It Must Be Worth It! (Galatians 2:16)

The news broke when my daughter was receiving the notifications from her college applications. It was the college admissions scandal and it was disrupting every high school and college in the United States. The story is familiar to most and there is no need to revisit the details. The aftermath and repercussions are wide-ranging. Discussions with other parents often ended in anger and disgust over the entire application process. Nearly all educational institutions were forced to review their own application process to safeguard against future abuses. 


Dozens of individuals were willing to pay thousands of dollars to secure admission, seemingly bypassing the usual filters and oversight. The institutions that were implicated in the scandal are obviously prestigious because there is a perception that a degree obtained from matriculating there will lead to professional and personal success. A cynical way to interpret this is it must be worth it! 


It is not the first time a coveted position has attempted to be purchased. Several hundreds of years ago, the Christian church was involved in a scandalous affair. Indulgences were established as a means to acknowledge one’s remissions of sins by some action, often a prayer said aloud or the performance of good works. Unfortunately, through the action of a few unscrupulous priests, the practice devolved into a means of forgiving sins by earnest followers paying for their indulgence. Large sums of money were given in exchange for the forgiveness of present and future sins. Martin Luther, a priest, was appalled by this and other practices of the church and his objections eventually led the way to the Protestant reformation. 


As the college admissions scandal has demonstrated, there are no shortcuts or bypasses that can guarantee admission to a coveted position. What about spiritual concerns? Since Adam and Eve, mankind has sought to place themselves in the position of God and take control of their eternal destiny. However, in spite of what the world and unscrupulous liars, even within the Church, may aver, salvation, eternal life, and the remission of sins can never be bought or earned. 


…yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Galatians 2:16 (ESV)


Salvation can only be granted by surrendering our will to God by confessing and repenting of our sins and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 


It is worth it?


Our eternal destiny depends upon how one answers this question for oneself.


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


Conspiracy (2 Corinthians 4:4)

A conspiracy is defined as the following: an evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons; plot. a combination of persons for a secret, unlawful, or evil purpose: any concurrence in action; combination in bringing about a given result.



There is no shortage of conspiracy theories-faking the Apollo moon landings, 9/11 was instigated by the United States government, even the death of Paul McCartney! Why is there such a hyper interest in conspiracies? Is it because we cannot possibly accept the world as it truly appears? Frankly, the truth of the world could be even more fantastical than what conspirators would have us believe and the hideous truth is the greatest conspiracy of evil runs amuck and rules this world.


Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

2 Corinthians 4:4 (NLT)


Perhaps our willingness to believe in conspiracies is because we live in a world that is controlled by evil and sinister forces. In our hearts, we sense something is wrong, the world should not be like this. Poverty, crime, racism-is this truly what God desired when He created us? If God exists, how could He allow this to happen? The answer is simple. This is not the world that God created and we chose it over God’s perfect Creation by sinning and accepting Satan’s offer of a hurting and painful world.


We are embroiled in a heinous conspiracy of evil but there is hope and an answer. God intervened and sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us of our sins. All who confess and repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will gain salvation and eternal life. This the Truth that Satan desperately does not want the world to know. He is already defeated by God but he will continue this conspiracy of evil so long as we remain blinded to the Truth.


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


Spiritual Obsolescence (Hosea 4:6)

When I was a medical resident, my office was occupied by two large metal cabinets filled with Kodachrome slides. These slides documented nearly every medical disease replete with the appearances of the respective diseased organs and mated with microscopic photomicrographs. Next to the cabinet was a shelf filled with slide carousels organized by topics and presentations that I had given. I was quite proud of my collection which was amassed over five years. Within 3 years of completing my residency, my entire collection was obsolete, replaced with digital photos. My entire photographic library, filling a shelf and several file cabinets, could now be transported in a smartphone or accessed from a computer server.


I marvel at the dramatic reduction in the physical space requirements that information can now be stored. Equally impressive is the ease and rapidity by which this knowledge can be retrieved. Books, journals, and documents can now be scanned and stored on a computer. My entire Bible, as well as hundreds of commentaries and textbooks, can be accessed through any smart device or retrieved from the cloud. My access to God’s Word and information about Him have never been more accessible. Has my faith also grown in parallel with this accessibility?


This accessibility and convenience have sometimes lulled me into an insidious complacency. Using a digital camera or other smart devices, I can now take hundreds of photos at a fraction of the cost of earlier analog cameras. However, as, many of the photos will testify, taking more photos does not necessarily make me a better photographer. In fact, the ease with which I can take a digital photo has severely hampered my desire to once become a better photographer. Similarly, I may slack off on my earnestness to memorize Bible verses because I can simply do an internet search or use an app to search my Bible. I may not ponder the meaning of a difficult passage of God’s Word because I can immediately retrieve multiple commentary interpretations but other Biblical scholars. While these are excellent uses of technology, my faith has sometimes suffered and weakened.


My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge…

Hosea 4:6 (ESV)


This verse reminds me that it is not only a lack of knowledge that God condemns, it is also an unwillingness or complacency to use the knowledge. Technology simplifies and streamlines many aspects of my spiritual life, but it sometimes becomes an excuse for laziness; my faith does not grow in parallel with the rapid retrieval of knowledge. I realized that my ability to reason and ponder God’s Word on my own was in danger of becoming obsolete, like my Kodachromes and slide carousels. Before I experienced spiritual obsolescence, I needed to learn to successfully integrate the technological advances and embrace and use the knowledge as I did before it was available. I needed to expand, and not contract, my faith.


There is no spiritual obsolescence with God, only spiritual indolence with me.


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



“That’s Not A Gift!” (John 2:5)

A few years ago, my staff presented me with an unusual gift, a recurve bow and arrow. I was quite surprised and elated. On several occasions, I casually mentioned that I had wanted to learn to shoot a bow and arrow. I did it once when I was about 8 years old and I never forgot the thrill of releasing the arrow from a bow that I drew. When I restarted my martial arts training in karate, I was introduced to weapons and the idea of archery re-ignited. Now I had one of my own. Although clearly a novice, I have enjoyed the times I have engaged in target practice in my backyard. 


Since then, I have added additional weapons to my armamentarium including a wooden bo staff, eskrima sticks, and my latest, throwing knives. Utilizing the same target for archery, I have undertaken my first cautious steps to learn to throw knives. I was sharing my excitement over my new hobby with my staff, who were curious about the origins of my peculiar interest.


“Did someone give you the knives?”


“Oh no! Knives can never be given as a gift. One must undergo rigorous training by a trained master before they are deemed worthy of owning their own knife!” I folded my arms in a triumphant and defiant pose. 


One of my colleagues, who is Chinese-Malaysian, coyly asked me, “Is that true in Japanese culture?”


I laughed. “No, I just made that up!”


Smiling, she replied, “Well in my culture, that’s not a gift!”


“What do you mean?” I questioned. 


“In my culture, if one gives a knife to another, it is telling the recipient that you are cutting off the relationship. It is bad luck and a bad omen.”




When I researched the topic, I learned that many cultures, including my own Japanese culture, view the action of gifting a knife with disdain and a sign of bad luck. I was jesting but I had unwittingly stumbled upon a cultural faux pas.


When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

John 2:3 (ESV)


The Gospel of John records an interesting first miracle of Jesus Christ; it is the well-known story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. Running out of wine at a wedding celebration during this time, and quite likely any time including the present would have been the ultimate faux pas and social mishap. The family would have been forever shamed and shunned. 


Why did Jesus choose this social occasion as the setting for His first miracle? While there are many deeply profound theological issues represented by this miracle, one beautiful lesson is a reminder that Jesus does understand our moments of potential social embarrassments.


When traveling, meeting new people, or being introduced to new situations, the uninformed and naive may unknowingly commit one or several cultural faux pas. Christian missionaries, embarking upon a new mission field, are keenly aware and copiously educated about these potential minefields, but there will always be some key informational item that is overlooked. We may not be able to anticipate all faux pas and awkward social situations, but Jesus Christ never promises this. Our goal should always be what Mary told the servants at the wedding.


“Do whatever he tells you.”

John 2:5 (ESV)


The servants obeyed and Jesus turned six stone jars filled with water into wine, rescuing the hapless family. Jesus takes the ordinary and socially awkward events of our lives and creates a miracle. All we need to do is obey Him. Shouldn’t we do the same?


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


“Very Good At What They Do!” (Jude 12)

I have worked in many different corporate settings and have been fortunate to be mentored and encouraged by supremely intelligent and productive individuals. Yet, in every large company, there is always a special individual whose unique talents separate them from the rest. 


These individuals often have several advanced degrees such as an M.B.A. or J.D. and could present an erudite discussion based upon their expertise that would make a full professor giddy with envy. They are very good at what they do. A recurring pattern of behavior is the ability to seem very busy and productive while manufacturing clever and plausible excuses for their lack of productivity and tangible results. They would cite legal regulatory delays or place the blame on suppliers, the customers, or their colleagues. They are also quite adept at getting others to do their work for them, cheerfully convincing middle managers to complete an urgent project for the good of the team. They establish key workplace relationships with other executives or board members who are able to furnish them with a glowing letter of recommendation. After about two years, they move on to their next company and the cycle would repeat, padding their resume with another impressive position at a prestigious company.


Yes, indeed. They are very good at what they do!


These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted;

Jude 12 (ESV)


When the Bible was written, the majority of industries were agrarian. Thus, it was easy to observe and measure the productivity of a worker. In today’s modern economies, our efforts may be masked by the virtual and often dispersed nature of workplace relationships. Especially within the context of a larger organization, one can more easily blend into the background and appear busy while leading an existence of slothfulness. With impressive titles and resumes, these clever individuals are nothing more than clouds without water. In the workplace, we must always be aware of such individuals. What should the Christian believer’s response be to such individuals?


But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Jude 20-23 (ESV)


In the same letter of Jude, God provides the answers. Our response is to always first turn to God through prayer and build our faith in Jesus Christ. By doing so, God gives us the strength to persevere and to pray for these individuals, extending the same mercy to them that God has given to us through faith and belief in His Son, Jesus Christ. We are to be wise to their schemes but always seeking God’s love and compassion for them.


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


Black Hole (Jeremiah 32:17)

“There are apocalyptic objects in the universe: engines of destruction, menacing and mysterious: black holes. Even scientists who study them find them astonishing. Black holes defy our understanding of nature. They’re completely invisible, yet powerful beyond imagining. They can tear a star to shreds. Black holes even slow time. Once thought too strange to be real, black holes shatter our very understanding of physics. But we’re learning they may somehow be necessary for the universe we know to exist What are these strange, powerful objects? Outrageous and surprising, where are they, and how do they control the universe?”
Janna Levin, Astrophysicist at Barnard College of Columbia University
Source: Nova

Black holes. 


Even in the last twenty years, our understanding of these immense objects is expanding. Scientists now believe that supermassive black holes exist at the center of most, if not all, galaxies. While no one has ever directly observed one, scientists can infer its existence upon other objects in the universe. Mysterious. Invisible, yet powerful beyond imagining. Control the universe.


Hmm…this sounds familiar.


Scientists and laypersons differentially interpret the metaphysical implications of black holes. For some, it humbles them as the deeper they delve into the topic, the more seeming contradictions emerge. For others, it points them to the ultimate triumph of science and man to understand the universe. The groundbreaking research on black holes that is emerging is challenging our understanding of the universe, even reorienting our concepts of physics and science and ultimately the origin of the universe. Yet, the fundamental question that will never be answered by any equation is how can something emerge from nothing? Even if one hypothesizes that the universe began from a singularity, where matter is infinitely dense, such as the center of a black hole, how did it originally appear? Some even state that the entire universe exists as multiverses, perhaps linked by interactions between black holes. All this answer does is push the question further backward. It all had to start from something. How?


Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.

Jeremiah 32:17 (ESV)


Science helps us to understand how our universe works. God helps us to understand how it began. God does not reveal the mechanisms how His creation operates and it is clear that the deeper one investigates, the more complex it becomes. Since God created it, why should this surprise anyone?


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


Same Same But Different (James 3:8-9)

During our recent visit to Thailand, we were introduced to a popular tourist phrase, “Same Same But Different.” My son even purchased a tee-shirt with the phrase emblazoned with bold letters and we delighted in introducing our friends to this Thai aphorism.


We heard it in a wide variety of settings. Ostensibly, it means different but similar. However, it is a metaphor for the polite and humble Thai people. In conversations, it allows one to politely disagree with one another. In awkward situations such as being late for a meeting, its use can defuse a potentially embarrassing moment. Same same but different is a very useful phrase!


But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

James 3:8-9 (ESV)


There are more proverbs about the tongue than any other in the Book of Proverbs and warnings about the thoughtless or careless use of the tongue are liberally sprinkled throughout the rest of the Bible. As James points out, the same tongue that blesses God will curse others, created in the image of God. Tame the tongue? We would do well to keep it tucked away, like in our mouth. 


In this present age, much of our communication is through text messages and emails. We may not speak to others as frequently as we once did but the tongue is still alive and well, wreaking havoc through vitriolic text messages and hateful social media postings. It is the same same but different. Is there something that can silence the action of the virtual tongue? Is there a virtual mouth?


The solution is not a virtual mouth because it is the person to whom the tongue belongs. Our futile efforts to tame our tongue, whether in speech or internet postings, demonstrate our desperate need for a Savior. We need a supernatural intervention in our life to change our very being. Only by confessing and repenting of our sins and accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior can we begin the transformation to tame the tongue, virtual or real.


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


What’s His Name? (3 John 14)

His silver-gray hair was combed to cover a bald spot on the top of his scalp. He confidently strode around our conference table, fitting for a full professor and chairman of a prestigious university pathology department. His voice was firm, almost monotone, as he recounted key quality parameters that every laboratory must strive to maintain in order to deliver excellent patient care. Although I was honored to be in the presence of such a legend in the laboratory business, my mind was beginning to drift, numbed by the statistical charts and parameters he was rattling off. 


“So this next item is directed to the younger pathologists in the room.”


Wake up! He was speaking to me!


Several times a year, my former group organized a dinner meeting and invited an expert in various sub-specialties within diagnostic pathology. The speaker for that evening was a renowned expert in quality control, who literally wrote the textbook that every pathologist had utilized in their training and continued to use as a reference during their careers. I was a new associate with my pathology group and was eager to learn his pearls of wisdom. 


“To be a successful leader and pathologist, you need to learn the names of everyone in your laboratory.” 


That was unexpected. Instead of some esoteric pearl about the Deming cycle of continuous improvement, he was giving me a lesson in human resources.


“Not only that,“ he continued, “you must learn the names of their spouses, their children, and what their hobbies are.” 


I was dumbfounded. “The laboratory is all about the people who work there and you need to know them as well as you know your own family members. Is it easy? No. I admit, sometimes I forget the names of people.” He winked at us. “There are over three hundred people in my laboratory. You don’t have to do it all at once but this should be your continual goal.” 


After the meeting, I reflected upon his words. He was absolutely correct. There is nothing more reaffirming or reassuring to me of my importance to any organization when the leader knows my name. I thought about my mentors in college and medical school who adopted this same leadership principle. I respected them because they took the time to learn my name and know something about me. 


But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.

3 John 14 (KJV)


The third letter of John is one of the shortest books in the Bible but it is rich with practical lessons for life. In the last verse, John instructs his readers to greet their mutual friends by name. It was a personal touch that transcended the written word and endeared John to his readers. Many years ago, Rear Admiral Robert C. Lee stated, “The sweetest sound to anyone’s ears is the sounds of his own name.” This is the same sentiment that is reinforcing God’s Words. 


When we know and address someone by their name, it is reaffirming a relationship and imparts a level of respect and compassion toward that person that few other actions can ever achieve.


…The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 

John 10:3


Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who calls each of us, His sheep, by our own name to lead us to salvation and eternal life. He does this when we confess and repent of our sins and accept Him as our Lord and Savior. The most important relationship we will ever have is to know God. 


Isn’t it comforting to know God knows each of us by our own name?


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


“Why Did You Do That?” (Jonah 1:8-10)

The church looked no different from dozens of others I had visited in my life. The massive wooden doors were framed by an ornate concrete molding. The pews were worn wooden benches and rested upon a fraying indoor-outdoor carpet with thin padding. The altar and stained glass were familiar and reassuring and I settled in to listen to the sermon.


Many years ago, I was a guest of a friend from work who invited me to visit his church. I heard rumors that the church was part of a fringe movement within Christianity with its international leader, a self-proclaimed prophet and some claimed, a messiah. As I listened to the sermon, I found myself shifting my posture uncomfortably, disagreeing with many of the things he was saying. I tried to keep an open mind but I knew this was not Christianity. At the completion of the service, my friend accompanied me to the front of the church where the pastor was greeting his congregation. 


He was an attractive man, his neatly combed hair slightly graying, and dressed casually in a collared shirt and wool sweater. His affable nature was comforting to the parishioners who were eager to greet him. My turn arrived and I was introduced to the pastor. His eyes twinkled as he shook my hand and asked, “Did you enjoy the service?”


Something snapped inside of me and instead of wisely keeping my opinion to myself, I decided to respond. “Well, I do have some questions about some of the things you said.” I foolishly and callously launched a vitriolic attack upon this pastor. I referenced things he said and then attempted to refute them with the Bible. This happened in front of my friend and his family, who stood next to me in horrified silence and then quickly directed his wife to escort his children away. The pastor politely listened to my rant, smiling and nodding. An associate pastor crept next to us and motioned to the pastor wondering if he should intervene, but the pastor shook his head and continued to listen to me. He finally stopped me and said, “Well, we should certainly meet again and discuss some of your points.” At that point, I realized the full impact of my disrespectful and insolent behavior. As we walked out of the church, my friend stared at me and asked, “Why did you do that?” I had no answer and I was completely mortified. I wanted to apologize but it was too late.


Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

Jonah 1:8-10 (ESV)


The prophet Jonah felt the sting of his hypocritical behavior when he was questioned by the foreigners on the ship he was traveling upon, attempting to run from God. Although they did not believe in the same God, they were well acquainted with the God of the Hebrews and feared Him. Knowing how great God was, they questioned why Jonah would disobey Him? Why indeed?


There are few things more humiliating and humbling than to have my actions and behavior rightly questioned by another. If I declare my faith in Jesus Christ, I am His ambassador and my life should be a reflection of the positive and godly transformation that Jesus Christ does for myself and all who believe in His Name. When it is not, I am the poster child for hypocrisy. Absolutely nothing could ever justify my cold-hearted attack upon this pastor, especially within the setting of friendship and community. I forcefully declared that I was a Christian but my actions belied my confession. My tongue and sinful nature, once again, destroyed my witness for Jesus Christ. I attempted to apologize to my friend and his family but not surprisingly, he never forgave me and we have never spoken again. To this day, it remains one of the most shameful things I have ever done in a very public setting.


Although this was over thirty years ago, this incident is a constant reminder of how desperately I need my Savior, Jesus Christ, to continue to transform and conform into His image. I have failed Him so many times because I refuse to let go of my prideful and sinful behavior. For Jonah, God created the harrowing experience of being swallowed alive by a great fish to deal with his pride and arrogance. For myself, God tore away a friendship by showing me how my depraved pride and arrogance had grown into a hateful smugness. Instead of seeking to build relationships by showing the love of Jesus Christ, I isolated myself, secure in the false confidence of my sinful nature.


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


“Today, You Are A Citizen Of San Sebastian!” (1 John 4:20)

The small restaurant was centered around a long bar, deep with customers pushing to get their orders taken by one of the workers. We were dining at “La Cuchara de San Telmo.” It is located in the heart of the pinxtos district of San Sebastian, the gastronomic capital of the Spanish Basque region and arguably the world. Pinxtos is the Basque word for tapas and carrillera, or braised veal cheeks, is the specialty of this restaurant. Painstakingly braised in sweet red wine for several hours, it is served on a bed of local vegetables. The intoxicating aroma filled the small restaurant as we watched numerous plates pass us by to the eager patrons who arrived before us. Finally, our dish arrived and it did not disappoint. Glistening with a savory sauce, it was succulent and falling apart as we positioned our fork into the steaming dish; it was worth the twenty minutes and pushing crowds. We were offered a glass of a bracing txakoli, the local white wine, as we toasted the chefs and complimented them on their amazing creation. The gentleman next to me ordered the same dish and as we ate, he lifted his glass and toasted me. My new dining companion smiled and laughed, “Where are you from?”


“Los Angeles!”


“Ahh…American!” As I nodded in agreement, he put his arm around my shoulder and proclaimed, “Today, you are a citizen of San Sebastian!” I was loving it and proud to be identified with this group of people. 


Food binds us together in a way that transcends culture and geography. Yet, in spite of the many things that can bind us together, there is a divisive and xenophobic clamor spewing from all sides of the political spectrum in the United States and the world. Certain groups of people and/or countries have been singled out as the source of immigration problems and crime. It is true that heinous acts have been committed by some members of these groups against innocent people. The truth, however, is they represent a very tiny percentage of the people of that culture or country. Yet, this small percentage is branded as the face of an entire population, leading to the shaming, ostracizing, and accusatory language directed against all of them. 


Christians may face similar discrimination. Because of the hurtful or thoughtless actions of a few Christians directed against another, all Christians may be indiscriminately lumped into a faceless group of religious hypocrites and bigots. This is unfair and unjust but is an extension of the xenophobia that grips many people. What is the Christian response to these accusations?


If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20 (ESV)


Are there problems in San Sebastian? Undoubtedly. It is no different from any city in the world, culture, or group of people. Let’s chose to focus upon the positive and uplifting, shared interests like food, that can bring us closer together, rather than erecting barriers and exclusion. Ultimately, it is the only God’s love through faith and belief in Jesus Christ that will be able to end this cycle of hate and blame toward specific groups of people.


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