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The New Idolatry

Idolatry. It’s (almost) as old as time itself, stemming back to the days of Adam and Eve and their rather unfortunate (well, fairly cataclysmic) encounter with sin. From the Ashtoreths and Baals that enshared the Israelites, to the cult of celebrity we see today, it continues to entangle people and draw them away from serving their creator. And, although the way it manifests itself varies widely throughout human history, the end result is the same: The dishonouring of God, and in most cases, the edification of self, resulting in enslavement, discontentment and brokenness of relationship between God and man.

The problem is, in our ‘highly evolved’ and complex society, the idols that ensnare us can be a lot more subtle and less obvious than those that plagued our ancestors. We can recognize a shiny Buddha statue a mile away, but less obvious ones, such as ambition, ‘happiness’ and ‘respectability’ can be harder to spot.

Let me explain.

I’ll begin with a quote from Leviticus 19:4: ‘Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.’

An idol is something that takes the place of God, such as a carved idol, a person, a worldly ambition or anything else that we place more importance upon than relationship with our heavenly father. The Lord created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1) and created humans in the image of himself (Gen 1:27). Therefore, being the rightful king of all of creation, he is deserving of our worship (Psalm 29:2). However we as self-seeking humans, chase after mute idols and created things – which often in the right context are actually ‘good’ things God has given us to enjoy – to our folly and destruction.

And, one of the biggest idols facing western society today is the idol of career.

Work was originally designed to be a good thing – in Genesis 2, God puts Adam in the garden to work it and take care of it. However after the fall, work becomes toilsome and difficult and man corrupts it in all kinds of ways for his own ends, from avoiding it altogether to becoming consumed by it to the detriment of other things.

Unfortunately, in my profession, the latter is all too common. Time and time again, I see sleep-deprived, socially-idolated, spiritually-dead consultants and registrars who have forsaken everything in the name of career. Some of them are women who have thrown off the ‘evils’ of wifehood and domestic service in pursuit of the more ‘evolved’ and ‘inspired’ lifestyle of the raging workaholic. Medicine in particular, caricatured as a ‘caring’ and ‘serving’ profession that saves lives (which, don’t get me wrong, it does), so often transforms from a ‘job’ into a kind of ‘higher calling’, a vocation that carries with it a moral imperative to give up everything for the sake of the work.

Thus arises the culture of workaholism that exists almost ubiquitously in the medical profession, and increasingly, throughout the rest of society. The trouble is, it’s all too easy in the ‘caring’, ‘helping’ jobs like medicine for selfish ambition to masquerade as selflessness and the pursuit of status and accolade as the desire for personal and societal betterment. So often it is this ‘respectable’, socially-acceptable form of idolatry that is the most dangerous and that, if left unchecked will lead us on a path to ruin and untold destruction. Indeed, we as Christians need to guard ourselves against this subtle and often unnoticed form of idolatry that threatens to undermine our relationship with God and deny our creator his due.

Because when it comes down to it, it’s all the same; no matter how glamorous, how splendidly altruistic your career appears to be, if it takes the place of God it’s like building a castle in the sand. And castles in the sand don’t last very long.

Better to build on a rock instead.

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Bashing the Bible

Yawn. Yet another misinformed agnostic making ill-advised, grandiose claims about religion to earn himself 15 minutes of notoriety.

I’m talking about Justin Sisley, the filmmaker who hosted a competition a few months back calling for ‘virgins’ to let him document their first sexual experience. This time around, he’s drawing male genitalia on the forehead of a picture of Mary, apparently because ‘religion constitutes fiction’ and ‘believing in God is like believing in James Bond.’ He then goes on to say that ‘anyone can make fiction, but when you’re filming documentaries you’re changing people’s lives’.

Hmmm. So basically you’re purporting that your low budget, amateur films are going to make a bigger difference to people’s lives than the salvation of mankind and the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus.

Good luck with that.

I can’t help but laugh at the sheer ludicrousness of this fellow’s claims. I mean, even the most avowed, hardcore atheist is forced to concede the undeniable *existence* of Jesus and the authenticity of the gospels from historical evidence alone. [Any atheist that refutes this isn’t a well-informed atheist and probably has his head in the sand]. There were tens of thousands of manuscripts of the new testament written over a 60 or so year time span – compare that with the writings of Homer (Greek poet, not Simpson), which were written over a 500 year time span and had only 643 manuscripts, or Caesar, which have a 1000 year time span with only 10 manuscripts. Furthermore, all 24 000 or so new testament manuscripts agree in 99.5% of the text, with most of the discrepancies being in word order and spelling, and none in doctrine.

The problem with Jesus and the gospels isn’t its historical or intellectual credibility, but rather its call for us to bring our lives and hearts in submission to God. And we, as sinful humans who, like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6) don’t particularly like this idea, so we come up with all kinds of clever ways to justify our position as rulers over our own lives.

What a pertinent reminder to keep praying for workers for the harvest and to do our part in bringing the lost sheep back to their shepherd.

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Hi everyone! You may have noticed that I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for the past 4 weeks. And, in a remarkable streak of sheer co-incidence, 4 weeks is exactly how long I’ve been back at med. So far, 5th year has been an eye-opener, to say the least. I’ve learnt so much about different hospital protocols, the various multidisciplinary teams and how they interact and the bizarre behaviour of a few surgeons and their unfortunate colleagues. One would have thought that having ascended the educational ranks – through school, university and post-grad training that they would’ve left their childish ways behind. But, in a surprising twist (that seems to prove my theory that people often mature in circular, rather than linear fashion), you’re likely to see more foot stomping and name-calling amongst surgeons than in almost any kindergarten classroom the world over. Maybe they could start incorporating field-trips to kindergarten and prep classes into surgical fellowship programs.

Anyways, I’m digressing.

I was pooed on by a baby today. Yes, you heard it right folks, pooed on. And, you’ll be surprised to know that I wasn’t sitting in the paediatrics ward, but at church. I had little Ethan on my knee and was thoroughly enjoying the clucky feeling and the comments about how natural we looked sitting there at the table (even if Keags was sitting beside me looking unusually pensive). Little did I know that Ethan was actually feeling a great deal more relaxed than I, and a few minutes later I stood up to a collective ‘ewwww’ from the remainder of the congregation (and a horrified apology from the Walkers). Exciting stuff.

Hmm…I’m digressing again.

I’ve been feeling fairly overwhelmed lately by what I like to call the ‘culture of cynicism’ that exists so ubiquitously in western hospitals. It’s quite ironic, that in a seemingly benevolent profession that strives to do good, there exists such a disparaging sentiment that seems to permeate every facet of modern healthcare. It is a sterile, sometimes unkind and frequently Godless system in which the patient is key – provided they are submissive, socially acceptable and take up very little of your time. If however, they don’t fit nicely into a quiet niche and – God forbid – reveal some aspect of their flawed humanity in their hour of need, then they are turfed out as quickly as you can say ‘House of God’*, and given to someone else to sort out their problems.

This has been getting me down lately, to the point where I have been questioning my ongoing motives for wanting to study medicine, and asking myself just how long I can exist in such an environment, until I either go foetal or become so hardened and cynical that I make Lunch Lady Doris look like Ned Flanders.

Luckily for me (or rather, thanks to the ongoing grace of God), I had an epiphany at church today which helped me see this problem in a new light. We were talking about Joshua 6 (the fall of Jericho), in which the LORD tells Joshua to march around the city for 6 days with loud trumpeting and shouting and on the seventh day to march around Jericho seven times, after which, the walls will collapse and the Israelites can march on in and take the city.

Sure enough, God was true to his word and on the seventh day, the walls came down:

When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.  They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

(Joshua 6:20-21)

On this passage, Dave made the helpful point that sometimes we focus on the wall, and not on the task that God has appointed us to do. The Israelites weren’t focused on the fortified wall in front of them, but were rather trusting in the God-appointed task at hand, to march around the city walls for 7 days, trusting that they would come down when God said they would.

It occurred to me, that by focusing so much on the Godlessness and pessimism of the world around me, I failed to realize the task God has appointed – that is, to give him glory and proclaim the gospel to those who have not yet heard it. It is so easy to be blinded and overwhelmed by the world around us, in all it’s woeful waywardness, and to not trust our sovereign Lord, who achieved his purposes through the Israelites and likewise achieves his purposes through us. God is just as much at work in our hospitals as he was in the city of Jericho all those years ago. We are to remind ourselves that the God we serve is the God of Abraham, of Joshua, of 1st Century Christians and of us, and his sovereignty is not limited to one people group or generation.

So, no matter how many foot-stamping surgeons I come across, I can be confident that the Lord is still very much at work in my life and in his, working for our good and His glory.

[I am] confident in this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus

(Philippians 1:6)

* House of God is a famous, very cynical novel about the medical profession I refuse to read

 

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More on weddings…

Oh the joys of wedding planning!
Marriage is a wonderful gift from God, a marvellous representation of his abundant love and a reflection (albeit a faint one) of the glorious relationship between Christ and his people.
Weddings, on the other hand…
Some masochistic bright spark in a ostentatious moment of stupidity suddenly discovered a sure fire way to inflict as much pain upon himself as possible – he took for himself a wife, (which, in itself is not a bad thing) but then decided to mark the occasion with a stupendous coming together of 2 families, involving 100 people with 150 different ideas and personalities, each wanting to meticulously plan such an occasion down to the last detail resulting in a cataclysmic ballet of woe reminiscent of the Big Bang…
Ok, so slight hyperbole there.
{At this point I’d like to point out that both families have been more than agreeable throughout the whole process – my stress throughout this 9 month ordea- ahem, engagement, has largely been self-inflicted by my stubborn, perfectionist personality. So the above has no reference to any persons, living or otherwise.}
Seriously though, being an anxious, indecisive person at the best of times, planning a wedding has thus far proven reasonably stressful (as every married person can attest!). From invitation lists, to dress colours (white is not always white, people!), to those little bonbonniere things you put next to every place at the reception, a wedding takes more planning and meticulous care than practically any other event you’ll ever host, and will be remembered and talked about (fondly or otherwise) by most people in both families for the remainder of your life.
No pressure!
Long story short, my stress levels have been progressively rising this week, resulting in near-universal grumpiness and snappiness on my part (I owe my housemates a great deal for putting up with me), finally culminating in a near-foetal state by lunchtime today. So I locked myself in my bedroom and began praying through tears, that God would give me peace, before heading out into the world again, frazzled as ever.
Several hours later, however, I sat down with a book {Jesus Freaks – by DC Talk and the Voice of the Martyrs} and started to read. As I read about the stories of men and women with unwavering faith, many of whom were martyred in horrible ways, from beheading to suffocation, to being burnt at the stake, God answered my prayer in a most wonderful way. I began to realize how silly my worries have been, how inconsequential my fears are in light of eternity. When the Lord comes back in all his glory on the last day, when we are finally in eternal rest and have an eternity of glorious fellowship with God himself to look forward to, the last thing I’m going to be thinking is, ‘Why, oh WHY didn’t I have lilac bridesmaid dresses instead of aubergine??’
I will, however, wonder why I was so rude to my housemates, why I was so impatient with the guy driving at 80kms/hr on the ring road in front of me, why I was so self-obsessed that I failed to love my brothers and sisters as myself. It’s amazing how God answers prayer – often unexpectedly, in unusual ways, but always pulling us away from self-centred, worldly perspectives and drawing our gaze upward.
Please pray that God would continue to draw our gaze upward, as Keags and I approach marriage.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame. (Psalm 34:4-5)

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The Human Yo-Yo

As I sit out here on the hard, brittle remains of the grass in our backyard, I am struck by the glory of God’s creation.

It all seems so remarkably simple – the sky is a wonderfully uniform azure that gradually fades into the orange sunset. An ibus appears overhead and quickly fades into the distance.

So simple, yet the world has a remarkable knack for complicating moments like these. The tranquility is tainted somewhat by the barking dog next door, the children talking loudly on the adjacent basketball court and the rock music eminating from a bedroom somewhere.

Anyways, there was a point to this entry, and it has surprisingly little to do with these things.

My fiancé recently dubbed me ‘the human yo-yo’.

‘Now isn’t that a little harsh?’ you say? Not so.

You see, we are in the last days… of the semester that is (we’re in the last days of the world too, but I’ll refrain from discussing eschatological theology here for the sake of brevity), and consequently the med world is suffering from a condition I like to call ‘med-o-pause’, characterized by hot flushes, palpitations, mood swings, irritability, and concentration problems.

Hmmm…reminds me of something.

Anyways, in keeping with the overall mood of the med school, I have spent the last few weeks of my life up and down, happy and then sad, elated and then depressed, all to the bewilderment of my ever-patient fiancé. There were times when I made Ted look like a court jester and Elliot Reid look like a Nepalese Monk (Scrubs fans nod their heads in affirmation).

Take today for example, The Fateful Day of the OSCE.

I began the day in high spirits. I read my Bible, prayed and rejoiced in the Lord and his glory. I made a resolution to honour God regardless of how my OSCE performance panned out, perhaps I’d even be able to mention my Christianity in the Learning Portfolio station! I got into my car, stethescope and clear plastic sleeve in hand, praying and singing. This was going to be a wonderful day.

Then the exam started.

The first few stations were *challenging*, but, ever the eternal optimist, I was sure I’d encounter some easier ones along the way.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

I’m convinced the medical school in its infinite wisdom, gathers up all the random, seemingly unimportant information from throughout the year and puts it all together for the end of year OSCE. Seriously, parts of the exam were so random I began to wonder if I’d inadvertently missed an entire semester worth of study without knowing.

So at the end, I dragged myself from the medical school, slipping furtively out of the model answer session at the end (seriously people, who wants to look at model answers 10 minutes after an exam that you’re pretty sure went down like a glass sandwich??! ‘Oh yes, I love pain, please, show me the answers I know I missed to satisfy my masochistic tendencies so I can go home and slip into a warm bath with a sharp razor’).

Anyways, I flopped on the couch, deeply depressed and stayed there most of the afternoon, only moving to cook an enormous pikelet that was burnt on the outside and still gooey on the inside, which I devoured covered in a river of maple syrup.

It all makes me think about the fickle nature of mankind. We humans are so fragile, so unable to cope with adversity (perceived or real) that we immediately abandon our most earnest, noble vows in the heat of the fire and crumble. Take the Israelites who were lead out of Egypt across the desert. The LORD, in his faithfulness, had just rescued Israel from the oppression of the Egyptians. Moses and Israelites sang songs of praise to the Lord:

1 Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD :

       “I will sing to the LORD,

       For he is highly exalted.

       The horse and its rider

       He has hurled into the sea.

 2 The LORD is my strength and my song; 
      

He has become my salvation. 
      

He is my God, and I will praise him, 
      

My father’s God, and I will exalt him. (Ex 15: 1-3)

Yet, we see in chapter 16, on the ‘on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt’ (Ex 16:1), the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! (vs 3) There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Mere weeks after the Israelites have been rescued, here they are grumbling and unbelieving.

So what does the Lord make of this?

“The LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.” (Ex 16:11-12).

The LORD responds to the Israelites unfaithfulness with mercy, demonstrating his steadfast faithfulness to his chosen nation in the face of sheer thanklessness and ingratitude. And, such a pattern is repeated time and time again in the history of Israel!

How often are we like the Israelites, forgetting God’s grace and blessings, testing God with our unbelief, dishonouring him when we find ourselves walking in the valley of the shadow of death (or merely on the receiving end of a particularly challenging OSCE). God is faithful, steadfast and true to his promises. Yet we have such a hard time (during hard times) remembering all that he has done for us.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19).

If there ever was a greater cause for practicing contentment, I’d like to hear it!

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Wonders will never cease….

I was watching Weekend Sunrise this morning and an academic-sounding guy came on advertising his new book, The Marriage Benefit – the surprising rewards of staying together.  Now, the average bookstore is littered with a plethora of relationship-help literature, endorsing all kinds of voguey ideas from non-marriage and the sexual revolution, to psycho-analytical theories of ‘compatibility’, to the ‘open-marriage’ idea, which in my book takes the cake (well, the whole cake shop really) for sheer ridiculousness and stupidity. With these in mind, I was fairly unexcited when yet another ‘PhD’  came on the telly espousing the latest ‘ground breaking’ strategy for ‘greater happiness and fulfillment’ in marriage.

 Yet, despite the odds, this guy still managed to astound me with his theory.

His take on marriage is that we should be focusing not on how our relationship makes us happier, but how we can make the relationship better, if we work on our unrealistic expectations and improve communication. ‘So often’, he says ‘people focus on what’s wrong about their partner’, instead of looking at how they can improve themselves’. He argues there are great benefits to staying together as a couple and that people should ‘get real’ about working on their relationship and growing as a couple.

Does any of this sound familiar?

It strikes me as fairly amazing that after years of (failed) sexual revolution paraphernalia and ideas, the denouncing of Biblical marriage as hopelessly antiquated and the celebration of ‘free and easy’ sexuality that we are only now discovering that the ‘old fashioned’, Biblical view of marriage actually does work! After 40 odd years of serialized relationships and the deconstruction of the nuclear family unit, much to the detriment of our increasingly fragmented society, people have come full circle in realizing a ‘me-first’ approach to sexuality and relationships isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Who would’ve thought God’s way would make sense after all!

Friends, this is no coincidence – after all, God created marriage to be a monogamous, lifelong union of male and female working alongside each other to serve God in his ‘garden’ – in Genesis 2, God creates a ‘suitable helper’ (Gen 2:18,) for Adam in Eve: ‘for this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh’ (Gen 2:24).

Marriage is not about ‘our needs or desires’ (as the author rightly points out!) or satisfying some glorified romantic ideal (which really only exists in the movies). By holding fast to these unrealistic expectations our society has suffered greatly, leaving many people with a sense of disappointment and bitterness about their relationships and prompting some to seek out other partners who inevitably fail to satisfy and the cycle continues.

Marriage is primarily about serving God.  Christopher Ash sums up the point in his book ‘Married for God’ as ‘sex in the service of God’ – sex referring to not just the physical nature of the relationship, but in fellowship, discipleship, friendship, fun and faithfulness. And if we reject this notion of marriage we reject its very essence and what it was created for.

An afterthought:

Incidentally, it is very important to remember that marriage is also about grace. We do (and will) get it wrong frustratingly often, but we must continue to pray, seek guidance from God’s word (and the grace of our spouse!) and trust that he will continue to sanctify us in the image of Christ.

So there is hope for me yet Keags 😛

 

 

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Has prime time viewing reached a new pinnacle?

Sadly, no. Apparently it has taken a sharp nosedive in recent days – away from the dizzying heights of those beloved 60s and 70s (and 80s and 90s) British comedies we all know and love – you know the ones I’m talking about, Faulty Towers, Blackadder, not to mention the entire Monty Python series, which, strangely enough, featured most of the blokes from the former.

John Cleese, we salute you and your quick-witted comrades for many years of quality programming.

Hmm…I’m digressing. Where was I?

Ah yes, 21st century prime time. The more swearing, tears, flesh and guns you can cram into one program the better. You can never take yourself too seriously (or your clothes off fast enough), and having the BMI of a Marasmic Ethiopian orphan is guaranteed to get you a role – unless it’s a reality program, in which case the bigger and more obnoxious you are, the more likely you’ll score your 15 minutes of fame.

Interestingly, the one that tops my ‘worst reality TV show ever’ contains none of the aforementioned ingredients for quality viewing (except perhaps tears). I’m talking about that new psychic program, on channel 7 (at least I’m fairly sure it was channel 7, it was hosted by Andrew Daddo, and channel 7 is fairly notorious for blatant acts of TV nepotism).

It’s called ‘The One’ and describes itself as ‘the search for Australia’s most gifted psychic’. The psychics are presented with a series of challenges, such as finding a lost child in the bush and communicating with deceased loved ones and they are evaluated by a panel of judges for their speed and accuracy.

Seriously people, have we really become that desperate for entertainment? Why not just put on Faulty Towers re-runs? – it may not get the ratings but we’ll all have a thorough, stiff-collared, proper English good time. Just ‘don’t mention the war!

Ok, ok, enough about John Cleese.

The problem with this kind of entertainment is, as interesting it may be to the average Aussie Joe, it’s actually very deceiving and dangerous.

In fact the Bible is unequivocal when it comes to the ‘paranormal’:

‘Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God’. (Lev 19:31)

And:

‘Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you’ (Deut 18:10-12).

In Israel, divination, mediums and the occult are all associated with paganism and ungodliness, and are condemned as detestable practices as they represent a reliance on and devotion to things of the spiritual world which are not from God.

And so it is today. There is a power in these practices, due to the reality of the spiritual world  – but it is a limited power that stands in opposition to the truth of Christ and the limitless power of God. He who places his faith and trust in the occult is deceived and wrenched away from the gospel of the Lord Jesus, and stands to reject the things of God.

As Christians we need to pray for those caught up in these evil practices, and be bold in proclaiming the gospel of salvation and freedom in Christ. In Christ we are freed from the chains of sin and from slavery to the devil’s schemes – and are no longer condemned to live a perilous existence in a world ruled by an unloving ‘spirit realm’ that requires constant appeasement and that is ultimately indifferent to human suffering.

On the contrary, our God has a unique understanding of human suffering, having experienced every hurt and pain a human can know. He mourns with us in our grief and loves us so overwhelmingly as to willingly suffer death for our wretched human souls. Surely this God is far greater than the mute spirits of psychics and mediums, whose apathy and powerlessness is cold comfort to those who are suffering.

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