Tag Archives: Miracles

Upstaging

Upstaging (CaD Jos 5) Wayfarer

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied…

Joshua 5:13-14a (NIV)

The actor had a bit part in a large musical I was in, but you’d have thought they had been given a starring role. They always had crazy ideas to make their character more noticeable, suggested to the director ways to “improve” the scene (and also give them a bigger moment on stage), and they had to be told ceaselessly to rein in their character.

In theatre, it’s officially called upstaging. In ancient times, stages were “raked” so that the back of the stage was raised and slanted down toward the audience. It was a technique that allowed the audience to better see the characters and action taking place at the rear of the stage. To this day, the back of the stage is referred to as “upstage” and the front of the stage by the audience is called “downstage.” Upstaging was, therefore, when an actor moves to where they are higher and better seen by the audience. They raise themselves to be more important than they really are.

Some mornings when I read a chapter, I find meaning in what is being shared across the episodes rather than within one of them. In today’s chapter, there are three distinct things being shared:

  • The fear of the local kings and city-states (vs. 1)
  • The renewal of the covenant between God and Israel (vs. 2-12)
  • The mysterious appearance of a lone stranger (vs. 13-15)

The first thing to really strike me was in the last episode. This mysterious figure appears with a drawn sword and introduces himself to Joshua as “Commander of the Army of the Lord.” When Joshua asks “are you for us, or for our enemies?” the reply was “Neither.”

“Neither?”

Aren’t the Hebrews God’s people? Didn’t they just affirm their covenant with God? Isn’t God leading them to the Promised Land?

Yes, yes, and yes, but that’s the point, I realized. What’s at issue throughout this chapter is the object. It’s easy for me to focus my eyes on God’s people, the same way I focus my eyes on myself and my earthly circumstances. But, the object of this unfolding Great Story is about what God is doing.

The Canaanite kings and peoples were afraid, not because of what the Hebrews had done, but because of what God had done for the Hebrews with His miracles.

The people renewed their covenant with God, and in doing so were reminded that it was God who initiated the covenant with their father, Abraham. It was God who delivered them from Egypt and the hand of Pharaoh. As they ate the produce of the Promised Land, they were reminded that it was God who provided manna for them for forty years to sustain them.

The Commander of the Army of the Lord then reminds Joshua that he and the Israelites are not the objects of his favor or obedience. God alone is whom he serves.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of just how self-centered I can be. I am the object of my own story, and I so often reveal that by my thoughts, words, and actions. My story, however, is ultimately what God has done for me, in me, and through me. My story is a bit part in God’s story.

God, forgive me for all the ways I both consciously and unconsciously try to upstage you.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Inside Out Transformation

[Jesus] went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Mark 7:20-23 (NIV)

I was a young man when I began my spiritual journey following Jesus. The community of believers I often associated with were very concerned about religious appearance and moral purity. My hair was expected to be short and my dress was expected to be coat and tie. My ears were to be kept pure from rock music, my eyes kept pure from looking lustfully at women, and my body to be kept pure from the usual vices of drugs, alcohol, and smoking.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these things. I’ll be the first to confess that I wasn’t perfect, but I’m also quite sure that adhering to the religious rigor kept me from getting into various kinds of trouble. As I progressed in my spiritual journey, however, I began to observe a few things.

First, my peers who were born and bred into the religious rigor as part of their strict family and faith systems were often big on obedience to the rules and traditions but really short on any real spiritual or personal maturity. They adhered (at least publicly) to the letter of the religious rules to keep the family and community appeased, but I never saw any real inner desire to pursue the things that Jesus was really getting at.

Second, the adults in these communities and religious systems were really focused on all of the easily recognized and visibly apparent illicit behaviors. People, especially young people, were publicly shamed for all the usual social vices. No one, however, seemed to care when it came to gluttony at church potlucks, gossip between the youth group member’s mothers, the man in the church with anger issues who used the Bible to justify the secret physical abuse of his family, deacon John who was not shy about his racism, elder Bob who was a dishonest businessman who’d filed for bankruptcy three times, or that the women of the church treating Ms. Jones like a social leper because her husband left her, filed for divorce, and so she must not have been the dutiful wife he needed.

Finally, I eventually found myself really dissatisfied. When I made the decision to be a follower of Jesus, it was about me being less pessimistic, impatient, immature, shallow, dishonest, inauthentic, and self-centered. It was about me wanting to grow into more self-less-ness and more love, life, joy, and peace. Checking off a bunch of religious and moral rules wasn’t addressing my desire to become more like Jesus. In fact, I don’t think Jesus would want to be with these people. I realized that Jesus would probably want to be with all the people that got shamed and kicked out of that church for their public mistakes.

In today’s chapter, Jesus is hitting this stuff head on. He gets in trouble with the religious rule-keepers because they didn’t ceremonially wash their hands before supper. He looks at the good religious people from His own religious system and explains that they are doing the same thing I witnessed among my own religious community. They were keeping all of the religious rules about washing your hands and eating only the prescribed dietary foods, but they weren’t doing anything about the anger, malice, judgment, critical spirit, discord, gossip, dishonesty, selfishness, racism, hatred, and condemnation that was polluting their souls.

This morning, I find myself contemplating the Jesus that I’m reading about in Mark’s account. I love that He was not about me keeping external rules and regulations, but about me getting my heart and life transformed from the inside out. I love that Jesus heals the daughter of a “sinful” outsider who His religious community would never have even acknowledged. I love that Jesus continues to compassionately pour out love, kindness, and healing even when He was tired and wanted to be left alone for a while. I love that He keeps telling people not to talk about the miracles because they weren’t the point; The miraculous physical healings of eyes, ears, and limbs merely pointed to the real miracle He came to perform: His love transforming me from the inside out as His life emerges from my dead, self-centered spirit.

That’s the Jesus I want to be more like, and keeping rules won’t get me there.

Everyday Miracles and Deep Water Calling

The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”

“You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha, “but you will not eat any of it!”
2 Kings 7:2 (NIV)

I listened to a great podcast yesterday while I was in the car. Rob Bell was continuing his series on alternative wisdom and he unpacked an event in Jesus’ life when the religious leaders came and demanded a sign from him. This committee of theological high-brows seemed to want miracles on-demand from Jesus, but Jesus refused to play the game the self-important religious fundamentalists were trying to play. Jesus begins by pointing out that no matter what He did, no matter what signs He might come up with, they would never be satisfied. They didn’t want to believe, nor were they concerned with the bigger picture of why Jesus was there in the first place. Jesus then told the religious authorities they would receive no sign but “the sign of Jonah.”

With that Jesus referred to the ancient prophet who was swallowed by a fish and spent three days and nights buries at sea in the fish’s belly. With this Jesus was foreshadowing the real mission He came to perform, which had little do to with a magical miracle tour. Jesus would be called into the depths just like Jonah; He would descend into death for three days, and come out the other side.

As we make our way through 2 Kings we are reading about a lot of signs and miracles. Both Elijah and Elisha’s stories are littered with stories of the miraculous. There’s no doubt that the scribes and editors who put together this history of the ancient Kings are going to make sure to include these miraculous stories. They are great stories, and they are compelling reads. I have found, however, that it is easy for me to read this stream of miracle stories and forget Jesus’ admonishment to turn a blind eye to the penny-ante miracles for a moment and to consider the sign of Jonah.

I believe in the miraculous. I’ve experienced the miraculous and have  heard the testimony of miracles from others whom I know, trust, and believe. I have never felt comfortable, however, who seem to be in the miracle on-demand business. It seems to me that Jesus was always a bit dismissive of signs and miracles.

This is nothing,” Jesus said to Andrew of his knowing that Andrew was sitting under a tree. “You’ll see more impressive things than this.”

What I’m doing is small potatoes,” Jesus said to the disciples. “You’ll see the same and more by the time I’m done.”

You have no idea how really simple this all is, and what little faith is required for these miracles,” Jesus told his followers.

Jesus was so dismissive of the miraculous that He also was quick to shut down miraculous operations. Not only did He do it with the religious leaders, but He did it with the crowds as well. “You’re following me because I gave you free filet-o-fish sandwiches,” Jesus said to the crowds, “but you’re missing the point. If you want the real food I came to give you you’ll have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.”

In this morning’s chapter, Elisha performed another miracle. In announcing what would happen the King’s captain refused to believe. Elisha announced that the captain’s lack of faith would ensure that he’d see it happen but would miss out on the blessing.

What struck me this morning is that I think it’s quite possible to see and experience the miraculous and miss the point. Jesus performed many signs that the religious leaders witnessed, and yet they came back to him for more. They didn’t want to believe. The crowds followed Jesus fully believing that Jesus could multiply loaves and fish endlessly, but eventually they’d become jaded and demand a change of menu. The miracles were never the point. They are momentary blips on the infinite radar focused on temporal earthly things.

Jesus rolled His eyes and continued to tell us that the miracles were there to point us to deeper things. The real important stuff happens three days and nights buries in the depths. The point is in  torn, sacrificial flesh and spilled blood that accomplishes the miraculous on a cosmic, eternal scale.

I believe in miracles. I believe in shallow, everyday miracles on a small temporal scale and big, “deep water” miracles on the cosmic, eternal scale. I have also come to understand that what Jesus was saying is this:  Never trade the latter for the former.

 

Miraculous and Monotonous

This is what the Lord says to me:
    “I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place.
like shimmering heat in the sunshine,
    like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”
Isaiah 18:4 (NIV)

Our local gathering of Jesus followers recently went through a book called Walls Fall Down by Dudley Rutherford. The subtitle of the book is “7 Steps from the Battle of Jericho to Overcome Any Challenge.” For those not well versed in their ancient Hebrew history, the battle of Jericho was an unusual event in which the Hebrews marched around the walled city of Jericho, blew their trumpets, gave a shout, and “the walls came a tumblin’ down.”

I had the opportunity to share a couple of the messages from the series. One of the reminders that I gave listeners is that the miraculous events of Jericho happened once. It is an amazing story and there are many worthwhile lessons one can gather from it. Nevertheless, the truth is that it happened just once. Israel didn’t take their Tower of Power horn section on a tour of every city in the land. The other cities of the land would have to be defeated the old-fashioned way.

Along my journey I have witnessed and experienced some amazing things. There have been climactic moments in which God intervened in everyday life in very cool ways. There have been even more moments in which I desperately would have loved for God to intervene, to supernaturally remove the obstacles before me, yet God remained just as the prophet Isaiah described in today’s chapter: quiet, and looking on. I was required to do the heavy lifting, to exercise faith, to learn the hard lessons, to suffer through the hardship.

Some blame God for not making things easier. Some try to package the miraculous into repeatable human formulas and promise that God will topple every wall. Some walk away in anger and resentment at the fact that God toppled walls for some one else, but not for them.

This is part of the journey, and it’s part of the lesson we are required to learn from it as we progress spiritually. Sometimes God acts in amazing ways and climactic events. Often, we are left to the daily slog of faith and the grind of pressing on one step at a time. They are equal parts of the journey and they each have their eternal purposes.

Excuse me while I lace up the hiking boots. It seems I have a long, uninspiring trek ahead of me today. You never know, though. Miraculous things might happen at any moment. Anything can happen.

The Cubs might even win the World Series! 🙂

chapter a day banner 2015

Featured image: six steps via Flickr

“One day,…”

One Day

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. Acts 3:1 (NRSV)

In yesterday’s chapter we read about the miraculous events on Pentecost. Incredible public spectacle, heaven-sent pyrotechnics, all twelve of Jesus’ core team members speaking fluently in languages they didn’t even know, thousands of people from all over the world choosing to follow Jesus and be baptized.

What struck me this morning as I began the very next chapter was the return to ordinary, mundane, every day disciplines of life. Three o’clock was one of the fixed times for daily prayers at the temple. Peter and John head to the temple for the religious observance just as they did every day at that time, just as they had done with Jesus when their traveling ministry was in Jerusalem. Back to the routine. Return to the grind. Doing the same thing we did the day before; Going through the motions of the same thing we do every day.

I have learned in the journey that God’s supernatural intrusions happen amidst monotonous routines. Those who follow Jesus are called to certain spiritual disciplines in daily life. Like punching the clock at a job on the line, the daily disciplines of life can be repetitive, monotonous, and somewhat boring at times. That’s life, such as it it. C’est la vie.

One day,” Dr. Luke writes as he begins to tell the story of the lame man. He doesn’t write “The next day” or “Soon after that.” Dr. Luke was a meticulous researcher and was very particular about the details of the story. The events of the third chapter happened on a random day some time after the events of the second. The spectacle had receded into past. Peter and John were back to every day life.

Today, I’m reminded that our life journey is filled stretches of time in which the daily, weekly, monthly terrain and the view look very much like the day, week, and month before. “One day,” as we trudge through our disciplined routine, God will surprise us with an amazing event, an unexpected companion, s stunning vista, a sudden curve in the road, or any number of possible new chapters in our own story. The key is to understand that we would never have arrived at that particular place on life’s road at just the right time had we not taken up the monotonous routine trek day after day after day after day.

Press on.

Chapter-a-day Amos 5

Son of Man (Magritte)
Image by Williamo! via Flickr

People hate this kind of talk. Raw truth is never popular. Amos 5:10 (MSG)

The truth is, Jesus was very popular when He was miraculously feeding thousands with a few fish sandwiches.

Let’s make Jesus king! Why not? He’s a one man welfare program! Let’s follow along. Sure, we’ll have to stand in line, and the crowds are annoying, but we’ll never have to work another day in our lives. Jesus will heal us when we get sick and feed us when we get hungry. What a king Jesus will be!

But then, Jesus simply stopped doing miracles and went up the mountain side by himself. He left a whole line of people standing there waiting to be healed. And, he never came back! What’s up with that?! He disappeared and left the whole crowd of us hungry for breakfast!

There must be some mistake. Rumor has it he’s on the other side of the lake. When did he leave? Why wasn’t there an announcement? They really should start handing out agendas with Jesus’ itinerary. It’s just rude to leave a whole crowd of followers standing around. I tell you, I’m definitely up for making him king and all, but he has got to get his administration organized. He takes off without healing all these sick and lame people who waited all day yesterday. It’s just not fair. And, he leaves without telling us what we’re having for lunch. I hope it’s lamb chops. Anyway, he’s not going to be a very popular king if he doesn’t get act together. I’m hungry, let’s go find him.

Master, what’s the deal? Why did you leave us hungry on the other side of the lake?

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill…stop grumbling among yourselves…Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. [from John 6]

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