Learning to Talk Again

            After my dental surgery last week, the dentist had to put a couple of partial plates in my mouth to last until we complete the process with implants and permanent bridgework in a few months.  Yippee!!

            There really wasn’t that much pain from the extractions and other work he did. That’s good.  But almost immediately, I began having trouble speaking.  That’s a bit disconcerting for a guy who speaks publicly 3-4 times every week. Apparently, there was some minor damage to my tongue in the procedure, so the bruising and swelling affects my speech. But even more, the plates have reshaped the roof of my mouth, so that then strike of my tongue for every word that has the sound of an “s, t, d, th, or sh” is affected. 

            So, there’s a sense in which I’m having to learn how to talk all over again. It’s very weird, learning how to form sounds and then practicing them over and over again.  It’s scary.  It’s humbling. It’s painful. It’s frustrating. It’s overwhelming.  It’s something small that has huge implications for every second I live from now on.  

            Across nearly 40 years as a Christ-follower, I have been on a journey to discover how Jesus calls me to talk, the attitudes He wants me to have, the character He is shaping in me, the actions in which he wants me to engage.  Being a disciple has been the consuming pursuit of my life.

            Here’s the question that has been on my mind over the past couple of days.  What if the context in which I have lived and grown as a disciple were to be changed?  What if the background of my faith were suddenly different, like the roof of my mouth has been changed by the partials?  What if I lost access to all the Bible studies and education that have shaped me in baby steps since I was a child?  Put me in a country where people are hostile to faith, or with a family that is faith-indifferent or just faith-different, or without access to Christian subculture that I often criticize or a church that doesn’t love the gospel or in a place where my calling is as a public school teacher or a corporate HR rep instead of as a pastor?

If all of that –or even just one part of that- were changed, what would it be like to learn “disciple” all over again? Another way to ask the question: is my experience of living as a Christ-follower dependent on the “props” of my uniquely American version of it?  What would change if I took all of that away and started from scratch?  What would be there?

I would still have the Word of God, its truths and promises, for “the grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of God endures forever.”  (Is. 40:8

I would still have the gospel of Jesus, for it is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

I would still have people to “love as myself” (Matt. 22:39); who love me with compassion and encouragement (1 Cor.12:26, Heb.10:24-25), are iron to sharpen me (Prov. 27:17) and more.

             I would still have love, hope, peace, joy, grace and mercy to “follow me all the days of my life.” (Ps.23:6).

            Mostly, if everything else is taken away, I still have Jesus.  Yes, he is the “same, yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb.13:8), but it’s more than an objective reality.  Yes, he promised to be with me always “to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20) and to “never leave me or forsake me.” (Heb.13:5), but it’s more than that subjective experience. 

Here’s the bottom line: if everything is taken away, all I have is Jesus because Jesus is my life. (Col. 3:4). Thought only makes sense with Jesus’ mind.  Emotions only resonate authentically from Jesus’ heart.  And I can only speak words that come from Jesus’ lips, shaping my every word.

That is a daunting challenge as a long-time disciple. It’s scary.  It’s humbling. It’s painful. It’s frustrating. It’s overwhelming.

And it may be the most thrilling thought about being a disciple that I’ve had in a long time.   

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