And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another… Hebrew 10:24-25
Years ago, when we returned to Charlotte, I found a dentist that I liked. His office was convenient; it was trendy and modern; they gave me a remote to choose my channel as the hygienist scraped the plaque away; the best part was every visit he would poke around my teeth, smile and say to me, “Everything looks great, just keep doing the great job you are doing” and then softly shake my hand as I headed out the door until I would reappear 6 months later.
But deep down, I knew that it was a lie. I rarely flossed; brushing was an optional aspect of my day. I’d come home and my wife would ask, “So what did the dentist say?” And I would repeat his affirmation, “He said everything was great. In fact, he showed me his teeth color chart and I have the whitest teeth on the chart!” She would shake her head, because she knew the truth of my dental hygiene. She had hoped someone would speak up and try to correct my behaviors.
Then one day, one of my perfect teeth cracked, and I had to go in for a crown. And that led to a bigger problem that grew into a root canal. Suddenly my “perfect” teeth were revealing the truth. My teeth were rotting away, while I thought everything was “great.” However, I liked the affirmation that I would receive, so I wanted to stay with this dentist. Literally (I am not “pastor-ing” this up), though, the very week I got the root canal, I also received an email saying that my dentist had gone bankrupt.
I was at a loss. I liked my dentist, I liked my dentist because he affirmed me, even though deep down I knew that my behaviors were not right. I liked my dentist because he was conveniently located. I liked my dentist because he let me have the remote to my own private television. I liked my dentist, even more than my wife, because he did not point out my flaws or challenge me to improve but would softly shake my hand and send me on my way for the next 6 months…all the while my teeth were rotting.
Around the time my dentist went bankrupt, I went through a life transformation where I realized I thrive around men who are one step faster than me. I realized that I was going spiritually bankrupt because I had accepted a faith that said, “everything is great, just keep doing what you are doing” all the while I was rotting from the inside.
I have realized that I am no longer interested in being told “Everything is great,” but instead in being challenged to consider the areas of my life that need attention. I want men in my life who will hold me accountable, not only to my dental hygiene, but also in my spiritual and relational health. I want men who are going to root around below the surface, showing the cracks that will lead to cavities that will lead to root canals.
The passage from Hebrews describes the point of the church. The point of the church is to be a place where people gather in order to spur–challenge, encourage and correct–people towards love and good deeds. It is not to make us feel good about ourselves, but to place us in contact with others who are either one step ahead or one step behind.
Today, before I got to have lunch and coffee with men who are one step in front of me challenging me to keep up, I went to my new dentist. And as I sat in the dentist chair looking at the x-ray of that root canal, I realized:
I no longer want to be in an environment where the physician softly shakes my hand on the way out the door saying, “Everything is great, just keep doing what you are doing” because deep down I know the truth about myself: It’s very likely, without the right men around me, that I will end up spiritually bankrupt having failed to address the rotting teeth.
So, what type of dentists do you have in your life? Who is challenging and encouraging and spurring you on?