Eye-Blinking Change


It’s been thirty years since Stephen Covey wrote his paradigm-shifting self-help book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.’ Its popularity exposes the broad consciousness we humans have for personal development. We are built for change. The right kind of change takes us from irrational to thoughtful thinkers, from immature to wise decision-makers, from dependent relationships to independence and finally interdependence within a community. Covey’s concepts have sweeping relevance to living effective lives.

If the full extent and potential of our lives was the eighty-some year span allotted each of us on this earth, those seven habits would be enough. But if the main theme and thread running through the Bible is true, our earthly potential is only the beginning of who we may ultimately become. It’s an alchemy accomplished by the most controversial historical figure ever to have walked this earth. Through His perfectly-lived life, debt-paying death, and death-defying resurrection, Jesus offers something immense to you and me. He gives us the opportunity to be changed into being (somehow) like Him.

C.S. Lewis puts it like this: “Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else…God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man…It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature. Of course, once it has got its wings, it will soar over fences which could never have been jumped and thus beat the natural horse at its own game” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

How does this beyond-remarkable transformation occur? It happens like all other lesser changes in our lives—four simple elements that move us from pedestrian creatures to winged Pegasuses: It’s as easy and difficult as to rightly see, think, feel, and do.

Seeing: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2). It’s not our physical eyes we are using here—it’s a deeper vision we need to exercise. Making a priority of informing ourselves of the truth of God’s existence and of His relevance to our lives must be a moment-by-moment event. It means reading His Word with a view to seeing Christ through every genre expressed in the Bible so that we begin to see Him for who He is. And one day, “when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2).

Thinking: “(W)hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Jesus epitomizes the best of these values. Aligning the myriad of choices we make each day with Jesus’ commands and exhortations builds a mind that is becoming incrementally more Christlike.

Feeling: “I will give them an undivided heart,” promises God, “and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). Our emotions are designed to follow on the heels of our thinking, giving us impetus to act cohesively with our understanding of things. We see, then we think about what we’ve seen, and then we feel motivated to act. Hearts of stone are disabled emotions, incapable of moving us to the kind of actions God designed us to participate in. One of the ways God changes us is to put into our hearts a joy of praising Him. This leads us to actions we would neither have thought of nor dared to do before.

Doing: “He has showed you, O man (and woman), what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Justice, mercy, and a humble walk—these are high standards. We fail daily. So we go back to seeing, and from there to thinking, and so on. It’s how change happens, little by little.

But we all know things are never as easy to do as they appear on paper. We’ve all done more than our share of failed seeing, thinking feeling and doing. That’s why we’re given the key to this amazing process in the Apostle Paul’s first century letter to a group of early Christ-followers.

“Therefore, my dear friends…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12,13).

Who works out this amazing transformation? You do, yes. But God does too. It’s a coalition, a collaboration on a supernatural project, a union of wills. It’s like glue that must have equal parts of catalyst and resin to create a form-setting epoxy—not one or the other, but both. So let’s resolve to be part of this project with God. Let’s see if we don’t eventually—in time for eternity—become eye-blinkingly changed.


The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm, Following Jesus: Conclusion


“Then they came to Jericho.” The gospel writer Mark concludes his tenth chapter by relating Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem by way of Jericho. It’s no coincidence. Jesus has been illustrating for His followers the impossibility of humankind’s journey toward God without divine intervention. And now here is Jericho—Jericho, the city of impossible barriers.

The wall surrounding the Jericho of a millennium before Jesus’ time had been at least 14 metres high. It had presented an impossible barrier to anyone wanting to enter Canaan by that route. The inhabitants of the walled city were healthy, wealthy, and rather protective of their impossible barrier. Yet, as the story—and the Afro-American spiritual—goes, that barrier “came a tumblin’ down!” God had required His people to trust Him and to follow His instructions in order for the barrier to crumble.

But this was now Jericho of more than a millennium later. The city had been rebuilt a number of times. The Roman Empire owned it now, and Jesus was merely passing through its cobbled streets enroute to Jerusalem. His disciples and a large crowd surrounded Him, trying to hear a word from this unusual Rabbi.

A blind beggar sat by the roadside that day. From his perspective a crowd was a good thing: more opportunity to coax sympathetic passersby to contribute to his empty bowl. There might be enough to buy himself a proper meal if the crowd was generous. But even as the coins clattered into his bowl, Bartimaeus heard a name coming from the lips of many of the people; “Jesus.” Was this the reason for the throng? He had heard of the miracle-working man who had walked on water, healed the sick, and brought mad-men back to their senses. Many said these stories were impossible, but were they?

“Jesus, Son of David,” Bartimaeus began shouting, “have mercy on me!”

“Shut up, old man!” the nearest travelers hissed as they dropped their coins into his dish.

“Son of David,” Bartimaeus persisted, “have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped.

And in that moment, the sound of old Jericho’s impossible walls beginning to crumble echoed in Bartimaeus’ ears. Would Jesus help a blind begging nobody like him?

“Call him,” Jesus commanded one of His closest followers.

“So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road” (Mark 10:49-52).

One man’s impossible barrier was demolished that day. The obstacle that had hounded this poor beggar was suddenly removed at a word from Jesus. Bartimaeus’ entire identity was transformed by that word, and he was free to do…anything now. Bartimaeus could have found his way home, taken up the family business, become a wealthy man, and built a high wall around his home and business. Never again would he be humiliated by self-important almsgivers. But instead, we’re told, he followed Jesus.

None of the gospel writers tell us any more about Bartimaeus. We’re left to our imaginations in his regard. We know he followed Jesus, and that is enough. We know Bartimaeus’ faith was in some way a part of the alchemy that Jesus used to break down this man’s most restricting barrier. And we know Bartimaeus took the opportunity to ally himself with Jesus. Perhaps that is all we need to know.

Maybe it makes our own personal stories more able to parallel Bartimaeus’. We all have barriers that keep us from following Jesus. Many of us have heard of things that have even turned us off of religion for good. But Jesus makes sure He passes every person’s way. Everyone gets the opportunity to call out to Him personally. Everyone with an ear open to hear Him has the chance to ignore the crowd, get past the distractions of their own barriers, and come to Him when He calls. And in that moment, with not much more than a micron of faith, we each have the opportunity to entrust ourselves to Him, to let Him heal us in His own way, to enable us to follow Him. The impossible paradigm is no longer impossible because Jesus calls us. It is His voice, His redeeming work, His limitless life that gives us what we truly need: relationship with Him. The impossible has become possible.

(Photo Credit: By RichTea, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13637163)

Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 10



People and their perspectives change. Our favourite story characters are those whose names begin as synonyms of fear, or sorrow, or selfishness, but are transformed to become heartwarmingly brave, or joyful, or generous. Much Afraid, the main character in the somewhat obscure allegorical novel ‘Hind’s Feet on High Places’ embodies this type of character. She must travel with her unchosen companions Sorrow and Suffering, rejecting the insinuations of her daunting enemy Craven Fear, as she follows the call of the Shepherd. Eventually she receives her new name, Grace and Glory as do her companions, now renamed Joy and Peace. These are no euphemisms. Each transformation of character represents a complete shift in perspective. Each person becomes as unlike his or her earlier self as an awakening is from a dream.

In Heth, the eighth stanza of Psalm 119, something similar, perhaps even grander is happening. Centred in the middle of the stanza, the phrase “Though the wicked bind me with ropes…” gives us a picture of our natural lives. Conflict, tension, fear, perhaps even hatred and revenge are our natural reactions when we have any sense of bondage in life. This is why as children we each learned to use the word “No!” so powerfully. But the psalmist sees something astounding happening in his life when he invites God into it: everything becomes grace and glory.

“You are my portion, O LORD; I have promised to obey your words. / I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise. / I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. / I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands. / Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law. / At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws. / I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts. / The earth is filled with your love, O LORD; teach me your decrees” (Psalm 119:57-64).

Questions help us get to the heart of any exploration of God’s Word—help us focus on discovering what is going on. Three questions arise after reading this section of the psalm, questions about the psalmist, about God, and about us: What is happening here to the psalmist, in what way is God central to what is happening, and why is it relevant to us?

Firstly, we see the psalmist is speaking directly to God. It’s a prayer of sorts, a prayer in which the psalmist is reiterating a covenant in which he and God are involved. He reminds God of His promise (“to be gracious to me”), and he pairs it with his own promise back to God (“to obey your words…(to) consider my ways and (to) tur(n) my steps….(to) not forget your law”). We notice that the psalmist is not being mercenary here; he’s not saying, ‘Look here, God, I’ll obey your rules but in return you have to give me something.’ No, it’s very different than that. The psalmist is observing that God is the initiator of a relationship described by love: “The earth is filled with your love, O LORD;” the psalmist is doing nothing more nor less than responding to that love. It’s not the psalmist saying, ‘I’ve worked for you all these years, now I want my pay, my inheritance.’ Rather, he is affirming—as loving relationships do—‘It’s you that I love; not what you can do for me, just you.’ We hear that in the very first verse (“You are my portion, O LORD”).

Secondly, we see Jesus mirrored—or better yet hologrammed—into the psalm as the Great Psalmist Himself. Who more than Jesus considers the Father His portion, who commits Himself to obeying the Father’s will with such complete success? Who alone can truly say, “I have sought (the Father’s) face with all my heart”? And who is the greatest “friend to all who fear (God)”? Which leads us to our third consideration.

How is this all relevant to us? The psalmist has tried his best, but really, he couldn’t obey God as fully as he wanted to. The old sin nature was too ingrained in him to be as perfect a promise-keeper as he would have hoped. But Jesus is the perfect promise-keeper; He is the truly wholehearted One; He is the friend of sinners; His perfect sacrifice made the way to deal with our sin nature in a way that frees us to truly turn our hearts and steps toward following God’s heart and will and covenant with us. As Timothy Keller says, in Jesus we go from “fighting a war we cannot win to fighting a war we cannot lose.”

Only through Jesus can we find the transformation of our lives that renames us from Much Afraid (or Much Unreliable, or Much Hurt, or whatever other identity with which we have struggled) to Grace and Glory. God’s grace and glory works itself into and out through our lives in a way the psalmist could only imagine. Thank God we are on this side of Christ’s great redeeming work.

(Illustration Credit: Painting by Daniel Gerhartz)



The Light of the World

“Jesus,” claimed Mikhail Gorbachev, “was the first socialist;” “Christ,” claimed Vincent van Gogh, was “a greater artist than all other artists;” “The Lord,” penned Adolf Hitler, “(advanced a) terrific…fight for the world;” and “Jesus,” claimed Albert Einstein, “is too colossal for the pen of phrase-mongers.” The list goes on. Those who have heard of Jesus have formed opinions about Him that run the gamut. Are they right? How do we know?

The Gospels give us the clearest picture of who Jesus is. In particular, the last forty-seven verses of John chapter eight give us a window into who this unique man claimed Himself to be. These claims tell us how He Himself viewed His identity and purpose. As a primary source, this chapter gives us a firsthand understanding of the true persona of Jesus without the distortions—well-meaning though they may be—of individuals who claim to know something about Him. So, who is Jesus?

I am the light of the world,” begins Jesus (John 8:12). “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

The central theme of the Bible describes a conflict between goodness (describing God) and evil (describing all that rebels against God) occurring in the spiritual realm, which has infected and influenced humanity and the material world. The concept of ‘light’ used in the Bible characterizes the former, and ‘darkness’ symbolizes the latter.

Jesus not only associates Himself with the light side of this conflict, He claims to be the light. The phrase “I am the light” is a thinly veiled self-description of Deity. Further, Jesus makes a bold claim—even a promise—that those who follow Him will access complete immunity from the darkness of rebellion against God. Instead, followers of Jesus will have the Creator of life as their personal protector and moral guide in this life, and enjoy eternal life to come.

To “never walk in darkness” may remind us of God’s historical judgment upon the enslaving nation of Egypt c.1500 B.C. when, through His representative Moses, God imposed a three-day plague of darkness, while the Israelites continued to experience the usual diurnal rhythms in the communities in which they lived. Later, as the Israelites journeyed on their exodus from Egypt, God is described as going ahead of the procession “in a pillar of fire by night to give them light” (Exodus 13:21).

Like all peoples then and now, though, the Israelites were unable to maintain God’s high standards for the light of moral goodness. In spite of God’s provision of a leader, a Law, and a supernatural phenomenon to guide them, the people failed repeatedly and miserably to experience real personal transformation. The core human problem of the ubiquitous sinful human nature remained a barrier to the goal of moral excellence God designed all people to have.

Jesus’ reintroduction of the light and darkness issue emphasizes and foreshadows His long-planned solution to the problem: through Jesus’ redeeming self-sacrifice on the cross, his forgiveness and subsequent indwelling of any who would become His followers, the new children of God will never again walk in darkness. Jesus claims His rightful role as the Source of light and invites His listeners to respond as ransomed new creations with ever-increasing characteristics of light. This invitation exists for all people today. We may even say this is the core task of each human being: first, to hear Jesus’ claim to be the source of all that is true and good, and secondly, that we turn from the inborn tendency toward moral rebellion and darkness, choosing rather to entrust our transformation to Jesus, the light of the world.


(Photo Credit: By United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang – This Image was released by the United States Air Force with the ID 050118-F-3488S-003 (next).This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. See Commons:Licensing for more information. http://www.af.mil/weekinphotos/wipgallery.asp?week=97&idx=9 (Full Image), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1234235




I saw the first clue that Walter understood me when he nudged the bell hanging from the laundry room door. It was not a well-coordinated nudge; the bell barely jangled. But I happened to be with Walter, and I saw in that unsophisticated action a puppy that was beginning to think like me.

From birth, this golden bundle of energy was being raised to become a guide dog for a blind or autistic person. As long as he continued to think like a puppy, though, that goal would be unattainable. He needed to think like me. So when Walter allowed himself to be moved toward the door, his nose carefully directed to bump against the bell dozens of times a day prior to going outside, Walter was in the process of an amazing transformation.

The bell-ringing became the first of many incredible and useful tasks Walter would learn while he was with us. When he went on to his next level of training some eighteen months later, he was no ordinary dog.

I thought of that when I read these words today from the book of Romans: “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Rom.11:34).

Good question. Who could know the mind of the sovereign and eternal Creator? – surely not us, mere mortal bundles of energy and matter. And yet, somehow, strangely, God wants to do something incredible in and through us. He wants to transform us so that we will be able to think like Him. Don’t believe me?

Read on. “Take your everyday ordinary life,” says the apostle Paul in The Message version of Romans 12:1,2, “– your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

When we start living every aspect of our everyday lives for God, we begin to foster habits that make us think differently. As we become more aware of recurring themes that show up in those actions – themes like: forgiving people who have hurt us, bringing good into others’ lives, being thankful for Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross – we begin to think like God. We’re on the same wavelength. We get why He sets certain goals and boundaries for our lives.

God knows what we are capable of, if only our thinking would change. He wants to enable us to live abundant and flourishing lives, lives only possible when we think like Him. He is present with us, right here deep inside and all around us, guiding us to speak and move and think in ways that transform us. It’s the everyday miracle God loves to do with people.

Walter and his litter mates have gone on to become amazing guide dogs for various people. They help their clients cross streets and descend escalators; they move them safely through crowded sidewalks and retrieve dropped keys and forgotten wallets. Every extraordinary act they accomplish is because they, as puppies, learned to behave and think like their masters.

So the answer to the question, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” is simple: Those who are in the process of having a change of mind. Does that describe you?



        Dry. Lifeless. Barren. Deserts sustain their dubious distinction based on their receipt of minimal rainfall. Lack of camouflaging foliage displays clearly every rise and fall, plain and canyon of terrain. We marvel that any creature can exist in the stark ecosystem of deserts.

Life can be like that. Sometimes we feel dry and barren, moving through each day’s routines, numb to beauty and parched in spirit. If we halt for a moment our feverish pursuit of activities that fill our waking moments we find, like grains of sand, they slip between our fingers; nothing of substance is left. Nothing remains to camouflage our emptiness.

Imagine a mist, a growing, spreading, towering cloud forming over some desert. Skies darken; the scorching sun is suddenly blocked. Then drops of unknown rain begin to fall. Faster and faster they drop until it’s a torrent, a wall of water pouring down. At first the sunbaked ground seems to repel the strange element, but soon the water finds the cracks and fissures in the hard earth and seeps its way in. As suddenly as it began, the storm stops and the clouds dissipate. The air is fresh. Puddles are swallowed by softened thirsty sand. Something else is about to happen. Life in the desert is about to awaken. Creatures are about to surface and sprouts; buds and blossoms are waiting to burst open. Transformation is at hand.

Earth’s physical deserts illustrate for us God’s great plan of transforming each of us. The ancient Hebrew sage and prophet Isaiah penned a beautiful description of God’s work. The lives of those, the “redeemed”, who will admit their need will be like deserts, “parched land”, gladdened by the rain of God’s thirst-quenching Spirit. Listen:


Isaiah 35


The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

Like a crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;

they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.


Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;

say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come,

he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”


Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.

Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.

The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.

In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.


And a highway will be there; It will be called the Way of Holiness.

The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way;

wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there,

nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there.

But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return.

They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.

Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.


The great Redeemer loves to rework hopeless situations into oases of splendor. Rich with contrasts, Isaiah describes lives lifted from dry subsistence to lush and joyful productivity. He calls it the “Way of Holiness”, a direct reference to God’s own holy nature. This way of living consists of a ceaseless stance of openness toward God. It is a face-to-heaven, hands open attitude of constant expectation. God is the giver; we are the happy recipients.

Isaiah makes exceedingly clear, though, that some things must go. This is not an easy grace, an eclectic collection of feel-good fantasies.

Fear must go. We may not entertain the faithless practice of worry. God is greater in goodness than any evil we fear. He will make all things right in His time.

Blindness must go. We must open our eyes to the presence of God here and now every moment. No longer may we allow ourselves to be deceived by the pride and selfishness that sees all revolving around self. The truth of God’s presence is the light we need to see His centrality in our existence.

Lack of forgiveness must go. It is the haunt of jackals in the recesses of our memories. It destroys the relationships God wants to be productive. We may not cling to past hurts of being wronged. Only God has the wisdom to know where vengeance is the rightful response.

Uncleanness must go. Only those washed by the redeeming work of Jesus may participate in this transformation. This world’s ideas of immortality through empty pleasure or cosmic unity are but foolish thoughts. More than foolish, rejecting God’s chosen Redeemer is wickedness itself. That is a dead end route and has no part in God’s highway.

And sorrow must go. Yes, there is a place for grieving life’s trials, but we must not give in to hopelessness. The overwhelming awareness of God’s goodness swallows up every sigh. Everything from songs of praise to awe-filled prayers of silent thankfulness fills our wondering souls.

God’s blessing is here and now. Yes, we long for heaven but God’s eternal kingdom is at work in us now, if we will receive it. Today, God’s Spirit is raining down thirst-quenching, healing, living water for you and me. We must let it seep into our souls, softening the crust life’s troubles have baked solid. Drink it up. Soak it in. Something is about to happen. Transformation is at hand.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Yummifruitbat)


Skeleton in the Closet


We all have a skeleton in the closet. We all know something about ourselves we feel is abnormal or handicapping, socially awkward or even shameful. We try to hide it, but occasionally the door cracks open a bit and someone catches a glimpse of what’s inside. We fear disclosure will bring rejection. It was like that for the unnamed man in John nine.

Sitting in the Palestinian dust as he had done all his life, feeling the hot sun on his face, he was listening. He was always listening; he had developed the fine art of listening through much practice. This day, he heard sandal-clad footsteps drawing nearer and picked up the subdued comments he knew almost by heart. Key words like “born blind” and “sinned” were often words he heard whispered from passers-by. You’d think they’d know he wasn’t deaf. Surprisingly, the footsteps stopped before him and a warm hand settled on his shoulder. The voice spoke firmly.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” came the reply. “But this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

With these words, the blind man’s closet door was flung wide open and the stinking skeleton of guilt he had tried to hide all his life evaporated, falling like flakes of dust to the ground.

Jesus is in the habit of flinging closet doors open. It’s not like He can’t see into them anyway. Yet, sometimes we find ourselves setting a well-placed heel against the corner of the door, wishing He would go bother someone else. We tell ourselves we don’t need His prying eyes in every corner of our lives. He respects that. He never forces His way into a life that is truly opposed to Him. But give Him an inch and He will take a mile of closet-cleaning opportunity, working God’s light into the darkest corners of our souls. Where it will end only God knows. But where it begins is with a prayer.

The blind man was not passive in his interchange with Jesus. It began with a prayer. It had to. He had plenty of time for it, sitting there in the hot sun day after day, waiting for alms from passers-by. He had time to think upon the ‘why’ of his life-long disability, and to pray for help. He had probably been praying for help for years, and this day, it came.

How about us? How long have we been praying for help, for healing, for transformation? How long have we been asking ‘why’, waiting for an answer? We might be blind to His behind-the-scenes working in our lives, but Jesus is near. His touch is on our shoulder and His mighty voice is proclaiming, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in your life.” Imagine that: God displaying His amazing workmanship in our lives, muddied and impaired though they be.

It will mean giving up the habit of hiding anything from Him, and it will mean transformation. His touch does that because He wants to display in us His lifework.  I’m beginning to believe it. Do you?