Like Trees Walking

And [Jesus] took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when He had spit on His eyes and laid His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.”

Mark 8:23-24, ESV

Healing the Blind

I love the Gospel accounts of Yeshua (Jesus) healing the blind because I know He’s in the same business today. For any who are willing, my Lord still heals spiritual blindness – a blindness far more profound than the mere absence of sight. Of all the blind men He healed, the one that resonates most with me is the healing recorded in Mark 8:22-25.

Distorted Vision

Mark’s account is singular in that Yeshua’s healing did not seem to “take” at first. This unnamed fellow’s sight did not immediately return. Instead, he began to see in stages, and his first glimpse of the world offered a distorted image of reality.

I can relate because I also began to see in stages after the Lord first touched me. He did not heal the abysmal spiritual darkness in me all at once. Instead, my first glimpses of the real world remained distorted by the lens of secular humanism I first embraced as a teenager.

The humanist worldview led me to view life as a silly option and death as the more logical choice. The more I saw through this murky lens, the darker life grew until blackness reigned unchallenged.

Worldview Breakdown

Secular humanism provides insufficient answers to questions of mankind’s purpose and meaning. Their efforts to touch these concepts lead in circles, much like Pooh and Piglet following their own tracks in the snow.

In adulthood, questions began to buffet me in the thick darkness of my chosen worldview:

  • If the end justifies the means, then why does my conscience prick me when I cause someone pain? 
  • If mankind sets the standard for right and wrong, what man gets to set it?
  • When others use me and I feel wronged, am I right or are they?
  • When social standards change, does right and wrong change, too?
  • Is life built on such an unstable foundation as all this?
  • If man is the measure of all things, then what’s the point?
  • Why bother with life at all?

Years spent groping in this philosophical darkness brought no peace but only multiplied my confusion. And quite frankly, the longer I groped in this darkness, the less sense the humanist worldview made.

As I rode the fluctuating and unstable tide of humanistic morality, I knew deep inside there must be a true right and a true wrong. Without a changeless absolute truth, life was purposeless, chaotic, and ultimately meaningless.

The moral question became one of life or death for me.

Beginning to See

This is where Yeshua found me.

He began to heal my spiritual blindness, but at first I saw neither Him nor His truth clearly. Instead, I saw a distorted version of reality blurred by drab layers of humanistic philosophy. At the Lord’s first touch, I saw enough to know He was there although I saw Him only dimly.

It took several applications of the Word of Truth before I saw clearly. And what I discovered was the world, seen through the crystal-clear truth of the Maker of all things, =made a startling, stark sense.

What About You?

I don’t know where you stand, friend. I don’t know if you see Yeshua through His Word or if you see an obscure shadow of Him; a man like a tree walking around. But I pray He will heal you fully so you may see the beauty of the Light of the World and all He illuminates.

Let’s Talk About S–

Sin. I want to talk about sin. Get your mind out of the gutter, ya perv.

Seriously, though, we really don’t talk much about sin anymore, and I think I know why.

As humans, we have an innate understanding of right and wrong. Over time, this understanding becomes twisted by our pride, distorted by repeated suppression, and is subject to a myriad of other deformations. Yet somewhere deep inside, we all know certain things are wrong – even if we only recognize them as a wrong when done to us.

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them

Romans 2:15

The general term for this understanding is conscience. And like any other human part, it can become scarred-over and calloused until there’s no feeling left.

Which brings us to today.

Instead of sin, we talk about things like lifestyle, my truth, or even illness. Much air is expended discussing our battles or our challenges. When confronted with wrongdoing, Christian influencers may confess their struggles. . . but not their sin.

It’s true we do go to battle against our sinful inclinations; we must struggle against temptation to sin. And yet, more often than not, the words are not used in this way but rather as a clever dodge to avoid responsibility. A struggle or a lifestyle is much more palatable than a willful crime.

What we’re missing in this subtle semantic waltz is the gravity of sin.

Sin is a killer. Period.

Sin is ugly. It is rebellion against the Maker; treason against the King; a refusal of the creation to perform its function as it was designed.

Sin lies. It cheats us of true life. It steals joy and covers it up in an endless, wretched pursuit of meager happiness and fleeting pleasure.

And no matter what name we give to make it sweeter to say, sin leads to death. In fact, death is what the sinner earns – as surely as you earn your paycheck from your employer.

For the wages of sin is death. . .

“But I’m not dead,” you may say, and perhaps you’re right. I wonder, though: can you honestly tell me you have a single relationship that hasn’t suffered a kind of death? Was any type of harm ever done to you by another person? Have you ever harmed another, even mildly?

Death of trust, death of respect, death of joy, of reputation, commitment, communication. Death everywhere we look, if we look with honesty. Even the cooling of affections is a kind of death.

Friends, this horror covers only one kind of death. The rot of sin goes far deeper than this.

. . . but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 6:23)

The good news is, we don’t have to accept death. We can talk about our sin; confess it, repent of it, and be set free in Christ. Expose the canker of sin to the fresh air of truth.

It may hurt, it may be embarrassing, but I can tell you from experience there is no cleaner pain. Like debriding an infected wound, the momentary torment is nothing compared to the relief of healing.

Let’s confess our sin to God our Healer and turn away in true repentance, trusting in the work of the Son of God to break the chains of sin and make us really free.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Romans 6:22

Figs From Thistles

If you’ve ever done any gardening, you’ll know how similar seeds can look. If one were to, say, spill opened seed packets of zucchini and pumpkin. . .

Well. One would have quite a mess of identical-looking, flat, off-white seeds. The only recourse would be to plant them and wait to see what sprouted.

And while our fictitious gardening klutz may not know where to expect zucchini and where to expect pumpkins, she can at least be certain none of her mixed-up seeds will produce oranges.

This is one way I used to introduce the “Fruit of the Spirit Project” to my photography students, complete with samples of the seeds. But the lesson portion isn’t just for students of photography. It’s one I learned from the Master Teacher, Himself (that would be the Holy Spirit), and I wanted to share it with you.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

Many of us read Galatians 5:22-23 as if it were a checklist of character traits to work on. Today, I need to try to be more patient. Tomorrow, I’ll cultivate kindness or set my mind to being more gentle.

I used to do the same. What I learned from my endeavors is that trying to produce these attributes on my own is as practical as trying to grow a unicorn tree or teach my puppy finite math.

Instead, we ought to consider those nine characteristics as evidence.

In truth, we are utterly incapable of growing the fruit of the Spirit with even our most valiant efforts. Why? Because it’s the fruit of the Spirit.

It isn’t a list of things we can work on; it’s the proof of the work of the Spirit in us.

Just like our fictional horticultural friend from earlier will discover where her pumpkin seeds were planted by the evidence of pumpkins, so the fruit of the Spirit is evidence that the Holy Spirit is “planted” in us.

This is not to say we will have a full harvest of completely mature, perfectly ripened fruit all at once. It simply means if we are not continually growing in love, joy, peace, patience, and so on, the evidence points to a lack of the Holy Spirit in us. If these traits are increasing in our lives – even if they are very wee and not much to boast about – well, growth is growth. God will give the increase.

Or as our Lord put it:

You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.

Matthew 7:16-17

The fruit of the Spirit is evidence of the work God is doing within us. If you lack it, don’t despair. Ask God to give you His Spirit, then ask for help hearing and obeying His voice. Let Him do the growing. Just be sure make your life fertile ground.

Why I Love the Church Despite Her Flaws

I’ll be among the first to tell you that the Church is far from perfect. People get hurt in church, at church, and even by the Church. I daresay all church attendees could pop out a MeToo hashtag along with their own grim tales of church-induced suffering, whether real or perceived.

If I may be so bold, I imagine pastors could write a book about the pain caused at the hands of the flocks they shepherd. Their wives could probably fill volumes. The reasons for this are manifold, but for time’s sake I will only explore a couple.

To start, the Church is a collection of sinful human beings at various stages of sanctification. Not all are mature, not all are wise, not all have understanding, and not all really know what the Bible says or what being a Christian actually means.

In fact, not all people who engage in weekly worship and claim the name of Christ are legitimately members of His Church – the worldwide body of dedicated, true disciples who love Him with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.

In fact, Yeshua (Jesus) Himself warned His disciples of weeds sown among the fruitful crop (Matthew 13:36-43) and that not all who call Him Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23).

Its simple to see how any person could be hurt by participation in an assembly which includes people filled with the love of God, people filled with selfish ambition, and everything in between.

But none of these things explain why I love the Church.

It isn’t because she’s never hurt me; she has. Worse than my own hurts were watching my son take friendly fire at a time when he most needed Christian mentoring. Instead, he was invited to various activities by pastors who never followed up. One time in particular involved my then-11-year-old being invited to a group, never told the particulars, then listening in as the group discussed how fun it had been afterwards.

Ouch.

My son walked away from it all. And although I hate it with every fiber of my being, part of me understands. If my faith had been in a pastor, a group of people, or anything other than God Himself, I would have walked away, too.

But I love the Church despite what she’s done to me and to my family for the very simple reason that Yeshua loves me despite what I’ve done to Him.

Every sin I’ve ever committed, whether intentionally or not, is an abject act of rebellion against the One who created me.

Every careless word, every failure to love my neighbor as myself, each and every self-focused thought and action I’ve engaged in may as well be a hammer-stroke on the crude nails which pierced the flesh of the Son of Man.

You see, I have hurt the Christ. I’ve grieved the Holy Spirit. I have brought sorrow to the heart of my Heavenly Father, and yet despite it all – even despite the fact that I still fall into sin – He loves me.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s also a choice. I choose to love the Church not because she deserves it, but because I don’t deserve it and yet Yeshua loves me.

He also loves His church; loves her enough that He gave himself up for her. And if He who is perfect and pure can love such a writhing mess of sin and self-sabotage as His Church, well then, so can I.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Ephesians 5:25-27

On Fire

I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!

Luke 12:49

Here’s a random bit of personal trivia for you: I am the family fire starter. In younger years of camping, I would be the one to light the campfire. On our large lot, I am the one who is tasked with burning the debris from yard cleanup efforts.

Why? Because I like it. There’s something about starting and tending a fire which I find relaxing. It’s a slow, analog process in a frenetic digital world. Tending a fire leaves the mind free to contemplate all God made and to reflect on the lessons He’s stamped into His creation.

Kindling

At its inception fire can be finicky. Particularly in damp or less-than-ideal conditions, a new fire needs correct fuel in correct amounts and at regular intervals. Too much too quickly will smother it; too sparse and the flames will flare and rapidly expire. It also needs air and a little bit of coaxing in order to grow.

We tend to be like this in our walk with the Lord. At first, our zeal is feeble and finicky. We need to fuel it with intentional prayerful perusal of the Scriptures at regular intervals. In order for our little flickers of devotion to grow, we’ll also need the breath of the Spirit and a bit of coaxing.

Growth

As the flames grow and become established, larger portions of fuel are required. This is the sweet spot where the fire burns merrily and needs no coaxing but it is not yet large enough to need taming. Keep feeding it and enjoy the warmth.

In our walk with the Lord, we often reach a point where many of life’s mysteries begin to make sense in light of God’s Word. Truths about the world click into place as our understanding of God grows. We are capable of digesting larger chunks of the Word and our zeal has taken a life of its own and no longer requires as much external effort. We simply need to feed it and enjoy the warmth of God’s love.

Free-Burn

Once hot enough, fire is no longer picky about the fuel it consumes. Damp wood and even green plants will catch fire if dropped into the flames. At this point, more attention is needed to the surroundings. A stray gust of wind or a small explosion from a source like bamboo can cause sparks to fly. Anything dry and flammable nearby becomes a potential fuel source.

For the careless or distracted manager, it takes mere seconds for a controlled burn to become an impending threat. Even for an experienced pyrophile, a momentary failure to consider all the elements – fuel source, climate, conditions, surroundings – can turn a fruitful burn into a frantic effort to protect the house or treeline.

It’s important to maintain vigilance in our Christian walk, too. Our fallen nature means that the fire of zeal in our hearts will all too easily seize hold of the wrong fuel. Before we know it, our passion for the Gospel has devolved into fervent outspokenness about justice or freedom or 5-inch swaths of cloth. We lose sight of eternity and latch onto the temporary concerns of this world.

As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.

Proverbs 26:21 (ESV)

We let our opinions drive the flames and we’re careless about the fuel we feed on. We gorge on the opinions of influencers, podcasts, and blogs rather than the very words of our Creator and spread little sparks into flammable arenas we should have tended with more care. Or we fail to notice the surroundings and enter into thoughtless exchanges of outrage rather than revealing the pure Light of the World we have lost sight of in the raging fires of misguided passion.

The consequences to out-of-control fire can be devastating if not stopped. So can the consequences of out-of-control and misdirected passions.

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

James 3:6 ESV

This is important to remember in the climate of today. Most people are weary. Many are confused; many are angry. Now is our time to kindle a fire, but we who are in Christ MUST resist the impulse to feed the fires of fury and bewilderment. We need to kindle a fire of love and devotion to the One who is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life in a lost, deceived, and dying world.

This is not freedom to anything but rather freedom from; from the chains of sin and death. Freedom to begin living for eternity now, enjoying a peace with God that will last forever. This peace makes death no longer something to fear but a change to welcome, knowing that when this sin-corrupted flesh of ours expires, our truest and best freedom will begin.

This is the peace Christ Jesus – Yeshua Messiah – offers to all who will submit to His Lordship. This is the fire I want to kindle in me and in my family: A fire that will not decay but will burn steadily, consuming every impurity within and leaving behind all that I’ve built on the sure foundation of my King. A passion for truth, for true justice, for absolute joy, for the glorious presence of the King of kings.

Will you join me?

Prayer – Does It Work?

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26:41

A friend once told me he’d prayed for God to take away the pain during a season of severe abuse and it didn’t work. The abuse – and the pain – continued.

Other people have prayed that a loved one would be healed from cancer or disease and still watched them die. Or for someone to be freed from addiction only to watch them waste away, enslaved to a substance.

So many people live out stories like this and conclude that prayer doesn’t work. And in strictly consumer terms, it doesn’t.

Prayer is not a thing like a soda machine or a streaming channel where you make your selection, enter your currency, and receive what you ordered. Prayer isn’t an order at all. A prayer can be a request, but in our native human selfishness, I think we forget that requests are not guaranteed.

I might request a raise from my boss and be denied; just as I might request God heal me from ME/CFS, but He might whisper instead, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

But let’s imagine for a moment prayer did work like a vending machine. What currency would we use to pay for our purchase? Hmm… there’s a tricky one. Even if prayer did operate on the same principle, are we really willing to count the cost and ante up? Food for thought.

However, prayer is so much more than making requests from the Almighty. In our topsy-turvy way, our fixation on requests highlight the glaring truth of who we truly believe is in charge. But we are wrong; God is not our waiter. In reality, we should be the ones taking orders, not Him.

Other than our tendency to look at the situation backwards and upside down, there’s another point I want to make. To say prayer doesn’t work is equivalent to saying conversation doesn’t work.

Prayer, like conversation, only works if both parties are talking about the same thing. One major breakdown in prayer seems to occur because God is talking to us about eternity and how He designed us to operate and we are talking about feelings we can’t even define from moment to moment.

I mean, honestly, we aren’t doing very good with definitions these days anyway. How can we expect to understand the still, small whispers of Truth when we’ve convoluted simple observations of basic biology into intricate fantasy worlds? But that’s a different discussion…

Prayer does work. But it works on my heart and on my sin, not on my terms.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, emphasis mine

ME/CFS and Long COVID or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pandemic

A Day With ME/CFS Part 2

If you are just joining, start with Part 1 of what it’s like to live with ME/CFS.

Orthostatic Intolerance

You stand up from the table to put your Bible away (if you remember to put it away, that is), but you stand slowly. No dizziness right now. That’s good. Thankfully, this symptom is nothing new. You’ve dealt with it your whole life – it’s just a little worse now.

What you hate is when a wave of dizziness hits for no reason while you’re on the stairs.

The Other Things

You’ve started talking about your ME journey a little bit because you realize so many people who have it are not as fortunate as you. Some are housebound. Others are bedridden.

Driving to work, you see a homeless person asleep in a bundle of blankets under a bridge and wonder if he suffers with ME/CFS.

Still, you hesitate to talk much because of the stigma. So many people think it’s all in your head. You were once one of them.

But time after time, you pushed through and pushed through only to end up with bronchitis or meningitis or some other major issue as your body simply couldn’t muster the energy to both push through the fatigue and produce an appropriate immune response.

Some days you drive to work but have to take a 20-minute nap in the car before going in. Or you have to pull over and take a 20-minute nap so you don’t fall asleep at the wheel.

You realize you are nearing a crash. Thankfully, it’s Thursday and the weekend is coming, although you’d really like to do something with your weekend other than recover. Like clean. Or even something fun.

The body aches are annoying. Your thinking is sluggish and you feel generally unwell – like the beginnings of a bad cold or a mild flu.

But you’re thankful it’s not a bad day.

Even on a not-so-bad day, it feels like the air is made of molasses. During class, you slur a few words and tell your students to get out their cameras. You meant to say laptops. Ah, aphasia! So a migraine plans to join the party. At least there’s medicine for that.

Photo by meo on Pexels.com

Your students help you sort your words out. Thankfully, they are sweet girls and you already told them not to worry if this happens. More than likely, it’s a migraine prodrome and not a stroke. You rely on the weird manic energy you’ve been able to concoct in public for the last several years to get through classes. And you don’t sit still for long so you don’t fall asleep.

Your gut is a mess, but you decide not to get into that. It’s just unpleasant to talk about.

On the drive home, your body hurts worse and you look forward to bed. Now that you’ve learned to balance things a little better, gotten strict with your sleep schedule, and accepted that you can’t exercise like you used to, bed is no longer the only thing you look forward to.

The heartrate alarm on your watch goes off because the organ decided to jump up over 100 beats a minute even though you’re just driving. So weird. You shrug.

Before bed, you thank God for His mercy. You realize that ME/CFS has made you rely more and more on Him, and so it’s good. It’s also given you compassion for others, because not everyone who looks healthy, is.

Even so, you have days of sadness. You miss being able to get up super-early, working out, and being productive. It’s hard to feel like crud most of the time. You don’t really get excited about much these days except Eternity and God. You keenly feel the truth that “the outer self is wasting away but the inner self is being renewed day by day.”

You try to decide if your achiness is enough to warrant taking an OTC medicine or if you can sleep reasonably without it. It’s best not to since you need to save things like that for migraines, so you skip it.

You skipped dinner because of the gut thing. That’s OK. There are people all over the world who skip dinner because they don’t have any. You thank God that you have the option and pray for those who don’t.

As you turn out the lights, your heart does a gymnastics routine. It feels like a guy with a peg leg trying to run through a yard riddled with mole hills – but in your chest.

You pray – in part to keep your mind focused on the Lord and in part to suppress your body’s adrenaline response to the weird heart stuff. As you do, you feel comforted that you have the Lord. He is with you.

You pray for people who don’t know Him and have the peace of trusting in His plans. You imagine ME/CFS without God. If you didn’t trust Him, didn’t trust His purposes for allowing this in your life, there would be no point in going on. Without the certainty of His goodness, you would have given up long ago.

You thank Him for being a God who is not a stranger to suffering, and you surrender to His plan.

You can rest in knowing He is good, even when life is not.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4