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Spiritual Blind Spots

“Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him…” (Revelation 1:7)

Diagnosed with congenital glaucoma at five months old, Italian Andrea Bocelli was only six years old when he began studying the piano. He went on to learn the flute and saxophone and was often asked to sing at family gatherings and at school. Visually impaired from birth – he was totally blind at the age of 12, following a soccer injury. Bocelli, who rose to fame in 1994, is labeled as an opera singer. Today he is known as “the world’s most beloved tenor.” While he can sing arias with the best of them, he has also joined to perform duets with well-knowns Tony Bennett, Sarah Brightman, and Ed Sheeran. Though he may be physically blind, one can be certain he does not suffer from spiritual blindness when you hear his versions of The Lord’s Prayer, Amazing Grace or Ave Maria. In fact, Celine Dion who joined him to perform The Prayer stated – “if God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.”

Spiritual blindness is demonstrated in the fictional story of a girl who hated herself because she was blind. She was hateful with everyone, except her loving boyfriend who was always there for her. She told him – “If I could only see the world, I would marry you.”  One day, someone donated a pair of eyes to her. When the bandages came off following the surgery – she was able to see everything, including her unexpectedly blind boyfriend for the first time. He asked her, “Now that you can see the world, will you marry me?” As the girl stared at her boyfriend – the sight of his closed eyelids was shocking to her, totally catching her off guard. The thought of looking at them for the remainder of her life led her refusal to marry him. Receiving her response, the boyfriend tearfully departed. Days after, he wrote a note to her stating: “Take good care of your eyes, my dear, for before they were yours, they were mine.”

In John 9:1-12 – Jesus confirmed the existence of spiritual blindness when He and his disciples passed by a man who had been blind since birth, as they inquired whose fault it was for this man to be blind. Jesus replied that it had nothing to do with his sins or those of his parents. It was, in fact, an opportunity for God to do a very special presentation. It began as Jesus mixed his spit with some earth, making it into a paste to anoint the blind man’s eyes. He was then told to go and wash in a public pool called Siloam. As the man received his full sight, those who knew him began to question whether this he was really the beggar that they had known and seen all their lives. Then the Pharisees got involved and began to question the man as well. They were furious with Jesus and blamed Him for breaking the Sabbath, being critical of the tremendous good He was doing by releasing people from their afflictions. They knew the Holy Scriptures by heart but did not apply the teachings to their own lives. Filled with their own ego and dreadfully envious of the Son of God who was a threat to their self-elevated positions among the general public – they were truly spiritually blind. Eventually to silence all of the critics – the man voiced that often-repeated phrase, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see” (John 9:25).

To be spiritually blind is to not see Christ . . . and not seeing Christ is to not see God. Some are blind to the understanding of who Jesus really is, while others are blind to the reality that we depend on God. Quite often, they are blind to their own sinful condition. Those who are spiritually blind have a distorted view of the important matters of life. They are blind to the evidence of God as revealed throughout His Word and Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote that “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The lives of the spiritually blind are steeped in the things of the world with all its passions, as their eyes are blind to the Spirit of God.  “For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes— so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them’” (Acts 28:27). Jesus came that we might see clearly. We must allow Him reveal to reveal our blind spots and heal our eyes to truly see.

REFLECTION: Are there times when you find yourself resorting to excuses and rationalizations when it comes to your own sinful behaviors? Do you sometimes feel guilty when you read certain passages in the scriptures? How do you work at showing the light of Jesus to others who are spiritually blind?

Grace Upon Grace

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

A series of burglaries highlighted a fictional TV story of a small midwestern farm town where items from the general store and several farms have been among the missing. Two preteens who are captivated by a series of detective novels join forces to solve the mystery. Eventually it is discovered that a friend of theirs from the neighborhood school has been the burglar all along, stealing to support himself and his ill father who thinks the boy has a job. The youngster has also been doing everything he can to read about medical procedures and terminology in hopes of someday becoming a doctor. The revelation brings together an assembly of the men from whom the goods were taken to decide how to handle the matter. As they evaluate the situation, they make the boy aware that they know what he did. Then he is told that when he someday is that physician they know he will become, he is to remember that they are owed a free visit.  Rather than pressing the matter any further – they demonstrate the true meaning of grace.

Extensions of grace are not a commonly-offered act these days. When most of us feel wronged, we want payback. Our first impulse when we are hurt or offended is to strike out, justifying our anger in the name of fairness. As a society, we have become used to the principle of cause and effect; that is, we receive what we earn and we give back what someone deserves. Grace, therefore, becomes a difficult concept to understand, for our teachings and the examples we have seen in our lives don’t allow the notion to be rationally considered. Grace is the unmerited favor of God, an unconditional love given to the undeserving. Those who receive and rely on Jesus Christ for salvation receive his grace and respond with gratitude. Part of our grateful response is evidenced whenever we demonstrate God’s grace to others. In this spirit, the Apostle Paul told the early Christian church that they should “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).

At the April 9, 1865 surrender of the Civil War between the states – General Grant showed grace by displaying a desire for reconciliation over retribution. President Lincoln had further reinforced this in a meeting only weeks before, urging leniency when the time came. As Grant and Lee drafted the articles of surrender, Lee proposed that Grant allow his men to keep their side arms and horses for use on their farms. Grant agreed and offered very generous terms for the southern soldiers. Lee remarked that “This will have the best possible effect upon the men. It will be very gratifying, and will do much toward conciliating our people.” He expressed further concern that many in his army were in severe need of food and supplies, so Grant offered the services of the U.S. commissary and quartermaster to supply the struggling soldiers. As the Union army heard the news of the surrender, spontaneous demonstrations of gun salutes commenced. Hearing them and not wanting to add insult to defeat – Grant sent orders to have them stopped, affirming “The war is over; the rebels are our countrymen again.”

Grace has been demonstrated by powerful figures throughout history. It is a constant theme in the Bible, and it culminates in the New Testament with the coming of Jesus. John wrote: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).  Grace is God choosing to bless us rather than curse us as our sin deserves. It is His compassion for the undeserving.  God is the instigator of grace, and it is from Him that all other grace flows. As Christians, we are charged to show grace to others or face the potential of being tarnished. Paul says: “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many” (Hebrews 12:15).  If you find yourself in the company of others whose hearts have been captured by grace, count yourself lucky. They love us despite our messy lives, they stay connected to us through our struggles, and they always hold out for the hope of our recovery through His redemptive spirit. This is sometimes referred to as “grace upon grace” (John 1:16). We need not only receive it but are called to show it to those who might otherwise be faced with isolation and defeat in their lives.

REFLECTION: Consider situations in your life where you were shown or wish you had been shown grace. How did that outcome have an effect on the way you treat others? Are there persons you know today whom you can offer God’s gift of grace?  What action steps will you take to implement a plan to do so?

Moving Forward from Hopelessness

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Our world is fashioned with fears of economic collapse, pandemics, wars, global warming, extreme rioting and natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. There are those who at times just want to crawl into a corner and curl up in the fetal position. Others may not be quite ready to do just that, but some will admit that they have lost hope. If we add the above to the personal trials of everyday existence―a confrontational divorce, a pending lawsuit, trying to find work because of a job loss, or facing the uncertainty of an illness for ourselves or a loved one – it can be quite overwhelming.  it’s no wonder so many people struggle with an increasing sense of hopelessness, even to the point of despair. When fear grips us, it disables us from moving forward.  When a crisis hits, you have to do the smart things necessary to get through it. You listen to helpful advice from others whom you respect, you make good choices, and you should affirm that this too will pass. Soon enough you will marvel at all that God did in the midst of this trouble, as you are able look at it from the other side.

We can learn much from King David and how he responded to news of the impending death of his illegitimate child. “David begged God to spare the child. He went without food and lay all night on the bare ground. The elders of his household pleaded with him to get up and eat with them, but he refused” (2 Samuel 12:16-17). Seven days later, the child died, but the attendants were afraid to tell David for they were concerned that he might do something out of desperation. When David was told that the child had passed, he “got up from the ground, washed himself, put on lotions, and changed his clothes. He went to the Tabernacle and worshiped the LORD. After that, he returned to the palace and was served food and ate. Then his servants said to him, ‘What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.’ David replied, ‘I fasted and wept while the child was alive, for I said, Perhaps the LORD will be gracious to me and let the child live. But why should I fast when he is dead? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him one day, but he cannot return to me” (2 Samuel 12:20-23). David understood it was time to move forward. Soon he was blessed with another son, and “they named him Solomon. The LORD loved him” (2 Samuel 12:24).

The apostle Paul wrote, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8). Paul suffered many hardships yet not hopelessness, because, like David, his hope was not based on earthly circumstances. He held on to the knowledge that God was ultimately in control of it all. The word hope in English often conveys doubt. For instance, “I hope it will not rain tomorrow.” Or it may be used as a response that one might give when asked if they think that they will go to heaven when they die. They say, “I hope so.”  For the Christian – Biblical hope is a reality and not a feeling. Biblical hope carries no doubt. Biblical hope is a sure foundation upon which we base our lives, believing that God always keeps His promises. Followers of Christ never lose sight of hope, because “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, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

At one time or another, we will all find ourselves in a situation that seems to be hopeless. For those who know Jesus as their Savior, it’s an opportunity for God to call us closer to Him. We don’t have to think all is lost because we cannot control the circumstances. Instead we can learn to trust the One who controls all things. Therefore “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).  Hope is a confident expectation that God will do what He has promised. Either you can move forward with the rest of your life, or the world as we know it may come to an end.  In either case, Jesus will be there if you believe in Him. So wait patiently, and be established in hope. Things are going to get better – much better!         

REFLECTION: What feels uncertain in your world today? Have you sometimes felt hopeless during times of crisis? What would it take to restore your hope? How can you implement God’s solutions for hopelessness and despair? How will respond to someone in your life who needs encouragement?

Cool Down and Leave No Scars

“A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” (Proverbs 15:18)

While engaged in the task of sweeping the carpet in the family downstairs’ game room, the vacuum I was using suddenly shut off. I thought maybe the dirt bin needed emptied, so I did that. Perhaps I had tripped a breaker; I checked that as well. Neither of these enabled the sweeper to restart. Then I took the next best step – I searched for the owner’s manual for this product, now less than three years old.  The manual gave me several things to try, including allowing the appliance to be unplugged for at least 45 minutes in case it had become overheated.  The vacuum did feel a little warm, so I did something else for a while An hour or so later – I pushed the on/off button, and it started like a charm. I chuckled to myself, recalling that earlier that day I became a bit over-heated at a local chain store where management was not enforcing a policy they had advertised.  Fortunately, I had not allowed my frustration to shut down the shopping trip. I simply focused on my list and allowed myself to cool down before it became an issue.

In Matthew 5:22-24, Jesus teaches us about the unhealthiness of two different types of anger: being angry oneself or causing anger in another. Both are unhealthy, because our anger is not from God. It is written, “if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”  Even though it is possible that anger may serve us positively in certain instances, it has been proven that excessive or habitual anger will result in negative, self-destructive consequences, both to the one who is angry and to those who are around them. It is therefore true that managing one’s anger as well as reconciling with those with whom one is angry or may have angered are two fundamental aspects of spiritual growth.

A story was told of young boy with a very bad temper. The boy’s father wanted to teach him a lesson, so he gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into their wooden fence. On the first day of this lesson, the little boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the course of the next few weeks, the boy began to control his anger, so the number of nails that were hammered into the fence dramatically decreased. It wasn’t long before he discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. The day finally came when the boy didn’t lose his temper even once. He was so proud of himself and couldn’t wait to tell his father. Pleased, his father suggested that he now pull out one nail for each day that he could hold his temper. Many weeks went by, and the day finally came when the young boy was able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. Very gently, the father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. “You have done very well, my son,” he smiled, “but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same.” The little boy listened carefully as his father continued to speak.” When you say things in anger, they leave permanent scars just like these. And no matter how many times you say you’re sorry, the wounds will still be there.”

We are not able to easily track those occasions where we might have done irreparable harm by not acting appropriately in “the heat of the moment.” It seems as though it has become quite easy to irritate others and provoke anger in today’s world. Consider how social justice declarations at a sporting event can upset and alienate fans who are there purely for the love of the game. Entering into a political discussion at a high school reunion can cause division that takes away from the fellowship of the affair itself. Dredging up an old conflict at a family holiday get-together can evoke a heated argument, thereby isolating relatives.  Believers in Christ are called upon to be peacemakers and find a solution, before allowing an incident or conflict to escalate. “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires” (James 1:20). We must practice how we might respond to potential opportunities for conflict. For God is glorified when we ignore it, walk away, let it go, or at least allow 45 minutes to cool down.

REFLECTION: Have you had events of anger occur in your life that have resulted in or caused permanent marks?  Are there ways you have applied Christian values to resolve them? How can you contribute to preventing heated situations from getting out-of-hand in organizations of which you are a part?

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

“Don’t jump to conclusions – there may be a perfectly good explanation for what you just saw.” (Proverbs 25:8 in The Message)

Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude, offering the angels a small space in the cold basement instead of the guest room. As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it. When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied, “Things aren’t always what they seem.” The next night, the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor, but hospitable farmer and his wife. After sharing what little food they had, the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night’s rest. The next morning, the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears. Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income, lay dead in the field. The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel, “How could you have allowed this to happen? The first man had everything, yet you helped him. The second family had little but was willing to share everything, and you let their cow die. ” The older angel replied: “When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in that hole in the wall. Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn’t be able to find it. Then last night as we slept in the farmer’s bed, the angel of death came for his wife. I gave him the cow instead. Please understand…things aren’t always what they seem.”

When Jesus was in Jerusalem, He pointed this out this type of contradiction to those whom He had called. “Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God” (Luke 21:5). On the surface, they saw its external beauty, but He told them – “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down” (Luke 21:6). The disciples failed to see what was really behind it: spiritual bankruptcy, hypocrisy, oppression, rejection of Christ and the Gospel, and Christ’s impending death at the hands of the religious authorities. That’s why Jesus warned them to beware of the false teachers who would come and proclaim that they were the promised Messiah. “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them” (Luke 21:8). He knew that just like the temple’s beauty hid its ugly secrets – the false teachers with their appearances, methods and teachings would hide their true motives as well.

When we judge situations by the world’s standards, we often miss the hidden beauty of what lies right before us.  In 2009, a lady took the stage of the competition show Britain’s Got Talent. In comparison to the other participants, she was plain-looking. Judging by her appearance, no one expected much when she raised the microphone to sing “I Dreamed a Dream.” As she began her performance – the judges were spellbound, taken with the loveliness and power of the voice that filled the auditorium. Jumping to their feet, those in the audience were surprised that such a riveting voice came from such an unlikely source. The performer, Susan Boyle, rose to fame and soon recorded the UK’s best-selling debut album of all- time. Scotland’s daily newspaper, The Herald, described Boyle’s story as “a modern parable and a rebuke to people’s tendency to judge others based on their physical appearance.” Jesus Himself said that we must “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24).

The best T.V. shows and movies are usually ones that have a plot with an unexpected twist. When this happens in real life, we must evaluate the circumstances. With today’s instantaneous sound bites and edited video clips – it has become far-too-easy to twist the truth, frequently prompting one to jump to a conclusion without knowing all of the facts. Sometimes what appears to be accurate on the surface emerges from an attempt to bias or enrage one individual or group of people against another. We would be wise if we followed this advice: “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19). A faithful Christian is discerning of what he hears and is careful in finding judgment.  We must be ever-vigilant that we are not being deceived by a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). There are plenty of them out there. For a wise angel once said . . . “things aren’t always what they seem.”

REFLECTION: In what situations do you find it easy to jump to conclusions? How do you weigh supposed factual information when it comes to hearsay about people or situations? Are there ways you can gain increased spiritual maturity be exercising the ability to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14)?

Blowing Your Own Horn

“Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips.”  (Proverbs 27:2)

I recall a story about a man being tailgated by a stressed-out woman on a busy boulevard. As the traffic light turned yellow just in front of him – he did the right thing by stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light. The tailgating woman hit the horn, screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection. While she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit the car. After he ran her license information, he returned and stated, “I’m very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder as well as the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ and the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ bumper stickers. Since these things did not match the person I observed in the car, I assumed you had stolen it. Just call it a case of mistaken identity.”

These days, acting in a manner such as this can invoke road rage. It also speaks poorly of you, if in fact you do claim to be a follower of Christ. When it comes to your connection to Jesus, have you ever paused to ask if others observe you to be the person you claim to be? If we’re wise, we accept the God-given task of calling others to live justly and formulate a right relationship with Him while all along expecting the same from them. In the Old Testament, a few individuals were called to be prophets with the mandate to bring God’s Word home to his people. This was the case of Ezekiel who said, “But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’ (Ezekiel 33:6). As members of the new covenant, all Christians are called to the prophet’s job.  We are to be lookouts not only to hold ourselves upright but to likewise be answerable for the people around us.

During Jesus day many people were going through the motions of religion so that they would receive accolades from others. Jesus had no quarrel with the traditional forms of religious practice, but He called His followers to be truly God-centered in their performance, not oriented toward self-righteousness. He warned them, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:2). He went on to say, “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6). The landscape has not changed much over the last two-thousand years. Religious leaders of Jesus day struggled with these issues, and many people continue to wrestle with them today.

If you are old enough, you will remember following a marriage ceremony the bridal couple and their wedding party would get into their cars often draped with ribbons, cans and a sign that said, “Just Married.” Blowing their horns, they would drive around the town eventually stopping at the place of where the wedding reception would be held. Everybody knew that this behavior had nothing relevant to do with the actual marriage ritual. It was simply a public display to show someone had “tied the knot.” The marriage itself grows and develops privately through ensuing good days and bad. After years of being together, hopefully with Christ at the center, the union gives silent affirmation to the fulfillment of those once-spoken vows. It doesn’t have to be expressed with horn blowing or another public exhibition. The commitment is obvious to all who observe the relationship. Someone once said – “Make sure it is God’s trumpet you are blowing. If it’s only yours, it won’t waken the dead; it will simply disturb the neighbors.” May it be so, as we carefully witness to the world around us.

REFLECTION: Are there times your actions do not display Christian values? How does it make you feel when you hear others bragging about or announcing the amount of their financial support for a cause? In what ways can you modify your life to be more of a positive example rather than a public affirmation?

Perfection: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”   (2 Corinthians 12:9)

As we anticipate the celebration of another Independence Day weekend, we find ourselves at a time when there is a movement to fundamentally rewrite our history. Not long ago, America’s Founding Fathers were respected for who they were. Today, their imperfections are likely to be under attack from educators, politicians, and the media. An outcry has developed to remove many statues and monuments around the country that glorify Confederate generals, advocates for slavery, defenders of segregation and others whose racial views or conduct are now widely detested. It’s not only Confederate statues that have come under attack but also those of Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson, to name a few. It has long been established that at least half of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were slave owners. Yet through the years monuments have been erected to honor those who performed extraordinary achievements, even though their character was less-than-perfect. The more we focus on the flaws, the less likely we are to recognize the virtues that can be learned from these lives. George Washington, therefore, is memorialized in statues and names of places, even though he once held slaves. 

It is interesting to note that on July 9, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in New York City. Washington and many others had been waiting for a such a declaration for some time, while efforts at reconciliation had been made by others who were reluctant to rebel against the Crown. So only days after its passage, Washington had the Declaration presented to his troops and onlookers from the citizenry. Sparking a celebration through the streets in reaction to what had been read – soldiers and citizens alike went to Bowling Green, a park in the Southern tip of Manhattan, where a statue of King George III on horseback stood.  The 4,000-pound lead statue was torn down and the head was cut off. Writing in his diary the next day, Washington expressed displeasure at this destruction of property by stating he hoped in the future people would leave this sort of thing “to the proper authorities.”  In the George Orwell novel 1984, one of his characters warned that:  “every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered . . . And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.”

These ‘cancel culture revisionists’ seek to eliminate any remembrance of those persons who were not perfect as defined by today’s standards. Yet absolute perfection is a quality that belongs to God alone. No matter how hard we try, we sin by our very nature and will always miss the mark. We commit sins of commission—doing that which we shouldn’t, as well as sins of omission—not doing that which we should.  Except for Jesus Christ, every other person who has walked the face of the earth was flawed. God sees and knows our shortcomings, and that is why in our daily walk we need His undeserved gift of grace. Our relationship to God, therefore, is not based on our perfection but rather in that of His Son’s.  Sinners need a Savior, and that’s why Jesus came. “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14). When we trust in Him, He will forgive our imperfections and iniquities. We can stop striving for an arbitrary, worldly “perfection” and rest in the One who is.

Followers of Christ should be encouraged to pursue perfection by maturing in their faith. “So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:4). The concept of tearing down and building up is repeatedly demonstrated in the scriptures as a model for repentance in each of our lives. But when we seek to erase history, be it personal or that of our nation – we risk losing any remembrance of the foundation on which we were built and are in danger of repeating the same mistakes over and over again. So regardless of how flawed our past may be, we do not want to lose sight of how far we have come. If it is, in fact perfection that we seek – better to hold onto the One who was perfect yesterday, is perfect today, and who will also be perfect tomorrow.

REFLECTION: What does our nation’s history mean to you, and how do we honor those who were flawed but rose to represent equal rights and justice? How do you show concern for actions that seek to erase Biblical history and destroy Christian values? In what ways does God’s perfect love set you free?

Game Not Over

     “The LORD will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right.” (Psalm 84:11)

A story has been told by Christian speakers as far back as 1955 when Billy Graham told a variation of it early in his ministry.  Two men were wandering through a museum gazing at all the works of art when they came upon a depiction of two individuals locked up in a game of chess. One of the people in the painting looked like an ordinary man, but the other character appears to be the devil himself. The title of the painting is “Checkmate.” The impression of the man in the picture is that he is in a hopeless situation, that all is lost. One of the two observers, a chess champion, studied this painting at great length while his companion became impatient and asks what he’s looking at. The chess champion tells his friend to go on ahead as he wants to study the painting a bit more because something is bothering him. A little later, his friend returned and the chess master said, “I need to contact the artist who painted this piece. He either needs to change the painting or change the title.” When his friend asked why, he replied, “It is not Checkmate. If you look closely at the painting it becomes clear the king still has one more move.”

In his use of this story – Billy Graham concluded: “I believe there is One looking down from above who looks upon the board and says to you and me: There is a move, there is one move that you can make, and you can win! That move is toward Jesus Christ.” This concept is mirrored throughout the Bible. There you will find the story of a lame man who had to break through several barriers to overcome the apparent checkmate which had placed in his life (Luke 5:18-26). First there was the physical barrier of paralysis (Mark 2:3) and, secondly, there was the inability to access Jesus because of the large crowds. So “they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on” (Mark 2:4). Jesus healed the man spiritually by forgiving his sins (Mark 2:5) and also restored him physically (Mark 2:11). Whatever it took, this man was determined to get into the presence of the true King and not allow himself to be placed into any discouraging circumstance.

Caleb was facing the checkmate of advanced age. Every one of his generation had died except for his friend, Joshua. For many long years, he had held onto the dream of the promised land, remembering the mountain that Moses had professed would belong to him.  He declared, “Now, as you can see, the LORD has kept me alive and well as he promised for all these forty-five years since Moses made this promise—even while Israel wandered in the wilderness. Today I am eighty-five years old . . . So give me the hill country that the LORD promised me” (Joshua 14:10,12). What if Caleb had given up his dream? There seemed to be no end to his wilderness journey. He could have become hopeless and abandoned his vision. He could have given up his dream too soon, right on the brink of his miracle. Caleb serves to remind us that there will be times when we find ourselves in a spiritual desert, wandering around in circles in the wilderness. When this is the case, it is important that we keep our focus on the vision of our mountain. For the promises that God makes have no expiration date; He will not force us into checkmate.

If you are like most people, you will repeatedly come up against situations where it seems like all is lost and the enemy has won. There are many fences in life that will appear to create a checkmate condition, preventing you from experiencing God’s intention for a full life. If you are to advance these possibilities, then you must press beyond the limitations hindering your next move. As we search God’s Word – we will glean wisdom, strength and encouragement. We can see that no matter what obstructions were confronting God’s people, He always showed them that they still had one more move. There is a miracle in the making for you, if the King is present in your life. If you open your heart, He will meet you where you are right now. The game is not over, my friend. There is yet another move to be made.

REFLECTION: What are the negative circumstances that have you trapped and make you feel as though you are in a checkmate situation? Recall a time when you felt like you were a failure or were out of options. Would you be able to share a story with others as to how the King has stirred your life at a time when you felt like you were defeated and had no more moves to make?

What’s in Your Pocket?

“I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 11:15)

If you purchase one of his books, you will also get his personal cell number located at the back of the book. Bob Goff, author of Love Does, Everybody Always, and Dream Big believes it is his responsibility to act like Jesus; that is, to be available and to love your neighbor. Jesus identifies with those who are hungry, thirsty, in need of clothing and shelter, sick or in prison (Matthew 25:35-36). Goff does as well, so much that he spends part of his time teaching at San Quentin Penitentiary. One day he received a phone call from a man who had been imprisoned there and was standing outside looking at the facility from which he had just been released. When Goff asked him what he was thinking – his thoughtful response was . . . “I’ve got pockets.” Fully aware that you can’t wear anything with pockets when you are incarcerated, Goff’s reply was simply – “Well be careful what you put in them.”

I don’t know about you, but I would have a difficult time functioning without pockets. I love my cargo pants, particularly when I travel. Each pocket is methodically equipped with things that I need to have at my immediate disposal.  The word itself has taken on various references over the years. If you or the organization you represent are known for having “deep pockets” – then you are credited for having substantial financial resources. Then there are others who are known for “lining their pockets,” meaning to accumulate money using dishonest or illegal methods. God had a message about pockets as well when He spoke through His prophet Haggai to the nation of Israel whose people were justifying that the time had not yet come and for them to re-build the temple. Therefore, God rebuked them by saying: “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” (Haggai 1:4-6).

A current-day lesson might be lifted out of this situation. When we concentrate on ourselves too much and continue to remain dissatisfied, we might do well to refocus on getting in tune with God. The way to repair a pocket with holes in it is to invest in your future by doing His work. That’s the way a leading financial institution promotes the benefit of using their credit card by asking, “So what’s in your wallet?”  A similar inquiry could be made about what might be found in our pockets. Most of us put things in our pockets that we want to hold onto, often times having have little if any value except to us. Remember those days when your pockets might have been filled with random scraps of plastic, a pebble or seashell, some coins, a scrunchie, a marble, pieces of melted candy, or gummy bears? As we grew older we became more strategic about our contents, but none were more joyful than the pocket stuff of our childhood.

Perhaps we need to consider returning to any earlier time and load up our imaginary pockets with things that will bring us the simple joys of life again. If something makes you smile, tuck it away. Then when you are having one of those difficult days, pull it back out. When someone brings happiness into your life, enjoy the moment fully, slip it away into that flap pocket, and remember where you stashed it when the world looks bleak. When you feel blessed, loved, and valued – zip it up in that special pocket where it can’t fall out for you might just need the reminder very soon. Those special pockets are blessings that get us through, little ‘God-winks’ that He sends our way at the right time. When life can be all-consuming and it feels like the valleys outnumber the hills, those pockets of joy will refresh you. As you are revived, make yourself available to do work for the pleasure and honor of God. “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38). It’s a recipe for true happiness. So . . . just what is in your pocket?

REFLECTION: How many resources has God given you that you are merely holding in your pocket or perhaps wasting as you allow them to carelessly slip through the holes? If you were to ask each day, what can I give away from my pocketful of treasures, how much more fulfilled would your life be? Consider taking an inventory of your many blessings and how you might actively share them through God’s work?

My Eyes Are Upon You

“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (Psalm 25:9). 

Why can’t men ask for directions when they are lost? Why can’t they read an instructional manual when they don’t know how to do something?  These are questions that have been asked by women for some time. However, as women have gained prominence in the workplace and power in positions of leadership, they are often guilty of not asking for help as well. Many of us who have become accustomed to appearing strong and in control are fearful that asking for help will exhibit signs of weakness or incompetence. Asking for directions is like admitting defeat.  For if we assume that when all else fails, we should ask for or read the directions – does that then make us the failure for needing to do so? James, the half-brother of Jesus, gave us a powerful promise when he wrote, ” If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). James would tell us that it’s perfectly okay to acknowledge that in those times when we don’t know what to do, we should ask God for wisdom and direction believing that we will receive an answer.

I remember once reading that many years ago an Irish evangelist was speaking about how we should learn to test God in every trial and difficulty. To emphasize his point, he told those present that when they found themselves challenged by circumstances where they needed direction – they were to prompt themselves to say . . . “For this I have Jesus.” During his message, one young lady in attendance received word that her mother was quite ill and that she should take the train home immediately. She was challenged by her uneasiness and the lack of direction ahead. She had never experienced taking such a long journey alone. Then she remembered the words of the evangelist, as a feeling of peace and strength came over her. Weeks later, the evangelist received a letter from her thanking him for his humble, yet practical message. She had come to realize that no matter what difficulties she would face in life, there was understanding that finding direction would lie within one certain phrase – “For this I have Jesus.”

God’s Word gives us one example after another of persons who lacked direction. In one case, Joshua was deceived when he relied on his own judgment but neglected to ask God for help. Joshua 9:14 admits that “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD.” Someone once said that he who knows not and knows that he knows not is a wise man, but he who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool. Perhaps then, Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, was no fool. When a vast army had gathered against Jerusalem, and the king realized what he was up against – he knew where to turn for guidance. He uttered this prayer: “Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12). Even Peter, one of Jesus’ very own disciples, confessed the need for direction when he stated: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life” (John 6:68).

There is certainly nothing wrong in admitting that the course we have been seeking is beyond our limited understanding. However, God knows what we should do, and He is always close by and available to us. We can’t expect that He will knock us over the head to get our attention, but He will respond to our simple cry of, “Lord, I need your help.” We can come to Him in prayer to seek wisdom and direction for both big and small decisions. Billy Graham once said, “Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no one ever bothered to ask.” The psalmist would tell us that we simply need to know where to look: “Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts” (Psalm 119:2).  God is loving and powerful, and He wants us to come to Him instead of trying to do things our own way. In doing so we must seek His will, even when it appears to be contrary to the path we had in mind. So when you find yourself fumbling through life, dare to remember the phrase – “For this I have Jesus.”  As you look toward Heaven for your answer, do so with patience by simply letting God know . . . “My eyes are upon you.

REFLECTION: When you ask God for help, are you truly looking for His direction or are you seeking confirmation of what you already believe to be true? Are you in need of an answer to a prayer that you have not yet prayed? What is holding you back from submitting this to Him for direction? Might you be fearful that the answer you will receive might conflict with your present beliefs and understanding?