Deserted Driveway (Lamentations 1:1)

The water of the lake softly lapped the boulders that bordered the neatly manicured golf green. The idyllic setting was seemingly reserved for my wife and I to enjoy alone as we sat in our car, parked in the driveway of an elegant luxury hotel just off the Las Vegas strip. In the hour we sat in the car, only one other car passed us, and this was 3PM in the afternoon, the day after Thanksgiving!

It was 2009, one year into what would be known as the Great Recession. Just a few years earlier, we were at this same spot but caught in a massive line of cars eagerly awaiting to enter the hotel. The economic downturn was a devastating downturn for cities that relied upon tourism and disposable income. The causes are complex but fundamentally it was greed fomented by multiple parties including bankers, real estate speculators, and ordinary investors that led to the Great Recession. The deserted driveway was a sobering metaphor for the meltdown. 

When we are in a situation or location that is the antithesis of the usual activity, it is a numbing experience. Think of an airport tarmac of the center lane of a freeway-if one were to be placed in any of these locations with no one else around, the feeling would be as surreal as what my wife and I were experiencing at the Las Vegas hotel. 

Jerusalem, once so full of people, is now deserted. She who was once great among the nations now sits alone like a widow. Once the queen of all the earth, she is now a slave.

Lamentations 1:1 (NLT)

The Prophet Jeremiah describes a shocking scene as he laments the destruction of the once great city of Jerusalem, now ransacked by the Babylonian army and left desolate. No doubt he walked the same streets just a short time earlier and was jostled about like anyone walking in a thriving and bustling city. Now people lay dead in the streets and the survivors scrambled to find food and shelter. It was the sinful behavior of the Jews that led to their city of Jerusalem captured by the conquering Babylonians and their chief priests and leaders slaughtered or taken away to captivity.  

Can it happen again? Sin can destroy everything in which we place our trust within a few brief moments. Our nation is struggling to deal with unresolved sins. Sin turns thriving cities into war zones and desolate wastelands. It burns monuments and statues of heroes and patriots of nations. It loots honest businesses and murders innocent bystanders. 

The lessons of the past are never learned and the sins keep repeating. It happened thousands of years ago and is happening within this generation and in many cities that are burning in this country. There are many issues that have led to the tragic situations in our cities but it is our heart that is the root cause. We desperately need a Savior to deal with the sins in our heart. Only by confessing our sins to Jesus Christ and accepting Him as Lord and Savior will we be able to address the issues that plague our cities. Once our hearts are changed, the complex issues can begin to be addressed. Instead of looking to blame each other for the reasons, we should turn to God to learn of His absolute Truth, confident that the peace He promises, He is able to deliver. 

Amen!

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

Wonder What She Is Doing? (Psalms 63:1)

I wonder what she is doing? Is she thinking of me? Maybe if I think about her hard enough, she would know I’m thinking about her!

The silly thoughts of a young man hopelessly in love. I know them well. This is me twenty four years ago, hopelessly in love with my girlfriend, who would later become my wife. We met on a blind date, set up by mutual friends. As days melted into weeks, my thoughts and speech only revolved around her. I was driving my friends and colleagues crazy with my swooning but I didn’t care. All I wanted was to be in her life and to be reassured that she felt the same way.

I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night.

Psalms 63:6 (NLT)

Do I long for God with the same passion that I had when I courted my wife? Do I spend nights awake thinking and longing for God as David did when he wrote this Psalm? Read the first verses that David wrote in this Psalm. He is head over heels in love with His God!

O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.

Psalms 63:1 (NLT)

Oh my! The intensity and passion of David’s love for God is beautifully captured in this Psalm. He desired God more than anything, even more than life itself. This is the same depth of love I should have for God. I searched for my wife for many years and spent countless hours thinking and longing for her once we met. As genuine and honest as this love was, my passion for God should excel this. He is loving me, unconditionally, because I have confessed and repented of my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. 

I wonder what God is doing right now? 

He is loving me and always thinking about me, returning the love I give Him with a pure and incorruptible love that only an omnipotent and all loving God can give. It is different from the love that my wife and I share. It is better!

Praise God!

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

This Could End Very Badly (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

The alarm shattered what was an otherwise calm and routine day in the hospital. I was a third year medical student on my psychiatry rotation and was sequestered in an office, writing my progress notes on my patients I had just seen. Muffled shouts and the unmistakable sound of broken glass emerged from the hallway several yards away. I crept to the open door and looked in the direction to see a spray of water emerging from another corridor. A patient had grabbed the firehose and managed to turn on the water spraying everyone and everything in its torrential pathway. Other patients either cowered in fear or picked up any object that could be used for defense or a weapon.

I watched this surreal scene escalate. My first instinct was to run but I knew the only exit was through the same corridor. I was trapped. I quietly shut the door, turned off the lights, and huddled under the desk, anxiously listening for any movement outside the office. At that point, I did think this could end very badly, with myself or others getting hurt or even being killed. Thankfully, the security was able to control the situation with only minor injuries to the agitated patient and the other hospital staff and patients. I quickly exited from the office, relieved to be uninjured. 

The Apostle Paul shared a distressing experience that brought him to a point when he feared he would die. Instead of cowering in fear like I did, Paul relied upon his faith in God. 

…We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.

2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (NLT)

How did God answer Paul?

And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.

2 Corinthians 1:10-11 (NLT)

When I was facing mortal danger, I panicked, relied upon my instincts, and retreated. When Paul faced death, He stood firm and relied upon God. Today, there are many Christians throughout the world who are suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ, some facing death. When the situation turns dire, they do not retreat and shrink from their faith, they embrace it and rely upon God’s power and not their own. 

As Christians, we can support our brothers and sisters financially or through our occupations, but the most important support is praying to God on their behalf. God always answers prayers as He dramatically recorded in the Bible for the Apostle Paul. 

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

What About The Other Party? (Luke 13:1-3)

I was listening to a sermon with a Pastor who was recounting a very touching story of faith and the power of prayer that occurred very early in his ministry. He started a youth ministry and was meeting in a public building. Unfortunately, there was opposition from a group who were hostile to Christianity and demanded that the city council force the pastor and his group out. On the day of the city council vote, two of the key members who opposed the pastor were nowhere to be found. Since they had a quorum and the meeting had started, they took a vote and the motion was passed to allow the pastor to keep his ministry in the building. About two hours after the vote, the two absent members arrived. They had decided to drive together and were delayed in traffic after an accident at a key intersection clogged up traffic for hours. 

“Praise God!” the Pastor exclaimed. “God heard our prayers and allowed an accident to delay those two city council members from voting against us!” The congregation clapped and hooted in agreement.

I was uneasy. I was gratified that everything worked out for the Pastor and his church but what about the victims of the accident? Was I to believe that God caused the accident simply to help the Pastor? In this passage, Jesus is addressing the same disquiet that I was facing. 

About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.

Luke 13:1-3 (NLT)

Jesus was commenting on a recent tragedy that occured at the Temple. Why did those people die while others were spared? God does not cause evil to happen but He does allow suffering to occur. Why? The answers are as diverse as there are people, and for many of these situations, we may never know the answer until we are in the presence of God in Heaven. Jesus cautioned His disciples that they should not be focused upon why evil is in the world and why some people are harmed and others are not. We are all sinners, no matter what we do. If God did not intervene, we would all be destined to spend eternity in hell when we die, forever separated from God and love. 

Jesus pointed out to His disciples that they were asking the wrong question. Instead of focusing upon whether the magnitude or types of sins led some to suffer rather than others, they should be focused on the repenting of their own sins and turning to God. God can protect us but He is under no obligation to do so. It is only by His grace and mercy that we can live. We should be focused upon living right with God rather than comparing ourselves to others. 

If Jesus were using this Pastor’s story, He may pose these questions to me, “Do you think the people who were involved in the accident were worse than other people in the city? Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.”

When we see suffering, we must recognize that we live in a fallen world. Our only hope is to turn to God and repent of our sins. Once we are saved, we should proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to all who will listen. Anyone who accepts God’s invitation for salvation will never perish but have eternal life. Even if they were to die in an accident or be killed in a horrific murder, their soul will be with God in Heaven. 

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

Circumstantial Evidence (Proverbs 19:3)

After two consecutive months of water bills that were nearly double the baseline, I knew there was probably a leak. After consulting with our gardener, he searched for a leak in our outdoor sprinklers, however, he was unable to find one but agreed to reduce the time of watering since he had slightly increased it a month ago because of the heat of the summer months. Yet, the next month’s bill was still high and we were stymied to discover the source. The answer unexpectedly came one evening when we stepped into the guest bedroom. The carpet was soaked and the unmistakable pungent odor of mildew filled the room. By the next day, the plumber had identified a leak in one of the pipes, hidden by the drywall. The repair was extensive but thankfully, we had finally identified the source of our leak. 

The circumstantial evidence pointed to one source while the real leak went unchecked, leading to even more damage. Isn’t my spiritual life like this? I blame one behavior based upon perceived circumstances while I ignore the true culprit. Case in point. 

Early in my academic career, teaching my dermatology residents, I began to insert dermatopathology cases that were not directly related to their assigned lessons but were intended to be more of a humorous diversion. They all laughed when I presented these cases and I thought I was making a difficult subject more palatable, even enjoyable. However, the chief resident never seemed to join in the revelry. His progress in dermatopathology was not at the level that I expected him to be and I concluded that he simply had a bad attitude and was not putting in the required effort to master the material. Hoping things would change, I attempted to inject more humor in our teaching sessions but noted his attitude worsened. I was so perturbed that I would sometimes pray to God to take control of this situation and help this resident. 

One day, after the teaching session, he asked me if I had time for a private discussion. I agreed and after the other residents departed, he slowly began. “Thank you for teaching us dermatopathology and I speak for all the residents.” He paused and then glared at me. “When you show us those humorous cases, it’s really distracting. It doesn’t help us to learn and frankly it just confuses us. STOP IT!”

His hostility completely caught me off guard. I was humiliated and mumbled an apology and agreed to cease showing those types of cases. Circumstantial evidence pointed to the chief resident’s poor attitude and laziness. The true fault was mine alone. My foolishness caused the problem yet I blamed the resident and complained to God. 

People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the LORD.

Proverbs 19:3 (NLT)

Since that day, God has changed my heart. When I am in a difficult relationship, I first examine my own behavior, asking God to reveal any foolishness or sin that is preventing me from recognizing and understanding the Truth. In many circumstances, I have been chagrined to learn that I need to look in the mirror for the answer. 

How desperately I need my Savior, Jesus Christ, to change my heart and conform me to His ways!

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

“What’s The Denominator?” (Matthew 22:14)

The statistics were impressive. Ninety percent of this college’s pre-med students matriculated to medical school. The national average was about forty percent. Touting these stratospheric numbers, what college bound high school senior, seeking a career path to medicine, would not want to enroll in this college?

The numbers are accurate but with any statistic, one needs to carefully analyze how the data was collected. In this case, one needs to ask, “What’s the denominator?” For the United States, the denominator was about 53,000 in 2016. For this college, the denominator was 20!

The story behind this huge disparity belied the incredibly grueling selection process that led to the eventual 20 applicants. In actuality, when this group of students began their freshman year, they were joined by at least 200 other students. The mandatory freshman class for pre-meds was general chemistry and this was a class that whittled down serious and committed pre-meds from ones who were merely considering a medical career. After the first mid-term, the applicant pool dropped in half. After the second mid-term, one day before the drop date, more dropped. By the second semester, the applicant pool was down to 40 students. The sophomore year bega with organic chemistry, considered by many as the ultimate weeding out class. As in general chemistry, the applicant pool shrunk again. By the time this class took the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), there were only 20 left. Of these 20, 18 matriculated to medical school after graduation. Indeed, it was a 90% matriculation rate! The statistics were accurate but close scrutiny  of the denominator revealed the true story. 

For many are  called, but few are chosen.

Matthew 22:14 (NASB)

God offers the gift of salvation to everyone. Yet in spite of the billions of people who have heard His invitation, only a few are chosen. God is not capricious, saving those whom only He deems worthy, He gives all of us an opportunity to come to Him through our own free will. Sadly, many will ignore the offer or believe they can live a sanctified life by appearing to be a Christian and attending church and even praying. However, none of this matters unless one truly repents of their sins and accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. 

For medical school, the competition is fierce and the denominator is slowly whittled down. For salvation and eternal life, the denominator is the entire human race, every living person. It is never whittled down and God desires all to come to Him and receive eternal life and salvation. This would be a 100% acceptance rate and it is entirely achievable. 

It is all up to you.

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

Increase Our Faith (Luke 17:5)

“You have to have faith!”

This is the clarion cry of the secular and the religious to encourage one another. Faith means to completely trust something or someone. Before I became a Christian, my faith was centered upon myself. If I failed, I alone was to blame. Conversely if I succeeded, I should receive all the accolades. I did have faith in myself and not infrequently, I would wonder how I could increase this faith in myself. It seemed a worthy request. Wouldn’t that make me a better person?

Years later, through God’s grace and mercy, He led me to confess my sins and accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I understood the self-centered and egotistical life that I led, relying upon faith in myself alone. My faith was now centered upon Jesus Christ and I lived for Him. Yet, I still found myself asking the same question, how do I increase my faith in God? Thankfully, I am in good company because even the apostles of Jesus Christ asked their Lord the same question. Wouldn’t that make me a better person to serve God?

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

Luke 17:5 (NASB)

It seemed like a simple and straightforward request. It was noble, even praiseworthy. What could be more fundamental than asking God for more faith? The answer that Jesus Christ gave was startling.

And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you. “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”

Luke 17:6-10 (NASB)

Say what?

Perhaps the apostles were thinking that Jesus would tell them something like pray more frequently or earnestly or read and memorize the Scriptures. That’s the kind of answer I would expect if I wanted to increase my faith, after all, wouldn’t that make me a better person and please God? Instead, Jesus turned their expectations on its head. To increase their faith, the apostles were instructed to serve God and others without any expectation of reward or recognition. Jesus’ answer is a sobering reminder to all of us about how small and incomplete our understanding is of what true faith means.

Lord, increase our faith. 

Indeed, but are we willing to accept the answer?

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

“The Bible Says…” (Psalms 50:16-17)

“And the Bible says…”

“The Good Book says…”

“God’s Word says…”

How many permutations of these phrases have we heard from politicians and leaders who quote the Bible to set an authoritative and persuasive tone to their speeches? Yet, how many actually believe the words they speak particularly when there is a disconnect with their actions? For example, some will quote lofty verses of love for all humans while supporting policies of abortion, cloaked under the seemingly noble banner of a woman’s right to choose and ignoring the rights of the unborn child. Everyone has a right to choose what they wish to believe but if one is declaring oneself a Christian and supporting abortion, this is not possible and violates God’s Word. 

What about a politician who does not claim to follow Jesus Christ nor profess any religious affiliation, or has a questionable relationship with any religion, but whose actions closely align with what God teaches? Do we choose this politician or the politician who claims to follow Jesus Christ, quoting the Bible, but whose actions deny God’s Word?

Do we choose character or actions? Ideally, if there is a politician who has a good moral character and actions that are consistent with their beliefs, the decision is easier. How does the Bible address this issue?

But God says to the wicked: “Why bother reciting my decrees and pretending to obey my covenant? For you refuse my discipline and treat my words like trash.”

Psalms 50:16-17 (NLT)

Is it any wonder that Jesus Christ condemned the Jewish leaders who quoted Scripture yet their actions belied their own words? In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ quotes the prophet Isaiah (Matthew 15:8) exposing the hypocrisy of the leaders.

And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.

Isaiah 29:13 (NLT)

All politicians are human and because of this, they are sinners like myself and the rest of us. Everyone is on a different path to God and at different stages of spiritual growth and maturity. Some completely deny God, some are unsure, and others are completely secure in their faith. Only God knows if we have truly surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ. It is not my place to judge another’s faith but it is within my authority to judge another person’s actions and hold it up to God’s standard.When faced with the difficult decision over who to elect as our leaders, I would always choose the one whose actions, not words, best match the Word of God.

I am neither Democratic nor Republican.

I am a Christian.

Amen.

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

The Unnoticed Things (John 2:11)

It is the unnoticed things that people do that make a difference. In the home, workplace, or our churches, once they leave, we discover their unnoticed activities and understand why things worked so smoothly when they were there. When I was the medical director of my former laboratory, I worked with the director of our human relations department to review the employee annual evaluations. As we sifted through the employee files, we came to Sally, a laboratory assistant. 

The HR director read an evaluation by one of her supervisors, “Sally is an excellent employee who also completes her assigned tasks on time and with precision. Sally also does many unnoticed things that contribute to the overall success of the organization. She clears cluttered areas in the common areas. She helps to organize events for the laboratory, such as recognizing personal milestones like birthdays and anniversaries. She is a morale builder.”

I reflected upon these statements. I did not realize it was Sally who did these activities. These were certainly not written in her job description and she received no extra compensation for her generous spirit. Would the company cease to exist if she did not do these activities? Of course not. Yet, her actions created a pleasant work environment, one that was joyfully and graciously recognized by all the employees and management. I was thankful to have Sally work in my company.

The Apostle John placed the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana as the first miracle and sign that Jesus did. Most know this familiar story of Jesus, His mother, and His disciples being invited to a wedding. During the celebration, they ran out of wine and His mother asked Him to do something. During this time, it was a major social embarrassment for something like this to happen. Jesus obliged and turned six stone waterpots of water into wine. For a first miracle, I would have expected something grander, on the order of His last miracle, the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-46). The Holy Spirit clearly wanted to impress an important spiritual lesson. While Bible scholars have written about the significance of this miracle, extracting deep metaphorical links to the wine and Jesus’ own blood which He would shed on the Cross, I prefer a simpler explanation. 

This beginning of His  signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

John 2:11 (NASB)

Jesus did this miracle to help the bride and groom and not embarrass the master of the reception ceremony. He mollified a potentially volatile situation. If Jesus did not do this miracle, the wedding would have still gone on, although many of the guests would certainly have been disgruntled. Jesus’ actions went largely unnoticed by the people whom He helped the most, but His disciples witnessed what happened and they believed in Him. The Holy Spirit directed the Apostle John to place this as Jesus’ first miracle to show us that it is not the size or grandeur of the miracle, but the intent. 

The unnoticed things. 

The Bible does not record all of the actions and words that Jesus spoke. The story of turning water into wine gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ serving spirit and the depth of His compassion for people who may not have even realized He did this miracle for them. Not all of His miracles may have attracted as much attention as raising the dead or walking on water, but all were done to manifest the glory of God and lead us into a saving faith of salvation through faith and belief in His Name. 

I wonder how many times Jesus has done the same for my life? Sometimes I think that miracles have to be big and bold, like healing me of a sickness. I am grateful that Jesus has done this for me but I am certain that Jesus has done many more things in my life that went unnoticed by me because they were not as obvious, but made my life easier and more enjoyable. Like the guests at the wedding in Cana, I was the recipient of Jesus’ miracles but ignorant of what He did for me.

What about you?

We may never have the opportunity to meet Sally or other people like her, but we all have the opportunity to meet Jesus Christ. God gave us the Bible, His sacred Word, so that we can learn for ourselves that by confessing and repenting of our sins and accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we can receive eternal life and salvation. He is always knocking on the door of our hearts and extending an invitation to us. He speaks to all of us in many different ways, but sometimes His voice goes unnoticed. 

Won’t you take the time to listen to Him?

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

“Why Don’t You Make A List?” (Matthew 16:15-16)

My wife was relating an amusing story that happened to one of her girlfriends while shopping at her local supermarket. The girlfriend was complaining about the rudeness with which one particular store clerk always treated her. Whenever she entered, he would frown at her. She never understood why and attempted to ignore him. Finally, one day, she had enough and questioned him, “Why are you always so rude to me?”

He immediately shot back and snarled at her, “Why don’t you make a list? You’re always coming back in, sometimes twice a day.” She then realized what was happening.

“You do know that I have an identical twin sister? She also shops here.” His shocked expression said it all.

My wife’s friend had an identical twin sister who lived a few houses away and shopped at the same supermarket. Identical twins and look alikes have been the source of many amusing and comical works of literature, media, and situational comedies. At the heart of the confusion is we sometimes do not consider all possibilities, in this case, it was identical twins living in the same neighborhood. 

What about mistaken identities in our spiritual lives? There are many characterizations of Jesus Christ. Some saw Him only as a miracle worker. Others saw Him as a great teacher. Still others thought He was a Prophet of God. If one only focused upon one of these characterizations, an incomplete understanding of Jesus would result. Like the supermarket clerk, we would assume no other possibilities and may even be offended by what He did, depending upon which Jesus we focused upon. Jesus Christ understood this and posed the following question to His disciples.

…He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 

“But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?” 

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Matthew 16:13-16 (CSB)

Peter’s answer encompassed all of different identities and characterizations of Jesus Christ and elevated it to a new level of understanding. Jesus did perform miracles; He did have an inspired teaching; He was a Prophet. Only one Person could embody all of these seemingly disparate identities-Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God and the Messiah.

If one takes the time to investigate all of the possibilities, the answer is clear. Instead of multiple people, there is only One. Only Jesus Christ is worthy to receive our faith and forgive us of all sins. He proved it by living a completely sinless life, dying on the Cross, and being resurrected by God three days later. 

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