Tooth or Consequences

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Don’t tell my dentist, but I am a complete fraud.  I do not floss.  Never have.  Never will.  It’s not that I don’t want to or don’t see the value in it.  I just lack the discipline to make it happen more than three days in a row.  At that point I get busy or distracted and the wheels completely fall off the bus.

However, despite this flagrant floss-free lifestyle, the day I go to the dentist I always floss.  Always.  Sometimes, when I see it pop up on my calendar, I may even swing it a day or two in advance.  Why is this?

First of all, I don’t want anything exceptionally large, like a side of bacon, to fall out from my teeth during the cleaning.  Dental hygienists frown at having to pick up slabs of meat from the floor.  Second, I don’t want to get yelled out for not flossing.  I have enough guilt over all of the other healthy stuff I’m not doing and don’t need to add more shame to my list.   Finally, I’m embarrassed that I lack even the smallest modicum of discipline to develop a habit that will save me pain and money down the road.

So, the day I go to dentist, I perpetuate a charade and try and bluff my way through my exam.  But here’s the thing, who do I think I’m fooling?  It’s not like the hygienist doesn’t see a hundred mouths like mine every month.  She knows who flosses and who doesn’t.      The evidence of neglect gives me away every time.

The same thing is true in my spiritual life.  When I neglect the daily care of my soul, it shows.   When I’m prayerless, I stress out on people, especially my wife and kids.  I’m abrupt.  Easily annoyed.  When I’m not reading the Bible, I tend to worry too much and see worse-case scenarios around every corner.   When I’m not serving people, I grow self-centered and put too much stake in my own personal happiness.

Without these tiny acts of discipline, the gunk of selfishness tends to settle into those hard-to-reach areas of my heart, eventually leading to decay.  Sure, I can put on a happy face, shoot up a careless prayer every once in awhile and crack open a Bible when I know other people are looking, but spiritual neglect gives me away every time.

I cannot fake friendship with God.  I cannot fake maturity.  I cannot fake character.  I can only receive these things as gifts of grace given to me as I take the baby steps that lead to a healthy soul.   And in the seasons of life when I don’t take these steps, there’s no point trying to fake it.  Jesus already knows when I’m a mess.  But when I’m honest with God, that’s when He finally has room to work, drilling out the bad stuff and filling up the holes that no one else can touch.

(Image: ‘Dentista – 062/366‘, http://www.flickr.com/photos/38208449@N00/6947235051, found on flickrcc.net)

Beyond the 8 Ball

One of my favorite toys as a kid was the mysterious Magic 8 Ball®.  Have you ever seen one of these?  It’s basically a super-sized black billiard ball with a tiny, plastic window to the future.   Inside the window is a 20-sided die immersed in liquid with various answers to yes or no questions printed on its sides.  Ask the Magic 8 Ball® a question, flip it over and the answer will materialize in the murky depths of the blue future juice.

My conversations with the 8 ball always went something like this.  I’d say, “Oh, Magic 8 Ball®, will I someday be rich?”  I’d turn it over, and the 8 ball would say, “It is decidedly so.”  Woo-hoo!  Score.

The Magic 8 Ball® had ten positive answers, five vague answers (like “reply hazy, try again later”) and five negative answers.  So I learned that you always wanted to ask questions that had a positive outcome like, “Will I become a NASA pilot?” and not questions like, “Will I die in a grisly shark attack?”

The best part about the 8 ball, though, is that if it didn’t give me the answer I wanted, I could just turn it upside down and try it again.  With half of the answers being affirmative, it was just a matter of time before the future predictor came around to my way of thinking.

Honestly, sometimes I wish God were like a Magic 8 Ball®.  I’d like to be able to pick Him up, ask Him a question about my future, flip Him over and get the answer.  If He didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, I’d just turn Him back over and ask again.  Eventually, He’d give me a happy answer and make it so.

Truth be told, sometimes I’ve treated the Bible like that.  I’ve opened it randomly and if there was a positive verse on the page, I assumed it must be God talking to me.  If I opened it up to something gloomy, I turned the page.  Time to shake up the Magic 8 Ball® and try again.

One time before a big test in college, I tried this trick and prayed, “God, just give me some encouragement today, just something to calm my nerves before this test.”  Then I opened my Bible to a random spot.  It was Psalm 22 which begins, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”

Really funny, God.  Really funny.

The fact of the matter is, God’s not a Magic 8 Ball®.  I cannot pick Him up and demand clarity for my future.  Sometimes when God speaks, it is reassuring.  Other times it’s challenging, and He tells me hard truth that I don’t want to hear.  Still other times, I feel like my prayers are answered with a “reply is hazy, try again later.”

This can be frustrating until I remember that God’s not worried about my future because He already has it well in hand.  I don’t need to know my future.  I just need to know my God.

Instead of a Magic 8 Ball®, I have a shepherd who leads me into my future one step at a time.  I don’t need to know or manipulate the days of ahead of me.  I just simply need to trust and follow Him.  That’s where my faith becomes real.

Can I count on God’s character?  Can I trust Him to work out the details of my life?  In the words of the Magic 8 Ball®, “Yes, it is decidedly so.”

The Business of Christmas

One of my favorite holiday stories is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.   This tale has been retold so many times that we forget how truly awesome it is.

I love Ebenezer Scrooge and the spooky Victorian setting.  I love the “bah humbugs” and Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit’s single piece of coal.  I love the freaky ghosts and the complete head-trip they pull on Ebenezer to show him the light.

Of course, most of all, I love the dramatic transformation that happens at the end.  If someone as big of a jerk as Scrooge could do such a 180, then surely any of us have the potential for change.

But I don’t want to talk about Scrooge today.  Every time I read this story, the guy who always sticks with me is Jacob Marley.  Marley is Scrooge’s dead partner, the first specter who warns Ebenezer of the three others to come.  He is the poster boy for missed opportunity, the guy who came to the end of his life and realized he’d lived it for all the wrong things.

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