It is Christmas eve and I’m starting my reflection as I watch my younger two sons play.
Usually, by this time, my goals and strategy for the year ahead are usually being prayed about and put unto paper but this time it is a little different.
I am the midst of life-changing internal work.
I cannot say much more than that because the process isn’t complete and I will most definitely write about it in the year ahead.
But it is safe to say that I am seeing an unlimited perspective and abundant potential and my life will never be the same again.
I’m learning that is more about the person that I want to become rather than the things that I want to achieve that should dominate my thinking.
I am praying that 2020 will be unhindered, wild and free and a little uncomfortable but majestically brilliant.
With the greatest of respect for your time I offer you:
An encouragement — The Possibility of impossibilities (4-minute read)
A reflection — The minimum standard man (5-minute read)
An essay — Grace means to me — Relationship not religion (12-minute read)
The possibility of impossibilities
What does it mean to have an unshakeable hope as we approach 2020?
The stories on the news are of world calamity and local community heartbreak.
Climate fears are real and bushfires rage across Australia.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about issues THEY think matter.
Anxiety and depression are daily battles for an increasing number of people.
In all of this, how are we to cultivate hope daily?
The answer is Christ.
Working in us, through us and working out in every single aspect of our lives.
2019 has built on my hope that there is no one more powerful than the our mighty God.
And if our daily hope is in him and not in our politicians, our boss or friends in high places or in the will of other fallible human beings, each day will look, feel and be ultimately more powerful, grace-filled and possible.
The reason I have hope is that I have seen God do impossible things in my life and in the lives of others.
“For nothing is impossible with God”
Luke 1:37 (Passion Translation)
And this one truth is what I teach my sons, have up on my study wall, have engraved on my heart and think, talk and pray constantly over.
In 2019 it is what I believe more than ever.
In September 2018 my Palliative Care training contract finished and I didn’t have confirmed work to follow, I had nothing.
My dream was to continue working in Palliative Medicine and for this to become my main focus and for this to provide for the needs of my family.
By faith, I had left General Practice in 2017 and by faith I had walked through the open door of finding funding for Palliative Medicine training but after this my future wasn’t certain.
But within one month of leaving, the hospital offered me a small amount of weekly work, awesome!
However, impossibility remained, established work within Palliative Care for the future was still uncertain.
My impossible prayer was that my position as a Palliative Care Senior Medical Practitioner would become something significant and be embedded into our health service structure
After returning from holiday this year in Broome, I had the strong sense to talk to my wonderful mentor and supervisor Dr Kirsten Auret about my future.
“Kirsten, I really want to work more in Palliative Care, what can we do?”.
Little did I know that Dr Auret was also contemplating her future and with me working in our Regional Palliative Care service, she felt that she could make her move out of Palliative Medicine – she wanted me to help lead our team in a more significant role!
Early one morning in my quiet time a few days later, God showed me:
“I had gone from nothing, to absolutely everything”
God had done the impossible.
Where the doors were closed, funding was absent and priorities were elsewhere, hope was not lost.
This didn’t happen in human strength and wishing that the service was different. It happened because every step of this journey has been steeped and covered in prayer and every moment has thus been dripping with unmeasurable favour. It was almost as if every closed door melted effortlessly open, powerful and simply because we asked!
The possibility of impossibilities is where God works.
If it could be done in your own strength, by sheer will, determination and ingenuity, where is there room for God to show his glory and his greatness?
2019 taught me that the depth of your faith will determine the size of your dream and the size of the dream will determine the prayers of possible impossibilities that you will petition the God of the universe for — believing in what you cannot see and being absolutely sure for what you are hoping for.
So I ask you as you look toward 2020:
What seems impossible in your life?
What doors has God opened for you?
Where are these intersecting?
What “impossible” prayers do you need to pray?
The act praying is powerful — for when we ask, seek and knock, God hears but not only that, he starts to change our hearts and therefore the words that we speak in intimate conversation with him.
In the garden before Jesus was arrested and his impending suffering and death, he pleaded with the Father:
“Father if you are willing, take this cup of agony away from me”
He was asking for another way that could be found to save us, but through his prayer, the spirit of God strengthened him and provided him with an answer— There is no other way…if they are to be saved, I must not save you.
Our Lord Christ was not saved from the agony and his death on the cross.
But because of this infinite cost to him — we are forever saved by his sacrifice.
What I have found is that when I have asked God, sought him and knocked on closed doors in my life, not everything has been answered or turned out the way I thought. But what God did in that time was change the words of my prayer from being focused on inwardly focussed on me, to gloriously outwardly focussed on the immeasurable grace and favour on the one who saved me.
Reference (My Rock, my refuge — Tim Keller pg 155)
Complete manhood – The minimum standard man
The funeral was on in the afternoon and I knew the day would be hectic — Dr Auret was away and I had been in theatre for most of the week, so I didn’t commit to attending.
As I drove past the church, I couldn’t believe the number of cars that had occupied ALL of our church parking and more half of our large grassed paddock!
I thought “almost all of Albany is here!”
A great man of God in our church had suddenly died.
The deep sadness of his death was palpable through the community and the overflowing carpark was evidence of how many people had been personally affected by his death.
As a Palliative Care doctor, I know that in death, the legacy of your life is represented by the people that gather around you in your last days and pay their respects after you leave this earth.
Craig’s death made me think because it shone a bright and piercing light upon the life that I was living and asked the question as to whether or not my legacy would live on brightly through my sons, be reflected in my wife’s eyes and be felt throughout the community.
See the one thing I know about this great man is that he raised four wonderful and passionate adult children, contributed significantly to the area that God had given him an interest in, was a great friend and community contributor within the Church and beyond and had a beautiful marriage with his wife.
Death leaves unfiltered and uncensored evidence of the life that we lead. In some cases, this is disturbing and utterly disappointing but in Craig’s case, it was a beautiful song of the life-giving freedom of what it means to be a man of God.
Earlier in 2019, I was rocked by a rumour that I wished untrue but sadly what I hoped was gossip was indeed the truth of infidelity.
After Craig’s death, God started to speak to me about the standards by which men needed to live by. Because in my death, I wanted to know that I had lived a life that stood apart in how I loved Kylie, raised three rockingly wonderful sons who were living their lives for Christ, that I had contributed significantly to my community, written words that had touched many and had made a difference in the lives of my patients and their families.
This is what I called:
The minimum standard man
In 2019 the #metoo movement dominated headlines together with torrid stories of abuse, inappropriate sexual behaviour and “men behaving badly”.
As God has gifted me three sons to raise, I take this space with authority to say that to be considered a fully grown adult male, minimum standards must be met.
Ask yourself, what if all men were trained and mentored towards a standard?
A minimum standard which isn’t law because that implies perfection and failure but rather a set of absolute minimum standards which ensured safety, productivity, health and wholeness, morality and working toward the common good of humanity?
What would our society look like?
And most importantly what could be achieved?
I have written widely about manhood, being a husband of value, raising boys and the keeping our marriages sacred, but this work is a little different. It is prescriptive. It is controversial and I don’t really mind because these are the standards by which I live my life by and will teach my sons.
What are the minimum standards for men?
This is work that I am yet to finish but this is what I see when I talk about the minimum standard man.
The minimum standard man is safe. For all purposes, he could be considered to be easygoing, relaxed and approachable. Women feel safe with him. He interacts with them like they are sisters, mothers and aunties. He saw important men in his life treat all women as equals and often deferred to their judgement and expertise — and that is how he lives his life now. He speaks up and defends those who are vulnerable because to see and walk past injustice, is pain that his heart cannot bear.
The minimum standard man expresses his sexuality within the confines of a committed marriage and places great value on the dating relationship. Pornography, prostitutes, affairs and friends with benefits all fall short of the standard. The standard is also an open-book internet policy, there is no room for filth. The minimum standard man expresses his emotion and takes responsibility for his actions. Violence is so far below the standard that it is criminal and requires immediate repercussions and intervention.
The minimum standard man contributes to making a difference in the lives of others. If it by the means of cheating, lying, stealing, scamming, ripping-off, preying on the vulnerable, using violence and exploiting children and women, please do not even apply to make the standard. A minimum standard man makes a living and whilst some will choose to make a fortune the standard remains at contribution.
The minimum standard man keeps his health in view because he understands everything of value in life involves energy — physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual energy. The minimum standard man keeps his physical health as a priority — not driven by ego but by the pursuit of longevity, energy for life and legacy.
The minimum standard man keeps himself psychologically and emotionally healthy through self-reflection and appraisal. The absolute minimum is talking about emotion, exploring insecurity and seeking help if he needs it. You do not meet the minimum standard as a man if you fail to explore your inner world. This is because your inner world outwardly affects the women and children and other significant men in your world who will never know what it is like be influenced, led and loved by the unhindered you.
The minimum standard man answers to authority and seeks the counsel of other experienced women and men. To meet this standard, men need to have other successful, wonderful and wisdom-filled women and men who are allowed to speak into their world and hold them accountable. The minimum standard man is not easily influenced but assembles a group of trusted advisors, much wiser than him to guide his steps.
The minimum standard man understands that his actions have real consequences. As it is said in Proverbs 20:7 “The righteous man leads a blameless life, blessed are this children after him”.
The minimum standard man knows the greatest way that he can bless his children and give them the best start, is to lead a blameless life. Blameless is not perfection. Blameless is an intention with behaviour that closely follows. If a man wants a beautiful and passionate marriage (intention), his behaviour may follow in this way — absolute no pornography, clear boundaries with female colleagues and friends, finding a healthy and healing way to argue and also forgive, investing time in his wife’s love languages and finding an older married man to help guide him.
My standard for manhood will always be the life, lessons and love that Jesus Christ showed in his life on earth.
2019 taught me that not all men have the opportunity to have fathers and mentors in their lives to model the minimum standards of manhood but through a series of events and reflection, I reaffirmed my mission to raise my sons to become adult men who at the very least are eminently qualified God-fearing men!
Grace to means to me “Relationship, not religion”
There is undoubted toxicity in the world today towards Christianity.
The Christian voice is increasingly being muffled by those who feel oppressed, offended and hold views opposite to the central message of the Christian faith.
Our Prime minister in Australia is even more vilified because he is a believer in Christ. His faith is under constant scrutiny, adding an additional fire-power to his opponents about every decision that he makes in office. Furthermore, one the of biggest stories of 2019 was that of Israel Falou’s stand and fight for Christian values.
But this is nothing new.
The one thing that I know is if we choose to live our lives for Christ, we will face conflict.
In Timothy 3:12, Paul prepared young Timothy for life as a believer and the real issues that he would face as he lived his life for Christ.
“Indeed, all who delight in pursuing righteousness and are determined to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be hunted and persecuted [because of their faith]”
2 Timothy 3:12 (Amplified Bible)
Why is Christianity so despised?
My mentor from afar Timothy Keller offers this thought from his devotional — My Rock, my refuge.
“The world doesn’t understand the Gospel of Grace — in which holy living is the result of humble and grateful joy, NOT to earn a way to heaven.
The world, therefore, sees all righteous living as self-righteousness and bigotry”
(My rock my refuge pg 153 — Tim Keller)
Do you want to know something very real about me?
I love Jesus (seemingly obvious because of this piece).
I am absolutely in love with him.
Head over heels, thinking about him all the time and sending holy text messages (prayer) to him through my day — in love.
It is because of this love that I follow him, obey his teachings and centre EVERYTHING that I do around Christ.
Why is that? and how did this happen?
It came down to truly understanding the meaning of grace.
In 2019, the biggest thing that happens to me in my spiritual world and thus my ENTIRE world was understanding what grace truly meant.
It is hard to describe the shame of failing and falling hard and the turmoil and anxiety that facing an uncertain future holds, but that is what an 18-year-old Jonathan faced in 1998.
Contrast that to Dr Jonathan Ramachenderan, Emergency Medicine Registrar, father to newborn Samuel and husband to Kylie in 2009 — the world of infinite possibilities stood in front of me, what a difference time can make!
But in both places of my life, I was lost.
Not lost in the sense that I lacked direction or motivation but spiritually lost and internally barren.
I had moved from the life of freedom and self-discovery as a self-indulgent teenager and young man to the life of a religious rule-following pharisee in the space of a decade in the attempts to “clean up” my act.
The parable of the two lost sons in the bible encapsulates my life during this time and in 2019 I read Tim Keller’s book — The Prodigal God, which so brilliantly explained the true meaning of this story and about the gift and the cost the radical free grace that I had received.
See, one the things that some non-Christian’s despise about the church and the Christian faith is its self-righteousness and bigotry — looking down on others in judgement, thinking that we Christians “have it all together”, allowing appearances and outward service to be the determining factor of faith and worst of all persecuting, segregating and abusing those deemed “not worthy”.
But Jesus never lived that way.
The people who LOVED him the most were most unlike him. And the people who opposed him were the religious!
This verse in Matthew captures this thought well.
“Later Jesus went to Matthews home and made himself at home. Many other tax-collectors and outcasts of society were invited to eat with Jesus and his disciples”
“When the Pharisees saw what was happening, they were indignant and they kept asking Jesus’s disciples, “Why would your master dine with such lowlifes?”
To eat with another during this time in Jewish culture was to share your life with someone and to establish intimacy within the relationship.
So why were the “outcasts” and the “lowlifes” drawn to Jesus and eating with him?
They were drawn to him because like the father in the story of the two lost sons — he offered no judgement, there was no pretence of “making themselves worthy or ready” and there was certainly no checklist of requirements to be “sin and blemish” free.
There sat Jesus with outstretched arms, welcoming them to the feast, reclining and talking with people, including everyone in conversation and wanting a relationship with them.
Because at the core of my faith is a relationship with God, not religion.
At the two opposite ends of how I used to live my life — I sought freedom from God and pursued my own path, like the lost son who spent his father’s inheritance on loose living.
And conversely, I have lived my life as a pharisee or “religious person” — having all the external fixtures of a Christian but internally and privately being very far from God and struggling with the shame of “hidden sin”.
So how can a religious person be far from God?
What does it mean to have a love relationship with God?
Quite simply, religion still insists that we must work our way to forgiveness, goodness and righteousness.
If we were to believe that, if you did 50% of good works would then you be entitled to 50% of forgiveness and right-standing with God — and because we know that complete goodness is impossible and improbable, this certainly does not work. Furthermore, what does 50% of forgiveness look like?!
Grace says — you are forgiven completely.
Your past, present and future sin, gone because of what Jesus has done . You don’t need to “work it off”, “pay it forward”, “give back” or “live a good life” to earn it. “It’s done, I did it. On the cross” — Jesus speaking (my emphasis).
The beauty and wonder of Grace is that it is absolutely free and available to us because it was infinitely costly to Jesus — his death.
Grace is regarded as scandalous because the forgiveness of sin, right-standing with God and eternal life was available to everyone and anyone who believes!
This was a shocking revelation. It rocked the religious world who had relied upon following the law and offering sacrifices to make yourself “right with God”.
Even so in Mark’s gospel, Jesus highlights this again
“On hearing this, Jesus said to them (the Pharisees), “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
Being religious is a type of sickness — it prevents you from experiencing the warm, overflowing, never-ending, always and forever love of God (reference Jesus Story Book Bible — Sally Lloyd-Jones).
When I was living large and loose, it was shame that prevented me from coming to cross and when I was hiding my sin as pharisee, pride kept me from God.
I remember the day this truth hit me — 26/02/2019.
For the first time, I understood that God’s grace — his forgiveness of my sin was complete and absolute. Now and forevermore, I was forgiven and made right with God.
I didn’t need to confess my old sin because my forgiveness and acceptance by God was complete! It was won forever by Jesus’s sacrifice at the cross.
I have to admit that even as a mature Christian, I had to learn this truth again to allow it to take residence in my heart.
At numerous times in my life, I had found myself back in the pattern of confessing the same sins over and over again and in doing so, I was ignoring the power of Jesus’s sacrifice for me!
This act, this gift, this power was grace that God showed me – It was free, radical and absolute.
He didn’t care what I had done, he accepted me with open arms when I was carrying the weight of sin, shame and guilt.
Everything single mad, sad and bad part of me, he accepted (Max Lucado — He chose nails).
So what does a love relationship with God look like?
I follow him and love after him because of what he has done for me.
Like a son, in awe, wonder and adoration of a wonderful and loving father, I live my life to please him and make him smile.
Obedience simply follows the absolute thanksgiving of the Father’s sacrifice for me.
He had made me silky white, forgiven and unblemished by my sin.
What grace means to me — Dr. Jonathan Ramachenderan 26/02/2019
This is what I wrote in my prayer journal (transcribed because of shocking doctors handwriting).
Wash over me. Extravagant gift. Unmeasurable and unfathomable, how precious it was.
It saved me from death. It pardoned me and set me free.
It gave me a home, it gave me a belonging.
The gift was powerful because it defeated death, the one thing that evil had over me. Death in relationship, death in spirit, death in joy, death in peace, death in comfort.
The gift of grace smashed it all and that gift was for me, Jonathan Ramachenderan.
My only posture is to bow down, to live my life after you God.
Not because of the rules, not because of parameters but because of my overwhelming adoration and desire to please you and live under your right hand.
Not working for your love because before I loved you, you loved me and formed me and then gave me the most precious gift of your son.
I am thus heir, you are my Dad, you are my Creator, you walk with me.
Thank you, Lord.
Grace — Slow, soothing, rest of God. Comforting breath, warm hope and surrounding favour. Strength in weakness, hope in the darkness, power in emptiness and depletion.
My genuine hope is that these words have found a place in your heart because they are not mine but my Fathers. He is talking to you, he loves you with a warm and overflowing always and forever love that nothing can take away.
I pray that 2020 will be the year of becoming more of who God intended you to be.
My intention? To be secretly incredible.
Enjoy your health and smile!
Dr Jonathan Ramachenderan