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

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

A Matter of Life and Death

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 5:21

Our world fails to understand the gravity of sin.

Then again, as The Book says, there is nothing new under the sun1. My Lord lived in the same world. The dates were different, the world population was smaller, and the day’s technological marvels would fail to impress the hyper-stimulated modern cynic.

Yet people haven’t changed in the slightest. From the temptation of Eve to the very second you read these words, human beings have underestimated the horror of sin.

To illustrate my point, Mark 2:1-2 tells of a time when four friends lowered their paralyzed buddy through the roof of a crowded building so he could see Jesus. Upon seeing the unfortunate fellow, Jesus declared to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

But the crowd wasn’t impressed until Jesus spoke again and the paralyzed man regained the use of his body.

In a similar way, our prayer requests often reflect a deeper fear of physical suffering than fear we will be guilty of gossip. We are afraid of being murdered while murdering people with our tongues. And yet the truth is, unless we accept the Son of God as our Master, we are already dead.

As it’s been said, Jesus didn’t come to show us how to be good. He came to breathe life into our animated corpses. This life and death dynamic is what I’ve been mulling over after reading and re-reading John 5 a few days ago.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5:24

Friends, Jesus stepped down into a world ruined by sin and took a stand against this great death-bringer. For a time, He forsook His rightful glory and the joys of perfect union in the mysterious community of the Triune and lived as a man. He endured temptation as a man, but He alone never gave into it and so He alone was a fully living Man.

Because of this, His willingness to trade His singular purity secures value sufficient to cover our debt – for we have sinned and earned death; He refused sin and traded His matchless gift for our wages to any who will accept His offer2.

But we must choose to accept His gift of life.

Instead, we bicker and squabble over temporary concerns, pointing out specks in the eyes of others while ignoring the massive planks that blind us3. We pray for health and comfort while using both to drink down death, serving self instead of our Sovereign. In so many ways, we sin, and we do not see it for what it is – the truest and most horrible death. Because we are addicted to death, we refuse to submit to the One who came to offer life.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

John 5:39-40

Don’t miss out on this chance, friends. As the days darken and the rumbles of war send tremors across every land, don’t forget that all sin is death.

Sin is a gilded cage, a poison that tastes like ambrosia. The happiness it promises is fleeting at best, a hollow satisfaction all too easily imploding under the least pressure. Sooner or later, the sweetest sin gives its captives a taste of hell on earth – the flavor of death to taint this life with the enemy’s own eternal destination, one he wants you to share.

Misery, as is said, loves company.

But sin isn’t the victor unless you allow it. The Son of Man still stands ready to receive all who belong to Him. Even now, the One greater than Moses says, “I have set before you today life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life…4

Turn away from your sin. You are only captive if you want to be. You can turn to the Son of God who came to give you life5 – a sweet taste of it here and now to infuse life’s sorrows with the essence of eternal joy in the presence of God. Jesus

Jesus alone can replace the musty tang of death with the delightful savor of life. But the choice is yours.

1Ecclesiastes 1:9; 2Romans 6:23; 3Matthew 7:3-5; 4Deuteronomy 30:19; 5John 10:10

Alien

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

I’m sitting at my desk, eighteen days into the year 2022 and near the end of my second quarantine, thinking about how absurd it is for humanity to discuss the idea of normalcy.

Ever since the Big Pause in early 2020, I’ve participated in the global lament, pining for life to get back to normal. This year certainly didn’t begin normally, as my I mentioned a couple of posts ago, and it hasn’t continued normally either. At least, it hasn’t felt normal.

This makes me laugh a little. As if any human being on the planet has ever felt what it means to be normal!

The truth is, our world only ever hosted three normal people in its entire history. Two of them later turned their backs on perfection and invited in decay. The Other was God Incarnate.

Ever since the first couple disobeyed and the sin curse has corrupted the earth and all it contains with its wretched malignancy, we have lost normal. The senses by which we collect information along with the very fabric of our reason has been warped with this taint. If there is anything mankind is, it cannot be described as normal.

But Yeshua (Jesus) came to restore normal; to inoculate the festering darkness of the human heart with an His purity and light. He came to offer us the cure; so we may choose to allow His Spirit to transform us, renewing our minds, providing glimpses of the sane and wholesome world He intended. Even better, He came to usher us to join Him in eternal life in its perfect and wonderful normalcy.

One great and future Day, He will come again. Eventually, reality as we know it will crumble into ash and a new and normal heavens and earth will take its place.

Until then, we can look into His Word and catch glimpses of normal, though our sin-ravaged brains struggle to comprehend it. Still, we can see it dimly, like looking at our reflection in polished metal. And we can trust with confidence that the alien thing sin has made us into can be restored through trusting in the One normal Man who ever lived, died, and rose again on this earth.

Perspective

While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.
But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

Luke 24:15-16

Some things never change.

When Jesus of Nazareth walked the dusty streets of the Middle East as a Man, His ministry evoked a wide range of emotions from God’s chosen people. He had His detractors, of course; people who hated His inconvenient tendency to tear down self-righteous facades and expose the unseemly rot within the human heart.

But even among His supporters were an astonishing number who loved Him for what they expected Him to do. They watched His ministry with excitement, anticipating the the moment He would declare Himself Judah’s King and lead them in revolt against the oppressive Roman government. They missed out on the greater freedom He actually came to provide.

Fast forward a couple thousand years, and we find a similar mix of emotions.

It’s not surprising many people continue to hate the uncomfortable teachings of Jesus concerning sin and sacrifice. What surprises me is this: Despite Jesus’s clear statements – recorded in the Word – that His Kingdom is not of this world, there are still SO MANY who are looking for the King of kings to bring political and socioeconomic peace.

I suppose it was naïve of me to believe His followers today would listen to His words more than those who saw Him in the flesh. Both then and now, however, the truth of Jesus hasn’t changed. He didn’t give His life to reform our governments, cultures, or social systems.

He gave it to reform us.

This fact is worth repeating. The Lamb of God was not sacrificed to make the world a better place to live but to save each one of us from the penalty of our own crimes against our Creator.

Jesus came because we are the reason the world is in its present state.

The effects of sin are so pervasive, every element of our lives is twisted by them – including our understanding of right and wrong, of truth and justice. Sin’s putrefaction is so complete as to taint even our most noble deeds with the foul reek of death.

Until the glorious Day when the Lord comes again, this world will not be a nice place to live. In fact, it’s even predicted in the Scriptures that it will get worse.

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

2 Timothy 3:12-13

For those of us who are truly in Christ Jesus, this is not bad news. The worst other men can do is to kill us, and as Paul wrote, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”

While we remain here, our mission is to tell others of our great Hope – that although we are born into separation from our Maker with hearts filled with evil in a world corrupted into chaos, our God loves us so much that He gave His Divine Son to bridge the impossible gap so we could once more be reunited with Him, both in the midst of this crooked generation and forever long after this age is ancient history.

This is the Good News. This is the Gospel.

But don’t take my word for it. Search the Scriptures for yourself with a humble and prayerful heart.

Freedom: You Keep Using That Word…

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

(Galatians 5:1)

Let freedom ring. Right?

Like nearly every word in this information-glutted world, it’s helpful to know what it is the speaker or writer is celebrating freedom from. Not all freedoms are created equal.

I am very thankful to live in a country which holds (for now, at least) to some degree of political freedom. Of course, as history tells us, power always seems to centralize among the powerful. Though technically a democratic republic, the actual choice is between two groups of wealthy and influential people. I am free to choose which of the two will come close to representing my values in government, or I am free to choose among the varied parties certain to lose.

Even yet, remains a sort of freedom, if one continually reminding me that I am a sojourner here.

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

(1Peter 2:15-17)

But what disturbs me far more than the escalating atrophy of economic, political, and social freedoms in America is the way many of my fellow followers of Jesus seem to confuse these with the sort of freedom the Lord gave up His life to provide.

This is becoming especially evident as those sorts of freedoms become especially more fragile. In this climate, so many well-meaning brethren charge ahead into all sorts of secular activism while waving the banner of the Kingdom of God with zeal. They don’t even seem to realize the irony. Many early devotees of Jesus believed He came as a political King as well.

But what Christ died to set us free from was not political tyranny.

My friends, we may have been sold the fantasy of utopia on earth and been raised in the context of the American Dream, but if we are in Christ, we need to keep an eye on what true freedom is really all about. I’ll give you a hint – it isn’t about guns or masks or toilet paper.

So let’s step take a break from not treading on one another and look at the One we have all trod upon.

Who could be more free than the Author of life? Yet He, the Almighty Creator – this Messiah laid aside His Divine freedom and became a part of His own creation. The Infinite confined Himself to finite boundaries; submitting Himself to being human with all the awful turmoil it brings; to die at the hands of people created through Him, nailed to a tree by iron spikes, both of which were also made through Him.

And He did it to set us free – not from ideologies we feel oppressed by nor from rules that hurt our feelings – but from sin.

The real truth is, we do not take our crimes against God anywhere near seriously enough to comprehend what a gift this is. But that’s a broader topic and I’m already stuffing in too many words for the average modern mind’s patience.

Don’t miss this fact, though: Jesus accomplished our freedom by submitting Himself to death at the hands of Rome – a tyrannical foreign government which occupied Israel at the time. Let that one sink in.

Instead of setting us free to make our own choices, Christ set us free from slavery to the corruption-laced idiocy of our natural bents.

For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

(2Pe 2:18-19)

He did not set us free to pursue our own gratification in any form. Rather, He set us free from the slavish need to gratify the insatiable self.

His Spirit enables us to actually reach for righteousness – something we are fully incapable of while chained in slavery to our own destructive desires. Heck, on our own, we don’t even glance at righteousness, much less reach for it.

That’s the true freedom Jesus offers – the freedom to cover the shriveled sickness of our fallen appetites and our obsessive fixation with self and dress instead in respectability. He offers as a garment His own noble nature; a nature always and forever righteous and free from wrongdoing.

To live forever with Him, forever free from the guilt, sorrow, and shame with which sin stains even our most virtuous and selfless moments.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

(John 8:34-36)

A freedom worth fighting for.

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