When you were a kid and had a loose tooth, were you a wiggler or a worrier? Did you yank the tooth free or wait until it fell out on its own? Losing your baby teeth is a rite of passage in life. I remember, not necessarily fondly, the day my grandfather asked to just “look” at one of my loose baby teeth. I should have known better, because in mere seconds and without warning, it was ripped out!
There is a video circulating around the internet showing a teary-eyed boy sobbing about a loose tooth that was ready to come out. A long string of dental floss trailed from the boy’s mouth, one end tied to the lose tooth, the other end tied to the doorknob of a nearby door. The plan: quickly close door = tooth comes out.
Behind the scenes was another storyline in the works. In all the commotion, nobody was paying attention to the little brother observing the scene, calculating and scheming his own plan of action. The little brother raised his toy sword high in the air and brought it down hard, landing squarely on the taught floss flowing from the boy’s mouth, as if to cut through the dental floss. To everyone’s surprise, it worked! All eyes focused on the tooth as it sailed through the air as it gently landed safely on the floor (with floss still attached). Shock, disbelief, and then joyous laughter filled the room as the reality of what just happened began to soak in.
The boy’s struggle was real. He had a tooth in his mouth that needed to come out, yet he firmly stood in his ground in fear, sobbing defiantly about what might happen, bristling at the thought of the pain he might encounter. His fear of an unknown future kept him motionless.
Change is hard. It can feel much like going to the dentist for a tooth extraction without Novocain. Change means loss, as there is a kind of death and loss that occurs as one navigates through a time of change. Acknowledge the awkwardness, name the inner feelings being felt, and walk through this sometimes fumbling journey with others. You are not alone! As God spoke to Joshua, He also speaks to us: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Jer 1:9; see also Ps 23:4; Is 41:10; Mt 28:19-20; Rom 8:38-39) Change is inevitable, but change can be good. Whether we like it or not, the world continues to change around us. Each year, we get another year older (and wiser, right?), aspects of our physical health may decline piece by piece, technology speeds faster and faster at a dizzying clip, relationships fall apart at an alarming rate, and even the Church is not immune to the reality of change. Christian churches across America are facing tough questions. According to Christianpost.com, there is an ongoing silent migration away from the church of an estimated 3,500 individuals each and every day. A 2014 study indicated that over 1.2 million people will leave the church in the next year. Several factors are contributing to this trend, but the majority of individuals who are leaving the church report that they no longer feel connected. Can this be reversed? Can the church connect with these people before it is too late? Some would go so far as to say the church is on life support, dying a slow death. Yes, change is all around us, but there can be a good side to change as it presents an opportunity for growth in faith, trusting God’s providential divine Hand to lead us toward a new day! Solomon, the wisest man ever to live, reminds us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Prov 3:5-6) We do not know what tomorrow will bring, but we know someone who does! This is where the meeting of faith and life find intersection.
Personally, I would rather be a part of the change instead of doing nothing and having the change happen to me. One path’s focus is fortress protection, the other missional intentionality. This is where it gets real personal, real fast. Which path are you walking? Your friends? What about our church? Are we more focused on keeping the institution going or carrying out Jesus’ mission? Is our focus more on maintaining policies and meetings or on how we can make disciples? If Redeemer were blown off the map today, would anyone notice tomorrow? These are hard but necessary questions that lead us to the purpose of God’s Word: To make disciples. This is nothing new, we see this tension all through Scripture. After all, discipleship is grounded in change. Daily we are called to take up the cross and follow our Savior, Jesus. He leads. I follow. Not the other way around. The message Jesus preached, at its very core, is about change, as we are daily being transformed from sinner to a saint, from dead to alive, from darkness to light (1 Tim 2:5-6; Rom 6:11; Jn 1:5; 1 Jn 1:5-7).
Much like the little brother holding the toy sword, awaiting the perfect opportunity to enact his hidden plan, so too our Father in heaven looks into our lives, speaking and acting and loving into us His perfect plan. Behind the scenes there is another storyline in the works. We feel pain, God works peace. We feel confusion, God brings direction. We feel stressed and out of control, God brings a good friend into our life at just the right time who speaks the word we need to hear. Our faithful God is at working inside and outside us a bigger story we do not have the vantage point of seeing. Life in His Word and worship bring the gift of perspective, allowing us the vantage point of seeing our lives through the grace of Jesus’ cross. Despite the troubles of today, a new day will come.
Yet at times, it takes a tooth being pulled from our life in order for something new to spring forth. We may walk around kicking and screaming, sobbing and crying out to our Heavenly Father for mercy from the pain in our mouth. But He is truly a good and gracious God. He has our best interest at heart: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11) As creation whirls on, take comfort, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) The pain may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Find peace in His presence.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
So wiggle on, my friend, God’s got this!