Tag Archives: Miracle

One Word: Believe

[Jesus] could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Mark 6:5-6 (NIV)

Among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers there has been an initiative in recent years to choose one word as sort of a spiritual theme for one’s life each year. It’s a very informal thing. Most people pray about it and seek some divine guidance in what their “one word” should be. It becomes a tool for asking, seeking, and knocking on the spiritual door of what God is doing in your life in the particular stretch of your spiritual and/or life journey.

My word for this year is “believe” which I consider to be the active form of “faith.”

One of the subtle themes that I find Mark weaving into his Jesus story is that of faith. Those who had faith experienced the miraculous. In today’s chapter, the people of Jesus’ hometown couldn’t believe that Joseph’s boy, Jesus, was this teacher everyone was talking about:

“He’s the carpenter. You know! Joseph and Mary’s boy. The one who abandoned Mary and the siblings this last year to become this traveling prophet. Who does Jesus think He is? If you ask me, that boy should get these silly notions out of His head, get back to the carpenter’s shop, and help provide for the family.”

Mark records that Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Few miracles were performed, not because Jesus had less power but because the people had less of the activating ingredient of the miraculous: they didn’t believe. Their limited faith in Jesus limited what God could do among them.

Later in the chapter, after Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish and walks out on the Sea of Galilee to meet the disciples who are struggling at the oars of their boat, Mark records that #TheTwelve were still amazed and struggling to understand what Jesus was doing. Their “hearts were hard” Mark records. Their faith had not caught up to what they had been witnessing. They were struggling to believe it all.

In the quiet this morning, my mind wanders back to what Jesus said a few chapters back:

“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

Mark 4:30-32 (NIV)

Jesus also used the Mustard Seed as a metaphor for how much “faith” is required to move a mountain.

I find it ironic (or is it a divine appointment?) that my “one word” for 2020 is “believe” and it’s the year that the COVID-19 virus upends life as we know it and, according to the press who screams it 24/7 to anyone who will listen, threatens to tank the global economy and take my business with it (if we all don’t die first).

Have you ever seen a mustard seed?

In the quiet this morning, Holy Spirit is whispering to my spirit. I imagine it was the same message Jesus was whispering to #TheTwelve on the boat after he walked out on the water and climbed in the boat.

“Yep. It doesn’t take much. Just believe.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Jesus: Unwanted

Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.
Mark 5:17-18 (NIV)

Wendy and I have a recurring conversation about life. There is no doubt in either of our minds that we were supposed to walk this journey together. It’s a story that I should write someday. Our relationship has been such a good thing that we often wonder: “What if we had experienced our younger adult years together?”

While the hypothetical question is a natural one, we both agree in this recurring conversation that the younger versions of ourselves (me the religious rule keeper and good little preacher boy, she the rebellious wild-child) would likely not have hitten it off. My personal journey, walking through my “Prodigal” years, the failure of my first marriage, becoming a father to Taylor and Madison, were all part of what prepared me for the waypoint in which our story could begin.

Yesterday I wrote about the fact that every follower of Jesus has a unique story. Some follow in one season of life, while it takes others until a later season and waypoint further down the road before they are at the right place to follow. Some don’t reach that waypoint until their final moments on this earth. There is a mystery to the flow of it.

As I read today’s chapter, I found a connected truth. Mark’s version of the Jesus Story continues. While Mark has previously alluded to the miracles Jesus is performing, in today’s chapter he gives three major illustrations: a man possessed by a legion of demons, a woman who is miraculously healed by Jesus without His conscious decision to do so, and a twelve-year-old girl raised from the dead. I feel like Mark is telling me “Look, Jesus wasn’t just healing people from a runny nose or a tummy ache. We’re talking dead people being raised back to life kind of stuff!”

In the midst of these three episodes is a curious event. The people in the towns where Jesus cast the demons out of the man begged him to leave their region. The very next sentence has Jesus getting into the boat to shove off. I am reminded that when Jesus sends out His disciples to do their own internship practicum (coming up in the next chapter) He tells them if they are not welcomed by the people in a town to “shake the dust off your feet” and leave. In today’s chapter, Jesus exemplifies what He will command His followers to do in the next chapter.

In the quiet this morning I find myself mulling over the notion that Jesus does not force His way in. Tell Him to stay away and He is perfectly willing to move along. To the point of yesterday’s post, it may not have been the right season for the people of that region. Curious that the demon-delivered man asks to follow Jesus and Jesus tells him to stay and tell everyone in the region his story. In doing so, Jesus scatters “the seed” through this man’s story and witness which may take root and bear fruit in a future season.

Through many years of my journey, I observed the institutional church often trying to force itself in where it was not welcome and to manufacture converts via what I would liken to a process of systemic spiritual cloning. As I read through the Jesus story, I find Jesus’ actual example to be far more natural, more organic, more authentic, and more trusting of what God’s Spirit is doing in the Great Story and in the story of individuals within it.

Which brings me back to the journey of Tom and Wendy that began when two very different lives found themselves in the right season and at the right waypoint on life’s road to become one.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Greater Than Fair

“Truly I tell you,” [Jesus] continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
Luke 4:24-27 (NIV)

There are many things I don’t understand in this world. Along my life journey, I have regularly been perplexed at the seeming lack of fairness in life. Like most contemplatives, I am perplexed as to why one person experiences great fortune and another person experiences great tragedy. Even as a follower of Jesus, I have been struck at the incredible diversity in stories and spiritual paths. One person’s life journey appears to be a stroll down Easy Street while another’s is a painful slog down a muddy path riddled with potholes, switchbacks, and roadblocks.

In today’s chapter, Jesus not only acknowledges this reality but also affirms it. As we pick up the story after Jesus is baptized by John, He heads on a sojourn into the wilderness where He successfully overcomes the temptations of the Evil One. Then follows the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and things get off to a great start. Everyone loves his teaching. He speaks with spiritual authority no one has ever heard before.

Then Jesus comes to His hometown of Nazareth. He quotes an ancient prophecy from Isaiah that proclaims the coming of the Messiah who will bring good news to the poor, make the blind see, and set prisoners free.

But not for you,” Jesus says to His long-time friends and neighbors. No miracles for you. He goes on to explain that there is this longstanding spiritual theme in the Great Story in which prophets are never honored in their hometowns. He references Elijah who could have healed any one of his homeboys but instead heals the son of a foreign widow in Phoenicia. Likewise, Jesus states, the prophet Elisha could have healed any leper in his local Jewish leper colony but instead heals a Syrian leper.

This lesson did not sit well with the hometown crowd. This wasn’t fair. So, they attempted to kill Him. It wouldn’t be the last time Jesus’ message ended with death threats rather than any kind of spiritual transformation in His audience. He doesn’t seem concerned. Perhaps for the first time in His ministry, it seems that there is something bigger at stake that Jesus is trying to get at.

What I find fascinating about this episode at the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry is that it so perfectly foreshadows what was going to happen at the end of it. It will be His own people who reject Him and hand Him over for execution. When this happens, Jesus will again reference the recurring theme of His people killing their own prophets throughout their storied history. Jesus also foreshadows that, after His resurrection and ascension, His “Good News” would miraculously explode across the non-Jewish, foreign Gentile population that His own people despised (which is the story told in the book of Acts).

The other reality I cannot escape in this episode is that, on a purely human level, it isn’t fair. A group of people won’t experience Jesus’ miracles. Their demon-possessed children won’t be released. There won’t be a miraculous transformation of tap water into Tempranillo to keep the wine flowing and the reception going at his Nazareth neighbor’s wedding. And, all of these things won’t happen just because Nazareth happens to be Jesus’ hometown? It isn’t fair.

In the quiet this morning I am pondering the fact that Jesus never promised fairness. I searched for it this morning just to double-check. Jesus never said that He came to bring fairness. Of course, He also wouldn’t experience fairness either. He would be unfairly accused, unfairly tried, and unfairly executed. It would seem logical to me to assume that I should not then expect fairness in my following of Jesus either. And, some will choose not to follow Jesus for this very reason. That was the reaction of Jesus’ hometown entourage. I observe people making the same choice today.

But what if fairness isn’t the point? What if my earthly journey is about something purposed which is far greater than what appears on the surface? What if there is a spiritual economy that is, in the grand scheme, actually more real than the temporal experience of my five earthly senses and my base human appetites? In my almost forty-year study of Jesus’ life and teachings, I find that Jesus’ came not to make life fair, but to exemplify love and call us to follow that example. And love isn’t fair. Love sacrifices all that it has, and is generously extravagant, and almost always receives an inequitable return on the investment. I believe that’s what Jesus came to show me, and in doing so He points me to something greater; He leads me to faith in the understanding that the eternal which I cannot touch, taste, see, smell, or hear is far greater and actually more real than any fair thing on this earth.

And so, I keep following.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Grappling With “Never”

“And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Luke 1:20 (NIV)

“I don’t know what to with never,” Wendy confessed to me one afternoon.

There are some moments in this life journey that are etched indelibly in my brain’s memory bank, and this is one of them. When the two of us were married Wendy inherited two teenaged daughters. Still, we had always desired to have a child together. After multiple surgeries and what seemed like endless months of fruitless attempts to conceive, Wendy’s admission of fear as we stood silently in our despair on the back porch felt like a giant weight on our souls.

The story of John the Baptist’s parents in today’s chapter holds a special place in my heart. There is so much happening in the subtext of Zechariah’s conversation with the angel Gabriel that is completely lost on any reader who has not walked through the long, depressing, desolate path of infertility.

A few of observations:

  • I find it ironic that Dr. Luke diagnoses Zech and Liz’s infertility as “Elizabeth was unable to conceive.” Perhaps there’s more to this story than is told. Nevertheless, having walked this journey I know that it’s also possible the low sperm count or poor motility were the culprits of their childlessness. Of course, this medical knowledge was not available in their day, but it makes me sad that Elizabeth got the blame.
  • I’ve been digging into the theme of exile on this chapter-a-day journey over the past months. The truth is that Elizabeth and her husband were in a personal exile of their own. When you are walking the path of infertility you realize that the vast majority of people don’t understand and it’s usually emotionally painful when they try. Furthermore, you’re not sure you want to talk to those who’ve been through it themselves. Those who walked the path and ultimately conceived are just a depressing reminder that it hasn’t worked for you. Those who never conceived are a reminder that “never” is a possibility which you don’t want to face and don’t know what to do with (a la Wendy’s confession). Infertility can be horrifically isolating for the couple going through it.
  • When the angel tells Zech “Your prayer has been answered.” My husband’s heart shoots back with a cynical “Which one?” If Zech’s heart was like mine, then there’s a section of it calloused over from month-after-month, year-after-year of fervent, unanswered prayers and wiping away his wife’s river of tears.
  • When Zech asks Gabriel “How can I be sure of this?” he is, once again, being defensive and protective of the hearts of both his wife and his own. Infertility is a vicious cycle of summoning faith, raising hopes, and having them dashed again and again and again and again. The last thing the elderly husband wants to do is put his wife through it one more time.

It’s easy for the casual reader to point the finger at Zech’s lack of faith. I’m sure many Jesus followers will hear messages this Advent season comparing Mary’s simple acceptance of Gabriel’s message to Zech’s rather obvious doubt. My heart goes out to the dude. He’s been made the Steve Bartman of the Christmas story for two thousand years, but I get where he’s coming from.

In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the long-term effects that disappointment and unanswered prayer can have on one’s spirit. As for what to do with “never,” Wendy and I worked through it together with God. We discovered, and continue to discover, deep lessons about joy, grief, faith, perseverance, character, maturity, and hope. At the same time, there is a lingering sadness that rears itself unexpectedly at odd times, which in turn pushes me back to the lessons already learned. I plumb their depths once more.

Still, if Gabriel showed up in my office this morning and told me Wendy was going to have a baby, I totally believe that the subtext of my reaction would land somewhere between sarcastic and cynical.

Zechariah would understand.

Responsibility and Need

If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.
1 Timothy 5:16 (NIV)

Early in my life journey I worked at a number of different churches and different denominations. One of the common struggles I observed was how each church handled those who would regularly come to the church asking for a handout. In every church I served there was a sincere and loving motivation to help those in need, but there was also the realization that responsible generosity also required  wisdom and discernment. While some individuals were people truly in need, others were not. There were individuals who were perfectly capable of getting a job and supporting themselves, but they were more than happy to avoid the work and simply make the rounds of every church in town seeing how much money they could talk the churches into giving them.

Along the way I’ve observed a simple reality of human nature. If you create a system of welfare there will be those who will try to take personal advantage of the system. Even Jesus encountered this when He fed the multitudes by turning a few loaves and fish into to a  miraculous Filet o’ Fish fest. He quickly recognized that many were following Him simply for the free lunch. John 6 describes Jesus confronting the crowd and questioning their motivation. He appears, at that point, to have shut down his miraculous fish sandwich program on the spot.

It’s so easy for me to get stuck thinking about “church” in context of what I have known and experienced “the church” to be in my lifetime. I default to thinking of buildings and denominational institutions with varying takes on theological issues.  It’s critical as a reader of Paul’s letter to Timothy for me to understand how different the circumstances were then. There was no institution, no denomination, and no church buildings. Small groups of Jesus’ followers were “the church.” It was a flesh and blood organism. Followers of Jesus gathered in homes where they ate together, worshipped together, and shared life together. They were loosely structured and yet they quickly gained a reputation for collectively caring for those in need who were marginalized and outcast by society of that day: widows, orphans, the sick, the diseased, and the disabled.

And, true to human nature, there were those more than willing to take personal advantage of the corporate generosity.

There is a theme woven throughout Paul’s life and letters that I rarely hear discussed today. It’s threaded through the entire chapter today. Until late in his life Paul always worked for his living and supported himself. His family were tentmakers by trade and no matter where he went he could pull out his tools and ply that trade. He expected Jesus’ followers to take personal responsibility for the needs of one’s self and one’s family so that generosity could be given to those “truly in need.”

In the quiet this morning I’m whispering a prayer of gratitude, as I recognize that I am blessed to have been raised in a culture and a family system that taught and modeled personal responsibility, hard work, and generosity. My gratitude extends to giving thanks for my job, my clients, and my colleagues. Finally, I’m thankful for the reality that, thus far in my entire life journey, I have never known what truly means to be what Paul described as “really in need.”

featured photo courtesy of IIP Photo Archive via Flickr

The Power of the One Ring (Not THAT One)

Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’
Joshua 4:20-23 (NRSV)

I have a ring that is worn on a chain around my neck. Those who know my life-long love of Tolkien are likely to think it some homage to the ring of power in Lord of the Rings. The ring around my neck may be a ring of power, but its power is not in magic, elves, wizards, or the stuff of imaginative fantasy. The ring around my neck was a gift to me from Wendy. She gave it to me before we were married, and its power is in the meaning it holds for her, and for me.

The ring was and is, for Wendy, a special reminder of a waypoint in her own spiritual journey, and the things God had done in her heart and life. These things are a part of her story, thus they are hers to tell and I will leave it at that. When she knew that I was to be her husband and that God was bringing me into her story, the ring became a gift to me. It always hangs around my neck. It is a ring of power, even if its power is limited in significance to Wendy, me and God.

Memorial [muh-mawr-ee-uh l] noun. Something designed to preserve the memory of a person, event, thing, etc.

In today’s chapter, the people of Israel were called to create a memorial. Twelve stones, one stone for each tribe, were piled as a reminder of what God had done in drying up the River Jordan so that they could cross. They would preserve the memory of that event. When future generations asked about the pile of stones, they could learn the story.

We generally think of memorials as a reminder of people after they die, but memorials can be a powerful tool in other ways. When God does something special or remarkable in the life of a person, a couple, or a family, it is an opportunity to create a tangible memorial of His faithfulness, provision, deliverance, miracle, answered prayer, or etc. The memorial can be a powerful reminder, even if its power or significance is limited to the person, couple, or family involved.

Today, I’m thinking about the ring that has hung around my neck for nearly 11 years, and the fact that 99.9 percent of the time I forget that it’s even there. But, I catch sight of it in the mirror as I shave, or I feel it pop out of my t-shirt when I bend over, and it reminds me of Wendy, her journey, and her gift. It reminds me in the moment of what God has done in her story, in my story, in our story. I am reminded once again of grace, provision, and redemption.

Therein lies the power of the ring.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

The Intriguing Person of the Prophet Elijah

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) b...
The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) by Raphael, depicting Christ miraculously discoursing with Moses and Elijah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So [Elijah] did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 1 Kings 17:5-6 (NIV)

The prophet Elijah is one of the most intriguing characters in the entirety of God’s Message. He appears out of nowhere, has a brief ministry marked by miraculous events, confronts the evil and powerful King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel, and then disappears in a whirlwind.

Most people don’t realize it, but Elijah also figures into Jesus’ life and teachings. When asked who people that Jesus was, his followers respond that Elijah was a trending vote getter. Jesus told His followers that John the Baptist was the person of Elijah returned to restore all things. On the mount of transfiguration when Jesus was revealed in His glory, Elijah appeared with Him. Jesus referred to Elijah in His teaching on multiple occasions. While hanging on the cross, witnesses thought Jesus was calling out to Elijah.

As I read today’s chapter, I found it interesting that the miracles of Elijah seemed to strongly parallel the miracles of Jesus. The widows flour and oil never ran dry, much like the baskets filled with bread and fish when Jesus fed the crowds with His all you can eat fish fry by the Sea of Galilee. When Elijah takes the dead widow’s son into an upper room and bring’s the boy back to life, it is eerily reminiscent of Jesus going into the room of Jairus’ dead daughter bringing her back to life.

One of the things I have come to appreciate more and more in my sojourn through God’s Message is the connections, parallels, foreshadowing, and recurring themes that stretch across the entirety of the story that God has told and is still telling. I love that God is both an artist and an author. He is telling a story. It is His-story.