February 17, 2010

Smile and say 'iphone!'

What does it mean to us in America that Jesus is enough? I’ll bet the Christians in Haiti could tell us. When everything else is absolutely gone, is Jesus enough?

I heard a sermon recently about Genesis 22, where God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only (legitimate) son. The sermon explained that God was testing Abraham because Isaac was the one that everything else hung on in his life. Isaac was his promise, his heritage, his heir. Isaac was everything. Sacrifice ISAAC?

The preacher went on to say that each of us has idols in our lives, too. We think of idols as little carved images sitting on a shelf or in a temple somewhere. But our hearts are temples to the Living God. What does it mean to me personally that Jesus is enough? What are my idols? In the midst of my “stuff,” my job, my relationships, my activities… what stands in the way of the development of my relationship with God?

It isn’t hard for me to put my finger on several things, but they’re not tangibles. They’re invisible idols–things that are harder to visualize and categorize. They show themselves in my responses. What makes me angry? Why? Here are some examples.

I end up being late for church and get angry with Gary (this is no particular time, but equally ridiculous scenarios have actually happened…). Why am I angry? Because of what others will think. Why does it matter? Because their opinions are too important to me. What they think of me matters more than anything else at that moment. My idol? My self-esteem/pride. The fallout of my idolatry? An argument with my spouse and time wasted in damage control for our relationship. See what my sin has caused? A little bit of death where there could have been life and joy in that relationship. Sigh.

Another day, we’re eating at a restaurant. My hungry hubby orders a fried seafood platter. I criticize his choice and urge him to order something broiled. He’s now hurt and angry and not even hungry. I’m frustrated; I was only trying to help… or was I? My response was criticism (masked anger). Why was I angry? Because he’s not taking care of himself. Why is that important? Because if he doesn’t take care of himself, he’ll die and leave me a widow. My idols? Control and Security. The fallout of my idolatry? Relationship damage again.

So the sermon really applies to me. I hate dethroning idols. It’s painful and embarrassing. But for me, it’s part of the growth process. I’ll be so glad if I can ever really trust God for those things and stop letting those idols climb back onto the throne. I’ve got to learn to let Jesus be enough. I pray it doesn’t take a devastating earthquake in my life to teach me that lesson.

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February 7, 2010

In recent weeks, my good friend Nikki O’Baire – the subject of my most recent book – learned she had skin cancer. By the time she learned it was cancer, it had already become quite dark, grown larger and started seeping. Nikki, however, has already recovered from three other malignant cancers. Although she was eager for surgery to get rid of the painful mass on her hip and some lesions on her face, she felt peace. She knew God was in control, and had no doubt that He had her best in mind – whatever that was.

As it turned out, the doctor was surprised that he was able to remove the entire cancer from her hip with the first surgery. He’d anticipated a much worse invasion since this had been growing for some time (many years). God has been at work to accomplish His will in Nikki’s life. Many prayed, and Nikki is grateful. She has not needed pain medicine, although she has multiple stitches in the 6-inch incision.

But what of prayer? Was it because so many prayed that God didn’t allow Nikki to die of this? Is His mercy contingent on the prayers we finite humans beg of Him? Does God actually heal people because of the amount of faith they or their friends display?

Denominations have been formed out of the answers to these questions. I hope I don’t start a new one today. Bear with me as I explore this question and hopefully raise others in your mind that will send you running to the Bible for answers. God’s own Word will never lead you wrong.

Part of the confusion about these things comes from a person’s theological bent. If one sees humankind as totally sinful and God as angry with sin, it is reasonable to think that God sends or allows illness in order to punish people for sin. In other words, all illness is a consequence of personal sin.* Therefore, the remedy for the illness is to get rid of the sin and plead with this angry God for mercy. If one does enough pleading, repenting or praying, perhaps God’s anger will be appeased and He will heal the person.

There are some valid points in that line of thinking. First, man is totally sinful. And God, being holy,  is so angry about sin that He required death to pay for it: Jesus died to appease God’s anger (wrath). But there is where the logic in the above paragraph gets twisted. God doesn’t send illness or allow it as “punishment” for sin. We don’t have to pay for our own sin; in fact – we can’t  pay for our own sin! Illness is not a consequence of personal sin. We don’t make “deals” with God through pleading, praying, repenting or demanding that He do something. God’s mercy doesn’t depend on our level of spirituality, and we can’t manipulate Him to heal someone with enough prayers or the “right kinds” of prayers.

For example, look at John 9: 1-11, the story of a man who was born blind. In Jesus’ day, people evidently ascribed to the theology that God punishes people with illness. But Jesus answered the disciples’ questions with, “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins…This happened so the power of God could be seen in him” (New Living Translation). God sometimes allows illness, blindness, crippling, etc., for the glory of God. Consider Joni Eareckson Tada, who became a quadriplegic through an accident. God has chosen not to heal her physically, but look how God has used her limitations for His glory!  Each of us can think of people we know who have, through physical illness, been given opportunities to spotlight God’s character through their response to their situations.

Jesus’ response at Lazarus’ tomb offers a glimpse of God’s heart with regard to illness. Jesus let Lazarus die so that He could show how God would deal with death. But when He got to the tomb and saw Mary and her friends weeping, John 11:33 says (and this is the best translation of the intent of the passage in Greek): “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled” (NLT). I believe Jesus was angry because He saw the misery and pain that sin causes. He knew life shouldn’t have had to include death. He was angry because his friends were hurting. They didn’t understand the end from the beginning like He did. So He raised Lazarus to show them: “See?” he could have said, “I’ve won this contest. I love you! Death isn’t the worst enemy you can have.”

When someone is sick, I try to avoid the temptation to tell God what He should do about it. I realize that He thinks differently that I do and that He sees the end from the very beginning. For God and those of us who love Him, death is not scary or final: it is a rite of passage into something deeper, longer and far better. When I pray for someone who is sick, I usually ask God to help me understand His heart for that person. I seek to agree with Him. Sometimes I cry because I can’t understand why He’d allow a young man to have serious cancer when his wife just learned she’s carrying their first child. I weep when my friend goes in the hospital for his second kidney transplant after the first failed. He spends almost a year there and almost dies several times from serious infections – only to return to life still on dialysis. And what about how it hurts to face the mom whose heart aches for her bipolar son? Or the teen who has terminal cancer? 

But none of these things change the goodness or mercy of God. He knows the end from the beginning, and walks with us through the interim. As I pray for a hurting friend, I can picture Jesus standing beside that hospital bed with a tear-stained face, just as He did at Lazarus’ tomb. He hurts with us. He’s not waiting for someone to beg Him to fix the problem; He’s already fixed it. He just wishes we could understand it as He does.

Sometimes it is God’s will to heal physically. He is totally capable of doing that; He’s still in the miracle business. But as Nikki O. told me once, “No healing on this earth is permanent. Lazarus still died after Jesus raised him!” Jesus will continue to heal us of our minor and major illnesses until His assignment for each of us is finished. As we intercede for others, seeking His will, we will learn to know Him better and trust Him more. And the best is yet to come!

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*Some illnesses are caused by personal sin. For example, a person’s choice to drink in excess could cause liver failure. Sexual promiscuity may lead to venereal disease. An explosive temper could cause high blood pressure, etc. Sickness came into human experience because we live in a fallen world; Jesus’ death paid the consequences for that and will finally free us from its inevitable result: mortality.

February 1, 2010

We don’t have to be smart any more. The only skills people in the next generation will need is the ability to repair machines and program computers. Everything I learned in school is now the function of a machine. Take math, for example. Calculators replaced the “times-tables” we had to memorize. They will do everything from square roots to calculus. Reading is barely needed since one can learn almost anything by watching a demo on the web and imitating it. If one must read, certain computer programs will read aloud to you while you do something else. Or you can rent the movie and pretend to have read the book.

Handwriting is not a subject any more. Too bad I attended elementary school back in the dark ages when we still had to learn to print with the paper that had dotted lines down the middle. Cursive writing was the bane of my existence, and always the worst grade on my report card (except for “deportment” – yeah – look it up, kids!). If I’d done 4th grade today (which is when we learned cursive script) I’d have had straight “As”. Youth today learn to use a keyboard before they ever get to first grade. I didn’t get typing until high school. We had to learn to hold a pencil before they trusted us with a keyboard. Another subject that didn’t make the cut is home economics. Young women don’t have time to cook and sew anyway. But that’s another day’s discussion…

Not only do we not need academia, we also don’t need map-reading skills. All we need is a working GPS to get us wherever we’d like to be. Know how to push buttons, and you’re literally “home free.” I’m so relieved with the advent of affordable global positioning. This development means that somebody out there knows where I am at all times, even if I don’t. I can always be found. You can’t imagine how comforting that is for someone who can get lost going to Atlantic Station (read the Archives for the full story).

My cell phone can now tell me almost everything I need to know. It connects me to the internet, takes photographs, sends messages (and photographs), serves as a tape-recorder and player,becomes a flashlight or siren and replaces my radio and other musical devices. It offers me applications that allow me to do anything from reading novels to strumming a tune on a virtual guitar. I will never know the potential of the device. What I needed, after all, was a phone.

Even basic life-skills are now automated. The first time I went into a public restroom where the toilet self-flushed, the water and soap self-dispensed and the hand dryer nearly blew my skin off without my even touching it, I was incredulous. We already had self-winding watches, robotic vacuum cleaners and motion-sensing lights. I’m still waiting on the self-making bed and the dust-eating furniture.

The question in my mind is motivation. We need all these time saving devices for… what? So we can have more leisure and work will be easier. So now everyone needs a gym membership to work off our leisure. We need personal therapists to tell us to slow down and lay aside the drivenness we live under. I sense a tension we’ve self-induced. Do we control our mechanized lives or do they control us?