Meditating on the Commands of Christ (36): Blinding Ourselves

One of the most difficult passages in the entire Bible (at least to me) is found in Matthew 5:29 (ESV), “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” I take everything very literally and seriously, so for years I wrestled with these haunting questions: “Does God really want each of us to blind ourselves so that we aren’t tempted to sin? If so, does he really want everyone in the entire world to go around blind? How would we survive???”

Can you imagine living in a world where none of us could see anything? What if we all really did poke out our eyes? What if the sun set and never rose again in our vision? What if we had to live in a world that was completely devoid of light and sight?

I don’t intentionally seek out at evil images, but over the course of my life, I have certainly seen things that triggered offensive thoughts. “Well” (I reasoned within myself), “Jesus didn’t say to pluck out both our eyes, just our right eye, so maybe we’d all have one eye left.” But if you’ve ever injured one eye (as I have), you’ll know that without two eyes, we don’t have depth perception, which is crucial for driving and really essential for many types of work (power equipment; even threading a sewing needle) and play (catching a ball, etc.)

God created us with eyes to see, both for our protection and for our pleasure, but I think Jesus was absolutely sincere when he said that it would be better for us to lose something essential for optimal well being in the present in order to preserve ourselves from future disaster. Would you agree with that? That much definitely makes sense to me.

Here’s what I think Jesus was actually teaching us: “Do whatever you need to do in the way of restricting yourself in order to keep from tempting yourself with evil.”

If you think about it logically, our eyes are organs in our body which are not moral agents. The eye does not literally “cause us to sin.” The eye opens and shuts either as a reflex or in response to our brain sending the message to our eye. The eye is a servant to our mind and will. As Jesus taught in Mark 7:20-22, “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” So, it’s not literally our eyes that cause us to sin. Evil doesn’t start with the eye. Sin doesn’t originate in our literal, physical eye, nor can you eradicate sin by destroying your physical eyes. Temptation and sin come from deep within our heads and hearts.

Does that let us off the hook? Well, it keeps us from needing to literally gouge out our eye if we sin, but it doesn’t lessen the impact of what Jesus is teaching in any way. Allowing ourselves to look at (consider) anything that tempts us to sin is like gouging out our spiritual eyes! Sin will blind us and make it impossible to see truth. We will be stumbling around in the dark spiritually.

Slieve League: One of the Highest Sea Cliffs in Europe

This is far more deadly than stumbling around in the dark physically. So, we can either gouge out our eyes metaphorically by restricting ourselves from temptation, or (in effect) gouge out our spiritual eyes so that we are blind to sin and truth. If we choose the second option, Jesus warns that our whole body might be cast into hell! If you are indulging in evil, know that you are like a blind person walking toward the edge of a precipice with no wall to stop you (such as is true at Slieve League in Ireland). Even worse, spiritual blindness leads to the danger of being thrown into hell, which is infinitely worse than being physically blind and falling off a cliff.

Just an Itsy Bitsy Mouse

What’s not to love about a tiny mouse? Bright black eyes, pink ears and tail, tiny little paws. Soft and shy.

While they’re adorable when you find them out in the field, and it’s somewhat funny to find an old boot stuffed full of dog food that they’ve stolen from your pet’s dish,

it’s not adorable or funny when they confer with the mice of NIHM on how to colonize your screen house and start chewing holes in your home!

Therefore, we’ve had to resort to capturing them in live traps and taking them to a nearby reserve where we set them free to begin life anew in a vast park with ample supplies of all things mousely.

Alan and I have started making little dates out of our evening adventures, but—despite transporting them to new and improved surroundings—I always feel a little sad in case we’re separating parents and children (or whatnot), and so I make up stories about how this mouse is actually the husband, who is going to build a new nest in preparation for his beloved wife . . .

who will be arriving just in time for dinner tomorrow. In fact, over the past few months, Alan has caught myriad mice and chipmunks between his 6 live traps laden with peanut butter and bird seed . . . an apparently irresistible combination!

I have such a mother’s heart for little creatures that it’s hard to relocate them, but I’m thankful that Alan has a father’s heart to protect our home from intruders, even little ones, because they are actually quite destructive and dirty.

Remembering Song of Solomon 2:15 has helped me reconcile myself to the fact that “we ain’t in heaven yet,” and if we don’t protect ourselves from invasion, the consequences can be severe. “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.”

We do have lots of tender grapes growing now, and possibly a fox or two in our woods, but even more importantly, I think there is a spiritual message for us in this passage.

Mice aren’t bad, and chipmunks aren’t bad. Neither are mosquitoes, spiders, flies, ants, or stinkbugs. But, if they invade our homes, then they are out of place and need to be captured and removed!

It’s easy to imagine the parallels in our lives and families, isn’t it? Got anything in your life that isn’t “bad” in and of itself, but will erode and damage your home if you don’t remove it? Maybe you can start having some nightly dates with your spouse to “catch” those sneaky little foxes and get rid of them! Don’t be sentimental. Be severe!! Protect yourself and your loved ones!

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.Do ye look on things after the outward appearance?” (2 Corinthians 10:3-7).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (31): Rejoice and Leap for Joy!

If there was ever a teaching of Jesus that you’d think everyone would be happy to comply with, it’s his directive in Luke 20:23 to rejoice and leap for joy! Right?

Well, maybe sometimes, but not when you read the context. The idea of rejoicing and leaping for joy brings to mind Jesus lying in a grassy meadow, basking in the sunshine of his father’s love with nary a care in the world . . . and I’ll bet there were a few times when Jesus felt just that happy and content. But, probably not too often after he began his public ministry when he was thirty. During those three years, he fully engaged with the people around him and began introducing the message of the Kingdom of God, which turned the contemporary cultural mores inside out and the world upside down.

Church at Mount of Beatitudes today

What did Jesus teach? Among other things, he taught what are today known as “The Beatitudes,” those states of being which cause God to bless us. These are not based on accomplishments but attitudes and conditions that most of us would consider very difficult: being poor in spirit, mourning, being meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and then three P’s: being pure, being a peacemaker, and being persecuted.

Probably all of the conditions listed in the Beatitudes lead upward and build on each other, but the last three are especially obvious in their cause and effect relationships. First, we need to be pure. If we are not, we’ll have no insight or incentive to be peacemakers. (Think about corruption in government and law enforcement.)

However, those who understand and ascribe to the goodness of purity will also try to make peace with others. In the event the “others” have no desire to live in purity and desire the freedom to live immoral lives, they will confound attempts at peace and eventually turn in anger on the pure in heart, persecuting the pure for not approving their ungodly life styles.

We see this (sadly) in America today, where sins that were condemned historically are now becoming so commonplace that people are persecuted for saying the behaviors are wrong! Jesus turned the world upside down, but now the world is trying to right itself by condemning the Bible as outmoded and no longer valid! “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

(Garden on the Mount of the Beatitudes,
where it is believed Jesus taught the beatitudes.)

If you find yourself confused by the changes in our culture, don’t be. Jesus forewarned us that this would happen, and He reminded us that our job is to continue faithfully following Christ, accepting the persecution that comes from trying to live a pure and peaceable life, knowing that you are in good company with those who came before us and were also rejected.

HOWEVER, one thing I’ve had to learn over and over again is that the first of the beatitudes come first: We need to understand our own poverty of spirit in order to be born again and enter the kingdom of heaven. We need to mourn over our sins and find the comfort that only God’s forgiveness provides. He need to learn meekness, so that we receive the blessing of experiencing unity with all mankind on earth. We need to continuously hunger and thirst after more righteousness so that we do become pure. Then, and only then, will be be in a position to be a true peacemaker!

A true peacemaker loves the sinner while hating the sin. He can accept the immoral person while rejecting their immoral actions. He can identify with, love, and grieve over fellow loved ones who are rejecting God and his ways. A peacemaker isn’t unkind. He isn’t mean. He respects. He doesn’t say derogatory things or do anything to harm someone else. His intention is always to express love and bring everyone together in the bond of peace. If this isn’t what you are doing or what you are seeing, then what you are doing or seeing is not Christian.

Nevertheless, Jesus made sure we understood that persecution for righteousness would come, and he tells us to do the opposite of what comes naturally. Just as being humble and seeking peace aren’t natural responses, neither is rejoicing in the midst of persecution! But, that’s what Jesus told us to do, not because we enjoy persecution, but so that we can find comfort in knowing that suffering for the sake of Christ is approved by God and he will bless us.

Texts for today’s meditation: “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12).

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets” (Luke 6:20-23).

(Credits: All the photos are mine except for the painting of Jesus lying in a grassy field, which is used by permission of the artist, Yongsung Kim: Havenlight.com)

Have You Experienced Being Indivisible? How About Iraq?

If you are in the military, have a loved one in the military, or would like to get a little better appreciation for the sacrifices and challenges facing those who are giving their lives to protect our safety, then I want to encourage you to watch Indivisible. (By the way, I’m guessing the pressures and problems would be very similar for any military personnel from a democratic nation.)

Indivisible (2018) is based on the true story of Army Chaplain Darren Turner, who was deployed to Iraq back in 2007, fresh out of seminary and basic training.

This left his wife, Heather, alone at Fort Stewart to care for their three young children among the community of other women whose husbands were also deployed.

Every deployment is dangerous and gut-wrenchingly difficult, but Darren ended up supporting the Special Forces, which was sort of the hardest of the hard!

I have a son in the military who was deployed to Iraq, and I can vouch for the constant strain and fear that I battled as a mother, who spent many hours on her knees while he was gone.

Indivisible does a masterful job of relating the terrors and traumas of war. Will our loved one survive? Will he be injured? Will he recover?

Even if he survives, will he be able to overcome all the horrors of death and destruction that he’s experienced?

What about the wives who’ve been left behind, who are constantly plagued by an emotional roller coaster of worry while trying to be emotionally stable for their children?

For many families, life is never quite the same after living through a deployment, and trying to rebuild a strong marriage bond is more of a challenge than some marriages can handle.

The lessons that Darren and Heather learned (and have been willing to share) are critical for young couples who are serving in the military. I wish every person in the service or who has a loved one in military service would see this movie!

It’s raw. It’s real. It’s sad, but there’s also a message of hope for a light at the end of the tunnel of PTSD and broken hearts.

God made a way for Darren, Heather, and a bunch of brave young soldiers and their wives, and He can do the same for you.

No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NABRE).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (30): Stretch Out Your Hand


What an invitation! A man with a withered hand was in the synagogue when Jesus came in to teach. As I am preparing this meditation, I am still sporting two external pins in the little finger of my right hand, and it makes me painfully aware of how debilitating it would be to live life without a functional right hand! Even basic self care and simple household chores like preparing and cleaning up meals, washing and folding clothes, ironing, cleaning, shopping, trying to write—everything is harder, and some things simply can’t be done with one hand. How much harder must it have been for a man in the agrarian culture of ancient Israel, where his livelihood probably required the strength of two hands and arms. Clearly, he needed help!!

Reading the passages (listed below), it is despicably obvious that the religious leaders had no compassion. (Lord, is it I?) They weren’t hoping that the man with the withered hand might be healed; they were just looking for an excuse to accuse Jesus of breaking some law so they could stone him and get rid of him. Why did they want to get rid of him? Because he was incredibly popular, and they feared losing their power over the people. That’s it? Yep! Pretty much! Well, they also didn’t understand him, and they didn’t like his unconventional approach to life.

Jesus knew their thoughts. He knew they were plotting to kill him . . . on the sabbath day. He was angry and grieved because they were so hard hearted, so he said to them: “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?”

The Pharisees were totally unconcerned for the man with the withered hand, so they didn’t answer. To them, it was like playing a chess game, or worse yet, they were like hungry tigers prowling around, just hoping for Jesus to make a false move so they could trap and destroy him.

In a stunning display of power and wisdom, Jesus simply told the man to stretch out his hand, which the man did, and when he did, he was instantly healed! Good overcame evil! The Pharisees left to plot Jesus’s murder while I imagine there was great rejoicing within the synagogue. No one who saw this miracle would ever forget! In fact, it says that after this event, Jesus “withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all” (Matthew 12:9-15). He healed them all—not a few, not some, but all of them!

The scriptures don’t tell us how the man’s hand became withered. It could have been caused by a careless accident on his part, or disease, or as the result of his very heroically trying to save someone. The cause of the problem was not an issue, but the man’s faith was. He had to attempt to reach out. He might have said, “Why are you asking me to do something I can’t do?” or “Heal me first, and then I’ll stretch out my hand.” But, he didn’t! Instead, the man with the withered hand obeyed Jesus, stretched out his hand and was made whole!

Lots of thoughts flood my mind while considering this passage:

*Is there any part of me (like my heart) that is withered?
*Am I jealous of anybody who is doing God’s work in a novel way?
*Am I so focused on keeping the laws that I fail to focus on compassionate care?
*Am I willing to stretch out my hand?
*Am I afraid that God can’t or won’t heal me because my problems are “my fault”?

Jesus is still working miracles of healing today. Sometimes he cures physical problems, but most significantly, He heals our spiritual diseases, forgives our sins, and transforms our lives. Are you feeling a need for healing, hope, renewal, strength? I feel a need every day! As D.L. Moody used to say, we are “leaky vessels” and need constant refilling with the Holy Spirit! If so, will you join me in this prayer? “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah.Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit” (Psalm 143:5-7).

Texts for today’s meditation: “And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue:10 And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.11 And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?12 How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.13 Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.14 Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.15 But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all” (Matthew 12:9-15).

“And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.2 And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth.And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him” (Mark 3:1-6).

“Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?10 And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other.11 And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:9-11).

Downside Up is Upside Down

Downside Up
 
Sorry, little fly.
Wings sail on wind, not water.
What a sad shipwreck!

There are definite problems with going to sleep at night with unresolved pictures and problems on your brain. For instance, the night before I was going to write a haiku about this image, I woke up several times with different takes on the poor, lifeless dragon fly I found in the wake at Daytona Beach.

Bye, Bye Dragonfly

Such a tragedy!
Even though you’re all washed up
You can’t eat supper.

Even though by midnight I could see some dark humor in playing on words, I found myself grieving the loss of this tiny, shiny life. His fragile wings were still intact, and he looked completely whole, like he should be struggling to free himself and fly away. But, in reality, he had no life left in him. He had drowned.

Of course, everything in life reminds me of other struggles and challenges, such as those that I, my friends, and my loved ones face. I grieve for every person who is tempted to do something they weren’t created to do and won’t be able to handle. I grieve for everyone who thinks they can live below where there is no air. God created us to live and thrive, but it’s our responsibility to stay above the surf . . . upright.

Fulfilling Our Purpose


Made to soar, not swim.
No fly is built to backstroke.
Sleep now; it’s your wake.

Drugs, sex, alcohol . . . whatever siren is calling you, please don’t flirt with the waves. You’ll be enticed out into the deep, where it’s way over your head, and sin will win in the end. Escape while you can!

Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. 16 Do not err, my beloved brethren” (James 1:13-16).

P.S.—If you noticed my photo yesterday, I still have pins in my little finger which are not scheduled to come out until next week, and as the external pins have now become internal pins (from banging them too often accidentally), it’s likely to be a very miserable process to extract them, leaving my paddy paw quite sore. So, if you’ll indulge me, I know it’s now May and I no longer have “April is National Poetry Writers Month” as an excuse for writing shorter posts, but I may continue until I have a full set of fingers for typing again! 🙂

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (20): Sin No More

Not “You have sinned,” but “Sin no more.” Jesus never ignores sin, nor does he deny its existence, but from the moment he engages us, he points out the true future course he wants for us: Sin no more. Simple. Straightforward. Staggering.  The man Jesus is addressing had been sick and unable to walk for thirty-eight years. That was longer than Jesus had been alive. How could Jesus have known that the man’s illness had been related to sin? In John 9, we read the account of Jesus healing a man who had been blind since birth. On that occasion, when Jesus’s disciples asked whose sin had been the cause of the man’s blindness, Jesus defended both the man and his parents, saying the blindness had not been caused by sin.  How did Jesus know these things? Who can come up to a complete stranger, look inside their heart, and know the state of their soul? Who can heal the lame and blind? Only God! This is one of the many ways in which we know that Jesus was more than just a compassionate healer and teacher. Jesus was God in the flesh!

God incarnate came to earth, not simply to live as an example for us to follow. He came to earth to die for us so that he can save us. However, after he saves us (just as Jesus saved the lame man), he gives us his example to follow! Jesus lived a sinless life, and he tells us to stop sinning—to die to ourselves and our own ambitions . . . to give up our own agenda for success and let the life of Christ live itself out in us. Furthermore, he adds a warning, “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:14).Are you struggling with some sin that has disabled you? Have you made an idol out of some person and it’s ruining your life? Or, maybe you thought everything was going to be perfect if you could only have (fill in the blank with anything but God), but you have whatever and it’s still not perfect? In fact, it’s not even “okay.” You’re hooked. You’re addicted. You’re immobilized.

No matter what you’ve done or how lame you’ve become, Jesus can heal you, and he will if you want him to. I met a man at an art festival several years ago who thought there was no hope for him to be saved because he’d divorced his wife some twenty+ years before and married another woman. He was overwhelmed with relief and joy to know that it does not matter what sins we’ve committed in the past. Jesus died in payment for every sin that each of us has committed, and he offers to save us and heal us at any point in our life when we ask. That’s the wonderful news!

The other piece of wonderful news is that Jesus does not condemn us. He doesn’t say: “You sinned!” But, he points us to the future and says, “Sin no more.” How? Well, I have no clue. I can’t look into your heart and tell you anything, because I’m not God. But, Jesus is and he can! Ask him, and he will tell you how to keep from sinning from this point going forward! Once we’ve surrendered our lives to Christ, his Holy Spirit indwells us, and he will lead us into lives of truth, love, and peace if we just ask. So, just ask, and “sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.”

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

“9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:9-14).

P.S.—I just reread this and realized that you might get the impression I am saying that we “can” or “will” never sin after we believe in Jesus. I wish that were true, but it’s not. I have been a Christian for over 50 years, and I still struggle with sin. But, here’s what I think: Jesus is telling us what we should do, and what we should aim for. We should attempt to live pure and holy lives that are free from sin, and we should have as our goal to avoid “every appearance” of evil. Once we have given our lives to Christ, we need to recognize evil for what it is and repent every time we sin. We need to give up any way of life that is contrary to the teachings of the Bible and Christ. We need to agree with Christ about what is good and what is evil and pray for the Holy Spirit to help us “turn away from evil and do good; let him [that’s us!] seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11, ESV). Sound more possible?