Blissful Blindness

blissful blindness

Acts 20:22   And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem without knowing what will happen to me there, [23] except that the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. [24] But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.

…self-preservation is oft the root of denial while self-denial is oft the root of ultimate preservation.

I remember an exciting Saturday night in the Upper Room of our mission years ago. The praise and worship was rich. People were genuinely excited about a move of God.  The room was packed with expectants. One man came up to me and spoke prophetically, “God is pleased with your work and a 2 million dollar donation is coming in for your ministry.”  I haven’t seen that donation yet but I must admit it sure was easy to believe for that! What if God would have spoken to me that night as He did to Paul in this passage? Rather than a promise of 2 million dollars, a one way trip to hardship and persecution?  Would I have believed that so easily? If I’m honest with myself, I probably would have denied it.  Why? Because denial ignores an unwanted end.

Denial is a common psychological response to impending and unavoidable bad news.  A person in the process of failing is heading toward an F. Denial ignores the end. A criminal may maintain his innocence even when proven guilty. Denial ignores the end. A person receives a terminal diagnosis. Again, denial ignores the end.

But denial also fails to mitigate.

Renewed effort. A change in strategy. Revived prayer. There are often ways to mitigate or make the most of an unavoidable situation, if we’re not in denial.

Now put yourself in Paul’s shoes.  God speaks to you in a personal whisper of sorts, “You must go to Jerusalem where you will be persecuted and imprisoned.” What’s your response? “Get that crazy voice out of my head” or maybe you tell Siri, “Navigate me to anywhere but Jerusalem.” Denial. After all, would God ever compel you into harm’s way?

He did Paul.

The Holy Spirit “warns” him in town after town (v 23). It wasn’t a warning that Paul should turn aside or change his direction for He was also “compelled” (v. 22) by the same Spirit to press on toward Jerusalem where that persecution awaited. This truth, that he was both warned but compelled calls for answers to these questions: What then was the purpose of the warning and how or why was Paul able to hear it?

If God’s warning is not for you to engage in evasive maneuvers, what then is it for? It must be for the purpose of preparation, an encouragement to consider how you should respond when the time comes that you must respond, to keep your head up and your eyes open as you enter into that fire to which you’re called.  If denial is a blissful blindness brought on by the subconscious, then it blinds you to the fire you’re facing.  And if you can’t see the fire you’re about to walk into, it’s much easier to believe it’s not there.  But if, in those cases when that fire is inevitable, you don’t believe you’re about to enter it, you sure won’t know what to do when you get there.

If it’s certain you’re going in, don’t do it with your eyes closed.

Paul was getting the warning.  He wasn’t in denial. He knew the fire was ahead.  What was that character attribute of Paul that gave him ears to hear? Why didn’t he fall into denial like most would have?  Paul gives us the answer when he links cause to the effect of finishing his “task” (vs. 24).  “But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task.”

It’s a strange paradox that self-preservation is oft the root of denial while self-denial is oft the root of ultimate preservation. Consider Jesus’ words in John 12:25: He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.  

Paul thought nothing of his life in this world.  His reckless abandonment of temporal comfort and pleasure for the eternal crown of life allowed him to hear clearly what God was calling him into.  In spite of warnings and friends who pleaded with him not to go, he stayed on track with God’s will and entered the fire with his head up, his eyes open and with a determination to glorify God in it all.

Yeah, let’s be like that.


No Good Reason

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Acts 19:32 Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing and some another, because the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.

Doing what everyone else is doing without knowing the reason you’re doing it is to subtly slip into a meaningless life full of motion but without depth, passion or color.

The crowds were riled and rushing through the streets toward the coliseum.  The frantic passionate nature of the charge would have made any bystander believe something gravely important was underway. And as more made the decision to join the crowd, the crowd grew leading more to make the same decision – join the crowd.  Scripture records that most of them involved in this protest didn’t know why they were there or why they were shouting, “Great is Artemis! God of the Ephesians!” Simply put, a majority of the people didn’t know what they were doing.

Do you know what you’re doing?

A psychology professor once told me that while at a concert in a football stadium, he was having trouble seeing because the entire crowd was standing. He grabbed the shoulders of the few in front of him and beside him, encouraging them to sit. As they did, those near them also sat. He described the entire stadium coming to sit like a wave.

Sometimes it only takes a few to get something started.  But that certainly doesn’t mean the few are doing something meaningful. If enough people stare into the sky, others will stare, too, straining to see what they think others see. If enough people stand in an elevator facing the wrong way, when the door opens and a person enters, chances are he’ll face the back, as well. These examples are research proven and the videos are interesting to watch.  The subjects who are “fooled” into standing the wrong way in an elevator never seem to ask “Why am I doing this?” What does seem apparent, though, is the question, “Shouldn’t I do what they’re doing?”


It’s hard to resist group tendency. In fact, that crazy question your mom used to ask, “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you, too?” may have been meant as sarcasm but might be based in more reality than you thought. It’s not that hard to find yourself doing something centered more on social norm than reason. And chances are, you’re also not asking, “Why am I doing this?”

As leaders, that question should serve as the filter for every decision we make and if we ask it in truth, it will lead us toward truth.

Jogging a trail years ago, I startled a white-tailed deer. His tail shot up warning the others that danger was near.  They all darted in different directions, one of them out into the highway to her demise.  The big problem? There wasn’t any danger near.  The warning signal was based in unwarranted fear.

Many decisions are made in fear, an emotion based on what might be. Those decisions then lead others to fear. We send signals with our decisions. For your decisions to be based on truth or what is rather than what might be, then ask the hard question.

“Why am I doing this?”

It’s not just a good question for leaders to ask.  Why am I going to church?  Why am I still at this job? Why am I still in this relationship?

Doing what you’ve always done or what everyone else is doing without knowing the reason you’re doing it is to subtly slip into a meaningless life full of motion but without depth, passion or color.

I don’t go to church because everyone goes. I go because I love God and His people.  I don’t go to work because I’ve been there for 16 years. I go because I’m loyal and committed to do the best I can for my employer and to provide for those I love.  I’m not in my relationship because the law says to stay married. I’m still in it because I love being with her, I’m committed to her and want her life to be blessed.

Go ahead and look at the rote decisions of your day to day and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” It may save you from getting caught up in what the Ephesians did that day; doing what others are doing even when they don’t know why they’re doing it. All for what? No good reason.

Tackle Injustice


Acts 18:9  Then the Lord said to Paul in a night vision, “Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. [10] For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.”

…your action as a defender and comforter of the weak and overwhelmed may be the payment on a promise God made to someone else.

My wife and I raised our kids in a small town where the major news was a championship football game or a city council decision to modify a park.  Pretty quiet.  It’s a small enough town that when people wave it’s not just done out of country courtesy but familiarity. People know each other.  It’s also the town where people often leave their doors unlocked.  I did that.

I don’t remember what wee hour of the morning it was when my wife startled me out of my sleep, “I think someone’s in our car!”  I leaped to the window and could see the dome light on in my Oldsmobile Firenza parked in the street.  Someone was in our car! I don’t think I’ll ever forget how incensed I felt at the brazen injustice of that trespass.  Compelled by that emotion, I threw on my robe and charged out the front door. I can remember my wife’s bewildered voice chasing me, “James! What are you doing?!”

Halfway to the car, that’s the very question I asked the perpetrator in the most authoritative voice I had.  A man about six and a half feet tall, leaned in the driver’s side digging around my console, quickly stood up.  I was rounding the car without a halt in my pace. We made eye contact. “Oh no,” he said.  “Oh no’s right,” I responded.  I tackled him to the ground and pinned him until the police arrived.

My wife thought I’d lost my mind. “What if he’d had a gun or a knife? You could have been hurt! You should have stayed inside and just called the police.”

Those are all good ideas but something about the injustice drove me to action without much thought of repercussion.

You might have the same visceral response to personal injustice but how do you feel when it’s an injustice against some other person? Would I have been so quick to act if I had seen that man digging around someone else’s car? Probably not. Wouldn’t have felt the same. Wouldn’t have acted the same.

But what does God expect?

In Paul’s vision on this night, God tells him to fear not, that He is with him, that He has many people in the city of Corinth. God’s people were a part of His plan to counter the injustice Paul was suffering! I think it’s fair to shorten that for our own application today: God’s people are a part of His plan to counter injustice.

For a moment, imagine a single mom who’s fled an abusive relationship. She’s found shelter in your community but feels alone and frightened.  God speaks to her in a vision and says the same thing He said to Paul, “Fear not. I am with you and I have many people in this city.” Are you one of those people? Whether you are or not is one thing. Responding to and confronting injustice is another.

Are you a comforter? Are you a defender? An encourager? Are you a support to the weak?

Jesus is on a global mission of justice or justification; to make things right as they should be.  As Christians, we are a part of that wherever we live for as long as we live. Coupling that truth with the Holy Spirit’s conviction may cause you to charge injustice even when it’s an injustice against someone else.

Don’t be surprised if a relative or loved one thinks you’ve lost your mind as you charge out the door. “What are you doing? You could get hurt! Call someone else!”

Just shout back God’s promise, “He has many people in this city. And I’m one of them!”

We are His people in that city and your action as a defender and comforter of the weak and overwhelmed may be the payment on a promise God made to someone else.  Don’t miss the opportunity.

It’s Upside Down!


Acts 17:6 When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too.”

How important for the Christian to awake every morning with right revelation of the world, all of its ways strangely inverted to the truth of God.

Here’s a fact few know. Because of the concave shape of a person’s lens, the light from every image is directed toward the bottom of the retina and the boimage-inversionttom of the image is directed toward the top of the retina. The light actually crosses, inverting the image on the retina. Yep. Everything you see is captured by the retina upside down.

So why do you see things right side up? Because the brain actually inverts your perception so the physical world makes sense. Special inversion glasses can actually invert the image before it reaches the lens, so the lens then re-inverts it projecting it on the retina right side up. Ahh! As it should be, yes? Strangely though, people then see everything upside down! For about three days that is. Then the brain does its handiwork and flips your inverted world right side up again so it makes sense to you. If you’re wondering what happens when the person takes those inversion glasses off days later, you probably guessed it. Everything flips upside down. Dizzy yet?
Here’s the point. If you look at something upside down long enough, it’ll begin to appear right side up. What are you focused on? What pictures does the world cast that are beginning to appear normal or right in your sight? Sexual sin is cast in a normal light by Hollywood. Faithlessness and dishonesty are normalized by many people with power or fame. Political leaders buy into and convince others that redistribution of someone’s wealth to someone less wealthy is just. Pro-choice advocates propagate that life begins at birth. The intellectual elite casts evolutionary theory as fact. Anyone who looks long enough at what the world has to offer is at risk of viewing right side up what God regards upside down.

This is exactly what had happened to the Pharisees in this passage and those who saw things their way. They had taken their eyes off of God and through a haughty, worldly scope had come to view life without the Messiah, without redemption, without salvation as right side up. They had looked at it through their own lenses for so long that upside down appeared as a corrected image. So, when Paul and the others were preaching the truth, a world as it should be, they were accused of “turning the world upside down.”
Are you one of the accused? Or are you living upside down with the rest of the upside down world? Romans 12:2 warns us, “Be not conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In 2 Corinthians 4:18, Paul writes “Look not at the temporal but the eternal.” James 4:4 reminds us that friendship with the world is to be at enmity with God.  God paints quite the picture of contrast between heaven and earth.

What worldliness has become normalized to our senses because we’ve gazed on it for so long? Is our attention on a deviating and drifting culture such that its godless images have begun to appear right side up to us? How important for the Christian to awake every morning with right revelation of the world, all of its ways strangely inverted to the truth of God and to realize every day is a mission in partnership with the One who made it all to turn as many poor souls right side up as possible.

Radical salvation through faith and right revelation through biblical truth – It’s like taking those crazy glasses off. Everything worldly flips upside down… just as it really is.


Doing the Right Good


Acts 16:6-10  They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.  So, bypassing Mysia, they came down to Troas.  During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us! ”  After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.

Past the most good you want to do but shouldn’t, is the right good you should. And that’s the good that makes the difference God intends.

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”


This quote is often attributed to John Wesley but there are scholars who doubt he ever said it. Wesley was born in 1703 and at age 35, experienced a radical conversion. He later founded Methodism. He was certainly a hero of the faith and a diligent student of Scripture. I doubt he said it, too.

There’s a lot more to right charity than doing all the good you can muster. It certainly feels good to give and sacrificial giving is good but our key passage in chapter 16 indicates there might be a right time to do good. And if there’s a right time, there’s also a wrong time. It’s hard to argue that doing good at the wrong time is a good idea.

Some believe this immoderate altruistic statement is what inspired Catherine Booth to say, “There is no reward equal to that of doing the most good to the most people in the most need.” Yes, this is where Salvation Army got its tagline of “Doing the most good.” I have a true admiration for the founders of the Salvation Army and am thankful for much of their work today. However, I believe there’s a difference between doing the most good and doing the right good.

Few Christians would argue that the gospel of forgiveness, salvation and redemption is at the base of all good. To preach that good news is certainly to do good. Yet, the Spirit “prevented” the apostles from just that. In obedience to God’s direction, they passed by people to whom they could have preached the good news! Why? Because it wasn’t the right good to do. Wrong time? Wrong people? Wrong place? We don’t know. All we know is that in this instance, it would have been wrong to do the all the good you can to all the people you can.

They passed by doing what all would think good to do. Preach the gospel. What they couldn’t see is that as they bypassed Phyrgia, Galatia, and Mysia, there waited a lady named Lydia, a demon possessed slave girl, an earthquake and a midnight prison break that would spark a fire of revival throughout Macedonia.

We should learn from this. Past the most good you want to do but shouldn’t, is the right good you should. And that’s the good that makes the difference God intends.

Catherine Booth was right. There is a great reward in doing good. But the greatest reward is not in helping the most poor. It’s in glorifying God.  And if your desire to help others exceeds your desire for Him, you’ll miss His mission for you only to find yourself doing the most good instead of the right good.

Uncommon Sense


Acts 15:28  For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision — and ours — to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things

How often does our common sense lead us to Jesus’ uncommon actions?


After leaving the Navy as a computer analyst, Grace Hopper developed Flow-Matic that would later evolve into COBAL, the first well-known computer programming language. Born in 1906, she was a peculiar child dismantling several alarm clocks at age seven to understand their inner-workings. When her mother discovered what she was doing, she restricted Grace to one only for experimentation. She was an unconventional innovator and leader who would later keep a wall clock in her office that ran counter-clockwise. No wonder she’s the one to whom this encouragement is attributed: “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”

Wonder if that ever got her in trouble?

It’s gotten me in trouble. I remember completing our women’s shelter addition at the mission with an open-date right around the corner. Problem was I had been practicing Grace’s recommendation. We had plans drawn up by an architect, stamped by an engineer, approved by the City but because of cost and what I thought to be common sense, I deviated a bit from the plans. The fire marshal didn’t like the deviation. On inspection, I was told that extra sprinklers would have to be placed above every ceiling tile in the women’s dorm unit before we could open. Sometimes it might be easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission. Sometimes it isn’t.

It’s the reason most of us don’t like consulting authority. There’s a chance the authority will disagree. It’s why we like to lean on our own understanding. To us, it’s what makes the most sense. Unfortunately, I think what’s common sense to us is too commonly wrong. In a world too complex to figure out, why would we lean on our own understanding? Because consulting with authority always comes with the risk of disagreement.

A new and powerful faith, Christianity, was gripping eastern Europe, its rapid advancement amazing everyone, the apostles included.  They knew the new movement was completely dependent on God and they wanted to be in agreement with Him. Always. With no precedent to follow, no rule book to guide them, they consulted the Holy Spirit in every strategic decision. I’m sure what they thought to be common sense was often corrected after consulting God. Apparently, this instance was remarkable and they noted it, “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision – and ours -”

Wow! They consulted God with what they thought was the right thing to do and discovered He was in agreement with their thought. Worth noting, obviously.

What would life be like for us if we consulted God rather than just using our common sense? How much common sense did Jesus use? He touched lepers, sent His friends into storms, drew crowds far away with no food to feed them, enjoyed dinner with thieves, loved prostitutes and didn’t seem to care that Lazarus was about to die. How often does our common sense lead us to Jesus’ uncommon actions?

Most of the time, we operate under Grace Hopper’s rule, asking for forgiveness after we’ve messed something up rather than asking permission before we do it.  Wouldn’t we be better off if we checked our common sense at the door, consulted with the Authority, and then operated by His uncommon sense instead?




Acts 14:21 After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.”

The greatest commitment is not in the most sincere pledge to do something, but in the acknowledgement that there is absolutely no other way to do something that absolutely must be done.

Just before 8 am on Sunday morning December 7, 1941, a fleet of Japanase war planes descended on Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack on the United States Navy. Japan had declared war on America. Italy and Germany immediately followed. Every American realized that a stateside invasion was imminent and that there was only one route to preserve our freedom. Fight.

The war effort that ensued would create one of the strongest fighting forces in history. Why? Because we were committed.

Sometimes, we commit ourselves. Other times, we’re committed.

I was committed once. To solitary confinement as a juvenile. No way out. No escape. No other choice.

In the second world war, Japan committed us to the fight like the law committed me to jail. No way out. No escape. No other choice. We had to fight.

What’s the difference between making a commitment and being committed? None really. If your commitment is real, it doesn’t matter whether you made it or if someone else made it for you. No way out. No escape. No other choice. You’re committed.

The residents of Lystra had pummeled Paul with rocks, dragged him out of the city and left him for dead. The next day, he went back into the same city. What commitment!

The other disciples were committed, too. How do we know?

Because our key verse tells us that when Paul told them about times of great trouble on the route ahead, they were “strengthened.” Sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it? Who’s strengthened when they hear bad news?!

The committed.

Consider the connection between strength and commitment.

When there’s no way out, no escape, no other choice; you strengthen yourself for the only road ahead. For the disciples, there was only one route to heaven and regardless of the trials awaiting them, it was the only route for these committed soldiers.

They were strengthened for the trials because they were committed to the route.

You’re only strengthened before the fire if you’re committed to go through it.

The alternative? Avoidance. It’s the bypass of the uncommitted. Is God calling you to move somewhere you don’t want to? Is He prodding you to change jobs to something that pays less? Is He convicting you to sacrifice comfort or maybe stick to a mission that’s difficult or even dangerous? The option of avoidance is the absence of commitment. They’re mutually exclusive. Full commitment means there’s no other route. And the avoidance option means there’s no real commitment.

Paul called himself a slave of Christ. Had he made a commitment or had he been committed? No way out. No escape. No other choice. Go ahead. Tell God you want to be fully committed. You’ll find that your relationships, your character and your faith will be strengthened, too.