Monthly Archives: September 2015
If the title of this post caught your attention, you may be thinking “I didn’t know there was an unsafe way to apply my faith.” The answer is yes, there is an unsafe way to apply your faith, and it can be lethal. More accurately I should say that immersing oneself with reckless abandon in certain teachings or practices of the church (which can look like a zealous faith) can be hazardous to your health. Allow me to elaborate with two examples:
A good friend of mine became a Christian as a young adult after years of indulging sinful enticements and unorthodox spiritual pursuits. His conversion was so radical, miraculous and complete that the church and all things Christian and biblical completely consumed him. He became and uber-believer in Christ and in the healing power of Christ. He believed it with ALL his heart and mind. He had good reason to believe it because he witnessed firsthand examples of God healing illness and other issues in the lives of people in the church. But many years later my friend was diagnosed with a potentially deadly illness. He lived in denial for years, but eventually he accepted the diagnosis with the unshakable conviction that God would heal him. He waited, and waited, but no divine healing came. Eventually he began medical treatment and has been relatively stable, though his health paid a price for his procrastination.
Recently, a family member of mine was not as fortunate. She was a devout Godly woman who embraced the Pentecostal tradition of the church. So when she was diagnosed with cancer, she automatically assumed God would heal her. And why not? All her life she felt the movement of the Holy Spirit and witnessed the Spirit’s healing power in the lives of fellow believers. But like my friend, she delayed treatment, opting for a miraculous healing. She eventually sought medical treatment that worked for a while. But when the cancer returned, other Christians (who felt they had “a word from the Lord”) tried to support her by telling her that they felt in their spirit that the Lord was not finished with her yet and that she still had work to do, especially within her family. She passed away about a week ago. Her death left me feeling sad, and angry. It also left me with a nagging question: Would her life have been prolonged had she sought medical treatment instead of thinking that God would miraculously heal her? Certainly she bears some responsibility for her own decisions, but I also lay part of the blame at the foot of the church. How so? The church may be harming people by the way it teaches about miraculous healing and the way it projects healing in the church. The church tries too hard to have a positive attitude about miraculous healing (and just about every type of miracle), often leaving the flock with the impression that if we just have a positive attitude and strong faith, God will heal.
A well-intentioned pastor I know has for years taught about hearing God’s voice. He has built an entire teaching based largely on one passage found in John 10:27 where it says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The pastor teaches young and old that we can hear God’s voice since God’s spirit is constantly communicating with our spirit because God’s spirit lives within us. The pastor’s specialty is teaching Christians how to discern the difference between God’s voice and our own internal dialogue. It is a fascinating teaching, and there is some truth to it. I myself have experienced God’s voice on rare occasions (no, it is not an audible voice) communicating with my spirit. Most of the time striving to hear God’s voice is a harmless endeavor. In fact, it can help us grow spiritually. But it can be a dangerous endeavor because if you get it wrong, it can lead you to make bad decisions about things like your health, which can reduce your survivability when faced with serious illness. Your see, despite our conversion to new life in Christ, we remain flawed beings who live in a damaged imperfect world. With flawed minds we are easily seduced into hearing what we want to hear when seeking to communicate with God. Even young Samuel had trouble discerning the voice of God in 1 Samuel chapter 3.
After decades of witnessing what goes on in a variety of churches, I feel confident saying that many of my brothers and sisters in the faith have a distorted perception of how and how often God speaks to us as well as how often God intervenes to heal medical afflictions. For instance, a large church in Northern California has regular healing services where the sick are invited to seek miraculous healing. If a hundred people show up but only ten get healed, the church responds with raucous celebration over God healing the ten. Little, if any, is said about the ninety who did not receive healing. Don’t get me wrong, giving God all the praise for healing is definitely the right thing to do. But by ignoring the real numbers we perpetuate the false perception that God always heals, or that he heals Godly men and women who have walked faithfully in the ways of the Lord for decades. We can’t apply a healing or speaking formula to God. Those with seniority in the faith do not always get healed and brand new Christians sometimes get healed despite their rookie status.
In some ways, the church is a lot like a Norman Vincen Peale seminar on positive thinking. When praying or seeking a word from the Lord, any negative thought, suggestion or attitude is shunned. Yet some of the most beneficial things I ever heard from God, well, let’s just say Mr. Peale would not have approved of their real-world tone. My wife experienced a negative-sounding word from God. It happened during an altar call where people were invited up front to be prayed over for physical healing, my wife prayed for a well-known Godly man in a wheelchair who was struggling with a potentially deadly illness. He had sought healing on numerous occasions. My wife felt God was telling her to tell the man that he should simply rest in the Lord (in other words, there would be no miraculous healing from God). She prayed what God was telling her, and the man received it with humility. Such stories do not get all the hoopla in the church as the miraculous healings.
The church must tell it like it really is instead of presenting an overly positive, yet illusory, projection of how often miraculous healings and dialogue with God occurs. Sometimes we commit to our faith so wholeheartedly—which is admirable in many ways—that we live in an inaccurate world of faith. Yet even stout Christians sometimes think “If I only had more faith, I would get healed.” Here’s the thing: At some point it is not possible to have MORE faith. You either believe that Christ is the Son of God, that he died for your sins and rose from the grave, or you don’t. You believe Christ has the power to heal, or you don’t. Beyond that, we only need commitment to the long haul, without assuming so intensely that God will perform a miracle for us that it becomes a presumption (which is dangerously close to a demand).
Yes, the Bible tells us to have faith like a child. It also tells us to be as shrewd as snakes. If we only have faith like a child, we will get hurt. If we only have faith like a shrewd snake, eventually we won’t have ANY faith. A healthy faith requires both.
Driving on California freeways is like a dyslexic playing Russian roulette—where the gun has one empty chamber instead of five. Yep, the odds are stacked against you on the Golden State’s pristine avenues of death and dismemberment. I was reminded of this a week ago when traveling eastbound on a local stretch of freeway. Traffic was thick and moving at a brisk pace, which is to say everyone was breaking the speed limit with reckless abandon. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flicker of red brake lights far ahead of the cars in front of me. Either instinct or an angel’s suggestion prompted me to take my foot off the accelerator. No sooner had I done this when instantly all the brake lights of the cars in front of me came on. I hit the brakes while the three cars directly in front of me plowed into each other in an explosive crash that deployed air bags and sent car parts rocketing in all directions. I screeched to a stop inches behind the last car in the pile up. (Where is my GoPro when I need it?) Car enthusiasts brag about vehicles that can go from 0 to 60 mph in mere seconds. Let me tell you, it is way more important to go from 75 to 0 mph in mere seconds.
Was my near miss on the freeway a miracle? If you are a Pentecostal, you’d probably say yes. If you are a Baptist, no. If you are a Lutheran, maybe. Joking aside, I don’t know for certain if it was a miracle. But when I consider my age and declining reflexes, I think it must have been a miracle. On the other hand, I drive like an old coot that rarely tailgates. Perhaps my curmudgeonly driving habits finally paid off. If it was a miracle, I give God all the credit.
After thinking about the almost crash for a few days, I was reminded of James 1:17 where we are told that every good and perfect gift comes to us from God in heaven. We have a tendency in the West to think of gifts as material things. But maybe heavenly gifts are more often as simple as God intervening to keep us from plowing into an accident on the freeway. For that I am very, very grateful. It also came to me that the miracle might not have been for me, it might have been for the lady in the car in front of me. In any case, it should give us goosebumps to think that the God of the universe cares enough to personally intervene in the course of daily life to keep us safe. He does not always intervene, but not because he does not love us. Though it can make us uncomfortable, his ways are mysterious to mortals. And for an instant on the freeway last week, I stepped into that mystery.
By the way, no one was seriously injured in the accident.
Another video went viral last week. I hope scientists find a vaccine soon before the next contagion. Anyhow, this latest video is titled Dear Fat People by comedian Nicole Arbour. You won’t find a link here because of Arbour’s prolific utilization of F-bombs, which I personally find tiresome, especially when used gratuitously. In other words, the prolific F-bombs do not lend any creativity to her act. But it wasn’t the F-bombs that caused the brouhaha and hate directed at Arbour. Nope, it was her derisive (mocking) tone plus her encouragement of shaming directed at fat people that landed her in hot water. In her defense, Arbour makes it clear (halfway through her act) that she is not referring to people with a medical condition beyond their control. She is talking about the millions of Americans who are overweight because they do not control their eating while living a sedentary life. She says the shaming she uses should come from friends and family of the obese to prevent their overweight loved ones from an early demise where everyone stands around the grave and cries about them being taken too soon.
As a Christian and compassionate person I am conflicted about Arbour’s fat shaming. I found much of her content to be funny, but it also felt cruel. Weight is a sensitive, even raw, subject these days, especially among females of our species. Almost everyone with a fully functioning brain knows we have what experts call an epidemic of obesity in America. Yet the billions we’ve spent on education, laws, medicine, and weight loss programs seems to have done little to abate the epidemic. Is our society too soft on the overweight? Too hard? Do we help or make the problem worse when we use euphemisms such as “body image issues?” Arbour cleverly points out that hashtags won’t fix this problem. Does Arbour deserve the hate? In my humble opinion, maybe a little. But I also remember great comedians like Don Rickles, Dean Martin (yes, he was also a comedian), Foster Brooks, Sammy Davis Junior, and Carroll O’ Connor. Those guys used racial, behavioral, and sexual stereotypes to makes us laugh at ourselves, and by doing so they quietly made us aware that many of our stereotypes were an immoral lie. They chipped away at our collective conscience. Naturally, this angered many people with strong beliefs that the stereotypes were real (they were called bigots). Perhaps Arbour is on to something similar with her Dear Fat People video. Lord knows nothing else seems to be working at tackling the extremely expensive problem of obesity in America. The thing about the older generation of comedians was that they also knew how to make fun of themselves. Arbour does this a little in her video, but she should probably do it more often.
The Bible doesn’t say much about overeating and obesity, but what is does say is strict. For instance, Proverbs 23:2 says “Place a knife at your throat to control your appetite.” This does not mean we should kill ourselves if we can’t control our eating, though I occasionally feel suicidal after a break in character that leads me to dine at McDonald’s. This particular Scripture tells us via symbolism to undertake extreme measures, if need be, to get our appetites under control. In other words, the control of our appetite has serious physical and spiritual ramifications. It’s like God is saying “Pay attention to this, it is not a minor problem you can ignore and expect to have a fulfilling relationship with me!”
In conclusion, Arbour’s video comes off as overly harsh, but we’ve also become too soft as a society. In the golden age of comedy, comedians offended a lot of people, and in doing so they participated in bringing about positive social change. If nothing else, perhaps Arbour’s video has made us aware that there is such a thing as being too accommodating of poor choices.