Saturday, May 30, 2015

Spiritual Detached Retina

"No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays." (Luke 11:33-36 NASB)

In order to understand the concept of "clear eye", we are taking a detour through a few eye diseases and making spiritual applications. We have previously considered Macular Degeneration and Glaucoma. You can click on the links to see those. Today, we are exploring Detached Retina.

The retina is the light-sensitive lining inside the eye that sends information through the optic nerve to the brain, allowing us to see. When the retina is detached, tearing away from its proper position, it can cause permanent loss of vision. The symptoms are an increase in floaters or light flashes or the appearance of a "curtain" over the field of vision. If treated immediately, usually with laser surgery or cryopexy (freezing), 90% of retinal detachments can be repaired, although recovery of vision can vary. A retinal detachment is a medical emergency and complaints of vision loss, floaters, or light flashes should trigger an immediate search for treatment. 

In a similar way. we as believers can become "detached" from the body of Christ for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you, like me, have had some experience in this. I've found that my propensity for detachment occurs in one of two ways, and is much like being a prodigal. 

I'm not proud of this, but on occasion, I've been physically detached from the body of Christ. In that instance, I've avoided attending church services and, at times, avoided "church people" (other believers). Most often, my detachment has been as a result of my own sin. It was easier to stay home than risk being confronted by truth and conviction. That, of course, was not my stated reason for staying away. At times I claimed a busy schedule and other times I claimed dissatisfaction with the church. I simply didn't attend.

Sometimes, though, I've been in-place but disconnected, much like the stay-at-home prodigal. My body has attended all the usual services, but my heart has been as disconnected from the people in my church, and from my Lord, as if I had stayed at home. This has been because of my own sin, as well. I hate to admit this, but usually it is because of my pride and critical judgmental spirit. You may have a different set of sins, but the result can be the same. 

When I get on my "haughty high horse", I can easily think that my failure to sense God's presence is because the people at my church are somehow at fault. How foolish that attitude is! My relationship with God is not dependent upon the faithfulness of other people, but upon my own faithfulness. God is omnipresent. He is everywhere all the time. If I don't "sense" Him, it is not because He is absent.

Every time, my failure to connect with the body of Christ has eventually affected my spiritual vision and my walk with Christ. The only treatment is to repent and reconnect.

Only our God is without sin. His believers are far from perfect and it's why we need a Savior. That's why there is a place for me in the body of Christ. That's why there is a place for you. We, too, are imperfect people, in need of a perfect Savior. 

Have we become detached from the body of Christ? Are we "detached in-place"? Allowed to persist, that detachment will affect our spiritual vision and our relationship with our Lord. Let's spend a few minutes today evaluating our own relationship with the Lord, including to His church. If there is evidence of detachment, let's treat it like the spiritual emergency it is and do what it takes to correct it. Treatment begins with repentance and reconnection, so don't wait. The body of Christ is dependent upon every part. Let's get in our place and do our part.

For the body is not one member, but many... But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."... Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:14, 20-21, 27 NASB)

Spiritual Glaucoma

"No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays." (Luke 11:33-36 NASB)

We are currently taking a detour through a few diseases of the eye to better understand the importance of clear spiritual vision. Yesterday, we looked at AMD or spiritual Age-Related Macular Degeneration. You can read that post here

Today, we are looking at glaucoma, in which an increase of pressure in the eye causes pressure on the optic nerve at the back of the eye. The front part of the eye contains a clear fluid that normally drains through the open angle, a spongy network where the cornea and iris meet. When the drainage is slowed, the fluid builds up. The extra fluid remaining in the eye causes an increase in pressure that "pinches" the optic nerve. With time, the pressure damages the nerve (connecting the eye with the brain) and causes loss of vision. 

The photo above is an example of the vision loss of glaucoma, in which peripheral vision is lost first, creating a kind of "tunnel vision". The vision loss gradually crowds in until all vision is gone.

The increased pressure can be detected early and treatment begun before vision loss occurs, but it requires an eye exam to detect it and medication (and sometimes surgery) to treat it. 

In that same way, we have a "pressure problem" that can affect our spiritual vision, too. I can write with authority on this subject because it has been a problem for me so often. When our lives are filled with "busyness" and stress, they create a kind of pressure that pinches at our hearts and narrows our relationship with our heavenly Father. Stress creates a kind of tunnel vision of its own, in which all we see is the problem or situation causing our stress. We completely miss all that God is doing in the periphery of our lives. How often this has been the case in my life! 

Dr. Richard Swenson talks about Margin (and has written a best-selling book on the issue). He describes "margin" as the unscheduled places in our lives, the places where God has room to work. When we fill our lives so completely that there is no margin, we not only increase our stress, we decrease the room for God to work in our lives. 

That loss of margin so common in American culture today is a perfect example of "spiritual glaucoma". It demands diagnosis and treatment. Let's take a close look at our own lives. Do we have spiritual glaucoma? 

The first step is diagnosis, but treatment must quickly follow. There is only one remedy, a heart examination, followed by intervention to decrease the pressure. There is no way to keep the stress and exclude all margin while simultaneously decreasing the pressure they cause. What is the remedy?

Some years ago, I was considering a position of leadership with an organization about which I deeply cared. The man who spoke with me explained that it would take quite a bit of time. "Your "plate" is too full. There's not room for this, too," he cautioned. In the end, I did accept the position but it required that I take my "plateful of busyness" to the cross and relinquish it. The thing that still amazes me is that those activities I most loved and that gave me the greatest joy were allowed to remain. It was the things that "sucked the life out of me" that needed to go. Making the change was, in the end, immensely satisfying, because it restored margin and improved my spiritual vision.

What about our lives today? Are we so busy that we have developed tunnel vision, seeing only those tasks that must be done? When we lose our margin because of schedule overload, we also limit our relationship with God and our spiritual vision. We miss what God is doing around us because we are so focused on what we must accomplish to survive our busyness. 

Today, let's evaluate our lives for the spiritual glaucoma of busyness and stress, then take action to reduce the pressure. Let's make sure we make time to spend with our Heavenly Father and focus on the things that please Him first. When we do, we will see the world and the people around us with clarity and can better respond with love.

"Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord. We want to see Jesus."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Spiritual Macular Degeneration

"No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays." (Luke 11:33-36 NASB)

We are taking another detour, this time through a few eye diseases, to help us understand the importance of clear spiritual vision. Today's topic is the eye disease known as Age-related Macular Degeneration. (AMD)

AMD is, as the name implies, a problem that can develop as we age. It causes damage to the macula, the area of the retina that is responsible for clear central vision. The macula allows us to see things that are straight ahead of us. AMD does not usually cause total blindness, but a loss of central vision that can be very debilitating. If you look at the photo above, you can see that the entire photo is blurred but the face of the child (the central portion of the photo) is especially blurred.

We can develop a kind of spiritual AMD, as well. When we do, we lose our central focus. I know this is true, because I've had spiritual AMD a few times. Maybe you have, too. When I allow sin into my life, whether by overt acts or by the drifting that comes with busyness, I lose my focus and my clarity of vision. It seems that, almost overnight, my heart of faith is clouded by hazy vision. Most debilitating, however, is that my central vision, the part of my heart that focuses on God alone, becomes deeply impaired.

The best treatment for AMD is prevention, and the National Eye Institute recommends four important lifestyle changes that can help prevent the vision loss of AMD.
~ Avoid smoking
~ Exercise regularly
~ Maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels
~ Eat a healthy diet rich in green leafy vegetables and fish

If we apply those recommendations to the prevention of spiritual AMD, they might look something like this:
~ Avoid sin
~ Exercise your faith regularly
~ Spend time in prayer to keep your perspective balanced
~ Ingest the Word of God through Bible study 

Years ago, someone very close to me was diagnosed with AMD and was referred to a retina specialist in Memphis. I can still recall that visit. Her physician was very clear about her options. "The only good study on prevention of macular degeneration showed that people who eat a diet high in spinach and dark green leafy vegetables had significantly lower rates of AMD. The best prevention is spinach at least four times a week." This dear woman's response was, "I don't like spinach," and she opted for oral vitamins, instead. As her disease progressed, she became more willing to eat dark green, leafy vegetables, but I grieved that she waited so long to do the one thing that might have helped. 

If we want to have a life that is filled with clarity of vision and the ability to see the One who should be at the center of our lives, we must do what is necessary to keep our vision clear. The bad news about AMD is that the majority of cases cannot be reversed. Prevention truly is the best treatment. The good news about Spiritual Macular Degeneration is that the prevention steps are also the steps that are the cure. 

If our spiritual sight is clouded, our central vision is obscured, there is a cure. We can turn from that which impairs our focus and return to the One on whom we should be focused. In an instant, our Spiritual AMD can be changed to clear vision and fill our hearts with light.

"Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Choosing the Light

No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.” (Luke 11:33-36 NIV)

In this passage, Jesus refers metaphorically to the "eye"as the lamp of our body, through which the light is received. When our eye is healthy, the light can come in unimpaired and our body is filled with light. When our eyes are damaged by cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, or other diseases of the eye, the light that enters is reduced and the images we see are distorted. Rather than filling us with light, they can, in a way, fill us with darkness because the light is not allowed to enter.

This principle has become extremely clear to me because of my neighbor, who has a chronic problem with double vision. To hammer a nail, he pounds repeatedly in the general direction of the nail, hoping to hit it occasionally and thereby drive the nail into the board. It is extremely inefficient and fraught with difficulty. Very few nails are successfully hammered into place.

When I have clarity of vision in my spiritual eyes, the light of truth can enter unimpaired and fill me. Just as having light in a room allows me to move about freely, so the light in my life also allows me to move in freedom as I live the life Christ expected me to live. 

"What is the sign that God expects from us for the evidencing of our faith?" Matthew Henry asked. His answer, "The serious practice of that religion which we profess to believe, and a readiness to entertain (or embrace) all divine truths when brought to us in their proper evidence." 

God expects me to live out the faith I claim and to embrace His truth when it is revealed to me. I am to live like I say I believe if I am to please God and demonstrate His grace and mercy to the world. Obedience is not optional. 

That living requires "clear eyes" that are not clouded or darkened by the distortion sin causes. It requires that I allow the light of Christ to fill me. Imagine for a moment having a life that is filled with light, no darkness at all. 

Selah. Pause and consider.

If I embrace the truth I know, rejecting the sin I prefer, I can be a shining example of God's grace to those around me, much like a lamp shining in a darkened room. I can be, if I choose to be.

Therein is the problem. CHOICE. Will I choose light or darkness? Will you choose light or darkness? We can't have both. If you and I are to live as those who have been redeemed, we must choose the light, allow it to fill us, and live accordingly. We cannot continue to reserve even a tiny bit of darkness for our own pleasure. 

Just as Joshua told the Israelites as they stood on the brink of the promised land. There is a choice to be made, and it changes everything.

If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15 NASB)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Queen of the South

For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. (Luke 11:30-31 NIV)

When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her.

But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. (1 Kings 10:1-3, 7 NIV)

The Queen of Sheba (also called the Queen of the South) was from what is now Yemen. She had heard about the wisdom of Solomon and his relationship to God, as well as his wealth, but did not believe what she had heard. No one could be that wise in every area, she probably thought, and decided to see for herself. The Queen loaded up a large supply of gold and spices (very similar to what the magi carried to Jesus) and headed out to see King Solomon. 

When she arrived, he was gracious and entertained her lavishly. While there, the Queen tested Solomon with as many hard questions as she could formulate. He answered every one. There was no question that was too hard for him. No situation was too difficult for him to find a solution. The Queen was incredulous. "I did not believe it until I saw it with my own eyes," she said. "You have far exceeded the report I heard." 

At the judgment, Jesus said, the Queen of Sheba will rise up and condemn those who refused to believe in Him. She will say something like this, "I heard all the hype about Solomon and didn't believe it, but I didn't just dismiss it and refuse to believe. I did what it took to find out the truth. I took all my questions to him, and found that he had the answers to every question I ever had. You should have done the same with Jesus. He has the answers to all the questions you have... if you'd only bothered to ask. He is all that was said of Him and more. If you'd only bothered to seek, you'd have found."

The Queen of Sheba will be right. If what we've heard about Jesus is true, and it is, it behooves us to find out for ourselves. If we have questions, He will answer them. All we have to do is ask. What a tragedy it will be at judgment day to find that the One we discounted as nothing more than a good man is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. What a tragedy it will be to find that questions with eternal significance, left unasked, could have made an eternal difference.

There is something more that needs to be considered. Jesus was very specific about discipleship. The first step, He said, was to deny ourselves. Only then can we follow. If we never deny ourselves, you can be sure we are not disciples of Christ. This is so important that it bears repeating. Discipleship begins with denying ourselves. 

There will be a time of judgment. We will answer for our response to Christ. What a tragedy it will be if our response was limited to two hours in a pew on Sunday morning. If we don't understand, if we aren't sure, let us do what the Queen of Sheba did. Ask all our questions, for, when we do, we will find that Christ has every answer we need. We, too, will say what the Queen of Sheba said. "Jesus has far exceeded all the reports I have heard." He is more than we expect, but we will never know if we never ask.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matthew 16:24-27 NIV)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

the men of Nineveh

The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:31-32 NIV)

Since we've just finished a long detour through Jonah, we will look at verse 32 first and come back to the Queen of the South tomorrow.  

When Jonah arrived in Nineveh, looking considerably disheveled, he walked through the streets proclaiming an eight word sermon. ("Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.") Of the 120,000 people in Nineveh, 100% of them repented in sackcloth and with fasting. The king issued a decree that "everyone call urgently on God... give up their evil ways and their violence."

As I read the words of the king's decree, I am speechless. The king of Nineveh demanded that the citizens fast and repent. It was not optional. He meant business and he led the way by his own example. When the king repented in sackcloth and with fasting, the citizens did, too.

It seems impossible for this to happen in any city, any country. It is especially incredible because the people of Nineveh were fierce Assyrians who had considerable evil ways and violence from which they needed to repent. They had as much sin as... well, as us. They were as sinful and far from God as our country. They were as disinterested in righteousness as we in America seem to be. 

One day, the people were living in their sin and embracing the evil to which they were accustomed. The next day, Jonah, the rebellious prodigal, walked through the city with his tiny little sermon. The Spirit of God descended on hearts throughout the city. Repentance fell. Hearts changed. Evil fled.

It happened in Nineveh, and it could happen here. Pray that it will.

 Jesus said that the men of Nineveh would rise up and condemn us at the judgment because of our failure to repent. They repented when Jonah (one of the least likely of God's prophets) spoke a few words from God. It wasn't eloquent preaching, and it wasn't flashy or fancy. The Spirit moved and Nineveh repented. The people of Jesus' day had God Himself, much greater than Jonah, yet they refused to repent. We, the people of modern times, have the Holy Spirit present with us, yet we, too, refuse to repent. 

When judgment comes, the men of Nineveh will condemn us before the throne of God for our failure to heed the word of God despite such amazing opportunities to come to Him. There will be a Judgment Day and everyone will answer for how we responded to the Word of God. Having spent our lives "playing church" will not be acceptable. Jesus called us to radical obedience, the kind that causes us to give up the pleasures of the flesh, deny ourselves, and serve Him. 

Discipleship is not optional for a believer. Discipleship is not optional for Christians. 

You might notice that I separated those two terms. The term "Christian" was originally used to describe believers who were such faithful disciples of Christ that those around them considered them "little Christs". In this country, the term has come to mean "someone who attends church regularly". It's a tragedy, because the loss of meaning indicates our loss of understanding. Being a Christian is supposed to mean we are disciples of Christ. If we expect to live in eternity with Christ, who has gone to prepare a place for us, we need to understand that He expects us to follow Him until He returns. 

Discipleship is not following from the back of the pack. Discipleship involves careful Bible study, diligent application of truth to our lives, willing hearts and hands that serve. Will we fail sometimes? Of course. We don't live our lives in failure, though. We are to rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us and correct us. Our goal is to be like Christ.

One day, we will be held accountable for our response to Christ. If the men of Nineveh looked at my life, what would they see? How would they view my response to God? How would they view your response to Christ? Are you a disciple or just one in the crowd? 

Eight words from God changed a city and the lives of 120,000 people. Pray that the decree of the king, "call urgently on God and turn from evil", will be the cry of our hearts today. May the Spirit move in us like He did in Nineveh so long ago.