Thoughts While Walking for Water

Last week someone asked my missionary friend, Todd Lemmon, recently returned from Uganda, how far his family there had to walk for water.

“Oh, they are very fortunate,” he said. “Only two hundred meters to the nearest well.”

I agreed. Two hundred meters is so much less than six kilometers, even if you had to do it two or three times per day. But it’s not the whole story. As I walked today, doing my Global World Vision 6K for Water, I remembered an afternoon in Tiburon, Haiti, shortly after a thunderstorm. My local friends pointed out a recently completed public well two hundred meters away. Just then a little boy, maybe about four-years-old, burst out of the nearest home, ran into the middle of the street, kneeled down in the middle of the biggest nearby puddle, put his face down and drank his fill.

Six kilometers is way too far to walk for water. Sometimes even two hundred meters is too far.

But distance isn’t every barrier. Clean water is easy to explain. But why World Vision? 

My friend Greg Stritch told me how once, soon after he had developed a heart for Haiti, he brought well-drilling equipment then traveled from village to village offering to drill wells at each place for no cost. Several villages took him up on the offer and he went home feeling good about his mission.

The next year he returned to one of the villages and asked one of the residents about the water. He was surprised to hear that the villager still walked to a river instead of using the closer well…because the well water cost too much! On further investigation he found that the mayor, who apparently owned the land around the well, now charged his neighbors access to the water that had been generously provided by strangers. He was richer, but the village was not healthier.

Sometimes wells aren’t enough. Hearts and cultures have to change, too. World Vision builds that into their aid packages.

I thought of a Jewish friend who frequently walks where I was in the Timucuan Preserve. I wondered how I would explain the “World Vision” on my shirt to her…how water doesn’t help unless hearts are changed to, you know, Christian, values. Or really Judeo-Christian values, right? Because the Jewish God and the Christian God are the same God, and He is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow, forever and ever. The Old Testament God and the New Testament God are not separate deities, surely? We must all be on the same page here about clean water.

This recalled a dinner conversation I had with a different friend a few months ago. This friend is bright and charming and generous, and in the spiritual spectrum somewhere between closet Christian and seeker. He liked the New Testament God, but not the Old Testament God. We both had too many glasses of wine to engage in a debate to a satisfactory conclusion, but his comment came back to me today. What’s the difference between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God? And what has that to do with water?

To me, the character of God doesn’t change throughout the Bible, but the degree to which He reveals his character progresses, and the means He provides for reconciliation to Him becomes progressively more accessible. He gave us, through Moses, the Ten Commandments, a minimal behavioral standard for living decently in community while we searched for Him. Through Jesus, He gave us guidelines for living big: Blessed are those who are poor in spirit–who haven’t got it figured out–those who mourn–who care enough to risk being hurt–those who are meek–who don’t have to get the title and the accolades–those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness. Blessed are all those guys! LIve big! And if we open our heart, He fill it with His Spirit and guide our thoughts and actions. We can live big.

In the Old Testament, He promised to lead us beside still waters where we could drink our fill. In the New Testament, He promised to give us living water so we will never thirst again.

So, 3.72 miles, six kilometers, later, I am grateful for fresh, clean, cold water. And living water.

Our Salvation is Near

And do this, understanding the hour as already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Romans 13:11

Our Salvation is Nearer Now

When I arrived in Davao City with Len back in 1998, I expected to maybe go with teams on “practical training” as part of the EE course, carry the first aid kit, and maintain a low profile. But then, on the first jet-lagged night there, our host, Pastor Nick, asked each of us team members to speak in front of his church in the morning.

“Me?” I asked, surprised.

“Especially you,” Pastor Nick said. “People will want to know why an American neurosurgeon came all the way to the Philippines for an evangelism mission.”

I wrestled with the question through the night, and the Holy Spirit gave me two stories to tell.

In the first, I was just starting for home one afternoon when I got a call from the St. Luke’s ER about a woman with a head injury. Already in the car, I was there in only a few minutes.

The patient was a thirty-year-old woman on her way home from work at Publix. A car ran a red light and hit her broadside. Initially awake at the scene, she had become drowsy and then comatose. By the time I arrived her examination showed a right-sided dilated pupil and deep coma and the CT scan demonstrated a large blood clot on the surface of her brain.

I called the operating room to prepare for an emergency operation. To save critical time, I shaved her head in the ER while waiting for the OR to be ready. The surgery was tense, but ultimately successful, the clot removed, any bleeding points controlled, and by the time she reached the recovery room she was in stable condition, no longer needing a ventilator. I stayed with her for a while, talked over her brush with death with her mother and husband, then eventually went home after she had been transferred, awake and talking, to the ICU.

In the morning she was comfortable and happy to be alive. Her husband and mother were with her. I felt like a hero, a savior so to speak; this was one who had surely been snatched back from the jaws of death.

Then I decided to changed her bandage. I cut off the large turban-like dressing and was about to put on a lighter, more comfortable wound covering. Before I could do that though, she asked for a mirror. When she saw the wound and her missing hair, she wailed uncontrollably. She couldn’t celebrate her salvation without her hair. The effect was not brief, either. Although her neurologic recovery was immediate and her wound healed quickly and her hair grew back, she suffered from depression and PTSD.

A few months later, I was called to Brooks Rehab to see a patient who had suffered paralysis due to a gunshot wound to the thoracic spine several weeks before, treated at another hospital and subsequently transferred to the Brooks. The question on the consult was whether or not she needed to continue to wear a brace now six weeks after her injury. I looked at the x-rays on my way to Brooks and had already determined that the brace was no longer necessary, and furthermore the question could have been resolved by a phone call to the original treating surgeon. I was irritated about wasting an hour of my precious life filling out a consult so that the the rehab staff didn’t have to spend five minutes making a phone call. But complaining would take more effort than finishing the job. All I had to do was talk to the patient, do a brief exam, and write a note explaining what I already knew. I sighed, quite aware that I could nothing for her, before finding the patient in her room.

“Can you tell me what happened?” I said.

“The best thing in my whole life,” she replied.

I stared at her, a thirty-something year-old woman who looked way older than her stated age. Her face was sallow and wrinkled, her hair prematurely gray, disheveled and greasy from too many weeks in the hospital. She must have misunderstood me.

“No, no,” I said. “I meant about the spinal cord injury, the gunshot wound.”

“Yes, of course,” she said. “The best thing that ever happened to me.”

I realized then that this would not be a normal conversation. She was probably insane.

“Okay, I’ll bite,” I said. “I’ve seen lots of people with spinal cord injuries. Some adjust better than others, some adjust quicker, some slower, but I have never heard anybody say it was the best thing that ever happened to them.”

She smiled. “It was for me. I was an addict working as a prostitute to support my habit,” she said. “A family of Christians lived in my neighborhood. They knew what I was doing. Every day I would walk by their house, and these little children would say something like, ‘Miss JoAnn, won’t you come in?’ or ‘Miss JoAnn, Jesus loves you.’ The last time it was the little boy. He said, ‘Miss JoAnn, Jesus loves you and we are praying for you.’  

“I remember thinking I’d come and visit the next day, after one more high. But that’s what I told myself every day. A couple hours later I got shot in a drug deal gone bad. I woke up three days later in the hospital unable to move my legs.”

She paused, collecting her thoughts and trying to form an explanation.

“But three great things happened to me that day.  The first: I was delivered from 20 years of addiction to crack cocaine. The second: I was delivered from 18 years of prostitution. The third: I found Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I have joy in my heart for the first time since I was a child. So if I never walk again, it’s a pretty good trade.”

Now I have to ask you: The first patient, I performed an operation that snatched her back from the jaws of death, and she was miserable. The second patient, I did nothing for, and she gained eternal life and joy. 

You all know by now that I like to be the hero in my own story. Don’t we all? But I’m holding up a couple of little boys who told a drug-addicted prostitute that God loved her. They woke from their precious little slumbers every day and acted with the “Do This” of Romans 13:11. The “Do This,” to fulfill the commandments of God by loving their neighbor. Maybe their salvation was nearer now than when they first believed…I don’t know…but JoAnn’s certainly was.

Time’s up. Some things can’t wait. If you’re a doctor, you wake up to treat a medical emergency.

If you’re a Christian, you wake up to: 

1.) “Do this,” by which he means love your neighbor,

2.) “understanding present time:” by which he meant we understand the reality of The Kingdom of God and the illusion of the Kingdom of the World.

3.) “the hour has come for you to awake from you slumber,”meaning that God has put opportunities before you this very moment, to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to clothe the naked, to visit those in prison, and, most importantly, to tell them that God loves them, would never leave them, has sent His son for them and He is here right now, and if you turn around and reach out, He will hold you forever.

4.) “because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed,” meaning that our salvation is the salvation of the world, it is the Kingdom Come, and it started for each of us the moment we first believed, and it will never end.

We are about to meet our Maker. The Kingdom is right here, sometimes behind the thin screen between Here and There, between Now and Then, maybe a step through the mysterious Higgs field to the place where physicists tell us comes all matter. We are about to slough off the material world and the constraints of time, and return to the ultimate and original reality.

What is beyond the Higgs field is uncertain. But the certainty of that meeting with our Maker is absolute. We will see clearly then, as we are now looking as through a foggy mirror. That is not in question. But what will we see?

I feel like we will see every moment in our life, each opportunity taken and each opportunity missed, and the consequences of every decision we have ever made in this life in the context of the complete physical and spiritual universe–heaven and earth if you will. This is something like the Nirvana that Buddhists work toward and ultimate awareness that Hindus and other Eastern meditation disciplines work towards.

But it is not great.

With our inevitable human weakness so exposed and compared to the beauty of the true universe, we will see clearly each and every one of our failures, the evils of our hearts, the lies we told, and the betrayals we made, and the opportunities we missed. We will wail inconsolably. This is the fulfillment of ultimate awareness, and it will never end. And it is Hell.

Unless you know Jesus.

That will be the moment when unconditional love and forgiveness of sins becomes real. That’s when you can let go of all the opportunities missed and celebrate the few opportunities taken. That’s when Esther gets to be glad she took Uncle Mordecai’s advice: “And who knows that you have come to royal position for just such a time as this?”

Our salvation is near. The moment of ultimate awareness and ultimate forgiveness is here. And we have been put in a royal place for such a time, The Present Times, as we are living right now. Our salvation is near.

The Hour Has Already Come

Part III, Len Ministries Annual Gala Keynote

“And do this, understanding the present time: the hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Romans 13:11

In medicine, some things can’t wait. As a medical student, I found this exciting. I could hardly wait until I had the skills and opportunity to be there at those life-threatening moments and snatch souls back from the jaws of death. I think in some form it is a common, maybe universal, desire. Remember the tortured teenager, Holden Caulfield, in “Catcher in the Rye”? He didn’t understand at all what he wanted out of life, and the best he could articulate was that he would stand in a field of rye at the edge of a cliff where children played and, if they got too close to the edge, he would catch them.

In medicine, it’s much more specific. Someone has meningitis, someone has had a heart attack, someone has airway obstruction, someone has been shot, someone is paralyzed, someone bled in their head, or the baby has come too soon, or the baby is coming too late. They all need a “Catcher in the Rye” and they need him or her, now.

This is when it is “the hour to wake up from your slumber” if you are the doctor. You put down your fork and leave the meal, you leave the movie before the climax, you roll over and get out of bed. I remember once leaving one of my children’s birthday party before he blew out the candles.

It doesn’t matter how hungry you were when you put down the fork, how tired you were when you got out of bed, how disappointed your child would be when you left his party. It doesn’t matter if your marriage is on the rocks or if your best friend just died. It doesn’t matter that the last time you got a call like this, you did your best and somebody sued you. The hour has come. Not because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed, but because someone else’s destruction is now imminent.

Paul felt just like this when he wrote this line to the nascent church in Rome. Someone else’s destruction was imminent. Only the destruction that he saw was the destruction of joy and purpose in this life and, in the next, the destruction of a soul. Paul took his responsibility as a follower of Christ just as seriously as a doctor takes his or her responsibility as a healer. In his “Present Times,” greed and lust and violence prevailed, and souls were falling left and right. He had woken from his slumber and wanted other Christians to wake up too.

After about the first three times a medical student or doctor gets woken for an emergency, he or she doesn’t look forward to the next time. We would rather sleep. But once awake, there is a purity of purpose. You don’t have to order priorities, or worry about who you might offend, or if your actions will be profitable, or even rewarded. You have the opportunity to be who you were created to be. A savior.

But most of the time, you are not a savior. Sometimes whatever you do will be an exercise in futility.

On a third-year medical school rotation, before I had focused on a specialty, I was assigned to neurosurgery at the University Hospital in Minneapolis. One Sunday evening, I followed the second-year resident, Fernando Diaz to our little ER to see an unconscious man–elderly to me then, about my age right now–who had slipped on the ice and fallen while taking out the garbage. We rushed him through our evaluation and then to the operating room to remove his acute subdural hematoma. This was my first time being part of the team that stood in the gap between life and death. I was more than excited to be standing at the operating table as the second assistant, and I expected nothing less than success, partly because I felt quite certain that something as mundane as a slip and fall while taking out the garbage should not be the cause of death. But by the end of the operation it was apparent that something was wrong. The blood was not clotting properly. We did what we could, sent the appropriate labs, administered the best medicines and blood replacement products available, and 24 hours later the patient re-bled and died. Welcome to neurosurgery, Mr. Lohse. The hour had come, I woke from my slumber, and nobody was any nearer to salvation…at least not in this existence.

Maybe you have met with a friend on the eve of destruction. You tell them not to take that job or trust that person’s affection or take that drug or take that next drink, because you see the path that they cannot and you love them more than they love themselves. They think that your message about being a child of God and a person of worth is quaint. They smile and pat you on the arm, or worse, laugh in your face. And you experience futility.

Then sometimes, in medicine, the patient seems unwilling to participate in their own salvation.

Our surgery internship class inherited a man named Archie. About a week before we started, while most of us were at our medical school graduation celebrations, he suffered a shotgun wound to the abdomen when a heroin deal went south and had the first of many operations to save his life. Any abdominal wound can be fatal, but a shotgun is particularly nasty because of the multiple intestinal perforations, each of which can be the source of infection–peritonitis–and potentially life-threatening sepsis. Some of the intestine can be sacrificed, but if too much intestine is taken, the body cannot absorb adequate nutrition to survive.

Archie survived his first operation, but had recurring bouts of peritonitis and sepsis. At one point his respirations failed and he needed a ventilator for nearly a month. To “rest” his intestine and minimize further infection, he required total parenteral nutrition, TPN, through central intravenous lines. Over the next few months, he underwent several more operations to find and repair damaged intestines or drain abscesses. Every one of our surgical interns was “woken from his slumber” more than once to take care of Archie.

He was a likable guy. We–all eighteen interns–suffered with him, and never lost hope for his eventual healing, even though every week seemed to bring a new complication and the months dragged on. In all those months, no friends or family members visited. We had the feeling that he had become part of our family at the hospital–the pseudo-family that comes together when dedicated people work together for a common purpose.

Finally, one day in early Spring, word spread throughout the interns scattered through the hospital: after nine months, Archie had made it out of the ICU! Then a few days later–miracle of miracles–he was released from the hospital. The interns and ICU nurses actually had a party for him. With cake!

Three days later, he was back in the ER with a new abdominal problem. This time he had been stabbed.

He actually looked sheepish. He knew how much literal blood, sweat, and tears had been poured into his care. Then we did what we do; we took care of him. But we were deeply disappointed.

The care was simpler this time. Knife wounds are ever so much easier than shotgun wounds. A few weeks later, Archie was discharged again and we never saw him again. Maybe he mended his ways. Or maybe he moved, or maybe he died after the next injury. I don’t know.

What I do know is the change in us, his caregivers. We lost a certain enthusiasm for our unbridled altruism, recognizing that sometimes we care more and work harder at fixing our patient’s injuries than they work at saving their own lives.

We had woken from our slumber and, for a moment, Archie’s salvation had seemed nearer than when we first believed. But only for a moment.

It’s hard not to become cynical. It’s hard not to let the dying die by their own choices. In this evil world, it is easy to let those who have been taken in by the lies of this world to perish. You have told your friend that there is a better way, that they can turn their life toward love and purpose, and they agree, maybe even come to church with you some Sunday morning. Then they turn back and you have to let them go. They know where to find you Sunday mornings if they change their mind.

But Sunday morning is not enough. Sometimes–most of the time, really–someone needs to awaken from their slumber to bring someone else nearer to salvation.

In my office, I kept a photo of a young woman wearing a headscarf and holding a newborn baby. Standing beside her is her proud and happy husband, salt-and-pepper hair, unsuppressed grin. Above is a Thank You in large caps and script. Below, in fine print, I added a line as a reminder to myself: This is why we do what we do.

This couple had waited a long time for a baby. Career choices, late marriage, and fertility issues had all played into delays. Now, as she neared 40, and her husband had already passed that landmark into middle age, their first, and probably only, baby was on its way. Then, during the last trimester, she experienced increasingly severe headaches, severe enough that her OB abandoned her usual caution about x-rays during pregnancy–“woke from her slumber” so to speak– and ordered a CT scan.

Our patient had a large brain tumor with surrounding swelling. Labor and delivery would likely be fatal for the mother, and the pregnancy was not advanced enough that the baby would be safe with C-section delivery. So the mother underwent a long, difficult, but ultimately successful operation to remove her tumor completely in time for her to recover for a normal labor and delivery. They brought me the thank you card on their second post-op visit.

This is why we do what we do as neurosurgeons. Moms and babies live, families are created in a spirit of thankfulness and remembrance.

This why we as Christians do what Paul referred to as the “Do This”–act like Christ–to bring the Kingdom of God into the Present Times. We tell people with our words and our actions that they are children of the Living God and persons of worth. Sometimes our efforts are unnoticed, sometimes noticed and ignored, and no one seems any closer to salvation. But sometimes the Kingdom comes to a little corner of our present times and someone’s salvation is nearer than we first believed.

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Understanding the Present Times

Part II of the Keynote Address for the Len Ministries Gala

Elie Weisal, concentration camp survivor and author of “Night,” reflecting on the Nazi doctors he had encountered in the camps wrote this:

One of the brutal shocks of my adult life came the day I discovered that many of the officers of the Einsatzgruppen–the death commandos in Eastern Europe–had received degrees from Germany’s best universities. Some held doctorates in literature, others in philosophy, theology, or history. They had spent many years studying, learning the lessons of the past generations, yet nothing kept them from killing Jewish children at Babi Yar, in Minsk, Ponàr. Their education provided them with no shield, no shelter from the temptation and seduction of cruelty that people may carry within. Why? This question still haunts me.

It is impossible to study the history of German medicine during the Nazi period in isolation from German education in general. Who or what is to blame for the creation of the assassins in white coats? Was the culprit the anti-Semitic heritage that German theologians and philosophers were dredging up? The harmful effects of propaganda? Perhaps higher education placed too much emphasis on abstract ideas and too little on humanity. I no longer remember which psychiatrist wrote a dissertation demonstrating that the assassins hadn’t lost their moral bearings: they knew how to discern Good and Evil; it was the sense of reality that was missing. In their eyes, the victims did not belong to humankind; they were abstractions. The Nazi doctors were able to manipulate their bodies, play with their brains, mutilate their future without remorse; they tortured them in a thousand ways before putting an end to their lives. (Elie Weisal in “Without Conscience” NEJM 353;15 p 1513)

So this is where the greatest of evil comes from: lack of a sense of reality. Another model, easier for me, is the one Paul uses in his next letter, the one to the Corinthians: “the wisdom of the present age” or “the wisdom of the world.”

This is what Paul meant when he said “understanding the present time.” Evil lurks about selling a certain reality with its own “wisdom.” Not only can we be the victims of such evil; we can be the perpetrators. For those who buy in to the “wisdom of the present age,” our education will provide no shield, nor our party affiliation provide any shelter, nor our church membership provide protection from the temptation and seduction to the cruelty that we are capable of carrying within.

You might think that the Nazi era was a long time ago, and no longer “the present time,” or that Paul’s “present time” was so different from today that the phrase loses meaning, but I will guarantee you this is not the case.

I was a few weeks into my surgical internship in New Haven, Connecticut, when the ambulance brought in a woman near death after a fall from a second-story apartment. She did not survive. The fall was not the only trauma. A large television set fell on her right after she landed. Furthermore, her live-in boyfriend had a prior girlfriend who suffered exactly the same kind of accident two years before. Details of the history were provided by ER nurses who have a deep cynicism and a long memory. The police treated both incidents as accidents.

A few weeks later, while on my first neurosurgery rotation, I was called to the pediatric ER for a severe head injury. The child was three-years-old, bruises new and old on his face, his torso, his arm broken, his leg broken. He did not survive.

Understand the present times. Women are murdered, children are beaten, a Black man is shotgunned to death in Brunswick, Georgia, for jogging in the wrong neighborhood.

You think you could never be the perpetrator of such evil, and I hope you never will. But Evil spins a seductive version of reality with its own wisdom. Remember what Elie Weisal taught us: the perpetrators of evil did not lose their sense of right and wrong; they lost their sense of reality. They acted according to “wisdom of the present age.”

To live in true reality, the Holy Spirit gives us a different wisdom, the wisdom of God. Then we do the “This” of Paul’s “Do This”: Pay our taxes and our debts, don’t steal or lie or murder or commit adultery. Love one another as ourselves.

We think that these things are boring, easy. But they are not. Maybe you file a conservative IRS return and have a great credit rating and have never cheated on your spouse. Good for you; I admire you. But the hard part is the next part, where you have to love (not humanity; we all love humanity) messy, dirty, disagreeable people one at a time and time after time.

Let’s take as an example the scene at an abortion clinic, a place where some of you have mounted protests. Ask yourself this question: from an eternal perspective, who is at greatest risk at the clinic?

The babies, you might immediately think, and certainly their little lives are at greatest jeopardy. But not their eternal lives. They have not had the opportunity to sin, they are the only innocents of humanity outside of Jesus himself. They will be gathered back into the arms of our heavenly Father.

The mothers, then, you would think. They are about to commit a great sin, presenting their child as a sacrifice, for various motivations all of which originate in a spirit of fear: fear of being unable to pursue a career, fear of inadequacy as a mother, fear of poverty, loneliness, or pain. They have made a rational decision based on the “wisdom of the current age,” and they stand to commit a sin with eternal circumstances. But great as the sin might be, God has mercy, especially on the victims of the world who are alone and afraid. Forgiveness remains so very possible. Jesus calls us to love these women in a way that allows them see themselves in another reality and act by another wisdom.

But there is one who is even more at risk. The abortionist. Because he or she does not act out of fear but out of altruism or greed. The abortionist, like a concentration camp worker, is providing a service to society based on “the wisdom of the present age.” Here is the person whose soul is at the greatest risk. Here is the person Jesus came to save. Here is the person we are called to love the most.

Because abortion doesn’t end, and the Kingdom doesn’t come, until the mothers and the abortionist live in the new reality of eternal life and govern their activities by the wisdom of God. And they don’t get the new reality because the state passed more restrictive abortion laws or because they were intimidated or because they finally saw the logic in the Pro-Life stance. They get the new reality when their heart changes, when they get loved into the Kingdom.

This is true not only for abortion but for any other evil that you can identify in today’s society. Crime, sex-trafficking, racism, poverty, you name it. It will end only when all the messy, unpleasant, jerks of the world are loved so sincerely that their hearts are changed and they live no longer by “the wisdom of the present age” but by the wisdom of God.

We need to do more than make self-righteous pronouncements and condemn behavior we see as sinful. Judgement is not ours to make nor will it bring the Kingdom. The primary goal of the church is to love the jerks into the Kingdom, not denounce them for being lost.

This is hard. We need to do something different than staying in our church buildings on Sunday mornings and writing pious notes to each other on social media. We need to “wake up from our current slumber.”

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And Do This…

A few years back I became alienated from my church and walked for several months in a spiritual desert, relying on only my meager practices: occasional Bible reading, prayers for intervention only in times of desperation. I never had the option of abandoning faith entirely…a different story. But I had the option, even the desire, to be isolated from Christian community.

When I look back on it I am reminded of Sue, a woman I met while we were pre-med students at the University of Minnesota. She got in the year ahead of me, eager to get a degree and serve humanity as a primary care specialist. As the daughter of a small town Lutheran minister, she was well versed in Christian altruism. I lost track of her for a couple of years, but ran into her at “match day,” the day all medical students find out where they will do their internships and residency. She was pleased to be matched to a pathology program in Chicago.

I asked her what happened to her dream of being a family practitioner.

“Oh my God,” she said, “how can you stand those patients?”

She then related to me her rotations at the general hospital and the VA where unwashed people with drug and alcohol and tobacco addictions showed up and only occasionally took their medicine and even more rarely took the doctors advice, and unsurprisingly showed up with the same medical issues two weeks later.

Sue loved humanity well enough; it was people that drove her nuts. So she found a specialty where she didn’t have contact with the living.

I think I am the same way about church. I’m pretty awed by God and like Jesus well enough. And some of the people in church are great. And I’m all for saving the world. It’s just all the messy people I have trouble with.

So in that general state of mind I did think that I could do one devotional thing that wouldn’t interfere with my busy days. I could say the Lord’s Prayer in the car on my way to work each morning. It’s about the only thing in the Bible that I’d committed to memory.

Every day I would pray for the Kingdom to come, on Earth as it is in heaven, the words I’d memorized as a child.

Then one day I started imagining what the world would look like if my prayer was answered at that moment. What would you imagine? Angels on clouds? Harps? Golden pavement and pearly gates?

Someday, we hope. But what would it look like today?

One morning, I imagined (received a vision?) a world where every single human being was a Christian. Not a Christian by church membership or graduation from theological colleges or by little gold cross pins on lapels or fish signs on the back of their cars. No…I mean Christian by having a personal relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, their every thought and action guided by the Holy Spirit.

Your initial reaction might be like mine: That would be boring.

But, after I thought about it, it would not be boring. Everyone would be just as unique, just as quirky, just as gifted, just as passionate as they are in this crazy world, but without the addictions, the pride, the greed, the anger. Imagine if everybody was kind to everybody else. Imagine a world where drunken drivers didn’t kill themselves and cripple others. Imagine a world where men and women didn’t live from one fix or one drunk to the next, where children where never molested, where abortions never occur because children were always received as the gift they are to parents who have sex because they are in love and stay in love.


Since I was on my way to work when I received this vision, I asked myself what would change. And the first thought I had was that I’d be a lot less busy. No drunk driver car accidents, fewer liability cases of low back pain from injuries at work or from slip and falls. No lung cancers from smoking. No psychosomatic illnesses, no drug-seeking behaviors. Maybe after a few decades, no congenital defects or conditions as person was attracted to only the person whom God had chosen for them.


Would people still work? Would somebody build my car or my house? Grow my food and put it convenient packages so I could pick it up at the grocery store on my way home? I imagine everybody born with skills and a passion for some kind of work. Some would love to build cars, some would love to build houses (and furniture), and some would love to farm vegetables, others would love to raise pigs (it still takes all kinds). And they would do what they do because they love it, and they wouldn’t need to get paid because as they provided for others, they could trust God to provide for them through other people doing for them simply by doing what they loved to do. A gift economy.

I know you’re thinking right now, “That would never happen.” That’s the first thing I thought. Another utopian daydream. Not on this planet, not ever.

Maybe in heaven. Never on Planet Earth short of The Second Coming.

But then I consider the source. Billy Graham didn’t make up this prayer. Neither did Martin Luther or St. Thomas or St. Augustine. No…Jesus taught us to pray, and the very first thing he taught us to pray for was for our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom to come. And a little later He told his disciples that their prayers would be answered. Not might be or could be. Our prayers will be answered.

Imagine a world full of Christians who loved all their neighbors, and all their enemies, with the same kind of love. The Kingdom is coming.

Paul understood this when he wrote his letter to the Romans. And do this, he said, meaning act like Christians. Pay your taxes and your debts, don’t steal or lie or murder or commit adultery. Love one another as yourself, because in this the commandments are fulfilled. And do this, he said, meaning the Kingdom is coming.

When the Kingdom comes, healing comes. My profession will be unneeded and extinct. But more than healed bodies, we will have healed souls. Self-hatred will be gone with shame; we will all love ourselves again. Conflict with our brothers and sisters will be gone as we learn to love them as Christ loves us. Wars will be unnecessary when we all experience true and universal justice.

I think when we do the “do this” that Paul talks about, the Kingdom does come to this earth, person by person, street corner by street corner, family by family, community by community, city by city, nation by nation. Do This and the Kingdom comes to you today.

But we live in “present times,” as Paul did, and we must understand them. More about this next week.