why would we think we’d be happy with His house plans for us in heaven?

And so I find that real peace and contentment comes as I submit to God’s will and allow Jesus to build my house. He then defines success, which is measured by His standard, not mine. So when I am tempted to feel inadequate because others have more influence, more earthly treasures, and more talent, I am learning to simply thank God for Jesus. When I listen to Jesus, seek His will, and keep my focus on Him, then the worldly measurements of success have no power or influence in my life. I am thankful for my master builder.   

Who Are You?

Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.   John 13: 3-5

The thing that astonishes me about Jesus is that His exalted position and unlimited power motivated Him to serve. And He didn’t just serve in an ordinary capacity, but in the lowliest of positions to do what no one else would do. So He was born in a stable as an infant rather than appear in a palace as a king. He built things for others as a carpenter rather than having things built for Him as a land owner. He went to places defiled by lepers and prostitutes to touch them and become one with them rather than places of honor to be separate from them. He died alone on a cross to save all of humanity rather than a bed surrounded by friends to save His dignity. And when He walked into that upper room to share a final meal with His disciples and knew He was God in flesh, His response was to serve rather than be served.

The path to peace, joy, purpose, and health in this life is not found in gratifying myself in places of comfort and positions of power, but in loving others in places of need and positions of service. When I developed recurrent cardiac symptoms, my initial response was one of denial. But I have discovered that any journey to health is a journey to self-awareness. Before we can help others, we must know who we are and what we have to offer.  We see this principle illustrated in the life of Jesus in John 13. It is because Jesus was self-aware that He served others. It is because Jesus knew that He was God that He knew what He had to do. 

Today I am more aware than ever before that I am a child of God defined by His love and grace in my life, not by the failed bypass grafts or small arteries in my heart. Though I continue to seek the best path forward to treat my cardiac condition, I realize true healing only comes as I humble myself to God’s will for my life and His presence in my heart. It’s okay that I can’t ride my bike as fast, run as much, or swim like I once could. Those things are fun and good. But they are not the things I must do to find peace and joy in life. Rather, as a child of God, I simply need to humble myself to the will of God and be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around me. Once I know who I am, I know what I need to do. 

So it’s true. My cardiac condition does not define who I am. God does. Once I embraced this fact, I realized that He has my heart in His hands. I now know that my health challenge does not limit what God wants to accomplish in and through me. In fact, I know that my heart condition is a blessing as I allow it to inform me about my mortality in this life and the assurance of immortality in the next. The amazing thing about my own health challenge is that my heart has become more open to God’s heart resulting in more peace than ever before. Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he said,  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

If you’re looking for peace and purpose in life, perhaps you have not yet discovered your true identity. What would it look like to see yourself as a child of God? How would that change who you are and what you would do?

What Does God Expect of Us?… Humility

We had been talking about it for a year or two when it finally happened. I was allowed to stay an entire week at my cousin’s home who lived in a town about 100 miles away. So at the age of 7 my first adventure away from the safety of my home began. It was during this week that I learned my first lesson about the difference between humility and humiliation. My cousin Brad was 2 years older than me, but due to a traumatic birth experience his intelligence would never exceed that of a 4 year old child. Brad had this problem of wetting his pants when he would get excited. When his friends knocked on the door and asked us to play, Brad was excited. I went out to play with the kids while Brad went to his mother for a change of clothes. As we were playing next to the house, I told Brad’s friends that he had wet his pants. Somehow it made me feel superior to be able to tell Brad’s friends about his problem. To my chagrin, my aunt happened to be listening to the conversation which took place beneath Brad’s bedroom window. She proceeded to tell Brad’s friends about my bed wetting problem. I was humiliated.

I learned an important lesson that day: humiliation often comes in the absence of humility. It took me a while to realize that humility is a necessary ingredient in friendship. Humility is the precursor to loyalty and the foundation of trust. It is only through humility that I can have sympathy and brotherly love. I wanted to win the adulation of Brad’s friends at the expense of Brad. I was willing to humiliate Brad in exchange for a laugh. I betrayed my own cousin to build up my ego.

The Bible has a lot to say about humility. Jesus humbled Himself to become the son of man when He was the Son of God. Jesus humbled Himself to become sin when He had no sin. There is something about humility that we resist despite the freedom it offers to all who are willing to try it. Without humility, we are headed for bondage rather than freedom, humiliation rather than exaltation, isolation rather than integration, hate rather than love. We read in 1 Peter 5:5-6, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”

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