the most shocking thing in the bible

Category : God, Mark, bible, different, miracles

The Bible says many shocking things.  Some of it is so shocking that people say it must be made up (i.e., Moses parting the sea.)   Others are so shocking because they go against how we see the world (Jesus didn’t really mean that we should love our enemies, right?)

But I have a different view.

I think the most shocking thing in the Bible is a story about Jesus returning to his hometown.  This is where Jesus grew up.  Yet people didn’t recognize him.  Jesus’ response was simple, yet profound: “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”

Jesus is saying that it’s only around those that know us the best, are we least recognized.  The Bible then goes on to say, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6: 4-6)

Read that last sentence again.  “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d consider healing sick people pretty much a miracle!  Imagine going into a doctors’ office after a horrible car accident.  You found yourself suddenly paralyzed and your entire life was about to change.  Then the doctor walks in, looks at you, touches your leg and suddenly you can walk again.

When the media shows up to talk about how he made you walk, the doctor simply shrugs and says, “Well I didn’t do anything really.  At least nothing important.”

What?!  Are you kidding me?!

But that’s what Jesus just said.  He couldn’t do any miracles, except miraculously healing people!

We have such a world-bound, outcome-based view of things that this sentence is difficult to understand.  It’s shocking.  It rocks our world.

God is more concerned about changing people’s hearts than doing something that defies explanation.  He defines miracles not by amazing feats, but by the simple change in our hearts.

If you ask me, that’s pretty shocking.

does god still perform miracles?

Category : God, faith, miracles, trust

A woman in Texas says that God chased away a robber.  Normally this is something I would make fun of.  I would roll my eyes and think, “no wonder people find Christians crazy.”  Even the headline of the article is snarky – “Jesus defeats armed robber.”

But then I have to stop and pause.  Why couldn’t this have happened?  Why couldn’t God have done something miraculous?

Go ahead I’ll wait for you to come up with an answer.

The only answer I can think of is that “God doesn’t do miracles.”  But that hardly seems like a Christian response.

Sometimes I think I am just too focused on “science” and not enough on God.  I can talk about God.  I can believe he performs miracles.  I’ve even seen some miracles.  Yet when I listen to other people I don’t know say that “It was just like this whole store filled with the power of God,” and that’s why a criminal with a gun ran away, it’s all I can do not to roll my eyes.

But I don’t think this is a lack of faith.  What I think this story shows is a lack of relationship.

I don’t know this woman.  I have no idea if she’s crazy or perfectly normal.  I don’t know if she goes to some weird, non-Biblical church, or attends a completely mainstream non-miracle experiencing church (not that I think that’s “normal” either).  I know nothing about her other than this short hundred word article tells me.

Sadly Christianity’s history is littered with fools, charlatans, and criminals.  Even some of the so-called leaders of Christian churches go on national television with the seeming purpose of making a fool of the faith.  It’s no wonder that I have a healthy skepticism when I read stories like this.

In the end, I think the trick is to guard against ignoring all of these stories.  Some of them are true miracles.  While others are just a sham or a delusion or a misunderstanding.  If we expect to see God perform miracles then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to throw out all the unusual things as just a backwards person giving an unsophisticated view.

Because in the end, maybe we are the unsophisticated ones.

the miracle of obedience

1

Category : John, bible, faith, living a life of faith, miracles, taking action

What happens when someone asks you to do something unexpected?  Do you do it, no questions asked?  Or, are you more likely to roll your eyes?  If you’re really dramatic you might act like a certain 4 year old I know who likes to jump up and down and throw a temper tantrum.

Most of us don’t like to do things without knowing all the details.  We want answers to who, what, when, where and most importantly, why.  But maybe we need to reevaluate that.  Because Jesus pretty much never explained any of his miracles up front.  In almost every case before a miracle happened someone needed to act on faith first.

That’s how it was with Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine.

As the John describes the miracle, Jesus doesn’t really explain what he’s about to do.  There isn’t a 5 minute meeting to get everyone on the same page.  Jesus doesn’t send out a Facebook update saying, “I’m about to turn this water into wine.”  Instead this is how the Bible describes these events…

“Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’”

No explanations up front.  Just an expectation of obedience.  Can you imagine what the servants were thinking?  “This guy is cracked.  And worse we’re going to get in trouble with the master.  Aren’t we going to look like idiots when we get up there and hand this guy some water!”

Despite their doubts, they were obedient.  And because of that, they witnessed Jesus’ first miracle.

But so many of Jesus’ miracles worked like this.  People were healed only after they believed.  Some friends believed in Jesus’ power so much they cut a hole in someone’s roof to lower their friend down to Jesus.  A woman believed in Jesus so much that she was willing to risk death to just brush against Jesus’ clothes.

They had no promises, no status updates, and no guarantees.  They just knew that when Jesus said to believe, they should believe.

One of the biggest challenges facing the modern Christian is the view that miracles don’t happen.  I’m not surprised at this.  We live in a cynical age where nothing is taken on face value.  While that may protect us from internet scams and cause us to celebrate public failures of stars and athletes, it makes a poor way to develop a relationship with a loving God.

When I look at the ministry of Jesus I see a bunch of people who missed out on the greatest moment in human history.  Not because they couldn’t understand what was happening.  Not because they weren’t smart enough to figure it out.  And not because they weren’t’ “good people.”  But because they couldn’t stop asking questions.  Instead of acting, they simply stood by wondering what Jesus was up to.

The people who missed out on Jesus were the ones standing on the sideline constantly wondering what this Jesus guy was up to.  The irony is the people who didn’t worry about all that were the ones who experienced the fullness of who Jesus is.

Maybe we should ask fewer questions and spend more time being obedient.  Maybe then we’d see a few more miracles.

the waste of faith

Category : God, barbarian, bible, miracles, trust

……….

Every year my church does a crazy Christmas show.  This is a full out, laser-snow-machine-giant-screen-booming-bass show.  It even has 50 foot tall battle-hardened angels.  In fact, it’s one of the best produced (and written) show’s I’ve ever seen.

But almost every year I hear someone complain that it’s “over the top” or “too expensive”.  Some even wonder “why go to all that trouble?”

I understand their points.  Part of me even agrees with those thoughts.   I don’t know how much money is spent on free coffee, free hot chocolate, free cookies but my guess is over the course of two weeks it probably runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Shouldn’t we be better stewards of God’s things?  Doesn’t God want us to cut out the waste?

Frankly, no.

Because what we are doing isn’t wasteful.  It draws somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 people every year.  That’s a lot of people to connect with God.  Many of them are making that connection for the first time.

All of this has been running through my mind as I’ve been reading the “minor prophets” in the Old Testament.  As I’ve been reading I’ve noticed (for the first time) just how many crazy, outlandish, unnecessary things God calls prophets to do.

He calls Hosea to marry a prostitute.  He had Jonah swallowed by a big fish (although that was more because Jonah wasn’t cooperating than anything else).  He asked Ezekiel to lay on his side for more than a year.

I am sure that some people, even today, would say that those things were a bit ridiculous.  “Come on!  A whale?  Can we really afford something as big as a whale?  What about something more the size of a large tuna?  Or maybe a mackerel?”

That was a problem even with Jesus.  Some people saw his ministry as too extravagant.  Too relaxed.  And so he was labeled a glutton and a drunkard.

You know why these aren’t unnecessary?  Because God is willing to do anything, short of sin, to bring us into a relationship with him.  He asked these prophets to do these crazy things so that their actions would cut through the cultural noise of their days.  Sometimes the way to get someone’s attention is to go bigger, louder, and badder.  And sometimes

Do you really think God has suddenly stopped trying to connect with us in any way possible?

Now I’m obviously not advocating waste.  But I am advocating crazy generosity.  I just hope God doesn’t ask me to shave my head.

laws of physics: equal and opposite reactions

Category : God, different, faith, miracles, sin

……….

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

This is a famous law that plays out in virtually every aspect of life.  If you drop a ball the energy will have to go somewhere, it doesn’t just disappear.  So the ball bounces back up toward you.  If you’re driving your car and slam into a wall, your car is crushed and you’re likely to be in the hospital.  If you use hate and violence to “get back at” someone, they will likely turn around and use hate and violence against you.

That’s just the way the universe works.

Enter Jesus.

He changed how this law works.  As Paul said to the Christians in Rome: ” the wages of sin are death.”  Every time we sin we deserve to be punished.  We deserve to suffer the eternal consequences.  God knows this.  But God also knows the depths of his love for us.  So he found another way to satisfy the laws of physics and the laws of love.

That’s grace.

But grace comes at a price.    Even God must follow the rules he created for the universe.  And because of this it cost Jesus’ his life.  Someone had to pay the price for our guilt.

I’ve spent this week talking about “what evidence do you need to believe?” and the “illusions of the world.”  We saw that expecting purely scientific evidence for God’s existence would leave you unsatisfied.  And if you simply relied on your eyes, you would fall for a pack of lies (Photoshop and computer graphics do amazing things these days!)  As much as we want to rely on science it misses one of the major pieces of reality – grace. 

God didn’t have to pay this price  He could have left it to us.  But we never would have survived.  We never would have been able to overcome the laws of physics.  We would have been crushed by our guilt.  So instead of being scientific or evidenced based, he chose to act in love.  But as Philip Yancey says, “Grace costs nothing for the recipients but everything for the giver” (What’s so Amazing about Grace).  Science doesn’t make that decision.  Evolution doesn’t sacrifice itself.  Reason doesn’t choose to die for love.

The laws of physics may be in place in the universe, but I am grateful God works on a system that isn’t solely based on science and evidence.

faith and reason

Category : God, Jesus, faith, feeding my brain, miracles

……….

Sherlock Holmes once said, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer.”  As we all know Holmes was considered the greatest of detectives (next to Batman of course).  He was able to solve any crime, through the sheer use of logic.

I’ve always admired this type of character because I think it taps into something deep inside us.  As humans we hate not knowing things which is why we’ve spent billions on science so we can better understand the world.  Countless hours have been spent studying dinosaur fossils or plant species.  Even the Loch Ness Monster has his own TV specials!  There’s something about the “unknown” that forces us to seek out answers.

That search for answers is why I love shows like Monk and House.  And why I’ve read stories about great detectives.  Because in the confines of those books, or within a 60 minute span, everything is tied up.  There are no more doubts.  All the puzzles fit.  It’s such a different experience than life.  In the real world we are left with clues we can’t put together.  Questions that don’t have easy answers.  To be honest it frustrates the hell out of me!

Several years ago I was hit with the full force of this problem.  I suddenly realized there was no greater question than “is there a God?  And if so, was he Jesus?”  OK, so that’s really two questions.

I began to realize just how much rides on the answer to those questions.  Morality.  History.  Our purpose.  So I, and many others, have gone out seeking answers.  Unfortunately when confronted with this question people tend to solve it in one of two ways.

  1. We either say, God can only be known through faith.
  2. Or God can only be quantified using science.

I think both of these approaches are off.

God can be known through both faith and reason.  In fact we need both in order to really understand him.

Because this is a monster topic, let’s leave faith for another day, and right now focus on science.  Personally I’m a big fan of science.  I think science is mankind’s greatest invention.  And there’s no doubt that science has radically changed human history.  Heck it’s even responsible for this blog.

Christianity can be hard to accept.  There are a lot of crazy-sounding claims.  God walked as a human?  He was born from a virgin? He rose from the dead?  To me those sound like something you read in a comic book, not in a 2,000 year old document.  It seems to fly in the face of scientific theory.  But does that mean it can’t happen?  And if so, why?

We live in a hyper-scientific society, where reason and logic are said to rule.  But I’m not so sure they do.  Oh sure we tell ourselves that we are logical and reasonable.  But Psychology suggests something else.  Research shows time and again that people don’t like evidence that conflicts with their world view.  We work very hard to minimize that conflict.  Often going as far as simply ignoring the conflicting data.  Remember the Loch Ness Monster?  Despite all of the overwhelming evidence that it doesn’t exist, people still believe.  The same is true of people who deny the lunar landings.

It’s surprisingly easy to use science as an intellectual crutch.  As a way to reject things we don’t necessarily like to talk about (e.g., Angels, Hell, Garbanzo Beans).

Some people will tell you God can’t exist because it’s not being scientific.  But I don’t find that to be a good answer.  It doesn’t satisfy my questions.  We have to address this historical person named Jesus.  How do we square this eye witness testimony with science?  How do we explain people being radically changed when they get to know God?  How do you explain people’s willingness to die when all they had to do was admit they made the story up?  Science doesn’t offer us an answer to “why”.

I don’t pretend any of those questions conclusively prove that God exists.  I can’t prove with 100% certainty that God is real.  But maybe that’s the wrong standard to have?  Maybe certainty isn’t the goal.  After all, how can you be certain I am not an alien robot?  You don’t know me, so you can’t know for sure…  You just take it on faith that I am not an alien robot.

The goal of R3 isn’t to prove that God exists conclusively.  It’s to show that faith and reason aren’t mutually exclusive.  It’s to show you that you can live out a life of faith, and still believe in science.  It’s to get you to challenge your thinking and at least come to an understanding of why you believe what you believe.  Even if you believe there is no God.

To paraphrase Holmes, even though some of the claims of Christianity sound ludicrous, maybe it’s true, no matter how improbable it sounds.

an easter miracle

Category : God, Jesus, different, hope, love, miracles

…….

Conservation of resources is a theory psychologists use to explain stress.  In short it says that people only have so many “resources” for dealing with problems and each additional demand on those resources drains our “reserves.”  This is why we can find ourselves so angry and irritated with people for something simple.

Can anyone say happy holidays?

If you’ve ever felt yourself overwhelmed by requests for help, you’ve experienced this.  Even when these requests come from people we care about, they can still feel overpowering and make us want to hide.

Yet God deals with that every day.

There are literally billions of people turning to him in need.  Asking for stuff.  Nagging even.  Yet he never grows weary or tired.

“Oh sure” you’re thinking, ”but that’s because God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and eternal.”  True.  But frankly I think that would make it worse.  Look at it this way: if you knew the answer to every question, wouldn’t it get annoying to have people asking you the same questions?  I imagine Stephen Hawking gets tired of answering “what’s a black hole?”

The same with being all-powerful.  If athletes and rock stars get tired of signing autographs, think how it would be if you could do anything you wanted, whenever you wanted.  But instead of being left alone to do that, you were always surrounded by someone asking for help.  Would you just get tired of people coming to you because they knew you could help them?

Even having all the time in the world wouldn’t be enough.  In fact that’s probably the worst of the three.  You’d be stuck for all eternity in the equivalent of customer service!

So there must be another explanation of why God is so involved in our lives.  And the only one that I can come up with is love.  When we love something or someone we’re willing to spend whatever time, energy, and resources to fix the problem.  I love video games, so I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about them.  Love is what makes us willing to answer the same questions time and again.  It’s what allows us to use whatever resources we have to help.  And it’s what allows us to be willing to spend an infinite amount of time with someone.

I believe this is what the essence of Easter is.  God didn’t have to come down to earth to relate to us.  He could have said “take it or leave it” and walked away.  But he not only chose to live among us.  He chose to die in an awful, horrible way.  What makes an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-time God do something like that?

Love.

And that’s the Easter miracle.

God of the unexpected miracle

Category : God, bible, different, miracles, prayer

 

Sometimes we look at God as a giant slot machine.

All we need to do is pull on the handle marked “prayer” and out comes the jackpot.  But that’s not what happens.  While God answers many prayers, he doesn’t always answer them in the way we expect.

For instance, a common prayer might look like this:  “Lord – help me find the home of my dreams.”

When we make that prayer what we expect is to find the perfect house.  What may very well happen is that we suddenly discover we love living in our apartment or current house.  We don’t get the “thing.”  What we get is a new way of looking at what we already have.

This “unexpected miracle” plays out time and again in the Bible.  At one point Israel was under siege which was causing a horrible famine.  Things were so bad the Israelites turned to cannibalism.  This (rightly) infuriated the King.  But instead of trusting God, he blamed God and tried to kill Elisha (who was a prophet).

Yet when the King tried to retaliate against God he was confronted with something unexpected.  Elisha was promising that the famine would end and prices for food would drop to pre-famine levels.  Not only that, they would do it over night.  (Think about gas prices dropping from $4.50/gallon to $0.97 /gallon).

An officer with the King pointed out the obvious – even if the siege ended, they wouldn’t have enough food to immediately feed everyone.  This is logistics 101.

Yet God is the God of the unexpected.  And this miracle was no exception.  Israel prayed for a miracle, and what they got was an unexpected answer.  That night 4 men approached the Syrian camp.  When they arrived they found it to be empty.  There wasn’t a single soldier left.  But there was a ton of food.  In their haste to run away the Syrian’s had left all of their supplies.  God had managed to end the siege and provide food for the city.  Exactly what Elisha had predicted.

No one expected that miracle, but God acted any way.

I say all of this because it’s easy to believe God doesn’t answer prayers or provide miracles today.  Sometimes I even find myself wondering “where are all of God’s miracles?”  I have to actively remind myself that God answers prayers, just not always in the way I expect them.

Last week I experienced one of these unexpected miracles: my girlfriend’s phone broke.  Okay, so that wasn’t the miracle.  The miracle was how we got it fixed!

The phone broke late Wednesday night, and she needed it for work.  We didn’t exactly have the money to buy a new phone or to wait 2 weeks for a replacement phone to be mailed.  So we did something a bit strange – we prayed over the phone and asked that God would “fix” it so that it would work.

And yes, it feels very weird to pray out loud about a cell phone.  But I did it anyway.  I figured God can do anything, why couldn’t he fix a cell phone?

After we finished the prayer we turned it on and nothing happened.  We left the battery out over night hoping that would help.  Still nothing.  Feeling a little discouraged we ultimately decided to go to the cell phone store.  We had resigned ourselves to getting a new phone.  But as I said, God is a God of unexpected miracles.  When we got to the store they simply gave us a brand new phone as a replacement.  No hassle.  No arguing.  Not even a pressured sale to renew a service plan.  They just handed us the new phone, transferred the data, and we were out the door.

That miracle was not expected.  I fully believed God could fix the cell phone and make it work if he chose to do so.  But I expected the original phone to work, not to get a brand new replacement.

God didn’t meet my expectations.  Instead he showed me he is capable of answering prayers in ways I could never imagine.

I wonder about the ways God shows up in my life unexpectedly and I miss him because I have set expectations of what God should look like.  I am reminded that this is what happened to the Pharisees.  They expected God to be legalistic, demanding, and tough.  What they got was a man who hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes and spoke of revolutionary love.  They missed the amazing because they refused to believe in the unexpected.

I don’t want to miss out on God just because he didn’t meet my preconceived notions of who he should be and what he should look like.  I want to learn to expect the unexpected.

God of the mundane

1

Category : faith, hope, miracles, trust

 

Sometimes the best thing we can do is the mundane.  Sometimes that’s where God meets us. 

The story of Zechariah is like that.  He and his wife had tried for years to have children.  But couldn’t.  In a society that valued a male heir so highly, the pain must have been horrible.  How many times, I wonder, did they cry out “God where are you?  Why are you silent?!”

But God wasn’t silent.

In the midst of Zechariah doing his job (as a priest no less) God met him.  And told him he and his wife would have a son.  That son would grow up and be called John the Baptist – the man who would prepare the world for Jesus’ arrival.  (Luke 1: 5-15)

This story strikes me for the simple reason that despite their fears, their concerns, and their doubt they remained obedient.  If Zechariah had said, “God hasn’t shown up in all these years, I’m going to quit my job!” I wonder if he would have ever encountered God. 

I think he wouldn’t have.

Only through obedience – doing the mundane – that Zechariah and Sarah experienced God.  This forces me to look at my life.  Am I not doing the mundane, am I not being obedient, simply because I want to see something flashy?  Do I wait to act until I see cheap theatrics?  Or do I act simply because who God is excites me?  What would my life look like if I never heard from God again?

 

why can’t i know?

Category : God, bible, different, faith, miracles, trust

  

We all want certainty.  We all want absolute answers.  Turn on the television and you’ll see shows like CSI or Monk, offering us “what happened” in a neat, 60-minute, package.  Science and math also push us, promising complete understanding of the universe’s natural wonders. 

But as humans there is only so much we can know.  We don’t always have the luxury of using numbers and scientific study to address our problems.  Sometimes we face choices where we can only guess at the right answer.  And until someone builds a time machine, or rides shotgun with Dr. Who, it will always be that way.

No matter how much we pray, and I do believe God answers prayers, there will still be room for uncertainty.  No matter how many archeological digs there are, or studies of the original Biblical texts, we will not know if Arminianism or Calvinism is truly correct.

Part of this is simply because God is less concerned with us knowing who, what, when, where and how as much as he wants us to know why.  God’s emphasis for our lives is learning why we do what we do.  He wants us to know why we follow him.  Which is the reason he asks us to let him worry about the rest of the details.

Of course that’s always easier said than done.  As I mentioned we’re buffeted day-in and day-out by promises of knowing for sure.  I think this even explains why UFO conspiracies are so popular.  We’ve convinced ourselves that someone must know, and they just aren’t talking.  If only we can push the right people to talk, then we’ll know.

But humans were never designed to know everything.

This, I think, is partly revealed in the name God gives himself, “I AM.”  As L. T. Jeyachandran says in Beyond Opinion, God is his own frame of reference.  In other words God has a completely unique view of things, that nothing else shares.  The rest of us define our lives by other people, only God defines himself by, well, himself.  (Christians call this the Trinity, not to be confused with the Matrix Trinity)

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t easy to accept.  I like to know with certainty more than most people.  I’m even professionally trained as a scientist.  But just because I want to know, doesn’t mean I can know.  Some things simply won’t be answered until we meet God after we die.

That’s a mystery we all have to learn to live with.