Wednesday, April 25, 2018

God the Magic Genie?

Dear Friends,

When I was a kid, I loved to skate. I managed to fall down a lot on my own, but the photographic evidence establishes that sometimes I was pushed by my little sister. The shadow in the photo on the left is my father documenting the misdeed with his Kodak "Brownie" camera and the long shadow at the upper-right is my mother interrogating the little sidewalk terrorist. Fortunately, I always had a lucky rabbit’s foot in my pocket to protect me from harm! Then there was the day I’m flying down the sidewalk on my skates and the metal clamp that attached the skate to my shoe became loose. I fell face first and left about three feet of my skin on the sidewalk. Apparently I’d been given a defective lucky rabbit’s foot because its magical protection didn’t work. And God doesn’t work that way either. God is not a charm to dangle from your rearview mirror or a talisman to wear around your neck for good luck. You can’t stuff God in your pocket like a “lucky rabbit’s foot” to guarantee protection from life’s misfortunes or from pesky little sisters.

Many Christians today have fallen into the trap of what I call “Entitlement Christianity.” We go to church. Tithe. Pray. Worship. Then tragedy strikes and now we’re furious with God for letting it happen. “I’m a good Christian! I don’t deserve this!” And I’ve known too many former Christians who rejected God and became atheists after a personal tragedy because the God they’d been taught to believe in didn’t exist. They had listened to well-meaning family members and preachers and had ascribed to God the characteristics of a magic genie or talisman. As long as we have Him in our pocket, wherever we go and whatever we do, we will be safe and no harm will come to us. We are good people of faith and God owes us! But that’s bad theology and shame on our churches for teaching that.

At one time, I was a pastor in a Pentecostal denomination that taught “positive confession theology.” Taking authority. Claiming victory over health and financial problems. Preaching that God guarantees that what we “claim in the name of Jesus” will be ours. But the trouble with “positive confession theology” is that life happens and misfortune strikes. We claim God’s protection and then the earthquake occurs. The drunk driver crosses over the center divider. Prayers go unanswered and a wife dies in surgery. A son or daughter is lost to mental illness and homelessness. The tests come back positive for cancer. We named it and claimed it and stepped out in full expectation of victory and God did not meet our expectations. We are absolutely devastated. But any teaching that obligates God (based upon our diligent exercise of faith) to do our bidding and provide us with good health, wealth and protection, is the unbiblical religion of Entitlement Christianity.

Out of our love for others, we can inadvertently foster that Entitlement Christianity with our prayers and encouragements. I remember a pastor’s wife who had been given “prophecies” by those in her church assuring her that God loved her so much He was going to heal her breast cancer. As she later lay dying in a hospital bed, she told me through her tears that God didn’t love her enough to heal her cancer. Well-meaning “prophets” had made promises for God, commanded healing in the name of Jesus and nearly destroyed this woman’s faith when her cancer continued to spread. She thought that if God loved her, He'd heal her, but God loved her so much that He gathered her up in His arms and took her to heaven.

God may heal in response to prayer. Or maybe not. Yes of course we do pray for healing and believe that if it is God’s will do so, He will. But it is spiritual arrogance to “take authority” over illness and command God to heal. God’s grace, mercy and favor are His free gifts and not something that we deserve or can ever earn. The Word of God never promises great wealth, perfect health and a trouble-free life. (Actually Jesus promised the opposite John 16:33 NLT) But God does promise that no matter what happens, He will never leave or abandon us. Hebrews 13:5 

A mature theology sounds like this: God does love us. He does protect us. He does heal in response to our prayers. He does have a plan for your life. And sometimes our life is wonderful and sometimes it stinks. We can be flying down the sidewalk of life exalting in the pure excitement of it all and in the next moment we’re sliding on our face. That’s why a self-centered attitude of entitlement must be replaced with a biblical understanding that God treats us all equally. Those first century apostles experienced hardship and suffering. None were wealthy. Paul was tortured multiple times for his faith 2 Corinthians 11:22-28 and had a physical disability that God refused to heal. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 All the apostles were persecuted for their faith. Why are we shocked when God also allows us to experience tribulation in our life? When misfortune strikes, the mature Christian doesn’t push God away, but draws Him closer. God alone is our refuge. He is our God. We trust in Him. Amen?

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