Blinded By The Sight!

One of the senses we take most for granted is our sight. Our sense of sight determines much about how we “see” the world far beyond what our rods and cones take in and our brains process. In fact, if you talk to someone who has gone blind, they will undoubtedly share how much more they “see” in life without the limitation of sight. Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul tells us to walk by faith, not sight. When we rely too heavily on what we take in with our eyes, we can become blinded by the sight!

The story of Blind Bartimaeus, especially in the Book of Mark, illustrates the need to guide our lives by faith rather than by sight. Recall that Bartimaeus was sitting along the road to Jerusalem in Jericho. This is a treacherous road and the trip to Jerusalem was undoubtedly arduous given the rough terrain and climb in elevation. Jesus had travelled along this route several times but this time was very different because he knew it was his last. A great multitude had gathered around Him as he made his way, no doubt partially because of their increasing belief that He was the messiah and partly because they sensed trouble ahead with Jewish religious leaders.

Bartimaeus is sitting along a wall begging when he hears that Jesus is coming down his road and somehow, he realizes that this is his last chance to get his miracle. As such, he cries out to Jesus but the gathered crowd warns him to be quiet. Bartimaeus, however, will not be denied. He doesn’t care what the crowd says. He cries out even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

This passage is illuminating because Blind Bartimaeus has never seen Jesus. He has not witnessed any of the various miracles that Jesus has performed—no walking on the water, no feeding the masses with a few loaves and fishes, no blind or deaf healed, no paralytic walking—and yet he, a blind beggar, cries out with authority, describing him as THE Son of David. This unapologetic belief that Jesus was indeed the messiah without visual evidence arrested Jesus in his tracks and caused Jesus to send for him. The power in this passage is that it was not Bartimaeus’ blindness that stopped Jesus. We know from other versions of the story that there were other blind folks along the way. It wasn’t his infirmity that made Jesus stand still in a crowd of people trying to hush Bartimaeus. Rather, it was his faith that got Jesus’ attention and caused him to heal Bartimaeus. Jesus tells him, his faith has made him well.

This is precisely why Paul tells us to let faith, not sight, be our guide. Faith, faith, faith opens the eyes of the blind and it begs the question of who was more blind in Jericho—Bartimaeus or the crowd? The multitude tried to quiet his miracle, but Bartimaeus had faith. What are we missing because we think we see? What are we missing because the crowd around us doesn’t want us to receive our blessing?

Are we blind to a dead-end job we are in when God has a better one waiting? Are we blind to a dead-end relationship that is keeping us from our miracle? Are we in our comfort blind to the suffering around us or in our smiles to the pain within us? Are we begging for scraps in life when Jesus is coming right down our road with the solution and all we need to do is to cry out with authority?

Bartimaeus asked in faith and received his sight and although he was sent on his way, he instead followed Jesus down the road. Our true direction is life does not depend upon our sight, but on our faith. When we let faith guide our steps, we will always be headed in the right direction. When we let faith be our guide, we don’t have to worry about being blinded by our sight!

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Letting Go of I’ll Never and Grabbing God Can

If you are like me, as you were growing up and trying to figure out what you wanted to do with your life,  you developed  an extensive list  of “I’ll nevers”: I’ll never move back home once I leave, I’ll never have more than two children, I’ll never get divorced, be unemployed, live in a big city, date someone who has a cat, marry someone shorter than me, date a person who listens to country music, attend Catholic mass, love a Scorpio, become a sports junkie…The list goes on.  As we got older and our lives unfolded, these “I’ll never” lists often become both comical and tragic markers of how our lives didn’t go as originally planned.

Think back on the things you said you would never do. How many of us have had to eat a large slice of humble pie because the very things we said we would never do, came to pass?

The challenge with predetermining what will never occur in our lives  is that we may be limiting something God has already outlined for our future. The Scriptures tell us our days were written and numbered before there were any. God’s plan for our lives may include many of the things we have so quickly and early on ruled out.

For me, I said I would never be divorced, live back home and attend a charismatic Pentecostal style church again, just to name a few. Not only did each of those things come to pass, but ironically, each made me a better person. Often our struggle to resist the things on our “I’ll never” list puts us in contrast with the will of God and thus it is not surprising when the very thing we fight so hard to avoid comes to pass.

This is also true of things we have always hoped for our lives but have decided that they will never happen. This second “I’ll never” list is equally limiting to God’s will–I’ll never get to travel, find my soul mate, have a nice house, lose weight, have a child. Again we are substituting our judgment for the aspirations God has planned. You may never find a church that lifts you up because you said you would never attend that denomination. God may only send the perfect mate for which you have been praying when you drop your extensive criteria of must-haves you have been cultivating for years.

The point is that we cannot limit the will of God, but we can limit our own ability to live in God’s will. God’s perfect job for us may be in the country, our ideal mate may be short, a Scorpio and a cat lover.  As hard as it is for us to imagine, things on any of our “I’ll never” lists may be in fact in God’s plan for our life and our dreams may begin to come true once we stop substituting our judgment for the will of God.

Discerning and staying in the will of God is difficult in any circumstance but it is especially challenging when we place artificial limits on our own lives.  Instead of.focusing on the ” “I’ll never” list in your life, try opening your heart to the amazing possibilities God has in store. There is no end to what God can accomplish in our lives when we let go of “I’ll never” and grab  “God can!”

Getting To The Far Side Of Hell!

Growing up, each Christmas I would receive a calendar of The Far Side cartoons. While the humor of Gary Larson, the cartoonist, is not for everyone, it was the highlight of my Christmas stocking. One of my favorite depictions featured a guy in Hell carrying a wheelbarrow full of rocks, while two devils look down upon him. The man is happily whistling away while apparently everyone else in Hell, carrying the same load of rocks, is sweating profusely and about to collapse from the labor. Observing the whistling man, one devil remarks to the other, “you know, we are just not reaching that guy!”

I have often reflected upon that cartoon when difficulties arise and asked myself what did this guy know that the rest of us have missed? Perhaps, his inner strength is due to greater spiritual faith. Undoubtedly spiritual faith would make it much easier to handle any hellacious situation. Yet, even people of great faith can find it difficult to “whistle” or even manage a smile when they are going through hell in their own lives.

Over the years I have found that my ability to deal with the hell around me is directly related to my ability to deal with the hell within me. That is to say that the hell that we may now be confronting in our surrounding environment is much more difficult to handle when we are wrestling internally. Life has a way of scarring us internally as well as externally. When we internalize the hell we confront in life, it manifests itself in the destructive flames of self doubt, fear and guilt to name an important few. This internal hell can quickly and severely diminish our capacity to cope with external hell ahead of us.

External factors may wound our pocketbook or may scar our physical bodies but hell’s greatest power to impact our lives comes when we internalize it. In doing so, we can harm the most precious resource we have—the human heart. It is important for us to remember the human heart is a repository and as such we have to be mindful of what we put in it. If we internalize and retain too much guilt, self doubt and fear we can cloud our ability to see and receive the good in our lives, including God’s guiding hand.

The heart is the organ that gives us the capacity to love and to relate to life itself. The heart is also the key to understanding the teachings of Christ. The Scriptures repeatedly tell us that it is the quality of the heart that determines the quality of our life. Again and again, we are reminded that a pure and healthy heart will renew our spirits and bring us closer to God. When internally we are confident in our faith and when we are strong in our spirit, the light of God shines within us and guides us.

When we empty our hearts of the guilt, doubt and fears of the past, we make it easier to keep these internal destructive flames in check and in doing so we are able to better cope with the hell that confronts us externally. If we look closely, in faith and with a healthy heart, even in the worst moments of hell in our lives we can find the good. We can find the path. We can see the pinprick of light that will guide us out of the darkness to the far side of hell and we can do it whistling all the way!

Embracing The Sand!

If you are like me, when life starts catching up to you, you find yourself day dreaming of getting away–just a short respite to the beach to gear yourself up for the grind of everyday life. Perhaps it’s the cooling temperatures or the shorter days, but recently I have found myself longing for some “beach therapy,” lying in the warm sun, listening to the waves roll in and embracing the sand.

Growing up in rural Missouri, we didn’t give much thought to the beach. There isn’t much sand in the woods and the beach was just some far off place where people of greater means spent time away from a long winter or cooled off a scorching summer. Then in my teenage years we were invited to tag along on a trip to Florida and it didn’t take long to recognize the therapeutic attraction as I basked in the warm sun.

I also learned one irrevocable truth about going to the beach–you simply cannot escape the sand. Whether you lay on a towel or sit in a chair, it makes little difference. The sand will find you! No matter how careful you are, sand gets everywhere when you go to a beach: in your bag, in your swimsuit and all over your skin. Often times, even after swimming, showering and thorough rinsing, you still find sand in every crack and crevice on your body. Return from vacation and no matter how vigilant you are to rid yourself of the beach, the sand remains…in your shoes, in your suitcase and even in your hair. If you are going to head to the beach, you simply have to learn to embrace the sand.

As it turns out, the same processes are at work in our spiritual lives. No matter how much we read the bible or regularly attend church services, from time to time we all need a spiritual vacation–a brief respite, a change of spiritual scenery, a chance to bask in the glory of God and to prepare ourselves to meet the spiritual challenges we are faced with in everyday life.

In spiritual terms the beach is a way station between the terra firma of what is behind us and the vast unknown sea that is our future. Periodic religious conferences, retreats, revivals and extended periods of prayer and meditation are necessary to help us navigate life. These spiritual beaches allow us to break from our daily lives and recharge our spiritual batteries. Just as with vacations from work, spiritual vacations stay with us long after they are officially over because of the sand. Those tiny granules of Godliness get all over us, from our hair to our shoes and when we return to our daily lives we can draw tremendous strength when we find God’s sand in cracks and crevices of our lives.

Yes, it’s time to get away and embrace the sand!

The Magic Bobber And The Buoyancy Of Faith!

When I was a young boy one of my most prized possessions was a “Magic Bobber.” Now this was no ordinary bobber with which to fish. No sir, the Magic Bobber was unique. It was much larger than the typical red and white bobbers, about the size of your palm, and it was shaped like a space ship akin to a modified, upside down Starship Enterprise. Fishing with the Magic Bobber was special because nobody else had a bobber that could do what it could. Little did I know at the time, but the Magic Bobber was special in another way—it could have taught me a lot about life and faith!

When fishing with ordinary bobbers, small amounts of wind or fish toying with the bait can quickly move your line out of the sweet spot of your cast. With the Magic Bobber, you didn’t have to worry about such things because it’s aerodynamic design allowed you to redeploy the bobber in the water without recasting. All you had to do to move the Magic Bobber was to pull the line firmly opposite the direction you wanted it to go, temporarily sinking the bobber and the let go. The Magic Bobber’s buoyant design was such that the tension of the pull under the water would cause the bobber to shoot out of the water in the opposite direction of the pull. Pull down to the right and the Magic Bobber would shoot out to the left and vice verse. Pull the Magic Bobber down under the water back toward you and the it would sail up and away from your position on the bank. Magic indeed!

What I did not realize until much later in life is the Magic Bobber was a nice metaphor for handling adversity in our lives. Few of us go through life unscathed by difficulty, setback or tragedy. Inevitably, at some point in our lives our trials and tribulations hit with such force that we feel their powerful undertow. In fact, a major failure or setback can pull us so far down spiritually that we get the sense we are drowning. Panic sets in and we begin thrashing about looking for something on to which to grab.

In these times, naturally we may start to question God’s plan for our life, whether God is paying attention to our needs or we may even begin to question God’s very existence. Faith can wain in even the most devout Christians in peril. Recall when the Disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, Peter asked Jesus to call out to him and he would walk on the water and join him. On hearing Jesus’ voice, Peter stepped out of the boat in faith and walked on the water. Yet after a few steps on the water, a small wind blew and Peter began to doubt causing him to sink. Jesus had to intervene and save him from drowning remaking, “Ye of little faith.” If a follower and firsthand observer of the miracles and majesty of Christ can doubt, it’s no wonder we have the same reaction in difficult times.

The Book of James tells us that testing of our faith produces patience and endurance and that we are to let endurance have its perfect result for that too is the work of God. For if we doubt, then we will be tossed about in the water by the wind just like an ordinary bobber. This is precisely when we need the buoyancy of faith. Faith is our “Magic Bobber.” Hebrews 11:1 tells us “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 reiterates that we walk by faith, not by sight. That is to say faith is needed most precisely when our lives are under water and we cannot see the way forward.

Faith is what tells us to stop drowning and start swimming even when we cannot see the shore. It not only raises us to the top of the water but faith propels us further ahead along our course toward God’s ultimate purpose for our lives. So cast your line in life confidently and when the wind begins to blow and difficulties ensue, let it run its course and remember we have been given the ultimate “Magic Bobber” in the buoyancy of faith!

Slamming The Door And Sending A Message!

One of the many things we got in trouble for as children was slamming the door. Our parents and grandparents were constantly scolding us for slamming doors too hard. It didnt’t take long, a couple of tongue lashings and a few bops on the head, and we eventually became sensitized to the fact that adults really don’t like to have doors, any doors, slammed shut. Cabinet doors, bedroom doors, car doors, refrigerator doors, screen doors, front doors, back doors–all doors were to be closed gently.  Slamming doors was only to be done as a very last resort when all other attempts to gently shut the door had failed and a message had to be sent.

Of course, this sensitivity to slamming doors carries over into our adult lives and applies to much more than physical doors. I was reminded of this recently as I assessed my own career path. Since I was a little boy, I always wanted to be in politics. I don’t know why exactly, but the desire to serve the public has been an overriding and guiding force in my life from my earliest memories. Of course there are many other ways to serve, the armed services, the police, firefighters, teachers, etc., but I remained focused on public policy and government.  Loved ones around me questioned why I would chose politics of all things for a career. After all, I didn’t come from a political family and we certainly weren’t politically connected.  Yet, I remained undeterred.

Along the way to establishing a career in public service, many doors were opened and then not long thereafter gently closed, but at each closing I would simply find another point of entry. At times I would leave the profession for a year or two only to inevitably return. Upon re-entry I would re-double my efforts to succeed and again prove myself. I worked harder and longer and had just enough success not to get totally discouraged. However, the cycle always repeated and at each iteration while the success may have been greater, the door would inevitably shut more loudly and firmly than the time before until in the end it slammed shut with such a shuttering force that the message was unmistakably clear.

In the course of our lives we are faced with many doors. The choices we make and the paths we follow of our own accord may not necessarily be those that God has ultimately chosen for us. Often times, God will find subtle ways of shutting doors and opportunities that we think at the time are crucial to our future.  We may not get that job that seemed so perfect or that child for which we hoped, the relationship we are so desperately in may begin to wilt and our best friendship may falter, but God has a plan.

When we persist in following our desires and ignore the subtlety of God’s whisper over our lives, the doors begin to shut harder and stay closed for longer periods of time until finally they are slammed shut. (Often with our fingers still in the door or so it seems!) As painful as this process can be, it is our reminder that Jesus is the door. The pathway to God enters through Him. Our failures and setbacks are God’s way of preparing us for a Kingly purpose. When a door slams in your life, open your eyes, God is sending a powerful message!

 

 

 

180 Degrees Toward Salvation!

 

If you asked managers to describe the traits of an ideal employee, most would have lists that are quite similar–intelligent, talented, motivated, passionate, , and cooperative with a positive, team-oriented attitude. Unfortunately not all employees will measure up (neither do all managers for that matter) and a few will fall so woefully short that they become counterproductive to the organization. In these few cases, managers are faced with the uncomfortable task of confronting the issues head on and getting the employee on track.

Of course not all employees are willing or able to meet the performance needs of the employer and ultimately they leave or are fired from employment. This situation while sometimes unavoidable is not preferable because the organization has already invested precious resources into training and inculcating them into the institution.  Rather the preferable alternative is to turn around performance so completely that these employees become a star for the organization. That is to say, they become 180 degree employees.

Developing 180 degrees employees is not as complicated as it may seem. In most cases, the lack of motivation is rooted in lack of fulfillment, either professional or personal.  Personal issues are more tricky to deal with for a variety of legal and human resource reasons but getting to the root of the unfulfillment regardless of the source is key. Once that occurs, then a turn around path has to be clearly laid out in such a way that the road to success can be paved one positive brick at a time. It is also important to a connection to someone who can provide honest and positive feedback. Finally and perhaps most importantly the employee has to believe that they are an essential part of something bigger and that they can succeed.

As it turns out, this same process lies at the heart of the spiritual journey toward God. We often begin this journey with our backs partially or wholely turned away from God, incredibly unfulfilled and lacking direction and/or motivation for change. We long for something more meaningful and more purpose driven in our lives. This is precisely why we often see people turn to God only at their lowest point. We are severely underperforming our potential and at the same time practically begging for an intervention.

The good news, the great news actually, is that we are children of the ultimate turn around specialist. Recall that Saul was the chief prosecutor of Jesus and the Disciples and he became Christ’s chief messenger. This is the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. It turns what was committed against God to what is dedicated to God. The beauty and majesty of Christ is there is no one on a path that is so far removed that their course cannot be altered. Regardless of our past, Christ stands at the ready to guide us through a total transformation. We can achieve our God-given purpose and potential when completely turn 180 degrees toward salvation!

Finding Your Spiritual Yoda!

The first time I saw Star Wars, I immediately identified with the underlying premise. The storyline of the never ending clash between good and evil is as old as humanity. Those of us who have had a more wayward path to our relationship with God can readily identify with the movie’s premise and the characters’ struggles to find greater purpose. The uncertainty of making the right choices in our lives looms ever present and finding the right force to guide us is vital.

Often times in our quest to make the right choices, we have a longing in our spirit to feel a more intense connection with God, a yearning for divine guidance and direction.  In these moments it can seem as if the more we strive to achieve closeness, the more elusive it is to our spiritual grasp.  We all face times like this and so it is important to realize the elusiveness of spiritual guidance is not due to the absence of God’s presence, but rather it is a function of the dissonance surrounding our search. Unharmonious elements in our lives can drown out the quiet affirmations of God and keep us from getting a handle on the proper direction for our lives.

In these instances, prayer and reflection are always helpful.  In addition, it is essential to have someone we can turn to who has a powerful connection to God. While none of us has a full grasp on God’s will and power, all of us can identify people we know or have run across who amaze us in their spiritual developement. Friends, relatives, siblings, parents, work colleagues, neighbors, worship leaders and pastors alike can have these incredible spiritual connections.

These special connections do not come with position but by the development of one’s gift.  Not everyone has the same spiritual gifts, but for some their relationship with God is developed to such an extent that they can serve as spiritual mentors and thus guide others through difficult times. In fact, the Scriptures are replete with examples of people and leaders who were mentored by someone that had this strong connection. Joshua was mentored by Moses, Timothy by Paul and the list goes on.

Mentors are important to our spiritual growth. Our individual spiritual connection ebbs and flows in our daily lives, but we can manage those fluctuations much better when we have access to our own spiritual mentor. Spiritual mentors have a way of grounding us, cutting through the dissonance in our lives and helping us to clear the path toward a greater connection with God. In the vernacular of Star Wars, we all seek to use the force of God for good in our lives and at our most difficult times when direction eludes us, it certainly helps when you can rely on a mentor. So go forth and find your spiritual Yoda!

 

 

Shake Off The Dust Of Failure!

A friend of mine recently returned to church after many years. He was raised in a religious household, but like many of us in our youth gave over to the temptations of life and strayed from his roots. Decades passed, mistakes were made and life went on until for reasons known only to him and God, he decided to again accept Christ in his heart and change his life.

What shocked him most was how people around him reacted when the conversion occurred. Surprisingly, most of his “worldly” friends accepted the change without much thought. To them he was a milder, gentler version of the same person they already respected.  His re-acceptance of Christ didn’t phase them the least. On the other hand, however, many of the cchurch folks in his small community seemed to have a hard time accepting that his life had really changed. Certainly not all, but more than a few self proclaimed Christians questioned his reasons for returning to the church and remained critical of the life he had previously lived.

As I reflect upon his story, I am reminded of Paul and Barnabas at Antioch. Paul’s message of Christ the Savior was so well received by the people the entire city turned out to hear it. The religious officials seeing the large crowds became jealous and turned to the devout women and the leading men to stir dissention against Paul and Barnabas, driving them from the city. However, rather than get discouraged, the Book of Acts tells us they “shook off the dust of their feet in protest…and were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

This seemingly outdated custom of shaking off the dust plays a prominent role throughout the Bible and remains relevant today. The Scriptures are chocked full of verses that instruct God’s people to shake the dust off their feet. In fact, in biblical times there was no stronger sign of disapproval than to shake the dust off one’s feet.  Throughout the Gospels for example,  Jesus instructs the disciples to shake the dust of any house or city that did not readily receive them. Shaking the dust off served two distinct purposes: the first was to send a signal to the household or city who didn’t receive the message that the failure wasn’t one of the messenger, but rather a failure of the receivers; and the second purpose was for the disciples so they would take care to leave all traces of the failure or criticism behind and press onward with the message of Christ. This is exactly what Paul and Barnabas did.

Ironically, Paul and Barnabas were delivering the true word of God to the religious people of the day and the insurrection against that word was led by the devout women and leading men. Paul and Barnabas were not discouraged however. Instead, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet and turned their attention to the Gentiles. Thus, the word of God was spread throughout the earth.

The message here is clear: We are all, the long time, newly and unconverted, imperfect vessels of Christ covered by grace. Our relationship with Christ is unique to us and as disciples we are charged with delivering the message of Christ through our own experiences. Our path to God, however long and winding and regardless of our failures, is a testament to that grace and a beacon for the Gentiles among us. No one can take that from us, but us–reminding us to embrace our failures, shake off the dust of criticism and be filled with joy and the Holy Spirit!

 

Fighting The Good Fight!

Have you ever felt like there is some hidden, untapped potential in your life that is just out of your reach or sight? You know that the future could hold some  breakthrough for you but you can’t quite catch up to it.  God often has a plan for us that is just out of the grasp of our daily lives. More often than not, however, it is not God’s plan that is holding us back, but rather it is the past we are clinging to that prevents us from achieving our full promise.

One of the most interesting stories of WWII was that of Hiroo Onoda. Mr. Onoda, a Japanese intelligence officer was sent to the Philippine Islands to thwart enemy forces with orders to never surrender or take his own life.  Soon after his arrival in 1945 the Allied forces seized control of the islands, so Mr. Onoda and a small band of soldiers took to the hills to wage a guerilla campaign.  Not long thereafter the war came to an end. His group had been decimated but Onoda remained steadfast, refusing to surrender. Years passed, leaflets were dropped and contact was made to convince him that the war was indeed over, but Lieutenant Onoda fought on, even after the rest of his soldiers were captured or killed. Amazingly, not until his commanding officer, long since retired, returned to the Philippines and personally relieved him of command did he peacefully surrender.  The year was 1974, 29 years after the war had officially ended!

It is tempting to dismiss a story like this as extreme or an aberration, yet most of us know someone who has carried a grudge, mistake or past misdeed for just as long. In fact, most of us can relate in part to the story.  We have fought real battles in our daily lives and the scars and carnage of those battles still linger. For some of us, the battle rages on in our psyche and our soul with such intensity that it consumes our lives and defines who we are long after the war is over and the rest of the world has moved on.

How many of us have been so torn up by a past divorce or bad relationship that we cannot enjoy a current relationship that is immeasurably better?  Who among us has been aggrieved by a family member and clung to that in such a way that it still impacts family relations?

The past is a not entirely void of merit, but its merit lies in the preparation for the future. It is the learning and preparation that put us in position to grasp our full potential. Reliving or hanging on to the past chains us to it and becomes the millstone which prevents our actualization through God’s plan.

Our trials and tribulations are designed to prepare us for our destiny. The Scriptures tell us in Ecclesiastes that there is a time for everything, including a time to move on. Under God we are meant to pass from darkness unto light, from tribulation unto victory. We cannot fully know the light according to 1 John unless we have forgiven others as we are forgiven. Our forgiveness of transgressions, those of others’ making and those of our own making, is what sets us free from the bonds of our past.

God certainly has a plan for each of us and there is much in our lives for which to fight. Fighting old battles rarely if ever leads us to our future. Instead let us forgive, embrace our full promise according to God’s divine plan and fight the good fight!