Friday, November 16, 2012

The Cure for Blurry Vision

When I was a gangly-legged fourth grader with a bad perm and unbraced teeth, an optometrist diagnosed me with myopia, or near-sightedness. I had been squinting at school, unable to read white chalk on green board, so mother took me to the eye doctor to get the problem fixed. 

I will never forget walking outside with my brand new eyes, able to see individual leaves on fall trees and crisp words on billboards. 

It was as if I were seeing for the first time. Everywhere I looked, wonders were visible. I could tell who was walking towards me before they were close enough to touch. I could make out images on the television from across the living room. This being able to see was a huge deal – I was impressed! 

No longer limited to seeing just what was in front of me, I became aware of what was going on around me that I had been missing. I was able, quite literally, to see a bigger picture.

My physical sight has been treated for over twenty years, although it needs tweaking every now and then. A slightly stronger prescription is sometimes necessary as eyes age and eye shape changes. Not too long ago, I went to the eye doctor for some new contacts. I had been carrying the prescription from a previous exam in my purse, but as is often the case in my life now, other pressing matters took precedence over my own needs. I finally made my way to the office, thinking the visit would be short – in and out with a new box of lenses in just a few minutes.

The receptionist glanced at my prescription and said, “Honey, this thing expired last month. You’ll need a whole new exam.” (Sidebar – I know I live in the south, but it irks me to no end when people call me ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie’ and ‘sugar.’ You don’t know me. I could be as sour as pickles from a green-lidded jar. But I digress.)

Of course I needed a new exam. Such is my luck. Thankfully, there had been a cancellation for the next time slot, so I was able to go straight back to the torture chamber known as the exam room, where puffs of air are jettisoned straight into your eyeball in spite of your ridiculous blinking efforts to stop them.

As the doctor began to examine my eyes, he could not get an accurate reading. To begin with, I only got one answer correct on the ‘reading the chart’ test, and that’s because I cheated. I knew there had to be an E on the top. 

As he asked, ‘this one, or that one?’ while turning the dial on his prescription-finder, I honestly answered, “Are you even changing it? Because they both look terrible.” 

His eye-scanning machines failed miserably, his last and final attempt to get an accurate reading. 

He finally said, “You know what? We’re going to have to do this another day. Your eyes have small abrasions on them from those old contacts, and they are too fatigued to focus properly.” He ordered me to wear my glasses for the next few days so that my eyes could rest and heal.

As I walked out of his office, self-conscious in my glasses and feeling like that awkward fourth grader again, I immediately thought of how myopic my spiritual eyes are and how damaged and weary they become, too. 

Slowly, subtly, without me even realizing it, my once 20/20 spiritual sight begins to lose sharpness and its focus lessens. When I allow the daily struggles and overwhelming task list to take precedence over time spent with God, eyes of the spirit become damaged and I see only clouded distortions. What I see is not what is. 

What I see is improperly refracted. It is only through the lens of God’s Word that I will see everything around me – every condition – in its true form. Without a daily – even moment by moment – adjustment, I become near-sighted again, seeing only what is closest to me, not the bigger picture.

So many variables give me an inaccurate picture of my reality. When I allow my emotions to be the barometer for my life, I give in to self-pity and only believe of God what I currently feel from Him. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things…” Deceitful, in case you (ok, I) have forgotten, means misleading, lying, being anything but the truth

It is not sinful to feel what you feel, but so often emotions are inaccurate. I might feel like I am worthless and unwanted, but that doesn’t mean it’s so. Our hearts deceive us, because our hearts are sinful. They are tainted by the evil one, not yet made perfect in glorious permanence. Emotions cloud our view of the accuracy of God’s words.

My spiritual eyes are also, more than I’d like to admit, blinded by what others say about and do to me. To this day, I can remember a hurtful comment made to me by a guest speaker in elementary school. I hoard others’ comments like squirrels do acorns. I hang on to them, storing them in dark, secret places, uncovering them when I see they’ll be useful (like in my poorly-attended but all-night pity parties).

 Sometimes what we believe about ourselves (and our God) is so deeply rooted in the opinions of others that we are not even aware of their influence. I want to live by these words and dwell on them alone – “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God” (Ps. 139:17). Only Yours.

The intricacy of the human eye is mind-boggling. Scientists argue that the eye is more complex than any other naturally occurring mechanism, and that it would take a supercomputer 100 years to process what the eye does in 1/100th of a second. But in order for this complex organ’s rods and cones to work properly, light must first enter the iris. Read that again. Light must enter. Without light, there is no vision.

You likely know a verse that speaks of light. Jesus spoke to people gathered around Him, those who were desperate for accurate vision in the midst of Pharisees’ clouded sight. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Without the Light of the World entering, we will never see the bigger picture. We will squint at foggy distortions instead of marveling in crisp clarity. We will miss the visible wonders and never grasp the beauty of new eyes.

It is not just accepting Jesus that focuses the eyes of our spirits, though. I had been carrying the prescription for new contacts in my purse for weeks, but had not used it. I had in my grasp, daily, the cure for my poor vision, but it was tucked away and useless. How often do I do the same with my God? He is the cure to my every problem, the lens for my myopic sight, but I leave Him tucked away while I curse headaches that come from squinting at preventable blurs.

Charles Darwin, the agnostic scientist that Christians love to hate, said, "To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable [incomparable] contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree."

If the human eye, which we can see and touch and study, contains “inimitable contrivances,” how much more complex must the spiritual eyes we were given be? How many more methods must there be for “admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of . . . aberration[s]?”

We are not condemned to a lifetime of blurry sight or spiritual eyes that are wounded and in need of rest. God has given us “everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Pet. 1:3). We already have ‘everything we need.’ We have it! It’s time we live like it. We ought to be on our faces, begging the Lord daily, “Open my eyes that I may see . . .” (Ps. 119:18).

Where there is cloudy vision, there is a healing lens. Where there are weary eyes, there is curing rest. Jesus is longing to give us eyes to see, but He is waiting for us to want them badly enough to ask. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Truth about Quicksand

Who would have guessed that quicksand can be holy ground?

For anyone who has suffered a great loss or intense pain, doesn’t it feel sometimes as if the very earth on which you’re standing has become unstable? The tremors of a personal earthquake rock your once-firm footing, and you reach out for something – anything – to hold you fast. A deep chasm forms before your very eyes, and you feel yourself slipping towards its gaping opening…

You know your demise is imminent and that the infinite darkness before you is your final destination.

The quicksand holds you immobile, and try as you might, you cannot get out.

Photo by Bentley B. Fulton, National Geographic

The enemy of our lives and souls wants us to believe that the difficulties we face are impossible to survive. He wants us to feel the shaking soil and panic, not believing that a Rescuer is on His way. He wants us, in the midst of the trial, to focus on the grip of the quicksand and not the Hand reaching down to save.

And I fall for it, nearly every time. I feel the pressure, sense the unsteady floor, and believe that all is lost. In a moment of anxiety, I struggle to remember that nothing can snatch me from my Father’s hand (John 10:29).

I recently read a fascinating article about quicksand and humans' ability to survive when trapped. The truth is that no amount of quicksand can pull a person completely under. Humans are less dense than quicksand by about half, and the lowest a person will sink is to his waist. Why, then, does there exist the misconception that quicksand will drag you to your death? Because struggling against the force of the quicksand causes its viscosity to increase, thereby increasing the difficulty of getting out. In other words, the sand sediment becomes 'thicker' the more you try to escape. 

Experts say, “’The force needed for someone to pull their foot out of quicksand at a speed of a centimeter a second would be the equivalent of that required to lift a medium-size car. So how do you get out? Don't ask your friends to tug on you; they're likely to pull you ‘into two pieces if [they] try hard to pull [you] out,’ said Bonn, a physics professor at the Van der Waals-Zeeman Institute at the University of Amsterdam. ‘The way to do it is to wriggle your legs around. This creates a space between the legs and the quicksand through which water can flow down to dilate [loosen] the sand,’ he explained. ‘You can get out using this technique, if you do it slowly and progressively.’”
Does anybody see where this is going? Can I please get an amen?!
Better. Thanks.
The quicksand – that trial, pain, looming hardship – cannot kill you, and struggling against it only ensnares you further. Your escape can only come from an outside source! The only solution to viscous quicksand is water, and the only solution to your problems and mine is Jesus. He is the water to our quicksand. God can and sometimes does pull you right out of quicksand, but He often removes you “slowly and progressively” so as not to ‘pull you into two pieces.”
Psalm 46:10 is quoted so often we lose its meaning, but doesn’t it make perfect sense in this context? “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still – your attempts to escape this on your own are only making it worse. Be stilllet me come to your aid, because you cannot fix this on your own. Be still – I am the only solution; all other methods will be in vain and will postpone the rescue.
The hardest act to take in the middle of a battle is to lay down your weapons and allow someone else to assume the defense, but Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Your role is, out in the middle of the crushing quicksand when your senses tell you that you will surely not make it, to be still and believe. Do as Jesus instructs in Luke 8:50 – “Don’t be afraid; just believe…”
Hebrews 12:28 tells us, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”
The kingdom cannot be shaken.
There will be earthquakes in our earthly lives, but His kingdom will not be shaken. The quicksand will try its best to crush us, but His kingdom will not be shaken. Our flesh will tell us that the end is near, but His kingdom will not be shaken.
His kingdom will not be shaken. 
“Be still and know…”

All information taken from Quicksand Science: Why It Traps, How to Escape by Nicholas Bakalar for National Geographic News. September 28, 2005

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Praise Him

It seems as though it should be impossible, lifting hands in praise when tears are falling in grief, but praise in pain is the most authentic form. 

I have never see the goodness of God as clearly as while enduring the wickedness of the world, and I have never been as grateful for His presence as when I have been all alone.

Why is our view of God so often dependent on our circumstances? Why do we publicly laud our God when troubles are small and happiness is abundant, yet question His love when plans go awry? He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). He does not change, is always love. We should believe that He is loving more than we believe that the sun will rise, yet we question Him immediately if our way isn’t had.

The act of praise, choosing to acknowledge the might, goodness, and uniqueness of the Almighty, has supernatural power to enact change. Abandoning oneself in adoration and thanksgiving can bring peace and perspective shifts desperately needed when emotions cloud our vision like morning fog. Over and over in Scripture we are exhorted to life His name and praise Him continually.

“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts… Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created” (Ps. 148: 1-5).

If you have never seen David Platt recite these verses while speaking before pastors at the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention, you will be blessed by hearing.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Ps. 150:6). 

In times when the breath has been knocked out of your spirit, praise Him. He will bring times of refreshing, pure oxygen to fill the lungs of your life. 

When the storm rages all around and you’re sure you will be its next casualty, praise Him. He will say to that storm, as He has before, “Peace. Be still” (Mark 4:39). 

When you’re working nonstop and your trial shows no lull, praise Him. He will whisper, “…know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). He is God, the One worthy of our thoughts, not the hurt, not the hurt-causer. ‘I am the God in your life, and I will not share your attention. Focus your heart, undivided, on Me.’

The power in our praise is beyond our ability to understand. When we speak the name of Jesus, things change. When we claim the promises of Scripture, Satan is defeated. Praise doesn’t just change our emotions – it changes our reality.

Nehemiah says, “…do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10). How can joy be found when grief is so strong? By looking to the eternal good of God, not to the temporary bad of life. 

It is only when human strengths and abilities fail that we are able to glimpse the strength of He who created all. It is only when we are utterly defeated and at a loss that we can be truly victorious and find real answers.

God is enthroned on the praises of His people, literally dwelling where His name is lifted (Ps. 22:3). When we praise even in the worst times imaginable, He is there. Praise does not just mask the sadness we feel; it brings God’s presence to us. It enables us to endure what feels unbearable; it enables us to see what otherwise we would ignore. Praise gives credit to He who sustains.

“I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together” (Ps. 34:1-3).

I have learned what it is to praise "at all times," and I have been the afflicted who "hear and rejoice." My greatest prayer is that now, through His grace, you will "Glorify the Lord with me" and that we will "exalt his name together."