New Lenses

This is Part 4 in a series on Familiarity. View previous entries here.

Sometime last year, I walked into the Lenscrafters in my local mall, in order to purchase a new pair of glasses. An hour later, I was trying on a pair that were identical as my previous pair—the only difference was a new type of lenses.

As I walked into the mall, everything looked different. I was seeing the world around me in a way that was more fresh and vivid than before.

I can see clearly now.

I thought I could see clearly before, but that was really just what I was familiar with. As my eyes began to adjust, I began to wonder how much my old lenses had kept me from seeing, and my head began to ache. Sometimes, when we begin to see things in a new way, it disorients us a bit, but that feeling eventually fades.

What was interesting about this was I didn’t know how much of a difference my new lenses would make until I began to look through them. I just noticed I needed new lenses, because the old ones were scratched up quite a bit. This wasn’t extremely noticeable though, because it was familiar. But when I got new lenses, which were not familiar, I noticed the difference in how I could see.

I think there are many of us who struggle to see the full color and beauty of the world around us, because we’re still looking through our old lenses. It’s as if our vision is blurred, and we can only see certain aspects of reality. And the worst part is, we don’t even realize that we cannot see clearly. It’s not until we put new lenses on that we realize there is something that we’ve been missing, that there is more than one way to see. Because as long as we keep looking through our old, familiar lenses, we will continue to believe that what we see is all there is.

The implications of this are staggering when we think in terms of our spiritual lives.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. ~ Ephesians 1:18-19a, NIV

In this passage, the Apostle Paul is praying for the Ephesians, that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened. In other words, he is praying that that their spiritual eyes (rather than just their natural eyes) will be opened. He’s praying that they will be able to see things differently, see beyond what is familiar. He’s praying that they would get new lenses, that what happened to me physically would happen to them spiritually.

If new lenses in the natural realm substantially change the way we see, how much more do new lenses in the spiritual realm?

My new lenses were not just new in the sense that they were not old, they were actually upgraded from my old lenses, specifically for the purpose of seeing things more clearly. But I didn’t realize just how clearly until I actually put them on.

The eyes of our hearts are not just upgraded versions of our physical eyes; they are an entirely different way of seeing. In this passage, Paul is saying that this new way of seeing reveals: 1) The hope to which we’ve been called 2) The riches of the inheritance God has given us 3) The reality that all of Heaven’s power and resources are available to us.

When we begin to see with the eyes of our hearts, it’s not so much that we’re seeing something new, it’s that we’re seeing what has always been. Like with my glasses, familiarity has a way of preventing us from seeing what is right in front of us—or at least, not all there is to see of what is right in front of us.

Familiarity causes us to think that our experience is the only experience. When we’ve only seen through one set of lenses our entire lives, we don’t realize that there are other ways to see. But when God gives us new lenses, we begin to realize that our story is not the only story, that there are many ways to see.

I can see clearly now—and you have the opportunity to see clearly too. The first step to seeing clearly is realizing you need new lenses, even if it’s not for the reason that you think. Because even though we recognize our need, we never recognize how great our need was until we’ve seen it through new lenses.


Sudan, Newtown, and Duck Dynasty


This is Part 3 in my series on Familiarity. View previous entries here.

A few weeks ago, when the whole Phil Robertson thing blew up, one writer brought up the fact that we were more concerned about the star of Duck Dynasty than the 500 people that were killed in Sudan the day before. And the reality is, most of us were. But why?

Think back to a year ago, when a shooting at a Connecticut elementary school flooded our TV screens. It was all we talked about for a few weeks. But, a few days before the Phil Robertson scandal, the one-year anniversary of Newtown passed with little fanfare. We remember … but then we forget.

Why am I bringing up these random scenes? Because I believe that they tell us something about familiarity.

The Sudan crisis doesn’t hit home because few of us have ever been to Sudan, or anywhere close. The terrible acts of violence that take place overseas are almost a foreign concept to us, regardless of whether we live in the violent inner city, or the safe confines of suburbia. Because we have no grid for what is going on in Sudan—regardless of whether or not we’re informed about it—the headline about the death of 500 innocent people registers as little more than a number.

Which brings us to Newtown. The people that were killed there were just as innocent and helpless, and the death toll was far less. Yet, this tragedy hits home on a level that the Sudan tragedy simply does not. Why is that? Are not both events equally horrific?

I’ve never been to Connecticut, but I am a little more familiar with it than I am Sudan. And the reason why the nightmare in New England hits home, even in the South and Midwest, is because it reminds us that we are not as safe as we think we are. The tragedies that happen overseas can and do happen here.

I’m not trying to rank tragedies. They’re all terrible, regardless of the death tolls. But, the reality is, we care about some more than others, not necessarily because we’re heartless and only care about America (though that is sometimes the case), but because we’re not familiar with anything else.

So why do we get as riled up about Phil Robertson as we do Newtown? Aren’t those two things in entirely different categories? Not necessarily—remember, we’re talking about familiarity here.

Newtown hung in our minds for weeks after it happened, but it was a distant memory by the one-year mark. But not for the families that were involved. I have no idea where they’re at right now, but I’m sure the tragedy still keeps them up at night. It’s easier for us to forget, because no one we know personally was involved.

This brings us to the Duck Dynasty situation. Shouldn’t it be the same as Newtown? No one we know personally was involved. The only problem is, we don’t think of it this way. We’ve watched the show long enough that we actually think the Robertson’s are our real-life friends. We’ve viewed a very select portion of their lives, and have somehow gotten to the point where we think we know them intimately, like the friends we share our souls with over coffee.

Though we are often unaware of it, familiarity plays a far greater role in our lives than we think it does. Familiarity changes the way that we think. It drives our emotions, actions, and the things we take a stand for. And sometimes, familiarity causes us to think we know people who we actually don’t. Because of familiarity, we tend to care more about a millionaire living in the backwoods of Louisiana than the homeless man standing on the street corner in our own city.


Burden and Vision


This is Part 2 in my series on Familiarity. View my previous entry here.

There is a difference between an idea and a vision. Ideas come and go in the moment, but vision remains. Because of this, vision isn’t born in a moment, but by process. And I have found that the best visions have burdens behind them.

When you have a burden backing up your vision, it drives you. It wakes you up in the morning, and keeps you dreaming when you’re lying in bed at night. When you don’t have burden backing your vision, it’s easy to lay aside when things get hard. But when you’re truly burdened by something, it’s difficult to ignore. Vision doesn’t have to be your own—it can be imparted to you by someone else—but no one can give you their burden for something. That you must get on your own.

So how does familiarity play into all of this?

In my previous entry, I presented the idea that familiarity leads to an awareness of need, which leads to compassion, which leads to vision, which leads to action. For this entry, substitute the word “compassion” with “burden”.

Burdens don’t usually come when we’re shut up in a conference room or a cabin in the woods, searching for it. But it does help to have your mind clear, and those things can serve that purpose. Burdens come in the day-to-day grind of life—in ordinary and familiar places—as we bump up against a broken world where things have gone terribly wrong, far different than how God intended. And it’s in the middle of this brokenness that burdens are developed.

Once you’re burdened for something, once you’ve tapped into that cause burning inside of you, it’s far easier to get vision. The burden is the driving force, but the vision is what you do about it. The burden is your inward motivation to do something externally that helps to heal the brokenness of the world.

If you feel lost and confused, if you’re looking for a reason to get out of bed in the morning, if you’ve lost your vision and are seeking to regain it … just keep showing up to life. The greatest temptation when you’re in this place is to shut out the world, to retreat to just going through the motions of life. It’s a trap. There will be times when you get knocked down, but get up. Keep showing up. Be present. Because it’s there—often in the mundane—that your burden will develop. And out of that burden, vision will be born.


Names and Faces

This is Part 1 in my series on Familiarity.

When we hear words like familiarity, we often think of them strictly in their negative sense. We think about things like how Jesus couldn’t do any miracles in His hometown, because the people there were so familiar with Him that they couldn’t see anything divine coming out of Him. And it’s true: the closer we are to things, the less likely we are to see their beauty. In this sense, familiarity blinds us. But there is another side to familiarity that actually helps us to see.

Three weeks ago, I was with the youth outreach ministry I work with, doing a school outreach in a very small town in East Texas. Yesterday, I was on my way to Shreveport, and I drove through the town once again. As I passed the school, I began re-playing images in my mind from the outreach, and I saw the names and faces of students we had ministered to. And I prayed for them, that God would show up in their lives and point them toward who He created them to be, and more importantly, toward Himself.

Had I no previous interaction with the students, teachers and principals at this school, I wouldn’t have given the school a second glance as I drove by. But because I had some level of familiarity, I found myself remembering the outreach and praying for the students, a few of them by name.

Before I started working with the youth outreach ministry, I didn’t spend much time thinking about schools. But now that I have been doing outreaches at them for three years, I find myself praying for most schools that I drive by. And it’s funny, because three years ago, I never pictured myself becoming burdened for schools or students. Coincidentally, I was also not familiar with either one. But then I showed up at an outreach one day, sort of by accident, and in a moment, I became very familiar and aware of the need for this type of ministry.

Familiarity leads to an awareness of need, which leads to compassion, which leads to vision, which leads to action.

Because action rarely happens without vision, many of us are sitting around waiting for vision to come to us, so that we can go out and take action. But what if we’re doing this wrong? What if we need to get out and become familiar with things, so that we can see needs, be moved to compassion, develop vision, and ultimately, take action? Perhaps we need to start showing up places, until we become familiar with the cause that was inside of us all along.