The Scales in Paul’s Eyes – and Ours – September 9, 2019

I’m back after a pretty long hiatus.  Just life and stuff (including having another baby!) has gotten in the way of my writing, but I’m working my way back into it, as it’s something I enjoy immensely.

So here I am studying the book of Acts, and I was reading about the martyr of Stephen brought about ultimately by the widespread persecution of Christians spearheaded by Saul (who would later become the Apostle Paul) and Saul’s conversion, blindness, and restoration of his vision, in more ways than one (Acts 7:54-9:19).

In reading, I found myself wondering, “What were the scales that fell from Paul’s eyes?”  Verses 17 and 18 of Acts 9 read, “And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.”(NKJV)

I’ve always been interested in medical subjects, so I wonder if Paul may have been afflicted with some sort of eye infection that blinded him for three days.  Believe it or not, I read several commentaries on this out of utter curiosity.  According to one, it stated an infection could have been possible, and that the scales that were removed were the “encrustations” formed around the eyes as a result  (really pretty picture there, eh?).  Another commentary postulated that there were no physical scales that came off when God opened Paul’s eyes, but that it was the sensation of his eyes being opened that felt as if something like scales fell from them.

We don’t know for sure what the physical scales were, but we are all born with spiritual scales that render us blinded to the truth of the word of God.  Those are the scales of sin that result from being born with a fallen nature in a fallen world.

Even those of us who are Christians whom God, through the power of the gospel has opened our once blinded eyes, can allow ourselves to get scales in our eyes in life, scales that infect our spiritual eyes and cloud our vision of God like unpleasant spiritual encrustations  (oh, what a gross word!).  They can be scales of pride, lies, injustice, hatred, unforgiveness, addictions, despair, selfishness, insecurity, the list goes on and on.

But the absolute beauty of what a loving God we serve, and His magnificent ability to make things new, is that He is able to remove those scales and restore our sight, just as He did with the apostle Paul.

Friend, if you’re reading this, walking in darkness, thinking you might never see a light at the end of the tunnel, or if the scales in this life have dimmed your light and made it hard to see God, know that He has the power to restore you and heal your spiritual blind spots.  He can open your eyes to the gift of His wonderful grace and love.  We can come boldly before His throne and find our Father waiting there with open arms.

“Father, I love You and I thank You for the gift of Your mercy, grace and restoration because of your Son, Jesus, who died on the cross and rose again three days later, who paid the price for our sins, so that our eyes can be opened, so we can see You and know of Your great mercy.  I am humbled to think about Your awesome love for us, and Your awesome power, Your amazing grace.  Please lift the scales from my eyes, Lord, where I have allowed my vision to get cloudy, heal my blind spots, Father.  Show me where I’ve allowed my vision to get foggy spiritually, and help me to change what needs changing to match up to what You want me to be.  Open my eyes, Lord, I want to see You better, I want to know You more.  I love You, and I praise You, and I thank You again.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Trusting God When You Can’t See – January 18, 2018

Lately, I’ll admit I’ve struggled with the ‘why?’ a lot.  These past few years have been both a joyous time and a rough time for me and my family.  Our littlest one was born in summer 2016 happy and healthy, and we are thankful.  It was a bumpy ride getting through the pregnancy, and has gotten bumpier and busier with other stuff going on since, but she’s been a joy in our lives.

I started blogging here a few years back to openly share some of my struggles and questions and things that I am learning in my studies of the Bible, the way I feel like God’s Word speaks to me and how to apply it, because writing is a good therapy for me, and I hope my experience can help encourage someone,  just as so many posts on here have encouraged me along the way too.

Often the studies leave me with more questions than answers, but that’s okay.  I think I’m being taught a lesson here, maybe it’s to trust Him when I don’t know or understand.  So often I want things in black and white with no extraneous spaces in between, spelled out in specific detail.  I think it’s just human nature  (don’t I wish my kids had come with instruction manuals too?!).

I struggle with OCD.  Some days, weeks, and months are better than others.  Sometimes it’s exacerbated by stress, other times it flares up out of the clear blue.  My 19 year old daughter was, after several inpatient stays where we couldn’t figure out what was wrong, finally diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, and my mom is diagnosed with schizophrenia,  and we are currently waiting on a neurology referral to find out if she has had a stroke or has an underlying neurological disorder that is causing her difficulty with movements and normal activities of daily living.  She is not yet even 60, but has just in the past few months declined significantly both mentally and physically, and my sister and I are currently sharing caregiving tasks.

I say all of this because mental illness is one thing I definitely don’t understand.  And I get that we live in a fallen, sin-filled world where sickness and disease runs rampant.  But it hurts to suffer, and to see the ones you love suffer, and you try to trust in the Lord, knowing that He has the answer, but you can’t help but wonder why He won’t give it to you.  Where is the cure?  Where is the healing?

It’s times like these when I hang onto the words that Jesus said even more.  I don’t want to let go.  I pray when struggles come that I’ll run to Him, not away (been there, done that).  Deep down in my heart of hearts, I know the Truth, even when I get discouraged.

So, in my study today, I was reading about the guy commonly known as Doubting Thomas in John chapter 20.

It says, “Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  The other disciples therefore said to Him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’

So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’

And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them.  Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said ‘Peace to you!’

Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side.  Do not be unbelieving but believing.’

And Thomas answered Him and said, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ (vv 24-29 NKJV).”

Did you catch that last sentence?  That’s what got me.  He says we are blessed when we believe when we haven’t seen.  So often, I wish Jesus were standing in front of me and I could reach out and hug Him or talk with Him face to face.  And oh how easy is it for me to say, “Well, if you’re there, why don’t You heal this problem, or why don’t You show me a sign?”

But then, the cross.  Oh, I guess He did give me a sign.  Oops.  And when I think about what He did for me on the cross, how much He’s forgiven me for, how many second, third, fourth, umpteen chances He’s given me, and the things He’s delivered me from, all of a sudden I fall silent.

I’m still left with questions.  Will there ever be a cure for the mental illness?  Will we ever be delivered?  Will it always be this hard?  What part does all of this play in God’s plan for my life?  How is He going to bring good out of this?

But when I read His words to Thomas, I realize the questions are okay.  But He’s not asking me to figure it all out.  He’s just asking me to believe.

“Father, I thank You for the hope I have through your Son Jesus.  I thank You that through Thomas’ story, I can see myself and identify.  I do believe, Lord, help me in times of my doubt and unbelief.  Please forgive me for the times I don’t trust You enough.  Please give me strength, both physically and in my walk of faith, that I would not waver, that I will be obedient even when I can’t see.  I pray for others struggling with mental or physical health issues,  Lord, that You would wrap Your arms around them with Your peace and Your presence as well, Lord.  Thank You for all that You have brought me through.  I pray that through it all You would be glorified. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

 

Daring to Ask for Help – December 7, 2015

It’s easy to feel weighed down by things that are outside of our control, which if you think about it, are, in the words of some really wise people I know in recovery, “everything beyond the tip of your nose.”

Of course, being the control freak that I am sometimes, this is not always easy to accept.  I want to put people that are hurting other people in their place and tell them to act right, or I want to fix my mom’s mental illness and make it all better, or I want to teach those drivers in rush hour traffic how to use their turn signals.  Or I want to do a better job of controlling my mouth and my thinking.  I realize I’m not even good at having self-control myself sometimes, and Lord knows I need a lot of fixing, so it’s pointless for me to think that I am qualified to fix anyone else.

So, I need help.  We need help.  The whole world needs help.  And this is where I’m reminded that the help is always there, whenever I ask.

Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:7-11 NKJV).”

It’s encouraging to know that God is always there when I have a problem, or when I’m tired, or lonely, or at a loss for what to do in a situation, or when I’m worried about something.  I can also tell Him my biggest dreams and ask Him to help make them a reality.  If it’s something that He knows is going to be good for me, I believe He is a loving Father who wants to give me the desires of my heart.

Psalm 37 says “Trust in the Lord, and do good.  Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.  Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart (vv 3-4).”

Now I’m not saying that this is espousing a “name it and claim it” theology, where God is like a magic genie giving us our every want.  But I believe it says that if we seek His will first, we can bring Him the desires of our hearts and every concern we have, and trust that He will bring about the best for our lives.

Sometimes He might even change the desires of my heart or help me to realign my priorities in line with what He wants for me instead of what I think is best.  When I think back to my teenage years when my first breakup seemed like the end of the world, and when not having a car or a driver’s license and having to *gasp* ride the bus to school seemed like the most depressing thing ever, I can laugh because I can see that I totally had no clue!

Because He’s a good Father, I know that His answer to my prayer is not always going to be yes.  It might be no, or it might be “wait.”  Much like a little kid, it’s hard for me when I don’t get my way.  But let me tell you, there are times I can thank Him now many times over that He didn’t give me what I thought I wanted at the time, particularly where dating and marriage were concerned!  My younger self was not so great at relationships, and my older self still has a lot to learn, so I’m thankful He brought me a husband who’s had the patience of Job with me, and that we’ve been able to grow up and learn together (even if it has at times involved weeping and gnashing of teeth!).

In the book of Jeremiah, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel who had been taken captive from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar.  He tells them that He would ultimately deliver them from captivity.  It says, “For thus says the Lord:  After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.  For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all Your heart (Jeremiah 29:10-13).”

Whenever I feel that things are out of my control, and even though there are things within my control (i.e. my thoughts and words) that I need to work on, it’s comforting to know that just as He was there for His people back in those days, He will be there for me, and for you.  Not only that, but that He loves us and wants to give us a future and a hope.  The biggest hope that he’s given us is Jesus Himself.  Christmas is perhaps the time of the year that we are most reminded of that Hope, but the truth is that He’s here with us every day.  And He tells us to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking, because He wants to be there for us and because He loves us, enough to step down from His heavenly home, endure this world, the cold stable, the cross and all, and give up His earthly life so that we could have forgiveness of our sins and abundant life.

We can take those things over which we feel powerless to a loving Father and know that He is able to help.  Who can fix something best?  The One who made it.

“Father, I thank You that You are my ever-present help.  Please help me to seek You when I don’t know what to do, and to seek You first before I go off and try to fix things on my own.  Help us to give You our hopes, dreams, fears, worries, the whole nine yards, Lord, knowing that You know us even better than we know us, for You are our creator.  I thank You that because of Jesus, we can call you Abba Father.  Help us to commit our lives to You, and may we all know the Hope that we have in Jesus’ great gift of salvation, and that through Him we know how good You are and how much You love us.  Help us to remember this today and every day.  Strengthen our faith, Lord, and help us to walk without fear of what we can’t control.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

To Be Understood – November 21, 2015

Have you ever felt misunderstood?  I have many times.  Perhaps you struggle to get your parents, or your child, or your spouse to understand where you’re coming from.  Or maybe you and a co-worker have different ideas of how to accomplish the same task, and just can’t make those ideas mesh.  Or you have a stained past and you feel that people can’t look past that to see what God is doing in your life right now.  Maybe someone in your life has caused you pain or anguish, and they wish to avoid discussion on the matter or minimize your feelings rather than take responsibility for their actions.

Sometimes you just throw your hands up and say, “No one gets it!  No one understands!”  Ah, but there’s good news.  God’s Word is full of stories of hope and redemption, and yes, stories of complicated relationships, probably the most complicated of which is the one between God and His people, us.

Beginning in John 6:60, right after Jesus has finished explaining that He is the Bread of Life, the disciples are confused. In verse 57-58, Jesus says, “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.  This is the bread which came down from heaven, not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead.  He who eats this bread will live forever.”

I can’t say I blame the disciples for being confused at this point.  After all, I bet they were thinking, “Surely He can’t really be talking about eating His flesh?  What?!”  Yet, let’s not forget that they’d already seen Him feed the crowd of five-thousand people by multiplying just five loaves of bread and two-fishes, and walk on water while commanding the wind and the waves to die down (and the wind and the waves listened!).  They’d been around Jesus enough to know that He often spoke using parables and using phrases which alluded to the spiritual rather than just the material.

The passage continues, “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’

When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, ‘Does this offend you?  What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.’

For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.  And He said, ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.’  From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.  Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’

But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  And we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God?’

Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?’  He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve. (John 6:60-71 NKJV).”

Jesus knows exactly what it’s like to feel misunderstood.  All that time that His disciples had been with Him, listening to His teachings, witnessing all of the miracles that had been performed, and still they didn’t understand that He was the Bread and Blood of Life – the One who would pour out His flesh and blood on the cross to offer humanity the gift of salvation and atonement one and for all for their sins.  Some understood and believed that He was the Messiah, but verse 66 says that many of them walked away.  In verse 67, He is speaking just to the twelve – and even one of them was destined to betray Him!

As you read on in John 7:5, the Word says, “For even His brothers did not believe in Him.”

Because He knows what it’s like to feel abandoned, misunderstood, hurt, betrayed by family, friends, enemies, acquaintances, and all of the above, we can be confident that we’re not alone or unique when we feel that way. Because of who He is and because He’s walked in our shoes, He is able to provide immeasurable comfort to us during those times.

As I stated earlier, I think the most complicated relationship that the Bible speaks of (and it talks about some real doozies!) is between God and His people as a whole.  It’s because even today we often fail to understand that God is good.  The enemy would have us believe that God has abandoned us when we feel misunderstood, that we’re all alone, that nothing good can possibly come out of our current situation, or he would have us curse God, or walk away, just as those multitudes of disciples did.

Sometimes we even start thinking that God doesn’t understand us, but passages like this one prove that He does.

There have been times in my life where I’ve felt let down, or like I couldn’t depend on people to do what they said they would do, even those close to me.  (And I know at various times in my life I’ve also been the unreliable one!).  Later in Jesus’ story, while He is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that He is about to be arrested and then crucified, Jesus asked His faithful disciples to watch and pray with Him.  I know those guys had the best of intentions (don’t we usually, too??), but all of them, all of them!, fell asleep.  Jesus came back and said in essence, “You guys couldn’t watch with me for just one hour?”

This reminds me of times when I ask my kids to do a simple task, say, something like, “Before you leave for school, please turn on the dishwasher.”  Or when I ask my husband, “Can you please take out the trash before you go to bed?”  And then they forget, and I’m thinking, “Couldn’t you just do one simple thing that I asked?!”

Of course, I know they feel the same when they say things like, “Mom, can you sign this before I leave for school?” or, “Sweetie, don’t forget to _____ (pay the bill, get milk from the store, throw the laundry from the washer into the dryer, etc.) and then I turn around and forget too.

It’s comforting to know that Jesus understands.  And that He offers grace even when we do forget, or mess up, or behave childishly.  It’s quite an example for us to follow, and one that we can’t follow without His help.  Yet, with Him and through Him all things are possible.

You see, by offering us comfort in the times where we feel misunderstood, and giving us grace, He enables (and empowers) us to extend grace and forgiveness to others.  Then, when we are truly able to offer those things to others, we find peace.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for Your grace, understanding and forgiveness.  I’m so glad that there is nothing I could possibly go through that You can’t understand and identify with.  You not only created us, but You lived and walked this earth too, and had the same struggles we do.  Help us to find comfort in knowing this, and knowing that we are always understood by You.  Help us to understand Your purposes for our lives, and to rely upon Your strength and power to do Your will.  Help us also to extend grace and forgiveness to others when we feel that they have misunderstood or wronged us, Lord, and show us through Your word what that looks like.  I pray that we will seek to understand more about others, and that we will be emboldened to share the good news of Your salvation with them.  Thank You for Your precious love – may we give You the honor and glory in our lives in all that we do.  In Jesus name, Amen.”