Teaching Rounds With Moses
Editor’s note-Recently revisiting the book of Exodus has given Dr. Hollinger a chance to ponder the many parallels between the life of Moses and the lives of Christians in healthcare. Below is an adaptation of a speech Dr. Hollinger gave to a recent group of Christian medical school graduates at NYU on the subject.
What might Moses say is your calling as a Christian healthcare provider?
We are called to sacrifice.
Going through the rigors of medical school and residency almost guarantees that you are plenty familiar with sacrifice. When there were lots more enjoyable things you could have been doing, you were studying or spending your days and nights at the hospital. You have invested heavily of your time, money, and energy. Your parents, spouses, and other members of your family have made these sacrifices right alongside of you. You have given everything to become a doctor. Having sacrificed for so long, many emerge from training with a sense of entitlement. “I’ve slaved for a long time, and now I deserve everything I can get. I’ve earned the good life.” But what will you do with your life?
In the book of Exodus, we start with the life of Moses. Having been raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses could have stayed in the palace. Why not live the good life? Many would say he was a fool for not doing so! Why should he concern himself with the lives of the Israelites? After all, it was not his fault that they were suffering. Moses’ decision to be involved in God’s plan meant leaving behind the comfort of the palace.
If you are called to serve God in medicine, His plan for you may involve further sacrifice. What kind of sacrifice? We think most often of financial sacrifice. How will I pay off my loans if I choose a missionary salary? God will provide. Keep your options open to serve God sacrificially anywhere, by starting now to live within your means. Make a commitment not to get into additional debt. Ignore the credit card offers flooding your mailbox! If you are not a person who tends to be careful with your money, get someone to help you be accountable and give you some pointers.
What about sacrificing safety or security? The thing to remember is this: the safest place in the world to be is in the will of God. Our family has made a certain degree of sacrifice in moving to Philadelphia and working for Esperanza Health Center. But honestly, even though I am calling them sacrifices, they haven’t felt like sacrifices. Isn’t a sacrifice supposed to be unpleasant? My wife Judy and I have experienced a greater contentment than we would ever have imagined in these last 15 years living in Philadelphia and working at Esperanza Health Center.
We are called to compassion.
So, Moses did not stay in Pharaoh’s palace. Moses’ heart was stirred as he saw the suffering of his people working as slaves. God “gives justice to orphans and widows. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. You too must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”1 Moses heart was moved with compassion.
In healthcare, most of us are fundamentally motivated by compassion. We share a deep desire to help those who cannot help themselves. We want to see the sick made well. We long for all persons to have access to quality medical care. Having been made in the image of God, we too are empathetic for His people, people of all colors and backgrounds.
We are called to holiness.
Moses is rightly stirred with compassion as he considers the plight of the Israelites. Unfortunately, his passion morphs into rage. At the sight of an Egyptian taskmaster mercilessly abusing the Israelite slaves, Moses strikes and kills the taskmaster. Hoping no one is looking, he then quickly buries the body in the sand. Eventually what he has done becomes known, and Moses must flee for his life. However, God catches up with Moses at the burning bush. God tells Moses, “‘take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground’… And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.”2 To be in the presence of God knowing his guilt must have been terrifying.
What do you have buried in the sand? Before we enter His service, we must come before our holy God on holy ground with our sandals removed. We need to confess and surrender these things that we would rather keep buried in the sand—it may be frightening at first. God says, “Be holy, because I, the lord your God, am holy.”3 Because God is also a loving and forbearing God, we can approach Him to confess our pride, resentments, sense of entitlement, anger, sexual sin, addiction, or whatever it is. It is also safe to admit evil things that have been done to us, for which we have remained in the chains of anger and bitterness. Our sins, or sins done to us, could at any time derail our intended life of service if they remain in the darkness.
Despite Moses’ grievous error at the start, God transforms Moses and uses him as a powerful instrument for His own grand purposes. He can use us too—regardless of, and sometimes even more effectively because of the past baggage and failures from which we are emerging.
We are called to leadership.
“Moses…I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” Moses’ actually protests, “O Lord, I am not very good with words… Lord, please! Send anyone else!”4
Some of the greatest leaders, like Moses, are the reluctant ones. Though Moses starts out with reckless passion, after meeting God at the burning bush, Moses has become a different person. Numbers 12:3 says, “The man Moses was very meek, more than all the people who were on the face of the earth.” His pride was out of the way. The meek man Moses was now a man that God could use to accomplish God’s own holy purposes.
When God puts you in a position of leadership, He gives you a promise. God reassures Moses with his brother Aaron, a staff that will transform into a serpent, and by giving him the capacity to bring on plagues. These will convince Pharaoh, God says. But what was the most significant assurance that God gave to Moses? God told him simply “I will be with you.”
yahweh, translated the LORD, implies a personal, relational God who has made a covenant with His people. YAHWEH says, “I will dwell among the people of Israel and be their God.”5 He gives us the same reassuring promise through the Holy Spirit.
We are called to lead others to redemption.
Having established Moses as the leader, God then sends Moses and Aaron to plead before Pharaoh for the release of the Israelites. God uses Moses to send a series of horrendous plagues upon Egypt. But each time after saying he will set them free, Pharaoh reneges. Finally, God sends the 10th plague over Egypt—the plague of death, killing all the firstborn sons of Egypt. As instructed by God, the Israelite families mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood. The mark of blood on the doorpost causes the angel of death to pass over the homes of the Israelites, and their sons are spared.
As Christian doctors, we are uniquely privileged as ambassadors to the people we serve. Studies of the causes of mortality instruct us that of all the deaths each year in the United States about one million deaths are attributable to preventable behavioral risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, high risk sexual behavior, and other risk-taking behaviors.6 Our task is to redeem, or to prevent our patients from suffering illness and death, by providing health sustaining and health-restoring messages and treatments.
That said, what is the mortality rate in the healthiest towns in the United States? 100%! Everyone dies, despite the best efforts of the medical community! Some may live a couple of years longer than others, but all face the same fate. Ultimately, spiritual death and separation from God await those without the mark of the blood of the Lamb of God on their lives. We are bearers of great news of redemption. In His love, God Himself condescended as the lamb in Christ, the sacrifice for sin, so that we can be forgiven and our lives redeemed.
We are called to deliverance.
By the blood of the lamb, the Israelites are redeemed. The plague of death convinces Pharaoh to release the people, and Moses leads the people out of bondage from Egypt! Finally, after 400 years of slavery, the people are free! Hallelujah! yahweh, the lord of the people, is faithful! You know the story—Pharaoh again changes his mind and tries to stop the exodus of the Israelites. He orders his army to pursue them, and catches up to them at the edge of the Red Sea. God then miraculously uses Moses to divide the waters, and the people to pass through as on dry ground, with the waters forming a wall on either side of them. Then, climatically, God closes the sea back over Pharaoh’s army, eliminating every last Egyptian chariot and soldier.
Are your patients in bondage? Mine suffer year after year in the bondage of an often dark, visionless, despairing community. Babies are too often born to addicted and abused mothers; children are raised 90% of the time without their father; they enter public schools where well-intended teachers can’t teach because of uncontrolled behavior problems and violence; the kids are introduced to drugs at an early age; they are unlikely to finish high school; jail time for boys and teen pregnancy for girls are too often the rites of passage into adulthood; single mothers sign up for welfare—many are never gainfully employed since they are often unskilled and poorly educated or have a legal record; with time, there are extraordinarily high rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental illness, and HIV disease, and ultimately many die prematurely. Lord Jesus deliver my people!
Social justice reforms and education are part of the answer. However, deliverance from these destructive patterns and cycles of despair will be accomplished most effectively by the power of Christ. The church and the Christian community can love, provide role models, and be a family in a transformative way. As Christians begin to come alongside the hurting, God says to us as He did to Moses on the edge of the Red Sea, “Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of the lord which he will work for you today.”7
We are called to intercession.
Having been delivered from bondage in Egypt, the people continue into the wilderness. While Moses is up on the mountain meeting with God Almighty, Aaron directs the people to collect their gold trinkets, melts them down, makes a golden idol in the form of a calf, and the people begin worshipping it! The meek man Moses is so angry that he not only destroys the idol but also throws down and breaks the stone tablets that God has just given him.
Our patients will repeatedly disappoint us. Our patients too, like us, are a “stiff-necked people.” We will have all kinds of expectations and agendas for them, which if they fulfill will improve their health and make us look good too! When they mess up, we feel it personally. Sometimes, frankly, we just get angry! But God calls us to forbear and to intercede. We must recognize our boundaries, surrender, and realize that we cannot change people; people must change themselves and be changed by God. Our job ultimately is not to change patients but love them.
If you love your patients and truly desire their welfare, will you intercede for them? God has appointed you as a mediator between Himself and His people. Moses appeals to God, “Alas, this people have sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin – but if not then blot me out of the book that you have written.”8 Moses would rather forfeit his own relationship with God than see his people destroyed because of their sin! Such was the scandalous love of Jesus for us. Even in our disappointment, will we love people enough to pray for and with them, asking for God’s forgiveness and transformation in their lives? Prayer is the most powerful and significant intervention for our patients. It is almost uniformly appreciated, and costs little. So, as did Moses, intercede for your patients that they may look to Jesus Christ, the true source of forgiveness and healing.
We are called to remember God’s faithfulness.
Throughout their wanderings in the wilderness, the people of God get hungry and thirsty and become full of doubt and fear. They go on mile after mile, and there are no turnpike rest stops. So, they start grumbling and complaining. Through Moses, God miraculously feeds a half million people with manna gathered in the mornings and provides fresh water from rocks and stagnant ponds.
God says “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God…” Take care “lest when you have eaten and are full… your heart be lifted up and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”9
Can you recount the times in your life that God has provided for your needs? We cannot forget these times. When I first started at Esperanza, pictured on the wall was a series of paper stones forming a wall, each of which represented a way in which God had answered prayer and provided for the ministry of Esperanza. Later, when the facility was painted, this paper wall of faithfulness was taken down. I’m sure this pleased the enemy—now the people of God will forget, and the new patients and employees will never know the marvelous deeds of God that got Esperanza started! Fearing just this, we rebuilt, upgraded, and updated the wall of faithfulness. This was almost 10 years ago: Esperanza was in dire straights financially; staff continued to work for us even though they had gotten no paychecks for almost a month; our own staff were being fed from food banks. We had planned a staff retreat around Easter time, where we planned to dedicate the new wall of faithfulness. As the management team, we thought to ourselves, maybe we should not do this. Won’t this be cruel? What is there to celebrate? But we decided that now was exactly when we must pause and declare that God is faithful. Well, believe it or not, that very afternoon, a long awaited check from the state was finally wired into our account. Checks were cut and great was the sound of the rejoicing!
“You shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you… that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart... He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD .”10
We are called to accountability.
Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, says to him, “What is it that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning to evening? What you are doing is not good. You and your people will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.”11 Jethro notices that Moses is trying to arbitrate disputes and questions of the people, interpreting God’s law for them, etc, but he is doing this all day every day, and it is taking it’s toll.
Many wonderful people get into ministry and then experience burnout. Struggles with burnout characterized the startup years of Esperanza Health Center.12 Because we are often blind to our own weaknesses, with ready excuses for our own faults, we too must seek wise mentors. Then in humility, we must be willing to submit ourselves to their accountability. All Christians need the accountability structure of membership within a church body, and of more personal relationships with same sex friends who are familiar with our deepest struggles. We need relationships not just for someone to commiserate with us, but for someone to pray for, encourage, and challenge us with God’s truth.
Moses wisely listens to Jethro who advises, “Look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy” to help share the work. He says, “If you will do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.”13
We are called to rest in the LORD.
Before they left Mount Sinai, God said to Moses, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”14
God commands us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Keeping the Sabbath during your residency may be impossible as you have little control when you will need to round in the hospital. However, perhaps the principle of Sabbath can mean more than finding a day free of toil each week. Over the next few years, intentionally guard time with God each day to hit the “pause button,” to rest in Him, pray and read His word. Practice a form of continual Sabbath, a continual resting and trusting in God throughout the day, which endures despite the clamor around us.
Rest in YAHWEH, your LORD.
1 Dt 10:18,19 NLT
2 Ex. 3:5-6
3 Lev 19:2
4 Ex 3:10; 4:10-13 NLT
5 Ex. 29:45
6 Danaei G, Ding EL, Mozaffarian D, Taylor B, Rehm J, et al. (2009) The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparative Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and Metabolic Risk Factors. PLoS Med 6(4): e1000058. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000058
7 Ex 14:13
8 Ex 32:31,32
9 Dt 8:11-15
10 Dt 8:2
11 Ex 18:14
12 Klaus, Carolyn (2001) Prescription for Hope, Restoration Press, Bristol Indiana
13 Ex 18:21
14 Ex. 33:14
Bryan Hollinger, MD, MPH is the Medical Director of Esperanza Health Center in Philadelphia. He and his family have served in Philadelphia for the last 16 years.