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

Who You Thought You Were

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I was watching a talk by writer David Brooks a few weeks ago. He said something that seemed very important to me.

“As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.” 

Tillich was a Lutheran theologian from Germany (1886-1965). He spent his academic career here in the United States first at Union Theological Seminary and then at Harvard Divinity School. I hear these words from the past and I discover some meaning to the road I’m on for the past few years. A road I’m sharing with several others as well.

My response to suffering has been anything but pretty. I can’t believe what’s coming out of my mouth most of the time. I’m the guy who has old men at church calling me “sir” – surely at this stage I am supposed to have things figured out and be able to maturely handle defeats and disasters. But that’s not what’s been going on. Tillich hits the nail on my head. I’m never going to grow up if I’m not even sure of who I really am.

“I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but to mature and transfigure us.” ― Hermann Hesse

When we suffer we are able to look past the fable of who we think we are and present to others. We see another side of ourselves, the vulnerable and broken remains.

  • Suffering helps us to grow up because it reveals to us a truth hidden from our happy introspection
  • Suffering helps us to see what must be attended to in our lives, we see faults and frailties for the first time or that we thought we had outgrown
  • Suffering shows us more of the truth and less of the fiction that keeps us deluded about whether we are moving forward or not

This quote from Tillich continues to speak to me because it calls me to cast off more and more of the comforting veneer and become more genuine, more frail and less in control. I believe that transformation, healing and growth can happen only when we look at our true selves. No, I’m not who I thought I was.

That’s okay.

“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Where Else To Go?

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Sometimes, there aren’t any answers. Other times, the way forward seems covered in mist and shadow. I don’t think you ever get too old to feel lost and afraid. There are always quick fixes, easy answers, rational calculations… and then, one day, the ultimate solution is staring you in the face…

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”   – John 6:66-69

Jesus starts some heavy lessons. He’s not a carnival sideshow. He’s not going to raise up an army and deliver from the Romans. He’s talking about death, blood and sacrifice. It’s just too much, too deep, not what most wanted to hear. They turned and looked for an easier road, one that better fit their expectations. As the crowds of followers started to thin out, Jesus turns to his own trusty men and asks, now that you’ve started to hear more of the truth, are you ready to jump ship too?

One day you have to get to the end.
One day you have to see for the first time.
One day you have to speak the truth, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

Fear and suffering drive you into the dark or face to face with your faith.

Peter replies to Jesus, where else are we going to go? What you have been telling us is the eternal truth. Everywhere else is only shadows. And surely in those shadow we will only find more fear and suffering.

Here is where Peter makes his great confession: The reason that your words are eternal is because You are the Savior.

There is a great confession that you and I must make as well. One that we must make to ourselves again and again…

  1. There isn’t any where else that I can go to find peace, truth and love.
  2. The words that the Savior spoke are true, the promises that he made are sure, the love that he demonstrated and is even now demonstrating is eternal.
  3. These two points are absolute and more certain than the next sunrise because he is the Son of God.

When you determine to believe this confession, the path before you is lit with hope, your suffering becomes light and you know that you are not alone – you never were.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.” (Lemmel)

His divine power has given us everything we need to experience life and to reflect God’s true nature… – 2 Peter 1:3

Always True

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“Many a night I woke to the murmer of paper and knew (Dad) was up, sitting in the kitchen with frayed King James – oh, but he worked that book; he held to it like a rope ladder.”   – Leif Enger

You know we live in a world where we crave experience (as we sit and stare at our screens). As a society, we enjoy so much personal freedom. Over time, if we’re not careful, what can end up happening is that we start to think and believe that our individual experiences are the only truth that really matters.

The fire remains the same. Sometimes we approach it because we need its warmth. Sometimes we draw near because its light illuminates the darkness of our path. Other times we run to the fire seeking safety from the approaching night. We have different needs that drive us toward that fire. We have different experiences once we near the fire. But the fire never changes.

It remains the same.

You wouldn’t know this living here in America. We have over 3,800 Protestant denominations, all pointing to the same Scripture as their guide for doing church their way, the right way. We’ve always had trouble with Scripture. It has liberated us and then divided us. We search within it poorly and then find only what we were looking for (not necessarily what it means to say).

Scripture isn’t a magic book. It’s not just a subjective experience that seems to change itself for each new reader. It remains the same. It teaches us the same truth, generation after generation. It points toward the unchanging magnificent love of God.

Doesn’t it?

We sometimes search it for secret formulas and pull words and phrases out of their context all trying to find some sort of experience all our own. The Scripture is the whole fire, the entire story. It has a context, a history, a purpose and most of all, a message. It is worth our study. We ought to be its students for the rest of our lives. Its pages tattered and frayed because of constant use not misuse.

Because of the world that we’ve made for ourselves we are always in danger of making our experience all that really matters. Sure, it’s all we really know (what we experience), but we must believe that there is an objective truth outside of ourselves that doesn’t change. What matters is what’s eternal.

The fire remains the same.

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?”   – Luke 24:32

 

Walking to Emmaus Part 6

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By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!  – Luke 24:28-31

Have you ever been somewhere familiar and felt like you were seeing it for the first time? What about when you see someone that you know but they are in a different setting? It’s difficult to recognize them at first. I try to go to the grocery store incognito, wearing a different costume than the one I wear at the university. But every now and then someone picks me out and recognizes me. We look at one another and are uncertain at first. Our brains are trying in a split second to put each other in this new context.

These two disciples had been following Jesus during his ministry, one may even have been there at his death. Yet they couldn’t recognize him. He was a stranger to them now. Who really knows why? Maybe it was because they had built a preconception in their minds of who Jesus was supposed to be, what kind of savior he was meant to become, what role he was to fulfill. Maybe they, like so many others, had built him into an idol. Then something went wrong. Their savior was powerless at the hands of the Romans, suffered torment and was executed.

Now it was all over with.

Then this stranger came along and started to explain things in a different way.

He was a stranger to them because their expectations weren’t big enough for what God was actually planning to do. In the end, my own disappointment and discouragement with God’s plan always ends up coming home to rest at the smallness of my own faith. A faith that is too little for the greatness of God’s mercy, love and providence.

He and his works are a stranger to me because I expect so little.

 

 

 “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”

― C.S. Lewis

 

Walking to Emmaus Part 3

 

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Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.” “What things?” Jesus asked. “The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him.  We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.” – Luke 24:18-21

The great works of God were in the past tense for these two disciples. They were now in retreat. They had misunderstood who Jesus was, had sold him short. They described to this stranger a different kind of conflict because they had expected a different kind of rescue. Their savior was someone who could be “handled” by the authorities, someone who could not control events as they happened to him, a victim. What a crushing feeling of disappointment must have been written across their faces.

If only they had really heard what Jesus had been trying to communicate all along.

It makes me wonder about things that I might be missing. I wonder what the Holy Spirit has been trying to tell me and then I wonder what I’ve actually been hearing.  Sometimes it’s hard to hear life changing messages when you’re very busy propping up an agenda about yourself:

  • You see I want to make a point
  • I need to appear strong, not weak
  • I want to be moving forward in my spiritual journey, not backward
  • When people ask, I should have answers
  • Why would anyone come to me for help if I look unsteady?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? – Matthew 16:24-26

It is increasingly difficult for the visible man to hear and understand eternal truth.

Did you pick up any “attitude” in Cleopas reply? “What kind of dumb hick are you? Let me explain what’s been going on.”  They are walking in the wrong direction yet are able to maintain a clear air of superiority. I wonder what that feels like, I’m glad I never act like that (ha!).

This part of the story is that constant and classic reminder to us all that we often misunderstand God’s will and then go about constructing and living in a different reality (Gordon-Conwell Seminary estimates that there are 43,000 Christian denominations world-wide, all reading the same Bible). That’s why Jesus taught his disciples to pray for God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. That’s why he came and joined these two on the crooked road to Emmaus, to straighten things out.

And He gives grace generously. – James 4:6