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High-tech Care with Old-Fashioned Values

Homesickness

Wednesday night wrapped up the Beth Moore tape study on the Patriarchs. She is a very good leader and her fresh insights inspire me. She started by saying that she hates goodbyes. The idea was that as humans God has placed within our beings a longing for heaven and an innate knowledge of eternity. We KNOW that there is more. Goodbye is then such a temporary and artificial thing rooted in us living in time now. In eternity time will have no meaning and goodbye will have no meaning. She then tied the concept of the wandering of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and finally Joseph to this thought. Throughout scripture we are pointed to the God of these men and as we reflect on their lives we realize they were aliens on earth and their home was in heaven. Again and again she brought out scripture that reinforced this concept. And she is right. God does not intend for this world to be final. Since the fall ALL CREATION (including me and you) groan for the fulfillment of the promised perfection of the new heaven and the new earth to come. She challenged us to embrace the discomfort of our earth as an affirmation that God has promised us more.

In my walks around White Pine in the morning I always see geese flying about the same time and same place on my trek. I have come to look for them and as I walk I thank God for them. I have seen them as a reminder of my North Dakota home which I miss daily. I thank Him for the little slice of home He sends my way to remind me of that place. Well, after the last Beth Moore talk I mentioned above, I decided that the next morning I would also see those geese as a reminder or my final home in heaven. Sure enough morning came and as I walked I heard the familiar honking (you always hear them before you see them if you are a hunter). As they flew by I thanked God that He has promised me a place in the perfect home that my soul KNOWS is there.

Wait the story's not over. There were quite a few more geese flying Thursday morning than usual. As I was praying a friend (who knows of my meeting with the geese each morning) sent me a text message that read: "I bet God sent all those geese as a gift 4 u 2day." I was speechless before God. It was a moment of praise without words. Not only did I agree with the message but I was humbled that He exceeded my request to see some geese each morning. His abundant grace to us is open for all to see. He does not hide many of life's blessings from us or other Christians. We just need to be alert....you might hear it before you see it.
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Overwhelmed

Today in Sunday School our lesson was again on money and giving. This can be a very difficult area for me and, I assume, for many Christians in America. We are wealthy beyond belief to 90% of the world even if we are lower middle-class. We are consumers and buyers and covetous and we live in a culture that encourages all those traits.

Christ called us to be sacrificial givers yet we barely give and even then too often with reluctance. In the end our things often control us. It might not be money, it might be clothes or cars or our physical appearance that demand time and resources that should be spent serving Him. We can give money from our excess but rarely give of time or other things sacrificially. In the end my lack of generosity stems from a lack of faith and a desire to get rather than give.

In the lesson we looked at a passage in Malachi 3: "
Test Me in this," says he Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the flood gates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." This was in response to the people not giving God an adequate share of their material goods.

Now I am not a proponent of the theology that uses God like an ATM. " Pray or give or serve or request and God is only to happy to give more material wealth to you." Notice that the above passage says God will pour out
blessing not particularly wealth. We may get to see the results of our giving and be blessed. One group member said that in giving we may receive more the mind of Christ and in that way will be able to see our world in a different light and be blessed. That is a fresh way to see how He desires to make us more like Him and may have the essence of the blessing captured in a way I never imagined.

The part I focus on is the excess He is planning. It's not "double your money". He plans to
overwhelm us with His gracious blessing. The picture I have is from childhood when Captain Kangaroo would ask about a ping pong ball and then he would be completely covered with a shower of hundreds falling from above. The picture is clear. God as the owner of all in the universe PLANS to shower us with blessing. We need only to exercise the faith to believe His promise by giving of our lives and our material goods in a sacrificial way. He wants us to learn about the impermanence of the world in the face of His eternal being and love.

I am being challenged to disregard more and more the world's ideas of success as they are tied to things that will burn up in the fire of God's presence. I need to acknowledge His place by yielding all to Him without regret or fear, knowing that His blessing will overwhelm my expectations.
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David again

The book I am currently reading is about the life of David. Again and again I am reminded that he was "a man after God's own heart" and that he was was called a friend of God. His story and his psalms are nuggets of gold as I try to understand what made him those things.

I am struck by two things as I read his writings: first, he is transparent with God. He pleads, he argues, he complains, he rejoices, he praises and he worships. He seems to have complete honesty in telling God what he is feeling. Too often my prayers are formulas or types that I think are "holy" when in fact I am closing my mind off to God by being less than open with Him. That does not foster intimacy and God craves intimacy with us. My best friends are those with whom I can be more honest about thoughts and feelings....some bad and some good. Without that honesty and I am just playacting at true intimacy.

Second, he has a proper perspective of his position relative to God's. He always understands God is in charge. He knows that God has all power and that God's will is going to occur. He never orders God but he lets God know his mind before bowing to God's will. I can learn a lot from this. Too often I beg God and then pout when I don't get what I want the way I want it. David's approach is better. He lets God know and then meditates on His word and bows to the perfect result. No wonder God lifted him up to us as an example of what a man after God's heart is like. We are to be both intimate and bowing creature before our lover-God.

David also used emotions and words and music in his relationship with God. I believe God gave us language, music and other art to express more fully our human emotions in our praise to Him. Jesus got to experience human emotions while here on earth and we never see him apologizing for feeling or expressing love, anger, loneliness, joy and the like. He showed us that emotions can bring us closer to God in worship (the woman washing His feet with her tears) and in prayer (Jesus sweating drops of blood). David was a man's man and a great warrior and yet he was very emotional, weeping often, dancing with abandon and laughing with joy.

David is just such a great example of how God desires that I live: fully aware of my emotions, strong in my confidence of His power in my life, secure in my relationship to Him and knowledgeable of my dependence on His grace every moment of every day. I hope to be more and more "David-like" in my life.

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Giving Thanks

Of course I will write a bit about the holiday that just passed. The nation needed a time of healing and unification when Thanksgiving was birthed and it has always been linked with the traditional end of harvest festivals that generally occurred this time of year. Although it is a family holiday (more so now than even Christmas given the fixed nature of the day giving a long weekend) I have not spent it with my North Dakota family for over 2 decades now.

I do recall one of the last Thanksgivings I spent at home. Because of coursework I got home late Wednesday night and early the next morning went with a second cousin for a "short deer hunting" trip that was to end in time for the meal. We got up early and went to a spotting hill at dawn. Snow had started to fall as we noticed a buck and doe about 1/2 mile away walking slowing in a pasture. After the deer went over a hill we got out and began to walk to the last site we had viewed them.

We found the trail in the snow and it was starting to snow quite heavily. We were walking in about 1 foot of snow and the trail was easy to follow. After quite some time we came over a rise and saw a large brush pile ahead. About the time I said this might be where they had bedded down, both jumped up and we shot both cleanly. We gutted and cooled the carcasses with snow and then realized we were 3/4 mile from the car. This was too long to drag the deer so we walked back to the vehicle only to find it completely snowbound.

About 1/2 mile away was a farmer's home and we trudged there and found that everyone had gone into town for the holiday! This was repeated at several more homes up the road. Finally a farmer we knew drove by an we got our car pulled out of the snow so we could drive the 10 miles or so back to town. We were a bit late but ate the meal with relish and then had to figure out how to get back into the middle of nowhere in the snow to get the deer. Another farmer used a 4X4 truck to drive us almost right to the spot and we got the meat home before dark. All in all it was a memorable time and one that my friend, his family and my family mention about every Thanksgiving since.

That gets me thinking about what we have to be thankful for this season. Obviously family is the large one. Recently, however, I heard a speaker who said that the only two things you really will carry to eternity will be your own soul and your relationship to God. It's true. Family, though important, is not what I will have as my responsibility as I enter eternity. Since my place in eternity is linked to my relationship to God, my salvation is my most precious and permanent thing that I have.

I do not understand free will in the presence of an all-knowng God who is apart from time. I do not understand the love it took to send a part of the God-head to be my sacrifice. I cannot fathom the grace under which I now live as a Christian. I don't even understand why I was important enough for all this to take place. What I do know is that His plan is real, His grace is true and His forgiveness is total.

What more could I ask? How thankful I am that this is true. I pray daily to I tell others of this grace and see them accept it for themselves. Happy Holiday.
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Knowledge, Power, Suffering

Today at church my pastor was talking about the the many little things daily we should be thankful to God for in our lives. Certainly this is the case and if we, like David, would put pen to paper the list would be long and it would drive us to praise Him continuously. Our very life not to mention things like music, color, touch and smell. God has thought of us and gives our senses a symphony every day that is beyond man's making.

The part of the sermon that got me really thinking was his use of one of my favorite verses. Philippians 3:10 says "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Paul's powerful expression of Christian desire should be every Christian's template for life. We all want to know and be known by our maker. What a privilege that He actually wants us, calls us to such knowledge. This is rooted as in any relationship in wanting to deeply understand and communicate with another person so that the relationship can deepen to our mutual fulfillment. We should seek God as we do a lover. Wanting to know everything about them, their history, their dreams, the things they like and dislike and what we can do to please and love them.

Understanding the power that is at our disposal as Christians is difficult because it is a spiritual not earthly power. I cannot lift a car because I am a Christian. But I can tell satan to get behind me in the name and power of Christ and he must do so. The power that raised Christ from the dead is one that no human will ever posses on their own and it is the source of power into which our lives are "plugged". We must live boldly and fearlessly with that knowledge securely in mind.

The next one is the difficult one. How many of us really desire to share the "fellowship" of suffering with another? Two things here. First the suffering we endure for being Christian is HIS suffering not ours. We are merely the vessel on which that suffering may be placed. This does give comfort. Jesus not only knows that suffering but He also OWNS it and is there with us (the fellowship part) when we are suffering for our faith. Stephen's death by stoning is a beautiful example of how Christ was with someone during such suffering. Many Christians in this world suffer daily for their faith and our Lord is right there with them.

If we could daily aspire to know more, to understand and use the power at our disposal and calmly suffer WITH Him, our lives, like those of Paul could change the world!
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Thinking about Job and Joseph

The women at our church are going through a Beth Moore study on Genesis on Wednesday nights and a few of us men sneak in to watch the videos. Having read some of her books the videos are a revelation because I can see her teaching style and the way she pulls your emotions.

The last lesson was looking at the scene where Joseph, now a ruler of all Egypt second only to the pharaoh tells his brothers who he is and why he is alive. Now the natural thing would have been revenge, blame or retribution but Joseph says that God had intended the circumstances to be for the good of his family. In other words God was in charge and knew the situation and used it for His glory. She then talked about Job. Now Job is interesting because in the initial "dialog" between God and satan it is God that first brings up Job and his righteous living. God pushed Job to the top of satan's hit list and then allowed circumstances to develop as satan tried to break Job down. God was still in charge though certainly not behind the evil done to Job.

The point of both stories is this: God is the supreme ruler of the universe and is in charge. He will not allow trials in our lives to break us. Rather He sees in us the result those trials will have with the ultimate aim that His purpose is achieved and His praise is proclaimed. Now, sometimes it may be hard to see why a trial that is so hard on us or our family can have any good. Ms. Moore described her childhood of abuse and later relationship disasters typical for women who were abused as children. Her eventual deliverance came through her faith. That evil background has now been used for overwhelming good to the praise of God every time she picks up a pen or stands in front of a microphone.

This lesson resonated with me. Trials MUST come and are given to us in proportion with our ability to learn and bring praise to God. God didn't say "consider my servant Fred" because Fred was not ready to be so harshly tested. Rather he pointed to Job knowing full well what he could expect from that servant. And, in the end, after remaining true (complaining but true!), Job was also blessed. I have been praying that I see my trials and even those events that appear downright evil as conduits to a more sanctified life that would bring praise and service to God. I have a friend who seems to get more than a standard share of trials. I used to question God about the unfairness of it. Now I marvel how He has continuously said "Consider my servant..." and then watched as their spirit is tested and emerges stronger AND more able to serve and to praise.

Joseph had the right perspective through all His trials he KNEW God was on the throne and that he needed just to keep that in mind trusting that the blessing would eventually come. His family was saved and God was praised. What more could we ask of our trials?
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Testing One, Two, Three

I am getting a bit tired of only being able to blog once or twice a week but then maybe I have too little to say!

A few entries ago I wrote about being more and more open to tests that God brings every day in an attempt to develop fruits of the Spirit in me. I have been so excited about what I am learning that I have told everyone who will listen about being more open to see the test then to fully pass. It is a decided joy to work with fellow Christians when I am learning so much because sharing these lessons and praying for each other as the day progresses becomes a more and more natural thing.

This week after having a discussion about this very thing , we cared for a family that has been very tested by tragedy. We knew little more. After they left tears were shed for the father who was trying so hard to keep it together. We wondered if that had been "one of our tests" for the day. Before much time passed the father returned as if God was saying "next page on this test." He saw the tears and instead of hiding them or excusing them Holly told him that she had been thinking (and weeping) about him since he had left. I was in the next room and was struck by the frank honesty and compassion. He responded as well and after opening the conversation to spiritual issues he let out a history of hurt from the Church during his time of pain....How many people are wounded by the very Church that Christ intends to heal them.

Because of the openness to the test and responding so honestly the man was healing before our eyes. I fully expect that he will seek out another Church and God will be at work. What a moment to observe and all because of being open to the Spirit's leading.

Today I saw a young person who was quite interested in the inventory of feelings and behaviors we get on teens to screen for mental health issues. I missed their interest at first but they (and the Spirit) persisted and I sat them down apart from their family and a heard about sadness and rejection. I then asked "what brings you joy?" Hardly a question that I would ask a teen. After some thought "I love to sing" was the answer and their face shone with, well, joy! I then learned that they had a gift but had left church where they sang and did not do choir in school. We talked about music and singing and I encouraged them to try another church and use, not hide their gift. I am praying that Sunday will find both these families back in Church.

We have such a privilege in our work to be able to ask intimate, personal questions boldly.....and I have found a hunger by people to be asked and to discuss spiritual things. In doing so I have found how much God is at work in what I do each day. I am convinced our role is to see these moments and respond with love and compassion and see what He works out. It's exciting.
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Variety in Medicine and Life

We have had a cool snap finally ending the heat we lived under all summer. Variety is such a refreshing thing. I know it might be nice to live in southern California and have similar weather daily for months but I think it would get boring. In family medicine each person walking through the door is a new problem, new family of origin and new communication challenge. It is why I love primary care and don't think I could be a specialist. Oh, it would be nice to corner the market on a more narrow area of medicine. It would be fun at times to be expert at a body of knowledge. Certainly within a a narrow specialty one could have variety from patient to patient (they are after all unique individuals). I just think I would go crazy seeing similar problems day in and day out.

My youngest patient in the office thus far has been 3 days old and my oldest is 99. I see women, men, boys, girls, married or not, straight and gay, white, black, Asian, native American and Latin. Each day presents challenges to me and every day I must read about things to know how to proceed. I am stretched by interpersonal and family dynamics and I need to call on other specialists, counselors, physical and occupational rehab specialists, lawyers, law enforcement, nursing and social work professionals to do my job. The variety is what keeps me going.

Life also has such variety....think of the number of plants, animals, stars, humans that God gives us. We have summer, fall, winter and then spring. God LOVES variety. He's certainly no specialist. He gifts us all differently and then set up tests to mature those gifts. He gave us song and words and mankind has yet to exhaust those sources of inspiration (hip hop lyrics excepted at times!). I am glad our God is a God of diversity and creativity.

It is when I ponder this that I can begin to understand why my life takes such turns and has such richness of variety even though that very variety challenges me when I want to remain comfortably unchallenged. My recent life changes have certainly blown my comfort and that of my family out of the water. In the end this has been very good spiritually although hard interpersonally. God is molding and shaping me through the tremendous change that has happened and the variety of challenges I have been facing have caused me to be much more open to looking at my character and my way of loving family and friends. It has allowed me to be open to my darkness and then to hold those areas up to Him for cleansing and renewal.

I keep thinking that winter's cold and darkness are followed by the renewal of spring when all is wonderful, colorful and full of renewed life and hope. I know that the winter of this time of trial will open to a spring of joy and hope.
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Doh!

I am glad that God has such a store of patience! Without this mankind (meaning me) would be lost. We would have no hope as He would just wipe us out rather than wait for us to "get it". Recently I have been really focusing on the fruits of the Spirit and how mine can develop more fully. I know this is always done through situations that test the very fruit He wishes to produce in us. As I have said before patience and joy are hard for me. This is rooted in my need to be in control. The two fruit are so linked that until I can get a handle on the patience thing I will not have the deep joy He desires for me.

I have started praying during my walks around town for God to bring tests that day to help me learn patience.....then I wince. The problem is, even though I ask for the test and should know it's coming, it is often at the end of the day that I slap myself and so "Doh!" I can then see clearly when the test came AND can too often again see how my patience did not hold and I shook my fist and advised God of a better plan of action. I mean, this scene is repeated daily. I almost wish I could be Bill Murray in Groundhog day were he gets the chance again and again to live the same day finally understanding the lessons presented after hundreds of failures.

The thing is: God IS patient. He has no problems saying "again Jim" when I slap my head in frustration. He wants me to get this right and He is very creative and subtle in the tests. This week alone there were 3 I counted with one test causing me to rant and rave and just know that His plan was messed up only to be completely and utterly amazed by the actual event and way He achieved His goals. I felt like Habakkuk who was told after ranting at God to "look and be utterly amazed for I am going to do a thing in you days that you would not believe even if I told you." I love that verse as it embodies the authority of God, His great creativity AND His desire for us to get the lesson. With that picture in mind I will keep asking to be tested and will gradually be molded into the man of patience and joy He so desires.
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Superbugs

Over the past several weeks I have encountered more cases of staph skin infections. As you have been reading this bug long a source of skin infections has become progressively resistant to antibiotics. As we have used more and more broad-spectrum antibiotics, the bacterial genome has adjusted resulting in strains that are resistant to most antibiotics now use. Early on these bacteria were seen and seemed to live and thrive within intensive-care units within large hospitals. Gradually we have become aware that they have now migrated out into the general environment, carried within the noses of unsuspecting health-care workers and frequent visitors to hospitals.

We are seeing these cause both skin infections (often in epidemic outbreaks on athletic teams or in schools) as well as more invasive diseases like lung and kidney infections. To effectively treat we need to be using multiple antibiotics and often novel ones to see results. Hospitals are restricting the use of some antibiotics to allow for "weapons" that can be used in the future if they would be needed for a multi-drug resistant staph.

Other bacteria have also gotten into the act including M. tuberculosis which has recently been in the news on an international level. All of this brings to mind how very fragile is our current medical approach to infectious disease. We treat infections but we have very limited understanding why one person in a family will become ill with an infection while another member may be unaffected. There must be an underlying reason why our bodies become sick from infection.

Nutrition and the source of our food is a primary reason, I believe. We eat nutritionally poor food laced with antibiotics processed in factories that use chemicals to remain clean. Our food supply is making us ill but it has never been more scrutinized or regulated. I don't know what the answer may be but I am concerned that infections will become more and more deadly in the future.
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True Healing

There is nothing more humbling than being a family practice doctor...if you pay attention! Each day I am amazed at how little I do to move people toward true healing of their bodies, their minds or their spirits. It is true that there are times when I throw some medications at someone who is sick and they get better. BUT IF I PAY ATTENTION very few walk away healed by those medications. I am convinced that true healing must include mind, body and soul. Too often I spend most of my time with patients discussing their bodies or minds and too little on the health of their spirit or soul. The reality is that the sickest people I encounter are heart sick...meaning their spirits are broken. This brokenness may come from families of origin who have tormented them, from relationships that are not feeding them or from jobs or circumstances that have them weighed down.

At the core, however, is their need to be delivered from the weight of sin and the lack of God in their lives. In the past weeks I have been consistent about being open to the moment of spiritual need that almost always appears in a medical interview. It might be a deep sigh or a pause after a statement that demands further questioning. It might be eyes that tear up or a joke about spiritual things. As I have been open to this I have been amazed at how often people hunger to talk about spiritual things....and how empty they feel. As a Christian the thing is that I believe I know a way out....a way to be set free.

Grace, amazing grace is the heart of the gospel. Undeserved favor that results in a way out from our sin. God choosing mercy and forgiveness as a path for us while providing through His Son the payment that justice demanded. This is liberating. This is the gospel of which Paul was "not ashamed". No wonder. How could one be ashamed of the power to change lives through the amazing mercy that God has offered.

In my personal life I have had to face my sin squarely in the past months and the man in the mirror appear wretched indeed. In the act of facing my sin, confessing it and asking for mercy I have felt the power of that amazing grace. I have had friends that I have severely wronged choose the path of mercy rather than justice and have felt the power of the healing love that is behind their act of grace. Apart from a living God there is no explanation for either the act itself or the healing that it brought. I hope I can learn from their mercy and begin to show more mercy myself. I hope that as I am open to the spiritual sickness of my patients I will be able to bring them to the throne of grace at which the real healing in their life can begin.
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