Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dr. God, D.D.S.

I am dreading my next trip to the dentist.  There’s this tooth that my dentist has poked and wiggled every 6 months for the past four years.  “Any sensitivity on this one?” he asks.  “It looks like it should be hurting you…It’s just a matter of time before it needs a crown.”  I know it’s probably my imagination, but I can sense some anticipative joy in his proclamation.  You’ve probably guessed why I dread the next dental check up.  Sure enough, after four years of tugging at that ancient filling, I have developed some sensitivity to cold in that tooth.
All this reminds me of a metaphor C.S. Lewis uses in his classic, Mere Christianity.  He tells of experiencing toothaches as a child.  He would delay telling his mother until the pain became unbearable.  He would inform her in the evening when unable to fall asleep because of the pain.  She would then place an aspirin on the tooth to quell the pain.  Lewis says his release from pain was temporary for he knew that in the morning his mother would call the dentist.  Lewis dreaded the dentist because he knew that the dentist would not stop with that one tooth.  Indeed, the dentist would examine and any and all problems found in Lewis’ mouth.  Lewis complained that dentists, “given an inch, would take an ell” (a term used by tailors, 45 inches).

In true C.S. Lewis style, he then compares this experience to our experience of God in Christ.  Often times, we defer our prayers until those times in which our pain is so great we simply can no longer function.  It is then we call upon God to address that one “bad tooth” that is causing our suffering; perhaps a habit, an addiction or a troubled relationship.  However, Lewis reminds us, God is not unlike that dentist and, “given an inch, would take an ell” as well.  Truly encountering God means God will not only address the point of pain, but will also poke, wiggle and tug at the remaining areas of our lives.  All the while, God will ask, “It looks like this should be hurting you, as well…are you sure there’s not some sensitivity here, too??”
This process is identified in scripture as sanctification: a lifelong journey to perfection following one’s acceptance of God’s grace in Christ through faith.  As one influenced by the teaching/preaching of John Wesley, I understand sanctification, or “scriptural holiness” as Wesley referred to it, is not a process that limits itself to only certain parts of our lives which we choose.  Instead, it is an all consuming encounter with a God who not only seeks to drill out the decay that I can feel and acknowledge, but also the decay of which I’m not yet aware or to which I’m unwilling to admit.  This God is not above yanking out whole behaviors, attitudes and impulses that are capable of spreading decay throughout my entire life.  Better to go through life with a few teeth missing than to....you know where I'm going with this.
I guess what I find most refreshing in this metaphor (which I’ve both paraphrased and expanded) is that it reminds us that not everything about surrendering to God in Christ is pleasant.  There is, indeed, a cost to discipleship.  Beginning with an insistent invitation to “open wide” so Dr. God can not only see the obvious problems but the hidden ones as well, discipleship is a process which may actually introduce more pain, inconvenience or loss before it seems to improve our quality of life.  In a church/society so influenced by consumerism, this kind of process just doesn’t seem to “sell” to a “customer base” who have been convinced that the Christian faith can consistently be reduced to 4 or 5 feel-good points whose first letters, ideally, are an acrostic for a positive, memorable word.  I have a feeling if Lewis were here today he would not be nearly as impressed with the contemporary church's quest for "purpose" as we seem to be.  For seeking one's purpose without an all consuming commitment to the process of sanctification is nothing more than attempting to baptize one's own desires.

All this being said, I am still dreading my next visit to the dentist.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Of Time and Pointless Pondering

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Psalm 118:24

For several years, I attended a small support group comprised of four male clergy from the Des Moines, IA area.  We met for lunch every Thursday at noon with only three questions on our agenda: 1) How is it in your church?; 2) How is it in your family?;  3) How is it with your soul?  To this day, those conversations are some of the most sacred and meaningful I’ve experienced in my life.

At one of our lunchtime meetings, the conversation turned to the topic of time and age.  The group was comprised of four aging Baby Boomers (of which, I was youngest…just to be clear).  We were reflecting on our pastoral careers with respect to our age and the perceived responsibility and fitness for ministry often implied by that number that increases by one yearly.  The shared experience and reflection went something like this…
Several years ago, I was told that, with a few more years experience, I’d be ready for this kind of church or that kind of leadership position…and, now that those few years have passed, I’m told that if I were just a few years younger, I’d be perfect for this kind of church or that kind of leadership position…
 We agreed that the key question was this: Just when was that moment when I was just the right age?  What was I doing?  Did I notice it, or was I too busy?  There’s that moment when you drive or hike through a mountain pass where you’re no longer climbing and are not yet descending; that pinnacle moment when you are given this fabulous view and have a perspective of all that surrounds you that you lose as soon as you begin your descent…was it like that??

I’ve thought about that conversation many times over the past several years.  When was I just the right age?  Several times I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a question not worth pondering…but, I somehow keep forgetting the conclusion and before long am again entrapped by this pointless pondering.  The sure remedy for this “stinkin’ thinkin’” is to look around.  I see young parents in life and death struggles with cancer.  I see other folks younger than me who have decided life has nothing left to teach them; they’ve seen and done it all.  I see folks older than me whose passion and zest for life humble me.  At any given moment in life, there is a possibility to experience that pinnacle perspective.  The key is to remove yourself from that perspective.

When was I just the right age?  Today.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Spring has finally arrived full force in Alaska.  Yes, there is still the occasional collection of snow in the shaded, sheltered areas.  But the cottonwoods are budding their sticky flowers and I saw my first Alaskan mostquito.  The sun rises at 5:20 am and sets at 10:30 pm...and the bears are awake…it’s spring.

It’s time for some spring cleaning here at Decaffeinated God-Talk central.  Here are some partially developed ideas and ponderings that have cluttered the blog creation space in my mind long enough…

May 21, 2011…Did you know, according to Family Radio (www.familyradio.com) that Judgment Day is May 21, 2011??  Sorry to warn you so late in the game, but after all, we Christians have had nearly 2,000 years to prepare for it.  Perhaps your community, like Anchorage, has had a billboard truck driving around town warning folks of the impending judgment on the 21st.  If you take the time to go to the website and read the materials written by Harold Camping, you’ll find out that all organized churches ceased to have both authority and God’s blessing as of May 21, 1988; the Rapture will take place on May 21, 2011; and, the final destruction of the world will take place on October 21, 2011.

If you’re a pre-tribulation dispensationalist Christian, you better get your act together; time is short.  If you’re a post-tribulation dispensationalist Christian, you still have some time to get your act together, but don’t dally.  If you don’t know the difference…you’re probably a Methodist.

Though Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, was fond of describing justification as “fleeing the wrath that is to come,” we’ve not been much of a tradition for consuming ourselves with the end of this world someday so much as its transformation here and now.  By May 22, 2011, we’ll have a clearer idea as to which group is right.  For those who may want to hedge your bets, Google-ing “pre-trib dispensationalism” and “post-trib dispensationalism” would not be a waste of time.

Osama bin Laden…The recently oft-cited Proverbs verse about not celebrating deaths of enemies and the Twain quote say it all and other bloggers, colleagues and leaders in faith communities have said things much more eloquently than I can…

Rob Bell and Love WinsThere are things that I’ve never done of which I’m very proud.  For instance, I’ve never used Forrest Gump for a sermon illustration.  Sometimes it’s better to not swing at the easy ones.   I thought I would do the same with Bell’s controversial book.  I’ve read the book…I agree with some parts and I disagree with others…just like 90% of the other books about the Christian faith I read yearly.  What fascinates me is the angry visceral response it evokes from some Christians and how quickly and eagerly those same folks are to condemn another Christian to Gehenna (New Testament word for Hell).  

Christianity proclaims salvation by grace alone.  Is incorrect doctrine (if, indeed, that’s what  Love Wins actually promotes) really stronger than God’s grace expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Christ?  Can my ideas defeat this singular act of grace by God?  If bad doctrine does, indeed, trump grace, then anyone who has explained the Trinity to a child using ice, water and steam is seriously in danger (Google the heresy of “modalism”).  If modalism seems trivial to you in comparison to Bell’s perceived heresy, then where is the line that separates small-h heresy that will get you a poor grade in systematic theology from the capital-h Heresy that gets you a first class ticket to H E double hockey sticks?  We do not “kind of” believe in grace and leave the rest to the works righteousness of correct doctrine.  “Kind of” believing in grace is like being “kind of” pregnant or “kind of” dead…we either “put our whole trust in His grace” (from the U.M. membership vows) or we kind of trust it and put the rest of the weight of our salvation on OUR doctrine and ideas. 

Finally, who do I know in Russia???  There is this neat dashboard that I can access giving me information on the location of folks who are referred to my blog page.  I have 22 “hits” from Russia.  Who do I know in Russia?  There are 20 “hits” from Germany.  With a last name like Disburg, there’s probably some long-lost distant cousins Google-ing our shared last name  that accounts for that.  But, Russia??  If you live in Russia and read Caffeinated God-Talk, please let me know…but could you do so before May 21, please?