THE CODE

Not so long ago, I was living in Colorado Springs while stationed at Fort Carson.  Most of the time that I lived there, I stayed in a rental house owned by one of my friends.  I made many repairs/improvements to the house during my tenure there.  Many of these repairs were electrical in nature.  I added a 220V outlet for a dryer in the basement.  I dug three sump pump pits and ran wiring to them.  I also ended up replacing almost every outlet in the house.

Eventually the time came for the house to be sold.  I did many repairs to the house in order to prepare it for sale.  Prior to the inspections by the potential buyer, I started to dig in and learn more about the National Electric Code (NEC).  While I had been quite proud of my laymen’s knowledge of the electrical world, what I learned about the NEC humbled me.

I learned that each sump pump pit required its own circuit, something which I had not done.  I also learned that adding new circuits required an electrical permit.  In order to obtain an electrical permit, you had to both own the home and be living in the home.  I could not pull a permit since I did not own the home.  My friend who owned the home was no longer living there so he could not pull an electrical permit either.  So, I found myself in a predicament.  I called an electrician and explained to him my situation.  He gave me the phone number for the chief electrical inspector of El Paso County and suggested that I call him.

I optimistically called him hoping that he would somehow make an exception to my situation since much of the work had already been completed.  I hoped that he would grant me a permit even though I didn’t own the home and the owner did not live there.  After all, I was helping a friend.  He had to know that I was military and maybe since I was “serving my country” I would get special treatment.  I thought that he would be impressed with my knowledge of the electrical world and just turn me loose since I obviously knew so much and therefore he didn’t have to worry about the work that I was doing.

Needless to say, I was wrong.  He did not grant me any special favors.  Nor was he impressed with my knowledge about the NEC.  In fact, the longer I talked to him, the more I learned about my shortcomings when it came to upholding the code: the Schedule 40 PVC that I had used on the surface needed to be Schedule 80, the GFCI outlets that I had installed for the sump pumps needed to be weather resistant as well, all of the new outlets that I had put in needed to be those annoying tamper-resistant kind instead, and the list went on.

So, the solution to my predicament was quite simple.  I needed to hire a professional.  I was not a licensed electrician. I needed to have an electrical permit and I did not have the credentials to pull a permit for a house that I did not own.  No big deal, right? That was hard for a Do-It-Yourselfer like me to swallow.  It wasn’t so much about the cost of hiring someone as it was about the hurt ego.  It was hard for me to consider hiring someone to do something that I felt I was perfectly capable of doing on my own.  I got myself into this mess, and I wanted to get myself out of it.  I wanted to redeem myself from my failure to uphold the code.

Many people have similar thoughts when it comes to God.  Let me explain.  Many of us suffer from a “relative morality” complex.  We see ourselves as better than our neighbors, and therefore God is pleased/impressed with us.  I often hear people say, “I’m a good person.”  Maybe a slightly more noble variant goes something like this:  “I’m not perfect but I try to do the right thing.  God understands me and He sees my effort.  When I get to heaven, He will be fair to me.”  The implication here is that what we need is justice.  However justice is not in our favor.  If God gives us justice (and He will), then we are in serious trouble.

There is a story that goes about an aging woman who went to a photographer to have pictures taken of herself.  When she got the proofs back, she was disappointed.  Her response was, “These pictures don’t do me justice.”  The photographer responded back, “You don’t need justice, you need mercy.”

The same goes for us.  We don’t need God’s justice.  We need His mercy.  We may be relatively “good” people (according to our self-made standards), but we are not absolutely good.  Our relative goodness may keep us out of jail but it won’t get us into heaven.  The Law stands against us.  Even if we have not committed adultery or murder, we are still guilty of lust and unjustified anger toward our neighbor (Matthew 5:21-30).  James takes sin a step further when he says that we sin when we don’t do the good that we know that we ought to do (James 4:17).

God doesn’t grade on a curve.  He does not judge us relative to our neighbor but absolutely next to His moral law.  My pride about my electrical knowledge was quickly silenced when the county electrical inspector brought out the National Electric Code against me.  There was nothing left to be proud about.  The Gospel is designed to do the same thing in us.  Rather than appeal to our goodness and ask for justice, we need to appeal to His mercy and ask for forgiveness.

Paul sums this all up quite well at the end of Romans Chapter 3:  “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. 21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:19-26).

The normal response of religion is to be better, to do better, and to redeem yourself from your own  shortcomings.  Paul reminds us that we can’t.  We don’t have the credentials to do this but the good news is that there is someone who does:  “ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).

 

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Lessons Learned From Orthodontics

When I was in high school, I got braces.  This process was free (financially) for me, yet not without cost.  Let me explain.  My parents paid for everything.  My orthodontist’s office was within walking distance of my high school.  Going to the appointments was easy.  I walked to my appointments and didn’t have to miss much school (not that I would have complained if I had missed more school).  Yet there was still a cost to me.  There were times when I was in so much pain that I didn’t even want to eat (usually the first few days after the wires were adjusted).

The process started with my general dentist pulling 4 premolars (one in each quadrant).  The goal was to create more space.  I was Class 2 (had an overbite).  My upper teeth were brought back and my lower teeth brought forward to correct my overbite.  Back then, I thought that braces were simply for cosmetic reasons.  However, now that I am a dentist, I have come to understand occlusion (how teeth come together).

The goal of orthodontics is to make sure that the upper teeth and the lower teeth are in the proper relationship.  One concept in dentistry is called canine-guided occlusion.  The goal is that the canines are the only teeth that touch when you slide side-to-side.  This protects the back teeth from wear.  Another concept is called incisal guidance.  The front teeth touch and keep the back teeth from touching while you move your lower jaw forward.

Upper teeth should flare toward the cheeks.  This is not by accident.  The outside cusps push the cheek away to keep you from biting your cheek while eating.  Lower teeth tilt toward the tongue and these tongue-side cusps deflect the tongue so that you do not bite your tongue while eating.  It all goes back to design.  The teeth need to be in proper alignment for multiple reasons.

Some have proposed that many people with Temporomandibular joint (TMJ or “jaw joint”) pain have this pain due to bad occlusion.  If the upper and lower teeth are in bad “relationship,” then closing down all the way can guide your TMJs into an unfavorable position. This can cause joint pain or problems.

I won’t belabor the point but hopefully I have made the case for orthodontics and that the reasons are much more than purely cosmetic.  The goal is to put the teeth in the right position.  The end goal is a right relationship between the upper teeth and the lower teeth.

Back in the Garden of Eden, God created man and woman in His own image and declared what He had made good.  They were in a good relationship.  However, they decided that they knew what was best for them and disobeyed God.  Then punishment followed: death, disease, pain, and they were banished from the Garden.  We still see the consequences of Eden today.  Even the need for orthodontics is part of the “curse.”  We are crooked, both morally and spiritually.  The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  C.S. Lewis described us as being “bent” in sin.

When I was in high school, I had no financial means to pay for something as expensive as braces.  Worse than simply being poor or crooked, the Bible states that we are dead in our sins: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Somewhat similar to my parents paying for my braces, God has provided a way for us to get straightened back into the people we were created to be and back into the relationship with Him for which we were originally designed.  “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Orthodontics has the power to profoundly change someone’s appearance and dare I say even their life.  How much more the “orthodontics” that God has provided through His Son: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

We either stay in our crooked yet comfortable position or we can undergo the process of being straightened.  God wants to realign us back into the kind of people He created us to be.  Hebrews tells us that “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11).

Christianity is free.  You cannot earn your salvation or a right standing with God.  Through repentance and faith, we receive Jesus’ payment on our behalf.  While the restoration process is free, it is not without pain.  Christianity is a lifelong process of being conformed to the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29).  The pain of the process is not the goal, it is the means to the goal.  The Apostle Paul reminded the church in Corinth: “. . . our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Daniel

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:26-30).

In May 2016, my wife and I and an oral surgeon from the St. Louis area went on a dental training trip to Papua, Indonesia.  Carrying bags loaded with dental supplies and portable dental chairs, we headed to a remote location where we conducted our training.  The goal of the trip was to train a group of indigenous Christians in doing basic tooth extractions with the hope that this would give them new opportunities to minister to their communities.

After 5 flights and a 5-hour adventurous car ride over some challenging terrain, we arrived to the training site in time to eat lunch with the students.  They each took turns introducing themselves and some of them told their stories of how God had brought them to the training.

One trainee in particular stood out to the team. His name was Daniel.  He was of short stature, definitely less than 5 feet tall.  He was already short but was even shorter due to having tuberculosis in his spine earlier in life.  He is about 30-years-old and grew up in a tribe that once built their homes in trees to provide shelter from animals and enemies.  As he shared his story, Daniel told of a time earlier in his life when he had been involved in the group killing of a man who had been accused of witchcraft.

Daniel went on to tell how he came to know Christ and how Jesus had changed his life over the past 10 years.  Instead of living in fear and looking out only for himself and his family, he now has a genuine concern for others.  This is a demonstration of the transformation that Paul described in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

After the students learned the classroom portion of the training, patients began to arrive.  Many of the patients came from the local trans-migrant community (Indonesians from islands outside of Papua).  Most of these patients were Muslims.  The team was thrilled with the opportunity to serve the Muslim community.  It was exciting to see Daniel and his classmates reach out “cross-culturally” to others.  Each patient was prayed for when they came into the clinic for dental extractions. Daniel and four of his classmates graduated from the training and were each able to extract 35-40 teeth.  This gave them the experience and confidence they need to continue practicing (and ministering) on their own.

God provided, just like He always does.  He does the unexpected and often uses unlikely sources.  Daniel, an uneducated, small man, from the “lowlands” of Papua, is the embodiment of 1 Corinthians 1:26-30.  While many may see him as a weak and low person of the world, God has chosen him, a Zacchaeus of sorts, to be his ambassador to Papua, Indonesia.

In many ways, it is similar to the “End of the Spear” story from Ecuador. Nate Saint and a group of fellow missionaries from the U.S. were speared to death by a group from the Waodoni tribe in Ecuador.  One of those involved in the killing was a man named Mincaye.  Years later, Mincaye came to know Christ and was even trained how to do dental extractions down in the jungles of Ecuador.  Mincaye eventually went on a dental trip to India and even helped with the training.

After that trip, a video was made called “These Same Hands.” Steve Saint tells the story of watching Mincaye take a tooth out on a woman and then pray for her.  It was ironic that the same hands that had once killed his father, Nate Saint, were now being used to heal.  The same could be said of Daniel.  The hands that had once been used to kill a man were now being used to remove decayed teeth and share the good news of salvation.  It is nothing less than a “Saul to Paul” conversion.  It is a story that only God Himself could write.  This is the Gospel and an example of the transforming power that only Jesus himself can bring.  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation . . .” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The Gospel According to Rudolph

Almost everyone is familiar with the legendary story and song Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.  2014 marked the 75th anniversary of the character Rudolph and the 50th anniversary of the television special. The American Dental Association has even adopted Hermey (the elf who wants to be a dentist) as a “mascot.”

While there’s nothing not to like about “claymation,” the story of Rudolph is a rather sad one if you think about it.  While it ends happier than it starts, the story of Rudolph reveals a sad but often true fact: love in this world is usually conditional and performance-based.  In case you had forgotten, here are the words to the song:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose;
And if you ever saw it,
You would even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names;
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say:
“Rudolph with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

Then all the reindeer loved him;
As they shouted out with glee,
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
You’ll go down in history!”

Rudolph is despised throughout his life because he is different.  He at least finds some solace in his fellow outcast Hermey the elf.  Toward the end of the movie, Rudolph et al protect Rudolph’s “friends” and family from the Abominable Snow Monster.  Only after Rudolph helps to save them do they change their mind about Rudolph and apologize for how they once treated him.  At the end of the movie, Santa “promotes” Rudolph to lead Reindeer.  As the song tells us, “Then all the reindeer loved him . . .”  The phrase “What have you done for me lately?” comes to mind here.  While the story of Rudolph is a fictional Christmas story, it resembles in some ways the real Christmas story.

The Christmas story begins with rejection.  “. . . and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).  In John 1:10-11, we read: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

All of us have experienced rejection in one way or another, some of us more than others.  God himself was not immune to this rejection.  Isaiah (speaking about Jesus) tells us that “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3).  So if you’ve suffered rejection in this life, Jesus can relate to your pain.

As John Stott has said, “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross.  . . . In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? . . . I have turned instead to the lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside His immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of His.”

The Christian story starts with rejection and progresses to ultimate rejection: crucifixion on a cross. The Gospel story is quite different from the Rudolph story.  Rudolph is only loved after he provides something that others want.  In the Gospel story, we are shown love in spite of what we have done for God.  “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

The purpose of Christ coming to earth was to reconcile mankind to God.  In the famous Christmas carol Hark The Herald Angels Sing, we read the phrase “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”  We see this reconciliation exemplified in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).  The son asks for his share of his inheritance early, leaves home, and then squanders his inheritance on “prostitutes and wild living.”  However, when he finally returns to his father, the father not only welcomes him back, he also gives him a ring.  The signet ring demonstrates that he is of part of the family again.  The ring meant that you could conduct business on behalf of the family.

The Christmas story starts with rejection, leads to ultimate rejection, but then ends with the opportunity for reconciliation:  “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-11).

The Rudolph story ends with a mediocre conditional love offered to Rudolph only after he has done something that the others liked/wanted.  Rudolph ran away from home because of rejection.  He and Hermey were wandering outcasts longing to be accepted and loved.  Rudolph is only reconciled to this “friends” and family when he earns their acceptance.

The Christmas story has the potential for a much better ending.  Similar to the father in Luke chapter 15, God offers us His unconditional love and forgiveness.  Not because of something we did to deserve it, but because of what His Son did to earn it on our behalf.  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).  Better than just forgiveness and love, we are offered full acceptance into His family as His children. And that is hope of Christmas: the opportunity to be reunited to the God we have rejected because of what the Son has done.

What Would Misch Do?

A few months ago, I started attending the Misch International Implant Institute’s Surgical Program.  This program is divided into multiple sessions dedicated to training dentists how to successfully place dental implants.  Probably within the first hour of the first session I was completely sold.  Carl Misch got up and said, “This is not about cheaper, faster, or easier; this is about doing what is predictable and what will work for your patient.”  It was very encouraging for me to hear this.  I was glad that I had chosen to go through the Misch Institute. I had looked at other implant training programs.  One program had part of one of its sessions devoted to “improving your marketing plan.” Unfortunately, the profession of dentistry has in many cases stooped to becoming a very mercenary enterprise.

In an article published in a September 2006 edition of the ADA News, Missouri dentist Donald Fuchs responded to a then recent Gallup poll listing dentistry as the 5th most respected profession.  He said, “Why, however, aren’t we No. 1 in the eyes of the public? Could it be that over the last two decades, dentists have drifted from being ‘patient advocates’ to the current wildly popular ‘practice advocates’? Just take a look at the continuing education courses being offered today. I don’t think I’m mak­ing a risky wager by speculating that the majority pertain to practice management techniques that increase office revenues rather than improving patient care.”

So why are we here?  Does dentistry exist for the provider or for the patient?  Unfortunately, we have lost our way in many respects.  One problem is that patients frequently want what is cheaper, faster, and easier (even to their own detriment). We are many times willing to give them what they want rather than what is best for them.  And often times it is difficult to convince them otherwise.  Many believe that “all dentistry is created equal.”  However, we know that this is not true.  I initially thought that implants were mainly to replace teeth or help with denture retention (these are still both true).  However, as I have learned from the Misch Institute, probably the more important role of implants is to prevent bone loss (especially in patients who are missing all of their teeth).

Let’s take for example the case of a patient missing all of their lower teeth. Their denture may fit perfectly on the gum tissue.  However, the denture won’t stay in place.  While it is true that two implants will greatly help retain a lower denture, five are recommended in order to prevent the loss of bone in the posterior. You may decide to place two implants and build an overdenture that attaches to these two implants.  The retention of the denture will be immediately improved.  However, you still have not addressed the greater problem of bone loss.  You need at least 4, even better 5 implants to prevent the loss of the posterior bone.

However, this may be a hard sell to the patient.  Bone loss rarely causes pain.  The patient usually doesn’t come into the office complaining “Doc, I’m losing posterior bone.”  They come in because their denture does not fit.  They may think it excessive that you want to place 5 implants, especially when the guy down the street says they only need two.  However, we have to look at the bigger picture.  Placing several implants will address both the immediate problem (lack of retention) and the long-term problem (bone loss).  And if you don’t ultimately address the problem of bone loss, the denture eventually will not fit (regardless of how well it may have at one time).

The problem is that five implants is not what is cheaper, faster, or easier (especially if you’re not doing immediate placement nor immediate loading).  It’s expensive and it takes time.  There will always be someone out there who can do things faster and cheaper.  However, this is not what is best for the patient (whether or not they believe this).  It may be trendy these days to “shoot from the hip.”  But this is what gets the patient (and ultimately the provider) into trouble. As Carl Misch would tell us, we can’t do things that are stupid and then blame someone else (the patient or God) when things fail.  “God must not love you” is not an acceptable answer if our dentistry fails.

After my first surgical session, I was given a bracelet that said “What Would Misch Do?”  This is probably not a bad question to ask when it comes to implant dentistry.  Contemporary Implant Dentistry is considered the “bible” of dental implantology.  The book is the culmination of years of experience and research by Carl Misch and many others.  Others have pioneered and experienced many success (and failures) so that we can learn from them.

The Bible says that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).  In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus warned to “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  Jesus is warning us against a path that is “cheaper, faster, and easier.”

The problems of tooth decay/loss and subsequent bone loss are ultimately spiritual problems, believe it or not.  In Genesis chapter 3, we see the consequences of man’s rebellion against God.  The ground is cursed (weeds, etc) and death and disease enter the world.  The decay/degradation we see in the mouth goes back to the Garden of Eden.  In physics, we call it the second law of thermodynamics (disorder is always increasing).

The ultimate problem that needs to be addressed in implant dentistry is not lack of retention, but rather the loss of bone.  We place implants to retain the bone. However, if there is not enough bone to place implants in the first place, we see a destructive downward spiral.  More bone loss ensues since there are no implants to preserve the bone.  One the other hand, if you place implants, the loading of the implants stimulates the bone and therefore preserves the bone.  If you keep the bone, then you ultimately keep the denture.  It’s all about the bone.

In Biblical terms, the ultimate problem for mankind is sin.  It’s not primarily that one is lonely, unfulfilled, unhappy, etc.  These all may be “symptoms” of the fact that we are broken, but they are not the real problem. If one is happy/fulfilled, does that mean that they do not need God?  Similarly, the person with the well-fitting denture may be very happy with their artificial teeth but completely unaware of the bone loss that is coming their way.

Jesus warned in John 8:24 “if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”   Many people try to address their unhappiness/lack of fulfillment rather than the underlying problem of sin.  I often have patients that do not seek treatment for dry socket.  Rather than coming back to the clinic to get treated for the root source of the pain, many of them just try to “Band-Aid” the pain with Percocet.  Percocet doesn’t really do anything to treat the underlying pain, it simply makes you happy so you forget about the pain.

Jesus ultimately came in order to make us healthy.  Rather than being the Percocet to make us happy, He is the Penicillin to treat our infection of sin.  Happy with underlying unhealthiness ultimately leads to unhappiness.  Healthy will in the end makes us happy.  Unfortunately, many of us have forgotten that our primary role as providers is to remove oral disease.  Many well-meaning dentists have drifted into “self-esteem dentistry” that is more about giving the patient what they want rather than what is best for them.

In some ways, I think we as dentists may have been better off when we were still in school.  We were likely more humble.  We did everything by the book and we were closely supervised.   In the book of Revelation, the church in Ephesus was warned: “You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5).  We need to replace love for self with love for our patients.  We need to stop “shooting from the hip” and go back to doing things by the book.

In the spiritual realm, we need to repent.  We need Christ to be our first love rather than ourselves.  We need to acknowledge (as the old liturgy says) that “We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed; By what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”  Repentance is not only acknowledging our sin, it is also tuning away from it.

The answer is not to try harder in order to make God like us.  Salvation is a gift to be received rather than earned. We need to acknowledge our helplessness because of our sin.  We are that Division D mandible that has no hope.  But there is good news: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world . . . 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1-5).

The Crew Chief

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Late one night at Forward Operating Base Shank (Regional Command-East, Afghanistan), I was standing on the flight line waiting for a ride on a Blackhawk helicopter.  It was dark and loud.  The helicopter was taking a long time coming.  They were just sitting there.  Were they waiting on me?  I made the bad decision to approach the helicopter.  In my defense, at least I didn’t approach from the tail rotor! The next thing I knew, the crew chief approached me and was screaming at me.  I couldn’t understand a word he was saying but one thing was obvious: he was not happy.  It’s very humbling to be an O-3 getting chewed out by an E-4, but I did deserve it.  I learned a valuable lesson that day:  you don’t approach the Blackhawk, you let the crew chief approach you.

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul describes God as “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:15b-16).  In theological terms, we describe the God of the Bible as transcendent.  He is transcendent in that He is above (i.e. transcends) and is separate from His creation.  This distinguishes theism from pantheism.  In pantheism, “all is god” and therefore god/the gods are within the creation.  In Christianity, God is separate from what He created and stands above His creation.

However, we also believe that God is immanent.  This separates theism from deism. Deism acknowledges the existence of God but believes He is aloof or distant from that which He created.  Many have a view of God that is so transcendent that it is unthinkable that God would enter the world He created and became a man like us.  But this is exactly what the Bible tells us happened.  Christmas is when we celebrate the Incarnation, Jesus being born into our world to live as one of us.  John 1:14a—“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

In her famous (or maybe infamous) song “One of Us,” Joan Osborne asks the following questions: “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us?  Just a stranger on a bus, trying to make his way home?”  But her questions are answered in the Incarnation.  God did become one of us.  The transcendent Creator decided to visit His creation.

Unfortunately, many Christians have adopted a view of God that sees Him as too immanent.  Rather than seeing God as the Lord who is to be feared and obeyed, He is seen as the “Big Buddy.”  Some of this is a well-intentioned response to a view of God being too far off to be relevant or concerned about us.  We learn the proper response to God from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-7):

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another:

‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’

4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

5‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’

6Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’”

Isaiah first sees God how He truly is: holy.  But not just holy: holy, holy, holy. Second, in light of God’s holiness, he understands how sinful he is and how in trouble he truly is.  Isaiah knows that he cannot be in the presence of someone who is truly holy, holy, holy.  Then he sees his need for cleansing and receives the cleansing that was provided for him.

So going back to the quote from Paul in 1 Timothy, how do we “approach” this God who lives in unapproachable light? Paul answers this question in Ephesians 2:13—“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”  It is through His blood that we are cleansed.  Jesus is the “live coal” so to speak that Isaiah referenced.  The author of Hebrews explains this: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ . . . cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14).

It’s more than just having our sins forgiven.  As author John Piper explains (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Many people want their sins forgiven . . . most of them so they can just go on sinning again.  But forgiveness means nothing if in the end there is no restored relationship.  Often instead of wanting to be in a right relationship with God, people just want their consciences fixed so they no longer have to feel guilty about their disobedience.” As Hebrews 9:14 says, the goal is not simply a clear conscience.  A clear conscience is a by-product of receiving God’s forgiveness.  But the clear conscience frees us to serve God, not to keep on sinning.

It goes back to the crew chief illustration.  While I won’t start attempting to compare the God of the Bible to a Blackhawk helicopter, both are dangerous.  The crew chief makes it their responsibility to ensure the safety of the passengers entering/exiting the aircraft.  The crew chief at times has to put their own life at risk on behalf of a foolish passenger (as mentioned above).  The crew chief makes it possible for you and me to have “fellowship” with the Blackhawk.

Jesus is the ultimate crew chief who laid down His life for our well-being.  Because of Him, we can have access to the God who would otherwise be unapproachable.  Blood was shed on our behalf to make this possible.  A song by Matt Redman says it best: “Thank you, thank you for the blood that you shed . . . You have opened a way to the Father where before we could never have come.”  “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus . . . 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience . . .” (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Good Cop or Bad Cop?

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Do you prefer being the good cop or the bad cop?  Some people would like to be neither if possible.  I like to be the good cop when I can. However, at times I find myself reluctantly having to play the role of the bad cop.  One thing for certain is that we all want the good cop when it’s our turn to be punished.  But when it’s our enemy’s turn, we hope they get the bad cop and receive punishment “to the full extent of the law.”

I am in the Army and at this point in American history those who serve in the armed forces are generally held in high regard.   Thankfully, things have changed in our culture and are much different from what they were in the Vietnam era.  But I don’t generally see the same respect toward police.  In fact, rather than respect it’s sometimes almost disdain.

One soldier I met at Fort Benning speculated as to why this is: “Why are we regarded so highly and police so lowly?  To some degree the soldier and the policeman do the same things.  They punish those who break the law.  One does it internationally, the other does it domestically.  One is a hero, the other is despised.   People love it when you tell others what to do, but resent it when you tell them what to do.”

In the summer of 2005 I was in Florida for a wedding and was driving a rental car.  It was the Sunday morning after the wedding and I was driving a group of people to the Orlando airport.  We were driving through a construction zone on Interstate 4 where the speed limit was 55 miles per hour.  Since there were no workers present and two lanes of traffic were open, I drove on without paying much attention to the speed.  Eventually I saw a police car parked in the median and I looked down at the speedometer.  I was going more than 80 miles per hour.

Sure enough, the police car came out from the median and the lights were going.  The police officer asked where we were headed and I told him that we were headed to the Orlando airport.  He saw from my license that I was from Illinois and asked me how long I had been in Florida.  He decided not to give me a ticket.  He gave me a warning and told me that the ticket would have been $350 since I was going more than 20 miles per hour over the speed limit in a construction zone.

I justified my speeding in Florida by telling myself that there was no construction going on so therefore it was my perfect right to disobey the speed limit.  However, the speed limit signs were still up and they didn’t say “when workers present.”  I deserved that ticket but the police officer chose not to give it to me.  He showed me mercy.  Therefore in my mind he was a “good cop.”

So the question is how do you perceive God?  Is He the good cop or the bad cop?  Most people have a one-sided view of God that is an incomplete picture of who He is.  Some see Him as the cosmic kill-joy.  He just waits and hopes for people to stumble in sin so He can whack them.  However, Ezekiel reminds us that “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).

Others see God as the cosmic “surfer dude” who is always the good cop.  This “god” is always forgiving.  He never punishes sin, but constantly offers forgiveness.  The problem here is that we are trying to create God in our own image. We are trying to manufacture a god that we find appealing.  But do we have this option?  Do we create God, or did He create us?  Even so, would it be a good thing to have a god who was like Santa Claus?  Is a police officer who only writes warning tickets and never arrests anyone truly a good cop?

But God is God on His terms, not ours.  He is good.  He determines what is good.  He is still good when He punishes evil people.  Judges that let people off easily are not good judges.  Unfortunately, we often perceive God as bad when he punishes evildoers, unless it is truly evil people like Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn.

We are evil.  Yes, that includes you and it includes me.  God has a moral law.  This law is written on our hearts.  We call them the Ten Commandments.  Even people who steal don’t like it when you steal from them.  Even people who lie don’t like it when you lie to them.  It may not bother us to break God’s Law but it certainly bothers us when people do these things to us.

Hopefully, you have never committed adultery or murder.  But even if you have, there’s still hope for you.  However, even if you haven’t committed adultery or murder, you’re still not off the hook.  In Matthew 5, Jesus said that lust was spiritual adultery and that unjustified anger toward your fellow man was spiritual murder.  We’re talking about God here.  God is morally perfect and He is just.  A good God is completely justified in punishing you and me because we are evil according to His standards (even if we’re not evil according to our own).

But God is also loving.  Rather than one one-sided (and false) view of God, He is both the good cop and the bad cop all at the same time.  He is the “bad” cop because He punishes sin (which doesn’t really make Him bad, but rather makes Him good because He is just).  He is the good cop because He has provided us a way out of the punishment we deserve.  The Bible says that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  In 2 Corinthians, Paul says “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Isaiah foretold about Jesus: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Would you give your only son for Osama bin Laden? That’s the difference between us and God.  Through our disobedience we are God’s enemies.  But through the obedience of His Son (through His sacrifice) we can be made right with God.  Better than the state trooper in Florida, God doesn’t just give us a warning. He gives us the full ticket.  But then He pulls out his wallet and gives us $350 to pay the fine.  The penalty is paid but the expense is on God rather than on us.

So why does God offer us a pardon? He forgives our sins not so we can be free to keep on sinning, but rather to serve Him.  Paul says it best: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:1-2,4).  The analogy of baptism here symbolizes dying to our sin and living a new life.

I owe it to the state trooper in Florida not to speed anymore.  He showed me mercy.  What if I had been pulled over further down that same road doing the same thing?  I owe it to God to obey Him.  Not to earn my salvation, but in response to the salvation that Jesus has earned for me.

Largely our view of God (whether He is the good cop or the bad cop) is determined by our obedience to His commandments.  Jesus said that “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14).  When I’m obeying the speed limit, I don’t mind seeing the squad car parked in the median.  I’m not afraid of being pulled over.  In fact, I find it reassuring that someone is looking out for me.  When we live in obedience to God, we can have this same perspective of Him. Rather than resenting His presence/involvement in our lives, we welcome it.  He is the ultimate good cop who truly has our best interests in mind.

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39).

Rebellion, Religion, or Repentance?

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Many of us are familiar with the famous story of “The Prodigal Son” as told by Jesus in Luke chapter 15.  You often hear about the younger brother and how he squanders his inheritance on “wild living.”  However, there is also the older brother.  He is the dutiful one.  He remains loyal to his father throughout all of his brother’s exploits.

When the younger brother returns home, we see the true nature of the older brother.  Rather than being happy to see him return, the older brother complains about how unfair it is that his father takes the younger brother back.  The older brother may not be wild and outwardly rebellious, but on the inside he feels entitled and full of bitterness.  Rather than celebrating when his father celebrates, he criticizes his father’s extravagant forgiveness.

This story illustrates two ways we try to avoid God: one way is through rebellion, another is through religion.  The younger brother demonstrates rebellion quite well.  He asks for his inheritance before his father has died.  This is like saying, “I wish you were dead.” Then he spends all that his father gives him in “reckless living.”  We can only imagine what that looked like.

Many of us are avoiding God through rebellion.  However, what is even worse is when we use the grace of God to justify our rebellion and to think that we will be all right in the end because “God is a God of grace.”   Unfortunately, the modern view of Jesus as only love gives people the idea that God will forgive them regardless of what they do, whether they are repentant or not.  God’s grace becomes a license for immorality.  Jesus addresses this in Matthew 7:21—“Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 6:9—“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?”

But then there is the older brother.  The older brother is very dutiful.  He does everything right.  He has loyally done (at least outwardly) everything his father has asked him to do.   But we see by his response to his younger brother’s return that he (the older brother) is not on board with his father.  If so, he would have celebrated when his father did.  Both brothers have a poor relationship with their father: one through outward rebellion, the other through inward rebellion.

Many people are avoiding God through religion even though most people would think that religion is the way to reconnect with God.  Sometimes I get asked if I am religious.  I have to ask the person to clarify what they mean.  Being religious is not necessarily a good thing.  The guys who crashed the planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center were very religious.  Jesus’ most harsh words were directed at the Pharisees, a group of people who were also very religious.

In John chapter 3, Jesus addresses Nicodemus who happens to be a Pharisee.  Rather than telling Nicodemus to “be religious,” He tells him to “be born again.”  In Luke 18:17 Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  It is hard for us to appreciate the significance of what Jesus tells him.   Nicodemus is a Navy Seal when it comes to being religious. Yet this is not enough.

Many of us tend toward religion. Yet, as mentioned earlier, this can be a way of avoiding God.  Why?  Because religion can be an attempt to be your own savior.  Regardless of our spiritual background, we all do this.  The Baptist says, “I went to church camp when I was 12-years-old, and I prayed the ‘Sinner’s Prayer.’”  The Catholic says, “I observe the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.” The Hindu says, “I have lived a good life and earned a better rebirth.” The Jew says, “I observe the Law of Moses.”  The Lutheran says, “I was baptized as an infant.”  The Muslim says, “I observe the five pillars of Islam.”

While the above groups of people may have some very different theology, the above quotes represent the same underlying problem: man appealing to his own effort/religion to establish his right standing before God.  Paul said it best in Acts 17:30—“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”

The answer is repentance.  If you’re the younger brother, you repent from your immorality.  You receive Christ’s forgiveness and stop using His grace as a license for sin.  As Paul said in Galatians 5:13, “do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” Peter talks about this transformation in 1 Peter 4:2-3. He says, “As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.  For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do–living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.”

If you’re the older brother (or any of the above examples), you repent from the idolatry of trusting in yourself to be your own savior.  You stop appealing to your own efforts or accomplishments and “receive the Kingdom of God like a little child.”  Rather than looking to yourself, you look to the true Savior.

One of the older brother’s problems was that he couldn’t see his own sin.  Maybe that’s why he couldn’t understand the grace that his father extended to his younger brother.  As one preacher said, “All of us have spent time in the pig pen.  And we all smell like the pig pen.”  Paul (a Pharisee by the way) acknowledges this in Ephesians 2:1-5: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.”

There are two old hymns that explain it well.  One is Nothing but the Blood:  “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” The other is Rock of Ages: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”   

The older brother suffered from relative morality.  Compared to his younger brother, he was a superstar, or so he thought.  However, God is not concerned with our human constructs of relative morality.  The moral law of God, the Ten Commandments, condemns us all.  When we see our sin, we see our need for a Savior.  Rather than attempting to atone for our sins by our good deeds, we need to plead guilty and beg for a pardon.  We need to turn away from the pig pen and toward our Father.  Whether we are the older brother or the younger one, He welcomes us with open arms.

The Door, The Static Line, and The Parachute

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I arrived at 10th Special Forces Group in May of 2012 as a “five jump chump.”  At that point, my last jump had been at Fort Benning in August of 2009. After the MC-6 simulator and a Basic Airborne Refresher course, I was “reinstated” as a paratrooper.  In conjunction with outprocessing Group, I recently I closed out my jump log.  I will leave Group as an 11 jump chump.  I will unlikely return to an airborne unit even if I stay in the Army for a career.  So, it looks like I will be a low-energy ground soldier for the rest of my life!  My airborne time has come to an end and I write this story as I “exit” Group.

All of us will exit this earth one way or another.  We will all “shuffle to the door” and cross the threshold into eternity.  The question will be how we land.  Some people choose not to think about eternal/spiritual things.  Others question their existence.  Some just say, “I’ll figure it out when I get there.”

In the airborne world, we can’t ignore the law of gravity.  Just like the law of gravity, all of us are confronted with the moral law of God.  It is a universal law that applies to us all.  It is written on the human heart.  Consider the commandments of “you shall not steal” and “you shall not bear false witness (lie).”  All of us have stolen in one way or another, even if it was something small.  All of us have lied even if it was a “little white lie.”  But even if doing these things doesn’t bother us, we still know that they are wrong.  Even people who steal don’t like it when you steal from them.  Even people who lie don’t like it when you lie to them.  So we know what wrong is especially when it is done unto us.

I’ve highlighted only two of the Ten Commandments.  I won’t take the time to go into dishonoring your parents, murder (Jesus said unjust anger toward your neighbor is spiritual murder), adultery (Jesus said to look with lust is spiritual adultery), or any of the other Ten.  You get the idea.  The Law is against us.

We offset the law of gravity with a parachute.  The same thing is true spiritually.  Galatians 4:4-5 tells us: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Jesus came to be our parachute so that He might redeem us from the consequences of the Law.

We know about the consequences of the law of gravity.  They are inevitable.  No one jumps out of an airplane without a parachute and says that they are tough enough to absorb the impact of hitting the ground.  No one says that they can Parachute Landing Fall their way to a safe landing (if no parachute deploys).  But unfortunately many people are appealing to themselves in the spiritual realm.  They are trusting in their goodness or the fact that they selflessly serve their country, etc.

God is not impressed with our relative morality or how we stand compared to our neighbor.  He will evaluate all of us individually based on the Law.  So the question is what are we going to appeal to when we stand before Him? Are we going to trust in ourselves and what we have done/accomplished?  This is like attaching our static line to one of our belt loops rather than the cable.

Isaiah puts us in our place and reminds us that our best is not even close to God’s standards: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).  Just like we need a parachute, we also need a savior.  Jesus died in our place that He might save us from the consequences of our sin.  We receive His payment for our sins by repentance (turning away from our sin) and faith (trusting in Him rather than ourselves).  Repentance and faith are like the static line that connects to the parachute.

Again, we need Jesus because we need a savior.  He didn’t ultimately come to make us happy, He came to make us holy.  Thankfully at 10th Group, you don’t usually spend hours rigged up in a harness.  But regardless of how long you spend in a harness, it’s not comfortable. The parachute/harness is not to make you comfortable, it’s to make your landing survivable.  Rather than promising us comfort in this life, Jesus guarantees us salvation in the next.

Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him.  At times, following Jesus will be painful.  But He will save us from the consequences of our having broken the Law.  And if we understand where we would be without Him, we will gladly embrace the temporary pain of following Him.  Peter describes it like this: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9).

The Gospel According to Private Ryan

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My favorite movie is Saving Private Ryan.  I saw it for the first time when I was in high school.  Seeing the movie made me want to be in the Army.  More than just being accurate historical fiction, the movie also demonstrates the Christian Gospel message.

Near the beginning of the movie, CPT John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his men are given the task of opening the “Dog One” exit off of Omaha beach.  After struggling to make it to the top of the hill, they are able to overtake the Germans.  CPT Miller gets on the radio and gives word that “Dog One is open.”  The camera scans back upon the beach showing dead bodies and blood being churned up in the tide.  Dog One was opened, but at a great cost.

After the initial Omaha beach invasion, CPT Miller is given a crew of seven men and they are assigned with the mission of finding one of the four sons from the Ryan family in Iowa.  James Ryan is the only one of the four sons believed to still be alive after confirming that the other three have all died in combat.

When CPT Miller and his crew finally do find Private Ryan (Matt Damon), two of the eight have died in the process.  When they reach him and tell him that they are there to take him back home, he responds: “This doesn’t make any sense.  What have I done to deserve this?”

Rather than take him back immediately, CPT Miller and his crew decide to stay and help Private Ryan and his unit guard/preserve a strategic bridge from a looming German invasion.  CPT Miller et al are about to be overrun by the Germans when American reinforcements arrive.  In the process, CPT Miller is fatally wounded.  As CPT Miller lay there dying, Private Ryan looks up to the sky and sees the American bombers flying above.  He tells CPT Miller that those bombers are “angels on our wings.” Private Ryan knows that the battle is over and that he is on his way home.  In his last words, CPT Miller tells Private Ryan to “Earn this.”  The Captain ends up giving his life for the Private.

Similar to the invasion of Normandy and the opening of “Dog One,” nearly 2000 years ago the Son of God “invaded” the world that He created.  He came and shed His blood on our behalf.  A song by Matt Redman says it best: “Thank you, thank you for the blood that you shed . . . You have opened a way to the Father where before we could never have come.”

Private Ryan asked the question: “What have I done to deserve this?”  The answer is nothing.  All we deserve is God’s wrath.  The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans chapter 5 that we are not God’s misguided friends.  We are His enemies.  We have broken His moral law and earned the punishment that comes along with this. However, in His mercy He has provided a way out for us.  Romans 5:8-10—“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! 10For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!”

Like Private Ryan said, it doesn’t make any sense.  The only answer is that God is merciful.  Similar to the Captain laying down his life for the Private, Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11).  While we can’t earn our salvation, what Jesus has done for us demands an appropriate response.  CPT Miller tells Private Ryan to “Earn this” after he is already on his way home.  Similarly, the same Apostle Paul who told his listeners that they had been saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8) also “preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:21).

At the end of the movie, we find Private Ryan and his wife at the Normandy American Cemetery.  As they are standing before the grave of CPT John Miller, he says to her: “Tell me I’ve lived a good life.  Tell me I’m a good man.”  Similarly, the sacrifice of Jesus calls us to obedience.  The Apostle Paul said that God “has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9).  Paul summed it up best when he told his listeners to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1).