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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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covid-19

That Time I Did “Faith Over Fear” – part 1

I was 18 and I was sitting in the dentist’s office when the dentist said something I couldn’t accept: “Your wisdom teeth are coming in sideways and you need to have them removed.”

This was an insane thing in my mind. God gave me wisdom teeth. Surely He didn’t intend for them to be removed, like some medical rite of passage, before they had even showed up fully in my mouth. This was terribly “unnatural” and if I knew anything, I knew that natural was the way things ought to be.

I argued with the dentist.

The dentist explained, “If your wisdom teeth keep growing in at this angle, they will grow into the roots of the teeth next to them, and they will kill those teeth too.”

In that moment, in huge contrast to my own emotions of umbrage towards the dentist, I felt the peace of the Holy Spirit, as if the Spirit was gently indicating to me He agreed with what the dentist said. I couldn’t believe that either. Truth be told, I didn’t want to believe it. God was supposed to be on the side of natural things, not on the side of the medical establishment that wanted to unnaturally and invasively alter my body and remove my precious new teeth.

I left the dentist’s office having zero plans to see an oral surgeon and have these teeth removed.

Years later, my front teeth were all jammed together and twisted from the wisdom teeth pushing all my teeth into each other. A roommate tried to explain to me, in terms that to her were said so carefully but to me felt so rude, “You know, you’d be so pretty if only you’d get braces.” She didn’t know that my teeth had not always been like that, nor that there was a reason they were like that now.

Eventually I did get those wisdom teeth removed. The decade I had spent having “faith,” praying for my teeth to “align” and become straight, had only served to show me that there was such a thing as cause and effect after all, and spiritual things didn’t usually alter that reality.

And after my wisdom teeth were removed, I had to have another molar removed too. The pressure of the wisdom tooth up against it had caused it to absorb itself from the inside out, in something called, “spontaneous resorption.” I tried in vain to save the tooth first with a giant filling, then a root canal, but after a terrible abscess that was the worst pain in my life, that one had to come out too. Somehow the evil dentist had turned out to be more “right” than my wrongly placed “faith.”

I liked to think I was listening to the Holy Spirit. But I wasn’t. I still remember that moment when I actually encountered the Holy Spirit, and could have put my faith in the leading he was giving me to do the science thing. But I wasn’t ready, and made up a “faith” in what my own religious inclinations told me was right — a passion for what was “natural” over what was truly sensible.

I have more of these stories of learning hard truths from the effects my own foolish stubbornness, that have greatly shaped my journey. It seems the season to share. Stay tuned.

Update: Here is the next story in this series: Faith over Fear, part 2.

God Protects Me and My Friends from Covid

A friend of mine recently wrote me about his attitude towards covid-19 and God. We’ll call my friend “Mike”:


[I want to share how I responded. First, a word about statistics: while it is hard to truly estimate the true death rate from Covid-19 because of the severe differences in mortality between ages, ethnicities, nationalities, and socioeconomic groups, it seems like 1% is the typical number that people quote in conversation. This doesn’t seem unreasonable, and it may be worth mentioning my friend is a white American male in his 50s.]

My reply:

The problem with the mindset here you are sharing about “not giving into fear” is that it is very individually centered. Covid only kills one out of every 100 people who get it, that’s what 1% fatality looks like. That means that you, and the average person in the average small church, will look around and say to themselves, “Look! Me and all my friends are recovering! See, we trusted God and it worked out!”

But this is a pandemic, and with a 1% fatality rate, it doesn’t play out on the scale that one person’s social network or church can see. Instead, a pandemic works itself out on large scale populations. So in a small church, maybe no one dies, or maybe one person dies.

But when you zoom out and look at a city, or a state, people are dying everywhere. You would see it playing out at a city’s ICU, or at a funeral home, or at a cemetery because this is where all those people end up. But among your limited group of friends, from that vista, 1% isn’t enough to make a large impact on a sample that small, so it looks like God is really on your side. And I’m not saying He isn’t — but again, when you zoom out and see a larger swath of people, for some 600,000 people in the USA, He didn’t “see them through” like you feel He did for you — many of them just as strong believers in God as you, many of them praying and being prayed for maybe more than you were.

No, this, “I’m not giving into fear” thing is all about individualism. If you move over to a more collective mindset rather than an individual mindset, one begins to see what while one thought they were trusting God to keep them safe, one was a vessel along with all their friends and church through which the virus flowed through a community like a wave. And Christians who insisted on gathering together without any masks, distancing, or vaccinations — without any “fear” as prudence gets mislabeled, these people directly contributed to the death of many people in their community. It’s impossible to see the 2, 3, or 4 degrees of separation where covid-19 got passed along until it killed someone, but everyone who died of covid so far got it from someone else, who got it from someone else. If any one of those people who could have been more cautious had done so, that chain would have been broken. Every person’s virus came from another person. Everyone who died was killed by other people’s bodies making copies of the virus which they then, sometimes without any attempt to hold it back, passed it on to other people.

But people can be myopic and only see what’s right in front of them instead of seeing the big picture. If I wear a mask, it sets an example for others — especially in my group of friends and people I fellowship with. And if I don’t, that also sets an example for others. And so covid-19 tearing through a group is also not just the responsibility of the people who get sick, but the people who sent them the message that they shouldn’t try not to. We are a body after all. I can talk about how God “saw me through” a Covid infection, but what I wish people would see is not how God sees them through covid, but how covid saw a way to get to them and through them to others — some of whom are killed, some of whom will suffer residual effects for years to come.

Not “being afraid” is so misapplied, and I wrote about the church’s mishandling of so-called “fear” long before this pandemic ever started. That’s all I have to share on this post, but since I can hear the gears turning in my readers’ minds and some are thinking about how “death isn’t something we should fight so hard to avoid” — I’m going to write about that crazy way of talking and thinking that’s been going around – in my next post.

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