A Christ Centered Doctor: The Call to be a Holy Testimony

 

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As Christian doctors, we have excellent opportunities to share about our Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s devotional verses stated ‘in work or deed’. Yes, we are to share about Jesus in words if circumstances allow, being mindful about professionalism. In deed always, as we serve our patients in the way of love. The key to the verses is on the ‘you’ rather than on what you say or do. Our life and character is the best testimony about our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to be witnesses for the expansion of the Kingdom of God. A witness is one who speaks or reveals what she has seen and experienced. Who we are, not just what we do that reveals Christ. It is important that we are credible and reliable witnesses, bearing the fruit of the Spirit. The testimony of our witness is to be full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal.5:22-23).

Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 

In addition to our characters, our attitude counts. Our attitude should be one of gratitude. Being gratefully and always giving thanks changes us in profound ways. Gratitude is a choice. Like the metaphor of seeing a glass half full or half empty, gratitude is choosing to see the positive in all things, even when everything has fallen apart. Why? This is because our God is a sovereign God. He is in control. As doctors, we have been trained to believe that we are in control of our patient care. In reality as we discovered later, that is a delusion; that we are in control. Our treatment protocols are mere statistical probabilities that the treatment will work. In spite of our large armament of medicines and latest high tech-equipment, our patients often do not respond as we expected. It is important that we realize that healing comes from the Lord. We treat our patients and prays that it works. And we are grateful that most of the time it does.

Prayer: Lord, let us be your witness through our character and attitude. Amen

A Christ Centered Doctor: The Call to a Holy Purpose

 

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As doctors, there are good days and bad days. Good days are when everything goes well; patients are recovering, the waiting room is not overcrowded, the medical team worked well together, nobody died, and you have time to enjoy your second cup of coffee. When patients crashed, treatment protocols failed, your clinic outpatients are overflowing into the corridors, a few ire patients’ relatives are waiting to rant on you, and that is before you have your coffee yet; these are bad days. We all have our share of good and bad days. We are called to walk in the ‘way of love’. This is easy on good days but very challenging on bad ones. So what does this way of love entails for us doctors? What it means is that we do the best we can, all we can within our limitations, and leave the rest up to God.

Ephesians 5:1–2 (NIV)

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The best we can for our patients is when we are focused on them as persons instead of problems. We see our patients holistically; as persons precious in the eyes of God. We treat the whole person, not just the dysfunctional part. And we do it with love, the same love we show to our families. We act in love. Not all patients respond to our loving acts. Some patients are incorrigible and unlovable. Yet, we are called to act in the way of love.

We are called to love because of God’s example. Jesus Christ, God incarnate faced similar good and bad days like us. The Great Physician healed ten persons with leprosy but only one came back to thank him (Luke 17:11-19). He was mobbed in the marketplace and a woman trying to steal his healing by touching him- she was healed. (Mark 5:25–34, Matthew 9:20–22, Luke 8:43–48). Jesus’ life is a prime example of an offering his life as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. And we are called to do the same.

 

Prayer:

Dear God, help us to walk in the way of love for our patients’ and your sake.

Amen

Those who say Eugene Peterson was motivated by money or reputation know neither the man nor his work.

“It is probably for the best that he is refusing all further interviews because, for the good of the church he loves, it is important that his legacy remains intact. That some people were even asking “can we still read him?”; or that others were suggesting that there should be some doubt about this, is pathetic and portrays an ignorance of church history and the reality that all of our heroes are jars of clay. In a wonderful blog that is valuable for its insights into wider issues, not just this particular one, Scott Sauls writes that when we drain away the bathwater of this interview, the baby (his writings and insights) still has a beautiful face.”

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When a religious news site carried an interview with Eugene Peterson in which he was pushed on his views on homosexuality and during which he said that under some circumstances he might officiate at a same-sex wedding, Christian cyberspace went into overdrive.

I stayed quiet because, as a friend, I wanted to process the implications of such a statement and perhaps have the chance to contact him directly; but mainly because, knowing the man and trying to discern the context of the original interview, I fully expected a clarification or retraction to follow, as indeed it did.

Predictably, after his retraction, certain groups and individuals were as quick to prejudge his motives and insult him, as other people had been to denounce and condemn him a few days previously. But far and away the most ludicrous accusation is that Peterson was motivated by the threat of Christian publishers to…

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A Christ Centered Doctor: The Call to a Holy Life

 

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Romans 12:1–2 (NIV)

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

Our vocation or call to a holy life is the same as the call to be a doctor. Surprisingly, many of us think of this as separate callings. Our struggles to be either a Christian first and doctor second or vice versa does not make sense if we understand it as the same calling. We are called to holy living which in our case involves functioning as a medical doctor. Holy living is a life of worship. The Hebrew word for worship also means work. The biblical understanding of work is that work is worship. Thus serving as a doctor is living a holy life of worship. This is what Paul meant when he asked us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. A holy life of work/worship involves sacrifices. The long and sleepless night calls, difficult and stressful clinic problems, and giving up a normal lifestyle are expected sacrifices due to the nature of our work as doctors. However, these sacrifices are also acceptable to God as offerings. Thus the sacrifices we make to do our work contributes to our living a holy life.

These sacrifices by itself are meaningless unless it is accompanied by ‘be transformed by the renewing of our minds’ as Paul termed it. This renewal of our minds is the development of a new mindset that sees our whole life (which includes our work and sacrifices) as offering to the Lord and being involved with him as agents of his for the expansion of the Kingdom of God which is his perfect will. As doctors, we are as much involved in Kingdom work as pastors or missionaries. It is helpful to discern our own life story as doctors as part of the greater meta-narrative of the Christian Story. We are who we are for a reason. And that reason is to live a holy life.

 

Prayer

Lord, help us to be worthy of our calling to live a holy life.

Amen

My Writing Life

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This is the Afterword in my forthcoming book, Into the Depths of Living Water.

Afterword—Meditation on Writing

The book you are holding is the latest at trying to share the gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ in a different format. I hope you have enjoyed it and in some ways be edified by it.

Writing is hard and gruelling work. It is incubated amidst blood, sweat, and tears.  No, these aren’t the ink I write with. I just want to express that it not just physically challenging, but mentally too.  The thought of all the work frightens me, as it involves transferring all those ideas that I carry with me in my mind, into words. Ideas brew and form, and run ahead of writing—writing about them is akin to playing ‘catch up’. Such imagery is enough to make me feel breathless. Writing, especially in an authentic voice, makes me exceptionally vulnerable, as my inner thoughts and aspirations are made bare to the world. Such glaring spotlight is not easy on me—an extreme introvert.

So why write? Putting all things on a balance, I sense that a net effect is at work, to pull me towards writing as the means to share my ideas with a wider audience. I hold dear a vision to nurture disciples of Jesus Christ who possess informed minds, hearts on fire, and are contemplative in actions. This process of orthodoxy, orthopathy, and orthopraxis are the foundations of my writing. The process of becoming like Jesus Christ is necessarily a holistic one, as we strive to live out the faith in everyday situations, in the various roles we play in community life. In attempting to address such needs, the scope of my interest and writing inevitably takes on a multi-faceted approach. It draws upon insights from theology, biblical studies, spiritualities, spiritual formation, spiritual direction, biomedical ethics, culture and the arts (poetry, literature etc.), science and medicine, popular culture (movies, computer games etc.), parenting and Christian living. At first blush, these seem very disconnected ideas but all of these can be mined for lessons on spiritual formation—the common theme that undergirds my writing.

My editor, Shu Phay, encouraged me to share something about my writing journey. Initially. I was very reluctant because my journey is not over yet. I believe I have still a number of books inside me to be written.  However, after mulling it over during a retreat, I have decided to share a part of that journey that God has unveiled thus far.  Thinking about why I write what I write humbles me—I must aim, at all times, to be a good messenger and steward of knowledge.   And yes, I must keep the interest going, to explore and use the most suitable media or technology to communicate with you, dear readers.

For readers who may want to get to know me through my writings, please read on. There could be common interests, you and I, and I welcome exchanges and collaboration.

Random Musings from a Doctor’s Chair (2005); Armour Publishing, Singapore

This is a collection of articles where I experimented with different approaches of writing to connect with my readers. I wrote from the first, second, and third persons on issues that concern me as a Christian doctor, such as depression, suicide, euthanasia and cloning.

A Good Day to Die: A Christian Perspective on Mercy Killing (2005); Armour Publishing, Singapore

This book is a Christian response to controversial and emotive issues of euthanasia and end-of-life concerns.  I gave my response from the lens, as well as from the ‘heart’ of a medical doctor. I shared some perspectives to guide Christians to think about this: We live well. Shouldn’t we also die well, with dignity and minimum pain and completely at peace with life’s rhythm and His will?

Live and Let Live: A Christian Response on Biotechnology (2006); Kairos Research Centre, Kuala Lumpur

Here, I injected insights and knowledge from my medical career and theology education to make sense of scientific processes relating to the termination, design and creation of life—abortion, stem cell research, cloning, and transhumanism. I got started on this book after a period of observation about the Church’s attitude to technology and new advances. It seemed to me that there is a general skepticism on new technology, and I ponder if the rejection is a gut reaction— a crippling fear of the unknown blocking attempts to view it rationally and with theological basis. This book is an attempt to fill the gap at a time when response papers were typically written by systematic theologians, rather than Christian ethicists or medical practitioners.

This is a work in progress and the book, admittedly, is a bit dated. One day, I shall get my lazybones to update it!

Spiritual Formation on the Run: Meditations to Build a Busy Life (2009); Armour Publishing, Singapore

Travelling further on my journey in spiritual formation and transformation, I began to realise that many Christians shun the active, intentional formative processes of their faith communities because they are too busy. Somehow, there is an entrenched view that we can only grow spiritually if we are ‘unbusy’. My thoughts were on busy people as I wrote this—hence the short chapters with a key takeaway in each, to be ‘consumed’ on the go. It is my conviction that the Holy Spirit can cause spiritual formation and transformation in very busy people—people who are always on the run.

Tending the Seedbeds: Educational Perspectives on Theological Education in Asia (2010); Asia Theological Association, Philippines

I contributed a chapter on problem-based learning (PBL) in theological institutions. When researching and writing this, I discovered a valuable area—how people learn—and have not stopped thinking about this since, the theory and applications to the Church. A significant milestone in my journey of writing and discovery.

 

Tales from the Monastery: Spiritual Formation the Asian Way (2012); Armour Publishing, Singapore

Alex Tang (Author), Hai Seng Lim (Illustrator)

Jesus told parables. Parables are stories that have multiple layers of meanings. Stories are a powerful media of communication, cutting through our filters and worldviews. This book represents an attempt to communicate biblical truths through stories. Set in the fictitious Sow Lin Monastery headed by Abba Ah Beng, the book follows a group of mischievous disciple monks (and one girl) on their life adventures (misadventures too) musings, and ‘learning moments’. The book was delightfully illustrated (with cartoons) by Han Seng Lim.  I am grateful that many people, both young and old are blessed by it. It is presently in its fourth printing.

Till We are Fully Formed: Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English-speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia (2014); Malaysia Bible Seminary, Malaysia

This is an academic tome based on my PhD work on spiritual formation. It provided the opportunity to formalise and disseminate my ideas about learning, spiritualities, spiritual formation and transformation, and discipleship in Christian faith communities.

 

Conversations with my Granddaughter (2014); Armour Publishing, Singapore

Kids are at the heart of what I do; parenting and grandparenting are issues close to my heart. I thought that the idea of a series of letters to my granddaughter would be a great medium to convey parenting advice in a post-modern age. It has proven to be very popular. A companion volume on letters to my grandson is being written.

 

A People Apart (2016); Armour Publishing, Singapore

This is a collection of meditations on 1 Chronicles for Asian Notes, originally published by the Scripture Union. I thought it is useful for people, especially busy people, to have access to the materials in a handy, compact booklet.

Meditations in Autumn (2015); Meditation in Summer (2016); Kairos Spiritual Formation, Kuala Lumpur

I have in recent years begun to develop photography as a spiritual discipline, to train the mind and eyes to focus in looking and seeing, and in the process, learn to perceive the world differently. I want to be closer to the Creator by appreciating the beauty of his creation. I have noticed lately that people take in information better if it’s presented visually or as short sound bytes. Thus birthed an idea to develop a four-part series, each a photobook devotional.  The first two books contain photos taken in autumn in Kyoto, Japan and summer in Alaska respectively.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Aberlemno Cross

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Handcrafted Celtic Cross on granite by Andrew McGavin.

Aberlemno Cross. Three knotwork panels, a complex spiral, and two panels of key patterns. Base on the design of one of the finest carved cross in Scotland, found in the Aberlemno Churchyard in Angus and is believed to be erected around AD 700.

Iona Cross

18359029_10155245214221996_100726968927256660_oHand carved on granite by Andrew McGavin.

Iona, a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland. St. Columba set up a monastery there which became the centre of Celtic Christianity to Northern Britain.

The Celtic Knot and the Chinese Mystic Knot

celtic knot

I have been learning about and fascinated by the Celtic knot. I was taught how to draw it on paper by Celtic artist Mary Kleeson during my recent stay on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. She taught me that the Celtic knot is tied over and under each other and flow into one another so that it is endless. It is free flowing and has not fixed numbers of turns.

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That reminds me of the Chinese Mystic or Endless Knot which is commonly used in Feng Shui. The Chinese mystic knot is a complex knot made up of six times the infinite number. Hence it is endless and brings a happy and prosperous long life to its owner. Feng Shui masters will tie this knot to other objects such as jade or gold and place it in an auspicious Feng Shui position or corners to enhance the Feng Shui of the property. The endless knot with no ending symbolizes the harmonious flow of Chi without any interruption thus bringing good fortune and health. These Chinese mystic knots are also used as amulets and talisman for protection.

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The Tibetan Buddhist also regards the Mystic Knot as one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols. The endless flow of the knot symbolizes the Buddhist belief of births and rebirths, and of the Buddhist philosophy of no beginning and no ending.

While there is the religious significance of the Chinese Mystic or Endless knot, I have yet to discover the significance of the Celtic knot except that it is used for decorative purposes. I have seen it in the Lindisfarne Gospel and the Book of Kells. Both are illuminated manuscripts.

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Photo: Lindisfarne Gospels

I will keep researching on the significance of the Celtic knot other than being decorative and soothing to draw. I will like to know if there are any religious or cultural significance or meaning to the knot. Will value feedback or comments from anyone knowledgeable in the Celtic knot.

Triquetra Knot

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Hard carved on granite by Andrew McGavin.
The endless line of this knot suggests an eternal nature of the Trinity to the Celtic Church.

Father Hunger

The absence of a good father figure is a major area of concerns in our society. This absence has an impact on both sons and daughters. The impact is different in different gender. In the male, it is often converted into anger, aggressiveness, ambition, and workaholism. Richard Rohr has much to say about this.

Krista Tippet interviewed Richard Rohr on her website On Being on 13 April 2017. During this interview Living in Deep Time, a wide range of profound topics was touched upon.

MS. TIPPETT: You used the language of “father hunger.”

FR. ROHR: Yeah, father hunger. It’s driving so many things in our culture, even this whole corporate world of the younger male’s need to please the big daddy and get his pat on the back or his promotion.

MS. TIPPETT: I think it’s such a mystery of the human condition.

FR. ROHR: I know, I know.

MS. TIPPETT: That also, in some place you describe someone speaking to you about this father hunger and kind of in the middle of their life and realizing, calling it, saying they realized it was a chasm, a canyon, the emptiness and pain left of a relationship with the father that wasn’t there. And the mystery that we can get very old, and that can still be with us. That this is not something that you just outgrow.

FR. ROHR: No, no.

MS. TIPPETT: And it’s incredible how we can be defined by these broken relationships across a lifespan.

FR. ROHR: Yeah, I’ve had men older than me weep with me, still wanting a daddy, because they never had a father figure. It’s heartbreaking, really.

MS. TIPPETT: You say something that I just want to understand, where you say that “when positive masculine energy is not modeled from father to son, it creates a vacuum in the souls of men, and into that vacuum demons pour.” And you say among other things, they seem to lose the ability to know how to read situations and people correctly. Why is that? Obviously, that can be crippling professionally, personally, but why — what is that connection?

FR. ROHR: Here’s the answer that comes to mind now. I don’t know if it’s the best one. But young men who haven’t been validated by an older male — because we look to our same-sex parent for validation — and when dad doesn’t tell me I’m a man or a good man or acceptable son, I think your first 30 years of life are so frantic, you don’t have time to read inner emotions. Your emotional life — there’s no subtlety to it, there’s no nuance, there’s no freedom, there’s no grace, there’s no time.

I often see it in airports. In 46 years, I was on the road, and you’d see these people rushing through airports, neither looking to right or left, like a deer caught in the headlights. When you’re a deer caught in the headlights, trying to survive, I don’t think you develop an inner world. Do you understand? It’s just the whole life is externalized, and the soul is not born. And that’s why, again, suffering for so many becomes the only path because it’s the only thing strong enough to lead you into the world of grief, for example, or sadness or pain. And those tend to be the holes in the soul that awaken the inner world.

And so an important part of every initiation rite was grief work, letting men get in touch with their unfinished hurt and begin to talk about it with other men. That’s when the floodgates opened, and all of this success that they shined with externally they finally could admit was all a charade. Everything changed after that.

The transcript of the interview here