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How to Be Absolutely Certain & Completely Clueless at the Same Time

seems like i'm always leaving by Unfurled via flickr

It’s been said that life is like driving down a road at night. That’s what I was thinking as I was driving home last night, seeing that white line stretching out in front of me.  I suddenly realized that I was both absolutely certain & completely clueless, at the same time, about my drive, and about my life.

I realized that when I’m driving at night, I’m ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN about what I need to do RIGHT NOW, in the moment.  That white line tells me whether I need to veer right, veer left, or keep it straight.  A red light ahead tells me to stop; a green light tells me to go.  As long as I keep my headlights on, the guidance I need for the present moment will always be there.

That’s just like my life.  In my moment to moment living, I have “headlights” that infallibly guide me. As long as I’m walking in step with God, listening to Him, being mindful of myself, my circumstances, & others, I can be confident that I will know what to do RIGHT NOW, in the moment.  God won’t fail me.  He never has.

I also thought of the Biblical story of Joseph.  Throughout his life, he was always guided as to what he needed to say & do at the right moment:  he knew he had to refuse his master’s wife; he knew what to say to the imprisoned butler & baker; he knew how to save Egypt from starvation.

But even though I’m absolutely certain about driving in the present moment, I’m also COMPLETELY CLUELESS about WHAT LIES AHEAD. If you ask me if the road will head northeast or southeast, whether in the next mile I’ll go up a mountain or go across a bridge, whether there’s a lake up ahead or a desert— I’m (literally) in the dark.  I’ve never traveled this road before.

Isn’t life like that too? I’ve never traveled the road of my life before, so I don’t know what lies ahead. I don’t know whether my job will prosper or end; don’t know whether I’ll live to 100 or die while typing this post; don’t know what joys or sorrows, victories or defeats I will face tomorrow.  And guess what?  If I try too hard to control my destiny, to make sure my life doesn’t take a sharp turn or go into a dark tunnel, I’m liable to run off the road completely.

The same was true of Joseph.  Even though he saw visions and interpreted dreams, he never saw his own brothers trying to murder him, never saw being sold as a slave in a foreign country, never saw spending years in a prison.  But he also never envisioned being the regent of the richest country in his world, having wealth and power beyond his comprehension, and being responsible for not only saving his family, but an entire country, from starvation.

That’s where faith comes in, for Joseph and for me.  When I’m driving an unfamiliar road at night, I may be clueless about what’s around the bend, but I remain confident that I will reach my destination.  I know the road was built to take me there, and I know I can trust my map.

Life’s the same way.  I know that the path that God has lovingly chosen for me will succeed.  Although there is much about it I can’t understand right now, and I’m completely clueless about what’s around the bend, I know that my final destination is secure, and that it ends with the One who loves me more than I can possibly imagine.

Who are YOU looking at?

stare by DJuliet on Flckr ”Who are YOU looking at?” Yes, it’s a pretty lame comeback.  But I’ve found another use for this phrase.  I say it to myself.  As I go to that committee meeting, as I have that argument with my wife, as I discipline my children, as I write this post, I stare into the mirror of my soul and ask myself, “Who are YOU looking at?”

Looking at the book of Acts, I see people who were looking in three different directions.  WHO they were looking at determined their destinies, and who we choose to look at will determine ours as well.

In Acts Chapter 8 we see a man named Simon, who started out thinking he was “somebody great.”  He was looking at HIMSELF.  His life motto was ”looking out for number one,”  and as this passage reveals, that inward gaze of soul did not change with his encounter with Christianity:

But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.”  And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”

The “intent of his heart” was to look out for himself, and Peter denounced it as great wickedness.  Looking at oneself is the relationship killer, especially in marriages and churches, and we must be vigilant to spot it and ruthless to stop it in our lives.

The second example of looking is found in Acts chapter 12.  It is the example of Herod Aggripa, a man who looked at the applause of others:

On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

The person who looks to others, for applause, for power, for validation, is destined to lose his soul to the crowd, and destined to be judged by God.  This stare is another one that all of us are guilty of, and that all of us must continually shield our eyes from.

Our final example of a man looking in Acts is found in Stephen.  The first martyr for Christ had a choice: in front of an angry mob he could have been looking at his own safety or looking for the praise of others, but instead he clearly proclaimed the gospel.  The Bible records his last words of who he was looking at:

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.  But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.

Stephen looked at Jesus.  That’s all he needed to keep his heart pure, his actions holy, and his soul strengthened in the face of death. All he needed was to keep looking at Jesus. Who are we looking at today, as we face the issues and trials in our lives?  Let’s make sure that our eyes stay fixed on Christ.

Seeing the Unseen

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

For this week’s Monday Media Meltdown, let’s take a look at faith.  The writer of Hebrews describes faith as the evidence (or conviction, proof) of things not seen.  Although it is not a Biblical term, we often refer to “the eyes of faith” or “spiritual sight.”

Being able to “see the unseen” is also a common theme in science fiction.  Let’s take a few examples:

As I had written in a previous post, Neo in the Matrix trilogy is able to perceive the true nature of reality in a way that no one else can.  At the end of his life, this actually substitutes for his natural sight that is lost in battle.  The whole “reality is not what it appears” theme is at the core of the story here.

And who could forget the scene from Star Wars when young Luke Skywalker first learns what it means to “see” using the Force when his sight is deprived from him using the old blast shield on the helmet trick?  Here again we have a protagonist deprived of natural sight, this time tapping into a extrinsic supernatural power.

On a slightly more offbeat note, seeing the unseen was central to the Space: 1999 episode “The Bringers of Wonder” where commander Koenig was the only one who could see the true nature of the alien blobs that were (what else?) trying to destroy the crew.

Supernatural sight, of things both present and to come, is also a central feature of the life of the protagonist of Dune, Paul Atreides.  As in the Matrix, Atreides at the end of his life loses his sight in an assassination attempt and has to rely on supernatural sight alone.

So, what do we say about all this?  Like any story, these should remind us of what is really true, that faith is a supernatural power, granted by God to His children, that truly does allow us to see the unseen, to both perceive the true nature of reality now and to see what lies ahead.  May we use it for the glory of our Lord.

Born Blind

Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind.  John 9:32 ESV

The apostle John devotes an entire chapter, 41 verses, to one miracle, that of the man born blind. There is so much to be mined and treasured from this chapter, but let’s consider just a few jewels:

First, in a very real way, we are this man.  We have all been born blind, spiritually blind, unable to see and respond to the truth and light of God.  We all live in spiritual darkness.  What’s more, we don’t realize it, just as the Pharisees did not realize their spiritual blindedness when they spoke to Jesus.  Men born blind do not realize what sight really is, physical or spiritual.

Second, our blindness is an opportunity for God’s power to be shown. In verse 3 Jesus says that the man’s physical blindness was the opportunity for God’s power to be shown.  In the same way, God’s love, grace, and power is shown every time spiritual life and light are given to a child of God.

Third, Jesus is the source of our light and healing.  In verse 5 Jesus says that he is the light of the world.  As soon as Jesus proclaimed that he was light, He demonstrated it by giving this man physical sight for the first time.

Fourth, the man received from Jesus not only the gift of physical sight, but the gift of spiritual sight.  Listen to this unschooled beggar giving a group of theologians clear and biting analysis:

The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”   John 9:30-33  ESV

What is our response to all of this?  The same as the blind man’s:

 Jesus 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.

We worship at the feet of Jesus.  When we are given eternal life, our eyes are opened, and for the first time we see that it is Jesus who is the Son of God, we believe, and we worship.  May you do that today.

Spiritual Sight

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  (John 3:1-3 ESV)

Wasn’t this a strange way for Jesus to start a conversation?  A prominent rabbi comes in, and confesses to Jesus that he is a “teacher come from God.”  At first glance, you might think Jesus might reply, “Yes, you’re right, you’re very perceptive.”  “Yes, you have seen the truth.”  or at least, “Why do you say that? Why do you think I am from God?”

But, as Jesus often did, he throws Nicodemus something seemingly out of the blue— “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Where did that come from?

If you examine Jesus’ conversations, He often challenged unbelievers along the path of their perceived but wrong opinions.  To the rich young ruler he first challenged him about his notion of what being “good” was.  To Nathanael he challenged his image of what the Messiah would be like.  To the woman at the well he challenged her idea of what thirst was really all about.  To Pilate he challenged his idea of how an innocent man would speak before him.

So Christ immediately challenged Nicodemus on his opinion of what spiritual sight was.  Specifically, Nicodemus had studied the Scriptures all his life, and was intellectually one of the most learned men in Israel.  In addition to his learning, he had lived an exemplary holy and pious life. If anyone in Israel was qualified to know who would be truly from God and who wasn’t, both Nicodemus himself and any other Jew would have said, “Yes, Nicodemus can see.”

But Jesus jumps in and in effect says, “You’ve just said you can see that I’m from God.  But you can’t.  You’re blind.  All your knowledge and all your holiness can’t give you spiritual sight— only being born again can allow you to see the kingdom of God.”

This statement completely blows Nicodemus and his world away.  The fact that spiritual sight can’t be attained though even his lifetime of diligent effort— he just can’t comprehend it (well, duh, because he doesn’t have any spiritual sight.)  But the spiritual blindness of humanity is a fact. Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

It is only after God directly intervenes in our life through the new birth that we can see, as Paul says in verse 6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Nicodemus was convinced he could see spiritual reality, but he couldn’t until he was born again.  When someone is born again, their eyes are opened to a whole new world of spiritual reality, just as in the movie The Matrix Neo sees his reality in a whole new and deeper way after he is reborn:

 

 

So, how should believers respond to this truth from John’s gospel?

First, we need to be thankful to God that He has in His mercy chosen to allow us to have spiritual sight.

Second, we need to pray and strive to use this spiritual sight, to see the Kingdom of God as we journey in this world, in the situations we deal with and the people that we minister to.

Third, we need to know that the battle to bring people to see the Kingdom of God, to see the truth of the gospel, is not just a battle with their emotions or minds or wills, but with spiritual blindness, a battle where we must pray and ask God to remove their blindness and grant them spiritual sight. 

Down in Front, Please

If anything was obstructing our view of the main event, this would be our standard response. Or would it?

What if it was some goofy guy in a hat doing some antics, and you actually started watching him, and not until it was too late realized that you had missed the big play of the game by watching something else?

No, that wouldn’t happen. Our attention doesn’t distract that easily. Does it?

The main theme of C. J. Mahaney’s excellent short book The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing is just that—our gaze in our lives should always be focused on the “main event” in all the history of the universe, the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Our focus, our thoughts, our lives should be continually centered on the cross.

But we are so easily distracted by other things that pop into our view—anxiety and uncertainty, power and success, other people, other goals. Some things are actually good things, like loving our family or ministry, which God wants us to devote attention to, but only in the context of our continual gaze at Christ.

A good test of whether we are in error is exactly this: is any thought or goal or activity or desire viewed with Christ still “in the foreground”, or have we brought the desire so that it is in front of our eyes, blocking our view of Christ? John Piper has spoke of this when he wrote a recommendation for Josh Harris’ book Sex is Not the Problem(lust is)

The main issue with lust is that it hinders us from seeing and savoring the glory of Christ.

Not only lust, but any goal, desire, or thing that hinders us from seeing and savoring the glory of Christ, especially that of his atoning work on the Cross, we must deliberately and vigorously push out of the way in our lives, so that our view of Christ remains unobstructed.