Distance doesn’t matter

It was 4 AM and I heard these dreaded words. “Continue on south for 559 miles.”

Last Saturday I visited my son at his college. Forty-eight hours later I pulled in the driveway back home before my other kids left the house for school and then I went to the office. It’s been six weeks since we dropped our boy off at college. He’s in the film program and loves his editing and shooting and script writing classes. He’s not burned anything yet that I know of in the apartment. He’s doing well. There were a few hard things going on with each of us, though, and we both just needed to see each other, if for no other reason than we’re father and son.

The only thing keeping us from that was fourteen hours of monotonous interstate. Distance doesn’t change the fact that I’m his dad, even if that distance is half of the USA. When my son needs me, I’m coming to him. So I sat in the truck and headed south…

My favorite question in the Bible is in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve are in the Garden and have messed up. Sin for the first time entered the story. In an instant – like when you touch an electric fence – Adam and Eve realized a chasm has been introduced into their relationship with God where there was once closeness and intimacy. And God comes in the Garden. “Where are you?” Yeah, right, as if he didn’t know. As if he was asking for help to find them. As if he wasn’t aware of what had happened. He knew the separation was there and why.

Yet, he came to them…

In a few days I’ll be in an Asian country. In two locations I’ll get to be with former Buddhist believers who are now pastoring or starting churches in this Buddhist country. Many of them describe their previous search for peace as a long journey not knowing where or if it would end. The ultimate goal of Buddhists is nirvana, where suffering and the desires that cause suffering come to an end. It’s an impossibility, a chasm too large for most to imagine crossing. Until they reach nirvana, each man and woman goes through endless cycles of birth and rebirth.

Many of these believers I’ll be with will describe their conversion experience in words that echo God in the Garden. They realized somebody was coming to them when they couldn’t get anywhere themselves. When they realize what a holy God went through to come to them, they are astonished.

But that’s what fathers do. They go to their kids…

When I left my boy Sunday afternoon to drive through the night back home, he gave me a hug and said all I needed to hear. “Thank you, Dad. Thank you for coming.” And I teared up in happiness for our relationship. The distance wasn’t insurmountable.

Different Ways of Handling Pain

Pain management.  I was online looking up some medical stuff and saw this phrase more than once. From the very little that zipped past my eyes, I saw the words “patient-centered” quite often. I know there is a lot more to this than my grossly simplistic and naïve understanding, but those two phrases – pain management and patient-centered – stuck out to me.

When I have something that hurts or is obviously more than what a good nap and a bottle of ibuprofen can handle, I want to get rid of the pain, not manage it. I want a doctor who specializes in getting rid of these pains to do his thing that he’s good at and tell me what I need to do. In other words I want doctor directed diagnosis and treatment that I’m supposed to follow.

Again, I know the current culture marketing means you have to use words like patient-centered, so my analogy breaks down if you dig into it too much, but allow me a little analogous grace for a minute.

A couple weeks ago I got an email from an acquaintance that was several paragraphs long. It was full of phrases like “I love the Lord with an unbridled passion”, “My heart is exploding with jealousy to serve Him”, “At the end of each day I grieve and cry that I haven’t done more for my savior”, “I would without hesitation lay down literally die for my God”. Each sentence ended with one or two exclamation marks and has some words in all CAPS. As this friend reads and reflects on the scriptures, he is in pain.

Here’s the problem I had reading this. He said this has been going on for years and years and years. “Oh, I wish I could go lay down my life for those who do not know the Lord in Africa and Asia, but I am not ready. I am not worthy. I am not clean enough. I am not freed up. I am a raw diamond in the hands of a master craftsman who is cutting different faces to make it shine more and be more valuable. The diamond yells to the jeweler ‘I am ready!’ and the jeweler replies ‘I must cut you more so you are made perfect.’ Oh it hurts to wait…”

My reply to him was simple. You’ll never be perfect, so if you’re so eager and dying to go and do great things for God…go. Stop trying to manage the pain and obey the doctor’s instructions, which are pretty simple. “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” His problem is that he is using a patient-centered approach to an issue that is really one of obedience.

People have tried to manage their own pain even directly with Jesus.  In Luke 9:

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

It is hard to let pain management be simple obedience and releasing control.

We don’t know what happened with these men – did they follow, did they go home then return sometime later, did they turn away after Jesus removed their smoke screens? – but we do know right after this, Jesus sends out 72 to “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3) and gives them instructions on what to do, what to look for, how to go about following Him, like a doctor giving precise instructions to a patient.

Left to our own pain management, we would never go. Like my friend, we would think we are never going to be quite ready, quite prepared, but in reality we are simply not quite ready to obey.

The song below was in a musical review “For Heaven’s Sake” circa 1975 by Helen Kromer.

“Let the Church be…”

Three weeks ago my son called. “Dad, um, the Durango…” Ends up our faithful family transportation finally decided to blow a rod or two while hehad it at college. Not his fault, just timing of an old vehicle deciding to die. So with the Durango gone and my old Mazda pickup likely headed to university next year, we decided to replace both with one vehicle.

Fast forward to sitting down with the car dealer as we finalize the details of purchasing a good used truck. Of course he’s trying to get me to buy add-on plans. “Well, sir, with this protection plan, if you get stains on the seats or floor, just bring it over and we’ll clean them up.” “Jeff, that’s ok. I’ll pass. It’s a truck.”

“Understood. But with this plan, you know how you get those scuffs on the side when somebody’s door whacks into your car? With this plan, you bring the truck back here, we buff them out and it’s good as new.” “No thanks, Jeff. It’s a truck.”

“OK. Now, let me tell you about this plan, where we coat the exterior of the vehicle with a patented polymer sealant so that when a bird messes on it, all you have to do is hose it and it washes right off.” “Jeff, it’ll do the same with a hose and a rag. It’s a truck.” “But, you know how hard pine sap from overhanging branches is to get off a car? With this sealant, it will hose right off.” “Does the same thing with Goo-Gone, Jeff…it’s a truck.”

About a hundred years ago, a missionary stood in front of a missions conference and said something very simple. “Let the Church be the Church!” That’s been echoing in my mind the past few months as I’ve been working overseas or teaching a couple missions classes or in conversations with folks in our own church. The Church is a unique thing. Out of all that man has ever been a part of, it is the only thing given the charge of helping people connect with God.

For example, I was thinking of Matthew 24:14. Governments run countries. Businesses impact economies. Movies sway values, and technology shapes relationships. But Jesus said there is one thing that only the Church can control. Time. “And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations (peoples) will hear it, and then the end will come.” The Church is to be going to where God is not known yet – peoples, not necessarily geography – and then Jesus returns. Does this mean that everybody will hear God calling “Where are you?” and eagerly respond “Here!”?  I wish this would be true, but no. Everywhere it will be offered even if not everywhere received. Jesus’ own ministry shows this. How many hundreds of people saw the things he did that reinforced his spoken invitation and still walked away, ignored him, or turned on him, and in the end only a few embraced him?

I got an email from my Ugandan friend a couple weeks ago. “God is working. You need to come to Kanibari district next time you are here. The church is telling stories on Sunday, going into the villages they live and telling those stories. And people are saying, ‘This is good.’” People are coming to faith.

Let the Church be the Church.

A couple days ago I was in a truck I just bought. It’ll get scuffs when we load my son’s stuff in and dings from rocks kicked up and I’ll probably drop some Chic-fil-a sauce on the seat. But it’s a truck. It’s supposed to do what a truck does. I’ll take a hose and rag and get the bird poop off when we finally get home, which is another analogy we could run with, but I’ll let you do that on your own.