The Tragedy of Spiritual Blindness...
Recently, I was chatting with my kids what it would be like to be blind, not able to see. The inability to see the beauty of creation and the faces of those we love. One of my kids noted that it would probably be preferable if someone was born blind, rather than if they went blind. I doubt anyone would ask to be blind. I think most would agree that blindness is especially tragic, whether it is a progressive deterioration or being blind from birth.
But what is even more tragic to the human condition is that of spiritual blindness. Spiritual blindness is the willful inability to see the truth of God and the need of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The world we live in today stresses individual autonomy. They say, “Hey! My life is good...I don’t need God.”In reality they do not see themselves as sinners and so they are blind to their need of a Saviour. Sometimes this can be an intellectual, skeptical ignorance, questioning and maybe even possibly knowing the truth but still stubbornly refusing to accept it. Other times it is simply just seeing Jesus as irrelevant and a “non-essential” for one’s life. Whatever the cause of spiritual blindness, it has eternal consequences.
The Bible describes this blindness as living in the darkness, being separated from God because of ignorance: “They are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against Him. They have no sense of shame...” (Ephesians 4:18)
I love the story in John 9 because Jesus Christ came to give sight to the blind...even when they may not fully understand it all. This passage tells how Jesus healed a man who had been born blind. He had never seen the face of his parents or the people passing by. And right away after Jesus had done the impossible, the religious professionals, who should have been ecstatic at such a miracle still refused to believe that it was Jesus who had healed the man’s eyesight. The man who once was blind didn’t even know who it was who healed his blindness. But once he knew he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and he worshipped Christ.
Today, many pseudo-intellectuals will quickly dismiss Jesus Christ and His claims. They are incurably blind. Many may study the sciences and the most complex philosophies of the world...and yet they still reject the saving Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul describes it this way,“If the Good News (i.e. the Gospel) we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
Here is the Good News...Jesus Christ, the Son of God came to this world as “the Light” and he shines in the darkness. And so when anyone simply turns to Him in faith, knowing they are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness, the blindness is lifted, it is completely taken away. One more thing, light will always overpower the darkness. Something to think about!
YOUR HEART MATTERS
Finally, the time has arrived. You have just sat down with your personal physician and together you have settled on a prescribed program for improved physical health. Your new physical fitness goals include getting up at the crack of dawn four or five days per week and faithfully doing your cardio-pumping exercises. You may begin with those muscle-stretching, bone-crunching calisthenics, which you then follow up by running a couple of grueling miles. And just when you thought you would be done the push-ups and the sit-ups await you. But you also examine your diet and the evidence is there. The juicy, mouth watering, cheese-y hamburgers and fries and gravy just don’t make the healthy grade any longer. So you trim the fat from your diet and you monitor your cholesterol intake and add more fruit and fiber to your everyday meals. You endure all of this sweat, pain and sacrifice in order to help your heart keep healthy and strong.
We will do whatever we can to maintain a healthy heart. It is evident how we take this seriously today. The many magazines, web-sites and apps for our mobile devices that promote healthy living for healthy hearts indicate the need and the desire of many to keep their heart in shape. This is also seen in the number of people who, at the start of a New Year, will make the resolution to “keep fit”.
The Bible tells us a great deal about the heart. For example, the Bible instructs us to “keep
your heart with all diligence…” (Proverbs 4:23). The heart is where God’s Word is cherished. (Psalm 119:11) However, the heart that the Bible is talking about is not the organ that keeps your oxygenated blood pumping to the extremities of your body so you live and move. But rather it is a spiritual heart. It is a heart that only God can see and know. It is a heart that directs our thoughts and our actions. What can happen in many people’s lives is that they allow their spiritual hearts to become hard with the spiritually unhealthy habits which is called sin or they allow their heart to turn to mush because they become so pre-occupied with day to day worries and then they lose perspective. Instead of looking to God and believing His promises they focus on their immediate, temporal situation. The Bible is easily forgotten on the dusty shelf where it was last placed and prayers become few and far between. These are just a few symptoms of a poor spiritual “heart condition”. But your heart matters to God.
There is a song in the Bible written by a man who was known as “a man after God’s own heart”.
His name is David. In this particular song David acknowledges that God knows all there is to know about
your heart. He knows its strengths and its weaknesses and its quick tendency to lose perspective in life. This same David has also written another psalm asking God to “Create in me a clean heart, O God…” (Psalm 51:10)
It really does make perfect sense to take care of your body and your physical heart. It can really improve the quality of your life. But what makes even greater sense is the taking care of your spiritual heart. It is this heart that matters to God as you walk in this life. Someone in recent years has aptly stated: “To keep spiritually fit…keep walking with God.”
To keep walking with God we must first give him our heart. Then He is the One who strengthens it. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26) One final word is found in Proverbs 4:23 "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life."
It’ s not their fault!!
Reading the news can be very depressing especially when all you read about are the eye catching headlines of questionable politics, international conflicts, and domestic criminal behaviours. At which point we might shake our heads and often think or say to ourselves “What is our world coming to?” We read with intrigue about the crimes, we read about the criminals and we read sympathetically about the victims. But all too often we forget that there is even another side to the stories we hear and read about. There are other people in the background who are directly affected by the crime and who we read nothing about...the children of the perpetrators.
Have you ever wondered what happens when a parent of a child goes to jail? Without fail, when a parent goes to jail the entire family suffers! It is probably needless to say but the care giving spouses are then left to handle the pressures of life all alone, taking care of the bills, the groceries, the rent, the jobs, the teachers and the schools you name it! The children, if they are still in the picture, must go without the presence of the incarcerated parent and the attention of the care giving parent.
Research studies show that children of incarcerated parents are more likely to end up in prison themselves. The Elizabeth Fry Society recently noted that 33% of incarcerated individuals had a parent who was also incarcerated when they were children. And 59% had another family member incarcerated. (Gabel & Johnston 1995) So how can we help break the cycle that sees children repeating the behaviours that they see their parents doing?
I am forced to admit that I cannot find the number of children in Canada who presently have an incarcerated parent...what I do know is that every month chaplains in the Canadian prison system are sitting down and speaking to young fathers and mothers of one or more children. By the way, if we can compare our own situation to that of south of the border...the U.S. has statistics that reveal that “more than 1.7 million children (under the age of 18) in America have a parent in prison.”
Through no fault of their own, these children are also forced to serve "hard time" while they are separated from their parents, regardless if it is their mom and/or their dad. The key point being IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT! Yet they are forced to pay the price.
And as a result, you can almost guess what happens next...these children will often have behavior and performance problems at school. Not only academically they will also experience the social stigma and shame of having a parent in prison. And therefore, they stand a good chance to repeating the behaviours of their parents.
So why are children of incarcerated parents a subject for an article? Prison Fellowship, Canada, an organization committed to working with those impacted by crime, both those who commit a crime and those are affected by crime, report that it is important for children to keep connected with their parents who are incarcerated. Studies show that keeping children connected to their parent, though incarcerated, lowers the likelihood of their parent’s criminal relapse. Not only is there a benefit for the parent but it also encourages a “parent-child bonding that can ease the sadness a child feels from the separation...and it improves the likelihood of breaking the intergenerational cycle of crime.”
So, on that basis, this Christmas, in partnership with Prison Fellowship, Canada, Fellowship Baptist Church, Burford and the Burford Community Food Bank will be participating in the “Angel Tree” program. You may wonder what “Angel Tree” all about?
Prison Fellowship, Canada works with prison chaplain’s across the country who agree to their facility participating in the “Angel Tree” program. Chaplains report that many inmates deeply desire for their
children not to repeat what they have done. So, these inmates, sincerely wanting to break the cycle, will apply to be involved with “Angel Tree”. The Prison chaplains will then review applications for the program from inmates who request that their children participate and they check to make sure there are no other restrictions prohibiting an inmates’ participation.
This is where the Burford Community Food Bank comes in. The Burford Food Bank has been given the very simple opportunity to provide Christmas gifts for a few of these children of incarcerated parents and deliver them on behalf of the parents in prison. The gift does not have our name on it... because it really comes from the parent.
So imagine Christmas morning when that child who thinks that they have been forgotten by their parent actually gets a gift with their parent’s name on it? It may seem like a small thing in our eyes...but for the parent and for the child it goes a long way for them to see the love of a caring community like Burford.
This is just a small taste of the love of Christ that a child can experience in the coming season of Christmas...celebrating the greatest Gift ever given. Do you have thoughts on this issue? I want to hear them. Please feel free to contact me (Pastor David) at www.fellowshipburford.weebly.com .
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