Posts tagged ‘faith’

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?

Remembering the The Good Fight on Memorial Day

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!

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. 

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.

It is Finished, The Prequel

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  John 19:30

Unfinished is a word that describes my life. The one thing I loved about school, whether it be elementary school or medical school, is that every course, every subject had an end. But that “end” only lasted a few weeks before it all began again. Because of this fact, before I had even completed Kindergarten, I was calling myself a 1st grader. The cycle continued until I graduated from an OBGYN residency program at Bethesda Naval Hospital. But it didn’t end there either! There is always the next step, the next project, the next struggle, the next challenge, the next problem to solve and task to complete. 

When I was a physician, I would leave town in an attempt to leave my responsibilities behind. But I knew every patient’s due date, every person’s surgery that had been scheduled, and every post-op patient who could develop a complication in my absence that I would need to care for upon my return. I would complete a surgery only to have 3 more to do, an office full of patients to see, and who knew what would need to be done in the wee hours of the next morning. 

As a pastor, the sense of my work never being finished has only multiplied. A sermon can be written, but there are 10 more that need to be completed. A bible study is completed, but there are hopefully hundreds more to be done. There are issues that need to be discovered and solved before they become a problem that everyone sees. And then there are the problems that everyone sees that must be addressed posthaste. 

Before you think I’m complaining, let me clarify further. I thrive in environments where the work is never done. I love the challenge. But it makes me realize that life is never “finished”. We never “arrive.” We can always become a better person, learn something new about ourselves or the world in which we live. We always have the potential for failure that can be turned into success. There is always another turn in the road, another circumstance to navigate, another challenge to be addressed. 

And yet there is one thing in life that is finished, and that is the kingdom of God that I can have in my heart today. Without the completion of that task by Jesus on the cross, I could not handle the unfinished business of daily life. The assurance of salvation is the one thing that is absolutely for certain in life because it is “finished.” And so John wrote, And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:11-13)  

It is this fact of life that makes all of the unfinished business in my life finished. By this I mean that because I am His child doing His work in His time, then I am complete in Him. My daily tasks do not define whether or not I am finished. I may have tasks that need to be done, but when my Jesus dwells in my heart, His finished work becomes mine. And so I can say, “It is finished!”

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