Monday, September 25, 2017

Spiritual Blindness

"I can’t see out of this eye,” the elderly woman told me.  “And the other one has a cataract.”

She still takes the newspaper but must use a magnifying glass to read the words.

Night blindness for her is real.  And day blindness has become her new normal.

She tells me it’s not pleasant to look upon a grey, blurry world out of bleary eyes.

And I empathize with her. 

Yet as I consider the notion of blindness, I realize that for us as believers, spiritual blindness can overtake us in a subtle way.  It can cause us to see the world about us indistinctly.  It can make falling far easier and an understanding of God’s truth less likely.

For many with developing eye problems, cataract surgery brings hope of restored vision.  For the Christian, correct biblical thinking clarifies truth, bringing the world back into sharp perspective and correcting the blurriness of life.

Second Peter 1:9  tells us that we are blind if we fail to add to our faith any number of things.  ("But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.")  What are those things?  Faith.  Virtue.  Knowledge.  Temperance.  Patience.  Godliness.  Brotherly kindness.  Charity.  As I look at that list, I am reminded that each of these can be categorized as traits of the spirit. 

My spirit was purchased at salvation and belongs to God.  And yet, indwelling sin is my life-long partner.  While the Holy Spirit produces His fruits within our hearts, indwelling sin within us is the greatest evil we must deal with. (See Matthew 15:18-20.)

While the evils of the world, multiplied together, make up for a weight of sin that crushes the heart of Jesus, my own sin grieves God’s Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and breaks my fellowship with God (I John 1:6).

It is that sin for which Christ died—a cost I would have to pay had I not been redeemed.  It is that sin from which I have been set free! And while that sin at one time barred my entrance to Heaven, it is Christ’s grace that can keep me from falling every day.

When any of us for one moment lose perspective on sin, we fail to figure in the great cost of our own sin being the most impossible debt we would have had to pay, had we not embraced the free Gift of Christ.  We fail to wonder at the amazing sacrifice Christ paid in blood, on our behalf.  We fail to recognize that the evil within trumps the evil of any circumstance anywhere outside us. We forget we were purged from sins and that each sin stands contrary to the 2 Peter 1 qualities, the 1 Corinthians 13 qualities.  The Matthew 5 qualities.  Unbelief.  Embracing what's not the best.  Lack of spiritual understanding.  Indulgence.  Frustration in trials.  Ungodliness.  Unkindness.  Lack of biblical love.

And so we embrace blindness.  Having failed to diligently add those 2 Peter qualities, we embrace a counterfeit of our soul's enemy.  One lie argues, “If only my circumstances were different, I would be different.”  We think that it is really some difficult person or situation with which we are dealing that would need to change in order for us to change.

The evils about us can grieve us on the inside, pushing us to the throne of Grace to intercede on the behalf of others.  Wrong choices of others can burrow down deep as we ponder a life thrown away, living in selfish indulgence of sin.  We can wonder at others’ choices to walk a pathway that is far from God’s.  In fact, we can become so lost in the labyrinth of others’ needs that we fail to reckon that—no matter how hard we try to help others, if we for one moment fail to embrace the utter evil within and our own need to continually access God’s grace at all times with every person and in every situation—we have lost perspective.  The perspective of the overwhelming gift of grace and our utter need for it.  Clarity. 

Indeed, if we fail to recognize our complete helplessness without the grace of Jesus, if we fail to embrace our absolute dependency upon our All Sufficient Savior, if we in any way, for one moment, believe that the sin outside us is bigger, greater, and more hurtful than the sin within us—we’re blind.  We can’t see where we’re going.  And we can easily trip, fall, and lose our way.

For you, for me—God’s grace is sufficient.  In every situation.  At all times.

And as we embrace His grace, never losing sight of our utter need, we can be kept from spiritual blindness. 

And from falling.  

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Freedom of Forgiveness & the Rejuvenation of Kindness

Forgiveness is the sound of chains released.  It is the vision of an unbound prisoner, loosed from shackles, running at top speed.  It is the beauty and glory of Jesus in the life of His saints.  Forgiveness is freedom.

My friend, someone today will treat you rudely, fail to appreciate what you have done, or even speak of you in a way that could potentially hurt.  Someone yesterday may have caused you physical harm or bothered you in a way that they either knew or did not understand.  Someone tomorrow will not be sensitive to your needs nor appreciate your perspective.

When these moments occur, forgive. 

As these moments come to mind, forgive.

Let forgiveness be the breath you breathe, the air you inhale in this universe that stands as a reality of God’s own forgiveness.  The forgiving Son of God, Who hears His name spoken in vain millions of times each day, forgives the very people who fail to care for Him.  This beautiful Savior suffered at the hands of individuals who mocked Him and tore at His flesh in great physical abuse.  As He hung upon the cross, those who passed before Him hid their faces from Him.  He was “despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).

In the Great Judgment Day, this wondrous Forgiver of sins will stand as the Substitute for those who have placed their trust in His Redemption.  He, the Advocate of Saints, will bear the message, “justified!” to His Father, the Righteous Judge. 

Oh, dear believer, forgive! 

Today, forgive that one, even if you must do so 490 times.

Tomorrow, forgive again.

And keep on forgiving.

Stop counting the numbers.  Stop rehearsing the offenses.  Forgive.

Great freedom comes from forgiveness—and such freedom can be experienced this day, tomorrow, and the rest of your life.

So if you feel the icy wall of irritation getting erected in your heart, ask the Lord to show if you might be failing to forgive. 

But don’t stop there.  Couple that principle of forgiveness with this amazing truth:  “And be ye kind, one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Kindness.  It’s the biblical antidote to bitterness, something that is to be coupled with forgiveness as the positive, “put on” action that we wear in the face of trying situations.

Kindness begins with an others-perspective that emanates from the kind and loving Savior.

Colossians 3:12 states, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.”  Kindness is something by which believers should be marked.  Classified.  Known.

Kind speech.  Kind thoughts.  Kind actions.

To everyone in the pathway of life—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

In the spring of 2016, I began to pray that God’s love would be so real to me that I would see it everywhere.  That, like the air I breathe, I could experience it profoundly and pass that love on to others.

One way God is answering that prayer in my own life is by showing me that forgiveness is always coupled by kindness.

I didn’t feel that I was not forgiving anyone.  But, as God is answering my prayer to love others in a way that they can feel, I have begun to see several positive actions that are definitely to be part of the equation of tangible love. 

First, I learned that whenever a hurtful thought came to mind, I should inwardly bless the individual by whom I had been hurt—to pray for God’s blessing on that person’s life.  (Luke 6:28, “Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”)  That began to work in me a feeling that their sin wasn’t all that big and my responsibility—to bless them—was far greater. 

Second, I became aware of James 3:9, “[With the tongue] bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.”  As I began in prayer to bless those who had hurt me, I realized that any negative thoughts against others can be destructive.  That my prayers need to be phrased in a way that focuses on God and His glory, not my own hurt or pain.  That it is hypocritical to bless God with the same lips that in any way excoriate man.

But, now, this part of the equation—purposeful kindness—is making me aware of the ways people might be hurt by an action that I didn’t intend to be harmful.

It’s making me more sensitive to others about me and their perspective—tenderhearted in a way they can feel and understand.

And it’s showing me that I wasn’t as kind as I thought I was. 

I thought people understood that I had nothing against them.  That they could read my work, words, and gifts to them as sacrifice and care for them.

But this positive aspect of Christ’s message—“be kind”—has shown me that the way I approached certain situations needed to be different.  And, while I felt I was loving God with all my “heart, soul, mind and strength,” I see I was missing something—something Christ values highly.

The law of kindness.

Toward everyone.

For He shed His blood for every person, and each is incredibly valuable to Him.  Only humankind is made in His image.  We alone can experience redemption—the highest price God ever paid for anything, the death of His own Son.

And so God desires that nothing said, spoken, or thought pass through our hearts without this beautiful and merciful truth—be kind.  In the way it’s said, reported, explained…In the way it’s thought of, prayed for, listened to.

Purposefully, always, every day, no matter the offense, the disappointment, or whatever—be kind. 

This liberating truth is breathing more life into every relationship.  It’s transforming me through God’s truth.  And it’s a change I like.

If forgiveness is freedom, then kindness is rejuvenation. 

If forgiveness is the sound of chains released, kindness is the transformation of those iron chains into a set of newly-fashioned wheels. If forgiveness is the vision of an unbound prisoner, loosed from shackles, running at top speed, kindness is what delivers to him the best shoes on the market to help him run his race. 

And, while forgiveness affects the heart, kindness touches the lives of people in a way that they can feel. 

That they can see. 

And that they can understand—you truly are forgiven and loved. 

Kindness is the spirit of Christ living through the believer.