“I’m The Best Basketball Player!” (Mark 9:33-37)

“I’m the best basketball player in the world, there is nobody better.”

It was 1993 and basketball star and reigning MVP, Charles Barkley, was the guest host of the comedy television series, Saturday Night Live aka SNL. In an interview with Stuart Smalley, played by Al Franken, Stuart attempts to help Charles understand his own insecurities. The exchange occurs at 2:30 into the interview. Tepid applause and a half-hearted, “Whoo!” trickled from the audience before a louder outburst and accolades followed. 

I was amused when I first viewed this over twenty years ago. I, and probably others in the audience, were thinking that although Barkley was quite talented, he was undeserving of the MVP or worthy of his bold statement because Michael Jordan and the world champion Chicago Bulls were the reasons Barkley had not previously won the MVP or a championship. Thus, his confident statement seemed a bit hollow, or one that needed to be qualified. 

Was Charles Barkely a great basketball player? No question. Was there nobody better than him at that time? That is certainly open to debate. The question of who is the greatest captures our imagination and ignites endless debates. Sports, wealth, prestige-no matter the category, we cannot help but be drawn into making comparisons. Even the disciples of Jesus Christ fell victim to this. 

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest. Sitting down, he called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all.” He took a child, had him stand among them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me does not welcome me, but him who sent me.” Mark 9:33-37 (CSB)

Just like the debate over the greatness of Charles Barkley, I easily fall victim to the same mindset to which the disciples of Jesus Christ succumbed. The world places an overemphasis on who is the greatest but in God’s Kingdom, Jesus Christ reveals the Truth. It is instructive that Jesus does not directly answer their question but challenges them to ask another question of themselves. Greatness is defined by service to others and God, not by the accumulation of accolades and achievements for oneself. 

In God’s Kingdom, the question of, “Who is the greatest?” is meaningless. Our question should always be, “Who has the greatest needs so that we may serve them.”

Amen!

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

Wanderers, Prisoners, Fools, Travelers (Psalms 107)

Many years ago, on the advice of my Pastor at that time, I underwent counseling. He and I both agreed that it was important to understand the underlying issues in my life that had brought me to the wretched state that I found myself at that point. I had never been to a counselor and was initially optimistic and hopeful but after a few sessions, I didn’t like what I heard and in fact, rebelled against the advice I was given. For reasons that were directly related to the counseling sessions, I responded by wandering away from God for nearly five years. At that time, this was my forlorn and puerile solution to the problems of my life. I thought I was solving my problems when in reality, I was simply fleeing God’s presence. 

Some wandered in the wilderness, lost and homeless.

Psalms 107:4 (NLT)

Some sat in darkness and deepest gloom, imprisoned in iron chains of misery. They rebelled against the words of God, scorning the counsel of the Most High.

Psalms 107:10-11 (NLT)

Some were fools; they rebelled and suffered for their sins.

Psalms 107:17 (NLT)

Some went off to sea in ships, plying the trade routes of the world.

Psalms 107:23 (NLT)

All of these people that are mentioned in these verses from Psalms 107 attempted to flee from the presence of God and each time, God’s grace and mercy reached out to them and brought them back. I have read this Psalm many times but this time, the Holy Spirit convicted me. These were not strangers, or distant historical figures lost in Jewish lore, this is me, many years ago. How should I have responded to this crisis of faith in my life? Once again, God gives me the answer.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Has the LORD redeemed you? Then speak out!…

Psalms 107:1-2 (NLT)

It is convenient to blame others or convince myself that it was circumstances beyond my control that led me to flee from God. The reality is that I chose to rebel and blame God for a situation that my sins directly caused. The most painful life lesson is when I look into the mirror of God’s Word and understand that He is speaking to me and not a stranger. Only through God’s grace and mercy did He lead me back into sweet fellowship with Him by repenting and confessing my sins and acknowledging Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. 

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

“The Price Is Right!” (Romans 5:8)

At 6’ 5” inches, Jake always stood out in a crowd, literally, and he did it with style. No matter the weather, he wore a silk vest. Whether it was adorning a dress shirt, a pull-over, or a tee-shirt, a vest accompanied his ensemble. As he once told me, “It’s my thing!” 

Jake was one of my laboratory assistants with lofty ambitions.  In addition to his eclectic fashion sense, his thing was trying to start his own business and he boasted to many people in the laboratory about his burgeoning catering business. He certainly created some tasty dishes and he would often bring samples to share with co-workers in the laboratory. He was good and had potential but some of us were uncertain whether he could scale it up to a true catering enterprise. 

When November arrived, he stopped by my office and gave me a flyer. “Hey Doc! I don’t know what your plans are for Thanksgiving but we are going to be smoking a turkey with all the trimmings. I would really like for you to try it.”

I was in an awkward position. I didn’t want to insult my co-worker but I had not yet planned my thanksgiving menu. I thanked him for the flyer and discussed it with one of my partners who I was planning to invite to my home for Thanksgiving. 

“What do you think?” He was reviewing the same flyer I had been handed. 

“The price is right! Can’t believe how cheap it is! You can’t even buy a turkey for this price and he is going to smoke it and give us all the trimmings.”

I shook my head. “I know, right? Let’s help him out.” We both agreed and the next day I told Jake that he would be preparing our Thanksgiving meal. He was elated and told me, “Thanks Doc! You won’t be disappointed!”

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, he would stop by with samples of sweet potato pie and other dishes he was working on. I was optimistic and I invited two other couples to join me for Thanksgiving. We agreed to have the meal delivered by 2PM. 

On Thanksgiving day, my guests began arriving at around 1PM. I served cocktails and appetizers to this jovial group as we looked forward to a smoked Thanksgiving turkey. At 230PM, I nervously looked at the clock and reassured my guests. “He is probably having difficulty finding my place.” Another half hour passed and I called the number he had given me on his flyer. No answer. I tried again a half hour later and continued several additional times. In an era before cell phones, all we had were landlines and I had no other means of communication. Three hours later, I received a call.

“Hey Doc. Sorry, we ran into trouble. The place where we were going to smoke the turkeys didn’t let us in so we had to scramble and find another place with ovens. Don’t worry, it will still be good.” I mumbled, “Sure Jake. Just please hurry, we’ve been waiting for four hours.”

Finally, six hours after the meal was promised, he arrived. The turkey and stuffing were dry and cold and the gravy was watery. He gave us a package of generic store bought dinner rolls. He then paused thoughtfully and declared, “The dinner rolls are on me for all the trouble I caused.”

All of my guests politely smiled as we ate our meal. Our thanksgiving that year was not ruined but it definitely was not the feast we had anticipated. My same partner sighed and whispered to me, “You get what you pay for.”

We are sometimes pleasantly surprised when we get more than we initially anticipated, but this seems to be the exception, not the rule. Is there any situation when our expectations are exceeded, when the price that we pay is far less than the cost?

But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (CSB)

Jesus Christ died on the Cross and paid the penalty for our sins. He endured torture and humilation so that He could conquer death by being resurrected by God, the Father. He paid the awful price. All we need to do is confess and repent of our sins and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. 

The price is right…for us. The staggering cost was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. 

Thanks be to God’s grace and mercy for all mankind.

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

When God Takes It To The Next Level (Psalms 59:12-13)

There is a series on social media that shows various musicians from differing genres playing or singing passages that showcase their creative and technical prowess. It is entitled, “When ‘Famous Musician’ Takes it to the Next Level!” Nearly everyone, including myself, who views these series is amazed by the astounding ability for these artists, at the top of their profession, to take it to another level that was not even thought possible. But why stop there? What about God? Does He ever demonstrate His greatness and take it to the next level?

The Bible has numerous examples when Almighty God takes it to the next level. I am intrigued by the following two examples, each dealing with the prophets of the false god Baal. The religion of Baal worship was carnal and evil. The debauchery of their deviant sexual practices would make today’s pornography industry appear tame. Yet, the most vile practice was child sacrifice, called passing the children through the fire. Living children were placed into the arms of a red hot brass sculpture of Baal, burning to death in front of chanting priests and their horrified families. This is but one of many of the hideous actions that the worshippers of Baal were convinced would gain favor with their god. The Israelites were often seduced into following this religion and God dramatically demonstrated His Absolute power over this false god and religion. 

Elijah and the Prophets of Baal

1 Kings 18:20-40

Jehu Strikes Down the Prophets of Baal

2 Kings 10:18-27

In both of these examples, God destroyed the priests and prophets of Baal with unquestioning dominance. In the example of Elijah, the priests of Baal cut themselves for hours beseeching their god to answer their cries to bring fire down from heaven and consume their animal sacrifice. When it was clear that their god would not answer, Elijah then directed his priests to flood the altar with copious amounts of water, completely drenching the sacrificial animal. Elijah then prayed to God to demonstrate His power. God immediately answered with fire from Heaven, completely consuming the animals, the stone altar, and even all of the water! In the example of Jehu, after killing the prophets of Baal, God directed the Israelites to destroy the temple of Baal, turning it into a public toilet!

In these two examples, God demonstrates just a small glimpse of His omnipotence. Detractors and critics of the Bible decry that God must be petty and susceptible to fragile human emotions like jealousy to appear to callously kill these worshippers of Baal. They are asking the wrong question. Instead of questioning why God killed these false prophets, they should ask why did God allow them to continue for so long to mislead and commit so many atrocities?

If God desired, He could annihilate the entire world of all living creatures. We are all sinners and deserve this fate because we chose to disobey God and live a life of our volition rather than under God’s authority and guidance. Only by God’s grace and mercy does He continue to allow mankind to commit evil upon one another and profane the Name of the Almighty God. We may not worship Baal but we are still vulnerable to worshipping false gods such as money, fame, and success. He desires to give all of us an opportunity to repent of our sins and turn to Him. 

Because of the sinful things they say,because of the evil that is on their lips, let them be captured by their pride, their curses, and their lies. Destroy them in your anger! Wipe them out completely! Then the whole world will know that God reigns in Israel.

Psalms 59:12-13 (NLT)

When God acts it is because He has extended His mercy to us as long as He has deemed possible. When that happens, God will no longer listen to our prideful excuses of how we should do things our way instead of obeying Him. God has heard enough of our curses and lies. We should know better than to tempt God into action because when He does act, He definitely takes it to the next level. 

And I pray that no one will have to experience this. 

Turn away from the false gods of this world and turn to the only True God, Jesus Christ, as your Lord and Savior. 

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

“You’re Going To Learn To Do It!” (John 13:4-16)

When I was thirteen years old, my parents divorced. I lived with my father and he was determined to teach me to take care of my household. He taught me to cook, to launder and iron my clothes, and to clean the house. The latter exercise was the most unpleasant and I initially resisted. My father, sensing my reluctance, seized upon this teaching moment. He picked up a toilet brush and led me to the bathroom. 

“You’re going to learn to do it!” He then proceeded to vigorously clean the toilet bowl. After he used the brush, he got on his hands and knees and, with his gloved hands, showed me how to clean the toilet seat and rim. 

“Dad, do you have to use your hands?” I exasperatingly asked. “ Can’t you just use the brush?” 

My father shook his head. “The brush will never get everything clean. This is the only way you can clean all the small cracks and areas around the seat.”

My father was a dentist, a professional who was very successful in his career. He treated everyone with respect, regardless of their socioeconomic status. He also never shied away from any task and never thought anything was beneath his dignity. He led by example and hoped to instill these same values within me. 

My father’s example made a lasting impression. When I began my company over twelve years ago, I made it a point to clean the bathroom myself. I told my staff that I did this, not because I expected them to do this, but to follow the example that my father set for me. I would never ask them to do any task that I was not willing to do. I was willing to get my hands dirty along with the rest of them.

When I was introduced to Jesus Christ in college, His example of humility and service to His disciples deeply resonated within me. 

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done for you. Truly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him

John 13:14-16 (CSB)

Jesus’ example of washing the feet of His disciples may not resonate as strongly within our culture as it did during His time. It was menial labor and demeaning, a task that was only performed by slaves. He was their teacher but He condescended to the status of a slave to show His disciples what it meant to serve one another in the Kingdom of God, His Father. 

“You’re going to learn to do it.”

I did, Dad. Thank you for the life lesson. It pointed the way for me to understand the ultimate sacrifice that  Jesus Christ did for me by dying on the Cross for my sins. 

Praise God for His grace and mercy to all who repent of their sins and place their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

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

The Gift That Keeps On Giving (Psalms 119:140)

“Dude! We are going to miss you but you will always have us as your friends. Here, we got you a gift.”

When I left my internship program in Colorado to transfer to my residency program in Southern California, some of my fellow residents gifted me with a Bible. I was overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness. None of them were Christians or particularly religious but they wanted to present me with a gift that they knew I would appreciate. They were absolutely correct. I still have and cherish that Bible, as I do every Bible I own. 

There have been several times in my life when I have been gifted with Bibles. Pastors and family members have contributed, sometimes writing a personal message on this inside cover. Although I primarily use an online version of the Bible, all of my print Bibles occupy a prominent space on my desk at home. There is something viscerally satisfying to turn the pages of a Bible and when I pick up a Bible that was gifted to me, I fondly remember the giver and their gift. 

Now I am privileged to do the same for a long time employee. After working for me for eight years, he recently gave notice that he would be leaving. While we celebrated his last day with breakfast, I wanted him to know his special place in my life and my company. This employee was a brother in Jesus Christ and I immediately knew what gift to give him. When I presented him with a Bible, I briefly recounted the significance of Bibles that had been gifted to me through the years. I told him that someday, I hope he will do the same for another person. 

Your word is completely pure, and your servant loves it. 

Psalms 119:140 (CSB)

In spite of cultural trends, shifting moral standards, and the introduction of the internet and online books, the Bible remains the best selling book of all time. Why? The answers to all of the profound issues of life that continue to confront all of us are found here. If it were not the Word of God, written by men through the illumination of God’s Holy Spirit, it would be just another work of literature. When we read it, we should always remember the Giver and His Gift!

The Bible. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving!


Praise God!

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

“Plan B” (Genesis 3:14-15)

The thundering waves violently crashed upon the craggy coast creating a fog of ocean spray. It was the famed beach of Praia do Norte in Nazare, Portugal. Waves measuring well over 50 feet in height are routine and the highest wave to ever be officially certified to be ridden by a surfer was recorded at 80 feet in height. To get to these massive waves requires a partner on a jet-ski to tow the surfer to the proper launch point on the crest of the wave. Understandably, this is an extremely dangerous activity and requires continual vigilance of the position of each person and the condition of the waves. As one surfer candidly remarked, “Something will always go wrong so we have to be ready with Plan B.”

Plan B-the back up plan.

It is ironic that in this dangerous sport with numerous unexpected twists and turns, Plan B the back up plan, is more frequently used than the intended Plan A. In life, we would soon grow discouraged if our carefully designed plans were always thwarted and we had to rely on our Plan B back up plan. What about God? His perfect Creation was ruined when Adam and Eve disobeyed Him and sin entered leading to death and our forlorn world in which we now live. Are we now living in God’s Plan B, His back up plan?

Then the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all animals, domestic and wild. You will crawl on your belly, groveling in the dust as long as you live.And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:14-15 (NLT)

As soon as sin entered the world, God revealed His plan to redeem mankind of sin. With the omniscience of an eternal God, He looked ahead along the timeline of humanity to the day when He would send His Son, Jesus Christ, to strike the head of Satan who deceived mankind. 

God’s plan was not the backup plan. God sending His Son, Jesus Christ, as our Lord and Savior, was His glorious plan from the start. His divine Providence directed the events of His Creation. Only God needs no back up plan. His plan is always the perfect one!

Amen!

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

“Now Will You Let Me Do It?” (Psalms 73:25-26)

My workload was bearing down on me with numerous complicated cases and interpersonal issues within my residency programs. A close relative was just diagnosed with a debilitating disease requiring chronic care. A dear friend’s father just passed away from COVID19. I was desperately attempting to stay in shape to keep myself healthy to weather these personal storms, but I was losing the battle. As I did my usual exercise routine on this particular morning, I stopped after only a few minutes, exhausted by the mounting pressures. “I can’t do this!” I cried out. 

If I ever had a problem hearing God speak to me, it was never clearer at that moment. He definitively answered my plaintive cry, “Now will you let Me do it?” Why am I so stubborn to rely upon my strength and only come to God when I have exhausted my physical, mental, and spiritual reserves? It is my sinful pride that convinces me that God is my last resort in life rather than my first choice. 

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalms 73:25-26 (ESV)

A frequent prayer of mine on behalf of others is that God will have mercy on those who are so resistant to God’s leading. I pray that it will not take a serious illness or financial loss to awaken them to their need for Savior. I should spend more time looking in the mirror. When will I allow God to do things His way? What will it take to get my attention? A worldwide pandemic? Anarchy and wanton destruction in our cities? A complete breakdown of my bodily systems overwhelmed by stress?

Everyone has a different breaking point and we should never be forced to reach it. If I stop for just a moment, I would always be able to hear the firm and tender voice of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, speaking to me.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Yes Lord. Please take my burdens and do it for me.

Amen!

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

“It’s Not That Much! (Proverbs 6:10-11)

It had been over ten years since we moved into my office building and the bathroom walls in my office needed cleaning. As I removed some of the posters and viewed the wall underneath, I was struck by the degree that the paint on the wall had faded compared to the adjacent non-covered areas. How could this be, I thought? This room is not exposed to sunlight. The answer was directly above me-the fluorescent light bulbs. The amount of radiation from the fluorescent bulbs is low and can be effectively blocked by wearing a sunblock of at least SPF 2. Nonetheless, even this low level of radiation can be damaging. Good lesson, I thought to myself.

I later reminded my staff of the importance of wearing sunblock, even if we spend the majority of our work time indoors. “It is a good idea to always wear a sunblock on areas that are exposed to light. We tend to forget that the radiation dosage is cumulative over time. Even small exposures add up. See!” I pointed to the color variation on the wall. “It’s that not much, but over time, it can accumulate to lead to potentially devastating consequences, like melanoma and other skin cancers.”

Examples of this important lesson abound in our world. We need to do preventive maintenance on roads and bridges or re-stock proper medical equipment and supplies in hospitals and public health facilities. If these seemingly minimal tasks are not done on a regular and proactive basis, the consequences may be devastating resulting in disasters and even loss of life.

A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber.

Proverbs 6:10-11 (NLT)

When times are good, governments and businesses may become overconfident and less diligent on spending money and time on projects that do not attract a great deal of press and public attention. This short-sighted approach leads to the inexorable accumulation of defects that may balloon into a crisis. We are continually faced with a shortage of personal protective equipment, respirators, and hospital beds. The COVID19 pandemic is another stark example of the truth and wisdom of God’s Word. 

It’s not that much. 

No, it isn’t. And that is the much larger problem. 

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

Peter Principle (Matthew 26:31-35)

My laboratory manager stormed into my office. He had that exasperated look whenever an employee had failed at their task. “Who is it this time?” I asked.

He shook his head in disgust and looked out the door. “It’s Sally. You know, when she was first hired, I thought she could go all the way. I remember her  telling me that she would be the hardest worker I had ever met. She was. But after I promoted her, she couldn’t keep up with her new responsibilities. She still worked hard but she wasn’t productive. She was spinning her wheels, always busy, just not going anywhere.” He sighed and rolled his eyes upward. “The Peter Principle.”

This principle is named after Laurence J. Peter who first proposed this management concept that employees will continue to rise in a bureaucracy until they reach their level of incompetence. Since it was initially proposed in 1969, numerous pundits and articles have given credence to this. Now generations of business leaders use it to label failed managers and ill-advised promotions. 

I never took a business course and thus when I first heard of this, I thought it must be related to the Apostle Peter, surmising that everyone, no matter how intelligent or privileged, will say something that they will deeply regret. This was my spiritual Peter Principle as illustrated in this passage from the Gospel of Matthew. 

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

Matthew 26:31-35 (ESV)

In spite of Peter’s emphatic statement and declaration of his devotion and loyalty to His Lord, when he was pressured by direct questioning, he swore at his accusers and denied that he ever knew Jesus. This was not the first time Peter spoke without thinking or counting the cost. 

I have been the poster child for the spiritual Peter Principle. Too often, I have compromised my faith in Jesus Christ, choosing the easy road and compromising my values and going along with the popular crowd and opinion instead of standing firm and defending my Lord and Savior. 

Unlike the Peter Principle of business and organization, the spiritual Peter Principle ends on a positive note. After the Resurrection, Jesus Christ forgave Peter’s denial and charged him to be the first leader of the Church. The headstrong and hot headed disciple became the rock of stability and unwavering faith that Jesus always saw in him. We may all say something that we will deeply regret, even betraying someone we love, but thanks be to God that He is able to see our true worth and potential and will lift us up from our levels of incompetence to accomplish more for Him than we ever thought possible.

Amen!

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