Turn My Eyes Away

Worthless things. I wonder if we had an inventory of everything we looked at today whether it was online or in our non-digital world … how much of our vision was held captive by worthless things? 

Oh I know you’re thinking about pornography or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (which is pornography, in case you haven’t figured that out) or some other lust-fueled imagery. Yes, those are worthless things from which we need to turn our eyes. 

But there’s more. 

What things are you looking at that make your blood boil? Is that steam coming from your ears because you didn’t like someone’s latest political comment or you were offended by an inappropriate joke?

What things are you looking at that are merely gossip fodder? Stalking someone’s Facebook page to find out what they’ve been up to so you can talk about it with your friends? Worthless.

Maybe some things are ‘worthless’ because they are not helpful or because they betray a prejudice or because they expose a hateful attitude.

Worthless things would include the things that take our attention away from God and experiencing his presence. 

The world is full of beautiful things and beautiful people to observe and enjoy. Why do museums and art galleries exist? Because there are things that are not worthless but enriching to look at and gain from. Why is it when we enter a restaurant or coffee shop the chairs at the table face one another? So that we can look at people we like and learn from and encourage. Why can we set our vision on a sunset or a campfire or a waterfall and contemplate the greatness of God? Or maybe just remember our blessings? Those are not worthless things. 

Turn my eyes away from vanity [all those worldly, meaningless things that distract—let Your priorities be mine], And restore me [with renewed energy] in Your ways. ~ Psalm 119:37, AMP

Each of us will have to think about and identify the worthless things that capture our vision, the things that appeal to our vanity and self-focus.

I was thinking about some of the healings in the Bible, particularly blind Bartimaeus. 

And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. ~ Mark 10:51-52 (ESV)

If you had been born blind and Jesus chose to heal you, I wonder what you might consider the Psalmist to mean when he appeals to God to “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” Maybe you would just look at everything you could see, or maybe you would search out the things of God. I don’t know if we can imagine seeing for the first time, but we start each new day in the renewed mercies of God. If you ask God the same request to be found in this Psalm for tomorrow, what would be different about what you decide to look at?

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting — a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Search out the valuable things of God, and turn away from the worthless things. Then we can find the life that God promises.

Thanks for reading, JD.

 

Broken, But Not Trash

Our lives have a way of accumulating broken things because most things can be broken. Even things that are marked unbreakable can be broken if enough pressure is placed in the right location. I like to sift through antique stores. Not the the ones with imported European furniture pieces, no, I can’t even imagine affording their offerings. My kind of  antique stores sometimes have the word junktique on a sign in the window. Inevitably there are shelves of mismatched glassware of all kinds. If I want to look at something I almost have to force myself to pick it up, afraid I’ll drop it (and have to pay for it!).

People are among the most breakable things we can touch, even those that seem to be marked unbreakable. Unlike the stores I like to haunt there are no junk people. None. Am I the only one who has to keep reminding myself of this truth? Did you just think of a certain kind of person or someone who has done certain things and wonder if maybe they are junk… broken… trash? God forgive us and help us to see as He sees. I wonder how many people who have been regarded, and treated, as broken trash end up thinking that way about themselves? In my friend’s book, Identity Crisis: 21 Days of Discovering Who God Says You Are (Amazon Link), is a simple but valuable sentence:

Even if we feel broken, God believes we are valuable. – Michael D. Perkins 

No one should feel like trash, even if everything about their lives is broken. Even if all the people they care about think very little of them. What does God see within that no one else can see?

Humans can only see the…

Broken lives.

Broken families.

Broken faces in the mirror.

Broken hearts.

Broken by addiction and bad choices. Broken by choosing to follow our own path instead of God’s. Broken by our idols. Broken by our stubborn resistance to learn from others. Broken by grudges and walls built around our hearts. Broken by rejection of the One who loves us most.

Broken but trying to appear unbreakable. God sees through it all to the real person inside. And He is deeply in love with the one He sees. A mysterious person I knew for a brief while when he was still on this earth was someone I only knew as Brother Sean. He taught me what I want to say to the hurting people I meet:

The Christ in me sees the Christ in you, and you matter to me.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. It reminds me that when we get ready to come back to God in our own lives He never looks at us with sad eyes and shakes his head at the broken mess we’re trying to offer to Him. No, when we turn to Him with all of our mess clearly on display and let Him know we’re sorry…we’re ready for Him to clean up this junktique of a person we’ve become… He doesn’t despise us. In truth, nothing makes him happier.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;  a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:7

The truth is we’ve all been broken at some time or another. The junk of sin accumulates around us. We can start to identify more with the trash that surrounds us than the treasure God sees within us. We’re all broken, but none of us is trash.

Thanks for reading, JD.

Follow my friend Michael D. Perkins on Twitter here. Check out his website here.

Help Me Not To Be A Jerk!

In Philip Gulley’s Harmony series, the Quaker preacher Sam utters a prayer I resonate with when he says…

“Lord, fill me Your truth and grace,” I prayed. “And help me not be a jerk about it.” – Life Goes On by Philip Gulley.

I admit, I’m a natural smart-aleck. It comes at the unexpected moments. Sometimes I think it’s something really clever. You know, a quip or a zinger or even a ‘gotcha’ rebuttal. But the moment it escapes my lips I realize it transcended clever and went straight on to irritant, and instead of a smile I can see the smoke coming from the recipient’s ears. The examples that come to mind … most of them involve people who are still living and I’d rather not remind them of my special moment in case they’ve forgotten. If you are reading this and you’re thinking, “I wondered if he realized this about himself!” then please forgive me! How likely am I to offend again? Unfortunately it probably won’t be long.

I can’t tell you how many Facebook posts I’ve deleted about 30 seconds after posting. Somehow they look different printed on the page. Then I think about how that will be received. Not well, I expect. Twitter is worse. You can’t really take it back (you can delete a tweet but it still can be seen by those who were reading at the time). But even worse…

Spoken words. You can’t take them back. Some of those words are hard to forgive, much less forget. Especially when they sting someone in your family, or a friend, or someone you wanted to be a friend with (but you cured that!). 

James has a lot to say about words and the use of the tongue and he doesn’t cut any corners about it. 

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. – James 1:26

Ouch. 

I liked preacher Sam in the Harmony series. I resonated with the experiences he had as the pastor of a congregation in a small town. I resonated with some things I didn’t care for in myself. 

I know I’m not alone because I read some of the harsh things other people write. Often when one feels loftier than others, one feels freer to write things in a way that can be brutal.

 Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; 20 for the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us]. – James 1:19-20, AMP

“Lord, fill me Your truth and grace,” I prayed. “And help me not be a jerk about it.”

A mighty fine prayer…. you know … for those who need it. 

Thanks for reading, JD

Prayer for Windy Times

There are times when it seems that the troubles of our friends multiply and we seek to be of help and strength. Often, though, we find that there are no real answers and the solutions to these troubles are out of reach. We desire to fix it … to alleviate the suffering and struggles of our loved ones. The more we try to help, the farther the resolution.

I was reading through some writings in Elizabeth Goudge’s A Diary of Prayer and found this prayer. It encourages what we all know to be the only real answer when we are in pain.

O Savior Christ, we beseech thee, when the wind is boisterous, and our faith weak, and we begin to sink even as we would fain come to thee on the water, stretch forth thy hand, O Lord, as of old to thy fearful disciple, and say to the sea of our difficulties, Peace be still; for thy holy Names’ sake. – Dean Vaughan

Whenever I’ve preached about Peter’s walking on the water I’m tempted to find the humor in the situation. I think there is something that makes us smile in the impetuous demand of Peter, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” … only to see him flailing in the waves in a few moments. But that can cause us to overlook the real terror that must have been his experience.

Walking with Christ in our lives does not necessarily diminish the fears that come from seeing the swelling waves of life’s most painful moments around us. Even if Jesus rescues us from the fearsome threat before us, it is always with an realization that the cross is yet ahead. The waves that got the best of Peter weren’t the only waves he would face in his life, but each time he faced them, even when he failed, there was a Savior pulling him towards peace.

And so we join in prayer and ask for peace when the winds are boisterous and our faith weak.. Our willing Savior awaits our call.                                                                                   

Thanks for reading, JD.

The Unspiritual Reason for Church

The Unspiritual Reason for Church

I’m all about the spiritual reasons that relate to prayer, the work of the Spirit during worship, the observation of communion, study of the Word, and expressing praise to our God. For me, that’s enough. It’s this assembly and fellowship to which God has called His people.

But I’ve been reminded recently that there are some ‘unspiritual‘ reasons for attending and being a part of the church. I know not everyone experiences this in the church to which they belong (which is regrettable). But I have found the church to be …

-A group of people who always ask how I am and are interested in me, fighting back the loneliness of our culture and world.

-A group that has get-togethers planned where we share food, laughs, and friendship.

-A resource of knowledge from various backgrounds that can offer me direction when I have a legal question … or a suggestion when I have a medical ailment … or can remind me which literary novel references this phrase that’s been on my mind … or can tell me how to cook something I haven’t done well with … or who can tell me if the latest movie is any good.

-A place where I can find help. Whether I need to move something that’s too heavy for me or my car is broken down and I need a ride … usually someone will be able to come to my aid. Sometimes it’ll be a group of someones. And without complaints. 

-A group that will bring me food when I’m sick or when I’ve lost someone I loved. They won’t let me suffer alone.

I know there are many organizations and groups that can claim to serve their members in such ways. There are places that encourage belonging and warmth, acceptance and friendship. But when God calls a church together I think he has a way of deepening all of those relationships. Our interest and help for one another is based on an eternal principle. 

Really, now that I think about it a little more what we might term ‘unspiritual’ is not unspiritual at all. It is reflective of one of the greatest commands of God. 

You shall love your neighbor as yourself [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for others].’ – Matthew 22:38b, AMP

When one gives up on church they might think they just don’t believe some of those doctrines or that God is real or that they don’t want to be involved in a religious organization. But what is given up are those unspiritual blessings that, as it turns out, would feed the spiritual side of one’s heart. So, they are not quite so unspiritual after all.

Even with the flaws of her human inhabitants, the church reminds me … out here hope remains.

Thanks for reading, JD.