Where’s the Dentist When You Need One?

And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. – I Peter 3:15

I’ve returned today from my third visit to the dentist. I still have my problem. I’m going to have to go back next week and hope it gets resolved. I had no idea that I would have to go through this sort of long and drawn out (month long) ordeal to just get a simple problem resolved. I went in today and was moved through a number of “stations” (not of the cross) thinking I was going to find relief. It wasn’t until I was led out into the office and charged a fee that I realized I not only didn’t get any fries, there was nothing even approaching a happy meal in my hands as I walked out of the building.

Once I stop being mad and frustrated, I try to put this all in perspective. I water the flowers and fix dinner. Think about it some more. After cleaning up and loading the dishwasher it gets a little easier to find that important alignment between everyday experience and some eternal truth.

I’m trying to get the dentist to solve a problem, how many visits is it going to take? I think there are people all around me who are looking for solutions to all kinds of problems. Some of these problems and really big and even eternal. I wonder if anyone looking for some truth has felt like I have trying to get a dentist to solve one little problem? Frustrated and considering just living with it.

“Ah, Misha, he has a stormy spirit. His mind is in bondage. He is haunted by a great, unsolved doubt. He is one of those who don’t want millions, but an answer to their questions.”  ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My wife has cancer. I’ve watched from across the room as she has interacted with total strangers she hasn’t even met. A clerk, healthcare worker, someone at the restaurant. They talk a little about her situation. She tells a little of her story, seasoned with faith, and then I can see eyes begin to fill with tears. I don’t think it’s always sympathy. I think many of these strangers have their own personal story with cancer that somehow relates. My wife has been able to deliver a little hope from out of nowhere.

Just like me, searching for a dentist and experiencing a great deal of frustration, there are people everywhere who can’t find satisfying answers to big questions.

Just like everyone else, there are believers who are in the middle of life with all of its triumph and tragedy. People everywhere, waiting for a kindness from a stranger who will share their life and a word of truth.

“You cannot do a kindness too soon,
for you never know how soon it will be too late.”  ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Did You See That?

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Can’t you buy a car now that will stop for you if you get too busy doing something else, other than driving? I think there are vehicles that will even warn you if you somehow wander out of your lane. Isn’t there a car that will parallel park itself? Of course we are all waiting for the “driver-less” cars that are being developed. Driving is fast becoming an activity to which we have to pay less and less attention. Great!

What are you paying attention to these days? Where are your worries taking you? What keeps you up at night?

  • We tend to pay attention to what’s urgent – what’s currently on fire!
  • We pay attention to what’s familiar to us
  • We also pay more attention to problems that we feel as if we can fix (or we want to fix)

When you feel overwhelmed – and it happens to everyone – think about what you are paying the most attention to during these times. Of course, when you’re involved in a car accident or just heard that your job has been phased out, that’s all you are supposed to think about in those moments. It’s natural and normal. But what about the context within which you frame these kinds of disasters or even the normal bad days?

“For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18

  • Remind yourself that this time of trouble is not going to last forever – one day you will see it in your rear view mirror.
  • You are a child of God – he is going to care for you in his way.
  • Think about the messages your words and actions are sending to others about how confident you are about your true future.

We need to stop looking and start paying attention. What does it mean to pay attention to the context within which the Christian life is lived? Think about the works of God in your life that ARE going to last forever. Think about the transformation that the Holy Spirit is accomplishing in your life. The Fruit of the Spirit is nourishing both you and others eternally. Your real home is not here on earth but with Christ in heaven. God has never once left you alone as you traveled through those dark days. At a moments notice you are able to enter God’s presence with your prayers and know the peace that passes all understanding.

“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

The ways that we go about defining situations is a powerful process for determining what we believe. You see it’s not always what’s true but what we believe is true that shapes how we go about living. Is the “here and now” so real to you that you can’t get past it and see the “forest”? Have you got things mixed up and are you defining your earthly circumstances with eternal weight? Start looking at the whole picture – frame your life within what you truly believe. There’s a larger story being played out and your life is a part of it. Even the terrible times.

“What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church and encouraged them to not get tripped up by their worries about current circumstances and to instead think about what was being born in their lives now and what was to come, what would last forever – life eternal. What seems so urgent and terrible, what can make us feel so powerless, is actually only for a moment.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7

This power to stop staring at the immediate circumstances and instead take the long view and frame what’s happening by looking down the road, that ability is a gift that comes from within us. When we surrender and submit our fears, it is then that our gaze can be raised to see eternal hope spread before us like the bright lights of the dawn.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” ― Og Mandino

Find Your Way Back

That’s the song from Starship I was hearing today on the drive home. Someone in the parking lot had called me “sir” and I was once again reminded that something had changed in my life.

  • Fewer and fewer people that I encounter know what I’m talking about when I make references to comedy routines from the television show Laugh-In (67-73).
  • More and more strangers that I casually encounter are calling me “sir.” Even the old men at church started calling me “sir” a few years ago!
  • I almost never look forward anymore. These days I am mostly looking backward.

I don’t usually sit for photographs, ask anyone in my family. But nowadays when I do see a photo with me in it, there’s this old guy looking out. Something has changed and I’d sure like to find my way back!

There’s not much I can do about fewer and fewer people in my world who are aware of 70’s pop culture. I just need to raise awareness, right? So if you see me approaching you with a funny TV clip of Joan Worley betting her bippy, bear with me. I’m trying to stay young.

Maybe if I stopped talking to myself so much people wouldn’t call me “sir” so often. They’re just trying to be helpful, right? I think norms that help us all to get along, like showing respect, are good for us as a society. I need to just accept my new status as a good thing and just get over the shock.

The most troubling aspect of all this is my new habit of spending too much time in the past and not enough in the future. Sure I’ve gotten wounded by some awful giants, but who hasn’t? That’s no reason to hide out, lick your wounds and fear the days ahead. Who am I, a caveman who’s retreated back to my stone age cave? No, I’m a man of the future and what I need is a constant reminder to tighten my grasp on hope. To never stop dreaming, even after the nightmares have come and gone.

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.
― Langston Hughes

The longer you look backward, the more stooped you become, and the faster your heart spoils. Maybe that’s why people are stopping me in the parking lot, calling me “sir” (and asking if I need any help)?

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

– Psalm 103: 1-5

 

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Magic Moments

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”
― G.K. Chesterton

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My wife is hollering at me (still) because I won’t answer her question (still). She’s holding the SUV door open and trying to get some information from me. I’m listening to a song on the radio. It’s a familiar song with some powerful lyrics that poetically capture my state of being. I’m having a magic moment. I am vaguely aware that there’s this woman yelling at me, trying to get my attention, asking a very simple question over and over and I’m just trying to ignore her hoping I can stay in the magic until the song ends.

“It’s just a song on the radio!” my wife tells me as she marches off to get me something from Starbucks. She’s right. These days I grasp for those magic moments just like I used to reach for that inner tube racing past me while I rode the rapids down the Guadalupe. There may not be another one coming for a while.

“My soul is in the sky” – William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

There is nothing but the mundane all around us every minute. And then something breaks through and there’s a magic moment waiting. That student across the desk last night who needed to hear from someone a word of hope. He has tasted so much failure. His whole life is ahead of him. He thinks what really matters right now is his final exam. But there’s so much more he needs to believe. I engineer a magic moment and there are tears in his eyes as he hears some truth he hadn’t expected.

“There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.” ― G.K. Chesterton

The phone in my pocket rings and I answer it. That in itself is a magic moment. I don’t like to talk on the phone. It’s usually turned off because I don’t want it ringing in class or meetings. I fight an endless battle with my students who are hopelessly addicted to their phones.

I had just finished signing a stack of legal documents. My mind had been drifting and dreaming about the here and now and days to come. As I walked out the door, my phone call came.

It was a magic moment. A friend from far away in the desert called. He just wanted five or ten minutes. That’s all I had. We talked for about thirty. We caught up a little, laughed and shared some information. It was over before it started. I sat out in the parking lot for most of it. It was one of those timing experiences, when everything seems to fall into place and you look back and wonder, “how did everything I didn’t even know I needed happen just like that?” Magically, a book he had sent and inscribed was in the mailbox the very next day.

“To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.” – Henri Nouwen

The Apostle John wrote, “If a person owns the kinds of things we need to make it in the world but refuses to share with those in need, is it even possible that God’s love lives in him?” (I John 3:17, The Voice). In my world one of the most valuable things that people give up is time. These days, one of the things I need “to make it in the world” is a magic moment on the phone out in the parking lot.

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  ― W.B. Yeats

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…”  – Ephesians 1:18

Walking to Emmaus Part 7

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They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”  – Luke 24:32-34

Can you imagine the questions they asked themselves as they raced back to Jerusalem? The distance was probably 7 miles. Do you think they got competitive about who recognized him first?

Never forget how this wonderful story ends:

  • They shared the same physical experience of feeling the truth in their hearts, hearing it and being in his presence.
  • They were overcome with the need to do something about this experience, to share it with everyone else. It was late in the evening, yet they jumped up and hurried back to their friends (hours away).
  • Once gathered with their friends the experience they had just had was confirmed by others who had also seen the risen Lord.

When I think about the Road to Emmaus story it reminds me to always think about which direction I’m heading today. There are choices to make. Too frequently I’m heading back home to what’s familiar and comfortable, my tail between my legs. I fall into ruts and routines and am not as intentional with people like I want to be.

Today, I want to be with those two disciples whose hearts were filled with happiness and hope, eager to get back to the scene of all the action. I want to live a life that reports the truth and not dwell on fear and failure.

Our life is different than it was for those two disciples heading home that day. As believers we have the Spirit residing within us. We have not been left alone.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.  – John 14: 16-18

So why do we still have such trouble recognizing the presence of God when he resides so close to us (within us)? How much nearer does he need to get? Maybe the noise of world is too much with us. It’s not looking for God…Are you?

Be certain today that you’re running back to the action not back home to safety. Listen for that voice in your spirit who’s there to guide your steps into the will of God. What looks like defeat may indeed be the greatest triumph.

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.  – I John 2:6

Walking to Emmaus Part 2

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As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them.  But God kept them from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?” They stopped short, sadness written across their faces.  – Luke 24:15-17

Sadness was written across their faces. They were in retreat from a great hope. They had misunderstood God’s great plan. All their fears, disappointment and sorrows were right there for anyone to see as they walked slowly home.

What’s written all over your face every day? Have you thought about that? I have to stand up in front of classrooms full of college students every day. Most days you’d think they had each just received the news that their pet had been run over by a train. Very doom and gloom, no matter how much circus I try and drag in…I need to get a better book of jokes.

I frequently remind people that our attitudes shape our actions. That’s not hard to believe. What’s more difficult to figure out is how our actions shape our attitudes. People in the fitness world know this. If you can get people to be more physically active, they tend to feel happier. There’s a famous experiment in which people holding a warm cup reported more positive feelings in their rating of an unrelated product than those who were holding a cold drink. The temperature they felt in their hands helped to shape their attitude while forming an opinion about that product.

I’m not suggesting that this couple on the way home to Emmaus should have stopped off at Starbucks first. Actually I want to remind you of some things that you already know:

  1. You and I walk around all day with our attitude written all over our face – what are people reading about us?
  2. We’re not walking away from hope like these two were. Each one of us is walking in hope – does your face show it?
  3. Sure, all of us have ups and downs and even long periods of time when the going gets dark, but if we determine to smile, laugh, move, and look at people, these actions will help to shape our attitude into one that’s more in line with the truth about us.

If you see me walking around with a scowl, just ask me if I’m on my way to Emmaus. That ought to remind me that my face looks like it’s heading in the wrong direction!

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.  – Romans 15:13

Where is Jesus When You Need Him?

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“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”  ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

We can’t live very long and avoid the disasters that await around the corners. Sometimes they hit us quick and leave before we can even get our breath. Some catastrophes seem to hang on and take up residence.

I think I can face almost anything when I have someone else right there beside me. It’s brutal when I have to walk that road all alone. I have read about the lives of others and experienced for myself times when I’ve felt like I’ve even been left alone by God. I think most people feel like this at times. This is when we get to push out on our faith and see how well it floats.

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” – Hebrews 11:1

Sometimes my faith starts to sink because I’m too often looking at the world around me, the situations I’ve stumbled into, the tribulation that fell on my head and I’m seeing it all with the eyes of my heart and not the eyes of my soul. Then I read an encounter like this and I’m ready to pick up that shield again…

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”  But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”  – Luke 22:31-34

We spend so much attention on the failure of Peter. Perhaps because it sounds so familiar. We have so much hope, yet our flesh is still so weak.

But look at what Jesus told his friend he had been doing for him. Pleading in prayer for him. Praying for his faith to withstand the bitter and heartbreaking experience of personal failure. Peter will soon commit an act of betrayl he can’t even imagine at this point in time. He will publicly turn his back on his dearest friend.

Where is Jesus when we need him, when we falter and fail? When everything we thought we could count on was ripped away? Even when we lose every drop of faith we ever had and walk away into the cold night? Where is he? He is pleading in prayer.

He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.  – Hebrews 7:25