Who Am I?

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:4-6, ESV).

Last night I went to bed stressed over a basketball loss by my favorite college team. The same night I received an accidental call from a young patient dying from brain cancer, sat with my wife discussing our upcoming mission trip to Albania, stood frustrated by a daughter who was not answering my phone call, typed a text to a friend who would soon be released from federal parole and read the seventh chapter of Mark that spoke of evil thoughts within us, recognizing myself. I realized that all of these experiences point to profound centers of my personhood. Each is deep and valuable. Each can honor or disparage my Lord. Who the heck am I?

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A Roma Christmas

Christmas in the Middle of a Mess December 12, 2018

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son…” (Luke 2:6, NIV).

On Wednesday morning, one week before Christmas, we visited the Roma camp on the outskirts of Tirana. Hundreds of yards of tents, stacked against each other, with a solitary public bathroom around which the tents were woven. Dr. Kaci had brought us there to initiate a dental ministry with plans to bus families to a private Christian dentist office in town. They were still asleep after a late night of begging in the city. The younger children slipped out first and later a mother or two. I look back and realize that this encampment was more like the world Jesus entered than my own world of bright lights and happy families.

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Whatever It Takes

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones, ‘I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life’” (Ezekiel 37:5, NIV).

One of my patients died recently from lung cancer. Today his sister-in-law told me a story. “You don’t know this, but our two sons had not talked to each other for five years. It was breaking our hearts.” (During those years both sons had been through personal crises: one with his wife’s health and the other with an unfair incarceration.) “When my brother-in-law died, my son Matthew, who had not been home for five years, decided to come to the funeral. He and his uncle had been very close. When he told me he was coming, I asked him, ‘Please meet with your brother at least once when you are in town.’ He agreed to do so, and what a blessing; they discovered that each had changed in their years apart. In fact, James has just now returned from a four-day vacation to visit Matthew. He sent phone pictures showing them with their arms around each other.”

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Compelled

“When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:5, NKJV).

The examining room was crowded with a fellow, two medical students, a wife and a husband with new cancer when I walked in. The outlook was difficult, and I was honest with the patient I had just met. “I’m a man of faith, and I won’t let my faith go,” he said. “I believe God is going to heal me.” “I certainly hope you are right,” I responded, “God has the power to do great things.” I then felt compelled, “Would you like for me to pray with you right now about this?” I looked at one of the students who appeared very discomforted by my question. I spoke to him as I placed my hand on my patient’s shoulder. “You don’t have to take part in this.” And then I prayed.

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His Presence in Darkness

“…I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19, ESV).

My patient was in her 80s and medically stable, but her countenance troubled me. Upon checking in on her again, she burst into tears, confessing she was terrified to die. Her daughter sat at her bedside and tried reassuring her mother. I asked them if I could pray with them, and they agreed. I praised God for the Physician of physicians and proclaimed the gospel in prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. My patient didn’t have a church home and asked me to call the chaplain so she could also speak with him. Before I left, I gave her a wooden cross a professor had given me and told her to pray when the fear and darkness crept back because, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18, ESV). The next day during rounds, the attending, the intern and myself—a medical student—saw the patient together. As the attending wrapped up the medical conversation, the patient’s daughter thanked me for praying with them the day before and exclaimed, “Guess who got baptized yesterday!” I looked at my patient; she was beaming. I praised Jesus and gave her a hug, welcoming a new sister into the family. Looking back on that moment, I marvel at God’s work: He proclaimed Himself through a redeemed sinner, in the darkness, amid many witnesses. “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3, ESV).

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5 a.m.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20, NIV).

For three days during my 5 a.m. morning run, I felt the Lord nudging me to contact two dear physician colleagues with whom I had served in Albania. They had moved to Washington state. As I prayed for them the last few mornings, I felt the strong need to call them. It was too early at the time. My hectic days had erased the need, and I had not. This morning, as I had just arrived at work, I received a text from the husband of the two. “The Lord placed you in my dream last night. In my dream you were kind and you ministered to me. Just as in ‘real life.’ …. In my dream you were in the midst of a busy clinic, but you stopped long enough in my office to set down your things and minister to me. I imagine that dream may look a little like your day. May you feel His presence in the midst of your day, whatever that may hold.” I called him and prayed with him immediately. He asked me how he could pray for me. I said, “Just to help me be more faithful in my witness.” It was now 5 a.m. his time. At 10 a.m. this morning, I was able to pray openly with a patient while two medical students, seeking to learn medicine, leaned against the walls.

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Thin Ice

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people…” (Acts 2:44-47, NIV).

Six children, five at home, and a husband with advanced cancer for the last year, perhaps for not much longer. She has the sweetest disposition and the utmost peace I have ever witnessed in such trying circumstances. I caught her in the hall and asked her how she was doing in the struggle. “I’m fine,” she said. “I’ve got a great support group.” Then she added, “I don’t know how people without the church make it through things like this.”

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Divided

“So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth…That is why it was called Babel…” (Genesis 11:8-9, NIV).

This was his first trip back to the clinic after COVID-19 had thrown him into the hospital. He is patient, friend, African American and follower of Christ.

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Working Hard, Making Beauty

“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it’…And it was so” (Genesis 1:11, NIV).

I got my work week finished by noon Saturday, and then it was my wife Becky’s turn. We drove to a garden store because she wanted a water plant for our backyard. The water-flower section was closed on weekends, so we wandered through the other floral opportunities. I know nothing about flowers, but my wife listened when I said, “I like that one.” We came home with four beautiful plants to place in our backyard. I had chosen three striking Cyclamen: one royal red, one white and one violet with white edges. Becky added one coral Begonia. Two other Begonias and four Autumn Ferns were waiting to join them in the back corner of our yard. Becky showed me where she wanted them placed. “Go for it,” she said. The ground was covered with tiny roots everywhere. My back felt the work. I finished with a good sweat and declared, “It was good.” She then offered me the planting of 18 Pansies around a tree in the front yard. Thank God the dirt was soft, and I could do it with a hand trowel. Lots of good fishing worms came up with the planting, but I know little about fishing.

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The End Game

“He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give to water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children’” (Revelation 21:6-7, NIV).

He was tall and thin and crammed with complex medical issues when he walked into my office supported by a cane. I greeted him and asked how he was doing.

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The Handoff

Civility February 14, 2019

“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites’” (Joshua 1:1-2, NIV).

Edvin and Bona Selmani are friends of mine, more like brother and sister. They are both physicians in Albania, and we have known them for many years. For more than 25 years I and many American Christian healthcare professionals have been committed to educational evangelism in Albania with a ministry called Albanian Health Fund (AHF), a close partner to CMDA’s Medical Education International. The Selmanis were very young when we started. They matured in their faith through their local churches and the Christian student ministry, where they were leaders. They spent months in my home, with Edvin sharpening his skills in orthopedic surgery and Bona in transfusion medicine. Edvin is now a highly respected orthopedic surgeon and faculty member of the Medical University in Tirana. This year Bona became the leader of MDKSH, Albania’s version of CMDA for physicians. This year Edvin has become the first Albanian to lead AHF as president.

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The Call

Photo Credit: Unsplash.com

“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him” (Mark 3:13, NIV).

Dr. Ledia Qatipi is a friend of mine. She was born in Albania and has dedicated her life to God’s service in a Christian healthcare clinic there. She is raising two teenage daughters whom she loves dearly, and thus she understands the realities of life. A few months ago, she told me that God had spoken to her and asked her to begin an additional ministry to the Roma of Tirana, most of whom live in open, three-sided shelters and beg for a living. The call was real, and God is blessing the ministry she has begun—on the side, as she works in her clinic and raises her daughters.

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A Plaid Santa

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:2-4, NIV).

I was driving home from work, on call for Labor Day. Traffic was light. He stood there on the corner of a major intersection with a big sign that could be read by those passing by. He was a big man, with a big belly and a bushy white beard, plaid shirt with blue jeans held up by suspenders…could have been Santa Claus, had he dressed in red. His signs read: “Jesus promises life after death, even if from a virus. Don’t be afraid. By the way, when is the last time you read Isaiah 53?”

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Hannah’s Tears

“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17, NIV).

Hannah’s father was young and healthy, so he chose not to take the COVID vaccine. He nearly died in his hometown hospital and was transferred to our tertiary center, where he remained on the ventilator, on the edge of glory for more than a week. Hannah was young and her mother was distraught and focused on her husband, so Hannah stayed with relatives and friends for the week. Finally, her father improved, came off the ventilator and would soon be coming home. When her mother picked her up to take her home, Hannah cried for hours, even though her life would be good again.

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Falling Well

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7, NIV).

I was meeting with a group of young healthcare professionals prior to training them on bone marrow aspirates and biopsies. I am not young and was quite interested in impressing these up-and-coming future leaders in healthcare. My bifocals made me miss a step as I approached them. I fell flat on my face but without injury. I bounced up quickly as they all loudly commiserated my fall. “I’m fine,” I said. “I know how to fall.” “You’ve got to learn to fall well,” I added. “I’m good at it. In fact, the only way you get to be as old as I am is by falling well. If you fall poorly, you never get there.”

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Mexican Train

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…” (Matthew 6:25, NIV).

One of my Christian friends is dealing with cancer in remission. I often advise him, and I regularly pray for him. Last week he leaned over a church pew and alerted me. “My scan is next week on Wednesday. Please pray for me.”

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Finding the Center

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4, ESV).

My clinic morning was surreal. Every oncology patient I saw was doing well. Every cancer was responding to therapy. All felt good. I had never batted 1,000 like this before. And then, one 88-year-old patient (doing very well with his cancer) told me, “My grandson was killed in an accident last week. He was driving home from work, and they think maybe he was stung by a wasp. He’s allergic to wasps.”

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No Wasted Miracles

“Jesus did not let him [go with him], but said, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you’” (Mark 5:19, NIV).

His broken neck was doing okay today with adequate pain meds. The cancer that had once been “cured” and then returned was now gone for over two years, a miracle in my scientific mind. “I don’t know why God blessed you with one of His miracles,” I said. “I hope you are using it well.” “Oh, we are,” the wife answered. He added, “Every time I go to AA, I tell them how God has blessed me, what He has done to heal me. I always slip a little God in their back pockets before they leave.”

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A Doctor’s Vacation III

Photo: Pixabay

“…‘Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are…’” (Mark 12:14, NIV).

My wife dropped me off at Panera so I could catch up on my medical email while on vacation. She decided to fill our car with gas while waiting for me to finish. Noting a beggar on the roadside and committed to giving as Jesus had commanded, she handed him $20 through the window. He struck up a conversation and learned that we lived in Tennessee. He mentioned how much he wanted to visit Nashville if his circumstances changed. After receiving the money and talking of Tennessee, the beggar asked my wife if he could pray for her, and he did so.

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A Doctor’s Vacation II

Photo: Pixabay

Family vacations for doctors can be disorienting, at least for me. There is often a mental and emotional chasm separating the intensity and profundity of practice and the environment into which a vacation throws me.

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A Doctor’s Vacation 1

Photo: Pixabay

Family vacations for doctors can be disorienting, at least for me. There is often a mental and emotional chasm separating the intensity and profundity of practice and the environment into which a vacation throws me.

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An Ox in the Well

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel…” (Romans 1:16, NIV).

I walked into his room with five residents behind me on teaching rounds. We gathered around his bed, and I leaned over to ask of his symptoms. He reached up and touched the cross on my lapel. “I like that,” he said. “I am not depressed. I’m not sad. God is in control.” “I agree with you all the way,” I responded. “Whatever this is, God has you safe in His arms.” The house staff watched in silence.

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A Moment on Rounds

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel…” (Romans 1:16, NIV).

I walked into his room with five residents behind me on teaching rounds. We gathered around his bed, and I leaned over to ask of his symptoms. He reached up and touched the cross on my lapel. “I like that,” he said. “I am not depressed. I’m not sad. God is in control.” “I agree with you all the way,” I responded. “Whatever this is, God has you safe in His arms.” The house staff watched in silence.

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Be Careful

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer…” (1 Peter 3:12, NIV).

I called to tell him his cancer had continued to improve with immune therapy. He was certainly happy about that, and then he said, “You know, I asked God to put something on me to make me turnaround from the way I was living and set me right. Looks like He’s done that with this cancer. You gotta’ be careful what you pray for.”

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Still Fixin’ Things

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV).

He was doing well with his cancer, so we chatted about his life, “You know, I was just like those other fellows doing drugs and lying on the sidewalk outside the feeding center. One day when I didn’t do drugs, I went to the home of one of my church ladies and told her, ‘Do you know I do drugs?’ ‘You do drugs? You need to give it to Jesus. He’s still fixin’ things.’ And Jesus did, right there. I started praying and I felt this hand on my shoulder. I looked around and saw an image. Then I looked again, and it was gone. And my need for drugs was gone as well.”

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Failure Matters

“But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’” (Mark 16:7, NIV).

I was driving back from a satellite clinic when her daughter called. “The ambulance is taking my mom to the emergency room. She’s really sick.” Before I reached the hospital, my patient died of septic shock. This wasn’t supposed to be. I had never seen a patient die with the treatment I had given her. Later that day I combed through the chart to see if I had made mistakes. I could find none, but I asked Risk Management to send the chart out for peer review. I loved this patient and her daughter. I know of nothing I did wrong, but somehow either the decision I had made to treat her, or the way in which it was carried it out, or the underlying disease itself was responsible for her death. Three days later, I am awake at night, grieving over her daughter’s great sadness.

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Flipping the Ruler

“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30, NIV).

Work and family have always been the time consumers in my life, thank God. So, when I chose a sport for health, I chose running. It was the one thing I could do at 5 in the morning and still get to work by 6:30 or 7, not knowing when my day would end. When I reached 53, I started running long distances. When I turned 70, I decided to run my last marathon, just to prove I could. Last week, just west of Chicago, I did so with my daughter as she ran her first. It was 20 degrees warmer than a marathon should be, and I was miserable the whole way, and slow. After I stumbled across the finish line—my daughter fresh and me a dishrag—I discovered I had run the fastest time of any man 70 or older and would get a medal. Later I discovered I also ran the slowest time of any man 70 or over, being the only man over 69 who had run. I was both first and last.

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Rocks in Shoes

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23, ESV).

He was thin, and one could tell his life had been hard. His wife had been murdered in 2012, and he had suffered multiple accidents with persistent pain from his injuries. He had no one in his life to help him, and now with advanced cancer he had come to me. After my evaluation and recommendations, I asked, “Do you have a church that might give you support?” “No church,” he said. “I don’t believe in God, or at least don’t know if He exists. If there was a God, you’d think He’d give me a break.” He paused, “I’ve really got nothing left to live for.” I held out my hand, “You’ve got one friend here to live for.” And I knew my hand required more than just being his doctor.

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The Uncounted

“He [Paul] was accompanied by Sopater, son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia” (Acts 20:4, NIV).

I wheeled him into the exam room myself, as he had no one else to help him. After my evaluation I noted his Vietnam veteran Marine cap. “You’re a hero to me for what you’ve done for our country,” I said. “I’m one of the lucky ones,” he replied. “Twelve of my buddies didn’t make it back. When they brought the Vietnam Memorial replica to town, I went out to find their names. Not one of them was listed. I asked what was going on, and they asked me when I had served in Nam. I told him ‘62 to ‘63. They explained that the list had only been started in ‘65. ‘It was not a war before then, only a conflict,’ they said. My buddies gave their lives for our country, and they were never even counted.”

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Slate

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:16, NIV).

Doctors are really good diagnosticians, but not always at home. My wife is an incredible home manager and a servant to many people she loves, including outsiders in trouble. Last week she drove 400 miles to help my son and his wife pack up to move, then she returned with their 12-year-old dog, Slate. When they reached home, the dog developed severe polyuria and polydipsia—leading to incontinence, mopping and Lysol. Yesterday I came into the kitchen to find her crying. I diagnosed her tears as emotional strain caused by a woman she was helping in prison ministry, now multiplied by the huge work of caring for my son’s sick dog. I diagnosed, “I’m so sorry you are having to deal with Slate on top of everything else.” Wrong; she wasn’t crying for herself but for the dog’s suffering. I said, “It doesn’t help to cry.” For which I got the look. I then recovered, “It’s good that you love the dog enough to cry for him. Let’s do something about it.” We spent the rest of the day ordering a portable outdoor fence, tracking down a doghouse, picking up doggie diapers and setting up a vet visit for Monday. At the end of the day, my servant wife was tired, but her floors were dry, and her tears were gone.

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Trapped

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:7-8, NIV).

I reached the hospital this morning at 6:30 a.m. and walked to my usual elevators. A crowd was gathered where service men were trying to pry open an elevator door. I wondered at the presence of the crowd but was in a hurry, so I walked around and climbed the stairs. About 20 minutes later a secretary from the medicine office called me and told me that one of our doctors had been stuck in the elevator that morning and was in the emergency room. I immediately went to check on her. I found her crying in fear over her recent experience: trapped in that small space, the elevator jerking up and down, no way out, absolutely believing she might die.

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Over-blessed

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48b, NIV).

I was riding to church this morning with my wife driving and Christian music on the radio. It was a beautiful day, and I was grateful for the blessing of it when I began to think of the sweet Christian friend whom I had visited the day before with a new brain tumor, and then to the five friends I had lost to death this year with families left behind. I began to feel guilty that my life has been so blessed and so protected from great tragedies. It isn’t fair that I and mine are doing so well when so many others suffer so much.

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Evidence

I sat on his bed, my arm around him. I had once been his doctor, but he called me to come as friend. He is a deeply devoted follower of Christ who was going through a rough time in his illness, thinking that he soon might be leaving this world. “I have been so blessed by such a wonderful wife and children. Knowing that my children love the Lord is such a blessing.” Though he probably has some time left on this side of glory, I attempted these words to comfort him: “You surely have been blessed in this life, but the blessing does not stop here. All of us are going to be together for all times with the Lord and with those we love, once this little speck of time we know as life has passed.” “I hope so,” he said. “I surely hope so.” I added, “The evidence is overwhelming. Besides that, the Lord Himself is here to assure us.”

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The Scarlet Thread

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come…” (Mark 13:35, NIV).

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169 Pounds

“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the son of God, God lives in them and they in God” (1 John 4:15, NIV).

Her husband was my patient, and we were discussing her role as his caregiver. “I walk 10 miles a day,” she said. “I used to weigh 280 pounds and I am now down to 111.”

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The Gate Opens Inward

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20, NIV).

He’s my patient and doesn’t have long to live this side of glory. His life had been very difficult—severely so, some his own doing. I was visiting in his home when he told me, “For 36 years I have been raging in my red-barred cage, pushing with all my being against the gate that would not move, trying to get to God on the outside. Finally, I listened, and God spoke to me, ‘The gate opens inward.’” He heard God’s voice, pulled the gate inward and God came in.

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Intentionally Aware

Photo: Pixabay

Many years before, when he was shot down in Vietnam, he was rescued, but he thought he was going to die from his injuries. A chaplain from a different faith tradition was there praying for the wounded. He asked that chaplain to pray for him. That chaplain asked him what denomination he was affiliated with.

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The Blessing

“Then he blessed Joseph and said, ‘May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all of my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm—may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly on the earth’” (Genesis 48:15-16, NIV).

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God’s Smile

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“And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3:3, KJV).

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Light and Momentary

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“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV).

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Seeking That Which Strikes You

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge; and to your knowledge, self-control; and to your self-control, perseverance; and to your perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7, NIV).

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Bananas

Photo: Pexels

“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…” (1 Timothy 6:12, ESV).

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Another House Call

Photo: Pexels

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV).

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A Friend Who Prays

Photo: Pexels

“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NIV).

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Tell Him to Come!

Photo: Pixabay

My three-and-half-year-old grandson in Alabama was just released from the hospital after four days of misery. Forgive the picture, but he was so constipated that he was throwing up.

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When Will I Learn?

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge; and to your knowledge, self-control; and to your self-control, perseverance; and to your perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7, NIV).

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God Jobs

“No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds” (1 Timothy 5:9-10, NIV).

He was recovering from an unexpected severe toxicity from a new cancer treatment. Just beginning to make urine and platelets again. We talked about his illness and then talked about his life. “I’ve got this neighbor,” he told me, “who cuts my yard. My yard is twice as big as his, but he cuts it. And he doesn’t just cut it, he manicures it and mows it twice a week—for a year now. He began back when I first got real sick. When I got better, I told him I could take over, but he wouldn’t let me. ‘God told me to do this, so it’s mine,’ he said. Before I got sick, we hardly knew each other.”

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A Buddhist Funeral

“And whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:26a, NIV).

I had never been to a Buddhist funeral. The deceased was the father of one of my new fellows. When I arrived, my fellow greeted me and asked if I wanted to light some incense for her father. I said I would, out of respect for him and love for her. I placed the first incense before a picture of young Buddha. I did not bow to him as those before me but placed a burning stick into the small gravel bowl in respect for a great philosopher. The second incense I placed before a picture of the deceased and bowed my head asking God for blessings on his family.

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“The Race Marked Out for Us…”

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1, NIV 1984).

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Sunday Shopping

But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NASB).

Maston was recovering from a severe cardiac insult, aggravated by his heavy alcohol history. The alcohol was now behind him, but it had left a wake of debris that included his inability to drive. I had supported him through his struggle and am his friend. He’s on my daily prayer list for people who need to know Christ. I pray each day that he will love and follow Jesus. He called today and asked if I could take him shopping for groceries and household goods. It was Sunday, and I was off. It made me angry, but I agreed.

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It’s Not the Same

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8, NIV).

His belly was still swollen, but his pain was better. He lay there reviewing his life as I stood at his bedside. “You know I was the first one in my family to graduate from college. I was rising in the insurance business. I had a nice office and they were grooming me to move up the corporate ladder. I really cared about the people I served. You see, I was a minister, too. One day my boss came and told me, ‘We know that you’re looking both ways. There’s the way we think and the way they think. It’s not the same. You’re going to have to choose.’ I didn’t change my convictions, and after a while I resigned.”

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Poblano Pepper Pork

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV).

Yesterday was unusual for me in a good way. It was Saturday, a day I usually catch up with charts, or complete work for board meetings, or visit friends who need companionship. But yesterday, after my morning run, I spent the entire day at home with my wife. She wore me out digging up bush stumps in the backyard. And then we decided to cook together. I found a recipe for Poblano pepper pork chops, and she found a recipe for a mushroom antipasto. I asked her to show me how to do it right. We shopped together, prepared and cooked, and then we eventually invited her older sister to join us for the experimental meal. When I lay down to sleep last night, my body was tired. I had worked hard that day, but my spirit was rested and refreshed.

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Already Won

“If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one…” (Hebrews 11:15-16, NIV 1984).

I decided to visit him at home to discuss the facts around his recently discovered cancer. Michael is a friend whom I have not seen in a while. I was amazed at his smiles and lightheartedness. The first thing he told me was that he had twice been able to use his illness to witness for Christ, “I called my life insurance broker and told him to get plans ready to distribute the funds to my wife and children.” My broker told me, ‘That’s terrible! Are you really dying?’ I told him, “What do you mean terrible? This is what I’ve been living for!”

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“Even If He Does Not…”

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your Gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18, NIV 1984).

As program director for an oncology fellowship, this week I welcomed five new fellows into their three-year training program. Two weeks before they started, one of the new fellows was Facetiming his 36-year-old brother in India. While they were speaking, his brother suffered a heart attack and died. This Friday I received word from another starting fellow. Her previously healthy father had suffered a brain hemorrhage and would be hemiplegic and aphasic forever, if he lived. (He did not.) And, as a backdrop to these tragedies, the 19-year-old son of a local pastor dove into a shallow pool last week and is now paralyzed.

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A Home to Get To

“Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:23, NIV 1984).

It was a one-half mile walk from clinic to car. Halfway there in the 95-degree heat, I passed an elderly man moving slowly on a walker in the opposite direction. Unkempt and unclean, he asked me how far it was to the emergency room. I pointed the quarter-mile direction and he responded, “I didn’t know it was that far.” I told him I could get my car and take him if he would wait, and he agreed. When I helped him out at the ER, I offered him $20. “You can use this for a taxi to get you back home.”

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It Don’t Matter

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1, NIV 1984).

Recently returned from a doctor’s vacation, all my kids and grandkids in a beach house on the Gulf Coast. Had a wonderful time. In the old days, one-week vacations were really rough, requiring two days to wind down, two days of relaxation and then the three days of growing stress, looking toward all the work pile-up I would face when I returned. I do it differently now and take about one hour each day on my computer to keep up, thus relieving the pressure of being so far behind when I resume my work. I’m not recommending my solution to anyone, but on the drive back from Florida, we passed the sign of a dining facility named “It Don’t Matter.” I thought about my workload in the week ahead and felt relaxed enough for the sign to describe my future.

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Stoic Expectation

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“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ …From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:60-66, NIV 1984).

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Hard Teaching

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“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ …From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:60-66, NIV 1984).

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A Gospel Rhythm

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“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:11-12, NIV 1984).

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Another in the Fire1: Addendum

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“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not…” (Daniel 3:17-18, NIV 1984).

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Another in the Fire

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“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not…” (Daniel 3:17-18, NIV 1984).

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Getting Out of Purgatory

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV 1984).

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Seven to Two

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:14-15, ESV).

It is always nice to see God’s successes when you’re an oncologist. On his recent evaluation, Rob Fortner demonstrated no trace of myeloma. We had treated him with standard chemotherapy followed by an autologous stem cell transplant. After completing his exam, I asked him, “How long has it been since your transplant, two years?” He smiled, “No, it was 2013 (seven years).” I sat there stunned that time and life had passed so quickly. Nine years with all of the intense moments, all the life stories, all the joy, all the tears. Gone in a blink.

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Jars of Clay

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV 1984).

He walked into the room with a smell that preceded him. Short, thin, with a scraggly gray beard, he looked like a homeless addict who had neglected his health until it was almost too late. But he was not intimidated by the large tumor on his forehead. He spoke clearly and intelligently as I recorded his medical history. When I began to discuss therapy for his cancer, he said, “I’ll try the treatment, but I’m not afraid of this. I’m a Christian.” I told him I was as well. As he left, I placed my hand on his shoulder and prayed for him. He then said, “Let me pray for you.” He placed his hand on my shoulder and lifted me to the Lord. My nurse sprayed the room for the odor after he had gone.

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Skin Color

“The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” (John 4:9, NIV 1984).

This was not the first time I’d felt the anger of racial injustice, but it was the most surprising. Lorenzo had been my patient for 20 years. He was doing better and living longer with his myeloma than anyone I had ever treated. He and I are friends.

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Multiplied Compassion

“Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them…” (Mark 2:3, NIV 1984).

I was over working at my computer when my clinical secretary called, “Guess who’s here?” No idea. “Mrs. Kushman. You took care of her husband.” I drug myself away from sterile technology and went to greet her. It had been four years, and now she was in our oncology clinic with her father. She told me her mother had cancer as well. I greeted her with an elbow bump and lowered my mask where she could see me. “How are you doing?” I asked. “Okay,” she said with her words, but not her eyes. “Do you have anyone to support you while you are going through this? Do you have a church?” She stood solidly on her faith in Christ and told me her pastor and church members were standing with her through the struggle.

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My Momma Was Mean

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“If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there… even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast…even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:8-12, NIV 1984).

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Purple Heart

Photo credit: The U.S. Army on Visual Hunt / CC BY

“…There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24, NIV 1984).

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The Power of Suffering

“…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10, ESV).

Amanda has been a dear friend for many years. She’s been a Christian all the years I have known her, but she had drifted from her devotion to God. Her sister-in-law is a Catholic Christian dedicated to Christ. Not long ago, Amanda watched her sister-in-law carry the staggering weight of her husband’s death with an unwavering trust in God. Amanda has now returned to a close walk with God and has found Him best within the Catholic Church. It is beautiful to see. What is more, Amanda’s son, a recalcitrant drug user, has followed her to faith in Christ, and he has been drug free for four years. Last weekend, we met Amanda and her husband in New Orleans for a short escape and attended the 9 a.m. mass at St. Louis Cathedral. The priest’s prayer for the suffering that morning included, “May they join their suffering with the suffering of Christ.”

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Uber Questions

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“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, NIV 1984).

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Breath into Bones

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Many thoughts flashed through my brain and heart with this surprise email from 20 years ago: beautiful memories of a patient I loved, the awesome value of my wife’s act of stuffed-dog love, the tragedy of life, the hope of Christ.

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Irrational Peace…

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“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15a, NIV 1984).

I was blessed to sit with them in their home to discuss a new medical problem. They did not need another problem. Early in their lives their 10-year-old son had died of cancer. More recently another son, suffering from schizophrenia, had blinded his father in a fit of rage. They were now planning the memorial service for a third son. They sat there with great peace, trusting God that His plan was good and that His love was constant. The husband spoke honestly as I commented on their amazing peace, “Of course, we certainly don’t like this.”

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Fickleness

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NIV 1984).

Saturday morning I visited one of my favorite patients in her home. She is now under hospice care, and we discussed the difficult path ahead for her and her husband. They are facing the struggle well as followers of Christ. That evening I was on my way to a happy dinner out with friends. As I passed my patient’s house, I marveled that I could drive by so freely with happiness, cut loose from the deep emotions within a house where I had been immersed in the same emotions that very same morning.

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TV Dinner Counsel

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I’ve got nothing against money, and often in my life I’ve enjoyed more than I needed, but I have never made a major directional decision in my life based on income outcomes. As followers of Christ, more money should be the goal of our decisions only if Christ says, “Make more money for my kingdom.”

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He’s Mine

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“…‘After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mark 1:7-8, NIV 1984).

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In Jesus’ Name

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“But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’” (Acts 3:6, ESV).

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The Possible

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“I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NIV 1984).

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His Fault

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Certainly, the cause of self-inflicted harm is God’s business and the business of the one who harms himself. And we have no business judging the one who causes that harm.

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Father’s Day

“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18, NIV 1984).

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The Song

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“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27, NIV 1984).

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Seed Sprouting

His name was classically Hispanic, and he spoke only a few words of English. He came to be with his daughter as his cancer progressed. We could not speak the words of Christ to him, but we did show him the love of Christ. His daughter is a believer. The day he died, my daughter, his oncology nurse, went to comfort his daughter while awaiting the police. She heard the story of this man’s last days. He had not been a follower of Christ, but three weeks before he died, he saw a vision of Christ, fell on his knees and committed his life to our Lord. He then said, “I am ready to be with Jesus.” On his last day, as his son-in-law was praying with him, he slipped into the arms of the Savior.

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A Son’s Devotion

I was visiting a large church in a state other than my own after fellowshipping with other Christian healthcare professionals. The pastor preached a wonderful message and then opened things up, asking folks to go to one of two microphones and tell the church for what they thanked God or for what they praised God. Many men and women and children voiced beautiful words of thanksgiving and praise, covering family and health and salvation and God’s work in their lives. Then one young boy of 12 or so stepped to the microphone and shared, ” I thank God my mother died, for otherwise I would never have known Him.”

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Purpose in the Pain

He died today after a short bout with cancer. I stopped by to share my sorrow with the family. They were gathered in the den, actually fairly cheerful, sharing stories of their dad and husband, glad to be together as a normally scattered family. The wife said, “You know, we have been talking about whether it would be better to die suddenly, being hit by a bus, than the way he died.” One daughter piped in, “I’ll take the bus.” “But really,” the wife continued, “We had time to be together, time we would not have shared, scattered around like we are. We did things that were important.”

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Kole

I received an email this week from one I had not communicated with in 24 years. He asked me to call him and I did. His name is Kole Akinboboye, and 24 years ago he was a family medicine resident training at our mission hospital in Eku, Nigeria. I reviewed my diary of those mission years and discovered the very last entry: “I misdiagnosed a man with minimal symptoms and a rigid, non-tender belly. He went into shock the next day and in surgery was found to have infarcted his entire small bowel. There was no way he could live. When the patient awoke from his anesthesia, Dr. Akinboboye sat with him and told him about Christ. Before he died, the man accepted Jesus as his Savior.” This young doctor I had trained so long ago is now practicing in Nigeria in his own hospital and sharing Christ through his ministry.

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Mary/Martha/Mission/Me

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“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, NIV 1984).

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A Foolish Hope

He called me on my cell and asked if he could come to see me today. My clinic was light due to the virus and he was welcomed. I’ve known him for a few years as a patient and as a brother in Christ. He had a few symptoms to discuss but mostly wanted to talk. After settling into the chair beside my desk, he placed his cap in his lap and asked how long he might live, given the status of his illness. “I’m not afraid of my own death,” he said. “But I want to be sure to spend my last days well. I have people I need to see. I want to give them hope.”

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Better than Good

We were all tired from the over-work, telehealth, glasses-foggy-from-breathing-through-masks, legitimate-fear and frantic-colleague life. I passed by my partner’s office, concerned for his emotional well-being. I knew he and his wife were having to alternate staying home with their kids because daycare was cancelled. He never showed his fatigue, but I was concerned.

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A Good Samaritan

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Our lead caregiver is Mohammed, a compassionate, wonderful Afghan man who has been serving the poor and sick in the most difficult areas of Afghanistan for more than 20 years. Mohammed is a devout Muslim.

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A Healthy Fear

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Our lead caregiver is Mohammed, a compassionate, wonderful Afghan man who has been serving the poor and sick in the most difficult areas of Afghanistan for more than 20 years. Mohammed is a devout Muslim.

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Gentle Nudges

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Are we aware of God’s Spirit when He nudges? He nudges us when He wants to act through us for His purposes. When I responded on this occasion, my sweet patient was able to open up his grief and connect it with his faith.

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The Moment

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1, ESV).

I sat in a chair and watched her daughters and granddaughters lying around her on a king-sized bed as my mom wavered between earth and heaven. They stroked her in love and sang verse after verse of solid Christian songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Precious Lord Take My Hand.” I sat in wonder at the moment and place, like we were on a bridge between this life of touchable-being and the untouchable eternity that now I could reach over and grab. There was not so much the presence of one reality and a wish for the other, but an absolute truth of both, not so much like we were telling Mom goodbye and watching her cross the bridge—but more like we were walking across it with her, kissing her on the other side and handing her off to Jesus.

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The Watchman

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I had come to believe that praying for God to guide me in my witness and waiting on Him to tell me when to speak was God’s best path for Christian witness. I followed these principles intentionally with my friend, and he never heard the gospel from my lips.

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Blocking Our Prayers

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When you cry out to God in prayer, do you invest your life in that prayer and put legs on your plea, or do your actions interfere with God’s answer to that prayer?

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Emmaus Driveway

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Now, I don’t know if this kind stranger was Jesus in a different form, or an angel, or just a man working in Jesus’ name, but Jesus was certainly present in Spirit on that driveway, lifting Jerry to his feet.

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Pursuing Joy

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Most of us seek joy and peace in our lives. Many of us seek Jesus so that we might find these sometimes-illusive treasures. Sometimes we might even make Jesus a means to an end, using Him for the good He can bring to our lives: good such as eternal life, peace, joy, delivery from troubles, etc. Certainly, Jesus is the way to such treasures.

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Anxious Thoughts

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We know depression is a true biological illness, related both to environmental stressors and chemical reactions within our brains. Most of us have been through periods of depression; some suffer a great deal from prolonged episodes of such illness and require medications and counseling to allow us to function well within our professions.

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Hell, I Guess

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I’ve been pretty good in all the big things, much better than most. People who watch me would agree, most of the time. I’m kind to patients, usually pleasant with co-workers, rarely curse, faithful in marriage and donate generously to those in need.

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