Losing My Sight Part 3

This is the third post in a mini-series about going blind as an adult. Read the first and second posts if you missed them earlier this week.

As I struggled through my situation, I wondered what my future held. I knew God had a calling on my life for ministry. I knew this clearly from multiple times at camp and during different services as a teenager. One day, while visiting a friend and the youth group he led, God spoke to me. During the worship service, I began asking God what would happen with my future now. I knew his plan for my life wouldn’t be hindered by the loss of my eyesight, so I said, either you are going to heal me, or you will have to use me in spite of my blindness.

I didn’t know what God was going to do at that moment, but I knew that God wasn’t done with me yet. God hasn’t healed me yet, even though I’m still praying and contending for that. God has, on the other hand, used me to minister. I know he has used me to draw people toward him all around the world. I still can’t drive a car or catch a baseball. There are limitations on what I can do, but there are no limitations on what God can do through me. I am still coming to terms with my identity as a blind person, but as long as God stays with me I know my identity is wrapped up with Him.

Losing My Sight Part 2

Earlier this week, I wrote about losing my eyesight. I want to continue that mini-series in this post. In losing my eyesight, I felt like I was losing my identity. I wouldn’t have admitted that in the midst of going blind. I put on a brave face thinking I could still do anything I wanted.

When the loss of my freedom and ability to do what I wanted when I wanted sank in, I was angry. I wasn’t angry at God but angry at what happened to me. One day, the frustration boiled over, and I punched a hole in the door to our basement. For some reason, that cheap door never got replaced. To this day, I am reminded when I visit my parents of a moment of extreme rage that took me and my family by surprise as I tried to wrestle with the new life I had. I walked out of that house, not knowing where I would go, or how I would get there. I started walking down our small country road, angry and frustrated. My dad gave me some time to cool down and then came and found me. He said that I could get through this. He offered to take me to visit some good Christian friends who lived about an hour away. I accepted and went and spent a couple days with them. They reminded me that I was not going through this alone but had friends to support and encourage me.

The hardest adjustment came to the core of my identity. My outgoing nature shrunk into oblivion. I retreated into myself not knowing how to act in social settings. The difficulty of walking into a room full of people that I knew, yet not knowing who was who or where anyone was located to initiate conversation crushed me.

All I know is that God came super close to me in the middle of my darkest moments. People asked me how I was dealing with this, and how my faith was affected. I told each person that asked that my faith has grown in the midst of terrible circumstances. God surrounded me and walked with me through all of this. He put good friends and family all around me.

He came close and comforted me. I rested in his arms of love. I knew intimately some of those Psalms that spoke of running to the rock that is higher than I.

Losing My Sight Part 1

When I was 19, going on 20 years old, I started to lose my eyesight. A disease called Leber’s Optic Neuropathy. This is a degenerative disease that causes blood to stop going to the optic nerve. It kills the optic nerve. I see as though in a thick fog. Nothing is clear, there is not any color. Essentially, I do not see. I perceive light and dark, and when something big is moving close to me, I can perceive that as well.

I first noticed the problem when I was at McDonald’s one night with friends after youth group. I couldn’t read the menu as well as I thought I should. I squinted and looked, but spots were fuzzy and unclear. I closed one eye realizing that my left eye, the better eye, wasn’t seeing clearly anymore. I thought it would go away, but the problem persisted.

Since one of my older brothers had a hereditary eye disease, I guessed I had the same malady. The doctors later confirmed the diagnosis. When I knew for sure that I was losing my eyesight, I knew that I would have a limited amount of time to soak in everything I could.

I treasured everything I saw over those subsequent 8-9 months as my eyesight deteriorated to the point it is now. As I drove down the open country roads, I burned the landscapes into my memory. I sat super close to the TV to see Michael Jordan lead the Bulls to their 5th of six championships in 1997. I did the same to play video games up to the last point I could. I remember no longer being able to see my sister’s softball games.

One by one bits of my life unalterably changed.

One fateful day of playing catch with my friend forever etched itself into my memory. I loved throwing the baseball around and hitting the ball. I could no longer make contact with the bat, yet I thought I could still catch the ball. I had one good eye at this point as the disease attacked one eye and moved to the other. I should have taken into consideration the lack of depth perception being an issue, but I didn’t. My friend threw a ball perfectly aiming the throw at my face. However, I misjudged the ball. Holding my glove too low, the ball whizzed over my glove and hit me smack dab in the forehead. The throw was perfect, but my ability to catch was forever impaired. It crushed me to realize that my athletic days were now over…or so I thought. Since going blind I have run in two marathons and enjoy a plethora of sports activities, just not the same ones that I loved as a teen.

I remember the last day I drove a car. The spots in my vision began getting worse. I didn’t realize how much worse my eyes were until I was driving to downtown Madison, WI to visit a friend at the University of Wisconsin. As the traffic signals approached, I began to panic, because I couldn’t see the signal at the upcoming intersection. Driving alone, I didn’t know what I would do, so I slowed slightly and decided to follow the flow of traffic next to me. If the cars kept going, I kept going. As I neared the intersection, the traffic light came into view. With my heart racing, I made it to the campus to see my friend. Wow, for that moment, I breathed a sigh of relief. Still, the drive home loomed in front of me. That is unless one of my friends at the school would go with me. They didn’t. Cautiously I drove home slower than usual. Whew, I arrived home…safely. Devastated and scared at what happened, I told my dad what happened. He said he would drive me anywhere I needed to go. We would make it. I have made it, but it hasn’t always been an easy journey.

I will write about how going blind effected my life in other ways later this week.

Is it a Girl or a Boy?

There are many old wives tales that help you determine if you are going to have a girl or a boy while pregnant. Most people, who chose to find out their baby’s gender, do so at the 20 week ultrasound. Living in Thailand and going to a top hospital, I get an ultrasound at every doctor’s visit…well, who wouldn’t when their only $30. That means that we had less guess time about our baby’s gender and found out at 16 weeks.

Going back to predicting gender, there are many different ways that people use to guess a baby’s gender. Every time we talk with our family, they are always asking questions to try and figure out if it’s a boy or girl. How fast is the heartbeat? Are you carrying high or low (like I can tell with such a small baby bump)? And on the questions go.

As of late, many people in Thailand have been telling me that we are going to have a girl. When I ask why, they tell me it’s because of my face. At that moment I get a little self conscience because my face has been breaking out quite a bit…(which is a “predictor” for having a girl…she’s supposed to steal the mother’s beauty, or something like that)…But the Thais all tell me, it’s because I look more beautiful (I like that). My face hasn’t gotten any darker, a definite sign of ugliness in Thailand, and I don’t have dark circles under my eyes.

What I find interesting is how two cultures can look at the same face and one find it more beautiful while the other finds it not as much as before, and come to the same conclusion…a baby girl.

What Holds Us Back From Seeing God Move in Our Lives?

I posed this question to my class during the last class. After spending the term looking at the apostles preaching the kingdom of God, the good news of Jesus and demonstrating the accompanying power through miracles, signs and wonders, I wanted us to discuss why we don’t see God move more in our context. We just finished looking at how God did extraordinary miracles through Paul in Ephesus, Acts 19:11-12 Similar to the faith a sick woman had to be healed of her issue of blood by simply touching the edge of Jesus’ robe, the people in Ephesus thought if they just touched one of the Aprons Paul used when he worked on his tents they could be healed too. The power of God aided in the spread of his word throughout the entire region of Asia Minor. As we discussed the question, I found their answers to touch on universal issues all people have with not seeing more of God’s power as well as particular differences found in the Thai context. I’ll start with the universal similarities.

1.       Fear. The first similarity found in our discussion touches on what most people in every context come across as to why God doesn’t move more. We are afraid to ask, or afraid to look foolish if we pray for a miracle and nothing happens. Sometimes we fear making God look bad. God is not as concerned with his reputation as we are. God can take care of his own identity much better than we can. The Bible is full of examples of when a person didn’t get healed not to mention all healing Jesus performed was only temporary as we all still die at some point. Healing and miracles simply point to God and give him credibility and a place to intersect our life. However, the one person who the Bible tells us God specifically did not heal him even though he asked three times was Paul, the guy who above we said saw extraordinary miracles. I like to think the thorn in his flesh that Paul talks about in II Corinthians 12:7-10 refers to his blindness. In Galatians, he says which of you would not sacrifice your eyes for me, and see with what large letters I write with. We will never know, but I take solace in the fact that Paul shared my affliction. I say this to make the point that if Paul was not shaken by the unanswered prayer, how can we let the fear of God not accomplishing what we want to hold us back from seeing God do something incredible in our life or the life of another person. Oral Roberts, who had an amazing healing ministry, said that approximately 1-out-of-10 people he prayed for found healing. If people who saw a lot of miracles say that failure rates are that high, we just need to press through in order to see more of God, but I think we all agree that we are afraid to ask.

2.       Ignoring the problem. One student said she feels like she doesn’t see God, because she ignores the problems. Maybe we all find our self growing accustomed to a problem or a broken world. We adapt and adjust in order to make do with life as it happens. I know I have grown more settled with my blindness over the years. I would love to see a miracle now as much as ever, but I know I don’t push as hard as I used to. We get comfortable and allow life to simply go by without asking God to act.

3.       The third answer that I wanted to touch on before moving into subtle particularities for each of these was a bad attitude. Another student explained that sometimes we have a bad attitude and don’t really want to see God heal someone. Perhaps we feel offended by that person or jealous. We no longer care if God does something miraculous for them. God’s power does not depend on our attitude or behavior, but we can do plenty to prevent God from moving. God allows us to be his instrument, and when we abdicate that privilege by allowing an offense to come between us and another person, God will not force us to be part of his miracle. God might still move on behalf of the person or persons he wants to bless, but we might miss out on sharing in the miraculous move of God. If we want to see more of God, we need to see people the way God sees people.

Before I move into the particulars of the Thai context for these answers, I want to briefly touch on something my wife said that rarely gets answered in a discussion like this. We are not often close enough to God to hear him when he is moving and wanting to perform wonderful miracles. Jesus said he only does what the Father says which tells me if we want to see more of God in action, we need to draw close to him and wait on him like Jesus did.

Now let me get back to clarifying some particular differences in these universal issues we all have from the Thai perspective.

1.       Fear. I see fear holding back a Thai person slightly more than the average person as Thai people are timid by nature. A Thai person rarely speaks boldly or steps out in boldness. However, Paul told the Corinthians that he came in fear and trembling. Timidity doesn’t have to prevent us from seeing God move. The Thai people just need to allow God to move in a way that is appropriate for them. The one student who told the most stories of God moving in a miraculous ways probably has the most tenacity and boldness of any Thai person I know. It takes a lot for a Thai person who grows up afraid of a spirit around each corner to simply have more boldness. They just need to see God move more often in his way among the Thai people.

2.       Ignoring problems. I saw one particular difference in ignoring problems in the Thai context. Because of the belief in Karma, Thai people believe bad things happen to people as a result of something bad they did to someone else. If someone is sick, they deserved to be sick. If someone is crippled, they must have done something bad in this life or a previous life. Thai people get used to allowing people to struggle and struggle since they get what they get. For Thai Christians, they need to see that God wants to change the course of a person’s life. I said to the class, God wants to interrupt our life with his blessings. God doesn’t want us to continue on a path of destruction, but he wants us to find him.

3.       Bad attitudes. Finally, Thai culture is based on grain jai or a balancing of action. If you do something nice for me, I should do something nice for you. There becomes an expected understanding of how each person should treat another person depending on status, age and class. If someone doesn’t live up to their end of the bargain, the other person will get noi jai or literally small hearted. Our best translation for this is offended. Thai people are easily given to offense. I can see why a bad attitude is something they want to be careful of.

We all learned a lot about God’s action in our life through this class. I hope I encouraged you along the way to seek more of the power of God in your life. Help me conclude this discussion on God’s power by answering why we don’t see God move in our life more?

Reputation in Society

I find an oft overlooked verse in Acts 19 descriptive of how we should conduct our life in view of watchful eyes. “You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess,” Acts 19:37.

I have been told since I was a youth that when people know I am a Christian, they will watch me like a hawk. They want to know that my life matches up with my belief system. Gandhi said, I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians. Somehow people judge our God through the window of our life. That is the present reality.

Some find an easy path to denigrating other religions in order to make Christianity look better. If they can show a weakness in the other religion, whether Buddhist, Islam, atheism or other religion, then Christianity will look stronger. If we stoop to anything approaching this idea, we will turn off the people we are aiming to reach before we can get our story out.

In Thailand, if we denigrate Buddha, we lose our chance to tell the story of Jesus. When we talk up the person of Jesus as the wonderful savior and the one who can take our karma on his back to give us freedom for an ongoing bondage to karma and reincarnation, we have a chance to speak about the one we love. When we speak with love and with a positive tone, people listen. Not everyone responds favorably, and some in positions of influence may work to make our mission more difficult. But we have stood on solid ground when we do so.

What Paul did in Ephesus and all we need to do is demonstrate the kingdom of God to people. We have the almighty God on our side. If we just allow him to be seen in and through our lives, who wouldn’t want that. When we have something fantastic, we just need to let people see the goods. We don’t even need to get into comparisons.  God will dwarf anything else with his amazing wisdom, goodness, love and power. If we merely show off our God and live a life worthy of our calling as Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1, we’ll make great inroads to society. The church turned the world they found themselves in upside down. People wanted what God offered so strongly than those trying to hold onto the status quo were passed by in the blink of an eye. Gamaliel said early in the life of the church that we can’t fight what is from God, Acts 5:38-39

38Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

The divine nature of the church and the kingdom of God can speak for itself. Luke allowed Gamaliel’s statement to sit as a prophetic and foundational statement to the beginnings of the church. Within 3 decades the church had impacted an entire empire, establishing local congregations throughout the Roman world. One reason the church went so far so fast comes back to the fact they didn’t set out to destroy other religions, but to let God and the message of Jesus take off with a bang. They lifted Jesus up, exalting him above other gods. They didn’t try to take down the other gods to put them under Jesus. We see Paul coming back to this in Ephesians as he reignites the love for Jesus that brought the Ephesians to follow God. The first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians reads like Paul putting the name of Jesus in a rocket ship to blast into the sky and hold the person of Jesus as high as possible over any other gods or religions as possible.

Maybe we have erred in making the religion too much about the doctrines. Don’t get me wrong, the early church fought to maintain doctrinal integrity, and what we believe holds importance. What I am saying is that in the west if we set up the premise around what we believe, then people can find fault with what we believe when our life falls short. We are inevitably going to fall short, and our aim is not a perfect life, but a life moving toward Christ. People saw in Paul and the early church a life changing affect of God coming into their lives. God should impact our world.

In the end, all we need to do is let people see God through our life. We don’t need to stoop to bad mouthing the way nonChristians believe. In this area, our reputation should be exemplary in the community. Our goal is not to be liked or popular. Jesus was not the most well liked person at the end of his life. He was contrarian and went against the grain. He said we would receive the same persecution in the world that they gave him. It’s just that our persecution should come from our faith in Jesus and not our behavior towards other’s faith.

Multiplied Effectiveness

Influence always goes farther when we put into others what God has placed in us. As I wrap up my class on Acts and seeing God move in our life with power and miracles, I spent some time looking at Paul in Ephesus. Acts 19 brings a pivotal change to Paul’s ministry as Luke nears the end of his narrative with Paul. After Ephesus, Paul returns to Jerusalem for the final time before going before Caesar in Rome. Church tradition says that Paul later went to Spain before being arrested a second time and executed.

However, Luke spends a large portion of his story on what Paul did in Ephesus. If we focus on what Luke shares in the first 12 verses, we can get a glimpse as to why Luke wants us to see what Paul did in this influential city. I see so many parallels with Ephesus and Bangkok. Both are major trade cities, capital cities for their region. Both have a strong religious culture with famous temples. Maybe the temple of Artemis being one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient world distinguishes itself from other magnificent temples in Bangkok, like the Grand Palace with the Emerald Buddha.

I found four principles to ministry in this section that should be a part of what we do today. Again before any of the smaller principles, we see again and gain the passion after God that marked Paul and the other apostles. They all sought God and all that He had for them. They included those with them in a passionate pursuit of what God would do in their community. When God moved, they built a structure around that particular move of God. Today, we do too much of the opposite. We either come up with a grand plan or seek God to fulfill our plan, or we see God move in another place and hope to replicate that in our context by duplicating the same structure and organization that other people used. What Paul and his followers did much like those waiting in the upper room were wait for God to move and allow God to show them how to build the structure.

In Ephesus, Paul found about 12 people who believed in God, and from that small beginning impacted the entire region on the edge of the Roman Empire, Asia Minor. Here are four principles I see in Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.

1.       The baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul sees the filling of the Holy Spirit as essential for the Christian, not for salvation but for life in this world. He found this small group of believers who had yet to hear of the Holy Spirit, so before anything else, he taught them about the Holy Spirit and laid his hands on them for the infilling power of the Holy Spirit. Paul knew that if impact were to happen, they would need every tool in the belt.

2.       Power Evangelism: Maybe in the west, we don’t necessarily need this, but in other cultures where people recognize the powers of the spiritual world, we need to confront those powers with the power of God. We see Paul used by God for extraordinary miracles, so much so that even the aprons he wore in his tent-making were taken to the sick to heal them and cast out demons. In cultures familiar with the spiritual realm, they need to see God encounter their world with power and reality. When they saw that this was not just another magical formula, but a true relationship and interaction with the almighty God of heaven and earth, people turned to God in droves.

3.       Intense training: When the synagogue became inhospitable to Paul he moved to the Hall of Tyrannus, a lecture hall in the city to hold daily meetings. Paul used this hall to disciple many over the 2 ½ years he ministered in Ephesus. Basically, Paul started the first Bible College. I wonder if he knew his time was drawing to a close and looked for a way to multiply himself through the training of many young leaders. He rented out this facility during the midday, about 11 am-4 pm while most people would have taken their daily siesta. Paul and his companions worked in the early morning and forgoing their siesta in the hottest times of the day, they taught and taught. The people hungered for what Paul gave them so much that they came and listened to him when most would be napping. I am reminded of Aimee Semple-McPherson, who never wanted to start a church. She traveled the United States and Canada as an evangelist and saw God heal people with extraordinary miracles. The newspapers always showed the miraculous and amazing reports of her ministry in the 1920’s as she campaigned for God from town-to-town. So many people wanted to come and learn from her that she decided to begin a church and a Bible School, a school to train ministers and release them to start more churches, Life Pacific College.

4.        Finally, Paul released and empowered his disciples. Paul knew God wanted to break into every community. He trained and equipped the best people and sent them out. From this training ground, Paul started churches throughout the area by sending out the best of his people to places like Colossae and Laodicea, among others.

Paul turned an entire region onto God through simple but powerful efforts to release God’s power in the lives of the people and unleash these people once they received adequate training. How can we revolutionize a city?