Friday, April 20, 2007

God and Dentists

One day as I was sitting in the dentist chair, C.S. Lewis reminded me again of an apt analogy. He says that humans have a tendency to treat God like a dentist. We only go to Him when it hurts.

As a youngster, I also remember discovering the potency of a couple of aspirins when I had a toothache. It was easier taking two aspirins for the symptom than it was going to the dentist for the root cause (no pun intended, really!) Anything to kill the pain, anything to put off the inevitable encounter with needle and drill. But inevitable it was.

It makes me wonder how it makes dentists feel, knowing that they are the last people on the planet we want to see; at least not in that context.

I often wonder too, how God must feel when we treat Him as a crisis manager, but not as One whose involvement in every area of our lives is regarded as absolutely essential. If I had a nickel for every time I heard some agnostic blame God for the pain of evil, I could make a real difference for orphans in Haiti. Have you noticed that each time a disaster occurs, we ask about God's whereabouts, but seldom do we stop to give God the credit when things are going well?

Blaming God for evil is like blaming the dentist for my extraction (I know, the analogy breaks down, so don't stretch it too far). I might have prevented today's painful extraction by being diligent 25 years ago with some preventative action.

In similar ways, a lot of crises in our lives can be prevented by maintaining and nurturing a positive relationship with God during the good times. There is a warning in Deuteronomy that was given to the Jews as they waited on the east side of the Jordan River. God said to them through their leader Moses, "When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you- a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant- then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Deut 6:10-12).

The obvious lesson is this. When things go well, we tend to forget God. We forget to give credit where it's due. And as soon as we experience a downturn, our instinctive reaction is to look up and ask Him why. What odd creatures we are.

Imagine that someone comes to your door one day to give you $50. At first you are extremely suspicious, but finally you accept it, after you satisfy yourself there are no strings attached. The same person comes by the next day, with another $50. This happens every day for the next 30 days. On the 31st day, your benefactor doesn't show up. How would you react? Some people would shrug their shoulders and say, "I knew it wouldn't last."

Others would experience anger and disillusionment. Still others would have counted on this money to such an extent that they are now in trouble, because they maxed out their credit card due to the generosity of the stranger. Happily, some would be genuinely grateful for what it was when it lasted.

Believe it or not, that's how many folks treat God. Let someone experience His grace for a few days, and when the storms come, suddenly God's the villain!

The only way out of this cycle is to view God as the most important Being in our lives. He is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. He created mankind (you and me) in order to be His image bearers (according to Genesis 1). Nothing can be as important as getting to know this God. And He regarded getting to know us as so important that He created a wide open door of access to himself. He wants us to use that access, not just when we have a "toothache". Excuse me, it's time for another Advil

Friday, April 13, 2007

Do You See the Glory?

Some time ago, I was at a family conference at a Christan Retreat Center. I don't remember the particulars, but while there I found myself interacting one day with a believer who had obviously been impacted by the 'Toronto Blessing'. He seemed to be somewhat disappointed that I was not experiencing or promoting a more dynamic view of Christianity. I am more of an introvert and you have to look closely to see me smiling. It's how I'm wired. I'm just not all that excitable.

He had obviously been a part of the Airport Vineyard thing, where people have dramatic PHYSICAL manifestations of what they believe to be the Holy Spirit. He wanted to influence me in that direction, and insisted that we were totally missing out, because obviously, we aren’t experiencing any of THAT glory.

The rest of that day, I asked the Lord to show me where the glory is. If (as Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 3) this ministry that we have is MORE glorious than the glory the likes of which Moses experienced, I didn't see it.

All week we had guests there from a group home that took care of individuals with special needs; people who were pretty seriously challenged from a developmental point of view. Sometimes they would behave in ways that were not wrong, but just kind of socially awkward.

One of them walked up to me during the course of that day, stuck out his hand with a big grin on his face, shook my hand and with difficulty and a brilliantly shining face said, “I believe in Jesus. Do you?”

And God whispered in my ear, “Do you see the glory?”

I sat down at a table where I met a small girl. She was in a motorized wheelchair. Looked to be about 11 or 12 years old. Probably weighed all of 70 pounds. Her mother was sitting there as well. I forget the diagnosis of this girl.. but she wasn’t expected to live past her 16th birthday, and she is 29.

She can’t eat. She uses a feeding tube. She can’t control a number of her bodily functions. But she thrives on the life of Jesus, and her face shone. And God whispered in my ear: “Do you See the glory?”

I meet her father. He walks with great difficulty. He tells me he has Cerebral Palsy, but still works as a custodian. (I have learned since that worked at a nursing home and then at a drug company, doing custodial work. Several years ago the plant doctor decided that the job was too hard on him physically and recommended that he be put on a disability pension). As we talk about the things of the Lord, his face shines, and as he shared his life story with me, one heartache after another spills out. His financial situation is lousy because of the never ending health care needs he faces. Finally he tells me his wife was now diagnosed with the same diagnosis the daughter in the wheel chair had, but his greatest grief, get this, his greatest grief is that his oldest daughter is not walking with the Lord. His oldest daughter is the only physically healthy one of the family.

The tears are overflowing his eyes as he is telling me this. His face is glowing with the love of Christ, because his tears are not tears of sorrow and grief, they are tears of love for the Lord as he talks about how the Lord has sustained him, the Lord whispers in my ear, “Do you see the glory?”

I met people that week whose circumstances are terrible; whose health problems would put many of us into despair; whose financial lives are nonexistent.

And hands down, they displayed evidence of an abundant life that many others whose lives appeared to be pleasant and “normal” didn’t have.

And I have learned another lesson about what the abundant life really means.