One Blinding Vision, Chapter 1
The Apostle Paul's One Blinding Vision, Acts 9
A Compassion Crusade
“The LORD answered me: ‘Write down the vision; write it clearly on clay tablets so whoever reads it can run to tell others. It is not yet time for the message to come true, but that time is coming soon; the message will come true. It may seem like a long time, but be patient and wait for it, because it will surely come; it will not be delayed’” (Habakkuk 2:2-3 NCV).
If a meteorite survives the impact with the earth’s atmosphere, it will leave a crater behind. If a vision slams into the atmosphere of a church, it will leave an impression on the hearts of Christ-followers. I remember the day when a bright shooting star from heaven’s throne slammed into my heart. I hope to write about it clearly enough that “whoever reads it can run to tell others.”
From the sixth grade until I married, our family lived in a 14 x 80 Lancer mobile home at the end of a dirt road in Midland, Texas. While many of my friends lived in houses, I felt myself fortunate to live on wheels. The blessings came in many forms. I had quarter horses to ride, a pellet gun to shoot, open fields without fences to rampage, and all the carefree time in the world to spend outdoors.
“Those were the good ole days,” I tell my two sons. They usually stare back in bewilderment. It’s hard for them to imagine a day without surfing the web and sending out hundreds of text messages to their friends.
My favorite childhood dog was a half-breed mutt I named Skipper. He was a mixture of Border Collie and some type of Shepherd. Like most dogs at that time, he roamed freely throughout the sparsely populated area where we lived. Frequently he dragged things home that caught his fancy. Toys, tools, shoes, bones, and a variety of girlfriends all ended up in our front yard.
“One day,” as my Dad would say, “he got the taste of real chicken in his belly.” Skipper was so happy the first time he dragged home a fresh kill. If dogs could smile he was doing it. He was covered in feathers and pride. In a gesture of kindness and loyalty, he carried the dead chicken in his mouth and laid it at my feet. I accepted his offering and praised him for what I thought was a job well done.
However, Dad was not so pleased. "That dog has chicken lust,” he said ominously. “You've got to beat him within an inch of his life with that chicken or his lust will kill him.”
I loved my dog very much. Little boys often do. “Dad,” I said, “don’t make me hurt Skipper.” The words tightened my throat and stung my ears. I did the best I could to fight back the tears.
But Dad didn’t give me a choice, “Either smack him with that chicken or kiss him goodbye.”
With tear-soaked eyes and agony in my heart, I grabbed the dead bird by its drumsticks, held Skipper by his collar, and delivered him a beating that I hoped would cure his chicken addiction. Throughout the entire ordeal I bawled like a little girl. Feathers flew everywhere. “Skipper,” I said, “I'm sorry. I don't want to lose you. But you have a problem.”
Skipper never recovered from his addiction. The consequences of getting caught and punished were not severe enough to inspire a change. His all-consuming pleasure led him too far down the wrong path. One day Skipper never made it back home.
During my freshman year at Texas Tech University, Skipper’s life ended tragically. He met his end at the hands of a chicken. Perhaps I should clarify, “At the hands of a chicken farmer who fed my dog a poisoned bird.” Skipper’s lust had finally caught up with him. His addiction led to his demise. To this day I have knots in my gut just thinking about it. Man, and man’s best friend share many things in common.
Years ago I had a personal friend who fought an addiction to alcohol. During a season of tremendous heartache, he leaned on the one thing that had taken care of his pain before—not God, but beer. In a drunken stupor one evening, he stepped in front of a moving car. That was his last night on earth. When I heard of his death shortly thereafter, something inside of me snapped.
The Snapping Moment
Beneath the South Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, the tectonic plates shifted violently. In just one moment a force was unleashed that caused the earth to wobble on its rotating axis. The waves that thrashed the coastline for thousands of miles resulted in a staggering loss of life, all because something snapped.
The Markham Ice Shelf extended off the coast of Canada. It was thought to be 4,500 years old by the geologists who studied it. At nineteen square miles in size, it was large enough to cover Manhattan. Then one September day in 2008, weakened by the forces of nature over decades, it snapped. The ice shelf drifted away to melt in the Arctic Ocean.
To this day his real identity is unknown. The people who saw what he did on June 5, 1989 have given him a name. In Beijing, China an anonymous bystander observed a column of four tanks advancing on a massive crowd of students who were protesting in Tiananmen Square. “Tank Man,” as he is called today, got his name for what happened next. Something inside of him snapped. He stepped into the middle of the street, stood motionlessly, and became a human roadblock. The photographers also snapped—pictures that is. These photos of one heroic man, standing between the armored vehicles and the ill-fated protesters, crossed the globe.
On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks climbed onto a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Exhausted and with weary feet, she sat down in a front seat. The bus driver, James Blake, commanded her to take a seat at the back of the bus. Something snapped. A movement was born.
Mother Teresa walked through the streets of India. Looking through the slums to the piles of trash within, she saw a leper. She heard the cry of an abandoned infant. She watched the children playing among the piles of refuse instead of attending school. Something snapped.
As Jesus traveled through Jericho on His way to the cross, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus called out His name (Mark 10:46-52). Bartimaeus didn’t plead for money or for his eyesight to be restored. He simply begged Jesus for mercy. Some of the bystanders in the thick crowd were clearly agitated by this request. They ordered the pauper to be silent and allow Jesus to pass by without interruption.
“Why such insensitivity to this poor man’s suffering?” we wonder. “How could these people be so stingy with the mercy of Jesus?” Perhaps they imagined that Jesus was too busy. Or maybe He had more important things to do than camp out with a dusty old blind man.
Thankfully, Bartimaeus didn’t stand down. He cried out to Jesus once again. This last plea for mercy penetrated His sensitive ears. Then something snapped. Jesus stopped. For one spectacular moment He suspended His journey to the cross. And in the next, Bartimaeus was ushered into the presence of Jesus.
Jesus asked the blind beggar the question He asks the whole world, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
“I want to see,” he said. Wonder of all wonders, a blind man received his sight.
Jesus delivered Bartimaeus from his crisis. A beggar became a believer. From that day forward he no longer sat in the dust. He no longer listened to the hurried patter of feet trailing off in the distance as life passed him by. The rattling sound of loose change hitting the bottom of his empty beggar’s cup soon became a distant memory.
Bartimaeus was delivered from darkness. He now had vision. What is the first thing you would expect a blind man to do with his new eyes? Travel, take a sightseeing tour across the Holy Land, or soak up the sights on the beach of the Mediterranean? Bartimaeus did the one thing that must have stunned the audience observing him that day. He followed Jesus to the cross. Roll the credits.
I love it when Jesus snaps!
The Ministry Of Jesus
Jesus did more than speak nice words and moderately improve the lives of the people He encountered. Jesus delivered people. In fact, He was attracted to people who needed deliverance. If we possessed “before and after photos” of the men and women who crossed His path, we would be shocked by the difference. He didn’t just change them. He transformed them.
If you haven’t done so already, take a look for yourself. When you have idle time on some lazy day, go sit on the dock, and dip a big toe into the shallow end of one of the four Gospels. Underneath you will discover an ocean teaming with hurt and suffering people, a virtual menagerie of outcast members of society. Jesus attracted broken human beings like bait lures hungry fish. He was not embarrassed to keep company with them, and they swarmed to His side.
In the biography of Jesus, you meet diseased lepers, the crippled, the blind, the deaf, and the dying. You encounter the demon-possessed, the prostitutes, and grieving parents. You come face to face with chronic illnesses and long-term suffering. You meet the prideful, the shamed, the distracted, and the self-sufficient. By far, my favorite stories in the Gospels are the ones where Jesus performed the miracle of deliverance.
Have you ever noticed that most people run away from human tragedy? It is rare to see someone running towards suffering. Like most people I watched the drama of 9/11 unfold on television that dreadful Tuesday morning. I’ll never forget the firefighters who charged the Towers to save people whom they did not know, risking and then sacrificing their own lives in the process. Americans from every color, creed, and class stood as one that day. Collectively our hearts were stirred with pain and bewilderment. While some were running for their lives, we gasped as others ran to their deaths. And we have to ask ourselves, “What compelled the firefighters to rush into the buildings and up those stairs?”
I believe I know the answer. If there is just one thing that binds the human race together and propels us forward like nothing else, it is compassion. Without a doubt, the firefighters had it that day. With axes and medical kits in hand, wearing fire retardant suits and oxygen tanks, they lunged toward the danger. Each step was taken with an unwavering resolve to save people from certain death.
When it comes to compassion, no one felt it or lived it more intensely than Jesus. He breathed it, and He bled it. Take a long look at the last day of His life. Without compassion Jesus would have never touched the cross. He could have called an army of angels to rescue Him. He could have refused to bear our sins. He could have annihilated His executioners. Instead, He took the place of a criminal. He saved a thief. He asked God to forgive the people who did Him evil. He entered the twin towers of death and the grave to pay for our sins. He laid down His sinless life. And now He offers to deliver us. Remove compassion from the equation, and there would be no mercy, no grace, no love, and no salvation.
One of my favorite verses is found in Matthew 9:36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” It wasn’t a one-time lump in His throat that caused Him to feel this way. We see this repeatedly throughout Jesus’ life.
In Matthew 14:14 we read, “He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Again in Matthew 15:32 He said, “I have compassion for these people.” When Jesus encountered two blind men in Matthew 20:34 we read, “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes.” After meeting an outcast leper in Mark 1:41, Jesus did an unimaginably risky—and even unheard of—thing. Mark writes, “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.”
Do you remember the familiar story of the son who rebelled against his father, took the money, and ran away? Have you ever asked yourself the question, “When the prodigal came crawling back home, why didn’t the father scorch him with verbal napalm?” His personal and moral failures were catastrophic.
Although the father had an excellent opportunity to rub salt in an open wound, he didn’t say, “I knew all along you would fall flat on your face!” Neither did he say, “Maybe next time you’ll listen when I try to give you advice.” Or my favorite, “I’d offer you something to eat, but it looks like you’re already choking on your own pride.” Instead, Luke 15:20 reads, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
What an amazing picture of compassion! Compassion is like the “welcome home” kiss of a father on the cheek of a brokenhearted son. It is undeserved but freely given. Everybody on the planet wants a father like that. In essence Jesus said, “That’s My Father. And He wants to be yours too.”
Jesus understood how love-starved and shattered people really are. Like no other person before or since, He unleashed generous amounts of compassion. He opened the valve to the floodgates of heaven. He soaked the parched valleys and the dried-up souls below with “living water.” The people who experienced His compassion did not do so on the basis of their own merits. All they were required to do was step into the rapids and be swept away. It reminds me of an old phrase I used to hear growing up in church, “Hallelujah! What a Savior.”
“Compassion” has an interesting meaning in the biblical sense. It’s a word that describes what happens to a person when their intestines are tied up in emotional knots. Compassion is a pain that settles deep in the gut. It’s when you experience something that causes you to say, “That tears me apart on the inside.” It may happen suddenly, depending on the cause. Or it may be a slow grind, an agonizing ache that resonates to the core.
But it’s more than a feeling. Compassion must break free from its emotional prison. In fact, you have no choice but to make a choice. It’s a coiled spring that cannot be compressed any further. Set it free, or it will punch a hole straight through you.
So what are we waiting for? What keeps us from slamming the throttle to the firewall and launching our compassion to circle the globe? Didn’t Jesus model it? Yes! Isn’t the world dying for lack of it? Undeniably! Isn’t our mandate to unleash it? Absolutely!
In order to unleash your compassion, you need to know what wrecks your world and messes up your insides. You must feel the pain—enough pain that something inside of you snaps. Once you understand that, you have identified your passion. Now you are ready to join Jesus in ministry.
Once you get started, you will have to overcome the compassion assassins. The first is to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the problem and the amount of needs that go unmet. Notice that this didn’t stop Jesus. He didn’t heal every blind man. He didn’t cleanse every leper. When He died, there were still demon possessed men and women terrorizing the countryside. He did all that heaven allowed, and it was enough.
The second assassin is to allow other people to discourage you. The earth is populated with critics. Self-righteous condemnation is in no short supply. Some people, bless their hearts, are jaded by cynicism. Jesus faced toxic people and their “stinking thinking” every day. He dealt with them through His convictions. Jesus knew what God wanted Him to do. He didn’t let other people define the will of God for Him. Rarely will God tell someone else more about His plan for your life than He tells you. You would have to be a hardcore, hardheaded stump for God to keep you in the dark.
The last compassion assassin is numbness. Sometimes it is easier to crawl into a cocoon and shelter your eyes from all the suffering. Frankly, it’s delusional to believe that you can become comfortably numb. You will find yourself boxed in by walls built with your own hands. And one day, you will find yourself in need of the very compassion you have avoided giving others. Take a lesson from others who have done this before. It doesn’t work.
The Secret Ingredient
The world is filled with salt. Heavy concentrations exist in our oceans and in many of our lakes and seas. Salt is found in mines and in rocks, in dried up riverbeds, and in deep wells. We also have salt in our blood and in our tears.
Jesus said that we are “the salt of the earth.” I’ve often considered this statement to be one of His greatest compliments. So what does it mean? Simply this: We live in a tasteless society. Sprinkle a few Christians around here and there, and voilà, life has more flavor. Jesus is saying that we have the capacity to add seasoning to this bland and boring world.
According to Jesus, you and I are the secret ingredient missing from the main course. The Master Chef has chosen us for a special purpose. As you would imagine, it is not to gather in the shaker and sit comfortably on the shelf. The shaker must be turned upside down and shaken violently, if it is to be of any use at all. As He empties our lives from the saltshaker, we are poured out onto the face of the earth. We find ourselves coming into contact with the open wounds of broken people. Unlike real salt, this is a good thing.
Here’s how I spell “salt.”
See people the way that Jesus saw them.
Accept people the way that Jesus accepted them.
Love people the way that Jesus loved them.
Touch people the way that Jesus touched them.
S - You must see people—really see them—the same way that Jesus looked at them with His own eyes. He could see things that no one else was even looking for. What eyes He had! Observe how He saw straight through the shattered dreams and the shriveled up hope of the people He encountered. He even peered into the darkness of madness and demon possession. He looked with compassion at the people who were crushed and bruised. Today, we are the body of Christ. Is there someone reading this who will take up the challenge of seeing with His eyes?
A - You must accept people, regardless of how problematic and awkward the relationship might be, the way that Jesus accepted people. He embraced people in His arms. And what arms He had! Jesus was called “a friend to sinners.” He made a clean break with the traditional taboos and accepted invitations to eat in their homes. He went to their parties, attended their weddings, and gathered them into His core group of followers. Prostitutes, tax-gatherers, political rebels, and thieves found their way into His company. We are His body. Will someone reading this be brave enough to embrace another hurting human being in the arms of Christ?
L - You must love people—regardless of how unlovable or undeserving of love they may be—the way that Jesus loved people. What a heart Jesus had! He loved everyone without exception or exclusion. His love extends across the whole world. He loves every continent, every nation, every city, and every person living in every home. He even loves those without homes and commanded us to do the same. Today we are in need of someone to be the heart of Christ. Is yours beating faster right now? I dare you to let your heart beat in tandem with His.
T - You must touch people—really get up close and personal—the way that Jesus touched people. What hands Jesus had! He touched a leper. No one did that. The fear of contracting leprosy was huge. But Jesus didn’t even flinch. He touched the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, and the mouths of the mute. One day He touched me. I have never been the same. We are in desperate need of more people to be the hands of Jesus.
A Compassion Crusade
As I gaze upon my Savior, I see eyes filled with compassion, connected to a heart completely accepting, producing a love never ending, extended by hands forever reaching. Isn’t it time for the church to rise up from the ashes and live once again as Jesus lived? If we desire to deliver the world, we must stop long enough to see the people who are in need of deliverance. We must accept them the way that Jesus accepted us—warts and all. It might look messy and chaotic from the outside, but it will look no differently than the ministry of Jesus. We must stop condemning people before we have even begun to love them. We must touch their fears and hurts with the gospel of outrageous and unparalleled love.
Someone might say, “That doesn’t sound very tough on sin.” The only people I can find Jesus slamming against the wall for their behavior were already religious to begin with. In other words, Jesus is tough on my sin, and I’ll leave it up to Him to be tough on other people’s sin. I know the difference between right and wrong, and I fail to live up to my own standards, let alone God’s.
Sometimes we say, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” We need to correct that statement and say, “Love the sinner and hate your own sin.” I have enough sin to hate for a lifetime. I’m not going to waste my time anymore hating everybody else’s sin. My biggest problem is with me, no one else.
Jesus called us to be fishers of men. We catch the fish. Jesus cleans them. Reality check! We will never see any fish cleaned until we start catching the fish to begin with. Many ministries fail because they spend all their time just shouting at the fish. It’s the job of the Holy Spirit to convict people, not ours. We must preach the word and speak the truth as we are commanded. But for God’s sake, we must not do it without love. The loveless truth is a half-truth. And a half-truth is no better than a lie.
Something inside of me snapped one day when I heard that people who live outside our faith view us as hypocritical, judgmental, self-absorbed, and unloving. If only ten percent of this is true, we should repent in dust and ashes before the throne of God. Judgment begins inside, not outside the house of God.
We must recapture an outrageous compassion for the people who are separated from the Father’s love. Too many of us live like there is no hell to come. I believe there is, and it tears me up on the inside. What will it take for the church, once a lighthouse for shipwrecked souls, to recapture a love for evangelism? Must the number of baptisms go down every year in the major denominations in America? Are we turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the cries of people around us? Have we lost the capacity to feel?
If you don’t feel the burning desire to bring people with you into heaven, find something you can do. Find a place that you can go. Gather some sharp instrument to prick your heart until it bleeds again. Our time is limited. Like Jesus said, we “must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4 NKJV).
It’s perfectly acceptable to be blind if you were never given eyes to see. But to have physical sight only to suffer from spiritual blindness is the greatest tragedy of all. No one is so blind as the one who refuses to see. We cannot afford to carry on our visionless business as usual. Many churches have become insulated caverns of self-absorbed study and endless debate over style and preference concerns. Shame on us! We argue and condemn one another, then wonder why the world isn’t interested in becoming like us. If there is so little compassion and understanding inside the church, it will never break free to those who live on the outside. Revival happens when the church gets turned inside out. It’s the only cure when things are upside down.
One Blinding Vision is needed. It starts with a burning desire to deliver people. It is empowered by a compassion born from the heart of Jesus Himself. When our gut agonizes over the pain created from holding it in, we are ready to unleash a compassion crusade. I’m convinced it’s the only type of crusade ever launched that doesn’t produce more atheists than believers.
Let’s turn the mother ship around and get back into the real battle. Let’s stop shooting our own wounded and re-enter the war against the dark, unseen forces that enslave the mind and the will of man. If there were only one great cause for which to stand up and fight till your dying breath, this one is it. This battleground is already drenched with the blood of our Savior. The Apostles and the early martyrs spilled their blood there as well. This is holy ground.
Nothing you give to the conflict will go unrecognized by God. One day you will stand before Him in high adoration and praise. The angels of heaven and the Father of lights Himself will applaud your selfless sacrifice. And God will reward you for fighting the good fight, finishing the race, and keeping the faith. That day, my friend, will be the day to remember throughout all eternity. Amen.