31. Blindness – to Sin (1)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 31. Guilt of Blindness – to the Sin of the World (1)

Rom 3:23 (JBP) For there is no distinction to be made anywhere: everyone has sinned, everyone falls short of the beauty of God’s plan.

Rom 3:23(TLB) Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal

Rom 3:23 (ESV/NKJV/NIV) all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Continuing: Starting out this second Part in study no.20, we started focusing of how wrong thinking can lead us into sin and how wrong looking can lead us into wrong desires to do wrong, but all the time, behind it all is the way we think. Indeed whenever we talk about belief or believing, we are talking about what we think. What goes on in our minds is critical to our lives. And so in the last four studies in particular we have been focusing on how we think about a variety of issues – the glory of God, the history involving God, and the wonder of the salvation revealed in that history, the basic beliefs that contribute to our faith.

Dangers: But if we think casually about these issues or even ignore them, that weakens our faith and as we said before, that anesthetizes us, puts us to sleep, it disarms us and stops us being a threat to the enemy, and it undermines us and makes us vulnerable to his deceptions and temptations. It is important then that we take hold of these things again and clarify them in our thinking. Indeed some of these things, if we have weak thinking about them, will actually undermine our very faith. No more is this true than in respect of what we think about Sin. Now I don’t want this study to appear a heavy treatise on how bad we all are, but I do want us to see it is at the heart of so much of what we experience in our live in the twenty first century.

Focusing Sin: Now I have used just one starter verse today but have provided three versions of it to clarify the most common one that we use that says we have all sinned and which explains that as falling “short of the glory of God”.  That is not an easy concept to grasp which is why I had added the others – falling short of the beauty of God’s plan (i.e. failing to enter into the wonderful will of God) and falling short of God’s glorious ideal. But each one has a commonality – falling short of something, failing to reach a possibility or goal. God designed mankind to be perfect but the fact that that included free will resulted in us using that free will to choose to go our own ways and not God’s. Thus we all live according to the ‘design’ we have in our own minds of how life should be lived, and that is always less than the way God has for us. No other philosophy or theology can explain our potential greatness and yet our potential awfulness. But this living less than God’s way has very practical outworkings.

Outworkings of ‘Falling Short’: This is seen in both mundane but real ways, and deep, complex and evil ways. I happened to be reading a devotional book the other day that spoke about personal struggles and how we often feel a need of approval, how we try to impress others to win that approval. We worry about who we are, we struggle with identity, we fill our lives with activities that we hope will boost our self-esteem. We struggle to cope with other people, some who are clearly better off than we are, some who are clearly cleverer, more handsome or more beautiful than we are, fitter and healthier than we are, more successful than we are. All of these are expressions of ‘self’, the struggle that goes on inside me to make sense of who I am. They are struggles of people who ‘fall short’.

Big Sins: And this is not to mention the bigger sins of life that go on and which we hear of via the main media – killings, violence, abuses, rapes, thefts etc. etc. etc. and the list could go on and on and on – but most of those things don’t impact most of us most of the time. We are believers who have rejected lifestyles than involve this sort of company, these more violent expression of self.

Godless Self: Whether it was the first group we described, of daily ways we ‘fall short’, or the bigger sins committed by those who have abandoned all semblance of caring humanity, there is a further characteristic of all of us – the propensity to be godless. That simply means we live lives in the absence of God.  We don’t think about Him, we don’t speak to Him, we don’t focus our lives on Him, we don’t seek out His ways in every circumstance. We try to gain self-esteem by self-effort. We go to keep-fit; we take classes, we seek to rise up the social and business ladders – all without Him. None of these things in themselves is wrong but it is the godless approach to life that is the wrong. Some of us will try to feel spiritual by ‘going to church’, some by reading the Bible or devotional literature, but ultimately the question has to be asked, “do I seek first His kingdom, His rule, His way of doing things (righteousness), His will?” (Mt 6:33).

The Goal: These are the realities of life which, if we came to Christ, in some form or other brought us to our knees in repentance as we realized that we were helpless to change on our own, and thus hopeless as far as our future was concerned. Now we need to resurrect these simple truths in our understanding for they are the heart of any change we may hope to see in our desires for ourselves, our family, our friends, our community and our nation. Facing these truths is the start of change and if we have lost this realization we need to ask the Lord to open our eyes afresh to it. We’ll consider it in the wider community in the next study.

27. Blindness – Introduction

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 27. Guilt of Blindness – Introduction

Eph 1:17-19  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Continuing: We are considering areas of life where we can get it wrong, areas of our thinking and doing that perhaps of which we’re not even aware and yet which leave us in an unresolved guilty state. I say unresolved, because they continue on and, probably without us realizing it, they blight or limit our relationship with the Lord. We have recently been considering guilt by sight, with the way we respond to what we see, but as I have meditated on this, I realize there is the other side to the coin, guilt from not seeing, guilt that essentially comes from blindness, and that is expressed in the way we think.

Childhood Blindness: The more I have pondered this, the more I realize there are numerous areas where the children of God are blind. It is a blindness to do with awareness. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but when you were a child, of how much were you aware of your parents problems and difficulties? Somethings are blatantly obvious such as when two adults row. But there may have been numerous trials and difficulties of which you were not aware, financial, to do with work, to do with relationships or health. My mother, when I was very small, suffered from a rare form of TB in her eyes which resulted in her having to have operations by the top eye surgeon in the country. I knew virtually nothing of this at the time.

Why was that? Well, one reason is that parents shield such things from their children but the bigger issue, I believe, is that as a child you are totally taken up with your own little world and just don’t think about things about which you just have never learnt yet. Are children guilty of blindness, therefore? No, they are just immature. We don’t expect them to have such knowledge or understanding, in fact we try to protect them from it. But they have to grow up and in the growing process they come to realize things about the world that they hadn’t known or realized before and it sometimes comes as a bit of a shock. If we think back, we can probably all think of stages of growth of knowledge and understanding that changed us.

The Growing Christian: The same thing is true of the spiritual life.  When we first came to Christ our knowledge was strictly limited. Hopefully we embarked on a life of learning and within that new school of learning came new knowledge and understanding and the way we started looking at life was radically changed.  The writer to the Hebrews declared to his readers of that day, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (Heb 5:12) Step into the average church on a Sunday morning and what do you usually find? So often it is teaching the elementary truths all over again … and again …. and again. It seems so often that both leaders and congregations are happy with a little homily, a little study, a little comforting and building up, but I wonder how often the children of God leave the building feeling better equipped to face the intellectual and moral challenges that face every one of us today in the Western world?  Are we actually aware of those intellectual and moral challenges? Do we understand them and have answers to them? If we cannot say a categorical ‘Yes!’, then we are confessing our blindness to things of which we need to be aware as the children of God.

A Spiritual Goal: Consider again our starter verses: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19) Perhaps a paraphrase version will help it come alive if we’ve become too familiar with it. Paul prays that God will: “give you spiritual wisdom and the insight to know more of him: that you may receive that inner illumination of the spirit which will make you realize how great is the hope to which he is calling you—the magnificence and splendor of the inheritance promised to Christians—and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God.” (JBP version)

And Us? Do you see something here, the words, “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” or as the paraphrase has it, “that inner illumination of the spirit”? The word ‘see’ isn’t here but isn’t this what Paul is saying, “I want you to see with spiritual understanding so that you see the wonder of it all? Let’s ask another ‘church question’. OK, let’s put aside for the moment thoughts of deeper and wider understanding that equips you for the world, let’s just accept the basic or simple truths of the Gospel, how often do you leave church almost dancing with the wonder of what you have just come to see? How often when you have your ‘quiet time’ do you put down your Bible with a heart leaping with praise and worship at the wonder of what you have just seen?  OK, be realistic, it may not happen every day, but does it happen quite often? If not we should be praying, Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law,” (Psa 119:18) and if you’re a bad sleeper, perhaps you might want to join that same psalmist who went on to say, “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” (Psa 119:148) Let’s not be content with a daily routine that leaves us unmoved, let’s pray that our eyes may be opened in a new way to see the Lord, see His salvation, see the Gospel, see the world He’s given us, see the life He’s given us, see the future He’s promised us with such ‘wisdom and revelation’ that our hearts are lifted and we want to dance with joy, shout with praise and bow down in worship. May it be so.

42. Blindness

Short Meditations in John 6:  42. Blindness

Jn 6:42   They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

We have a propensity to grab on to a piece of knowledge or piece of history and allow that to distort our thinking. Having read one famous atheist, I know that he had an experience as a child that put him off faith, off believing in God. It was an experience with one man who was a questionable Christian and that atheist has clearly allowed the bad testimony of that older man in his childhood to distort everything he thinks about God today. How tragic that our bad testimony can have this effect.

Yet we see a similar blockage in the thinking of these Jews in the crowd who have followed Jesus. The had witnessed the feeding of the five thousand and recognized that it was a miracle but still they had asked for a sign and when Jesus starts teaching about himself, now all they can do is focus on the little bit of limited knowledge that they have about him. He has said he has come down from heave but they know his parents – there are obviously people there who have come from Nazareth and know his family background – and so this is all they can focus on. They apparently know nothing of his miraculous birth, of the events with the shepherds and the wise men and the amazing dreams that had protected and guided that family. They have partial knowledge, incomplete knowledge, and they allow that to hinder belief, they allow that to blind them to the truth.

We live in an age of amazing scientific knowledge and technical advancement, and so in science we know about atoms and molecules and even quarks and dark matter, we know all the theory and we allow this limited knowledge to undermine our faith beliefs. We experience amazing technology, we programme computers with bytes and algorithms to produce artificial intelligence to empower robots, and we think we are masters of the universe as we look into deep space and postulate godless theories, failing to see the Creator who designed and brought all these things into being. We play on social media and have a sense of ‘knowing’ that comes with many ‘friends’ and we allow it to undermine our faith and we question faith and we question church and we lose perspective and thus lose a grasp on truth and reality.

At the heart of all this – in the crowd before Jesus and in so many today – is this propensity to self-centred godlessness that the Bible calls Sin, and it blinds and confuses and sows doubts. Our affluent materialistic lives see only a small part of the picture – like these Jews – and so we say silly things, ask silly questions, blind! Let’s not!

37. Missing the Point

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 37. Missing the Point

Mk 2:6-8 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?

When we allow prejudice to reign – for whatever reason – we take on a form of blindness. This is illustrated in these three verses. Bear in mind the fact that Jesus has been ministering for some time all over Galilees, large crowds have been getting healed and it has all been happening in the open. Nothing has been done behind closed doors! So these ‘teachers of the law’ must have known all about it, must of known all about the amazing healings that had been taking place, and must have already discussed among themselves the phenomenon that was Jesus of Nazareth at work!

If you and I had been there we might have simply wondered about this amazing miracle worker from Nazareth and that is all. However, we would not be Jews of that day, and especially those trained in the Scriptures that today we call the Old Testament. If we had been, we would have known the many Scriptures that pointed to a coming One, One promised by God, a deliverer from heaven – those are just some of the descriptions found in the Old Testament.

So, if we had been such trained individuals and IF we had open hearts and minds, we might be open to wonder what else God would permit His Anointed One (or Christ) to do. Perhaps He might even delegate authority to this One to forgive people. After all John the Baptist came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mk 1:4)  In other words John came bringing as method of getting right with God which produced forgiveness of sins, so what was so different here?

The point that most of us miss is that the interpretation that these teachers of the law put on Jesus’ words is particularly antagonistic and looks, at the minimum, at stopping Jesus’ ministry, and at worst, killing him (for blasphemy was a capital offence under the Law). Yes, it was the truth – Jesus had come from heaven as the second person of the Trinity, God in the flesh – but that wasn’t the only interpretation you could put on his words.  The crucial point here was how open were these teachers to the possibilities about the Coming One and especially in the light of all Jesus was doing and saying? Answer: they weren’t!

16. God’s Qualities

Meditations in Romans : 16 :  God’s obvious Qualities

Rom  1:18-20 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Often in Scripture one little word provides the clue or makes sense of what is being said. In the previous meditation we considered the wrath (or ‘anger-in-action’) of God but remaining in verse 18 we didn’t see the reason for it. Now we have verse 19 which starts with the simple word, ‘since’. An alternative word might have been ‘because’. God is angry because His character should be able to be seen by people because it is obvious when you look at the world.

The design argument for God was brought into focus by William Paley who, in the latter part of the eighteen century brought forward the idea of the watch and the watchmaker. He simply suggested that if you come across a watch and opened it up and looked inside it you would automatically conclude that there was someone who had made that intricate design. It doesn’t prove God but suggests, along with Paul, that if something is clearly designed then there is clearly a designer. God is such a designer. Now atheists have subsequently sought to punch holes in this theory but the word of God still stands.

As Paul says, God is angry at stupid people who insist on being blind to the obvious. To the simple and straight forward, it should be obvious when you look at the incredible world that we live in, that there is a wonderful Creator behind it because, says Paul, “God has made it plain to them.” It IS obvious to the open-hearted seeker. It doesn’t matter what YOU say, God says it is obvious and if you refuse to see it, that is an act of will and that raises His anger against you!

Even the most famous of the modern crusading atheists uses words like “has an appearance of being designed’ when referring to the world, while at the same time denying God’s existence. To the Corinthians Paul said, The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) Satan has whispered into the minds of unbelievers and reinforced their willful blindness. They are blind because it pays them to be blind. If they cannot see then they can deny the One who made all things, but it is a willful blindness.

In more recent year these crusading atheists have realised how dull and sterile they appear to the rest of us and so the strategy has been to wax eloquent on how wonderful this world is – but not made by God of course! We know how the world works, they say, so we don’t need a Maker of it. Of course this is just another form of their blindness. It is like looking at a Ford car, examining it in detail and coming to an understanding of how the engine works and saying, “Ah, now we understand. There is no need to postulate a Maker of this car because we know how it works.” It ignores Henry Ford who designed it originally and as such is just another expression of this willful blindness. Oh the efforts these men go to, to try to deny God’s presence!

Note that Paul doesn’t say it proves God’s presence but simply that it points to His presence and it has done so ever since “the creation of the world”. The modern atheist struggles with his own inconsistencies. On one hand he puts up a scientific theory that says that nothing can come from nothing and then puts forward the ‘Big Bang’ theory and says it was something from nothing but, as Francis Schaeffer used to say, you can’t get something from nothing-nothing. If you can imagine absolutely ‘nothing’, nothing at all, not even a single particle of energy, first of all we can’t imagine that and second our logic says that it is absolutely impossible for something to come from absolutely nothing on its own – unless we are an inconsistent modern atheist of course!

So, says Paul, God’s invisible qualities, His power and divine nature are, and always have been, patently obvious to anyone with an open mind. Everything about this world says it wasn’t an accident, everything says it was designed by an all-powerful, all wise Supreme Being and this is the God who is revealed in the world and in the Bible. So obvious is it, says Paul, that men don’t have an excuse.  You can scream and shout about it as much as you like, but God says you don’t have an excuse and so your willful rebellion raises His righteous indignation and displeasure. As we go on we’ll see how that indignation and displeasure is expressed.