The Beginning of Clear Thinking

“Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” – Isaiah 6:9-10 (ESV)

Shortly after moving to New York City I started a part-time job teaching introductory computer programming. At first I found my students incredibly obstinate. They would make a simple error in program coding, I would tell them what it was, but they refused to see it. Sometimes I pointed directly to the error. They stared right at it, but saw nothing wrong.

After a semester of frustration I realized that the students were not obstinate; rather they were seeing, but not perceiving. This phenomenon is true of life in general. Paraphrasing the prophet Isaiah, we see, but don’t perceive the reality before us; we hear, but fail to distinguish truth from falsehood.

Was that ever more true than today? Thousands of images flash before our eyes—how could we possibly perceive the truth buried in them? A cacophony of chaotic sounds clamor for our attention—how can we hope to discern what is true?

Yet our blindness and deafness to truth, especially spiritual truth, is more than a fact of modern life, it is a fact of human existence. Isaiah described it over 25 centuries ago. Nearly 500 years ago, the great protestant reformer John Calvin wrote these words, commenting on people’s inability to perceive Jesus’ true identity,

how great is the blindness of men, when they ought to judge about the things of God, but this vice is almost natural to them: to be ingenious in contriving what may hinder them from arriving at the knowledge of the truth. … though the road were plain and smooth, every man would contrive [a reason to stumble] for him­self. … they contrive a new reason for themselves, that they may not come to the faith. [1]

The apostle Paul analyzes our spiritual condition in the following words, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV)

This is true, tragically true.  The sinful human mind and fallen human heart produce an endless supply of self-deceptions, when confronted by the truth about God. How can we hope to think clearly about spiritual things, to know the truth about our eternal destiny? Given our present condition, the only way we will clearly know the truth is if someone from outside our confused and chaotic existence tells us. Someone must break through the clamor and the clutter that blinds the eyes of our minds and deafens the ears of our hearts to the truth about God. But this would require a miracle!

That mir­acle is called con­version. It occurs whenever God illuminates a human mind with pure and holy light, bringing clarity to the darkness and chasing away decep­tion—when divine mercy begins to erase confusion and peace calms the chaos in a human heart. What a blessed miracle! God’s Holy Spirit enters that caldron of impurity called the human heart, turning hearts to God the Father. The blood of Christ cleanses the stain of unbe­lief from our minds, so the love of sin and rebellion against God’s way fades. By God’s grace we are converted, surrendering to his love and learning to submit gladly to his righteous way of life.

Miraculously, God hides his Spirit inside the text of a book. Scripture is the lens God provides to focus our vision. In the Bible we find God’s true message—it comes from beyond this world, outside the realm of confusion and sin. The truth about God is most clearly revealed in Jesus. Seeing Jesus in the Bible is the most direct vision of God available in this life. Speaking of Jesus, Calvin altered a famous Proverb slightly, “the beginning of wisdom is, to behold God.”

Beholding God in Christ is the only way to see with clarity. The Holy Spirit emerges from its hiding place in the Bible to shape our minds, enabling us to accurately comprehend spiritual truth, to know with assurance our eternal destiny.

The beginning of clear and wise thinking arrives when God implants within us and we receive the truth about Jesus: he is the only Son of God and the Savior of the world. That is the truth we need to know—the truth that brings clarity to all the other truths of life. Look for Jesus in the Bible, that’s where you’ll find him.

[1] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel According to John (Jn 7:27). Bellingham,WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Christmas Joy

Every year at this time we collect an offering named the Christmas Joy offering. It started in the 1930s, primarily to support retired ministers and other church workers (including missionaries) whose pensions proved inadequate or who ran into medical problems.

My thoughts moved on from that specific offering, to Christmas Joy as a concept. Why is Christmas time supposed to be joyful? What source for joy is peculiar to Christmas? The answer to these questions is, of course, the birth of Jesus. But how is the birth of a single baby 2,000 years ago the source, the cause, of worldwide joy today?

Let me backup for a moment. We traditionally associate the Christmas season with gift-giving. What does receiving a gift mean to the recipient? It says, “You are valuable. You are cared for. You are loved.” We don’t give gifts unless we perceive the value, the dignity of the person we give to…unless we care enough to spend the time and money required to give a gift (this is the basis for the old expression, “It’s the thought that counts”)…unless the sense of devotion we call “love” impels us to generosity. To know you are the recipient of these spiritual and emotional qualities naturally creates joy in human hearts. So Christmas time, as a gift-giving season, is a natural time for joy.

“You are valuable. You are cared for. You are loved.” How does Jesus’ birth induce those spiritual qualities within our hearts and minds? Because of the Gift and the Giver at Christmas. The Gift is Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. What a valuable gift! And given at such a great cost. Don’t let sugar-coated Christmas cards cause you to forget the awful destiny that baby of Bethlehem was born to fulfill: to die for our sins on the cross.

Even more, we must remember the Giver: God the Father. This fact is what makes John 3:16 the most popular verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) The Gift given at Christmas proves that divine love and care belong to us. To be the recipients of such a marvelous Gift is the cause for worldwide joy.

God gave that Gift to us! How can we ever doubt that we are valued, cared for, loved by, the Supreme Being who created the universe! The only way we can doubt is by forgetting the fundamental Christmas Truth: God loves us so much he will stop at nothing to draw us into his eternal embrace, into everlasting life in paradise. You Christians, who have received this most blessed Gift into your lives—never doubt the depths of joy that belong to you on Christmas Day, and on every day…now and forevermore.