Let us…

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:26-28

We’ve been talking a lot about the role of gender and relationships lately in class at Talbot. Why were we created male and female? Well, the account of creation tells us that our gender is a reflection of  God’s triune nature. The Trinity is such a tricky thing: one God yet three persons in the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. I used to just want to change the subject whenever the topic came up, but more and more I am seeing the beauty and complexity of our God. I suppose if we could neatly explain and define our God, He wouldn’t be much of a God to worship.

According to this passage, God’s image is reflected in our being male and female, suggesting that just by ourselves we would not be able to know fully our creator God. And how true that is. My wife has shown me aspects of God that I never experienced, particular his tenderness and compassion. Priscilla, thank you for bringing me to a deeper, more intimate relationship with God. Happy birthday, I love you.

book update!

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Pain

I think the worse pain I ever felt was when I somehow opened my car door right into my eye one night after church. I was rolling around on the driveway for a good couple of minutes. When the pain finally subsided some, I was seeing double. Like a good future doctor,  I decided to sleep it off to see if it would be better in the morning. My vision actually got worse so  I got it checked out. Fortunately, I came away with just a corneal abrasion and a gnarly terminator-looking eye for some months. The ophthalmologist said she never heard a story like that before.

Pain is such a funny thing. It’s so unpleasant, but it’s so important to our well-being. Growing up in church we are taught how lepers end up losing their limbs because they couldn’t feel a burn or a prick. The equivalent now would be the diabetics who have to have their toes, and sometimes entire limbs, amputated because the superficial infection eventually got into the bones. And all because they couldn’t feel the initial injury.

God created our bodies to feel pain to alert us that something is wrong. Yet, many have devoted so much time and resources trying to blunt that response. There’s such a hoopla now about adequately treating pain and it’s reflected by the kind of medicine we practice. In 2010, vicodin was the most prescribed medication, and I suspect it’s still up there now.

I’m not sure we’re doing all that much good dishing out all these narcotics. A good chunk of the time, we don’t even know why there’s pain, at least based on the things that we can measure and check.  I think often times, physical symptoms like pain are the manifestations of emotional and spiritual turmoil that’s within.

Life isn’t about avoiding pain and suffering. Comfort is not God’s ultimate priority for our lives. Suffering wasn’t part of the plan, but is the result of our disobedience. But God, in His grace, redeems it in the lives of His children, using it to correct us and draw us back to Him. And God came into this world of suffering and bore the ultimate pain on our behalf, the punishment for our sins. So when pain and suffering come, I hope it can remind you of the consequences of our sins against God, but more importantly, of the sweetness of heaven, where there will be no more suffering. God be praised.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelations 21:3-5

Trading Places

I heard this sermon by Alistair Begg some time ago that really challenged me to consider the love of Christ. In the sermon Alistair told the story of Ian Hay, a missionary to Nigeria who , while biking somewhere one day, came across a leper laying on the road. The leper was in bad shape, with sores and wounds covering his body, giving off an unbearable stench. This leper reminded the missionary that this was our spiritual state without Christ with our sins just as repulsivie to God. Through that encounter, the missionary was struck by the love of Christ, who came to this earth, not just to heal sickness and disease, but to take upon himself the sins of this world.

In my training, I have come across patients with devastating complications of preventative conditions because of a lack of access to care. I have to admit there were days I patted myself on the back because I chose to work with the underserved and help those without adequate medical care, thinking myself so loving and sacrificial. But if God were to ask me to trade places with my patients, taking on their infirmities so that they could leave the office, completely healed, there would be no way, even if that was somehow possible. That’s the extend of my love, so limited and conditional.

But because of Christ’s love for us, He came and took our place. He didn’t just make our sins disappear and then go happily on His way. No, Christ took our sins upon Himself and endured the wrath of the Father on our behalf so that we could be made right before God. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” What an amazing love. God help me to love like you do.

Training

I know I don’t look it now, and this might take some stretching of the imagination, but I did P90x with my roommate back in medical school. I admit I cheated a little (a lot) with my diet, but I stuck to the workouts for the whole three months. Of course I wanted to be healthier, but a bigger motivation was that I wanted to be able to keep up with the college students on the basketball court. Now that I’m married, I don’t care nearly as much about my basketball prowess (which is fast declining). If I can just keep my BMI in the normal range, that would be good enough for me. It does hurt more than just a little inside when I get my butt kicked by high schoolers.

It’s amazing how much energy and effort we put into our physically bodies that will continue to decay, but give so little thought to training our spirits, which will last for all eternity. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:7b-8 “Rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” The  NASB actually says “for bodily discipline is only of little profit.” Obviously, as a physician, I think we should take care of our physical bodies. But in the big picture, what happens to my earthly body is of little consequence comapared to the state of my soul.

How is your spiritual health? Are you taking care of your soul, watching what you “eat” and taking the time to “exercise?” We may have the best six-pack and the most amazing calves, but that’s going to mean very little if we are spiritual couch potatoes. Maybe it’s time for a check-up.

The Lone Medical Ranger

Medical School was a lonely time. Sure there were people around and I had friends, but this whole process was such a training in a dependence on myself. We live in a highly individualistic culture to begin with, but medicine cultivates further the lone ranger attitude. Things are hard? Tighten up your scrubs and pull yourselves up by your crocs, we have patients to save! We should be like Paul, who endured such hardships: stoning, hunger, floggings, and shipwrecks just to name a few. There’s kingdom work to be done, so let’s get to it! We have God on our side, that’s all we need, right?

I’ve only realized just recently much of what Paul was able to endure and accomplish was because of the support of others. Sure, God was his strength, but part of that strength was supplied through fellow believers. In every letter you see his partnership with so many different people, for example Timothy, Priscilla and Aquila, and Titus. One look at Romans 16 and it’s obvious that Paul didn’t operate by himself. And in his letters there were frequent requests for prayer (e.g., Romans 16:30-32, Ephesians 6:19-20, Colossians 4:3-4).

Paul understood that the Christian life, and especially the ministry life, is not meant to be lived solo.  In your medical training, it will be a huge temptation to blow off church because you have to study or you are too tired post-call.  Don’t be deceived, we need the support of fellow believers, not just to do God’s work, but to make sure that we hold on to the faith until the end. Enlist the prayers of your church community. Seek out the Christians in your class and residency program. Don’t neglect the important relationships in your life. Who is at least one person that you can come alongside and walk with in this journey?

23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. ~Hebrews 10:23-25

Broken Cisterns

I have met some of the most compassionate and “good” people I know in medical school and residency, and most of them were not believers. Their dedication to serving those in need often shamed any such desire in my heart. It has been such an inspiration and honor meeting these physicians and physicians-in-training. But what do generally good people say when confronted with their need for a savior? “Why? I’m a good person.”

We have to be careful, even as believers, because as people who have hearts to do good, we can mistake doing good for being good. It is easy to profess a trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, but really believe that there’s not all that much that needs forgiving. Sure I’m not perfect, but I’m not that bad, right? I’m certainly better than those “real” sinners like murderers and child molesters, and no worse than those sitting around me at church. We can be so busy comparing ourselves to ourselves that we forget the ultimate standard: God’s perfect holiness.

God is so holy even one sin is enough to condemn us to hell. But none of us have committed just one sin, have we? Isaiah 64:6 reminds us that even our best behavior is like filthy rags to God. At our core we have all fallen short of God’s perfect standards, and no amount of good deeds or nice intentions can deal with our sin that separates us from God.

We need to remember our need for the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of my sins. Otherwise, our faith is no faith at all, because we are simply trusting in our goodness to get us into heaven. Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites continually turned away from God and trusted in man-made idols. Jeremiah 2:13 God brings his accusations against the nation: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

God’s people rejected the source of life and turned to worthless idols instead. While most of us are not bowing down to little statues, many have made an idol of ourselves, trusting in our own abilities to save. Even Christians, in a way, hold the living water of the Spirit in broken cisterns when we try to live life apart from God, on our own strength. The cross alone rescues us from our sins. The cross alone opens the way to the Spirit. Let’s trade in our broken cisterns for the cross, depending on Christ not just for salvation, but to live day-to-day until God calls us home, or Christ returns.

Unfailing Spring

Doing God’s work is hard, especially if it involves loving people. As Christian medical providers, we are called to serve with the love of Christ, patient after patient, day in and day out. We won’t last long if we are not receiving from the source of love. Unfortunately, people in medicine are great at taking care of everyone but themselves.

We have a great promise from God, that believers who truly live out their faith through caring for those in need will be renewed by God to continue loving. Isaiah 58:11 says that those who practice true religious acts by pouring out their lives in service for others “will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” God will continue to fill up the believer in order to continue God’s work.

This of course is realized in its entirety with the giving of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus says in John 7:37-39: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” We have the source of love living within us, empowering us to continue God’s work of love.

But the busyness of life has done much to quench the Spirit’s work in our hearts. Many well-intentioned Christians desiring to serve God with their gifts end up living lives of duty, spiritually dry and wondering where the living water is at. We need to tend to the Spirit’s presence in our lives if we hope to love as Christ did and do God’s kingdom work.

How is your relationship with the Lord? Is your serving out of your own strength or in dependence on the Holy Spirit? What can you do to make room for God and make the living waters a reality in your life?