Happiness Is A Choice (Hebrews 12:2)

Recently, a contestant on a popular television show captivated the audience by performing a song she wrote about her life experience with the cancer she had battled for the past several years. She titled the song, “It’s Okay.” At the conclusion, she received a standing ovation for her tearfully inspired performance. As she later stated, “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.”

America’s Got Talent 2021 – YouTube

Our priorities are challenged when life confronts us with problems. Can we, like this young woman with cancer, choose happiness even when the obstacles facing us seem dire and insurmountable? God shows us a path through His Son, Jesus Christ. 

…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the  author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2 (NASB)

Jesus Christ prophesied His own death on the Cross. He knew the torture and suffering that He would endure as He faithfully obeyed God, His Father. Instead of focusing upon His shame, He focused upon the joy that awaited Him when He returned to Heaven, reconciling the world and destroying the power of sin and death through the power of His Resurrection. 

Happiness is a choice. We can choose to flounder in our own despair or rise above our circumstances and set our minds upon Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. He lived a perfect life and demonstrated how one can truly choose happiness even when life is most challenging. 

Amen!

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

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“God Will Understand!” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

It was an oversight on my part. I was about to say grace before my private dinner but I was distracted by something on the television. It was not until later that evening, hours after the meal, did I realize that I neglected to give thanks to God for my meal. Alone with my thoughts, I had the following internal exchange.

“Don’t worry about it. God will understand!” I told myself. 

“How do you know that?”

“Well, wouldn’t you forgive this if someone else did the same?”

“Yes, but that is not the same. I know what is right and I didn’t do it.”

“Worry about the bigger sins you commit. This one is small.”

“Yeah, right.”

Why do I think that God will view my life with the same perspective that I do? If I think a sin is small, perhaps it can be overlooked and excused. But what about an egregious sin? At what point does a sin become significant? Am I asking a nonsensical question? Once again, God gives me the answer. 

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:13-16 (NLT)

Sin is sin. All sin is an affront to God. However there are varying consequences for sins. If I knowingly run a red light, the consequences are less than if I robbed a bank. Once I head down the slippery slope of excusing smaller sins, it is only a matter of time before I begin excusing sins with more dire consequences. 

God made us in His image. He intends us to be holy because He is holy. When I return to my old sinful ways and rationalize my sins, I am making God in my image. I dishonor and disobey God, satisfying my own desire instead of seeking His will. 

God will understand? 

No! I don’t understand. How desperately I need my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

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

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“I Was Admitted To The Hospital.” (Galatians 6:7)

“Where’s Jake?”

My fellow resident shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe he wanted to extend his weekend?”

“Perhaps.” I was the chief resident and Jake was a star resident in our program. It would have been highly unlikely that he would have taken a day off without advance notice, without informing me. It was Monday morning at 10AM and his service began at 7:30 AM. I was about to page him when he quietly walked into the residents’ offices and sat down at his desk. I approached him and closed the door. “Everything okay? You’re never late.”

Jake nodded and mumbled, “Yeah…sorry. I was admitted to the hospital over the weekend.”

“What? Where? Here?”

“Yup.”

“What was your diagnosis?”

“They thought it was a probable Mallory-Weiss tear.”

“What? But that means…”

“Yup.”

“Oh, I see.”

A Mallory-Weiss tear may occur when a patient has a bout of retching, vomiting, or coughing. This increased intraabdominal pressure may damage the sensitive lining of the esophagus, leading to bleeding and a tear. While there can be many causes, the most common is an acute alcohol intoxication. In my co-resident’s case, this was the culprit. He later confided to me what I had already suspected, he had too much to drink leading to the episode. Understandably he was embarrassed as the gossip grapevine in the hospital was activated by his admission. We never spoke of the incident again but it always lingered in the background with all of our social events. It followed him throughout his training and even after residency.

When our secret sins are exposed, if only a few know, we may be able to withstand the shame. With others, like Jake, too many know and we may not be able to recover from the exposure. Yet, there is someone who always knows our deepest and darkest sins. 

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.

Galatians 6:7 (NKJV)

We may be able to withstand the shaming by others, but shouldn’t we fear God’s judgment more? Only God knows every sin we have or ever will commit. We deserve to be punished even if our sins are never revealed to others. Yet God, in His mercy, sent His Son Jesus Christ to be our substitute for this punishment. If we confess and repent of our sins and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will receive forgiveness and salvation. 

Just because no one or only a few know of our sins, it can never be an excuse before God. God is not mocked. The only way we can break the terrible cycle of sin and its consequences is through faith and belief in Jesus Christ. 

Amen!

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

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“I Will Walk With You.” (Matthew 6:33)

“Brother, I will walk with you.”

It was one of the darkest moments of my life. I was completely lost and needed support. He was a brother in the Lord who knew of my plight. Although we had met just a year earlier, he surprised me with his earnest and unexpected offer. We then prayed and he solemnly looked into my eyes and quoted the following Bible verse.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

Matthew 6:33 (CSB)

He was a father with three grown children and worked a full time job. Yet, he always made time for me. Over the next few months, he met with me on a regular basis, praying, encouraging, and supporting me. With this brother’s help, I was able to recover from my spiritual wasteland. To this day, we remain close and he still remains committed to walk with me through the twists and turns of life. His faithfulness continues to inspire me and whenever I read this Bible verse from the Gospel of Matthew, I remember His promise to me.

His promise to me is God’s promise to me as well. When we put God’s Kingdom and His priorities first, everything else falls into its proper place. Sin and temptation are less likely to wreck havoc in my life. Disagreements with friends and co-workers are placed in proper perspective. Trials and calamities are no longer obstacles but stepping stones to transform me into the image of Jesus Christ. It isn’t easy but it needs to begin with me seeking God’s Kingdom.

Amen!

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

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“He Taught Us How To Make A Slurpee!” (1 John 5:21)

7-Eleven is a familiar convenience store that is popularly known for one of their drinks, the Slurpee. Enter any store and it is likely that there is at least one person at the self-serve Slurpee machine. Obtaining one is a simple, if not an occasionally messy process. Yet, I did not think I needed a tutorial on how to make one until my daughter surprised me with a revelation. 

“Dad! Mr. Smith taught us how to make a Slurpee!”

“He had to teach you to do this?”

My daughter smiled. “Of course we know how to make a Slurpee, but Mr. Smith has a special way to maximize the filling of the cup without spilling anything! He taught us how to make a Slurpee!”

My daughter was in 6th grade and she was eagerly sharing the lesson she learned in her history class. It is ironic that although my daughter did very well in the class, the one memory that stands out for her was learning how to make a Slurpee! It is no surprise that we selectively remember things that have practical applications in our lives. I don’t remember the obscure formulas of my advanced inorganic chemistry class, but I do remember how the professor, who was from Kauai, would invite any student in his class who was from Hawaii, to a dinner at his home. His generous spirit is still a model for my life. 

I am sure the Apostle John constantly thought about His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He wrote five books in the Bible. Church historians called him the Apostle of Love. There are stories of him visiting churches and as the parishioners eagerly came to hear this last living disciple of Jesus Christ, he would often repeat one phrase, “Little Children, love one another!” This was the teachings of Jesus condensed to a single thought and practical application. Thus I was always surprised that the last verse in one of his books, 1 John, ends with this somber note.

Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

1 John 5:21 (CSB)

It is a book that is effusive with the love Jesus has for all of us, a love that John personally experienced. When I first read this last verse, I was perplexed. Why would the Apostle of Love end with such an ominous warning? It was not until many years later did I understand that an idol is anything that replaces or supplants our relationship with God. While it may be a votive or symbol, it can also be a desire to gain fame or riches. It can even be a relationship, even one within our own family. While we are commanded to love our spouses and neighbors as ourselves, this love should never supplant the love that we have for God. God is the source and power of love and all relationships first depend upon the strength of our relationship with Him. 

All believers in Jesus Christ must guard themselves from idols just as God jealously guards the sanctity of our relationship with Him. 

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

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“Not Young, Not Old…” (Psalms 90:10-12)

“He’s not young, not old. He’s just a dad!”

They were a group of college kids eating at the table next to us in the restaurant. The four of us on our table laughed at the remark. We had no idea what it meant. Was it a positive or negative statement? Are fathers in a separate ageless category? Unable to arrive at a reasonable explanation, I thought of my own father. When I was growing up, I had a fixed image of him and a photograph of my father playing golf encapsulated this. He was probably in his forties, younger than I am today. His hair was still black and his muscular legs and arms were toned and tanned from the Hawaiian sun. I remember this man, not young or old, just my dad. 

After I moved away from Hawaii and settled in Southern California, I would see my father once every 2 or 3 years. This was a time before we were able to do video conferencing on our phones and computers. During this time, my father dramatically aged.

I don’t know what was the intent of the phrase but this was my interpretation and it gave me pause and some regret. What happened to my father is happening to me as well. Perhaps my children and their friends are thinking the same thing? Will they soon realize that I am no longer just a dad, but another old guy?

Our lives last seventy years or, if we are strong, eighty years. Even the best of them are struggle and sorrow; indeed, they pass quickly and we fly away. Who understands the power of your anger? Your wrath matches the fear that is due you. Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.

Psalms 90:10-12 (CSB)

God’s Word is always prescient. Although this verse was written thousands of years ago, the average lifespan of a man in 2021 is about 73 years. My own father passed away at 82 years. I am faced with the stark reality that I probably have about 20 years left on this earth. 

I’m just a dad!

God is teaching me to number my days and by His grace and mercy, with my remaining years, I pray that I will be able to pass along the lessons I have learned from God to my own children.

Amen!

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

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Fighting Entropy (Hebrews 9:27-28)

My staff were standing around waiting for the afternoon cases to arrive via courier. We had completed the first round of morning cases and everyone had completed their assigned tasks. The afternoon courier was late and they had nothing to do. However, they wanted to look like they were busy doing something and not just standing around. I interrupted the awkward moment. 

“What are you all doing, fighting entropy?”

My staff sheepishly looked at each other, scrambling to register a clever answer. 

“You know…” I teased. “You will always lose that battle!”

As most students of physics know, entropy is the second law of thermodynamics and measures the degree of disorder in a system and the unavailability to do work. If you are seeking a more erudite definition, check this link: Understanding Second Law of Thermodynamics. Bottom line, a system will inevitably progress to a state of disorder unless an external energy is introduced. 

A tongue in cheek statement about the inevitability of the processes of life comes with the old adage, “The only thing that is sure in life is death and taxes.” Certainly we can all identify with this. It should come as no surprise that God also acknowledges the inevitability of death. 

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.

Hebrews 9:27-28 (NLT)

If we are to reverse the entropy and the inevitability of death, we need an outside power, an external energy, to intervene within our lives. This power must be supernatural. This power can only come from God who sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to take away the sins of all mankind. All who confess and repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will have salvation and eternal life.

By our own efforts, it is impossible to fight entropy. Thanks be to God who is always desirous to intervene in our lives with the power of the Resurrected Jesus Christ!

Amen!

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

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Faith In Practice (James 2:14-17)

It happened suddenly. Nearly ten years ago, my medical practice was in shambles as I lost nearly all of my staff due to a variety of circumstances. I was able to hire four new employees, all with no experience in working in a dermatopathology laboratory. While I worked to train them, it was interfering with my patient care responsibilities. My wife attempted to help but she was busy with her own dental practice. I was falling behind and concerned that I would make a mistake, potentially harming a patient. 

Unexpectedly, a brother in the church I was attending at that time called me. He knew of my situation and after praying with me, he offered the following, “Brother, I would like to help you out. My wife has experience working in a medical clinic. We both agreed that it would be a practical way to put our faith in practice and help out your business for a short period of time, until your staffing stabilizes.”

I was stunned. I knew how important his wife was to him to organize his professional responsibilities as well as to care for their family. They were both making a great sacrifice to assist me and my practice and I was grateful. 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it does not have works, is dead by itself.

James 2:14-17 (CSB)

I will never forget the sacrifice this couple made for me. The two of them embodied the Bible’s command to put one’s faith into practice. Within a month, my practice was stabilized and my friend’s wife returned to his side. We can all seek to follow God’s command of perfecting our faith with good works. As the great Protestant reformer John Calvin opined, “Faith alone saves, but faith that saves is not alone.”

Amen!

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

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“Are You A Doctor?” (Matthew 12:36-37)

“Are you a doctor?”

I hesitated to answer. We were eating a meal at a restaurant when our server stopped at our table and posed this question. I was unsure where this was leading but thought there may be a medical emergency. 

“Uh yes. Why do you ask?”

“Oh I overheard you use the term ‘cc’. I only know doctors who use that term.”

I smiled and looked at my friend who was sitting across from me, who was also a doctor. We were sharing a delightful bottle of wine and I only had a few drops left in my glass. He offered to refill my glass and I pushed it toward him, “Sure, I only have a cc left.” Our server was approaching our table when he heard my comment. 

I do not go around advertising that I am a physician but as this encounter demonstrated, there are times when my speech and/or behavior betrays me. As flattering as that encounter was, I wish there were more times when my speech would lead others to ask whether I was a Christian. There is a Christian adage that poses the question that if there was a trial, would there be enough evidence to convict you as a Christian? Regrettably, I do not think I would be convicted. 

I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.

Matthew 12:36-37 (CSB)

This stern admonition from our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that every word we have ever spoken or will speak is known by God. Like the casual encounter at the restaurant or defending one’s faith in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christians, our words do matter. I pray that I will be more mindful and careful about my speech, using it to be light and salt to all hearers.

No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 4:29 (CSB)

Amen!

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

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“All Of It?” (Luke 21:1-4)

“Our science teacher told us about this charity that he is supporting that is helping to build wells to provide clean drinking water in underserved areas of the world. He suggested we consider supporting it.”

Many years ago, my daughter was beginning middle school and her science class was broadening her perspectives about the pressing needs of this world. “That is a very good charity!” I chimed in. “Clean water is probably the most important resource for any country and especially for developing nations.”

My daughter nodded. The topic did not come up for discussion until several weeks later. “Sweetheart, did you ever donate to that charity that was building wells to provide clean drinking water”?

“Yes Dad!”

“Oh good! How much did you donate?

“I donated all of my birthday money.”

“All of it?” My daughter nodded and with a puzzled look on her face, asked, “Is anything wrong with that?” My wife and I looked at each other, flummoxed. We were proud that our daughter took a genuine interest in helping others but were unsure how to properly guide her in managing her money. Not wishing to lose a teachable moment, we met that evening as a family and agreed to set up a savings account for our daughter and to teach her about tithing to the Church and other charities. It was a good discussion and when we completed it, I truly wished I had the unselfish attitude that my daughter had. 

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”

Luke 21:1-4 (NKJV)

There are few areas in life that create as much strife as money management. Regardless of one’s level of income, there will be disagreement on how to best allocate this important resource, particularly for charitable giving. Using the example of the poor widow, Jesus shows us that the proper attitude of our heart must be at the center of all our decisions. As this parable vividly demonstrated, only God sees the true intent and cost of our giving. 

Like the lesson we sought to teach my daughter many years ago, God has recently been working in my heart. For years, my tithing to the Church and other charities was automatically deducted from my bank account. While this prevented me from missing any donation, it also distanced me from the reason for my actions. Now, I take the time to pray over each donation, asking God to bless the recipients and enable them to use the funds to establish the work of His Kingdom on this earth. 

My daughter had the correct attitude and I am still learning from her unselfish and generous spirit. 

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

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