I am the man.

Not a brag or claim to specialty.  Partly confession, partly simple statement of fact.  I am the man. (See July 30, 2017 for You Are the Man; the same opening caveat applies.)

As you begin reading this, let me ask you to take three minutes on a timer and do some imagining.  Use your smart phone, watch, or an egg timer from the kitchen; seriously, go get it and set the timer for three minutes.  Seriously, I’ll wait.

Egg Timer.jpgDuring these three minutes pretend you were born blind.  Imagine your daily routine and how you arrived at it.  Your alarm goes off and you reach for its place; you rise and find your way to the bathroom where in complete darkness you locate your razor to shave; the toothbrush to brush your teeth; the toilet to use and clean yourself afterwards; the closet to find prearranged clothes so you don’t mix some plaid golf pants with a bright orange shirt; to breakfast where you have to fix an egg or toast . . . all in the dark.  And the day goes on, completely as shadowed as it begins.  Now take three minutes on the timer and imagine life without seeing.

This was the life of the Man Born Blind in John 9.  Before the age of convenience where we have everything from psychology support systems to social agencies and medical care workers to tend to the young blind, this man was put as a boy at a roadside near the Temple every day to beg.  “Just hold onto your cup and shake it when you hear someone walking by and keep one hand slightly covering it so no one can steal the money you get without you knowing it.”  At the time of this story he had spent more than 40 years, day after day, in a prison of blackness whose source could not be determined: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)

You can read the story there.  Even if you were born blind, now we have Braille Bibles.  No such luck in Jesus’ day.  His only interaction with people was the occasional clink of a denarius or maybe copper coins into his cup and conversations with family and donors and the few friends he had, most of whom were handicapped and set by his road to beg, also.

Then along comes Jesus leaving the Temple, and makes some mud with his spit to apply to his eyes, and instructs the Man Born Blind to find his way to the Pool of SiloamPool of Siloam and wash his face.  Most likely a friend or family member led him by the hand (or did they use the crook of their arms the way we lead the blind today?)  In any case, he washed and for the first time in 40 years he shielded his eyes from the high sun!  With dirty rivulets on his cheeks, he looked at and saw his friend who had led him to the pool!  He viewed for the first time the pavement he had walked on blindly for 40 years!  HE COULD SEE!!  Now where was the man who had made the mud?

This caused no small commotion around the beggars.  Even people who recognized the Man Born Blind argued over whether it was really the same guy.  “The guy we know is blind; this cannot be him.”  How easily we let our preconceived notions of what people are like contaminate the reality of what Jesus can do to them.  But to their questioning the Man Born Blind asserted, “I am the man.” (John 9:9)

Then the religious do-gooders and seriously righteous got involved.  Criticizing his Healer did not settle well with the Man Born Blind.  “Whether [Jesus] is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25)   Confused with how God’s judgment, certainly on a man for his apparently in-utero sin, was changed, they concluded God used a sinner to heal.  They even were giving in to the idea that God had healed on the Sabbath.  When confronted with their inconsistency, they simply got down and dirty to name-calling and pulling rank, throwing him out of the Temple, probably with warnings never to set foot in it again!  No grace, no thanxgiving for a blind man’s deliverance, no mercy for a man who had experienced God’s mercy.  Just “Get out of my Temple and stay out!”

Childs RockerI, too, was born blind, thinking I could see.  At three years old I sat by the child’s oak rocker my mom and dad had purchased for my brother and me.  Playing with my toys as they watched some television, I began to imagine things that somehow felt wrong, but fun.  In a moment, I was pulled from my reverie to realize Daddy and Mommy were sitting over me . . . and as I looked at them watching tv, I was struck by the epiphany that all they could see were my toys; not my thoughts of what I was imagining.  I could indulge in anything in my mind and no one could know unless I told them.

Of course, I was blind to the truth that Jesus had taught: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light.” (Luke 12:2)  So for much of my life I expected my thought life was mine alone.  Never intending to harm anyone, I still did lots of things that were harmful to many.  I will not disparage the truth of Scripture, so I will concede to Paul the title “Chief of Sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) but have to figure I run a close second.  Maybe it is his active participation in murder that prevents me from first place in the Hall of Shame; mine was only facilitative participation in an abortion, which some do not even consider murder.

But then Jesus came by as I sat in my sin and degraded state.  Begging for mercy from anyone who might show me a little, I encountered a Mercy like no other.  First from Anita, then Pastor Keith Carlson, then others, but most of all from HIM.  People saw my blindness and covered my eyes with grace and told me I did not have to die for my sin; Jesus already did that, and I believed and was healed.

I am the man.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.  (John Newton, former slave trader)

Next week, , let’s talk about specks and logs.

Homecoming: In The Twinkling Of An Eye

Death has been a frequent topic in these blogs.  This is not just the raving a man who is getting old.  When I was 13 years old, my best friend in junior high school was struck by a car while riding his bicycle and died at the scene.  It made the evening news which was where I learned of the event.  It was difficult for my underdeveloped brain to absorb, but I had been raised in Christian teaching, learned to read and count from the Bible, so the only question in my mind was, Did Jonathan know where he was going when he died? 

I had no social skills and little training in matters of custom, so I did not call his family or attend the funeral.  But what weighed on my mind was that I had never talked with Jonny about his soul, Heaven or hell, things that mattered.  All our times together had been spent comparing sci-fi stories, riding bicycles (on the street where he died), talking about watching The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone on television; and for comic relief we would laugh at jokes from McHale’s Navy or My Favorite Martian.

Death suddenly was not something that happened to old people or names in the Bible.  It happened to my teenage friend.  This left an imprint on me that is with me to this day, now 53 year later.  And so it has been a theme in my life, even when I walked away from God and His care for a season.  I was keenly aware of my and everyone else’s mortality.

Fast forward five years to my senior year at Washington High School.  Homecoming is a big event in high schools and colleges.  It is the “swan song” for seniors who are about to graduate.  A king and queen are usually crowned by popular vote of the masses of students (whether there are 20 or 2000 in your graduating class, it’s a really big deal!)  There is usually a dance, maybe a local parade, a football game (or hockey or basketball, depending on your school’s forte).  While usually named in the middle of the fall semester to encourage everyone who has ever been connected to the school to “come home,” the focus of homecoming in 1968 was on those graduating and leaving the school the next spring.

Homecoming Game

One of the few games this geeky nerd ever attended was that senior year homecoming game.  With several friends from my church who attended the school, we ran around the bleachers, tried to squeeze into the press box, climbed on top of it when the “guard” would not let us in, scrambled down behind it to run from his “officialdom” and ate cheap hot dogs and ogled the cheerleaders (at least I did).  I saw the big grin on the homecoming king’s face as he escorted the beautiful girl who had been elected queen for a day.   They sat on a flatbed truck if I recall correctly, adorned with streamers and balloons in the Wildcats’ bright red and white.

For the Christ-follower, there is a much fuller and significant Homecoming approaching!  We are not home, yet.  There is coming a day soon that we will enter a realm like nothing we have imagined here on earth!  When the prophets of the Bible saw the Heavens in their visions,  they saw things that had no comparable value or image on earth.

Grand Canyon.jpg
Imagine trying to explain the Grand Canyon to a man born blind.  Imagine using sign language to express Beethoven’s Fifth to a deaf person.  The equipment needed to fully appreciate these sights and sounds is simply not there.  Now imagine one of Jesus’ closest friends, John, seeing his Friend in real glory as He really is; seeing streets that are unimaginable where we pave with concrete; seeing LIFE in all caps coming from trees that sing of His amazing glory; creatures that somehow transcend the definitions of animal or angel!  Now imagine him trying to tell us what it will be like: the equipment we need to fully appreciate these sights and sounds is simply not here!

Karen.jpgThis week a dear friend and musician of note left this world at 58 years old, the same age as another woman in our Neighborhood did January 20 (see February 4, 2018).  Today my wife and I attended her memorial service and what a service it was!  Many from Eastland Church of God, her home church, were in attendance, and the life was almost palpable!  She is now living what John, the Beloved, saw!  And death is suddenly not fearsome or even distressing!  “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)  Yes, tears were shed, mostly by the husband and daughter she leaves behind, and mostly back when Karen was moved into hospice a week ago, but even their sorrow was clearly tempered by the anticipation of the resurrection!

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
(1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

Pastor Rod Martin challenged the attendees with Scripture verses from Romans, the Gospels, and especially Revelation 21:4:  “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  We must shed some tears for Him to wipe away; there will be mourning and crying with the pain of these present days . . . but these days are numbered (Psalm 39:4-5).  Soon, maybe very soon, these former things will pass away!

Be prepared.  Do not wait.  No one knows when Jesus will return nor when and if He will call you Home before that Day.  But, oh what a Homecoming that will be, to see Jesus face-to-face, to reunite with loved ones who believed, to live forever with Him.  Homecoming: changed in the twinkling of an eye!