Opening the Eyes

Read Mark 8:22-26

In the story of Jesus healing a blind man near the town of Bethsaida, we see the power of Jesus to open that which has been closed. Jesus takes the blind man who has been brought to him outside of the village. The man is taken out of his comfort zone, his familiar. Once outside the village

Jesus touches his eyes and then asks the man to describe what he sees. The man’s description indicates to us that his sight is only partially restored. Like Paul describes in 1 Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly…” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NRSV) Jesus touches the man’s eyes again and the man’s eyesight is fully restored.

We are spiritually like the blind man. We are unable to see Jesus in a spiritual way. We remain in the familiar because we are unable to navigate safely in the spiritual realm. Then someone brings us to Jesus. Jesus takes us out of our comfort zone. Our spirits are touched by the Lord’s Spirit. At first we can only partially see the fullness of Christ and only partially understand the grace and magnitude of the Lord’s love. There will come a day when our hearts will be touched by the Spirit again and we will be open to see the completeness of our Lord. 

For now we pray this…

Treasures

Read Matthew 6:19-24

After the stock market crash beginning in October of 1929 and the ensuing collapse of many banks, the United States population changed its whole perception of money and savings. Adding to this was the onset of the dust storms wiping out the crops of the midwestern plains due to severe drought conditions. Unemployment rose at a devastating rate. Those who survived all these economic disasters began to store whatever they could obtain in their homes as an attempt to safeguard against future losses. The birth of a hoarders mindset developed out of these experiences. A person’s earthly treasures, as meager at they might be, were hidden away and guarded at all costs.

The writer of Matthew’s gospel shared a series of lessons Jesus taught. We find this series in chapter six of the gospel and have come to refer to them as the beatitudes. One of these lessons speaks of treasures and how we handle them. Jesus teaches us to store our treasures in heaven. He says that where our treasures are, that is where our hearts will be. What we let into ourselves creates either light or darkness in our lives. Jesus warns that we cannot have two masters in our lives. 

The mention of what we let into our lives may seem out of place at first but actually fits when given a further inspection. Jesus is speaking about what is most important in our lives, what we treasure. These are the items to which we give priority. As part of his warning, Jesus says that the influences we allow in our lives can work to enlighten us regarding our priorities or can blind us to the right priorities. This lesson is about what are our priorities, especially our top priority.

Looking at what we protect and strive for in life makes it clear what we prioritize. These are the treasures of our lives. Things of this earth have a limited lifespan whether it be materialistic, people, or even relationships. Those aspects of our spiritual life are eternal, as is our relationship with God. Jesus is teaching us that our priority should be on God and the spiritual matters of life because these are the aspects that last forever.

Water and Food

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.

Isaiah 55:1-4 (NIV)

Many of us have not experienced what it means to not have food when hungry, or something to drink when thirsty. We may have had short periods of time when we have been unable to access food or drink but it never has become a life-threatening situation. There are people in our communities who have, and do, experience food and drink insecurities. Even today in the United States there are children and adults who are malnourished and facing life-threatening inadequacies. This is true in every nation on earth. For most of us, this situation is so far removed from us that hunger and thirst is only a hypothetical experience. Only if we open our eyes to those who society wishes to hide, or we are confronted by images on the television, are we able to acknowledge such a physical need.

The writer of Isaiah takes hunger and thirst beyond a physical experience to a spiritual one. In our passage today, the prophet speaks on behalf of God. God invites all to come to God to be satisfied. The thirsty will find water that quenches the thirst indefinitely. The hungry will be filled completely. No payment is required for what God offers. God offers all which is necessary for life within an experience of great love.

While the physical hunger and thirst may be a them-not-me experience for us, the spiritual hunger and thirst is often very familiar. We are born with a desire and need to be spiritually fed. When this need is going unmet, we search for spiritual food and drink just as our human bodies instinctively do the same. God created us in a way that both these forms of need and searching are part of who we are as beings. Only God can meet the needs of our spiritual being in a way which is long-lasting and completely satisfying. All others are temporary and eventually unfulfilling.

God extends an ongoing invitation, “Come all you who are thirty…” This is an invitation which Jesus repeats as well.  The invitation is for you.

Spirit Birth

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

John 3:1-8 (NIV)

One of the aspects of growing older for many adults is the changing of their eyesight. When my parents reached their 50s, each of them ended up having to wear glasses due to a deterioration of their eyesight. Both of my siblings experienced the same need at about the same age as my parents. When I also crossed this age threshold, I joined the rest of my family in needing glasses some of the time. An optometrist explained that the reason for this was as our eyes age, the flexibility of our lenses reduces which impacts how we see. Since wearing glasses, I have noticed a change which allows me to see where before I struggled. The glasses have brought new life to my eyesight.

In John’s recording of the Gospel, we hear of a late night encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. Jesus tells him that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. Nicodemus asks how an adult can be born again. Jesus explains that this would not be a birth of the flesh but of the Spirit. Jesus explains that only through a spiritual rebirth can a person see spiritual things such as the kingdom of God.

At times, our vision of the world and God can become inflexible like the lenses of our eyes. We need something to help us with our vision. Glasses provide that for our physical sight. The Spirit provides that for our spirit. We must be born again in the Spirit so that we can see the spiritual things of our God. Only by the Spirit can we see the true spiritual realm of the Lord.

Drought Relief

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NIV)

Droughts can be a devastating natural phenomenon. They devastate the plants and vegetation in the area which is experiencing the drought. A ripple effect then occurs. If plants, trees, and other fauna are no longer present, the food supply for animals including humans is gone. This can lead to starvation. The absence of plant life and lack of water can also cause major dust storms because there is nothing to keep the soil in place when the winds blow. An economic impact also occurs since crops and livestock are wiped out. This impact affects those outside of the agricultural industry as food supply dwindles and prices rise to record levels. Life suffers when the land is too dry.

The well-known story we find in Ezekiel today speaks of a dryness and lack of life. The prophet has a vision which entails him going to a valley filled with dry bones. While in this valley, God gives Ezekiel three messages to deliver. The first message is to the bones in the valley. This message is that God will bring life back to the bones. While the prophet delivers the message, the bones come together and are given flesh to connect them and create a body. The second message is to the breath of life. While this message is shared, the breath enters the reconstructed bodies and gives them life. The third message is to the Israelites. It is a message of promise; the promise that God would bring Israel back to life and return the people to the land of their ancestors.

There are times in our own experiences when we can feel lifeless and dried up physically, emotionally, mentally and/or spiritually. The story of Ezekiel in a valley of dry bones can be an encouraging story for us during those times. It reminds us that when we are experiencing a drought in our life, God Is able to breathe new life into us. As God sends rain to a drought-stricken land, God will send us what we need to be restored. This is possible on an individual or a group level. The nation of Israel needed God to end their drought just as individuals within that nation needed it. Call on the Lord for new life whenever you are dry.

A Refreshing Drink

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

John 7:37-52 (NIV)

As humans, water is a vital element in our lives. Scientists tell us that approximately sixty percent of a human adult body consists of water. They also state that a human is only capable of surviving an average of three days without water. After that point there will be a noticeable physical color change due to reduced blood flow. Within five days the organs begin to shut down, including the brain. Our bodies need regular intake of water. If you have ever experienced or known someone who has suffered dehydration, you can attest to the need for regular consumption of water.

Not only does our physical body have a need for water but our spirit also needs to drink. Jesus raises this need in the passage from the Gospel according to John. The Lord tells anyone whose spirit is thirsty to come to him. He promises those who do will drink from the living waters, the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord is ever flowing and readily available to supply the soul. Jesus’s promise creates controversy among the people, even the Jewish leadership. They spend time arguing over whether Jesus is a prophet, the Messiah, or a fraud. Instead of coming to Jesus to drink from his Spirit, they argue about the source of the water which will satisfy their spiritual thirst.

Before we rush to condemn the people in the temple courts on that day, let us realize how often we behave the same way. Jesus continues to daily extend the invitation for a drink from the Spirit. Instead of rushing to receive, we in the church argue over the source and nature of the source. As individuals, we can even have the argument with ourselves. How many times do we miss out on the refreshment of the Spirit because of our own disagreements and doubt?

Just as our bodies require regular and consistent drinking of water in order to survive, our spirits require drinking from the living waters of Jesus Christ. Failure to regularly come to and receive from the Spirit will result in a change of our own. The most drastic outcome could be the death of our spirit.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” – Jesus

Shelter

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27 (NIV)

The winter months remind us how fortunate we are to have houses in which we live. The winds and elements can be brutal this time of year. Our houses provide protection from whatever the weather may be like, not only in winter but throughout the entire year. The house in which we dwell also offers a sense of safety for us. We have less to fear from those who wish to do us physical harm or attempt to steal our belongings when we are secure inside our house. For those who do not have a house, they are susceptible to the ravishing weather extremes or those who would bring harm upon them. Fear is a constant part of their lives.

The psalm for today speaks of the protection which is found in the Lord. In reading this psalm, one can understand the desire and request made in verse 4, a request to live in the shelter (house) of the Lord throughout life. The reason for such a request is the knowledge that with the Lord is protection. Being with the Land also presents the opportunity to learn the correct way to live and remain safe.

The house, apartment, condominium in which we dwell provides protection for our physical selves. Living in the shelter of the Lord provides protection for our spiritual being. Like the psalmist we are led to give thanks and have confidence in what the Lord  has provided for us both physically and spiritually. We must also be mindful of those who, for whatever reasons, do not have access to these two forms of shelter. Wherever, and however, we maybbe able to increase access, our mission should be to make it so.

Be grateful for the shelter of the Lord and work to increase access for all people.

An Oasis

With everything going on in this world, life can seem a bit chaotic and out of control. In addition to the events surrounding us, the summer heat is beginning to set in. All of this has led me to desire an escape, a place of quiet and peace. I am in need of an oasis.

If you look up the definition of the word oasis, you will find that it refers to a fertile spot in the desert where water can be found. Life can right now feel a bit barren and more energy draining each day. The pandemic has kept us isolated from others for quite some time. We cannot go about our normal activities or those things which recharge us. We are not even able to worship with others and share in fellowship. The unrest due to the racial injustices have only added to these feelings. It is easy to see life as barren and unrelieving, much like a desert.

I have an oasis for my physical and mental well-being. My backyard provides a wonderful place of retreat for me. I can sit on my patio which is covered so I do not have to experience the heat of a summer sun. The wonderful landscaping which was left to us and to which we have added provides beautiful flowers, flowering bushes, and lush green grass to remind me of the life and beauty by which I am surrounded. The pool provides a refreshing and energizing place for me to swim and cool down from the heat of life and summer.

I also have a spiritual oasis. While I cannot physically attend a worship service currently, I am able to attend a virtual worship service. I am able to continue to study Scripture and enjoy an ongoing daily devotional with my husband. My music collection contains plenty of refreshing songs and hymns to remind me of God’s love and care. Daily I am reminded of the presence of the Spirit which encourages and recharges me.

As I thought about my spiritual oasis, my mind was drawn to the words found in an older hymn, “In The Garden.” These lyrics encapsulate all my thoughts about the oasis which I, and likely you, need today.

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

He speaks and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

I'd stay in the garden with Him
'Tho the night around me be falling
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

Songwriter: C. Austin Miles
In the Garden lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Spiritual Library

Every day when I take my daily walk, I walk past a playground area near my home. On one side of this playground is a little lender library which seem to be appearing throughout neighborhoods all across the country. These are a great addition to our neighborhoods. If you are not familiar with this concept, they are small wooden boxes with a door which has a glass inset and shelves. People place books they have already read into these and if a child or adult is looking for a book to read, they can go pick out one and take it home to read. People are encouraged to add a book if they take one and/or return the book after they are finished reading it. Some of these can be very creative in the size and shape which they take.

As I was walking today, I glanced over at the little lender library. A question came into my mind. If I were to create a lender library for someone wanting to grow in faith, what would I include?

When I designed curriculum for young individuals wishing to confirm their faith and be commissioned as members of the congregation, I had a list of items which I felt were important for them to know. I have never been a huge proponent on memorizing Bible verses or other faith documents but I thought there were a few vital pieces which required memorization. My goal was that if the person was ever in a situation where they needed guidance, one of these items might surface in their mind and be a tool which could be beneficial.

So here are the items which I found to be important and which I would include in my spiritual lender library:

  • A copy of the Lord’s Prayer – This prayer provides a template for those new to, or struggling with, prayer. It provides the basic focus of prayer and can be a launching pad to our own prayers.
  • A copy of the Apostles’ Creed – Like the Lord’s Prayer, this creed is a template for articulating a person’s faith. This can also serve as a summation of the beliefs which underlines the faith which has existed for centuries. Someone exploring what Christians believe can look at this creed for a basic understanding and a basis to start creating questions which can be explored with other believers and on their own.
  • A copy of Matthew 6 – So the person can understand where the basis for the Lord’s Prayer originates and place it in context.
  • A copy of Exodus 20 – Here a person can gain insight into what has come to be known as the Ten Commandments. These words provide a basis for how we are to respond to God and our relationship with God. Contained here also is the understanding we are to have regarding our relationships with other people in our lives.
  • A copy of Luke 15 – This chapter from Luke’s gospel contains the story of the prodigal son. This is a story of selfishness, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. I find this story important enough to be one that if a person cannot remember anything else, this story is the one that remains. My reasoning is that we all experience times of wanting to break out on our own and explore possibilities. We make mistakes and choices that are not beneficial for us. We eventually realize that we need to return “home” and hopefully in a more humbled state than when we left. This story reminds us that our Lord stands waiting for that return. When we do return there is not judgment but instead an outpouring of love and reconciliation which is like attending a magnificent banquet in our honor.
  • A copy of Matthew 28 with verses 16 through 20 highlighted – For anyone wishing to know what a believer in Christ is supposed to do with their life, this passage answers the question. Frequently known as the Great Commission, this passage tells every person that in whatever way fits their skills and abilities, they are called to go and share their story along with what they have learned in their faith so far.
  • A copy of 1 Corinthians 11 with verses 23 through 26 highlighted – Here we find one copy of the words used in the institution of holy communion. Holy communion is one of the key sacraments in the Christian Church. Realizing that words used for this portion of a worship service were randomly chosen but have their basis in Scripture helps to strengthen their meaning.
  • A copy of Matthew 22 with verses 24 through 40 highlighted – Jesus’ response to the question of “what is the greatest commandment?” is found in these verses. Christianity is often given the same criticism which is applied to Judaism – it is just about rules. In Jesus’ response, it is made clear that our faith is not about following rules as much as it is about loving God and loving one another.

This would be the start of my spiritual lender library. What would you place in yours?

Christian Robots

My mother introduced me to the church when I was very young. I do not recall a time in my life when I was not connected with the church, except it was a much looser connection while in college. Since most of my life I have been part of one denomination, I know the liturgy of worship, the way the church runs itself, and the correct responses and timing. There is comfort in the familiarity of being a member of a church most of your life. There is also a pitfall which comes with being an active member most of your life. The pitfall is that you can easily become a robotic church participant.

The condition which I am labeling as “robotic church participant” comes from having such a familiarity that little to no thought is put into the actions and words which the person uses during worship. This also extends to going through the church year without thought to the meaning of the festivals and special days throughout the year. The person just goes through the motions of being a participant but does not have a spiritual feeling while doing so.

An example of a robotic church participant is when someone says the words of the Lord’s Prayer during worship but does not consider what is being said. The words are so memorized that there is not much thought required and the person just goes along with the audible flow of the other participants in worship. A person can easily do this because saying the Lord’s Prayer is so common and extends beyond denominational lines. This becomes very obvious if you happen to be worshiping with a congregation that changes a few words in the prayer, i.e., “debts and debtors” versus “trespasses and trespass.”

You may be asking yourself, “Why is this so important.” I think this is important because it seems to me that God intended the church to be about relationships. These relationships include between God and each individual, as well as, between the individuals in the church body. Relationships require thoughts, communications, and feelings. If a person is just going through the motions, then it is much more about completing a task versus enhancing a relationship.

If you are a person who has grown up in the church like I have, I caution you to not fall into the pitfall of being a robotic church participant. Engage yourself fully in worship, service, and the relationships which are a part of being a member of the church. Experience the spiritual emotions of what you say, the actions you take, and the commitments you make. I am sure that God prefers a fully engaged person rather than a spiritual robot. If God only wanted robots, God would not have given us free thought and free will.