Keeping Your Eye Off the Ball!

Keeping Your Eye Off the Ball!

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Hebrews 11:1

               We are a visual people.   How great is the gift of sight…and how debilitating is our reliance upon it.  We live in a world in which we allow that which is seen to govern our thoughts, our desires, our “truths”, our judgments, and our beliefs.  We see and so we assume; we assume and so we expect; we expect and so we act; we act and so others see.  It’s human nature …and that, in itself, leaves us with two strikes against us before the first pitch.  Human, strike one.  Nature, strike two.

We find our earliest batters playing at “The Garden” more than 6,000 years ago.  First to bat was Eve.  She, in true “pre-fallen” female fashion, showed up early for the game…to make sure everything was in order.  Then, with time on her hands, she decided to get in a little extra batting practice, but what could she swing at?  Hmmm…if only there was something firm, hand-sized, and partially spherical lying (or hanging) around.  She spotted a pinecone; too fragile.  Then, she glanced at some grapes; too splattery.  The pomegranate…that might work…but then, from far out in leftfield a vendor suggested another fruit.  It appeared to be the perfect “bet I can hit it a mile!” fruit.  And, in her humanness, she reached for it…strike one; and because nature appeared to look so good, she tasted it…strike two.

Human nature.  We have it; we are it.  And, while all of our senses can work against us, I think the sense of sight trips us up more than any other.  God knows we need to keep an eye on our vision and He warns us to be careful of what we see:  “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.” (Matt. 5:29); of how we see:  “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3); and of why we see:  “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (I Cor. 13:12).

Another example of man’s faulty reliance upon sight is found in Exodus 32.  The ballpark, Mount Sinai; the inning, bottom of the ninth; the batter, Aaron (though he’s a stand-in for the whole Israelite team).  The game has been postponed because the coach is absent.  Well, actually, he’s having a meeting with the team’s Owner somewhere on Mount Sinai.  But as the players wait, as they circle the outfield longing to hear the crack of the bat, the smack of a catch, the cheers of the crowd, and longing to smell the aroma of popped manna, it’s what they don’t see that lands them in foul territory.  Until a couple weeks ago, Moses had been within view…along with Jehovah.  Now, Moses’ presence was missing and the Pillar of Cloud/Fire hovered over the mountain instead of in front of them.  For months, the people had seen God work through Moses.  They saw His partiality through the ten plagues; they saw His power through the parting of the Red Sea; they saw His provision through the manna, and they saw His protection through the Pillar of Cloud (by day) and the Pillar of Fire (by night) that led them through the wilderness.  There was always a place for their eyes to land; a fixed point to keep them steady in a world that was spinning wildly. They wanted something tangible, something visible.  But, with nowhere to cast their vision, they followed their human nature and cast a golden calf.  It seemed like a good idea.  The calf was visible; it had substance, it had weight, it cast a shadow (oh, what a shadow it cast!), it was…present…it was…real.  And, because they saw no harm in what they had done, they looked at the calf and had a feast unto the LORD (Ex. 32:5).

In the past, I’ve had a hard time understanding why the children of Israel asked for an object to worship.  After all, at this point, they hadn’t been in the wilderness all that long (comparatively speaking…though a three month camping trip would leave most of us with a short supply of reason and an overabundance of human nature) and they had seen such amazing sights…how could they become excited over a golden calf?  But then four words jumped out at me and I knew, and I understood:  “feast unto the LORD”.  In verse 4 of Exodus 32, Aaron presents the golden calf as a god, little g; in verse 5 of the same chapter he says the next day they will have a feast unto the LORD, all caps.  Little g and big G just sentences apart…just thoughts apart…just innings apart?  How could it be?  But then I thought about our human nature and our desire to trust in the seen more than in the unseen and I understood.  It became clear because I too want a God I can see…I gaze upon…I can, dare I say, move about.  Don’t we all?  Aren’t we all prone to trust in the seen more than the unseen, believe in the image more than the substance, worship the calf more than the Creator?  Amazing.  Audacious.  Autonomous.  Absurd.  Yet, that’s what we do when we allow our human eyes to look with their earthly nature.  We scan, and gaze, and peer; we assess, and assume, and assert.  We think we see so we follow our thoughts until we cast our own vision, until we cast our own calf.  Batter up…batter out.

So how do we overcome this visual and spiritual disparity?  How do we hit the ball out of the park with only one swing at bat?  We close our eyes.  We step up to the plate, raise the bat, pull our arms back…and we close our eyes.  Then, with everything in us, we swing.  Crack!  We don’t have to drop the bat because the force of the impact has knocked it out of our hands.  We open our eyes and we run, and run, and run…all the way Home.

   Romans 10:17 tells us that “faith comes by hearing”; not by seeing…but by hearing.  Hebrews 11:1 reminds us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”   In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prays that the “eyes of [our] hearts may be opened that [we] may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”  In John 20:29, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” to which I echo the words spoken in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”  (All italicized phrases are mine.)  So we learn that God teaches us to listen with our ears and to look with our hearts for He makes Himself known through our hearing, He makes Himself visible through our hoping, and He makes Himself available through our believing. Poor eyesight?  Not a problem.  Blind as a bat…or as a batter?  Even better!  All we need to see, spiritually speaking, is the substance, not the form.  God’s substance is holiness, love, mercy, and grace.  These attributes can’t be seen unless they are done, so we see God in these qualities and through these qualities as He reveals His substance, though not His form.

It’s game day.  The stadium is packed, the players are in place, and it’s your turn to bat.  You have two strikes against you, but that’s okay.  You only need one pitch, one swing, one hit.  So close your eyes and swing…and run, and run, and run…all the way Home, where your faith will become sight and you will know [and see], just as you are known [and have been seen], (I Cor. 13:12).                                                                                                home run


The (Ultimate) Giver

The (Ultimate) Giver

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  Romans 8:24-25

               There is a book written by Lois Lowry entitled The Giver whose scripted “truths” often come to mind when I’m reading certain Biblical truthsIt has an interesting story line and if you like a plot that is layered with inference and symbolism, then you are likely to enjoy this book.  The setting of the story is a utopian society in a futuristic world.  Within these “perfect” communities, efficiency is valued over emotions and the uncertainties that erupt from personal choice are replaced with the assurances that emanate from prescribed control.  Every part of life is calculated, contrived, and contained.  There are no surprises.  There is no supposing.  Everything is mapped out and the course is navigated accordingly.  No mistakes, no mishaps, no mayhem; only perfect peace in a perfect society.  But, since control is sometimes hard to…well…control, there is a trap door just in case. Just in case there is a surprise, just in case something doesn’t go according to Plan A, there is a Plan B…or, more accurately, a Plan G.  Enter the Giver. 

               In this perfectly programmed community, the Giver is the one person who still has knowledge of the world as it used to be; he alone holds the memories of ages past so that history may stay historical and never again repeat itself.  He is known as the Giver because not only has he been given all the memories of the past, but in turn he will give these recollections to another; he, the Giver, will pour all he knows into the mind of a chosen Receiver who will eventually become the next Giver…and so on.  My point in all of this is to present the context from which one element in the story will be extracted:  the element of “seeing beyond”.  In this fictional story, a person can only become the Receiver if certain capabilities are evident.  One of these is the ability to “see beyond”.  In a world where people have been told what to see and how to see it, blindness has shrouded the eyes of those who have ceased to look…ceased to observe…ceased to perceive.  But, if in the midst of this greyness, one dares to see color…one dares to “see beyond”…to him is given all the shades that others can’t see and all the sights that others won’t know.  It’s a rare gift in this futuristic utopian society and it’s a rare gift in our current very unutopian world.  But, I believe it’s a gift we can actually receive because I think it’s a gift God wants us to have, I just think He calls it by a different name.  In God’s vocabulary bank, I believe the term for the ability to “see beyond” is hope.

In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prays that God will open the eyes of believers’ hearts that they may “see the hope of His calling,” and in 2 Cor. 4:18 he reminds us to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  This ability to have hope is nothing more than God granting us the capacity to “see beyond”.  Because of hope, we can see beyond our current circumstance, around our present obstacle, and through our temporary darkness.  With hope, we learn to see not with our eyes but with our hearts; in hope we are forced to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) and in that place…in that place where eyes fail but vision flourishes…we look to the One who sees us and guides us with His eye.

Have you ever seen someone looking intently at something and, out of curiosity, your eyes follow their gaze as you try to see what they see?  That’s what I picture when I read Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go: I will guide you with my eye.”  I imagine myself looking up to God and then following the direction of His gaze and, though I can’t see what He sees, I find comfort in knowing that He is looking at something!  His eyes aren’t closed…they’re looking ahead, they’re looking out, they’re seeing beyond…they’re providing hope

C. S. Lewis wrote about hope. Here is how he described man’s desire to “see beyond”:

Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know  that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.”

 “We do not want to merely “see” beauty–though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

C. S. Lewis knew we all have this longing, this hope untapped and perhaps unlabeled. It’s how God wired us so that, until we see Him face to face, we are ever wanting to see beyond this temporary world and into our eternal home. It’s where our faith is grown; “faith [which] is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1).  And, until our vision is complete and our faith becomes sight, what are we to do?  Where are we to look?  To El Roi, the God-Who-Sees.  In Genesis 16:13, Hagar’s plight is recorded.  When she was unable to see beyond her circumstances, she cried out and God showed up to guide her with His eye.  He spoke words that enabled her to see beyond her present situation; He gave her hope.  This is the first place in Scripture where God is referred to as El Roi, which means “The God Who Sees”.  In some places, this name is expanded to “The God Who Sees…me.”  I like them both; I need the God who looks outward and sees everything…and I need the God who looks downward and sees me.  When my path is too curved to “see beyond” the next bend, I can fix my eyes (and my hope) upon the One who sees everything.  When I feel invisible and shrouded in uncertainty, I can find comfort in knowing that El Roi always has His eyes upon me.  Is there a greater source of hope?  Is there a better way to “see beyond”?

Lois Lowry wrote about the ability to “see beyond” in The Giver but it pales in comparison to what God wrote about hope in the Old and New Testament.  Surely we have been given the capacity to see beyond our present life and into the life that is yet to come; the real life…the one that holds colors we have never seen but longingly imagine.  It’s the hope of all saints; it’s the hope of salvation; it’s the hope that sees…“as yet through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:  now I know in part; but then I shall know even as also I am know.”  (I Cor. 13:12).  For then, I shall finally “see beyond ”.

eye has not seen

Flat Stanley…Flat Christian?

Flat Stanley…Flat Christian?

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Hebrews 11:1

        Have you ever heard of the book, Flat Stanley?  It’s an oldie but goodie.  Though first published in 1964, it’s still widely read today…but mainly by second and third graders!  It’s a story about a boy whose bulletin board falls on him during the night and, though he didn’t flat line…he did flatten.  At first it seems like a terrible fate, but Stanley soon discovers the benefits of his, well, shallowness.  He can now go places that were formerly off-limits, like under closed doors, through sidewalk grates, and into the exhibits at the art museum.  But before long, Stanley wishes to return to his former, fuller, self.  And, with the aid of an air pump, that’s just what happens.  The story line is a perfect setup for creative writing because it poses the question, “What if you were flat?” What if indeed.  What if I were a Flat Kris…or, worse yet…a Flat Christian?

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