Harsh Words for the Terminator


Her message was harsh. She called me pretentious, finger-pointing, judgmental and a liar, someone not worthy of the position I have in life. Even worse, my character is so terrible that she was able to reach this conclusion in less than three weeks. As mean and untrue as her words were, they were not unexpected. They were sent to me by an employee I had let go the day before.

Her response reminds me of why I hate firing people. I want to be known as a good person, a man of compassion and kindness. When it comes to terminating someone there doesn’t seem to be any good way to do it, merely degrees of bad. Human resource experts have told me to not worry about how the person feels and to say nothing more than “It’s not working out,” but I feel as if people should know why they are losing their job.

While this particular employee hadn’t worked for me very long, it had become clear to me that she was not going to succeed in her position. She tried hard it seemed, but she lacked the skills required for the job. I was ready to let her go a week earlier, but instead decided to give her a very frank performance review. I told her that if she was not able to rapidly and dramatically improve that she would not be able to stay. The warning didn’t help. She didn’t improve at all, leaving me with the difficult conversation. I thought long and hard about what to say when the time came and even prayed about it several times. I ultimately decided to take the Human Resources approach, figuring that the conversation of a week earlier should have been enough. I got to the office early so as not to embarrass her in front of others. I told her that things weren’t working out and then handed her final paycheck to her. It was awkward.

I received the angry text message the next day. I read it several times. I knew I was not the person she described, but I found myself wondering if I had done anything to validate her impression of me. In pains me to admit it but I can see how she arrived at her conclusions. As I reviewed some of the conversations with other employees I had in her presence I could see how a person lacking context, who did not have a history with me, might misconstrue some of the things I said. As a new employee she lacked such context and, choosing to trust her initial impressions, decided I was a bad man.

It was hard for me to judge her for her words. I can think of many times when I have acted in the same way. Too often I have confidently judged others based on first impressions and limited information. I shudder to think of how many people I have hurt in this way. I wish I had been less trusting of my opinions, kinder and more gracious in my interactions with others.

While I will not have the chance to prove to her that I am not the person she believes me to be there is still something I can do in response to her words. I can make sure I do not repeat the same mistake. Just as importantly, I can be more aware of how I am perceived by others who do not know me well. I can do my best to place my words in context, aware of the potential for misunderstanding.


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Christmas on a Supermarket Floor


It was a day of running errands. Lisa was in Christmas baking mode and my day was spent getting last minute gift cards, fetching lunch, and making runs to the store for more sugar, shortening and a few items for Christmas Eve dinner. It was the during last run to the market that I came across a sight that changed my perspective of the holiday.

I was in a hurry and after grabbing my shopping cart I quickly headed to the back of the store, moving down the leftmost isle and turning right. To my surprise, there in front of me an elderly woman lay flat on her back, surrounded by two women, each of whom were trying to find her pulse. I left my cart and rushed forward. “I am  Family Doctor, what’s going on?”

“She collapsed, I think it was a seizure!” said the younger of the women, her fingers on the woman’s neck over the area of the right carotid artery, “I think I feel a pulse.”

I looked down at the woman. She was clearly unconscious. She was breathing in a labored fashion, gurgling with each breath. “She’s breathing, so she has a pulse,” I replied, “Has 911 been called?” A man nearby siad that he had just seen the paramedics pull up outside the store. As she was breathing and the paramedics were on the scene I realized there was nothing I could do for her as a physician. I stood back as the paramedics took over her care.

As I watched them attend to her the thought went through my mind, “Merry Christmas…” Whatever her plans were for Christmas, they had certainly changed. I wondered about her family, and if she was going to be in the hospital over the holiday. My heart ached for her. I found myself saying a prayer for the woman as they loaded her onto a stretcher and wheeled her away.

I have thought of her often today, for her story reminds me of the fragility of life and the futility of human plans. Regardless of the intensity of our efforts or the thoroughness of our preparations, stuff happens. Everything we desire and hope for can evaporate in a moment. Christmas is not a time of year we like to think about such things but for people like the woman in the market, these thoughts can be thrust upon us.

In such moments the true message of Christmas is profoundly relevant. Christmas is not about gifts, music, cookies, or even getting together with family. Christmas is about the birth of the Christ child, the One who came to die for the sins of the world, the One who came to save us from our sins. It is He who gives us hope, He who promises peace, He who we celebrate.

It is because of the Savior that we can be hopeful in any and all circumstances, the reason we we have hope in the darkest moments. Whether we find ourselves on the floor of a supermarket, or in a bed in a hospital, it is the true story of Christmas that keeps despair at bay.

We have hope and peace, “For unto us was born that day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Merry Christmas


Getting our Faces Eaten


It is amazing what comes into my mind during Bible study. This week it was a quote from Jonah Goldberg, one of my favorite writers, “Bears want to eat your face.” The quote was from a column he wrote about our culture’s tendency to think wild animals are cute and cuddly, even though when given the opportunity most would eat us.

The verse that triggered this mental wandering was Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Jesus was talking to the 12 apostles as they were preparing to go out into Israel proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven. He taught them that while the news was good, the response of the Jews might be hostile. They would be like sheep, the world would be like wolves.

Sheep were to be wise, careful and shrewd. They were to be as nice and as polite as possible to wolves, do everything they could to appease them. Regardless of their efforts, when all was said and done, the wolves would still want to eat their faces.

So it is with Christians in the midst of a hostile world. We can be kind, humble, gentle and nice, as accommodating as possible, and people will still hate us.

Jesus told his disciples that in spite of their shrewdness and innocence they would still be charged with crimes, publicly flogged, and called to give account before governors and kings. Families would turn against one another, and they would be widely hated by others. All of this for “his name’s sake.”

This called to mind the recent story of Peter Vlaming, a Christian school teacher in Virginia. A girl student in one of his 2017 classes returned in 2018 claiming to be a boy. Peter wanted to be respectful but did not want to support or encourage something he thought was wrong. His solution was to address the student by her new chosen name but to not use male pronouns. He thought it was a reasonable compromise. As shrewd and as innocent as he was trying to be, it was not good enough. The wolves ate his face.

The student was participating in a class room exercise in which she wore virtual reality goggles, and therefore could not see where she was going. Seeing her about to walk into a wall, the teacher called out to warn the newly “male” student saying, “Stop her before she walks into the wall!” In his haste and concern he moenmtarily forgot to use the patients name and instead used the pronoun that the student had rejected.

All hell broke loose.

The student and her parents were incensed and complained to the school board. The school board voted to fire Peter, rejecting his offer to use the student’s name in place of the a pronoun. Just weeks before Christmas, the father of four was out of a job.

It would be easy for him to wonder what was happening, or where God was. Easy if he had not read Matthew 10. If he had, he would remember that Jesus had told his disciples that things like this would happen. He would see that he had been a lamb amidst wolves, and that he had been called before a court, for his name’s sake. When his story went national, millions of people learned that about a man whose faith in Christ was more important than his job. A man whose faith was real to him.

His story is sobering reality for all who bear the name of Christ. The world does not share our values. Standing up for what we believe may come at great cost. Our faces may get eaten. We will suffer, but we cannot say we haven’t been warned!


This is my midweek Bible post, shared a little late this week as I was out of town. For those not interested in religious posts, I post on other topics every weekend. If anyone wants to receive my posts in their email, just click the subscribe link on the page

Calling Out a Friend


I received a Christmas gift this week, inexpensive but meaningful. It came from a patient who is becoming a friend, a man who attends my men’s support group on Wednesday mornings. His gift of a T-shirt touched my heart.

In October Lisa and I took a trip to the Smoky Mountains and I have shared many stories of the trip, of the people and the beauty and how much we wanted to return there. His gift of a “Great Smoky Mountains” T-shirt was personal, a gift that made me smile.

What made the gift even more meaningful is the back story behind our friendship. Joe (not his real name) has been a patient of mine for several years. He is an alcoholic, for a while drinking enough for his blood tests to reveal liver damage. For years our visits were characterized by him making empty promises to do better, half-hearted commitments to decrease his intake but never to quit. He almost never followed up as requested and sometimes over a year elapsed between visits.

This changed a little over a year ago. During that visit, when he said, “I know I need to do better,” I interrupted him.

“You know what your problem is?” I said matter-of-factly, “Your problem is that you’re are a filthy, rotten, drunk.”

He looked as if I had slapped him in the face. I explained that I felt comfortable saying this because I was also a filthy, rotten sinner. My struggles were not with alcohol, but being a good man is still a struggle. I went on to explain that the key to a successful life was not the absence of dysfunction, but the willingness to recognize one’s dysfunction and deal with it. I told him he needed to get serious about his alcoholism.

He did. He has been sober for months now. A few months ago he started coming to the Wednesday men’s group. (The purpose of the group is for men to encourage one other to be better men, a perfect environment for him.) He has been a fixture ever since, openly discussing his problems and sharing his life with the other men.

His gift was not only kind, it was the perfect illustration for our conversation that morning. We discussed the proverb, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend”. The truth that there are times in life where we go off course and need some sense knocked into us, times when the truth we need to hear is painful. Faithful friends, true friends, will love us enough to hurt us when this happens.

He shared about how my words about his drinking had hurt him yet had also helped him turn his life around. It was a powerful moment. His story inspired us as the group talked about being the type of men who could both speak such words in love and who could also receive such words when spoken to us.

We went on to review the second half of the proverb, “Profuse are the kisses of an enemy”, about the tendency to surround ourselves with people who only tell us what we want to hear, who only praise us and never correct us, and how this is unhealthy and harmful. (We also talked about how a certain orange tinged politician could benefit from this lesson!)

We live in a world that is afraid to confront, afraid to correct, out of fear we will lose friends or be called judgmental. The words of my friend and the gift he gave are proof that this is not always the case. We have a relationship based on truth and a shared desire to be better men. For me, this is true friendship.



The 13th Apostle?


One of the most profound theological truths can be found in the lyrics of a Rolling Stone song- “You can’t always get what you want.” This has been true so many times in my life, a fact which came to mind in Bible Study this week.

Matthew 10 begins with Jesus calling his 12 disciples to himself. The exact manner of dispensation is not described but Jesus “gave them authority over unclean spirits… to heal every disease and every affliction.” How incredible that must have been, how exhilarating and how exciting for these men. For these twelve men.

What if you were number 13?

There were many more than 12 people following Jesus. I am sure that at least one of them was dedicated, devoted and still over looked. Even worse, one of the 12 chosen was a traitor who betrayed the savior to his enemies! The other eleven were not exactly a Who’s Who in Israel. Fishermen and tax collectors were among their number. And yet these were the ones Jesus picked.

And this is how it works. God picks the people He wants for his own reasons, to accomplish His will in His way and in His timing. Sometimes His plans include us and sometimes they don’t. Either way, He seldom explains himself to us, and often hides his plans.

Either way our job remains the same. To be faithful where we are, regardless of where that is, and without concern for how or who else he has chosen.


Thanks for reading. I post thoughts arising from my Bible Study group midweek, and non religious posts on weekends. If you want to receive all posts in your inbox, click on the button to subscribe to the blog.