Out of Focus

Years ago our television sets had a button that was used to adjust the picture when it was out of focus. Today, the focusing is done automatically. In every age, people have lived with distorted pictures, and in our text today we meet a man whose spiritual eyes are out of focus.

In our text, Jesus is showing us how important it is for God to bring these pictures into focus. This man had been born blind, and Jesus healed him. When he refused to renounce Jesus as the healer, the Pharisees threw him out of the synagogue. Now he could see physically, but he was left to roam about as an enemy of Israel.

Yet, Jesus had not forgotten this man, and the Lord was seeking him. When the two met, Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

The healed man replied, “Who is he? Tell me so that I might believe in him.”

Jesus answered, “You have seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man had his biggest hour. “Lord,” he said, “I believe.” And he worshiped him. Now Jesus brought the man’s spiritual sight into focus.

Who can bring our spiritual eyes into focus?

Tom Wright, an English theologian, raises an interesting question Ð Who decides? Who gets to say that the picture is in focus?

Good question, and it has many answers in our society.

Wright continues, “Here, as always in St. John’s Gospel, it is Jesus himself who has this right. After Jesus is gone, the same work of focusing our spiritual eyes will be carried on by the Holy Spirit making Jesus continually present and bringing his clear judgment to bear on the world.” So today Jesus wants to help us get rid of some fuzzy thinking about life and let him bring it into focus for us.

Dare we take this sermon to the next level and let Jesus bring our lives into focus regarding his truth? Let’s see how it works.

A basic question that promotes a lot of fuzzy thinking is, “Who is Jesus?”

The man in our text thought of Jesus as a healer or even a prophet. Jesus moves this person to the next level and says, “Jesus is the Son of Man (Christ, Savior, Messiah, and Lord)” That’s quite a different answer.

We have gone through Christmas and Easter. Many sermons have presented Jesus clearly as God, our only way of salvation. But many have also contained a lot of fuzzy thinking where some pulpits have proclaimed Jesus as no more than a great man dying for his convictions. This, Jesus says, is fuzzy thinking. It is out of focus. And so the Holy Spirit uses your Bible to show you that Jesus is our Savior and Lord.

What about “the good life”? The Holy Spirit gives us a word that speaks to this question. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not from your presence” (Psalm 51:10). This prayer is asking God’s Spirit to go to work in our lives and create a personal relationship with Christ. This means that we will spend some time each day with the Lord in our Bible, and listen to him speak.

How different from the moralist who says that if you are not happy with your life, get hold of yourself and live by the golden rule. How many times have you tried to do this, but without success? It’s fuzzy thinking. Let God straighten out your life. He is able to do it.

Or, if you are part of Christ’s kingdom and are wondering what his Church should be doing in a world like ours, turn to the Bible. The message has not changed, though people have tried to make some huge adjustments to the Word to make it more acceptable to their fuzzy thinking. Let the Holy Spirit clear your thinking.

We still are to preach that humans are helplessly lost in their sins and out of a relationship with God, but Christ has come. If they will receive him and listen to what he is teaching in his Word, they will know what their individual mission and the Church’s mission is. They will worship in a congregation where they hear the Gospel and the appeal to come to Christ each Sunday. They will hear that the primary message of the Church is to point people to Christ. That message will never, never change. To think people will be drawn to the church by adjusting to the culture of the day is the kiss of death for the Church. We are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are to shape culture rather than let culture shape us.

Our lives need to be focused by the Holy Spirit speaking to us through His Word daily. Then we need to pray,

Open mine yes, O Lord, Open mine eyes

Into my darkened heart, let thy light arise.

Show me myself, O Lord, show me Thyself, O Lord,

Show me thy truth, O Lord,

Open mine eyes.

A New Day

God gave me many blessings in 2007, but one of my greatest moments was being able to talk to a friend in the county jail. This man had a lot going for himself. He had a brilliant mind, a marvelous education, and was successful in his profession. But then things changed. He became confused in his thinking and sense of values. This led to some bad decisions, which brought drastic changes to his life. Once he enjoyed luxurious living, but now his lifestyle was reduced to the bare essentials. Once he was free to go anyplace he wanted to go in this world; now he was confined to a jail.

I had the opportunity to meet with this person nearly every week for several months. I was there by invitation; he asked me to come. The authorities were most kind and gave us a private place to visit. After we got over the tensions of our first meeting and summarizing what had brought him to this place, we made an agreement not to visit about his problem, but instead focus on finding the answer for his life. I had not come to discuss the past, but to focus on the future. God had opened his heart to hear the glorious promises of God’s Word, and he was ready to listen.

This man had been raised in the church. He had years of parochial education and a better-than-average knowledge of the Bible stories. We spent several sessions talking about God’s promises, which continually came back to God’s gift of the forgiveness of sins through Christ, who had died for all sinners. I was anxious to make clear to him that, in our case, it was one sinner talking to another sinner.

Then came that day that gave me one of my most glorious moments. It is a moment I will carry with me to my grave. It all began when I asked him, “What did you read in your Bible this week that will give us something to talk about?”

With a smile on his face, he told me that he did his Bible reading at 5:00 a.m. and afterward he had a time of meditation. On this particular day, he had read about Jesus’ conversation with Martha after her brother, Lazarus had died. It is recorded in John 11. Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” This announcement was followed with our Savior saying to the heartbroken sister, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (Martha), do you believe this?”

Then my friend said with emotion in his voice, “Pastor, Jesus Christ is alive. I have read these words before, but now these words take on new meaning. Jesus Christ is alive!”

I wiped a tear away and said through the glass window that separated us, “And think of it! He is right here with us now.” It was Easter, not on Sunday, but on Thursday; not in a beautiful worship center with lilies all around, but in a county jail.

The remaining visits with my friend at the jail before he was taken away to prison centered in this truth: Christ lives, and He will go with you.

Now we correspond through the mail. Here is a statement from his last letter to me, “I thank God for putting me here and giving Him the chance to save my soul.”

I can assure him, on the basis of God’s will, that if he will continue to let God speak to him through the Bible, he will minister to the lives of many in prison with this great truth Ð that Jesus Christ is alive.

With this story in mind, let us turn to the Easter story recorded in Mark 16. We will go over this story verse by verse.

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint Jesus’ body.” These ladies wanted to show their love to Jesus for the last time.

“Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ÔWho will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?'”

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ÔHe is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” This is the inspired message that tells God’s greatest miracle: Satan has been defeated. Death is conquered! For those who trust Christ as the risen Lord, it is a new day.

Now notice the women’s reaction: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

This announcement of the supernatural resurrection of Jesus from the dead was unheard of, and they were afraid. Aren’t we always a little bit afraid when we can’t figure out where life is taking us? We need an explanation for everything. It is beyond us to leave the unknown in God’s hands.

Later Jesus appeared to them, and he rebuked them for their unbelief. Yet he forgave them and sent them on their way with these words: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Two thousand years of Christian witnessing by the followers of Jesus has taught us that, as the Gospel of Christ’s resurrection is told, the Holy Spirit is

at work. Yes, there are many who laugh and belittle the story, but we keep right on announcing that great message. We can say with the blind man who was healed by Jesus, that there are many things about God’s plan of salvation we do not understand, but one thing we do know, “Once I was blind, but now I see.” I see myself as a helpless sinner, but Christ Jesus forgives me and he accepts me as his child.

Many of you who listen to the Easter message have met him in sundry ways. You are a part of the Church, which carries this Gospel to all parts of the world.

Others do not know him. Sometimes it takes unpleasant experiences to meet him in places like a hospice room, a judge’s office, or a prison cell. Why don’t you let God speak to you in a more pleasant place, such as your home, a church worship center filled with Easter lilies, or alone in your study? When you receive Jesus as the risen Lord, a new day will begin for you.

Jesus Arouses Feelings

It is Palm Sunday! We have entered Holy Week. It is a week filled with a mixture of strong feelings Ð anger, anxiety, apathy, fear, frustration, and faith.

This is the third week that we have taken our text from the ninth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. A relationship exists between the events that happened outside the Temple when Jesus healed a blind beggar and those that took place during Holy Week. So we will continue our study of this chapter and relate it to those last days when Jesus was tried unjustly, beaten, and crucified as a sacrifice for all humankind.

The Pharisees were angry. It was their job to protect the faith of Judaism by seeing that their laws were kept. Any person or group of people who were teaching contrary to Judaism’s beliefs and practices were a threat to the faith and had to be dealt with. The Pharisees were more concerned about a heretic from within Judaism than anyone outside the faith who attacked their beliefs and practices. Jesus was one of their own. Now he was making claims to be the Son of God and the promised Messiah. He had to go.

The Pharisees convinced the crowd to have Jesus arrested and brought to Pilate’s court where they asked for his crucifixion. Pilate was frustrated when the Jewish leaders demanded his death. He could find no fault in Jesus. Such a sentence would be unjust. However, he feared the Jews and an insurrection would not be looked upon with favor by the leaders of the Roman Empire. So he yielded to the Jewish leaders’ demands and sentenced Jesus to be crucified.

In this Holy Week, many in our sophisticated Western civilizations make the same demands to get rid of Jesus. The teachings of Jesus build division among people. When the Church is faithful to Christ’s teachings, the proclamation is clear: Salvation is found in none other than Jesus Christ. He alone can grant us the forgiveness of sins, which will restore us into fellowship with God.

Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but by me.” Such a message is not popular in our society. Can’t you hear a woman at her coffee group say, “I can’t buy this teaching. My father was a good man, but he did not believe that Jesus Christ was the only Savior of the world. God is love, and he will save all people. We have to get rid of these teachings in this ecumenical age.”

We find, therefore, the message of the crucified and risen Christ silenced in many churches. I recently read a letter written by a pastor to his congregation on the subject of the Lenten season. In that letter there was not one mention of Jesus Christ or salvation. Instead, feeding the hungry and providing shelter for the homeless were the important works of that congregation.

God knows our need to feed the hungry and care for the homeless, but the central message of the Church is to point the world to Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. We cannot get rid of him and still remain the Church.

As we return to the ninth chapter of John, we note the Pharisees going to the parents of the man who was healed to learn more about him. Yes,” they admitted, “he is our son. He was born blind, but we do not know how our son was healed.” Obviously, this was not true. We can be sure that their family was very happy when their son could see. Yet they did not want to get involved in Jesus being thrown out of the synagogue. It was just so much easier not to be identified with Christ. This is what we call apathy today. Denying Jesus by our silence is a nicer way to get rid of Jesus than crucifying him. However, are we then Christians? Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me.”

It is so easy to build our cozy little faith. This is a faith that is easily adjustable to those we are with and what the latest interpretation of scripture is being considered as truth in our culture. Let’s do nothing to be divisive and above all things, do nothing that will divide the church.

When we read the ninth chapter of John and study some of the last hours of Jesus’ life on this earth, we see that man’s feelings about Jesus change a lot. But he does not quit on us. Rather he prays, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”

This is the good news. By his grace, he will forgive us, and by his grace he will change us. In this Holy Week, let him speak to your soul. Let him get inside of you. Think how different your life can be when we live out of love for Christ and not out of fear of humans.

Jesus arouses feelings in the lives of those who love him Ð feelings of love, peace, joy, security. He is ours and we are his forever.

The Importance of Time

We often talk about the wise use of money. Today Jesus talks to us about the proper use of time.

Our Lord and his disciples were near the gate to the Temple where a blind beggar was asking people to give him a shekel or two. He had probably sat there for years, and many people were well acquainted with him.

As Jesus and the disciples passed by, one of them asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:3).

Jesus was not being indifferent to their question about the cause of the man’s blindness. At the time he had another mission Ð he wanted to heal the blind man so the people might see his divine power to perform miracles. It would be evidence that he was the promised Messiah. The people had been promised in the Old Testament that, when the Messiah came, he would make the blind to see. In Isaiah we read, “Then (when the Messiah comes) will the eyes of the blind be opened” (42:7).

Jesus was saying that if he missed this opportunity to show the people that he was the Messiah, he may never have another occasion to show them who he really was. Our Lord is showing the importance of time.

The Scriptures are filled with a note of urgency for getting the message of Christ to the world. The author of the book of Hebrews writes, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (3:8). You can sense the appeal to act, and do it now, for tomorrow might be too late.

This sense of urgency to reach the world should motivate Christ’s church. Our Lord does not look with favor upon a congregation that has fallen asleep or might not even know what its message is. Think of the opportunities we have to share the Gospel with those near to us. They are precious times. Let us break it down and see how it works in our lives from youth to old age.

It is natural for a young person to say, “I’m young. I don’t have to get really serious about the future now. There will be plenty of time for that.”

Death is no respecter of age. All one has to do is read the obituaries to see that the young die too. We need Christ, for he assures us that a heavenly home is waiting for us, even when death comes prematurely.

In this day of loose morals and confused values, our youth need a personal relationship with the Lord. He will strengthen them to live an abundant life. If we as parents and grandparents believe that loose morals and confused values is an honest description of our culture, we need to become involved with that child or grandchild. We need to share with them, through word and personal testimony, that God’s way is the only way, as Jesus’ words tell us in our text.

Our youth need Christ to give them a vision of how to live a full life. This does not mean that all young people will go to the seminary. It does mean, however, that somewhere in the world of opportunities, they will find callings that will give them a mission for Christ in their work and recreation.

This time of youth is very important. It is a time of decision making. It is a time of basic preparation for a calling that will not only benefit self, but also God in bringing the Gospel of Christ to our world. It is a time when they will choose a spouse, who will join them in building a Christian home with a loving environment in which to raise their children. Youth is a very important time of life; if you have Christ, then you know that all is well.

Middle age is a period in life when people are confused about the best use of their time. Work and wealth get the prime time of each day, while the family suffers from neglect of each other’s love.

What I am about to say may be getting too personal. If so, please forgive me. At our church we have a program called Blessed Beginnings. Parents drop off their child to be cared for part of the day. It is an excellent program. The children are well cared for; they are told the story of Jesus and how he loves them.

One of the activities is to put four of the children in a cart and push them all around our large church plant. It is so cute. I love to watch them. One is laughing. Another is crying. All the while Mom is off to work making a second pay check so the family can afford to live on a higher socioeconomic level, yet sacrificing precious time with the children.

Critics of this statement could respond in this way: What century are you living in? Don’t you know that mom is also a professional? She, too, needs to be fulfilled.

Okay, you may be right. Forgive me if I have been unfair. Each case is different. It might be necessary for both parents to be working to keep food on the table. It might just be that I am a chauvinist. All I want to do is ask you to think seriously about the importance of time during those years you are raising your children. Remember that Jesus talks about the wise use of time. We can do things for our children now that we cannot do ten years from now. When you look back in retrospect some day, will you say Ð both dad and mom Ð that you used your time wisely, or will you regret the time not spent with your children?

The importance of time never leaves us, not even at eighty. When our friends and relatives are dying or are incapacitated and we are experiencing a few aches and pains, we find ourselves asking why God still has us around. Maybe some of those who assist us in living ask the same question as they are the recipients of our complaining and nostalgia.

Jesus speaks to this question with these words: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.” Our Lord is telling us kindly and encouragingly that, as long as we have our minds and can think, our mission is not over. We still have some work to do.

Pray about it. Talk it over with others whom you trust. Who knows? You might find yourself setting the alarm at 6:00 a.m. to get going on a new mission. It might take twice as long to do what you once did, but you will not be asking yourself, Why am I still living? and Why am I still here?

I believe this text in John 9 forces us to think seriously about the importance of time. It is a precious gift from God that quickly flees away.

A Consistent Witness

As many of you know, Tony Dungy is a well-known football coach of the Indianapolis Colts. In his book, Quiet Strength, the coach writes about the need of a football team to be consistent in its playing. He says, “We had just defeated the New England Patriots 40 to 21. As we turned our eyes toward Houston, the next team we were to play, I was concerned about our guys losing their focus. Our players were being told from every corner of the globe how amazing they were.

“As I was thinking about the illustration to best drive home my point to the team, my children gave me the perfect idea Ð McDonald’s. The beauty of McDonald’s is that they are consistent. The reason my kids like McDonald’s is because they always know what they are going to get. The french fries they order in Tampa are just like the fries in Indianapolis. Wherever they get McDonald’s fries, they know they will be the same. They don’t make french fries in New England more special than the ones they make in Houston. We have to do the same thing. Just like McDonald’s, we need to keep making the same good fries.”

Knowing that I would be preaching on this text in the ninth chapter of John where Jesus healed the blind man, I thought, “What a great illustration for a sermon: A Consistent Witness.”

I have struggled to be consistent in my Christian witness. Have you ever had someone ask you where your Christianity is today, after you made some unkind, critical remark? Or have you ever been conversing with a good friend who reduced Jesus to a nobody? That is the perfect time to tell them that Jesus is more than a teacher Ð he wants to be their Savior. You could encourage them to make him a part of their life. Instead you keep silent, because you don’t want to offend your friend. That is inconsistency.

Tony Dungy makes a point that loyalty to Christ demands consistency wherever you are. Tony’s nineteen-year-old son committed suicide. He tells in his book how devastated he was when he stood by the casket and looked at the body of the son he loved so much.

Dungy had decided it was necessary for him to deliver a message at the funeral. This is a part of his eulogy he gave as he stood in front of a huge crowd of people:

“ÔIt is great to be here today.’ (Then I paused, knowing the people felt I must have misspoken.) ÔI know that is a strange sounding message. Yet, when you came in today, one of the first songs you heard was, I will Bless the Lord at All Times. This song says, ÔI will bless the Lord, and praise for him will always be in my mouth.’ I explained that those words were taken from Psalm 34, which David wrote. He didn’t write it at a time of triumph. He wrote it when he was on the run from Saul, fleeing for his life in desperation. Even so, in his desperation, he could say that he would constantly praise God and bless him.

“ÔThat’s not an easy thing to do. In fact, it’s difficult at times. The only way we can praise God at all times is to remember that God can provide joy in the midst of a sad occasion. Our challenge today is to find the joy.'”

Think of it! Tony Dungy talking about a consistent witness at the funeral of his nineteen-year-old son just as he would talk about Jesus to his football team!

Now let’s notice the consistency in the blind man’s witness telling those around him that Jesus had healed his blindness.

Our Lord and his disciples were with a group of people when they passed a blind beggar. Jesus spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. Then he said, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.” So the man obeyed Jesus’ instruction and came home seeing.

Many people, who were accustomed to seeing the blind man, were surprised and asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some said it was the man, and others said, “No, this is not the man. He only looks like him.” However, the beggar, born blind, said, “I am the man.”

The people then asked a logical question. “How were you healed?”

The healed man replied, “The man called Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

So they took the man born blind to the Pharisees. Hearing the people’s story about the blind man, the Pharisees figured it out that Jesus had healed this man on the Sabbath. This made Jesus’ healing act a sin, because no work could be done on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

The Pharisees withdrew by themselves and said, “This man could not have healed the blind man. He broke the Sabbath Day by performing the healing. He is not from God.” Other Pharisees believed Jesus did heal the blind man, but they did not know how he did it, since he was a sinner.

The Pharisees returned to the blind man and asked, “What have you to say about him?” The blind man replied, “He is a prophet.”

The Pharisees still did not believe Jesus had healed him, so they asked his parents if he had been born blind. His parents assured the Pharisees that their son had always been blind. They asked his parents how the healing had occurred. They replied, “We don’t know. Ask him. He is of age.”

Again the Pharisees summoned the healed man. They said, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.”

Now notice the healed man’s consistent witness: “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know: I was blind, but now I see.”

He does not change his story just to get the Pharisees off his back. Saying what the Pharisees wanted him to say would have been so easy, but he would have none of it.

They asked him again about his healing, and the man remained true to his witness. When he would not change his story, the healed man was thrown out of the synagogue.

Later Jesus came to the healed man and revealed to him who he was Ð the Son of Man. This brought forth his testimony, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

What does this story of the blind man say to us? If Christ has met you and changed your life, even if it is only in some small way, you have a story to tell about Jesus. In your story, you tell others that Christ has forgiven your sins. You live in a personal relationship with your Savior and have the assurance that he walks with you in this life. When you die, you will receive the place He has prepared for you in heaven.

This is your witness, and it must be consistent. You tell it whenever you have an opportunity at work or at worship, with Christians or with unbelievers, in all kinds of circumstances and conditions in your life.

The world needs to hear your consistent Christian witness.