Sunday, September 29, 2013

Could It Be That You Are Blind?

Physical Blindness

Of the many disabilities people face, most people probably consider blindness as one of the worst.  I don't know how it feels to be blind, but I do have some very important people in my life who are
physically blind.  My own mother, whom I love
greatly!  My Mom became completely blind within the last 10 years from glaucoma. When I told my uncle, her younger brother, he was shocked and trembled.  While I live in the USA and he lives in Ethiopia, he did not know. His expression of the news was that of someone who was told a parent had passed away.  She was like a mother to him, although she was only three yours older -  because my Grandma had died when they were very young and my Mom took over.

My uncle's reaction and shock is typical. My mother might have seemed as good as dead to my uncle, but for my siblings and I, and our Mom, she is the same as ever before. We are just grateful we have her.  Blindness seems to be just another inconvenience of life (except maybe to one of my brothers who is the caregiver for my Mom - but even for him, despite the inconvenience on his family and his life,  it is a labor of love).  It was hard for me at the beginning, but now I hardly think about it.  "If only I had been there, if I lived close by..." - no, the guilt is gone.   When I call, she recognizes my voice immediately - and when I visit she knows my voice from a distance. It is not only because I am her firstborn, she is like that with her grandchildren and everyone else she has come across.  When she talks to or asks about my wife, you would think she knew her all her life.  Her memory intact, we cherish her stories, our family history, our childhood, the hard and good times... My Mom might be physically blind, but nothing will ever diminish her motherhood, her memories, her love for us, our love for her.  She is now eighty years old, and all I pray is not that she gets healed from her blindness, but that I might have a few more years with her!

What is my point?  You see, physical blindness is not the worst thing in the world.  But, there is a blindness that is terminal, worst than cancer.  You will be fine if you are physically blind, but the other type of blindness is a killer, it destroys you - forever!  Let us learn from a true story.  This takes place in the Gospel of John, chapter nine.

The Man Born Blind

This is a story about blindness: of a man who was born blind and was healed from all forms of blindness - including the physical; and of others who were not physically blind, but in fact were the ones who were blind.  So don't be offended by my asking "Are you blind?" You probably are not physically blind, but it is possible, let me even dare say, likely, that you are in fact blind.  But we will get to that later - for now, let us pursue the story. 

As Jesus was going about his daily business (fulfilling the work the Father has assigned him), he saw the blind man.  Jesus' disciples also noticed, and they had a question for Jesus: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”  The Jews believed physical sickness was caused by sin. My uncle could only see black and white - his sister was blind and in his eyes her life had come to an end.  Jesus' disciples also saw the man's blindness in black and white: he was blind because of sin, there was no doubt about this in their minds - it only remained to be determined whose sin caused the blindness.  But there was a problem, the man was born blind. Thus the reason for their question - they were puzzled. They saw this as sin by the man or sin by parents. But he was born blind.  The options were he OR they - they did not consider there could be another reason: NEITHER.

Now Jesus explains God's plan to the disciples: the man was born blind "so that the works of God might be displayed in him"! The man was born blind according to God's plan - to give glory and honor to Himself and His Son, Jesus Christ. The man was born blind to display God's mercy and kindness through him, to authenticate Jesus Christ as God's beloved Son. So that all who witnessed and heard about the miracle would know that God was among them in the flesh - Immanuel, "God with us"!  After Jesus healed the blind man, things went haywire.  Confusion among those who saw the once blind man walk by: "he is the one who used to sit and beg", "no, he only looks like him" ... and "the blind man kept saying 'I am he'".  Things settled down a bit when he explained how he got healed. 

The Blind Religious Leaders

But not for long.  Things got to the ears of the Pharisees, the religious leaders. They were told that Jesus made some clay and opened the blind man's eyes - and this on a Sabbath, how dare he!  That is doing work on the Sabbath - we can't have that they complained, only God does work on the Sabbath   So the investigation got underway in earnest to find out if Jesus did really break the Sabbath.  So the blind man was brought forth and was asked how he got healed.  Not if he was healed, no iota of interest in the miracle - but in the way he was healed.  "How did you receive your sight?" The man was adamant: “He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”  Now the blindness of the Pharisees starts to come out: “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.”

Of all the people, the leaders should have know the Messiah was among them, for they were waiting his coming and the miracles clearly showed who he was. They should have seen, observed, understood and believed this was the work of God and no one else.  But they were as blind as a bat, they ended up asking the opinion of the formerly blind man: “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?” And he declared, “He is a prophet.” The man was healed not only from his blindness, but his eyes were open to things far beyond.  And the Pharisees continued the investigation and decided to check with the parents who confirmed, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind ... but how he now sees... or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him".  (John mentions: "His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue.")

If the leaders wanted more witnesses to verify if the man was born blind, they could have called others to the witness stand. No, that was not what they were after, not what they were out to prove.  The parents testimony was not good enough for the Jews, they called back the man again, their desperation was growing. They would not stop until they can get the blind man or another to accuse Jesus of being a sinner, of breaking the Sabbath. They did not give glory to God for a miracle that has not been done before in their lifetime, nay, ever.  They were not asking if this man was really blind, and now can see.  They were not investigating if this was a fake claim of healing.  No, their aim was to find cause to kill Jesus. Blindness knows no bounds.

And the healed man takes the witness stand and they say to him: Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.”  What a bold statement, "we know".  Now the wise, formerly blind man, declares the truth he knows: “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  But they would not let up and said: “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?”  And the man starts pocking fun at the blind leaders by responding: “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?”  Oh, they did listen to what he said before, they were just trying to force him to change his testimony and accuse Jesus.  And in response to the man, they now display their total blindness and bad manners to boot, they start cursing and reviling the man.  A miracle was standing in front of them, "the work of God displayed in him", and all they could say is that they are followers of Moses.  And now they hammer in the last nail of blindness: “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” They ought to have, they should have - they were staring at the facts in the face.  Blind to the healed man, blind to God's miracles amongst them... what else were they expecting?  But they were not looking for God, because the other, the non-physical, blindness is much worse - you think you see, but you don't, you think you know but you don't, you think you are not blind but you are.

And then the man also hammers in the last nail of their blindness and ignorance: “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” And the blind leaders resort to childish behavior, they are furious that a blind man, an uneducated lay person has made them look real bad: "how dare you lecture us!" and they drive him out. And he is a great lecturer - that is what happens when God opens your inner eyes.

Jesus' Verdict on Spiritual Blindness 

And when Jesus heard they kicked the man out, he meets the man and asks him: Do you believe in the Son of Man?”.  He then reveals himself to the blind man that He is the Son of Man. And the man said, Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him. In the hearing of the Pharisees who were following him, Jesus said, I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” The blind man can now see, and believed.  Those who thought they can see were the ones who remained blind. And Jesus confirmed this again when those present asked him: We are not blind too, are we?”, to which Jesus replied, If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains."

Are You Blind Too?

Let us put the direct question aside for a moment and reflect on how one might respond or react to the question.  If one asks, "what does this story have to do with me?"  Or, "What does the story of a blind man and the Pharisees of long ago have to do with me?"  These are natural responses and reactions.  If you are one of those who responded this way, then I want to ask you to stop and think again and reflect on the story one more time.  You see, if you pass over and ignore the significance of the story, you would be exactly like those Pharisees.  Think about the miracle done - you know that no one you know or heard about can do such a miracle. And the miracle was not done or told nilly-willy, this was a planned, purposed miracle and true story. It is meant to bring you to the one and only singular conclusion: only God through His appointed Man, the Messiah, has done this miracle (and many more, including the raising of dead people).  The story is actually meant for you personally.  God is telling you something through this story and miracle, it behooves you to pay attention and give it your total concentration.  As the blind man observed, "Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind". The blind man's heart, mind and inner eyes were opened to be able to see the truth.  God can help you do the same.

Don't stay blind, you can't afford to.

The Savior of the World

And there is a reason God wants you to be healed from your spiritual blindness. You and I are the

reasons God chose to send His son, to save us.  The miracle and the story is an integral part of His salvation plan for the world. "For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself".(2 Cor 5:19) -

  • God wants to reconcile with you, to make peace with you, 
  • God wants to save you, to forgive your sins,
  • God wants to bring you to His fold, to be your shepherd,
  • God wants to restore you to the purpose he created you for, 
  • Restore you to his original purpose for your life (a life which was messed up by sin corrupting the world.
You see, "God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17).  So you can't take the story lightly, but have to consider it with all seriousness. It is a question of life and death - eternal that is.  The story is not about physical blindness, but a heavenly message on how to get healed from spiritual blindness.  And we want you to consider it with all urgency, this is not a matter that can be delayed. 

God has promised you: "everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved" (Acts 2:21)  I want you to know this fact: you can't save yourself - that will make you the same as the Pharisees.  No other man can save you, since no man can even pay for his own penalty.  Only Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for mine and your sins, and only his sacrifice counts for He is sinless. Only He can save us.  And God has declared that "there is one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim 2:5)

Cry out to God, and we have a God who hears and answers. Ask Him to save you and make you His child.  Ask for the Lord Jesus Christ to save you. If your heart is stirred by this message, find a nearby Bible believing church and ask for the pastor to pray with your and guide you.

I will pray for you.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Living to please God

What are the things we do that give delight and joy to the LORD?  The Bible tells us that praising God's name and singing psalms to honor Him with thanksgiving, will please the LORD more than "the blood of bulls and goats":
I will praise God’s name with singing, and I will honor him with thanksgiving.  For this will please the Lord more than sacrificing cattle, more than presenting a bull with its horns and hooves.  Psalm 69:30-31
We also read that Samuel told King Saul the same thing, obedience delights the LORD more than animal sacrifices:  
Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (1 Sam 15:22)
What we are taught in this verses is that the LORD delights in our obedience and careful attention to His Word and walking in them.  The Psalms and Proverbs also tell us that the Lord is pleased with those whose ways are blameless, who are trustworthy and humble, and with those who put their hope in His love : 
  • the LORD delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love. (Psalms 147:11)
  • For the LORD takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with victory. (Psalms 149:4)
  • He delights in those whose ways are blameless (Proverbs 11:20)  
  • He delights in people who are trustworthy (Proverbs 12:22) 
    In other words, as it is written in the book of Isaiah, the Lord favors and is pleased with those who are humble, confess their sins before Him, and trust and live according to His Word:
    These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)
    Love and obedience to God are the results of faith of who God is, believing that He is a faithful, merciful and a loving God who is always true to His Word and never changes His promises. When we have such an understanding and relationship with God, our love must be evident through our obedience.  As the Apostle John writes:
    Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:4-6)
    This the Lord Jesus had had also made manifestly clear, both positively and negatively, when he said: 
    Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.
    Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.
    (John 14:23-24)
    The Lord Jesus Christ's teaching is all the Bible: "the Scriptures testify about me" (John 5:39)

    It as been said that everyone lives to please someone: himself, his spouse, his parents, his child, his God, or someone else.  In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-10, Paul tells us that a Christian's motivation for correct living should be based on love for God - not a set of rules to be obeyed, or a list of restrictions to to avoid, but as the outworking of a loving desire to please God who has chosen us.  As such he exhorts us that it is God's will that we should:
    • be holy, abstaining from sexual immorality (1:3); 
    • learn to control our bodies in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God (1:4-5);
    • love our brothers and sisters - love all God's family (1:6,9-10)
    Let us pray daily that the Holy Spirit will help us live a life pleasing to the LORD, and that when we mess up, we have a forgiving Father and a High Priest:
    Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Heb 4:14-16
    All of the above requires one basic ingredient without which we cannot please God.  The foundation for pleasing God is faith, because:
    without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  (Heb 11:6)
    I will come back to a brief look about hope and faith next time.

    Standing at the Crossroads

    Please ponder this text from Jeremiah 6:16: 

    This is what the LORD says:
       'Stand at the crossroads and look;  
       ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, 
       and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls'.

    There are a few key words and phrases in this verse: 1) Standing at the crossroads,  2) Look,  3) the good Way, 4) Ask,  5) Walk in the good way, and the blessings of heeding the command: you will find rest for your souls.

    Amazing what God does with such a short verse - He has loaded it with all the wisdom and truth we need, as He always does. 

    STAND at the CROSSROAD:  Isn't every moment of life about standing on a crossroad.  We are always at a crossroad - every moment and second of our life.  Whether through our thoughts or actions, or both.  We are always deciding and choosing what to do at the crossroad, how to behave, how to react...  We always take one of the forks on the crossroad - we can't take both since they go in different directions (left or right, back or forward, good or bad, sin or righteousness, giving in to our sinful desires and pleasure or being self-controlled, to be generous or self-indulging, to carry our cross or decline it, to save our life or lose it for Him so we can find it ...)

    LOOK:  Where should we look to find the help we need to decide which path to take at the crossroad?  How do we know what the "good way" is?  We are being asked to seek, find and follow the truth "with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength" (Luke 10:27), not merely look with our eyes.  Where should we look? - to God's Word, the only place where the answer can be found.  At every crossroad, evaluate choices and decisions based on God's Word, and God's Word alone. 

    Here is what God says about Scripture:
    The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
    At every crossroad, God is telling us to listen to His voice, to make a choice that honors God and demonstrates our Love for Him. We hold fast to Him if we make choices according to His Will, there is no fast holding of God in disobedience. On the crossroad, we should look to God's Word for help, and ask to be taught what the good way is and walk accordingly.

    The WAYThe good way is actually a person.  "Who is the Way?", you might ask?  The Way is none other than the LORD Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God:
     I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6)
    He is the only One who gives eternal life, there is no one else.  He is the only one who can help us be reconciled with God. That is what salvation is - reconciliation with God, and only Jesus Christ can provide salvation and life:
    Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
    The life that God's Word talks about can only be had through His Son Jesus Christ:
    And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.  (1 John 5:11-12)
    ASK:  The biggest crossroad decision confronting us has therefore to do with our relationship with God - whether we choose Him and Life or not.  Moses asked Israel and urged them to choose God and life instead of death: 

    This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life. (Deut 30:19-20)  

    Each person should respond to the above call and give a definite and decisive answer.  Praise be to God, for those who follow Christ, he made us turn the right way - towards Him - by believing in His Son Jesus Christ so that we can have LIFE, and have it abundantly ("I have come that they may have life" - John 10:10).  Moses put these choices before Israel and now before us: 
    1. choose God, the LORD is your life
    2. Love the LORD your God
    3. Listen to His Voice
    4. Hold Fast to Him.
    Why? FOR THE LORD IS YOUR LIFE - whoever has the Son has life! Joshua, after Moses, also put a similar choice before the people of Israel and asked them to make a choice:
    But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)
    The big crossroad question must be answered by every person: each must choose whom to serve and follow.  For those of us who say we have chosen life, "serve" is the keyword that goes with it.  Is it evident we have chosen LIFE, at least most of the time or even some of the time? If we have really been on the receiving end of God's grace, Paul tells us that God's grace teaches us to: 
    say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. (Titus 2:12).  

    WALK: At every crossroad, God's grace helps us choose the Godly way - He helps us walk on "the good way":  to choose to love God, listen to His voice and hold fast to Him.  Remember that silent voice in Isaiah?  
    Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." (ISA 30:21)

    Isaiah uses the same key words Jeremiah uses in our text above: 
        "ask where the good way is and walk in it".  

    You see, if we ask, we are not left helpless - He is there to guide us on the proper path.  Of course, it is not always a silent voice we hear - a silent voice requires careful attention and waiting to listen expectantly (far be it from us to do that!).  More often than not, He talks to us very loudly and plainly - the problem is not that He is not talking to us enough, the problem is that we are not listening most of the time.  What is this "ancient path", if not the Scriptures - the Bible that is always waiting on the corner table for out attention while we give full ear to other worldly voices and sounds (like the TV).   "The good way" also reminds us of Ephesians 2:10: 
    For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
    Paul says the same thing in Titus 2:14, about why God saved us: 
    he gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
    "Be eager to do what is good", "purify yourself" ... that is the answer we get when we ask for the "ancient paths, and ask where the good way is" from the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7).

    To summarize the path we have to take at the crossroads, I repeat what Paul in the same section of Titus mentioned above tells us: 
    to say NO to ungodliness or sin, NO to worldly passions, say YES to a godly and upright lives.
    Waiting for The Blessed Hope: When, how often, shall we do such things?  In this present age WHILE WE WAIT FOR THE BLESSED HOPE — 
    the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:12-13).  
     The Apostle John says the same thing in 1 John 3:1-3: 
    See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

    A Christian's life is nothing but the BLESSED HOPE - all who have this hope purify themselves, just as He is pure.  Some decisions at some crossroads are hard, but purity and love and honor for God should be our purpose in life for we are bought with a price and redeemed from the slavery of sin. Our Redeemer is our Blessed Hope, the sure rest for our souls.