Recovering Eyes (PT. 1)

Last week we discussed the need for the Lord to change our sight and heal our spiritual vision. In this first installment of the “Recovering Eyes” series we will begin with ourselves. After all, the process of “recovering eyes” begins with us, and how we view ourselves.

A healthy view of ourselves can transform the way we look at other things in life. To have the eyes of Jesus means that our view of the world will be transformed and not just certain parts of our life that we are comfortable with having changed.

There are really 3 different camps of distorted vision that we as Believers can fall into. We can view ourselves as worthless, as someone who has too much of a past, or as someone who has a lot to offer. Let’s start with the first of the three.

“I am Worthless.”

How many of us have thought that? Sometimes the thought doesn’t even cross our mind, but the idea itself rules our life and determines our actions and decisions without us even knowing it. The idea that we are worthless is a dangerous one because it forces many of us to search for worth in unhealthy places… the opposite sex, our hobbies, our job, our appearance, how we dress, accolades from others, etc.

We have all seen it, the mindset of “worthlessness” can cripple some of us and cause us to not do anything and not take any chances or pursue anything in life, or it can do the opposite and force some of us into dark places that we aren’t prepared to be thrust into or were never supposed to venture in the first place.

So many of us find ourselves basing our self-worth on how others see us and on our accomplishments, feeling shame from our past, defining our value based on our looks, or setting unrealistic standards for ourselves.

But, take heart! It doesn’t have to be this way. If only we could see ourselves as God sees us!

The truth is, if we are living to make sure that the world loves us, we give the world permission to evaluate us based what we do and their expectations of us (which don’t line up with Scripture). When we look to the world for our worth we essentially give people the power to determine our self-worth and set the expectations for our life.

Many of us are so concerned with being loved that we might sacrifice our own identity to get attention and acceptance. Go to any Middle School in the country and you will immediately see this in a magnified way, but I say that this problem is just as prevalent in our culture and our church… we might just be too involved in it to see it clearly.

If you think about it you might be able to place your finger on a time when you felt pressure from your church community to live up to a certain image. Now obviously we are talking about expectations that aren’t defined in Scripture, because we are to strive to meet those outlined for us in the Word… but what about the other ideas that the church sometimes unknowingly expresses? For example, how about the idea that women are supposed to be nurturing, quiet and gentle, and raise well-behaved children? Or on the other hand, that men should be a “manly man” who are void of any and all emotional expressions.

If we live to please our church community, we may find ourselves ignoring who God made us to be. Each of us is unique with our own personalities and abilities and sometimes those might not line up perfectly with the mold the world and the church has created.

Our identity is found in Jesus Christ. It is rooted in His freedom-giving mercy. Our identity is that of a Child of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ. We get to experience an intimate relationship with Jesus! Our spiritual inheritance is not based on our identity, but on what God has already accomplished at the cross!

1 Peter 1:3-4 says,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you.

“My Past is Too Bad”

What does your past look like? How has it shaped you into who you are now? How is it still impacting you? Is it causing you to limit your future or question the forgiving power of Jesus?

The mistakes of our past have a way of becoming like ghosts that roam graveyards in scary movies… we may escape for a period of time but they always return to haunt us.

The past is like our shadow… no matter how hard we try, our past will always be nearby. Certain experiences will trigger emotional responses that will bring us back to our past and we have no choice but to relive those memories. The things in our past while remembered do not have to determine our vision for the present and future.

Often times, people tend to linger in the past in order to make sense of it, and while it does serve as a learning experience we cannot let it hinder us. If we are only focusing on our past, then we are most certainly limiting our future… and that is distorted vision.

Author and Pastor Rick Warren wrote in his book “The Purpose Driven Life that,

We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.

If we don’t deal with issues in our past, they will continue to control us in some way in our present. But they don’t have to! We can deal with past sin, rash decisions, broken relationships, etc… by releasing our past to Jesus and entrusting Him alone with our future. Our struggles can bring us closer to God and heighten our faith as we experience His faithfulness in forgiving us and drawing us closer to Himself.

1 Peter 1:6-7 says,

In this you greatly rejoice, though for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Ultimately the past pales in comparison to the importance of the moment God has you in right now. Pursue the present and allow God to deal with the past.

Bil Keane once said,

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.

“I have a lot to Offer.”

The last dangerous distortion of our vision is one of ascribing ourselves too much worth. This is a tricky topic because we are worth enough to God for Him to send His Son to die on our behalf… but the distinction here is that God didn’t save us based off of what we have to offer Him. Instead He provided a way of salvation because of His fearless love for us.

If you are like me then you will second my idea that Walmart is a dangerous place. It seems as if you can never go in and exit with just the item you went in for in the first place! I am the worse at this… I go in needing toothpaste and leave with a cart full of outdoor gear and electronics (and usually have forgotten the toothpaste). We all have had these moments where we are strolling down an aisle and something catches our eye… something we have to have… a deal that is just too good to pass up.

Sometimes I feel as if we approach God in that manner. We see ourselves sitting on that shelf in Walmart knowing that we are a deal that is just too good to pass up. Maybe we feel like our “features” can’t be lived without, or we are “new and improved” compared to the older model or the other “brands” around us. Do you see where I am going with this?

Many of us feel like we have a lot to offer God, and in actuality we all do bring something to the table… but guess what?

God didn’t save you or I based off of what we had to offer Him. We weren’t a deal that was just too good to pass up!

A Biblical vision of ourselves is to see ourselves as God sees us. As Children of the one true King… the best Father. A father doesn’t provide for his children out of obligation or because he expects something in return… instead he does so out of love. He doesn’t hold their past over their heads, or his provisions as something they have to earn or make up for. How much more does our Father in Heaven do for us and care for us?

We must adjust our vision and see ourselves as heirs to the Kingdom and as beloved children plucked out of despair for a future, which God has ordained for us.

Next week we will discuss another area where we need vision realignment! Again, I will leave you with the famous words of John Newton,

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

Heal our Eyes

On July 3, 1863 General Robert E. Lee leading the Confederate army stands alone observing the battlefield that lies before him in the midst of a war, which had already claimed over 600,000 American lives. Lee observes Major General George G. Meade’s Union positions on Cemetery Ridge. The Union troops have the high ground and are well dug in. To Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet it seems like a mistake to advance, but when that opinion is voiced Lee angrily responds,

If the enemy is there, we must attack him.

Approximately 12,500 Confederate soldiers in nine infantry brigades advanced over open fields for three-quarters of a mile under heavy Union artillery and rifle fire. Although some Confederates were able to breach the low stone wall that shielded many of the Union defenders, they could not maintain their hold and were repulsed with over 50% casualties, a decisive defeat and an avoidable mistake from which the Southern war effort never fully recovered militarily or psychologically. We now know this battle as “Pickett’s Charge” on day 3 of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Robert E. Lee had a goal, and was so overwhelmed with his vision of how to accomplish that goal that he fell victim to tunnel vision.

Merriam- Webster defines tunnel vision as:

: A condition in which you can see things that are straight ahead of you but not to the side

: A tendency to think only about one thing and to ignore everything else

: Constriction of the visual field resulting in loss of peripheral vision

: Extreme narrowness of viewpoint

: Single-minded concentration on one objective

Tunnel vision often occurs in shooting situations. You cannot hear or see anything other than the threat before you. In fact, many firearms instructors train officers to deal with involuntary tunnel vision by breaking contact with a target after eliminating the threat and scanning their surroundings to reengage their senses for other threats.

In what ways is our perspective of our circumstances in this life skewed by tunnel vision or lack of clear vision?

How often in life do we look back on a situation and have one of those moments where everything becomes clearer? The “battle fog” of the moment has lifted and for the first time we can see all the different angles and perspectives of whatever it was we were facing at the time? What things would we do differently? What things would we say differently or communicate more effectively? How would things be different if our perspective of this life, our reality, wasn’t so narrow?

If only we had the eyes of God… the perspective of the Almighty.

In scripture we find a story about a man who needed sight. John 9:1-11 tells us that story. It says,

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”

So… what is this story about? Obviously, it is about a blind man being healed and given sight. But what if I told you that the story about the blind man is the story of our own spiritual growth? What if we are really the blind man and it is just our spiritual eyes that need to be opened and healed? In fact, we are blind and we desperately need God’s guidance. We need God to lead us.

In the story when asked how his eyes had been opened the blind man referred to Jesus simply as “a man.”

So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “Themancalled Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”

At first I missed that! We know that Jesus never changes in the story, but the man’s perspective of him does. We see that as the story continues in John 9:35-41,

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

At first Jesus was just a man to the blind individual, then when his spiritual eyes were opened up he began to see Jesus as a prophet who had given him a life-changing experience. Through this journey Jesus became his Lord… the Messiah.

But… we shouldn’t be quick to ignore the other “party” in this story. We can also be the Pharisees in this story. As the blind man gains physical sight, the Pharisees, or “religious”, lose spiritual sight. The Pharisees can represent the part of us that doesn’t accept or trust the perspective of Jesus. It is our seemingly wiser, arrogant, intellectual, indoctrinated with tradition, religious side that insists that our spiritual development must fit into our rules and our timetable.

Let’s determine now that we won’t dismiss what we don’t control or try to rationalize away God’s will. Let’s allow Jesus to change our perspective and heal our sight.

Matthew 6:22 says,

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.

Next week we will discuss some areas in which Jesus can change our sight and heal our spiritual vision. I will leave you with the famous words of John Newton.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

The Power of Words

While walking across the graduation stage in December of 2013 to receive my undergraduate degree in Communications and English I knew that I had been called to ministry and that I would be beginning a Master’s degree at the nearby seminary in the following Spring. What I did not then see is how closely my undergraduate “secular” degrees and my ministerial vocation would align. As a minister and writer, I spend much of my time thinking about words.

Words are often something that we all take for granted. We can communicate with ease with the people around us because of words and known language. But think about it… words are not simply sounds caused by air passing through our larynx. In a medical sense words can be narrowed down to a group of muscles operating together in unity to create sounds that we interpret meaning from… but we as living beings understand words to have real power. Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for almost 3 decades because of his beliefs and activism, knew the power of words. He is often quoted today, but that was not always the case. While in prison his words could not be quoted for fear of punishment. After his release he said,

It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are, and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.

Nelson Mandela understood the power of words. Words don’t carry power by accident; in fact, God spoke the world into being by the power of His words. Hebrews 11:3 says,

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

Words were the instruments by which God created all things, and creation was established by God’s words! How awesome is that? But if more proof is needed to establish the weight of spoken word I would add that with faith filled words Jesus calmed the raging sea, with faith filled words Jesus raised the widow’s son, and with faith filled words Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb. The Bible has a lot to say about words that we as Christians need to know and understand.

Words do more than convey information. The power of our words can actually destroy one’s spirit, stir up hatred and violence, sow disunity among the brethren, and annihilate one’s witness before others. In fact, King Solomon, author of most of the Old Testament book of Proverbs and one whom many assume to be the wisest man to have ever lived, wrote many times about the power of words. In Proverbs 18:21 he said,

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Out of all the things God created we, as humans, are the only ones who have received the gift of words. We can use them as a gift or a curse… but nonetheless, the power to use words is a unique and powerful gift from God.

How often do we hear statements like, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” or “I’m rubber and you are glue, your words bounce off me and stick to you”? As a kid these might be nifty comebacks for the playground bully… but as we grow older we become more and more aware of how false these statements really are.

To be blatantly honest the things people say to me often stick to me. This is in direct contradiction of what I used to say to mean name callers! Words stick to my heart and soul, sometimes in uncomfortably painful ways. Being a Believer can be difficult in an age where everyone has the right and the willingness to express themselves… sometimes even at the expense of others. Being a minister can be difficult in an age where everyone believes their opinion is fact and that it is beneficial to express… even at the expense of disunity or demoralizing their Pastor.

The fact is… words have the potential to produce positive or negative consequences. They have the power to give life through encouragement and honesty or to crush and kill through lies, gossip, and demoralization. How can we be assured of producing good words that have a positive outcome?

So…what should we ask ourselves about our words before we open our mouths? Let’s think together.

  • Are these words helpful?

This question is the best starting point. To be clear, helpful words are not always comfortable or easy to say words. Some of the most helpful words I have ever received in my life have been some of the hardest words I ever could have imagined hearing at the time.

Proverbs 27:17 says,

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Sometimes forces have to collide in order for growth to occur. Iron hitting iron is not always a great sound… but in the end there is a sharpening that occurs. There are times when we can help another person by kindly exhorting or even rebuking them. The difference between helpful and non-helpful words though is that even when we are rebuking someone we are doing it for his or her good and not because of any other factor or motivation.

Ephesians 4:29 puts this into context when it says,

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Our words are meant for building others up… nothing more and nothing less. But, often we use words carelessly, without considering their impact. We complain, we mouth off, we criticize, or we gossip. I think we talk sometimes simply because we’re afraid of being overlooked or we overvalue our opinion. But if our words aren’t going to be helpful, it’s best just to remain quiet. I believe it is important to remember that our words aren’t just for sharpening others… but sometimes we are meant to be another person’s support system or motivation to continue fighting the good fight until the end.

  • Are these words true?

Have you ever met someone who struggled with the truth? Maybe they are the type of person who likes to have the best story and they don’t care to bend the truth to get there… maybe they are the type of person who enjoys being the center of attention even if it means twisting or bending the truth to get there. Some of these people I have encountered seem so accustomed to lying that I’m not sure they even know what the truth is anymore. People who don’t want to face reality can sometimes convince themselves to believe things that they really know are not true. They have bent the truth so much that they believe their version of the truth to be accurate!

Some deception isn’t as cut and dry as a straight up untruth though… some think they are innocent as long as they say what is technically true, even though they intend to mislead others to believe what is not true. It is absolutely possible to tell things that are technically true, yet leave out pertinent facts or otherwise speak in a way that we lead others to believe untruths.

Most of us have lied before, perhaps because we’re trying to cover up for a poor decision we made, avoid confrontation, or to get something we want. I have found that almost every lie can boil down to this simple truth…

We lie because value our own interests rather than valuing the interests of others.

Philippians 2:4 says,

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Let’s examine our words and find them to be true. God never lies, and never has, so neither should we. We must stay in line with the truth even when it hurts, even when it means we won’t get our way, and even when it means we are wrong.

1 Corinthians 3:18 says,

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

  • Are these words timed correctly?

Proverbs 15:23 has been a passage that always has intrigued me. It says,

To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!

How can a “word” be in season? I’ve come to understand that it is possible to say the right thing at the wrong time. For example, Sunday mornings are hectic for most ministers. It is what we have prepared all week for! For myself, on Sundays I am typically at church before the sun comes up and I am usually the last to leave after leading multiple services. Ministering pulls a lot out of me on Sundays! Sunday afternoon is typically not the ideal time to provide suggestions to me about what has taken place that morning. I’m too tired, drained, and sensitive; the timing isn’t right, even when the suggestions are helpful.

Sometimes we are better off evaluating our “truths” to make sure they are true and allowing them to sit until they are in “season” to be received.

  • Are these words kind and gracious?

The truth is meant to “set us free.” Jesus says this to His disciples in John 8: 32,

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

The truth is meant to be a liberator, but yet we all know people, maybe even ourselves, who have used it as a weapon to beat people up and to tie them down. The truth can at times be uncomfortable and hard to hear and say… but it should always be used in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 says,

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The truth isn’t for our personal gain… but rather for the edifying of the Body and the building up of the Kingdom. I always try to ask myself, “How would I want somebody to tell me what I’m about to say? Is the way I’m about to say this consistent with the way I am called to live and interact with others? Speaking the truth is only half of what we are called to do… we must do so in love for the full effect.

We should allow our speech to be “seasoned with salt,” full of grace and kindness and love like we read about in Colossians 4:6 where it says,

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Psalm 19:14 says,

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.