Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Losers Win

I had the great fortune and  privilege to play football for eight years, four in high school and four in college.  I am not making any claims to greatness; I only started for one of those years, my senior year in high school, although I lettered in other years, including in college.  Although I was not a starter on several of those eight teams, we had some great ones.  My senior year in high school we went all the way to the state semifinal game, and my senior year in college we were 11-1 and in the top ten in the country.  Even when not playing, it was an amazing experience to be a part of something great.

We learned much on the practice fields and in the classrooms.  We learned discipline, work ethics and habits, teamwork, obedience, and sacrifice.  These lessons would serve us well later in life, for you find that the work you put in during the week, the hours and hours of preparation, paid off on Friday nights or Saturday mornings.

In all those eight years, I was only on one losing team, my sophomore year in college.  There are so many variables that make for a winning or losing season.  That year was our coach's first year, and he came in following a very successful coach who had many winning seasons.  Our new coach tried to introduce a very different system on offense and defense, and it didn't work out well that year.  That same coach would lead us to that 11-1 season, a bowl game victory, and national ranking only two years later.

Although every team, unless undefeated, wins some games and loses some games, being on a losing team is a very different experience than being on a winning one.  If a team is going to lose most of its games, this usually starts early in the season.  After a couple of losses, everyone begins to get discouraged. Coaches and players try to figure out what is being done wrong, changes are made, players are replaced.  Confidence sags, doubt creeps in, and as games are approached, fear of another loss can predominate.  And since the team represents the school, the team is subject to criticism from those who don't even play. The worst part comes towards the end, when everyone just wishes the season was over.  Players and coaches get blamed.for what went wrong, and sometimes the players even quit the team.

Everyone wants to be associated with a winner, to be on the winning team.  No one wants to be a loser.  We even see in our politics that some candidates pick up enormous momentum once they start winning-- the voters start to identify with someone who is winning and want to vote for a winner, to be on the winning team. People start to drift away from losers, and the bleachers are empty, the crowds quiet, the players with their heads down as another final whistle announces the end of a game where you don't want to look at the scoreboard.

The Jews of Christ's time were looking for a win.  They had suffered under the Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and finally Roman occupation. They expected the Messiah to come as a conqueror, to lead them to victory.  When Jesus came as just a lowly man, a carpenter, they rejected Him as the Christ.  When he was taken prisoner and crucified, He appeared as just another loser.  The apostles were discouraged at being on a losing team in a losing season.

And now, as twenty-first century Christians, how do we feel about our team and our season?  The other side, that hates Christ, seems to be winning more and more.  In other lands we see Christians martyred for their faith, and the cross has become a bulls-eye.  Europe is largely godless. In our own country, we see the secularization and profaning of our culture and government.  Isaiah 5:20 talks about "those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter"  We see ungodliness in our government leaders and courts and legislatures.  Behavior that would have been unthinkable in decades past is now popularized and promoted.  Laws and rulings come down from on high assaulting the very core moral practices of the Christian.  Those who believe in Jesus are scorned and mocked in our media and movies, whereas those who despise our faith are celebrated.  More and more people are unchurched and unbelieving. The influence of Christianity on our nation recedes despite our prayers for revival and a return to our Christian heritage.  Picking up the newspaper each day or turning on the television is like looking at the stadium scoreboard, and it looks worse with each passing quarter.  We are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of our countrymen.

When on a losing team, the individual player must remember many things and put them into practice and play.  First and foremost is to remember that our God is sovereign.  He is not unawares of what is going on, and it all occurs on His created playing field.  He ordains the outcome of the game, but the teammate must give his Utmost for His Highest; regardless of what is going on the scoreboard, the player plays to the utmost of his abilities. He must maintain his discipline. . He must encourage his fellow teammates.  And never, never give up playing until the final whistle.

As Christians, it looks like we are losing America.  And there is a role for praying for revival.  But no matter how bad the scoreboard looks, we must remember that God knows what is going on, and it is part of His sovereign will.  We must continue to give our utmost to Him, who created us to do just that.  We must maintain our disciplines in prayer and going to church.  We have to encourage our fellow believers.  We cannot give into discouragement, doubt, and criticism.  We cannot "quit" the team and we must never, never give up on our faith in Jesus Christ.  He who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:15), and if we endure, we shall also reign with Him (II Timothy 2:12).

And here is the final score: Christ returns with a resounding victory.  No matter what the game looks like now, "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).  It may look like we are on the losing team now, but Christ and His chosen will conquer.  In defeat, every member on the other side will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).  Our world may embrace paganism and hatred of Christianity, just as it did thousands of years ago for the early Christians, and we may currently be on what seems to be the losing team. Jesus Christ does not lose this game or the season, and neither do we.  And don't worry about making the All-American team, you are already on the All-Christian team.


Monday, June 20, 2016

The Things That Cannot Be Said

The Orlando tragedies have dominated the news lately: the slaying of a young woman singer, the nightclub massacre, and the loss of a young boy to an alligator at Disney.  Far and away the most attention has been directed at the nightclub murders.  As one reads the news, listens to the broadcast media, or spends time on the social websites, every single aspect of these deaths is analyzed and responsibility is assigned to multiple different potential causative factors.  I remember in medical school we were taught the ABC's of assessing a crisis situation that went awry.  Not Airway, Breathing and Circulation, but Assess Blame and Criticize.

When ruminating over things such as gun control, homosexuality, Islam, immigration, parental supervision and the like, we are trying as humans to make sense of the often senseless.  There are certainly decisions to be made to try and prevent such tragedies, and it is wise to try and understand which causative factors need to be addressed.  Much progress is unlikely to be made if these factors cannot be agreed upon.  If you believe that the most important issue to address in the nightclub murders is gun control, and I believe it is immigration control, then it will be difficult for us to come to some effective solution, particularly if we deny each other's beliefs.  As individuals, we will not be able to put in place either gun control or immigration control or alligator control, but can only vote for politicians and judges that share our views.  I would submit, however, that the most important part of all of this discussion is entirely missing.

I have heard all week about Democrats and Republicans, Clinton and Trump, gays and Muslims and God.  And although I have heard about "Christians" as a group, that term is often used as a pejorative. In all that I have heard and read this week, not once have I heard anyone mention Jesus Christ. Christians yes, Jesus Christ no. And from an eternal perspective, nothing is more important.  Until Christ comes again, we will always have murders and tragedies befall our civilization.  Tragic, senseless deaths began in the second generation of man when Cain slew Abel. We will always strive to prevent early death, whether it be from a bullet, an alligator, a car accident, a heart attack.  We can certainly take steps to prevent Islamic terrorism, warn people about dangerous wildlife, make our cars safer, and reduce the incidence of heart disease.  But we will never, ever obtain victory over death on our own as humans.

Listen to the words of Jesus Himself in Luke 12:16-21, the Parable of the Rich Fool.  A man had acquired more than he needed, and made many plans of his own.  God, however, had different ideas, and "...God said to him, 'Fool!  This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'"  Read that again: "This night your soul is required of you."  The young singer, the night club patrons, the young boy at the resort, that day their souls were required of them.  They did not know that day; the question is, were they prepared?

A holy God cannot allow sin into heaven.  Even worse, the wages of sin is death.  Since the fall of Adam and Eve, man is condemned to die.  We all wish to die of old age, and are shaken when we see people die tragically and early.  But know this, all of mankind is born to live eternally, and forever is an infinitely long time.  The thirty or forty or seventy years these young people were deprived of while living on earth is a pittance, a fraction of a millisecond, compared to the eternity they now face. God has decreed that because of sin, we are all condemned to die physically and eternally.  If I was to say that all the people that died in Orlando last week deserved to die and spend eternity in Hell, you would be shocked.  But it is true.  And not only that, but you deserve to die and spend eternity in Hell, and so does your mother, father, wife, husband and children.  I deserve to die and spend eternity in Hell.  God's justice demands that sin be punished by death, and we all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Do not misunderstand and think that I am saying that God is the causative factor in these deaths.  But His sovereign will, in which all things are under His control, allowed them to happen as the result of sin.  There is no question that the killers were morally evil and committed immoral acts.  And in a fallen world, sometimes God's creatures will mortally wound us, unlike in the Garden of Eden, and unlike in the heaven to come.

There is no way to avoid physical death, either after a long life or a short one.  That cost is fixed, immutable.  But God did give us a way to avoid eternal death spent in Hell, and only one way. He gave us His son Jesus Christ.  And when we receive Jesus as our Savior, we change our eternal destiny.  Yes, I am saddened that many young people died in Orlando last week, and sad for the loss experienced by their families.  But it is a far, far greater tragedy that many died suddenly, only to in the next moment find their souls in eternal torment.

These are very unpleasant things that cannot be said these days.  We can pray for the families that have lost loved ones.  We can pray for our leaders to protect us.  We can pray for the safety of our friends and families, and even ourselves.  But the single most important thing that we must pray for is for the lost.  It is too late to pray for the victims of a week ago.  The young singer, Christina Grimmie, was a Christian and is in the arms of the Father now.  The others we do  not know about-- except for the nightclub killer.

God requires that no sin enter heaven, He requires that sin be punished by death, and He requires our souls.  Are you and your loved ones prepared for your last day on earth, no matter when it may be?  It matters not when or where you are when He requires yours, but it will matter for all eternity where you will be after He has required it.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Who's Afraid of God?

Enmity is a feeling of hatred or hostility towards something.  Natural man has enmity towards God.  Romans 8:7: "The carnal mind is enmity against God."  James 4:4: "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?"  It is difficult to believe, but people who have not accepted Christ as their savior are actually enemies of God.  Romans 5:10: "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."  Colossians 1:21: "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled..."  It is not surprising that enmity and enemy sound so much alike, as they both originate from the Latin inimicus.

The Bible also tells us that God has wrath.  This is an unpleasant notion, but the Word of God is clear on that subject.  Romans 1:18 states, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men..." Jesus Himself said in Luke 12:4-5, "My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him, who after He has killed, has power to cast you into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!"  These are the very words of Christ.  And if we believe the words of Jesus, and if there is a Supreme Being with wrath, we should be fearful of Him.  Yet man finds this intolerable, that there should be a Person who is greater than him, of whom he should be afraid.  How does man resolve the problem of being the enemy of a God, all-powerful and all-knowing, who is capable of great wrath?

The first way is to deny He even exists, and the atheist solves his problem right there.  You can't be an enemy of someone who does not exist, and there is no need to fear the wrath of an imaginary entity.  This, then, allows you to live in any manner you wish, without worry of any temporal or eternal consequences.  This is a group of people who are not believers in Christ or God or the Spirit, and threats from the Bible do not have any relevance for them.

The second way to deal with this is to remake Him into the image that we desire.  We claim that God exists, but that He does not have any wrath.  Many look upon the Old Testament as just that, "Old", and see a God capable of all manner of wrath and destruction, but have replaced Him with the image of a completely kind and loving Father who would never be angry with anyone.  Some have looked upon the Old Testament God as a frightful, judging Being, and He has now been superseded by His Son Jesus, the gentle Lamb of God who is all-loving. 

There are several problems with this viewpoint.  First of all, it goes against what Jesus Himself said in Luke 12,  Secondly, it ignores the full divinity of Christ, who is indeed the Lamb of God but also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelations 5:5).  When Jesus returns, He will bring judgment upon the world.  In fact, Jesus tells us in John 5:22, "For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son."  Thirdly, although Jesus was meek and loving, He never condoned sin and was capable of great anger when the need arose, as in the temple with the moneychangers.  Lastly, Jesus is the Word Incarnate, and the Word itself is a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), with the good news of the Gospel and the frightful news of pending judgment.

Those who deny the existence of a God with wrath or a do not believe in a wrathful God are making a serious error.  The first group is free to make up any moral system they desire, and the second is free to disobey God's moral system; both are free of any consequences.  They are inappropriately not fearful of God's wrath. We certainly see this playing out daily in our lives.  The people who would dismember a child in the womb and sell its body parts are not afraid of God.  The lawmakers who pass laws that violate God's natural order for man and wife, and the judges that approve, are not afraid of God.  The leaders of our country who pass laws for our healthcare by lying to us, bearing false witness,  are not afraid of God. 

Even on an individual level, we know people who claim to believe in God, but are sinning and unafraid of God's wrath.  We are afraid to confront them, afraid to upset them, afraid that we will not seem loving, but our fear of these things should pale in comparison to the fear of God that they do not have.  If we love them , we would speak to them of their sin so that they would avoid His judgment and wrath. 

There is a third way to resolve the problem of being an enemy of a God with wrath, and that is to be reconciled with Him.  This is done through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  Those who do will be spared His eternal wrath, and can rest peacefully in that promise.  There will still be painful things to deal with: chastening for disobedience, pruning for sanctification, and spiritual warfare, but we need not be afraid of these things or God Himself.  Our loving God sustains us through these.   

There are some Christians, who are reconciled to Him, who still carry an unhealthy fear of Him, worried that the slightest misstep will result in punishment; they often interpret any bad thing that happens to them as an expression of God's wrath.  The are inappropriately afraid of God's wrath.  The best way I know to overcome this is by repeatedly reading the Word and His promises to look after us, to care for us, and to comfort us.  If Psalm 23 tells us that because of our Lord we "will fear no evil", then how much less do we need to fear that same Lord who is perfectly good?

Those who do not believe in God have every reason to be afraid of His eternal wrath.  Those who believe in God but do not believe he is capable of wrath will stand before Him in judgment and there will not be an opportunity to offer excuses for disobedience.  Only those who in humility confess their faith in Christ Jesus as well as confess their sins have nothing to be afraid of. 

And I'm afraid that's about all I have to say on the matter.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Doveryai, no Proveryai

I have just finished a tremendous biography of Charles Ponzi, of the eponymous "Ponzi Scheme."  He began his project in 1920 in Boston, promising to give people a 50% return on their investments in 45 days.  He actually had a notion of how he might do that, using the difference in values of currency in other countries and their exchange rates in postage, but soon after accepting investment monies he realized it wasn't workable, and so he paid off the early investors with money coming in from new investors.  His first investor only put in a few hundred dollars, but soon he was taking in $10,000 a week, then $100,000 a week, and then a million dollars a week.  People trusted him with their money, in some cases their life's savings, and when it all fell apart they were wiped out. 

One of my earlier articles described the difference between truth and belief, terms that are frequently misused.  In summary, a thing that is true cannot be untrue at the same time; this violates the law of non-contradiction.  A true thing must be true for all people.  A belief, however, can be correct or incorrect.  You may believe something to be true that is not, or believe something that is not true that is.  Your belief, however, does not change the fact that something is true or not. 

"Trust" is a belief.  If we trust someone or some thing, it means that we hold a belief that person or thing is true or reliable.  If I trust you, I believe you to be reliable; it does not guarantee that you are in fact reliable.  Trust is a vital and essential property for any relationship to succeed.  We have to have trust in the grocer that our food is unspoiled, trust in the pharmacist that our medicines are correct, and trust in our banker that our money will not be stolen.  The Bible has many, many verses on love, but I would submit that trust is a predicate for love's fulfillment.  It is possible to love someone that you do not trust, even love your enemies, but love in its fullest sense requires trust.

Another pair of words that are commonly misused, or at least used in only their negative sense, are prejudice and discrimination.  "Prejudice" actually means to "pre-judge", and in many cases this is also an essential practice.  In fact, it may even be life-saving.  I confess that I am prejudiced about rattlesnakes.  If I see a rattlesnake, I may pre-judge it to be highly dangerous and likely to strike me, based on what I know about rattlesnakes.  It is not feasible for me to get to know each and every rattlesnake, to determine if every single one is nasty or if some like to have their bellies rubbed.  I therefore pass judgment rather quickly, and this saves time and prevents envenomation.  To discriminate means to "divide" or "separate".  This is also a necessary part of life.  I chose to marry a human, not some other species.  I discriminated on the basis of sex, and chose to only marry a woman.  In fact, I discriminated against all other women by choosing only one, eliminating the legions of other women that I could have chosen.  Well, maybe not that many.  A few.  A couple of them.  (In fact, it was my wife that discriminated and chose me from all the other men.)

Trust and mistrust, prejudice and discrimination, are therefore essential parts of daily living.  I trust my airplane mechanic to make sure that all the parts on my 1993 plane are still in working order.  I am prejudiced against every single grizzly bear.  And I discriminate against many fruits (wishing Eve had done the same).  Prejudice and discrimination are wrong when they are done unfairly.

It is when someone violates our trust that our foundations in our relationship with that person are shaken.  We judge someone to be reliable, we trust them to do something for us, and they let us down.  Now our trust is broken, our belief in their reliability is shaken, and we must determine if this is a single event or if it requires us to define them as untrustworthy.  Do we become prejudiced against them, and assume that we must now "pre-judge" their future reliability, and do we discriminate against them, separating them from the people that we do trust?

The Bible give us some direction.  First, as Christians we are to love them.  If we have a problem with them, we are to take it to them.  If they still do not see the error of their ways, we are to take other Christians with us to discuss the matter.  If they repent, we are to forgive them.  If they reject us, we are then entitled to mark them as untrustworthy, meaning judge them as untrustworthy, and discriminate against them.  We are still obliged to love them and forgive them, but it does not mean that we do not see the truth about them. 

In the 1980's, Ronald Reagan had many negotiations with the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.  Reagan frequently appropriated and used a Russian proverb when dealing with Gorbachev, "doveryai, no proverai", meaning "trust, but verify", and it was through Reagan that this phrase actually entered modern discourse.  However, I would submit that this is a false proverb.  If you have to verify that someone is truthful or reliable, you can not really trust them. An accurate belief of trust does not require verification. 

Many of us are too trusting, and will be shaken time and again when we find our beliefs to be untrue.  Many others are incapable of trusting, and will never be able to have fulfilling relationships or even successful lives because at some level a basic level of trust is a requirement to function in society.  Only the recluse or hermit has one person that they can trust, themselves--to some extent.

There are some lessons for the Christian here that are essential if we are to deal with our fellow man.  First, we are to ardently strive in advance to determine if someone is worthy of our trust.  The Ponzi investors were looking for something that would make them rich quick, and they failed to assess the man or his methods to correctly decide if he merited their trust.   The Bible warns us in Psalms 118:8, "It is better to put trust in the Lord than confidence in men." Secondly, none of us are perfect, and others will let us down from time to time.  We must not rush to judgment, nor become incorrectly prejudiced against them, or unnecessarily discriminate against them.  We are to continue to love them and forgive them.  Yet nowhere are we to be commanded to be fools.  We must use our God-given wisdom to evaluate and discern how to proceed.  As mentioned earlier, love in its fullest sense requires trust; to love those we do not trust we must trust in God.

Thirdly, we must always strive to ensure that no one ever has any doubt to trust us, and it is sobering to ask yourself, "Have I ever done something that would cause another person not to trust me?"  Fourth, the hermit or recluse, and even ourselves, must be careful about trusting in one's self.  We learn in Proverbs 3:5 to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding."  Finally, there are three persons that are perfectly and always trustworthy, the Father, Son, and Spirit.  There never needs to be any verification of their reliability.  In fact, not trusting in them will result in spending eternity with Satan, the most untrustworthy being of all.  You don't have to trust me on this, just His Word.  And I don't care how cute your pet rattlesnake is, I don't trust him.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Picking and Choosing

One of life's most important duties is made in the choosing of people.  Choosing the right person for the job, our friendship, and our other associates is so crucial, yet so often it is done with less deliberation than it requires.  Sometimes, the choosing is done carelessly or even randomly.  Choosing the leaders of our country is so important that the consequences of choosing poorly can be catastrophic for our nation; we have seen in recent weeks the results of choosing Supreme Court justices who do not much believe in the Constitution.

Other than choosing to follow Christ, there is no more important choice to be made in this earthly existence than the person we marry.  A key choice to be made is where to worship, and under whose direction.  Many people, especially young people, would be much better served if they chose their friends carefully, for often times our close associates have more influence on us than we would like to admit. 

In the Bible, there are several instances where people were carefully chosen for their duties.  In Judges chapter 7, we are told of instructions God gave to Gideon as he prepared his army to attack the Midianites.  God felt that it was important to demonstrate His divine providence by having Gideon obtain victory in circumstances that would be otherwise impossible.  He did not want Gideon winning the battle with a large number of men.  In verse 2, "The Lord said to Gideon, 'The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying "'My own hand has saved me.'"   First, God told Gideon to dismiss anyone who was afraid, and promptly 22,000 up and left, leaving 10,00 behind.  Then He told Gideon to send his men down by the water, and told him to separate the men by the way that they drank the water, and he retained only the 300 men that brought the water to their mouths by their hands.  And with only those 300 carefully chosen men, Gideon and his small army defeated the Midianites.

In Luke chapter 6, verse 12, we hear about Christ praying all night before a decision about choosing people:  "In those days He went out to the mountain to pray, and all night He continued in prayer to God.  And when day came, He called His disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom He named apostles."  We can see by studying our Savior how important it is to choose people carefully, and consult God when we do so.

As a physician, I can assure you that it is extremely important when you need treatment to choose your doctor carefully.  Likewise, it is critical that we choose the correct people to become doctors and train in the art and science of medicine.  There are many who resent physicians, claiming they are paid too much and have undeserved prestige.  However, the fundamental laws of economics, rewards and penalties, costs and benefits,  play a role in who becomes a physician.  When a profession becomes unattractive financially or burdened by regulation, fewer people desire to expend the costs to enter that profession.  We have seen an unbelievable decline in people who want to train in my own specialty, Cardiac Surgery, over the last few decades. 

When I applied for a residency in heart surgery, it was a highly sought after specialty, and you pretty much needed to be near the top of your class to get a training spot.  Shortly after I entered private practice, and Medicare reimbursement began to be cut drastically, we began to see a sharp fall in the people who would be willing to spend four years in college, four years in medical school, and eight years in residency to be an open heart surgeon.  In 1997, the number of applicants still exceeded the number of training positions, although the number of those positions had been reduced.  At that time, there were 176 people in America who wanted to train in the 143 slots available.  Currently, because so few people want to be a heart surgeon nowadays, the number of training slots has been reduced to 102, but only 80 people applied for those positions in 2012; only 80 people in a country of 300 million wanted to be a heart surgeon.  As the residency programs still need to fill their positions in a time of declining demand, the quality of the trainees declines.  Last year saw the highest failure rate on the Thoracic Surgery Board Examinations ever. 

Likewise, we see entire medical school classes graduating where no one wants to go into General Surgery.  It has become obvious to the residency programs that the quality of those entering such training has also diminished.  Up to one-third of doctors graduating from General Surgery training are felt to need remedial training.  When the number of people applying to train in General or Cardiac Surgery plummets, the residency directors can 't be picky about who they let in any more.

Even if you think that health care is a right and there should be a nationalized health care system providing care to Americans that they do not individually have to pay for, and that physicians should be paid much less because they are over-valued, you cannot force people at gunpoint to exchange valuable years of their lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars in educational debt to become doctors and not see commensurate rewards.  And this leads to a severe shortage in qualified applicants. 

I am not writing this to whine or to seek pity.  I have had a good career that is clearly over half-way over; I am trying to address the problems the patients of the future will face with their doctors.  You may feel that doctors are overpaid and over-valued by society.  But with increasing regulations, paperwork and other governmental burdens, compounded by declining reimbursements, we see that the number and quality of physicians in some specialties is falling off a cliff.   You may want to pick your doctor carefully, but you need to be aware of the "pool" of applicants from whence he came. 

Now we come to the real tectonic shift in the grounds for choosing who will be a doctor.  When I applied for medical school, only one in seven applicants was accepted, and at my particular medical school, it was one in twelve.  One of the tests we all had to take was the MCAT, Medical Colleges Admissions Test, sort of like an SAT for aspiring physicians.  Not only did we have to have decent grades, we had to score well on this test.  We were tested on the knowledge we had acquired as undergraduates that we would need to succeed in medical school and as practicing doctors.  We were tested on biology, anatomy, chemistry, physics, and biochemistry.  It was an exceedingly rigorous examination, designed to select only those with an aptitude for learning the intricacies of the human body and its diseases.   In medical school, we would later learn every muscle, tendon, nerve and bone in the body.  We would learn every single chemical reaction and hormone, and the derangements of these functions as they caused illness. 

The powers that be have now decided that a new test is needed to choose the doctors of tomorrow.  The new MCAT will test medical school applicants with questions designed to test their knowledge of "psychology, sociology, and the biological foundations of behavior."  There will be a review of "social inequality, class consciousness, racial and ethnic identity, 'institutional racism and discrimination', and 'power, privilege, and prestige'".

The MCAT's are going to qualify these people to become doctors not on their knowledge of all things medical, but by testing for their comprehension of "social inequality", "class consciousness", and so forth.  I don't know about you, but when I go to the doctor, I could not care less about their views on such matters.  I want them to have a deep and full understanding of how my illness needs to be diagnosed and treated.  I really am not interested in how much you know about "institutional racism and discrimination", I want to know how much you know about curing my thyroid problem or my cancer.  If I am seeing you as a patient and you are a surgeon, when you walk into the examining room I will wonder if you were one of the one in three who had to do remedial training before you were released to perform surgery without supervision, and who cares what your views are on "power, privilege, and prestige"?

God is sovereign over all, and yet we are allowed to make choices.  He has shown us in His Bible the importance of picking and choosing wisely.  Ironically, those who choose who will be a doctor today will likely one day in advancing age be patients who will need the utmost of skill and knowledge to diagnose and treat their illnesses, and will they then regret their choices?   Those who vote for leaders that create the unwelcome environment in which physicians practice will also be receiving care from doctors that were poorly qualified applicants who were some of the few available for positions where there was not much competition.   Unfortunately, almost all of us at one time will need healing services delivered by those chosen not for their aptitude for medicine but for their politically correct social beliefs.  As a physician and Christian, my counsel to you would to be to pray to never get sick. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

TEKEL

There is a very powerful old movie from 1961 that I recently watched again called, "Judgment at Nuremberg".  It requires some stamina to watch the entire film, for it is over three hours long, and its subject matter is often painful and difficult to watch.  It is about one of the trials of Nazi war criminals held after World War II in Nuremberg, Germany.  After the Allies had defeated the Axis, war crime trials were held in Germany to hold accountable the Nazis who had led their war effort and committed atrocities.  There were actually many sets of trials; the first was for the Nazi commanders, and there was another series of twelve trials for other defendants.  The most famous of those twelve trials was the Doctor's Trial, where physicians were tried for human experimentation and mass murder.  The movie dealt with another of those twelve trials, the Judges Trial.  Accused of ordering the deaths of innocent civilians and arranging for  millions to be sent to concentration camps, the Nazi judges claimed they were only following the laws as written. Those laws were primarily directed at the Jews.

Those laws crept insidiously into the German landscape, in only the span of a generation.  Many of you will remember Surviving the Suffering articles from a couple of years ago (Not Quite Human) documenting the growth in  German society of widespread anti-Semitism.  In the late 1800's, the Jewish people in Germany were granted full citizenship, but by the turn of the century, the public at large began to turn on the Jews.  There eventually was a nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses.  A law was passed called, "The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service," which prevented Jews from holding any civil service jobs.  The Nuremberg Laws, named for the same city in which the trials would be held decades later, stripped the Jews of their citizenship, and Jews were forbidden to marry non-Jewish Germans.  A few years later, there was a night where there was widespread destruction of Jewish businesses, called Kristallnacht (Crystal Night), so named because of the broken glass that littered the streets.  By the end of the war, six million Jews had been sent to their deaths in the camps.

All of this occurred in Western Civilization less than a hundred years ago; there are people alive today that lived through this, and I have met them.  It is nearly impossible to believe that a country could change like that, and that there would be so much outrage directed against a particular religious group.  But public opinion changed in Germany in the first half of the twentieth century, and the leaders of the nation incrementally added laws in a step-wise fashion to achieve their ends.  Aided by the judges who claimed to only doing their duty, the unimaginable occurred, and it is still within living memory of many. 

This last week saw our own Supreme Court judges create their own laws, essentially legislating while claiming not to do so.  In the case of the Affordable Care Act, they took a law that very explicitly said one thing, and declared that it did not really mean it; this was not a constitutional question, but simply a matter of interpretation.  With gay marriage, they invented a right that is nowhere to be found in the Constitution.  As the writer Kevin Williamson put it, in the first case they took a law that said one thing and said it didn't, and in the second case they took a Constitution that didn't say something and said that it did.  One of our Fathers, John Adams, described the ideal government as, "a government of laws, not men."  Sadly, our government has become the opposite, where judges that are not accountable to the electorate create and change laws, in a step-wise fashion, to suit the purposes of the government, not the people.  Who will hold these judges accountable; who judges the judges?

Our heavenly Father is the ultimate judge, and His Son Christ will render judgment when He returns.  No one, not a single person, will escape judgment.  If you are a sincere Christian, you are aware of how fallen you are, and how little you deserve entry into heaven.  It is only because of God's mercy and your faith in Christ Jesus that you will be judged righteous and allowed to live in eternity with Him.  Each of us will have to appear before Him and give account of our deeds.  All earthly judges will likewise stand in the presence of our Sovereign Lord and Master, but not to try and use tortured legal reasoning to explain why they created rulings that defied Him.  God has given us our Law very clearly, and there is not a case to be brought before Him to overrule his decrees. 

There is also precedent for judgment in the here and now, before the return of Christ.  Our country has nearly completed the process of turning its back on God and His moral instruction, just as it has turned its back on the Constitution.  The former necessarily precedes the latter.  As John Adams also stated, "Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."  When the people are no longer moral and religious, the Constitution becomes useless to them.  If we discard God, we may as well throw out the Constitution, and then the judges-- men-- rule, and not the law.  Society may turn against Bible-believing Christians, and we may experience ostracism and outrage as we practice our faith, and the attitudes of the country will have changed in only a few decades, in only the span of a generation.  We are already seeing the boycotting of Christian-run businesses, as public opinion changes in the first half of this century.

God has and does judge nations and people.  In Daniel, chapter 5, King Belshazaar of the Chaldeans held a feast, and while drinking wine a hand wrote on the wall of the palace these words: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.  Daniel interpreted these words for the king.  Upharsin meant that his kingdom would be given to the Medes and Persians.  Mene meant that the days of the kingdom had been numbered and it would be brought to an end. 

TEKEL was interpreted thus: "You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting."  America is on the scales, and God is checking the balances.  If we are found wanting, TEKEL, then it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31) and have Him pronounce MENE, MENE.  I do not know what the fourth word of the sentence would be for America; I suppose there is a remote possibility it could still be UPHARSIN, the Persians, into whose hands we could be given if they obtain nuclear devices.  Yet as we appear to live in the time of the judges, it is appropriate to look at the book of the same name, Judges 21:25, wherein it states, "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."  I am afraid that the sentence God will pass on America is MENE, MENE, TEKEL, YOURSELVES.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Don't You Care At All?

One of the charges occasionally leveled at Christian conservatives is that they are not compassionate.  This often wounds us as such, leading to confusion and even feelings of guilt because this is such a serious accusation.  Christians, who are supposed to be our brother's keepers, have a hard time responding to people who basically are saying that we do not care about others, and not only are we guilty of that sin, but we are also guilty of hypocrisy.  It is really two accusations in one.

The word compassion comes from the Latin "com", meaning "together", and "pati", which means "to suffer".  We are to come along side of those who suffer and do what we can to alleviate it.  For the Christian, our instructions are clear.  We are to be generous and helpful to those in need.  James 1:27 tells us to, "...visit orphans and widows in their trouble..."  In Matthew 25:35-36, Christ commends those who act out of compassion: "I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me."  And Luke 16:19-31 tells us of the story of Lazarus and the rich man, and the perils of ignoring those in need.

Christian charity blesses both the recipient and the giver.  All of us are to be dependent on God, who promises us that our basic needs will be met.  For other needs, we are to pray, and for those who are needy, God uses charity to answer those prayers and meet those needs.  The giver is submissive to God's will, and God directs and moves his heart to be obedient, and in doing so is also blessed.  Those of us who are blessed more are to in return bless others.  This is the very essence of Christian compassion.

However, I can tell you what compassion is not.  It is not socialism or communism.  If you had a neighbor in great need, perhaps due to illness, you might be led to help that person financially.  But if you received a knock on the door with some official forcing you to turn over your earnings to pay someone else's medical bills, that would be a different matter.  The forcible taking of something from one person and giving it to another is not compassionate or Biblical.  In this situation, the government becomes God, and the command of God to be generous becomes the demand of the state to fork over money, to be distributed as the government sees fit.  Rather than God directing our hearts to give to those in need, the government decides how much it will take from one, and how much and to whom it is to be given.  Neither party receives a blessing from God; one receives a legal demand and the other an entitlement.  The Accuser points a finger and says, "How can you be a Christian and not want to give this or that government benefit?"  Compassion comes from the heart, not the Treasury. 

Compassion is not erasing the law.  We do not live in a theocracy, but rather God has ordained civil government to pass laws to organize society and protect citizens.  The morality of individuals is the church's concern, and civil order is the state's.  Laws are enacted to guard the public, and the Bible enjoins us as good citizens to obey those laws unless they clearly conflict with the Word of God.  A law that is not enforced or obeyed is no law at all.  We have a large number of illegal immigrants in our country, who have not obeyed the laws of this land, and these laws are not being enforced as they should.  If there are good reasons in this country for passing immigration laws, and there are, then they are to be obeyed and enforced.  The illegal immigrant came here by choice, not obeying those laws;  to allow this to continue, or grant amnesty, invalidates those laws.  The Accuser condemns the conservative believer, "How can you Christians call yourselves compassionate and not want to help those who have come here to seek a better life?"  Compassion seeks to ease suffering, but does not enable law-breaking.

Compassion is not violating the Word of God.  God has given us His own set of laws, and where they are clear, we are not to allow misguided compassion to overturn His commandments.  God forbids the taking of innocent life, so no amount of compassion for a single mother allows us to support aborting her baby.  God forbids sexual immorality, and a gay couple is not to be "married"; compassion does not permit us to endorse such a union, even if those who desire it consider themselves to be suffering.  The Golden Rule does not permit sin.  As I mentioned in an earlier article, "do unto others as we would have them do unto us does not mean  to help others to do whatever they wish."  The Accuser contests our beliefs, saying, "How can you Christians have so little compassion that you do not allow others to live as they wish?"  Compassion understands the unhappiness of others, but does not  compromise His commands.

Our system of government is not perfect, nor is our capitalist economic system.  As Winston Churchill stated, "it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."  As for economics, you must remember that all of the major religions were from outside of Western civilization (Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) and all of the major economic systems came from Western civilizations (capitalism, fascism, socialism, communism).  Capitalism incorporates more Christian ideals than the other forms of economics, particularly in the concepts of individual responsibility to God and for oneself.  Is capitalism compassionate?  In sense, yes.  Of all the economic systems, capitalism provides the greatest benefit for all, the highest standard of living, the greatest freedom, and the least dependency.  The countries with the greatest differences in incomes, with great wealth and great poverty, are the socialist ones. 

Compassion not considered is devastating in its consequences.  Compassion that forces one to pay for another is theft, and this encourages further dependency.  Compassion that permits illegality invalidates the law, and this encourages further law-breaking.  Compassion that violates God's Word is itself immoral, and encourages further immorality.  Compassion is not communism.  Compassion does not condone crime.  Compassion does not compromise with sin.  Compassion is Christian caring, furthering God's kingdom with charity.