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

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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 church leading the way

Category : God, barbarian, different, faith, living a life of faith, taking action, trust

……….

This week I asked, “what if the church led the way?”  In that post I wondered what the world would look like if the church took an active role leading the way in science, literature, art, action, helping people, etc…

A lot of time the church is criticized for not doing it’s part.  And lets face it, that criticism is often well deserved.  But there are many, many, moments where the church lives in a very kingdom-style.

I experienced one of those moments this week.  As a volunteer on the “Benevolence” committee at my local church, I am responsible for looking for ways to help people who need financial assistance.  And as you can imagine, with today’s economy those numbers are overwhelming.

Most of the time I only hear the bad side of the story.  I only hear the heartbreak as someone loses a house or a job.  But every so often I get to hear the “happy ending.”  Such was the case with an individual I’ve been talking to on and off for a few months.  He, through a series of events, ran up a $3,000+ credit card debt.  He, like everyone I see through the Benevolence program just didn’t have the resources to pay it off.

A lot of times that type of story ends in disaster.  But this one was different.  He had developed a relationship with another Christian.  Someone who didn’t even go to my church.  As they talked, the other Christian said he felt God calling him to pay the bill.  All $3000 of it!

I am always moved when God gets involved in our lives.  This was a moment where the church led the way.  Where the Kingdom advanced because one man was faithful and obedient.  When we live our lives under God’s guidance, amazing things happen.

Just something light to end the week on.

what evidence do you need to believe

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Category : Bible reliability, choice, faith

……….

When I first started to believe that God was real I struggled with the idea of evidence.  I wanted something rock solid.  Some kind of proof that would show he was there.  I didn’t want to bet my lifestyle on something I couldn’t prove.  I sure wasn’t going to change how I lived for some idea that wasn’t true.

But the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t figure out what would be “real” enough.  I knew for sure dreams wouldn’t be enough.  That could just be random neurons firing.  I also realized that if I heard God “speak” that would best be treated by psychiatric medicine.

What if I met God, like Paul?  For a while I thought that might work.  But then it occurred to me – I could convince myself that even something real wasn’t true.  (Isn’t that the essence of post-modern thinking anyway?)

Eventually I realized there wasn’t a single shred of evidence I couldn’t find a way to excuse.  No matter how dramatic the event, eventually I would chock it up to my imagination.  Everything could be explained away.

I think this is what happened to Israel.  No matter how dramatic the evidence – parting seas, bread from heaven, a column of fire, victory over enemies – it would never be enough.  This is why we’re told, “In spite of all this [evidence], they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe.” (Psalm 78:32)

We are a culture influenced by the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution.  Things I think are awesome.  I think clear reasoning, and evidential based thinking are great tools.  But some things can never be proven scientifically, they can only be proven experientially.  (How do you measure the smell of a chocolate chip cookie or the feel of the sea breeze on your face?)

The Bible is filled with people who risked everything based on a dream.  Joseph married Mary because of a dream.  David risked his life for a voice.  Moses became a leader because of a bush.  How easy would it have been to walk away from those things?  How easy to chalk up the experience to a poor night’s sleep?

But they didn’t.  They saw the evidence for what it was.  They recognized God.  They knew something more was happening.  We don’t need standard deviation and statistical calculations to tell us God is real.  We just have to be open to the ways he already operates and not try to explain them away.

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

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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?

 

a Christmas lesson

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Category : God, different, faith, fear, hope, sharing faith

  

As I’ve mentioned a couple times on R3, I will not have a job come January.  Knowing that has been an interesting experience.  But maybe not in the way you would expect. 

I find I’m focusing more on the things I have than the things I don’t.  I’m also realizing all of the things that used to bother me, such as not having a house, are now blessings.  (No house = No mortgage payments)  

The biggest challenge has been learning to not buy things for myself.  Games, books, CD’s, movie tickets, that sort of stuff.  Things that I never really gave much thought to, are now out of reach.  So what does this have to do with Christmas?  Well, for the first time, in a very long time, I’m really excited about Christmas.  I am now being given presents that I could never afford on my own.  Even simple gifts such as a CD or a book is a big deal, and I am grateful for each and everything I have received.

Sometimes we think the solution to all of our problems is money or comfort.  That if we could only get more stuff, then we’d be happy.  Yet I’m learning that’s not true at all.  Sometimes the best thing that can happen to us is to struggle.  Because it’s in those moments we are forced to rely on God.  And anytime we trust God, miracles happen.

So I may soon be without a job, but even in the midst of that, God is working miracles.  I am learning things I never expected.  Funny how God works like that.

 

losing your christmas sheep

Category : God, Jesus, Luke, bible, different, faith, hope

     

Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15: 1-7)

The parable of the lost sheep is one of the most famous parables in the entire Bible.  It’s the first of a collection of stories where Jesus emphasize the value God places on each of us.  As we approach Christmas it’s easy to lose sight of that.  It’s easy to develop a sense of entitlement and “I deserve this” attitudes.  Being with family might even make that easier!

But Jesus reveals something astonishing.  Saying, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” 

Can you imagine?!  No matter what you’re doing, or how you’re celebrating, or who you are, God wants to find you.  He wants to have a relationship with you.  Can you imagine?!

We often think of Christmas in terms of gifts, vacations and lots of food.  Which, frankly, are all good things.  But to God, Christmas means something a little bit different.  To bring us back into the flock, God sent his son knowing that he would have to die a horrible death.  God was willing to sacrifice everything to find us. 

I’m not sure I’ll ever stop being amazed at that.   

prayer thursday: thanksgiving

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Category : God, different, faith, hope, miracles, worship

 

Today is Thanksgiving.  A day we Americans typically eat a ton of food, spend time with friends and family, and watch the Lions lose.  And it’s also the conclusion to R3’s series on thanks giving.  I’ve found that just writing and thinking about these posts has really impacted my perspective.  I find I’m a lot more thankful for just the random stuff in my life.  I hope you find the same.

Thankfulness

God – Thank you for everything you do in my life.  Most days I simply don’t take enough time to thank you for all the miracles I experience.  If I’m honest, I almost never thank you for anything.  In fact, my attitude tends to be one of ungratefulness, rather than gratitude.  I am sorry for that.

As I sit here thinking about how complex life is, I am amazed that my body can breathe air, type words, and hold a conversation with you all at the same time.  Even though I usually take it for granted, I am grateful for a working body. 

Mostly though, I find today I am very thankful for you.  You’ve completely changed my life.  You’ve completely changed me!  And you did it for no other reason than you love me.  Not because I deserved it.  Not because I earned it.  Simply because you are love.  For that I am thankful. 

As I enjoy thanksgiving with friends and family, I ask that you watch over them, and everyone else.  Perform miracles, heal the sick, and do amazing things – and I am thankful even when you aren’t doing those things in my life. 

You are a loving God.  For that I am thankful!  Amen.

<comments are open, feel free to add your own prayer of thanks>