imagesFebruary 10, 2016

In the 2005 comedy, “School of Life,” Norman Warner, the beloved English teacher, had won teacher of the year award for 43 consecutive years at Fallbrook Middle School.  He died with the trophy in his arms after receiving it for the final time at the school’s graduation ceremonies.

Following his death, his son Matt Warner, the school’s biology teacher, becomes obsessed with winning Teacher of the Year.

However, any thought of winning this award evaporates after a young, handsome protégé of his father becomes the new English teacher.  The students call him Mr. D.  Mr. D has unorthodox teaching methods that take students out of the classroom and into another level of learning.  He raises the state test scores of every student.  He’s so cool that even students that are not in his class want to be and Matt Warner doesn’t seem to get it.

He even discovers that Mr. D has more sway with his son than he does.   After he totally embarrasses his son in front of his son’s girlfriend, he apologizes and then tries to offer some consoling advice, but discovers that Mr. D. has already provided what his son needs.  Here is the content of their conversation.

Dylan: Dad.  My heart hurts.

Father: Well, it’s not really your heart, Dylan.

Dylan: It sure feels like it.

Father: I know it does, and it’ll go away.

Then surprisingly Dylan says,

Dylan: But I don’t want it to.

Puzzled, his father asks him,

Father: What do you mean?

Dylan:  It hurts, but I feel –alive.  Mr. D. says that sometimes in order to be truly alive—sometimes you need to feel things – even if it hurts.

His Dad is taken aback a bit and says,

Father: Well, that’s just one way of looking at it.

Dylan: Remember how you told me to solve my problems by putting them on a linear branch and logic tree?

Father:  The logic tree? Yeah, absolutely.

Dylan: Well, I tried that.

Father.   That’s great!

Dylan: But then Mr. D’s logic seemed to make a lot more sense to me.  So, I think I’m going to go with that.

Father:  “Oh,” his father says with disappointment.

Dylan: Hey, thanks, Dad. I feel better.

Father: “All right,” says his dad, “have a good night.”

Every one of us in here has been where Dylan has been.  We know what it is like to feel pain.  None of us like it.

There are a lot of things I don’t like to feel.  I don’t want to feel the tools of a dentist.  I don’t like to feel the pull of a dull razor on the tender places on my chin when I Unknownshave. I don’t like missing a nail with a hammer and feeling the pain of hitting my finger instead.  I don’t like the feeling of getting burned by fire or a friend.

I had a kidney stone once and if birthing a baby feels any worse I am amazed that any of us are here.

I don’t like the feeling of a blister forming on my heel when I am hiking or the rawness of it when it begins to bleed.

I don’t like to feel rejection.  I don’t like to feel embarrassment.  I don’t like to feel failure.  I don’t like feeling betrayed.

I don’t like to feel pursued by an enemy.

  • Unknown-1I don’t like to feel fear.  I don’t like to feel lonely.  I don’t like to feel insecure, vulnerable, or weak.

I don’t like to feel violated.

You could create a case history of someone whose life became undone because of the inability to overcome any one of these powerful emotions.  You might ask, “What could be worse?”

Ashlyn Blocker is a teenager who lives in Patterson, Georgia.  She is one of a small number of people in the world that cannot feel any pain.

Ashlyn has inherited two defective copies of the SCN9A gene, which is known to be involved in the transmission of nerve impulses in pain-sensing neurons.

Now at first you might say, “Cool! No pain!”

She says that everyone in her class asks her about it.  She can feel pressure, but she can’t feel pain.Unknown-2

She cannot feel hot objects, or cuts and scratches on her skin, or insect bites.

But think about it: she can, and has put her hand in boiling water without feeling any painful sensation.

Pain is a signal sent to our brain that tells us something is wrong.  It tells us to avoid things that are harmful to our bodies, minds, and spirits.

So, even though Mr. D. was an English teacher, he had a bit of biological wisdom when he spoke to Dylan. “Sometimes in order to be truly alive—sometimes you need to feel things – even if it hurts.”

A good therapist realizes that it’s just at the point when a client begins to get in touch with his or her emotional pain that the opportunity for progress and healing can begin.   For as long as we deny that there is pain, we cannot heal and the wound remains open.

Dylan, a teenager, said that his heart hurt.  He was waking up to the reality that a beautiful teenage girl could twist his emotions up like a pretzel.   He didn’t understand them but he could not deny them.  His heart hurt and for the first time he was willing to say, “Even though it hurts, I have discovered something about myself that makes life and real and meaningful.”

Unknown-3What makes your heart hurt? Hungry children, domestic violence, bullying, shunning, a culture that pressures teenagers to experiment with alcohol and drugs or to lose their virginity, people who feel they don’t have hope for the future, children who cannot read, parents who don’t care that their children cannot read, the poverty that exists in places like Peru and Liberia or just down the street, people who use social media to trash their friends, people who have great potential to be Christian leaders but choose not to use their gifts for Jesus, those who live with a critical and negative spirit and spread it to others, gossip, racism?

What’s on your list?

If your heart doesn’t hurt, if you are not bothered by your own issues or by those of others, then I wonder whether you have some spiritually deficient genes.

I know you are alive physically, but are you spiritually alive to the things that matter to God? Because I assure you that things like this make God’s heart hurt for us.Unknown-4

I’ve been around the block enough that I know you’ve lain on your bed like Dylan with a wounded heart.  I know you have experienced those occasions when your heart hurt and all you really desired was for the pain to go away.

What do you do during those times?  Do you deny your pain?  Do you drink it away?  Do you try to find as many fun things to do as you can so you will forget about it?  Do you get angry?  Do you rebel?

A lot of times we will just gravitate toward doing whatever makes us forget about the pain.

Do you just want the pain to go away?  Will you chase after any kind of feel-good-at-the-moment thing to make you feel better? If so, the painful issue will still be waiting for you when the pleasure is gone, along with other issues that you may have created along the way.

Mr. D. had a bit of wisdom for Dylan.   Our pain is evidence that we are alive.  We must discover wise ways of overcoming our pain and becoming whole.

In just a few moments I’m going to ask each one of you to come forward and receive the sign of the cross on your foreheads.  The sign is made from ashes which were created from Palm branches left over from Palm Sunday.  Ashes represent our mortality, the fact that our lives are brief, that we have only a few years in the world to live and make a difference.

So, one of our questions should be, “Are we going to live life and make ourselves the center of the universe, pleasing ourselves at all hours of the day, trying to make sure that we never feel anything painful, unpleasant, unkind, troublesome, irritating, disagreeable, grievous, wearisome, agonizing, harsh, or ill-fitting?”  Many parents seem to think that is their job as a parent, to save their children from all pain.  It is not.  Not even God treats us that way.

I realize that it is our nature to avoid painful situations, to not be drawn to them as a rule.  We pray for deliverance from pain.  We ask that others be spared from pain, but listen to the perspective that Paul developed regarding pain:

The Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth:

2 Corinthians 12:7-10…So I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and I begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

“My grace is enough; it’s all you need.

My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

Now this isn’t to say that every instance of pain, every grieving situation, and every heartache is good for us. No, no, no.

It’s just to say that when our heart aches and when troubles come, and when we feel pain, we should remember these are part of the human experience.  Instead of being overwhelmed, afraid, and defeated, we should remember that God is bigger than our issues and his power is available to us to overcome.

Don’t allow these things to cause you to turn in the wrong direction.  Turn to Christ.  Let Christ take over and even use your limitations to make you stronger.  That’s right.  Allow Jesus to use your limitations to make you a blessing to someone.

Feeling pain is part of walking this journey.  Instead of rationalizing our feelings away, denying them, or allowing them to control or consume us, we should face them.  We should allow Jesus, our Lord, to help us navigate them, interpret them, understand them, and find a way for His grace to become the dominant theme in our lives so that whatever happens to us or whatever anyone does to us, we will find the strength that we need to rise up and claim victory.

This is the reason the ashy cross placed on our foreheads tonight is such a powerful symbol. Jesus came and he entered into the pain of humanity. Jesus was betrayed, denied, abused, beaten, stolen from, spit upon, mocked, yelled at, whipped, put on trial illegally, abandoned, and nailed to a wooden beam.   He experienced the physical, emotional, and spiritual Unknown-5darkness of this world on the cross.  He chose this path in order to show us the path to life.

The writer of Hebrews puts it this way: 15 “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! 16 So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help.” (CEV)”

So as the cross is placed on your forehead, remember that Jesus understands you.  He knows you.  He loves you.  He is available to you to give you his grace and his strength.

As you come, tell him what it is today that you are feeling.  What emotion is gripping you?  What is making your heart ache today?  That could be a clue as to where you need to be ministering or it could be a clue as to where you need to be forgiven.

Let Jesus offer you His grace.  Let Jesus give you his strength to empower you so that those feelings can become a catalyst for change in your life and in the lives of others so that the dominant feeling you have is God’s love.

As Ashes are Placed on Our Heads

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” (Genesis 3:19) and “Repent and Believe the Gospel,” Mark 1:19.