Tag Archives: Blind

An Important Postscript

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
1 John 5:21 (NIV)

I find it interesting how writers choose to end their letters. Some people regularly add postscripts with little bullets of thought that they realized they forgot to add in the body of the message. Some have a stock sign-off like “Sincerely yours” that might be personalized to the writers own preference. I’ve always been partial to one of Paul’s favorite phrases “Grace and peace” or the chipper sounding Brit salute “Cheers!”

So it was that John’s sign-off on the letter to followers of Jesus leapt off the page at me this morning when I got to the end of the chapter. For the entire letter John has been confronting the false teaching of gnostic contemporaries who spreading all sorts of contrary and false ideas about who Jesus was. Today’s final chapter was no different. The gnostics of John’s day that Jesus was just a man upon whom Messiah descended at his baptism but then departed before death. Therefore, the gnostics claimed, Jesus death was nothing special (and there was no resurrection). John writes that both the water of Jesus baptism and the blood of His death were essential in the spiritual sense.

Then John gets to the end of his letter and simply says, “Dear children, keep yourself from idols.”

Where did that come from?! He hasn’t written anything about idols or idolatry in the entire letter. It’s essentially a postscript thrown in without the “P.S.” But postscripts are typically important thoughts to writers. They want to get it in. They don’t want us to forget it. It’s worthy of sneaking in as a final thought.

So I’ve been thinking about idolatry this morning in the quiet. I find that it’s easy for me as a 21st century western human to dismiss the notion of idolatry. It conjures up images of ancient pagan statues and religious artifacts from art and natural history museums. I have no real connection. When I come upon an admonition to “keep from idols” I pass over it without giving it serious thought. But I looked up the definition of idolatry this morning:

idolatry [ahy-doluh-tree] n. excessive or blind adoration, reverence, devotion, etc.

Excessive and blind adoration, reverence, and devotion can be given to almost anything. It’s not confined to ancient statuary. Along my life journey I’ve encountered individuals who appeared to offer more reverence to the church building and/or sanctuary than to the God it was built to honor. As I meditated this morning on the things to which we offer “excessive devotion” and it wasn’t hard to think of things…

I’ve known men who are so devoted to a sport like golf that they pretty much ignore their job, their marriage and their family. It’s all they think about, talk about, and desire to do.

Just this week a person told me about a poor teen dancer in the family whose father was so blindly devoted to himself that he couldn’t show up on time nor practice the father-daughter dance for her recital. Instead he embarrassed her by simply standing there next to her refusing to participate in the actual dance.

I recently had a fellow believer who admitted that they were so obsessed with cross fit that it had begun to be all they thought about to the detriment of other areas of their life.

These are all forms of idolatry according to the definition of the term. Any hobby, interest, or activity and slip across the from  a healthy life-giving piece of life into an obsessive, blind devotion that begins to have negative effect on my life and relationships. John’s postscript bullet is important. If I believe all the right stuff with my brain but my life is blindly obsessed or devoted to the wrong thing, then my adherence to some statement of belief is meaningless.

This morning, I’m taking stock of my own interests and devotions. Do they bring life and goodness to me and my relationships, or do they distract me from critical life priorities?

Deaf Amidst the Din

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Isaiah 35:5 (NIV)

This past weekend was the close of our local community theatre’s holiday show. After the final performance on Saturday afternoon the entire cast and crew worked diligently to strike the set, clean up the stage and dressing rooms, put away all the props, and return the costumes to the costume shop. Then it was time for the requisite cast party and celebration.

Between cast, crew and family there were over sixty people gathered in our friend’s home for the cast party. As a hearing impaired person this can be a challenge. Even with hearing aids, the loud din made by a celebratory crowd in a small space makes distinguishing words in conversation a challenge. I can hear the sounds and I try my best to read the lips, but distinguishing the actual words being said to me is sometimes impossible.

In today’s chapter, the prophet Isaiah foresees that one day the Messiah will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the dears of the deaf. In fact, Jesus alluded to Isaiah’s prophetic words when He told the followers of his cousin, John the Baptist:

“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Yet while the miraculous physical healing of the blind and deaf was witnessed and well-chronicled by Jesus’ followers, the healing of the physical body was just the surface of Jesus’ intention. He made it clear that His mission was clearly focused on infirmities of the spirit. Those who physically see and hear perfectly well can, at the same time, be spiritually blind and deaf. Jesus quoted another one of Isaiah’s prophetic words when He described the crowds following him:

Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”

That’s a concept I increasingly understand as I sit amidst the loud din of a cast party or a crowded restaurant. I can hear the sounds all around, but I am deaf to the messages being spoken directly to me by a friend. Though hearing, I am deaf.

This morning I am thinking about being blind and deaf. I wonder if there isn’t, for some, a reciprocal relationship between the physical and spiritual; As my eyes fail my spiritual sight becomes more acute, and as my ears become increasingly deaf my spiritual hearing reaches new levels of clarity. This is my hope. I can manage relatively well if my ears and eyes fail along my journey. The circumstances are more dire if the eyes and ears of my heart remain blind and deaf.

Big Questions of the Grand Parable

And [God] said, “Go and say to this people:

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
Make the mind of this people dull,
    and stop their ears,
    and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
    and turn and be healed.”
Isaiah 6:9-10 (NRSV)

The further I progress in my journey, the more I’ve come to understand that the Author of Life weaves the story in characters that my human mind cannot begin to fathom. Along the way my own heart and mind were unveiled to see, hear, comprehend at particular times, in specific moments that seem to coincide with my own part in the Great Story. Though, I don’t fully understand how and why.

Jesus Himself pushed into this mystery when asked why He spoke in parables. Jesus quoted these very same lines of prophecy given to the prophet Isaiah:

[Jesus] answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah….

A friend of mine is currently reading a biography of the great baseball player, Ted Williams. Our text conversation last night meandered into how such a great ball player was such a horrible human being. We were asking big questions about how some characters seem blinded to the very basics of human kindness, humility and decency.

I don’t know. Nor do I understand fully why my eyes were unveiled to perceive certain truths in certain moments of my journey, while others’ eyes appear to remain stubbornly veiled to the same. My heart and mind refuse to stop asking the questions and seeking answers. I have come to acknowledge, however, that as I knock there are some doors of knowledge that are answered, while others remain tightly shut as they have for all earthly pilgrims through the depths of time.

This morning I am full of big questions for which I don’t have answers. The Author of Life is not writing a socialist manifesto in which all characters have some equal standing, purpose, provision, and calling. The character list is abundantly diverse and runs the gamut from evil to good, sinner to saint, and irredeemable to redeemed. There is obviously timing and purpose in this Grand Parable that, like all great stories, I don’t fully see until the last chapter is read.

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Featured image: pat_ossa via Flickr

When You are Weak…

Liberacion_de_San_Pedro_Murillo_1667But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
Acts 12:24 (NIV)

Executions. Imprisonments. Persecution. And yet, the word of God continued to spread and flourish.

There were so many reasons for hopelessness and despair. If you were a gambler there was every reason to put your money on the powers-that-be. These Jesus followers, becoming known as “The Way” or “Christ-ians,” were such a rag-tag, motley crew of uneducated misfits. The power was with Rome. The power was with the regional ruler, Herod. The power was with the politically leveraged Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Put your money on the power brokers. These Jesus people are doomed.

But wait a minute…
“‘…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8

I’ve been mulling over our daughter’s blog post the past few weeks. It keeps bubbling up in my heart and mind at random moments. It bubbled up again as I read this morning’s chapter. She writes:

My faith, which had once seemed small and simple became increasingly challenging and complex. I went to six different countries and in each I was confronted with injustice and brokenness that sank my heart and made my blood boil. But I found it impossible to be disheartened to the point of giving up on my faith because the people who had every reason to believe that God had abandoned them were the most faithful, resilient, grateful and joyful people. Consistently. Everywhere I went. And they could tell you of all the ways God provided for them. Even when the world was dark and evil, He was still good, they told me. There was never any denying of the loss that comes from war, poverty, famine, or disease…but there was always rejoicing in hope. I think in much of the third-world there is a greater understanding of Jesus’ words, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The river of God flows upstream. The Kingdom of God is not a Kingdom of this world. The Spirit does not operate in the same way as flesh and blood. Those who have the least in this world realize that they have more than anyone perceives. Those who are weak and find a source of power that is not of this world. Those doomed discover that God can do exceeding, abundantly above all that we ask or think.

We who have so much are blind to the true depths of our poverty.

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Chapter-a-Day Acts 2

Grandma Jeanne got a 3D picture for a Christmas white elephant gift. Kumi tried to help her see the embedded hidden image.

[The people] stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other. But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!” Acts 2:12-13 (NLT)

When I was in high school and college a fad developed around strange looking three dimensional “artwork.”  A seemingly abstract, meaningless picture of colors and lines would suddenly reveal a three dimensional picture if you looked at it just right. Suddenly there were entire stores at the mall dedicated to selling these crazy pictures. Walk by the store or kiosk and you’d find people standing and trying to help their friends see the embedded 3D image.

“Can’t you see it? It’s right there!”

I find a certain parallel to God’s Message in that experience. Some people have spiritual eyes that are open to see the Truth of it and are, at some point, moved to respond to what they see. Others can look and hear the same Message and see nothing at all. Like the crowds in today’s chapter, some were immediately amazed and drawn to what Peter said. Three thousand of them chose to start their own faith journey following Jesus that day. As many, if not more, simply dismissed what they saw and heard as crazy talk from a bunch of drunk fishermen from out-of-town.

I often remind myself that Jesus said He not only came to open the eyes of those who cannot see, but also to reveal that those who think they can see are actually blind.

Chapter-a-Day John 9

David Tennant used the skull of pianist Andre ...
David Tennant used the skull of pianist Andre Tchaikowsky for Yorick's skull in a 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company production. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” John 9:39 (NLT)

Wendy and I love Shakespeare, and we love to see Shakespeare staged whether it’s our local Pella Shakespeare Company‘s performance in the park or the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. One of the things that I’ve learned in watching the Bard’s work is that you always want to pay particular attention to the fool. The fool is never quite as foolish as you think he is, and quite often the fool winds up confounding the wise.

That’s why I’ve always loved today’s chapter. It has all the qualities of a great Shakespearean scene. On one side we have the wise, learned, pompous religious leaders with all of their power, wealth and education. Before them stands a lowly, poor, once blind beggar who is not the fool they think he is. Jesus gave physical sight to the blind fool so that the spiritual blindness of those who claim to see could be revealed. That’s great drama.

This morning I’m chewing on the reality that Jesus, while repeatedly reminding his followers that they were not to judge anyone, continually explained that He came to judge. I find that we love Jesus the lover and healer, but no one really wants much to do with Jesus the Righteous Judge. Today’s chapter reminds me that Jesus not only came to give sight to the blind, but to judge those who think they see for their spiritual blindness. Jesus said He came to both save and condemn. One without the other makes for both a boring story and a weak character.

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 22

Hamster wheel
Image by sualk61 via Flickr

Climb the Abarim ridge and cry—
   you’ve made a total mess of your life.
I spoke to you when everything was going your way.
   You said, ‘I’m not interested.’
You’ve been that way as long as I’ve known you, 
   never listened to a thing I said. Jeremiah 22:20c-21 (MSG)

The further I get in the journey, I perceive with greater clarity how blind I am to the entire concept of needs and wants. Life can be so materially easy, that spiritual need doesn’t even register with me.

When it comes down to it, we really are a people of wants and needs. And, we always mix up the two. Our needs are so well covered that the only thing left is wants. Because we have no concept of what it truly means to be in need, we feel our wants and tag them as needs. And so, our basic needs met without conscious thought, we spin in our little wheel of the rat-race cage, chasing after want after want after want.

How deaf am I to God’s still, small voice trying to speak truth to me while I, like a silly rodent, endlessly rattle on inside my little spinning wheel? How blind am I to the true needs of my soul and the pile of discarded acquisitions that lay broken and rusting in my wake? How am I going to see my true spiritual need, and the true needs of those around me when I am fixated on the perceived “need” of my next “want?”

Lord, have mercy on me. Help me discern clearly my true “needs” and selfish “wants,” and grant me the wisdom today to make choices accordingly.

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