Posted by: word4men | March 29, 2010

Superficial Healing and Leaky Cisterns


Superficial Healing and Leaky Cisterns
“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace Jeremiah 6:14
13″For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13

Back in the late winter of 2002, I was a middle-aged CPE resident learning the ropes. For those who fortunately don’t know about CPE, it stands for Clinical Pastoral Education and is kind of’ like a residency or apprenticeship for Chaplains. It is normally administered one of two ways. In one iteration, seminarians and active pastors spend a few hours in the hospital or institution a week (for 2-3 months) visiting patients and taking part in IPR (group counseling) and Verbatim (relating specific experiences) and one on one time with their experienced chaplain supervisors. Always backing into blessings and the most challenging way of doing something, I did it the hard way. 60 plus hours in the hospital for a year (actually 2), with 2 “on calls” a week (staying in the hospital overnight and handling all the emergencies + general visits with the staff and patients should you choose).
I digress (and run on).
On this particular February or March night, as many in this time of year in SC, it was a cold rainy evening…around 8PM when the pager went off. It was the ER number, but with no overhead page and no special code on the pager, I knew it wasn’t a “Code Trauma” where the Surgery Residents and I raced to care for an incoming patient. Even so, I double timed to the back door and cut through the X-Ray Lab and into the ER. I was sent to a treatment room where Dr. H (one of the more interesting doctors I have met, and I know a lot) was feverishly pumping fluids and drugs into a man on the table all for naught. He asked me to go visit the family in the special waiting room and to ask about how they found him and that he would be out to talk to them soon. He had to call the “Code 3” and pronounce the man (I’ll call him Uncle Cletus) dead, at this time he had no idea why this man’s pressure and pulse could not be maintained. I gave him my typical question, “What can I tell them/what is safe to tell them.” His answer was, “At this time nothing. I will be there in a few minutes to tell them the outcome and glean information on the cause.” So I went out to go learn about the family (a group of nieces and nephews) of this late 50’s man who had apparently died of nothing.
Gingerly I ignored the dinosaur in the room (“how is Uncle Cletus) and got everyone’s name and relationship to the deceased and asked them to begin thinking about what they had seen when they found him and had anything strange been going on in his life recently. Just as I was feeling even more awkward, Dr. H’s came out and I introduced him to the family where he directly but gently told them that their uncle had died and that he honestly didn’t know why.
He asked them if he had been ill or taken any drugs recently. One nephew said, “His belly was giving him trouble. It did a lot, for years. He had been in the bathroom a bunch over the last two days. He would never go to the Dr. for it. He just took Headache Powders (Southerners know the name brand well)…sometimes several a day…headaches, body aches, stomach aches…he and his Headache Powders.”
I saw the light bulb go off in Dr. H’s head. “Tell me, would you know what his poop looked like today.” The same nephew looked perplexed, but then said, “Well, coffee grounds.” With that revelation Dr. H had all he needed. Uncle Cletus had a bad stomach, who knows why, but he was afraid of Dr.’s and did not seek medical advice or treatment. Since the Headache Powder did wonders on his head aches, he would take them for his stomach ache. It would hurt more, he would take more. Headache powders generally have two great ingredients that give relief to headaches quickly: a big dose of aspirin (and sometimes acetaminophen) with caffeine to open the blood vessels more and allow the medicines to get to the needed places quickly. Well, as most of us now know, aspirin can do a number on a gentle stomach. This gentleman basically killed himself. He had either exacerbated or developed a bleeding ulcer with his habitual use of aspirin and even as he was using them to try to relieve his pain, the hole in his stomach was growing and bleeding out as the strange droppings (clotting blood) was telling him. Uncle Cletus died because he only cared about relieving his symptoms, not the cause of his pain.
Every time I hear the above references from Jeremiah, I think of Uncle Cletus. I used it once in a sermon to introduce Acts 17:16-31. As I have read and posted Bob Kelleman’s discussions of the new iteration of the old assault on the church, and as my pastor continues to bring our church the truth of Christ from The Gospel According to John (we are on Chapter 16 after a faithful 2 years). I am reminded that as humans, we only want superficial healing. We don’t want GOD or anyone else to rip the sin out of our hearts and turn our lives on end, we want Him to remove the external tumor (without a nasty scare), but we don’t want Him to do something invasive. As a friend of mine would say in psychological terms, “We don’t want a new life, we ask Jesus just to make a little adjustment here and a little adjustment there. I am really alright. He isn’t content with a filthy heart and a clean outside. He is going to raze the house and start again.”
We repeatedly look for these little adjustments and superficial healings and all the time they are draining us to the point of death. Reputation, sensual pleasure, jobs, money, et al. are the cisterns we trust to raise our self-esteem. We know that we have a real problem that transcends the hole in our stomachs, or the hernia ting disk, or the bump on our nose or even the lack of love we feel from someone we care for. We take all our effort and emotion and place them in leaking cisterns. The most valuable thing we have (our very soul) we trust to something of this world that will not satisfy and will waste our self by spilling it on the dry ground.
And all the time Jesus; not Jesus the community organizer, moral teacher and supreme example; but Jesus the Son of GOD who lived a normal human life perfectly, who performed signs and wonders, whom the people loved until He spoke truth to them, who died on a bloody cross for those people whom the Father gave Him. The Jesus who rose on the 3d day and ascended 40 days later to the right hand of the Father. Not the Jesus who didn’t judge anyone by the law, but the one who explained that the law applied not to just what people saw, but to the inner state of our hearts. {Forgive this really poorly punctuated paragraph, but you will get it I hope.} This Jesus bloody Jesus stands before us saying:
1″Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
2″Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.
Isaiah 55 (see John 6:35ff)
Please, if you know you are without Christ, seek out His claims and weigh them. If you are in the church, search your heart and see if you really are seeking or have had the tumor hardening your heart removed, or are just looking for cosmetic surgery. Treating symptoms has some value, but not if the heart of the problem is ignored. An aspirin cannot do what only the Great Physician was intended to.
Grace To You,
Chaplain Greg



  1. So true…. Instead of any improvement we want things quicker and neater. I remember a friend commenting during the first Gulf War that we(the US) were in trouble if it lasted very long as Americans have become used to everything on TV being tied up in an hour tops!

    Gods time is not our time and His ways are not our ways… there are no quick fixes!

    Thanks for the message Greg…(handsome)

  2. To echo Mom…so true. It makes me think of two close relatives of mine (wink, wink). One who seems to think that a new town will fix things–make them happier, and another who seems to think that money, material possessions, and/or a man to love will do the trick. Not that I am perfect by any means, but I understand…and it hurts me to see people medicating with “remedies” that only perpetuate the problem.

    One of the hardest things to do is to truthfully look inside yourself, but it is also the most rewarding!

    • Yes my Dear (for you who don’t know, Kate is my youngest child),
      The first thing God gives us on the road of redemption is a correct view of self and then our true need, and then the One that fills the need, not for our sake, but for His.
      Love you Bug,

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