Saturday, December 29, 2007

happy 2008...

The year 2007 is finally drawing to a close. And what a year it has been...

It is interesting, everytime I look back on the year I seem to look back with rose-tinted specs. The year was challenging, yes, but it was also stimulating, wasn't it? And surely it wasn't that bad. Challenges came, challenges went. It's been a good year.

Of course, then someone reminded me of the rough times I went through. My friend reminded me of times I joked about quitting Med, my tired looks and distracted ways. And that brought back memories... the late nights, caffeine highs, spending hours in the library, my silent wars against immunology/biochemistry/microbiology/ECG ... and last but certainly not least, those crazy Clinical Coaches... Oh, yes. Some things are best put behind us.

2008 would be much the same, although people tell me it's harder in 2nd year. I am old and cynical enough to know not to bother about making New Year resolutions, but if I have plans it would be to read through the bible in Chinese by mid-year (I have only read it in English thus far) and to complete my Women of the Bible devotional. Praise God... I have been, at times, been a rather lazy, cynical, and stubborn Christian this year, but my Heavenly Father still carried me through. Surely He is with me always.

Happy New Year, everyone! Have a blessed 2008.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A disturbing daydream...

This week I have been studying Sarah, wife of Abraham. She yearned for a child all her life; laughed when God promised her that she will give birth to a child (at the age of 90), then gave birth to Isaac. I really am enjoying this devotional (Women of the Bible - which goes through a woman per week). These women - Eve and Sarah - are both women that I had never given much consideration to; but provoked by the devotional, I realised that the short paragraphs in the bible that tells their story also subtly reveal some very complex, multifaceted and intriguing characters. But anyway, that's not what I want to talk about right now.

The devotional this week pointed to Sarah's want to have children, God's promise, Sarah's doubt, and the subsequent fulfilment of that promise. It asked the question: what's your dream? What dreams and desires have God placed in you, and do you doubt? Are you willing to wait patiently?

So dutifully I meditated upon this and discovered that I had no clear discernable dream. Do I dream of a perfect lover? (I'm ashamed to admit this is the first that came to my mind.) The answer was - well, perhaps, but that's not the most important thing. Career? Do I want to be a world-famous specialist? Do I want enough properties dotted around the globe to constitute a small town? What do I really want? Currently I wanted to be able to unreservedly serve my God without anything holding me back - namely, parents who frown and shake their heads and discuss me behind my back as if I am problem child. But that's not much of an ambition. And ever the cynic, I conceded that I could never serve God enough, and besides, there will always be something. Bigger obstacles, not smaller. I did not pursue the subject further, only made the conclusion that I was decidedly deprived of a dream.

A few days ago I met a sonographer who spends 3 weeks every year (sometimes twice a year) in Africa, in a Christian missionary hospital, training the local staff there in ultrasound. I was thinking today, while driving home from work, how wonderful that is, to spend a little of every year working to give a community some autonomy. That is when The Idea struck. I thought: I could erect my own hospital.

Once the initial Idea formed others flowed with it. It need not necesarily be in Africa, it can be anywhere, like Asia, the Americas... anywhere. It would be a Christian hospital, of course. I could buy my own buildings, recieve equipment donations, it need not be hard. Train the locals. It would be a Christian hospital of course. With some counselling services. It would be a lasting legacy. I could even name it after myself. No, no, no, no, no! At this thought I repulsed. All glory to my God! It shall NOT be named after me, nor shall it have my name attached to any part of it. Only God!

So there I was, rounding the little corners in my suburb, arguing with myself.

It's so ambitious. It's so big. It's almost ridiculous. But it can be done... I'm only at the beginning of my medical career, anything is possible. Probably hard to do single-handedly, though... you need a few more doctors to make one hospital; and you'd need a few doctors ALL the time, not when it's just erected. And not just doctors - nurses, radiographers, allied health, pharmacy... Staffing would be a night mare. Will I ever have enough money to fund it? But my God, I can really feel like I made a contribution. I can tell people that I built a hospital, in Africa. It's something that would last after I'm gone, something of value left behind for the world. Something I can present to Jesus. But is that why I'm thinking about it? For the approval of humans? For the laughable illusion of my ideas and works continuing after I'm gone? To feel as if I have given a worthy gift to God? But can I ever give enough? Obviously not; it would be frivolous to try. Furthermore: would this be my gift to God, or God's gift to me? More precisely - is this a self-absorbed day-dream, or a vision placed there by God?

And thus my thoughts ran, round and round in circles, in a sort of taunting self-torment, until finally I reached home and put the idea on stand-by (that is, until I turned on my computer and started blogging). And I still don't know. I don't know whether I will, whether I really want to, whether I'm up for the challenge, and what my aims really are. But to God I admit defeat: there is no way I could possibly know. Even if I were sure, there is nothing I could do right now, except perhaps study harder. God is wise: if all His plans for my future were revealed to me right now I might well faint from fright, or run away like Jonah.

I'm glad I blogged, the knot in my mind is untied. Thus I turn to my Tormentor and say: Har-har, you don't confuse me. I have handed over to the One who is above all powers.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The humility of the nativity

Imagine the little town of Bethlehem... Caesar had issued a decree that a census be taken of the entire Roman world, and so everyone from the line of David was flocked to the town of David (ie, the little town of Bethlehem) to register. King David lived some twenty generations ago, so you can imagine, there are a lot of people. A lot, in a small town. In the crowd that night was a young man, trudging wearily. The bible doesn't tell us but I imagine him to be in his early twenties. He had travelled a long way (most likely on foot... the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is roughly 110km, roughly the distance between Brisbane and Noosa Heads), the journey had been slowed somewhat by the girl with him. I imagine the girl to be a mere teenager (they married very young in those days), and she is heavily pregnant. The paintings have her depicted as very beautiful, with flawless smooth skin and a serene look on her face. But we know that God does not look on the exterior, as humans do. I imagine her to be very plain, and indeed one may never notice her in a crowd like this, excepting of course the enormous swollen belly.

To make matters worse, the girl starts contracting. It is Time... the contractions are getting stronger and stronger, and more frequent. Her eyes widen with fear, panic, and pain, and she alerts the young man. He forgets his weary feet, grabs her by the hand, and pushes through the crowd desperately, knocking from inn to inn. Won't anyone let them in? But no, they are all filled, and there are people everywhere. But is there really no room for a teenager about to give birth? Finally, they settle in a manger, Mary gives birth, and they are visited by the Magi and some shepherds. (Of course, this last bit is my imagination. Luke doesn't tell us whether she started her labour while on the road, or when she was already settled in the manger. Indeed, I don't even know whether she experienced pain. But considering that the adult Jesus laughed and wept and got tired like the rest of us, I would imagine his birth to be the same too.)

And thus, the almighty Creator entered into the created world. At this point, surely the non-Christians reading would scoff: does this not prove that he wasn't the King of Kings? Would the King of Kings come in such a way, borne by a scared, scandalised little teenager, impoverished and fleeing from the puppet ruler Herod? Is this the reception befitting a King?

The Nativity story is indeed a humble one. Why did Jesus come into the world in such humble circumstances? And yet, his entire life was a life of humility. He fled from crowds. He told those he healed not to tell others. He washed the feet of his apostles, including Judas, who was to betray him that very evening. The creator of food experienced hunger; the creator of the wind and the rain got rained upon. And finally, the creator of humans got crucified by humans, using the wood and nails that He created. Why? Well, we know why he came (John 3:16 - so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life), but why the humble circumstances? Why be the underdog?

When I started writing this it was never my plan to expound my own theological theories (God knows I have none). But I could probably hazard a guess. Jesus said: "My kingdom is not of this world", and indeed it was never His plan to become King of the Jews (or any such equivalent) during his time on earth, nor to convert the world by physical power but by sacrifice and love. Had he been born into a rich and powerful household, history might have turned out very differently.

If we take the story of Christmas to be the first great statement in the life of Jesus, the statement would be something like this: "I'm humble, I'm approachable, and I understand your feelings of poverty, hopelessness, fear, and oppression."

What a wonderful statement from the One who is exhalted above all things... the Exhalted who resides in heaven, understanding first-hand the likes of you and me.

And what better time to reflect upon this, than at Christmas...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Crime and Punishment

Just finished Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. You've got to read it. It's brilliant.

What is it about these Russian authors who manage to write a thriller, a tragedy, a romance, a philosophical/social/theological commentry, all in one novel?