Jamie Coots, Doctors Are Not God’s Enemies

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Photo by Carly & Art (Creative Commons)

Jamie Coots, a famous snake-handling preacher in Kentucky, died this past week due to a snakebite. Something about this story unsettles me.

This is not because I have a history with snake handling pastors, and I don’t have any long-standing issues with reptiles either. Actually, it’s not even his death which troubles me, but rather the way he described his approach to handling snakes.

Coots stated, “I made a vow to God when I first started taking up serpents that if ever I was bitten I wouldn’t go to [the] hospital. I believe that when it’s my time to go there ain’t a doctor in this world that can keep me here.” He insinuates that his faith has a certain purity to it because he is trusting God instead of physicians.

Coots puts modern medicine and faith at odds with each other

Coots felt he demonstrated his faith in God by refusing medical assistance for the snakebite. This choice has left his church in pain and sorrow. As a congregation, they have to push through this tragedy and reconcile his death with our good God.

Don’t mishear me though. I would never say God is not in the business of healing. I firmly believe God can and does miraculously heal people in an instant. I have seen it happen more than once.

I have felt God move intestinal kinks under my fingers to prevent emergency surgery. I have prayed for back pain and seen immediate results. My wife and I have prayed for a terminally ill coworker and watched her leave the hospital healthy 48 hours later. I wholeheartedly believe in the kingdom of God, expressed in miraculous healings.

I also believe in medicine and physicians. And there is no conflict in these beliefs. My daughter is on two anti-epileptic medications, among other pills. We have seen her without her seizure meds, and it’s horrible. She has twenty or more seizures every day.

These drugs are a gift from God for her health. Our choice to medicate our daughter does not lessen our faith in God.

The faithful and mature Christian is never sick

This is a related teaching about illness that is equally painful. I spent many years in churches that taught this, and I have seen so many people hurt by this theology.

Wise and seasoned leaders would sincerely ask me if I had any sin to confess when I asked for healing prayer related to my seizures.

One of my friends was told her husband would have overcome his cancer if only she had believed more. I met her four years and one husband later, and she was still scarred from that encounter.

When my shoulder pain flared up, I was informed that it would dissipate if I would only raise my hands and worship freely.  Guilt was heaped onto my soul when I couldn’t do it without pain.

James 1:17 tells us “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

Pain and sickness are not good. They do not come from God. He does not judge us by inflicting us with terrible things.

Our God is gentle and compassionate. Full of love, He looks to bless us, not curse us. Our God is good. And He loves snake-handlers physicians. Just like He loves all of us.

When Life is the Roadrunner and You are Wile E. Coyote

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Photo by phil_g (Creative Commons)

Some days, life feels like the Roadrunner, smarter and faster than us. Quietly mocking our inability to catch up to it and feast upon it, no matter how many Acme products we use.

It feels like we are hanging over the edge of a cliff, tenuously clinging to the branch of a tree that is slipping through our fingers as we wait for the inevitable Wile E. Coyote moment where gravity is suspended for only a second before taking its effect by hurtling us to the bottom of the canyon.

Or maybe it’s just me?

When circumstances pile up against us ominously, it becomes hard to even consider the word THRIVE. We would rather hunker down, put our game face on, and just “get through it.” This is where we make our first mistake.

[Tweet “Thriving is not only for seasons where we are Bugs Bunny and life is Elmer Fudd.”]

In those Duck Season – Wabbit Season moments, we can do very well on our wits alone. We don’t need strategies, because life is good. It is when life takes the birdseed we put in the middle of the road and runs away, sticking its tongue out in mockery, when we need a plan.

How Can We Plan For The Unexpected in Life?

To a certain degree, we can’t. Nobody can prepare for a child to die in a car accident. There is no way to be ready for the home you lease to go into foreclosure because your landlord never paid the mortgage with your rent money. Indeed, if we spent all day thinking about and planning for all the things that COULD go wrong, we will begin to resemble Eeyore. Nobody wants to be Eeyore.

Yet there are steps we can take to prepare ourselves for the unthinkable:

Build margin into our lives

Put simply, margin is the space between what we need and what we have. We need to have space in every area of our lives – schedules, finances, character. If we live on the outer edge of what we need, with no margin for error, the smallest hiccup will push us over the edge.

For more details on the idea of margin, listen to this recent series by Marty Kaiser at Reveal Vineyard.

Take an inventory: Do you have margin in your life?

Take off the rose colored glasses

I am not suggesting we all don the cynic’s hat. There are enough negative voices out there, we don’t need any more. But it might be appropriate to change our paradigm. Circumstances won’t always magically right themselves in our favor.

If something less-than-awesome seems imminent, we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to plan for it to happen. If we wonder if our job will still exist in six months, it would be prudent to update our resume and reconnect with our contacts in our industry. Let’s stop acting surprised when somewhat foreseeable things happen.

Pray

Outside of God, we cannot thrive, whether it’s a Bugs Bunny season or we are playing the part of Wile E. Coyote. Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing – seems like sound advice.

When the road is smooth, we can pray in a spirit of thanksgiving and ask God to give us wisdom during the blessings. When the bottom falls out, we can pray for the presence of God to overwhelm us despite the circumstances. When life whimpers “meh,” we can ask God to shake us awake.

Perhaps your mind is strangely empty when you go to pray, and you have no words to say to God. There are prayer books to support us in our weakness. The Jewish Sidder is chock full of prayers for every occasion. So is the Common Book of Prayer.

Even when we do all of these, we may still feel like Wile E. Coyote. But we can play the part knowing that, even when we fall to the bottom of the canyon, we will arise from the plume of smoke to chase life another day.

Check out the other posts in my THRIVE series:

Not Overcoming But Thriving

I Break Rules

Thirty Thoughts on Thriving

Thrive in the Shadows

Your Heroes Determine Your Trajectory

What Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro Taught Me About Friendship

Made to Thrive

Pain in the ASS

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Photo by thepeachpeddler (Creative Commons)

I have been walking around for about the past month with a serious pain in my ass. Okay, it’s actually my lower back, with some sciatica pain shooting down my right leg, but it feels more fun to say it’s a pain in my ass. And it’s close anatomically anyway.

I have learned something with this pain in my general buttocks area –

No two pains are exactly the same.

I should really know this by now, but I am learning it in a new way this month.  I have learned to deal (somewhat) with the pain, uncertainty and aggravation of my seizures. Even when I means I miss the train stop to normal. Most days, I am not even bothered by the things that used to destroy me emotionally, because I know my own normal. So I should be able to deal with a little pain in the ass.

But this back pain is destroying my concentration. Killing my motivation. Sapping my energy. I come home most days and I just want to collapse. Two days ago, that’s exactly what I did – I went straight to bed right after work.

But I push through and still do the things I have to do, whether that means mowing the lawn before Thanksgiving or sitting in a three-hour board meeting. I give the best I have to the world around me, but I know it’s not my typical best.

So I am learning through this pain to be more tender with everyone. Because I am reminded afresh that I have no idea what anyone is pushing through. For too long, I have operated my life assuming that everyone else is at their best, and expecting their best when they interact with me.

That’s just not true.

Somedays, all we have is the strength to push through our pain in the ass until the moment we get home. Then we collapse. Somedays, a new type of pain enters our lives, and we can barely get through. Because no two pains are exactly the same.