Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Creation evolution and all that

It's a challenging time to be a Christian. The media is dominated by views of evolution which do not only restrict themselves to explaining how species have evolved and adapted to their environment. No, evolutionists want to explain everything from an evolutionary point of view, even to answer the great philosophical questions, such as why we exist, what life is about and why human nature is what it is. Evolution (via Dawkins et al) is a 'grand theory of everything'!

But wait-Christians who love their Bible do not have to ridicule evolution. 'Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world-view'Thus states Tim Keller pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian church of New York City in his very helpful article, Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople. It is an extremely helpful read.

For many years I have been helped by Derek Kidner in his commentary on Genesis and some of his suggestions about Adam and Eve and how we are to understand their relationship to primitive 'humans'. Tim Keller quotes Kidner favourably and draws on some of Kidner's suggestions on how we might understand Adam and Eve and their relationship to other humans alive at the same time.

Keller is especially helpful on how we should read and interpret different part (genres) of the Bible and how there need not be conflict between science and the Bible and so still upholding a very high view of the Bible's authority. It's compelling stuff.

If you are a die hard evolutionist with lttle sympahty for Christians and their Bible, or a Christian who can scarcely bring yourself to utter the word evolution-or just plain old confused. Treat yourself to the article. You might just be surprised.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Love came down at Christmas

Thus wrote Christina Rossetti in 1885.

Yesterday my dear mother took our wider family out for a lovely meal at an old Georgian coaching inn (The George Hotel just a few miles north of Bedford. It was a wonderful act of generosity and we had a fabulous meal and a great time.

Mum is not wealthy but she is generous. I thank God for her.

In His coming Christ gave up all his 'wealth' in the world's greatest act of generosity.

'for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in that though he was rich yet for your sakes he became poor so that we through his poverty might be made rich'

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Fall on your knees

Throughout the course of the year I see a number of patients who have fallen on their knees. Sometimes it's just a stumble through frailty or carelessness and at others it's the consequences of vigourous sport. But never is it deliberate and 'meaningful'. At Christmas I love hearing the carol O holy night with it's beautiful line, fall on your knees and before Him lowly bend in response to the Christ child.

At Christmas we are reminded that all of us are incurably worshipping creatures. Whatever we give ultimate worth and value to-it is that which we worship. It's subtle and some of us don't like to admit it but whether its family, status, comfort, independence-you name it we find things to 'take God's place'.

Join me in falling on your knees before the King of Kings, as Beccy Pippert reminds 'he is the only Lord in the universe who can control us without destroying us'. Listen to this great version and worship Christ the new born King.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Too much medicine

As a family doctor I've become increasingly aware of the trust which patients put in all forms of screening. The oft repeated refrain of 'I'd rather catch it early' in fact betrays a lack of realisation of the limits of screening. Yet I find it so hard to explain to my patients. Such is the power of the media and the private health sector in the UK who use TV adds to imply that preventative CT scans and blood tests will inevitably lead to improved health. Yet it's so much more subtle than that.

So I was pleased to pick up this article from the US (where much of the 'preventativ' hype stems from!!). It's worth a read. And yes, discuss with the doctor the value of screening. Because some types are undoubtedly valuable, for others the jury is still out, and some are downright misleading.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Preacher with a brain tumour

LIke many Brits I sometimes struggle with American self confidence which is particularly noticeable amongst some of their preachers. Having said that my favourite preachers are all American!!

Matt Chandler is a gutsy, self confident preacher who at the age of 35 years seems to have the 'world' at his feet-a lovely young family, a thriving church and increasing invites to preach all over the place. Thus far I've struggled somewhat to value his ministry. But now (as Lloyd Jones would say..) he has a frontal lobe brain tumour. Here's his video message to his church just before the surgery. It's humbling and powerful.

Watch it and pray.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Secret Faults again!

I love reading John Newton's letters and learning form them. He had great self awareness as a Christian, but also a great trust in Christ-so that his self knowledge did not paralyse him.

'I sometimes compare my words to the treble of an instrument, which my thoughts accompany with a kind of bass, or rather anti-bass, in which every rule of harmony is broken, every possible combination of discord and confusion in introduced, utterly inconsistent with, and contrdictory to the intended melody....By men theupper part only is heard; and small cause there is for self-congratulation, if they should happen to comment, when conscience tells me they would be struck with astonioshment and abhorence could they hear the whole'

At the end that particular letter, 'But though my disease is greivous, it is not desparate; I have a gracious and infallable Physician'.


Sunday, 15 November 2009

Secret Faults

'Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults' Psalm 19.12 (KJV)

According to Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian from New York City, it's the secret faults, or 'hidden' sins which most screw us up. Recurring patterns of thought and behviour that may be all to evident to others but from which we are non-blissfully unaware. He came came up with the expression the sin under the sin, as a a very helpful way of identifying what really lies beneath our conduct and why we do, say and think what we do. Our 'secret' sins in other words reveal our hearts.

So how do we get at them and identify them and ultimately get free of them? From this Psalm I think we begin by acknowledging that they exist and pray that God would begin the work of cleansing to free us from them. It's a lifetime's affair and painful in the process-but not something we tackle on our own. We need the community of fellow believers to help us and the help of the God our rock and our redeemer (Psalm 19.14), and we need a willingness to engage in the process, a great place to start is Tim Keller's book Counterfeit Gods

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


Psalm 19 has an apparent abrupt transition from encouraging us all to see the 'grandeur of God in the heavens' to recognising that seeing God in nature is only partial and can even be misleading-just like communicating without words can be. At a recent karting day for a few of us guys my team kept waving in one of our members for a change over-he claims that we were waving him on and so just kept going!

So verses 7-11 tells us that to really know God (and indeed to know ourselves) we need the 'law of the Lord'-in other words we need the words of scripture, the Bible. It's a beautiful little passage and I just want to mention one aspect of scripture now-the ability it has to 'warn' us ("by them is your servant warned" V11). The Bible gives us a certain ability to foresee the future or rather the consequences of words and actions now for the future.

I was reminded of this whilst watching an extraordinary film made by a school in Wales to emphasize the dangers of texting whilst driving-it's up on the BBC website now-watch it and weep.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Wordless words

'The heavens declare the glory of after day they pour forth speech' Psalm 19.1-2

So God does speak to us through the natural word. And yet it is a kind of sign language, in fact, even less distinct than sign language. Because ultimately sign language is expressing words.

The natural world expresses the grandeur of God in the sense that it intimates a magnificence beyond our normal lives. Perhaps one effect of industrialisation is that increasingly individuals are shielded from the natural world, surrounded by concrete and spending much of their time indoors. Indeed according to a BBC programme called Countryfile I heard an expression for the first time today-'Nature deficiency syndrome'-it seems our children are growing up with very limited knowledge of the natural world.

A few brief thoughts.

1. It's worth making the effort to gaze up at the sky-day or (especially a clear) night. Just remind yourself how big the universe is and how awesome the creator God is. As far as we can tell the vastness of the universe is an extravagance and such extravagance reminds us of a very prodigal God-unbelievably generous and 'overflowing with mercy'.
2. Like all non verbal communication it can be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Thus many people do not think of the grandeur of God when looking out over the ocean or looking up at a mountain.
3. This Psalm does not end with 'the heavens', but goes to to speak of the 'perfect word of God' (V7). We need more than the natural world to truly know God. It gives a lie to the claim often made that 'I find God in the garden or in the fields and I don't need the Bible or church or any of that stuff'. Its not so much impossible to do that but it's incomplete. Wordless words can only take you so far.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Life and David Attenborough

This morning I spoke at the church where I spent many happy years before moving to my current church. The Bible passage was Psalm 19. It's a wonderful and brilliant declaration of how God speaks to us all wordlessly through the natural world. So many poets have tried to express something of the glory of God in nature and I found various poems helpful. Here's Gerard Manley Hopkins writing at the height of the Victorian industrial revolution.

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

And yet this grandeur does not convince David Attenborough. He has a profound and amazing love for the natural world but he respectfully and yet firmly rejects a creator God. Indeed in his beautifully filmed new series on BBC he tells us that the essence of life is a struggle for survival and all it's beauty comes about as result of that struggle.

I'd like to reflect on this over the next few days and I'd like to suggest that Psalm 19 leads us to answer the big questions of life. Is life merely a fight for survival or is there a profounder reason for it all? Indeed do we live in a 'world without windows' or is there a beautiful mind inviting us to enjoy both Creator and creation.

Let's mull over Psalm 19 together.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Pastoral care

In the church where I serve as an elder we have been thinking about the importance of pastoral care. It's a particular issue as a church grows numerically and I've been doing some thinking and reading aroud the subject.

The Baxter Model by Bishop Wallace Benn set me thinking a few years ago about being more systematic in elder visitation and on re-reading it last week I'm more convinced than ever that it is vital and worthwhile. He takes the view that it is the opportunity for a 'spiritual health check up'. So often our conversations remain rather surface deep and a formal arrangement to discuss spiritual matters gives the pastor permission to ask things that might otherwise be difficult (just like as a family Doctor I am in a position to ask 'awkward' questions), and also allows when meeting with members to raise issues that might otherwise be difficult.

It obviously needs wisdom and humility on the part of the elder but John Murray had some helpful things to say when speaking at a ministerial ordination back in 1960..

I charge you to remember that you are the servant of Christ in this pastoral care which you will exercise. Oh, be friendly to your people, and be humble. Be clothed with humility for 'God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.' Be clothed with humility in the pastoral visitations and the pastoral duties that you discharge because, if you are not humble, you will not only be offensive to God, but you will soon become offensive to all discerning people. Be friendly, be humble, realize your own limitations and be always ready to receive from those who are taught in the Word as they communicate unto you who teach. But remember that you are the servant of Christ and do not seek to please men, for if you should seek to please men, you are not the servant of Christ. And again, I repeat in that very same connection: Don't be afraid to reprove, don't be afraid to rebuke, just as you may not be afraid to exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.
'You do not get your sermons from your people, but you get your sermons with your people. You get your sermons from the Word of God, but you must remember that the sermons which you deliver from the Word of God must be relevant. They must be practical in the particular situation in which you are. It is when you move among your people and become acquainted with their needs, become acquainted with the situation in which they are, become acquainted· with their thoughts, become acquainted with their philosophy, become acquainted with their temptations, that the Word of God which you bring forth from this inexhaustible treasure of wisdom and truth will be relevant and will not be abstract and unrelated.'

There's some 'good ol stuff' out there!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Pearls before swine

'Flu pandemic closes church'

I haven't seen that headline yet but I guess it will happen. And it's set me thinking. In our church we have begun to think about how we share communion- that is how we practice the Lord's supper or Holy Communion or breaking of bread or whatever other phrase you care to use-and all because of pandemic flu. It seems that there is lots of advice to the effect that we should not use a common cup, nor share one loaf. I think that's shame. And for a couple of reasons at least.

There is just something especially meaningful about all drinking from the same cup-it sort of emphasises the democracy of the gospel. All one in Christ Jesus (as the Keswick motto has it) no matter what social status, experience of being a believer or role within the church. We are in it together, we are the family of God.

But secondly I cannot deny that it all seems a bit weak and cowardly. Of course tragically some people have died of the pandemic flu (although it has thus far been much less potent than predicted and the British Government has been criticised for it's over reaction and enthusiasm for prescribing Tamiflu by the World Health Organisation as reported in this weeks BMJ). But it just seems as if we Christians in the West are soft. Whilst fellow believers in Muslim countries face harassment and worse, we join them in 'sharing in the sufferings of Christ' by worrying over whether we might catch swine flu from our brother in Christ. It's not exactly the persecution Paul had in mind when he wrote to Timothy that, everyone who wants to be live a godly life in Christ Cesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3.12).

Maybe we just love life too much. it just seems ironic that we who have faith in Christ and have such a hope for a new heaven and new earth are so minutely anxious about death. OK common sense is needed-stay away from the service if you have a fever, or if you are in a precarious medical state-but for the rest of us? 'Gird up you loins', I say,

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Is faith delusion?

Chapter 1 'Psyche' means more than mind.

Andrew Simms uses much of the first chapter to make a plea to other psychiatrists and mental health workers for the acknowledgment of spiritual and religious factors whilst assessing patients in their mental distress. He criticises those psychiatrists whose approach towards patients with religious conviction is to assume psychosis-indeed he opens with a quote from a consultant psychiatrist reported in 2000 as saying, 'all religious people are psychotic'!

But before he gets to that he begins with a brief account of his own journey into psychiatry-it's really very moving as he quotes from Proverbs 31.8-9, 'speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy'. To my surprise I had never really made the connection as a follower of Christ to view mental health patients as particularly 'worthy' of support and care. In a sentence he tells us both of his calling into psychiatry and also makes a subtle point about the inappropriateness of using the word delusion in matters of faith,'my conviction (which was never a perception nor, since it was always amenable to reason, a delusion) felt to me then like a vocation , a 'call from God'. Remember this is the academic who has written the standard text to UK trainee psychiatrists on descriptive psychopathology-so he should know precisely what words such as delusion mean.

He stresses the integration of the person and the unhelpful distinction which has been made between physical and mental illness, 'doctors should get away from seeing the flow-chart in their minds that sends 'physical' and 'mental' in different directions'.

In discussing the importance of spiritual concerns with regard to the patient he reports a psychiatrist who told him once that, 'none of her patients had ever alluded to spiritual issues and it was therefore an irrelevance'. Simms goes on to say, such doctors should be cautious; not reporting psychological, or emotional or spiritual distress may reflect the quality of communiction between doctor and patient rather than the absence of such causes of conflict'.

The rest of the chapter is a plea for taking the spiritual dimensions of life seriously. He gives various definitions of spirituality coming down on the side of Rowan Williams, the cultivation of a senstitive and rewarding relationship with eternal truth and love'.

I can't pretend it's racy read, but his plea for the essential unity of the person and the vital importance of spirituality is well made. As he concludes the chapter he tells us, 'what I greatly respect in a spiritual person is this sense of yearning-for a better world and a better self'. Yea me too. If we are just biological genetic cocktails why is this need for meaning so pervasive?

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Restraining grace

Paul Tripp has some very helpful-if rather challenging- things to say about the power of sin in our lives. Nobody likes talking about sin, whether we are a convinced atheist or an overly introspective Christian-or one of the many shades between. Nonetheless it's important to appreciate some of what the Bible teaches about it since it provides an essential backdrop to why we so very much need the Christian gospel of salvation. Don't let my jargon put you off, read on...

'sin is so pervasive and so comprehensive that it influences everything we do and everything we causes us to place ourselves at the centre of our universe. Sin causes us to set up our own little kingdom of one, where our desire is the functional law of the land. And as little kings we want to co-opt the people around us into the service of our kingdom purposes.'

It's not a pretty picture but alas it's eminently verifiable in experience (or as the medical scientists say these days, it's evidence based!). Tripp goes on to say, 'every situation, location and relationship you're in every day is made livable and tolerable by his grace. Every day God keeps us from being as wicked as we have the potential to be.'

This is taken from his excellent book of 52 short chapters from Psalm 27.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Thank God for music

This lad has talent!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Assisted dying

Yesterday the Times lead with the emotive headline, Huge public support to allow right to die, based upon the findings of a new Populus poll. It was dishonest since in the body of the text the author states, 'the poll found only 13 percent of the public supported a blanket right to assisted suicide regardless of the individual's health.

There is much to be worried about by our media's stance on assisted dying and the pressure growing to change the law to make all forms of euthanasia permissible in law. This article illustrates just one of the concerns that doctors like me have about the issue; for human beings are inclined to twist the truth and fundamentallly are not to be trusted. Alas that's the whole basis of laws-for if trust were endemic lawyers would be largely redundant. In the matter of euthanasia I fear we just cannot trust each other enough for it to be permissible. It's too open to abuse, even with legal restraints.

'Preaching is easy talking is hard'

Yet again I've found good old John Newton really helpful. For the last couple of weeks I've been reading from his 365 days with John Newton compiled so well by Marylyn Rouse.

Taken from a sermon about Abraham, 'is anything too hard for the Lord?' he comments that, 'in some measure I am fruitful to you, at least in public. Yet alas I come short: I ought to follow you to your houses, to stop you in the street, to break in upon you in those places and at those seasons when you would least choose to see me, and to entreat you with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1.8) to consider what you are doing-to ask you, where is the blessedness you once spoke of? There is something in my temper that makes this hard, an almost impossible service....but is anything too hard for the Lord?

He shows remarkable honesty and self awareness. I think for those of us who are elders/leaders in Christian churches, it is all to easy (relatively speaking) to speak from the pulpit when we really should be having one-to-ones with our folk. A booklet which helped me a lot about this kind of thing is by Wallace Benn called the Baxter model, based on the pastoral visiting of Richard Baxter in 17th century Kidderminster.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Is faith delusion?

Is faith delusion? Why religion is good for your health is a fascinating book written by Andrew Sims, former Professor of Psychiatry in the University of Leeds and President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Having read it once I'm going to try to blog my way through its 10 chapters with some brief comments. Although not written as a specific response to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, he certainly takes Dawkins to task for using what is essentially a technical, psychiatric word ('delusion') inappropriately.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Declaration of Geneva

Today I attended my daughter Hannah's graduation ceremony with my wife Liz and eldest daughter Sarah. It was lovely and very special.

At the close of the ceremony all the medical graduates stood and read the Geneva declaration together. A document which was produced in 1948 and adopted by the World Medical Association as something of an updating of the Hippocratic oath. It was very moving and I hope that the graduates are able to uphold its high principles.

They mostly used the original version (there have been 5 revisions since)-the differences from that original document are in red.

  • I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity :
  • I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude which is their due;
  • I will practise my profession with conscience and dignity;
  • The health and life of my patient will be my first consideration;
  • I will respect the secrets which are confided in me; even after the patient has died
  • I will maintain by all means in my power, the honour and the noble traditions of the medical profession;
  • My colleagues will be my brothers and my sisters
  • I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient;
  • I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of its beginning, even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity;
  • I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honour.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Divine healing

I've been interested in divine healing for years having been converted as a mid teenager in a Pentecostal church which frequently practiced prayer for the sick. Although I have no doubt that God can, does, and did heal some of the people some of the time, I have ongoing questions in my mind about many aspects.

Faith in the great physician-divine healing and suffering in American culture 1860-1900 by Heather Curtis looks to be an interesting read-albeit its not that cheap!! (£17.95 on amazon market place!). Certainly Lauren Winner's review has wet my appetite, especially this paragraph..

'One of the most fascinating discussions, in a book full of fascinating discussions, is Curtis' consideration of what it meant to be healed. Many people who were cured by "acting faith" continued to manifest somatic symptoms of their illnesses. They were not necessarily freed of pain. Rather, they were freed from invalidism—they got out of bed, even if doing so was terrifically painful. Being healed, in other words, did not involve only a change of physical state. It also involved an "epistemological reorientation" in which, even though workaday sensory perception might suggest that healing had not occurred, the eyes of faith saw healing. Thus, making sense of suffering and managing pain were as much interpretive acts as biological facts.'
Lauren Winner

This sounds awfully close to a 'healing' of one's attitude to one's illness rather than the illness itself-a sort of aplication of CBT-it's what you think about your situation that defines you rather than the situation per se.

Patients with bits of paper

Sir Richard Bayliss notes in his excellent autobiography (In sickness and health) a suggestion by Sir William Osler that, the doctor should beware the patient carrying 'un morceau de papier'. Osler suggests that patients who bring lists into the consultation are 'neurotic'.

I recall at medical school the caution from using 'always and never' so would not want to raise a concern about all patients bearing lists, but there are some days when Osler's words ring true.

Just yesterday I saw three patients with long lists all of whom are somewhat introspective and 'incurable' in the sense of bearing symptoms which are predominantly medically unexplained. I'm not sure that using the word neurotic is all that helpful since it carries such perjorative baggage (Indeed the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has eliminated the category of Neurosis, reflecting the dawning recognition of psychoanalysis' status as art rather than science, and a decision by the editors to provide descriptions of behavior as opposed to hidden psychological mechanisms as diagnostic criteria).

Nonetheless what can we say about lists? I have to confess that I encourage my patients to take lists with them when they are facing a consultation with a speclialist, especially for the first time. So I wouldn't want to type cast. But still 'un morceau de papier' remains just one of many cues which experienced doctors use to form an assessment of a patient-just so long as it doesn't so prejudice and obsure the multpile other cues presented to them during any consultaion.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

"I can't read!"

I was talking with a lady in her seventies who wants to 'read' the Bible. She has a minor degree of learning disability and longstanding mental health problems and when we chat about ways to grow as a Christian I casually tell her, "well if you read the Bible for yourself and chew it over God will speak to you".

"But I can't read" was her forlorn cry.

So what is the answer?

Not sure I have the answer, but one answer is to listen to the Bible being read. There's been versions of the Bible on audio for some years, but my discovery of Max McLean and his excellent readings has taken things up a notch. You can download the entire New Testament for 20$ and burn to cd if you wish or listen with your ipod. Also take a look at him reciting Mark's gospel-it's wonderfully powerful stuff, and just reminds us that the gospel accounts are true stories with real narrative power.

When you think about the vast majority of people throughout history were listeners rather than readers, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised that listening to the Bible is so effective.

Monday, 22 June 2009


AC Grayling writes in the Times...But real hope is the sustainer of all that is possible and good, and it is creative. Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry demonstrates this in his advice about getting people to build a ship: “Do not cajole them to cut down trees, saw them into planks and nail them together,” he said, but rather “teach them to long for the immensity of the sea.” Every teacher should have this remark pinned up somewhere.

Being a Christian isn't just believing certain basic facts- 'Jesus died for my sins' but loving and living for a great God who gave up his immensity to win us back to his rightful rule.

Isaiah 40 v23 onwards is great

To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
 “My way is hidden from the Lord,
 and my right is disregarded by my God”?
 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is  the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
 his understanding is unsearchable.
 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Sunday's gift

A rare event-felt unwell so didn't make it to church this am. Both daughters at home so we had a brief 'family church'. Read a prayer from the book The Worship Sourcebook.
For those who like me have been used to extemporary praying it's surprisingly refreshing to use prepared prayers

O God, 

we joyously come together to worship, 

realizing we need not summon you into our midst, 

for you are here. 

We need not call you into the secret places of our hearts, 

for you are there. 

We need our eyes of faith to be opened, 

that we may see you; 

our ears to be unstopped, 

that we may hear you; 

our minds to be sensitive, 

that we may know you; 

our hearts to be tender, 

that we may receive you. 

Grant each one a blessing, O Lord, 

as each has need, 

in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Giving bad news

It's something that concentrates our minds and hearts however long we have been a doctor . It was brought home to me yesterday whilst conveying such news to a longstanding patient whom I have known for nearly 30 years. Sometimes what was written years ago continues to be helpful. Such as this from The Lancet in 1948

"One gets the feel of patients, whether they want the truth or not. Usually it is best to await their approach, and often the form of question helps to determine the answer. One of my best patients and friends-an intelligent, inquisitive and humorous old man-asked me no single question about his trouble during a long illness with an inoperable cancer of the bowel. Sometimes the near relatives can help, but usually it has to lie between doctor and patient. A dear old lady of 80 said, "tell me doctor I'm not afraid";  so I told her and for the many months she lingered on she always had a smile and usually a joke. But for the many others the truth would have been mental torture.

And with Pilate one may ask, " What is truth?" At the best we can only tell some of it, for we never know the whole.'

Peripatetic The Lancet  1948

I think the important points here are that one always takes one cue from the patient ('best to wait their approach'), and one always tells the truth even if not the whole truth.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Sunday's gift

'Christ plays in ten thousand places'

I came across this intriguing phrase as the title of a book by Eugene Peterson.  It was first scribed by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) who was a Christian with a keen aesthetic taste and an acute awareness of the grandeur of God in all creation.
There is a wonderful and insightful cameo of his life in Gaius Davies' book Genius Grief and Grace
Davies writes, 'the most lasting impression that Hopkins leaves for us is his concern that grace should be an expression of a 'better beauty'. This is brought out in two ways. He suggest firstly that in giving up the enjoyment of natural beauty we may find something even more fulfilling; and secondly, that grace when lived out in daily life makes all our 'goings graces'.
In Hopkins poem As kingfishers catch fire...
I say more: the just man justices
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces
Acts in God's eyes what in God's eyes he is-
Christ-for Christ plays in ten thousand places
Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's face
Does Hopkins go too far in this? He states here a truth not often so daringly expressed, for he would certainly agree that the word was made flesh once and for all in Christ. Yet he says grace should make us behave graciously, as being forgiven should make us more forgiving, as being justified should make us more just in our dealings. His most daring insight was to see grace in the lives of men and women as if they themselves expressed the new life of Christ in which the Father delights.'

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The subtle temptations of Christian leadership

All leaders have their weaknesses and temptations. The Roman Catholic writer Henri Nouwen was particularly perceptive about a particular temptation which Christian leaders can face.

Writing in his book  The  Genesee Diary-report from a Trappist monastery, he muses, 'whilst teaching, lecturing and writing about the importance of solitude, inner freedom and peace of mind, I kept stumbling over my own compulsions and illusions. What was driving me from one book to another, one place to another, one project to another?...What was turning my vocation to be a witness to the love of God into a tiring job?...Maybe I spoke more about God than with God (my emphasis). Maybe my witing about prayer kept me from a prayerful life?'

The folly and danger  of 'do as I say not as I do'!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

What you need from a doctor

Sir Richard Bayliss was consultant physician at London's Westminster Hospital from 1954 until his retirement in 1981. He was physician to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth from 1964 until he retired. I only have vague recollections of him from my days of training at the Westminster but am greatly enjoying reading his autobiography,  In sickness and in health, written just a year before he died in 2006.

One of his early mentors whilst he was a junior at St Thomas' Hopsital was Sir Maurice Cassidy.  Sir Maurice was also an eminent physician and had attended both King George Vth and King George VIth. It was Sir Maurice who taught Bayliss that, 'every doctor would be more understanding of his patients if he himself had experienced three things-a serious acute illness, a chronic illness and an endoscopic examination.'

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Sunday's gift

Jonathan Aitken's biography of John Newton is excellent.  Christian biographies can be OTT, but when told  an honest and straightforward way, they can be very helpful.  Take a look

Really enjoyed watching this video of the founder of Tom's shoes-never heard of Tom's shoes?   You really should have..

Great interview with Charles Colson-he has a great way of explaining the holistic nature of the gospel-it's been such an eye opener for me in the last few years to have my understanding of the gospel filled out. I realize there's something of a debate going on over 'how big is the gospel'- I go with Colson's approach..  .feed://'s episode one.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Advice on prayer from John Newton

Some great advice contained in Newton's hymn..

        Come, my soul, thy suit prepare, 
        Jesus loves to answer prayer; 
        He Himself has bid thee pray, 
        Therefore will not say thee nay.          

Thou art coming to a King,         
Large petitions with thee bring;        
 For His grace and pow'r are such        
None can ever ask too much. 

I tried to use these ideas in a sermon at my church recently, take a listen... 
It's called "Bold prayer".

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Newtons wise words


'Be punctual in waiting upon God in secret. This is the 

life of every thing, the only way, and the sure way, 

of maintaining and renewing your strength.'

This copied from pdf of Cardiphonia  available for free from

Monday, 25 May 2009

John Newton project

Its been great to see the work of the John Newton project flourish due to the energy and commitment of Marylynn Rouse.  Take a look and get to know more about the remarkable life and ministry of the 'old slave trader'

John Newton week

The former slave trader and Christian preacher John Newton was a wonderful letter writer.  The collection of his letters which I have found most helpful and perceptive are called 'Cardiphonia'-literally 'speaking from the heart'. 

I'm sure I'm not in the same league as Newton but through this blog I want to engage in culture, discuss the practice of medicine and try to see all of life through the prism of the Christian gospel. It will be heartfelt and a searching after the truth.

'it is very possible that we may be under his (God's) influence when we are least aware, and though what we may say, or write, or do, may seem in no way extraordinary; yet that we should be led to such a particular turn of thought at one time rather than at another, has, in my own concerns, often appeared to me remarkable, from the circumstances which have attended , or the consequences which have followed. How often in the choice of a text, or in the course of a sermon, or in a letter to a friend, have I been led to speak a word in season! and what I have expressed at large and in general, has been exactly suited to some case which I was utterly unacquainted with, that I could have hardy hit it so well, had I been previously informed of it. Some instances of this kind have been so striking, as hardly to admit a doubt of superior agency. And indeed if believers in Jesus, however unworthy in themselves, are the temples of the Holy Ghost; if the Lord lives, dwells, and walks in them; if he is their life and their light; if he has promised to guide them with his eye, to work in them to will and to do of his own good pleasure, methinks what I have  mentioned, and more, may be reasonably expected.'
Cardiphonia : Letters to a Nobleman XIX 

May that be so.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

A quiet arrival

Some babies come out screaming others take a while to catch their breath. Some are premature and others 'overcooked'. Me? Maybe I'm overdue but I've arrived and I'm breathing so welcome to my airspace.

A message from the other side

No, not that side! But thank God got through surgery ok yesterday. And thanks to all for love support and prayer.