“You’re Going To Yell At Me!” (Romans 8:1)

A former resident called me the other day. He was dealing with a complicated patient and deliberating over several rare diseases. “Dr. S! You’re going to yell at me!”

 

I laughed. “Why would I yell at you?”

 

“Because I’m forgetting the things you taught me. What tests should I order to rule out this disease?”

 

We both laughed. “No worries. You have enough things to think about, caring for your patients. I’m your consultant. It’s my job to order the correct tests to confirm the diagnosis!”

 

As a former resident, we were now collaborators, equal colleagues. Yet, it was still difficult for him to completely supplant the roles we once had, that of teacher and student. A superb dermatologist, he understandably did not want to disappoint me.

 

I empathize with my resident’s embarrassment. I feel a similar reticence to consult former professors for fear of exposing my ignorance. What about God? My Heavenly Father created me, nurtured and cared for me for over half a century. Am I embarrassed when I have failed Him, when I sin against Him, giving in to temptations? Most definitely.

 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1 (ESV)

 

If I were left to wallow in my own self-pity, I would continue down a slippery slope of despair and depression. By my efforts, I am unable to conquer the guilt and sorrow I experience when I sin against God. Thanks be to God that He does not leave nor forsake me. Through the redemptive power of faith in Jesus Christ, He has forgiven me of my sins and washed me clean of the guilt. He continues to sanctify me so that I can become more like Him.

 

Will God yell at me when I fail?

 

No. He died for me so I can live.

 

All praise to the Living God!

 

Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.

 

“Goodbye, I Love You!” (Romans 10:13)

The state of Hawaii is still reeling from its recent false alarm missile alert. With air raid sirens blazing and messages flashing on smart phone and television screens warning that a ballistic missile strike was imminent, thousands of islanders were whipped into a panic. Images and videos of people diving into manholes or holding each other in terror abound on social media. About thirty minutes later, the same devices streamed the message that it was a false alarm.

 

I found out about the missile alert when I glanced at an open browser page on the internet. Before I could call my family and friends in Hawaii, the confirmation that this was a false alarm was issued. The next day, I received a text message from my sister, who lives there with her family.

 

“Sorry I didn’t text you yesterday. But if I had time, I would have called you and said, ‘Goodbye, I love you!’ “

 

What else could one do or say in such a situation? Pundits estimate that if this was a true ballistic missile attack, there would probably be less than twenty minutes to seek shelter, and realistically, what type of shelter could one find to survive a nuclear attack? All any of us may have time for is a brief note, a phone call, or a hug…and then eternity. Sadly, these very scenarios were undoubtedly repeated that morning by the people of Hawaii.

 

Many years ago, Pastor Erwin Lutzer eloquently wrote, “Often we say that Christ will meet us on the other side. That is true, of course, but misleading. Let us never forget that He walks with us on this side of the curtain and then guides us through the opening. We will meet Him there, because we have met Him here.”

 

These are true words, but contingent upon one important decision, did you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

 

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Romans 10:13 (ESV)

 

If you confess and repent of your sins and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, He will meet us here in this life and the next. It does not matter if there are decades left in your lifespan or a few minutes. Our salvation is not dependent upon how long we have known Jesus, only that we have surrendered our life to Him. The world is at the brink of nuclear war. If that terrible moment were ever to occur, I pray that the last words that I could say to anyone is more than, “Goodbye, I love you.” My sincerest desire is that I will also be able to say, “I will soon see you in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

 

Amen!

 

Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.

 

Knuckle Push Ups (1 Corinthians 9:24)

I am not very athletic nor have I ever been. However, there is one exercise which I have excelled-knuckle push ups. Unlike traditional push-ups, a knuckle push up is done with both hands closed in a fist, supporting one’s weight on the knuckles. Although this may seem painful and difficult, it is actually ergonomically better for the wrists and hardens the knuckles. I began doing this style of push-ups when I trained in karate and have incorporated it as part of my daily exercise routine.

 

Every year, I purchase the annual edition of the Guiness Book of World Records. Recording every conceivable and incredulous records such as the most clothespins attached on a face or the farthest distance that a watermelon seed can be spit, the book is trove of fascinating trivia. As I perused the book, I spied a familiar activity. I was surprised to discover that the record for most knuckle push ups done in a minute was 86. 86! I had never pushed myself to the limit, nor had I ever timed myself but surely, I thought, I could do 86 in a minute?

 

Undaunted, I whipped out my phone and set the countdown function for one minute. I began the timer and silently counted to myself. 90! I did 90 knuckle push-ups in one minute! Call the Guiness Book of Records! But as I reflected upon my seeming accomplishment, doubt trickled in. It couldn’t be that easy? Sure enough, a quick search through the internet found several unsanctioned record holders, recording and posting  their attempts on various social media sites. Yep. Someone had even done 120! Even Guiness had updated their online site with the current record at 115!

 

Records, as the adage proclaims, are meant to be broken. While I could certainly formally train to break this record, I questioned my motives. I only wanted to gain bragging rights, nothing more. Instead of striving after the wind for a record that would soon be broken, why not compete for a prize that is truly worthwhile?

 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.

1 Corinthians 9:24 (ESV)

 

The Apostle Paul encouraged all believers to be diligent in the study of God’s Word, to be devoted in prayer, and to be sensitive to the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of everyone we meet.

 

Why?

 

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:23 (ESV)

 

Paul was single minded in his desire to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His prize would be everlasting-eternal salvation for all who confess and repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

 

My achievements and the record for knuckle push ups will soon fall…again. Thanks be to God that His achievements are eternal!

 

Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.

“Three Or Four” (Acts 17:28)

Many years ago, I attended the lecture of a world renowned dermatopathologist. An eloquent speaker and prolific writer, he had a penchant to pepper his speech with colorful literary and religious allusions. No surprise, as an undergraduate at Princeton, he majored in philosophy and theology. Whether one agreed with his views or not, all dermatologists and dermatopathologists needed to understand and be willing to discuss them with colleagues and patients alike. For many, his word was the final authority in dermatopathology.

 

The topic of his lecture dealt with a rare form of a skin cancer. The professor described some of the characteristic histopathological findings that one should observe, “We look for a collection of three of these abnormal cells within the epidermis.”

 

“Why three?” One of the audience members unexpectedly shouted.

 

“Pardon?”

 

“Why three? Why not two? Why not four?”

 

The professor smiled and pondered for a moment. “Three is a very important number. There are three primary colors, three stages of time…past, present, and future.” He paused, as if deliberating whether to continue with his examples. “And there is the Trinity.”

 

There were a few scattered chuckles as we adjourned for a break. Upon returning, the professor was contemplative. “During the break, several of you approached me and pointed out other numbers that should have equally important religious significance. For example, there are the four noble truths of Buddhism, the four Vedas in Hinduism.” He looked up from the podium and surveyed the audience, hanging upon his every word. “So the answer is three or four!”

 

…For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.”

Acts 17:28 (ESV)

Religious analogies can be used to either defend or denigrate commonplace examples in life. Even the Apostle Paul utilized a literary allusion from the Greek poets when he was preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Athenians. Although the quotation was originally written to honor the greek god Zeus, Paul applied it to Jesus Christ, God and Creator. In so doing, Paul was able to effectively connect with his audience to transcend their understanding of many gods, pointing the path to the One True God.

 

Elements of God’s Truth are present in many works of secular and religious literature. The Bible and the Holy Spirit should always be our guide to determine how to best use these examples to share the Truth of Jesus Christ.

 

Amen!

 

Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.

 

“The FAA Is Here For You!” (James 4:3)

The first time I flew first class on an airline was a memorable and painful experience. A former colleague was interested in having me join her group and flew me out in style to Atlanta, Georgia. What a pleasure it was to board the airplane first, ushered to my seat by an amiable flight attendant. As I waited to place my carry on bag in the overhead bin, it happened. A border strip of plastic came loose and whipped outward from the bin and slapping my left eyeball. Holding my bag in both hands, I had no way to protect myself. I collapsed in pain, tears streaming from my eyes.

 

“Oh my!” The flight attendant had witnessed the vent and was horrified. “Are you okay? Should I call a doctor?”

 

Through the tears, I managed to open my left eye. Blurred images quickly came into focus. I did a quick visual acuity test on myself and noted no glaring deficiencies. “I think I’m okay.”

 

“Are you sure? We can get someone?”

 

“Who?”

 

“We have paramedics outside.”

 

I don’t usually disclose the fact that I am a physician, but this time I deemed it appropriate. “I appreciate the offer. I’m a physician and as far as I can determine, my eyesight is okay. But I will need to get it checked out, hopefully when we land in Atlanta.”

 

The attendant quickly nodded. “Oh yes. I will let our Atlanta office know and they will have a doctor waiting there.”

 

“Great!” I thought. I plunked down into my cushy leather seat, ice bag on my left eye. The flight attendant was ever more courteous, bringing me special drinks and checking on me every few minutes. Even the pilot and co-pilot came out to greet me. There was a half hour delay as maintenance personnel worked to repair the plastic border. Hopefully no more excitement, I thought, as the plane began to taxi down the runway.

 

“Oh no!” Another flight attendant rushed by me to the cockpit, her face twisted in obvious distress. In a few seconds, the announcement was made.

 

“We have a medical emergency on this plane. Are there any physicians or individuals with medical training who can assist? If so, please immediately identify yourself to one of the flight attendants!”

 

Although I am a physician, as a dermatopathologist, I do not have the adept clinical expertise of an emergency physician or surgeon to handle a medical emergency. In similar scenarios in the past, there are usually other physicians who are better trained to handle a medical crisis. Nonetheless, I had already divulged the fact that I was a physician and no one else was volunteering their services. I raised my hand. The flight attendant looked at me with a forlorn expression and said, “I’m sorry I have to ask you!”

 

I shook my head. “No apologies necessary. Take me to the patient.”

 

With the ice bag on my eye, I stumbled to the back of the plane where a woman was lying down, in obvious distress. She was having a panic attack because she had brought a bag full of jewelry that was in storage on the plane and she was afraid that someone might steal it. After assessing that she was not in immediate medical danger, I reassured her as the plane bumped along the tarmac returning to the terminal. Meanwhile I remained at her side, one hand holding the ice bag on my left eye and my other hand monitoring her pulse. Arriving at the terminal, paramedics were led in and whisked the woman off the plane.

 

My flight attendant thanked me once again as she changed my ice bag. “I am writing a book about my life as a flight attendant.”

 

I flashed a smile. “And I’m chapter one?”

 

“No question! “I’ll make sure the airline knows what you did for this passenger. I am sure they would like to thank you!”

 

“That would be nice. I am just happy I could help.” After these surreal episodes, I wish I could share a happy ending but when I arrived at the gate in Atlanta, there were no airline officials to meet me nor were there any medical personnel. By the time I inquired, the entire flight crew had disappeared. Miffed, I proceeded with the rest of the weekend, meeting with my generous host. Three days later, I was back in Los Angeles and I immediately saw an ophthalmologist who diagnosed a corneal abrasion. Several attempts to contact the airline were all met with a bewildered response or complete ignorance of the events. Days slipped into weeks and my frustration level exponentially grew. I am not sure what prompted me, but I found a contact number for the F.A.A.-the federal aviation administration. Unlike my attempts to communicate with the airlines, I was met with an extraordinarily helpful representative. She listened to my story and emphatically stated, “I will make sure the proper people find out about this. I will call you back in a few days!”

 

In spite of her courteousness, I truly did not expect any additional assistance but one week later, I received a call from the same F.A.A. official. “I spoke to the airline. They are extremely regretful of this entire incident and will make things right with you. They will contact you within a day. If they don’t, I want you to call me on my direct phone line.”

 

I was overwhelmed by the swift action the F.A.A. delivered, contrasting with the passive-aggressive pace of the airlines. Although grateful, I was a bit embarrassed by the attention. Investigating tragic plane crashes and near misses at airports, surely there were more important issues the F.A.A. needed to address? “You know, “ I sheepishly began, “I’m sorry I called you about an issue like this but I really didn’t know who else I could contact. I…”

 

Before I could finish, the F.A.A. official interrupted me, “Sir, you did the right thing. This is what we do!”

 

In a gush of pride, she exclaimed, “Sir, the F.A.A. is here for you!”

 

Oh my! If ever there was a perfect tagline!

 

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

James 4:3 (ESV)

 

I turned to the F.A.A. when it appeared I had exhausted all my usual avenues for assistance. In hindsight, I should have first turned to them for they were the chief authority to which all aviation companies must comply.  Regrettably, my spiritual life often follows a similar neglectful course. When a problem arises, I often try to solve it by using my own efforts instead of first offering the problem to God and asking Him to guide me.

 

I have asked many things of God from wrong selfish motives and I have also failed to ask Him when I truly needed Him. There is a danger to view God as a cosmic genie or bellhop, thinking He will fulfill all of our wishes and desires to our expectations and not His. But there is an equally insidious attitude of pushing God aside and thinking we can go it alone, only reaching out to Him as a last resort.

 

Thanks be to God that He is always here for us!

 

Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.

 

Thanks Mom! (John 21:1-14)

The internet has made it very difficult to keep our personal emails, photos, and videos private. Anything that appears on the internet is potentially available to anyone with an internet connection. The unfortunate consequence is the revealing of embarrassing behaviors and compromising circumstances. The corollary is there may be photos or even videos posted of us that we could be completely unaware.

 

Occasionally, there is a good outcome. Such was the case with this video, posted of my mother before she went home to the Lord in 2013. I was on this social media site following a completely unrelated link when I recalled a member of my mother’s church telling me he posted a video of her reading Scripture. I put my mother’s name into the search mode and a video from five years earlier appeared. She stood in front of a choir and was presumably giving the Scripture reading for the song that was about to be sung.

 

https://vimeo.com/search?q=janet+shitabata

 

My mother loved her Lord, Jesus Christ. Sadly, I never heard my mother read the Bible in a public setting. She never quoted Scripture to me but she was speaking to me now! And although the verses were meant for another worship setting, God’s Word is never bound by time or circumstances. This entire passage is Jesus reassuring His disciples of their greater calling to serve Him. I have been struggling through a difficult period in my life and the comforting Words of Jesus were soothing my soul as He once again revealed Himself to me.

 

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way.

John 21:1 (ESV)

 

For some, the internet can be a harsh reminder of a foolhardy lifestyle and regrettable behaviors. On this day, I was blessed by a video that even my mother was unaware she was being filmed. Although there were 38 previous views there were no comments. Well! I immediately joined the social media site and proudly posted a comment.

 

Thanks Mom!

 

I am looking forward to seeing you again someday in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

 

Amen!

 

Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.

 

What Would I Take? (2 Timothy 4:13)

The latest round of wildfires in Southern California were devastating to thousands of families. Nearly everyone knows someone who was personally affected by this disaster. The clarion calls to evacuate issued a familiar message, “Leave immediately, take only what you absolutely need!” Within hours, countless families, livestock, everything was displaced and homeless. The hardship extended to the thousands of brave first responders who assisted in the evacuation while battling the blazes.

 

If I received an evacuation order and needed to leave within a few minutes, what would I take? Disaster relief organizations have prepared lists of items that everyone should consider taking with them. These items included medications, cash and/or credit cards, water, small electronics such as cell phones and chargers, and important papers such as identification, passports, birth certificates. But if I had all of these items, what additional possession would I take that I would deem irreplaceable? If I had a pet, certainly they would be included. Items such as my guitars came to mind but as much as I love my instruments, they are simply too large and except for the sentimental value, completely replaceable. Books? Nearly all, including Bibles, are available in electronic format. Photographs? I have scanned the majority of my photographs, and, like all my important documents, are kept in a cloud server computer storage. But there is one item that is irreplaceable. Hung on the wall of our master bedroom and framed in a glass case is our wedding program nestled next to my wife’s wedding bouquet. The flowers are carefully dried and the arrangement preserved, a beautiful reminder of our first moment as husband and wife. No photograph will ever capture or preserve the actual bouquet. This is what I would take.

 

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.

2 Timothy 4:13 (ESV)

 

What would the Apostle Paul take? When Paul was imprisoned, facing his imminent execution, the Bible reveals what possessions he valued.  He asked his young protege, Timothy, for three things to be brought to him. In a cold dark prison cell, a cloak for warmth would have been a prized possession. In a time before the printing press, books and parchments of God’s Word were highly prized and irreplaceable. The Apostle Paul revealed a very personal and touching side of himself by his requests.

 

The fires and other disasters have taken a terrible toll on thousands of people. I pray for continued financial, physical and spiritual support for everyone who has been affected. The Bible reminds us that God’s love and care includes our fondest memories and irreplaceable mementos. Even in our darkest moments, He is there.

 

Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.

“You’re Thinking, Aren’t You?” (Esther 6:1-2)

There is a radio commercial that parodies those familiar evenings of insomnia. The narrator describes a scene of a person staring at his ceiling, late at night, and unable to sleep. “You’re thinking, aren’t you? Nothing good comes from thinking this late. You’re worried about something!”

 

So true! I do not usually have trouble falling asleep at night. Within 10 minutes of my head resting upon my pillow, I am usually fast asleep. However, every few months, there is an evening when I cannot sleep. Invariably it is because I am thinking about something. I attempt to read or think of something incredibly dull and boring. I repent and review the events of the day, whether there was some sin that I committed either by omission or commision. I pray, asking God to give me rest. Unfortunately, many times, there is no answer and I remain awake until sleep finally intervenes from sheer exhaustion.

 

On that night the king could not sleep. And he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. And it was found written how Mordecai had told about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, and who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.

Esther 6:1-2 (ESV)

 

This passage from the Book of Esther documents a similar sleepless evening for King Ahasuerus of Persia. His solution was similar to most of us, he decided to read something pedantic and boring, the chronicles of the kingdom. However, in this instance, it was God’s providential hand at work. He directed the king’s attention to an entry that documented Mordecai’s noble deed in exposing an assassination plot against him. To the king’s surprise, Mordecai was never rewarded and the king wanted to correct this oversight. Mordecai was a Jew and an official in the king’s court and, unbeknownst to the king, he was the uncle of his wife, Esther, the Queen. The two expose the plot of Haman, another high ranking official in the King’s court, who hated all the Jews and tricked the King into signing an edict that eliminated all Jews. Until that moment, the King did not realize he signed the death warrant for his own wife!  Haman was hanged and Mordecai was promoted to second in power to the King. All this because of a sleepless night!

 

Intrigue, deception, betrayal! While my sleepless nights may not lead to as dramatic a revelation or outcome as the Book of Esther, I definitely want to be prepared to listen if God is speaking to me during these insomniac episodes!

 

I am thinking. Here I am! Teach me, Lord!

 

Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.

“It’s Everyone Here!” (Luke 17:10)

Every year, I have the privilege to interview dozens of medical students seeking a dermatology residency. I serve as the director of dermatopathology and am one of the core faculty members for our dermatology residency program. The program is centered in a county hospital and primarily serves the poor. Thus, we are seeking residents who are equally committed to serving this population. The task that we as faculty face is how to discern the sincere motives of those seeking to serve the poor from those who are simply feeding us lip service. We ask a variety of questions that assist us in revealing true motives. While many rattle off pedantic examples of their volunteer experiences as evidence of their sincerity, one applicant surprised me with his answer when I asked, “Why do you want to train here?”

 

“A few months ago, I did a month long rotation in this dermatology department. I loved it.” I nodded to his usual platitudes. “I loved the dermatologists, but it’s not just them.” At that moment, he pointed outside the window to a group of physicians in white coats. “It’s everyone here!” I nodded, somewhat unsure of his focus. “I get the opportunity to work with others who are equally committed to helping the poor, the disenfranchised. Many are volunteering their time, there is no financial gain for them. They are simply seeking to serve. These patients have no money, there is nothing they can give us for their treatment. We are their last hope. This is pure medicine.”

 

Our souls connected.

 

“This is why I want to train here. I want to work with others who have the same motivation!”

 

Many of us give of our time and resources doing volunteer activities. How do we discern the true motives of our actions or those of others? Although certainly not an absolute litmus test, when financial gain, compensation or accolades are removed, when the recipients have no way to thank you for your services, our motives may become less about ourselves and truly focused upon others.

 

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Luke 17:10 (ESV)

 

In this parable, our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us about the sacrifice of service. If our sincere desire is to serve others, we no longer think about ourselves or the outcomes, we simply serve because it is our duty. It is a difficult lesson, one that I am still learning. The call to serve Jesus Christ is noble and not without cost. We may serve with little or no recognition from others. We may suffer persecution and even death. His promise to us? Salvation, eternal life and peace that surpasses all understanding.

 

What is our motivation to serve? If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you serve out of gratitude for what He has done for you. It is our duty and privilege to serve!

 

Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.

 

“I Want Them To Handle The Money!” (Proverbs 27:23-24)

A woman who ran a dormitory for male college students had an interesting technique to teach each of them the value of money. Once a month, she had the students pay their rent in cash. If they needed change, she would hand them their money using crisp and clean new bills. Her reasoning was simple. “I want them to handle the money! They gain a better appreciation of the value of money when they see and feel it in their own hands!”

 

Good advice!

 

So many of our current financial transactions are done electronically. We can send payments through our smart devices; we can direct our banks to make automatic payments to a variety of vendors; we can even bid on auction items via the internet. While this has greatly simplified and accelerated the process, it also may lead to lapses in tracking our finances. Recently, I discovered that one vendor was still debiting monthly payments from my bank account even though I had previously discontinued services and deleted the bank information for this account through their website. After several exchanges of emails and conference calls, the issue was resolved and I was refunded the money, but I had clearly been lax in my financial oversight of these transactions…lax because I was technologically removed from the actual exchange.

 

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds,

for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations?

Proverbs 27:23-24(ESV)

 

God expects us to be good stewards of our finances and with all of our possessions with which He blesses us. Technology can distance us from the actual transaction of money exchange. While we may not need to completely return to the luddite ways of physically exchanging money, it is a good reminder that when we see and hold the money, it makes us aware of the actual goods and services that are being exchanged. Whatever our occupation, we all need to take ownership of our financial transactions and seek to honor God through them.

 

Physically handling our money may be a good reminder of the great responsibility that God expects of us when handling our finances.

 

Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.