Surrender And Live (Jeremiah 38:17-18)

In every battle, there are moments that appear particularly dark for one side and defeat may be imminent. The history of the world is bloodied with these horrific battles such as the battle of Thermopylae and the Alamo. What if at a critical moment, someone rose up on the losing side and said, “God has told me that we must lay down our arms and surrender. If we do, God will grant us mercy and preserve our lives.” There is little doubt that this person would be branded a traitor. Yet, this is what happened thousands of years ago. The Babylonians, the greatest empire of that age, were marching toward Jerusalem to destroy the city and the seat of power of the kingdom of Judah. King Zedekiah attempted to rally his people and resist the invaders. Yet one voice rang out against him, the prophet Jeremiah.

Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “This is what the LORD God of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down. But if you refuse to surrender, you will not escape! This city will be handed over to the Babylonians, and they will burn it to the ground.’” 

Jeremiah 38:17-18 (NLT)

Why would anyone believe Jeremiah? What he was saying was treasonous! Jeremiah was obeying God and prophesying to the king, yet all refused to believe him. What followed was a tragic outcome for Zedekiah who was captured by the Babylonians as he was attempting to flee Jerusalem.

The king of Babylon made Zedekiah watch as he slaughtered his sons at Riblah. The king of Babylon also slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. Then he gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in bronze chains to lead him away to Babylon. 

Jeremiah 39:6-7 (NLT)

Zedekiah and Judah paid the ultimate price for disobeying God’s command to surrender. While we may never face such an ominous decision, God does command us to obey Him even when it appears that we are facing insurmountable odds. Reconcile with the person who betrayed us. Forgive the business partner who defrauded your company. Why should we obey God when common sense tells us otherwise? Why indeed?

…What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. 

1 Samuel 15:22 (NLT)

Obedience is the outward confirmation of our true intentions. In the face of despair, God always provides and protects, even when we have given up hope. When we surrender ourselves to God, we live.

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

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

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Sword Of Damocles (Exodus 34:6-7)

Recently, I had to take care of my daughter’s dog when she and the rest of the family were vacationing. As a precaution, I asked my daughter to place a collar and leash on her so it would be easier to walk and hold her. Our dog is afraid of me and a leash is the only way I can bring her close enough to hold her. However, when I attempt to do this, she violently rejects this, even attempting to bite me. Thus, although the option to hold her was available, I did not avail of it. Nonetheless, it clearly stressed her out and she did not eat for several days. It was only after my daughter returned that our dog was able to relax and eat. I also removed her collar and leash and once my daughter left, our dog was back to normal. Reflecting upon the experience, I told my daughter, “It is like the sword of Damocles, hovering over her.”

“What’s that?”

I recounted the story of Damocles, a guest at the court of King Dionysius, ruler of the ancient city of Syracuse. Although powerful and wealthy, Dionysius lived in constant fear that he would be murdered by his enemies. Damocles was unaware of the king’s anxieties and, observing the opulence in which the king lived, he lauded the king for his good fortune and lifestyle. Dionysius created a teachable moment and invited Damocles to sit in his place, waited on by servants who fed him the finest foods. As Damocles reveled in his newfound fortune, he noticed a sword hanging by a thin thread, placed above his head. In spite of his luxurious new lifestyle, he could not enjoy it knowing that at any moment, he could be killed. After a few thoughtful moments, Damocles excused himself, learning his lesson. 

Years later, the lesson of the sword of Damocles has been used as a metaphor for those who are in power but can have no happiness when the possibility of death is always looming. The phrase, “hanging by a thread”, is the modern adaptation. Bottom line, our dog could not relax in my presence when she had her collar and leash on. She knew that at any moment, I could swoop down and attempt to carry her, something she hates and fears! I had created my own sword of Damocles for her!

For many years, I thought that God ran my life and this world in a similar manner. God was a cruel and capricious being who, for an infinite number of reasons, could invoke punishment, literally hurling lightning bolts at me or taking my life and the lives of others. What does the Bible say about the character of God?

Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” 

Exodus 34:6-7 (NASB)

The sword of Damocles is living with the fatalistic expectation that, no matter what we do, death and destruction is imminent. Thanks be to God that we do not have to live a life with this expectation of fear. When we choose to obey God, He promises to bless with His grace and mercy, but if we willingly choose to disobey Him, He will allow us to choose our own path to punishment. 

This is not fatalism, it is our choice. 

I choose life with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

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

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That Is Interesting! (Acts 8:26-28)

The French styled bistro was tucked away in a small town on the island of Oahu. With only ten tables, my wife and I were seated inches away from another young couple. It was difficult to eat our meal and not overhear their conversation or see what they were eating. As we both began ordering, the couple next to us ordered an enormous cheese fondue as well as a cheese platter. When it arrived, the familiar pungent aromas filled our space. I nodded at my wife as we were treated to this epicurean extravaganza. Finally, I gave in to my inner urgings and interrupted their dinner. 

“You must really enjoy cheese!”

Turning to both of us, the woman giggled and exclaimed, “I LOVE cheese!” 

“We can see that! Sorry, our tables are so close together, we couldn’t help but notice.”

“Not to worry! I’m a fromagerie!” Now that is interesting!

“Really? My wife and I love cheese!” I gushed. “Where do you work?”

“Actually, I’m from Southern California and I work at a restaurant in Los Angeles.” Now it was really getting interesting!

“WE are from Southern California!” Within a few seconds, we recognized the restaurant at which she worked, in fact, we had dined there a year earlier. I began to share some of my memories of that dinner when I realized that we had previously met. “You had a special cheese from Belgium that evening, the rind was washed in a Trappist Belgian ale. You were very excited to share it with us since your restaurant rarely carried that cheese.”

She looked at my face, studying it, and then declared, “Oh my goodness! I remember you and your wife! Yes! We had a long discussion about that particular cheese! How amazing is this? We both live in Southern California and we meet again in a small restaurant in Hawaii! Cheese brought us together! We are here planning our wedding for next year. This is my fiancee.” We shook hands and congratulated the young couple.

Seemingly random encounters may sometimes be anything but random. Our example reminded me how God brings together people who are searching for His Truth. 

As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. 

Acts 8:26-28 (NLT)

The Bible records a seemingly random encounter between a disciple of Jesus Christ and a eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia. Hundreds of miles from his home, the eunuch just happened to be reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah. Even more interesting, when Philip meets him, he learns the passage he is reading is a prophecy about Jesus Christ and wants to know more about this Person. Philip explains who Jesus Christ is and the eunuch believes in Him and is baptized. Their search for God brought them together. 

What is the likelihood that a complete stranger will be reading a passage in Scripture prophesying Jesus Christ and he encounters a disciple of Jesus Christ? Probably just as unlikely as two couples meeting in a small restaurant in Hawaii because of their mutual love of cheese.

Why does God do this?

But from there you will search again for the LORD your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him. 

Deuteronomy 4:29 (NLT)

God always answers the honest prayers of anyone who is searching for Him. Now that is always interesting!

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

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Center Of Excellence (Acts 2:42-47)

“Yes, we need to create a center of excellence!”

I nodded and sighed. “Yes, that would be wonderful!”

Ordinarily, a conversation like this would excite and encourage me. However, after listening to this pitch for over thirty years from many different levels of management, it rang hollow with false promises and failed execution. A center of excellence implies different things depending upon whether one is in education, business, or healthcare. In this latest instance, I was speaking to a senior vice president of sales and marketing for a major laboratory. He wanted to create a center of excellence for dermatopathology, my medical speciality. In many laboratories, including my own, many esoteric tests are outsourced to third party laboratories, requiring additional time and costs. A center of excellence would have all of the necessary resources to render a comprehensive diagnosis for all skin diseases. There would be a dermatopathologist, like myself, rendering the primary diagnosis. There would be specialized testing, including molecular genetic testing, to augment the diagnostic report. There would also be additional consultants for areas like genetics, hematology, and pediatric diseases. The patient and referring physician would both greatly benefit by the reduced turnaround time and lowered overall costs. 

It is a wonderful concept but for the decades that I have practiced dermatopathology, this is all it has remained, a concept. There are other laboratories that have successfully implemented this model but to my dismay, it has never been replicated in my geographic location. It is a combination of political infighting, competing financial interests, and lack of committed leadership that has resulted in one roadblock after another. 

Is there a spiritual center of excellence? Is there a place where all our spiritual needs can be centralized, where everyone can benefit? Once again, the Bible gives us the answer. 

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. 

Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)

This was the first Church. It was truly a spiritual center of excellence. Why? All were believers in Jesus Christ, empowered by His Holy Spirit. All of their spiritual and material needs were provided by the first Church. This first Church is still our Church. We, as believers in Jesus Christ, can be a part of this center of excellence. Unlike creating a center of excellence in business or in medicine, we don’t have to wait for management or investors to make the decision for us. We can embrace what God has given us-the Body of Jesus Christ. 

Amen!

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

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Two Different Standards (Ezekiel 36:26)

“What is her ring size?”

I confidently divulged the information. “It is 5 ½.”

The jeweler smiled. “Great! That will make it easier!”

Many years ago, I surprised my wife by purchasing a ring for her to celebrate our anniversary. Fortunately, when I was at another jeweler, I had her current ring measured at that store. I did the same with my ring since I was going to purchase a matching band. Suddenly, the jeweler looked up and exclaimed, “You know, a few years ago, the jewelry industry changed the ring sizing. I know that jeweler you went to uses the older standard, a ¼ size smaller than what I have.”

“Wait, what?”

“Yup. They don’t want to change since they have been in business for over a hundred years and their rings have become the de facto standard in jewelry making.”

I was wearing my ring and since they had sized it at that other store, I thought it would be a good comparison.  “Here, size my ring.”

The jeweler obliged. “6 ¾”

I shook my head. “When I had my ring sized by that jeweler, they informed me that it was 6 ½! You’re right!”

Two different standards. 

It seems inconceivable that in a common industry like jewelry, something as fundamental as ring sizing would have two different standards. What about our relationship with God? We may think that we live by God’s standards but the truth is we too often substitute the world’s standards or our own and live by them, convincing ourselves that we are justified to do so. Like the venerable jeweler who refused to accept the new standard, we justify and rationalize our choices out of convenience for others. We should be tolerant and accepting of abortion because others are. We should ignore the biological definitions of gender since it is not inclusive. We should not believe in hell because it is an archaic concept. Slowly, we allow even more subtle compromises to creep into our lives until the distinctions between God’s standards and ours are blurred. Who is right? What is the absolute standard?

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 

Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT)

God promises to give us a new heart and His Holy Spirit within us when we turn from our sins and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. When this happens, God’s standards become ours.

Two different standards. 

The world informs us of its standards. Changing, relative, and unfixed. God’s standards are permanent, absolute, and written in our hearts. 

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

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“Where Are My Reports?” (Proverbs 18:13)

“Where are my reports?” Dressed in his surgical scrubs, Jake stood arms akimbo in my doorway.

“Good to see you too, Jake. What can I do for you?” Jake was a surgeon at the hospital where I was working as a surgical pathologist, many years ago. In typically brusque fashion, he launched into his demands without a perfunctory greeting. 

“Where are my reports?” He repeated. 

I smiled. “Which ones?”

“I took some biopsies on several patients over a week ago but the reports are still not in the charts. What’s wrong with you guys?”

I bit my lip. “Let’s see what patients you’re talking about.” I escorted him out of my office and into my secretary’s office next door. “Sally, can we help Dr. Smith? He is looking for the reports on several of his patients.”

Sally nodded. “Sure Dr. Smith. Why don’t you give me the patient’s names?”

Grunting, he rattled off several names. My secretary quickly found the reports and printed out the completed reports. Instead of thanking her, he snarled, “Why weren’t these put in the charts? How long does it take you guys to diagnose these biopsies?”

I rolled my eyes. “Jake, look at the dates on the report. We received it on Monday, the 3rd, and on Tuesday, the 4th, the report was completed. I am giving you less than 24 hour turnaround time. I don’t know why you are not getting your reports but we are not the rate-limiting step!”

“Well someone is screwing up!”

I had enough. “Let’s go to medical records right now and resolve this.” We both walked down the hall to medical records where we were met by one of the attendants. I explained the situation and inquired why our surgical pathology reports were not being uploaded to the respective medical charts in a timely manner. The answer was startling. Pointing to a stack of patient charts behind us, he apologized and said, “We are understaffed and several weeks behind.” I shot a glance at Jake who mumbled to me. “Ok, sorry.”

If Jake had simply taken a few minutes to do what I did instead of immediately jumping to conclusions, he could have saved time and embarrassment. If he had read the Bible, he would have learned an important life lesson.

Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish. 

Proverbs 18:13 (NLT)

God’s wisdom is for everyone, regardless of where one is in their spiritual walk. Learn from Him!

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

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Remember The Past (1 Kings 16:34)

The philosopher, George Santayana, wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Truth indeed. The history of the world is littered with examples of this. Hitler should have learned from Napoleon’s horrific defeat by the Russians when he invaded during winter. Instead, Hitler also invaded Russia during winter suffering a stunning defeat. The irony was Hitler studied Napoleon’s campaigns but clearly he also executed poor judgment when it involved Russia. He did not remember the past. 

The Bible records a tragic outcome of this failure to remember the past. The following passage seemed like a footnote in the history of Israel. A man named Hiel, rebuilt the city of Jericho, a city that was conquered and destroyed by Joshua and the Israelites hundreds of years earlier.

It was during his reign that Hiel, a man from Bethel, rebuilt Jericho. When he laid its foundations, it cost him the life of his oldest son, Abiram. And when he completed it and set up its gates, it cost him the life of his youngest son, Segub. This all happened according to the message from the LORD concerning Jericho spoken by Joshua son of Nun. 

1 Kings 16:34 (NLT)

When Joshua conquered Jericho, he pronounced the following curse on anyone who attempted to rebuild Jericho. Hiel did not remember the past and it cost him the lives of his two sons. 

At that time Joshua invoked this curse: “May the curse of the LORD fall on anyone who tries to rebuild the town of Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn son, he will lay its foundation. At the cost of his youngest son, he will set up its gates.” 

Joshua 6:26 (NLT)

One would think that with such a dire warning, Jericho would never be rebuilt. Yet, even the Israelites did not remember their own past. Of course, today, we are far more enlightened and we always remember our past! I never make the same mistakes. I never lose my temper. I always remember the past and never repeat it. Right. 

Perhaps upon reflection, some of you may share the same misgivings that I have. Our faulty memories may hinder an honest reflection of our faults and we are condemned to repeat it. How desperately we need a holy and merciful God who will forgive our sins when we confess and repent to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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

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“Everyone Needs A Little Help…” (Psalms 71:5-9)

The elderly couple slowly walked into the restaurant. He was assisted with a cane while she had a walker. Their familiar faces beamed when they recognized our family. “Uncle Jake! Auntie Sally!” We rushed over to meet and escort them to our table. They were our godparents whom we had not seen in over fifteen years. As we embraced, the years melted away and their infectious laughter reminded us of how much we missed seeing them. Uncle Jake is a retired professor of dentistry whom my wife met when she was in dental school. Their family welcomed my wife who became like a daughter to them. Years later, when my wife and I were engaged, I had the pleasure of meeting both of them and was also warmly accepted. We were honored and delighted when they agreed to be one of our godparents at our wedding. Now in their nineties, age had not diminished their indomitable spirits as the twinkles in their eyes powerfully attested. 

As we reminisced, I reminded Uncle Jake about his kindness to us a few months after we were married. Our two families were vacationing in Las Vegas and he surprised us by paying for our hotel that weekend. “That was such a kind and generous gift you gave to us just after we were married! Thank you again!” I reached out and clasped his hand. Uncle Jake smiled and put his hand on my shoulder. “You don’t have to thank us! Everyone needs a little help when they are starting out and when they are finishing.”

Our godparents practically demonstrated their love when we were starting out. Now it was our turn to help them. Their kind spirits reminded me of how God cares for us throughout our lives. 

O Lord, you alone are my hope. I’ve trusted you, O LORD, from childhood. Yes, you have been with me from birth; from my mother’s womb you have cared for me. No wonder I am always praising you! My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection. That is why I can never stop praising you; I declare your glory all day long. And now, in my old age, don’t set me aside. Don’t abandon me when my strength is failing. 

Psalms 71:5-9 (NLT)

The psalmist who wrote these verses was looking back over his life, praising God for His guidance and deliverance. Now, in the autumn of his years, he didn’t take God for granted and once again was praying to God to continue to strengthen and guide him. 

Uncle Jake, thank you for your unselfish love and advice that you gave to my wife and I when we were starting out. You were always there for us and your lives are an example to many. Now, we are grateful to spend quality time with you as you enjoy the fruits of your labor and your growing family that continues your legacy.

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

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Check The Context (Luke 4:6-8)

It was a beautiful card with blue pastels and adorned with lace surrounding the following Bible quote. 

Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours. 

Luke 4:7 NASB

It read as a very encouraging and inspirational religious quote and indeed, it was. Posted on a social media site, it generated several favorable comments and likes. However, one anonymous post read, “Inspirational Bible Quote. Less inspirational if you know who said it.”

Indeed!

Here is the quotation in its proper context.

And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 

Luke 4:6-8 (NASB)

Read within its proper context, it is clear from the complete quotation that the devil was asking Jesus to bow down and worship him. If Jesus did this, the devil would grant Him dominion over the world’s kingdoms. This is a simple but important example of why one needs to read everything carefully and in context. Nowhere is this more important than when one reads the Bible. For thousands of years, false prophets and even well-intentioned people have either misread or quoted the Bible out of context. If one berry picks Bible verses and quotes them simply because they sound comforting and encouraging, the end result is the same, miscommunication and confusion.

Check the context! The Bible is inspired by God’s Holy Spirit. It is perfect and complete. We are not. We desperately need to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit whenever we read and study it.

Amen!

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

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“Gideon Did It!” (Judges 6:12-16)

“I know I can do this. Look at Gideon. He did it! If he could do it, I can do it also, with God’s help.”

“Yes! Yes! You can do it!”

I was listening to a conversation between two young men. One of them was referencing Gideon, one of the judges of Israel. In a time before the kings of Israel, God appointed judges to be spiritual and military leaders for the nation of Israel. Inspired by the success of Gideon, he was sure that God would similarly bless him since he was undertaking a far lesser task than rescuing the nation of Israel. 

The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the LORD is with you!”

“Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The LORD brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

Then the LORD turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!” “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”

The LORD said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.” 

Judges 6:12-16 (NLT)

There is no question that if God desires for you to undertake a task for Him, He will give you all the resources and skills to succeed. This is why Gideon succeeded. However, it would be presumptuous and even dangerous to assume that if Gideon could do it, you could as well. 

When we are seeking Gods’ will in our lives and we feel God is speaking to us, either through the advice of someone else or through something we have read or seen, we should take a moment, pray, and seek God’s direction. He promises that He will answer and reveal His will for your life by transforming your mind.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. 

Romans 12:2 (NLT)

Gideon did it! 

Yes, he did, but only because God said He would be with him.

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

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