Tag Archives: Miraculous

The Miraculous and the Mundane

“There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners.”
Daniel 5:11 (NIV)

The book of Daniel is actually a literary compilation with two distinct sections. The first six chapters are selected stories from Daniel’s life in exile. The rest of the chapters are a journal of Daniel’s prophetic dreams, visions, and prayer.

In order to understand the context of the first section of the book and today’s chapter, I have to dig a little into the dates. Daniel, along with a host of other Hebrews, was taken into exile and captivity in 597 B.C. He was a young man. Today’s story takes place when Belshazzar lost the Babylonian throne to the Medes in 539 B.C. It’s now 58 years that Daniel has lived in captivity. Even if he was only 12 when taken captive, he’d be 70 years old in this story.

The six stories told in the first six chapters of Daniel are great stories. They are incredible, miraculous events both instructive and inspiring. But there are six of them in roughly 60 years. Across a lifetime of living captive in exile trying to be faithful to God in a foreign nation often hostile to foreigners, Daniel experienced six miraculous events. There are almost 22,000 days in a 60 year period. Daniel had six incredible days. So, what about the other 21,994?

Daniel served as an administrator for a foreign king. He went to work. He spent time in prayer. He sought God and did his best to be faithful to God’s commands. He did what all of us do as we walk this earthly journey. The mundane, everyday stuff of walking the journey for 21,994 days. And, he had six amazing experiences that were instructive and inspiring.

Along my own life journey, I’ve noticed that it’s easy for those of us fortunate enough to live in the luxury of the West to get addicted to experiences. We go to great lengths to have amazing experiences. For those of us who follow Jesus and regularly gather to worship, we desire to have amazing, miraculous experiences and events, even to the point of trying to conjure them and make them happen.

I’ve had a small handful of amazing spiritual experiences myself. I’m happy to say there were no fiery furnaces involved, and I am by no means saying they were on par with what I’ve read the past few days in Daniel. They were, however, pretty cool spiritual experiences that were unexpected. They were unlooked for. They came out of nowhere. I did nothing to conjure them. I was simply physically present, and spiritually open. Without wasting a lot of time recounting how many I’m talking about, let’s say there are five of them.

The rest of my 19,424 days on this Earthly journey have been spent doing what is the often mundane monotony of walking this life journey. I spend quiet time with God most mornings. I gather with other followers to worship once a week which is often spiritually filling and sometimes just feels routine. I work. I pay bills. I maintain stuff. I cultivate friendships. Wendy and I enjoy time together doing things we do.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the focus of my life. It’s so easy to slip into a mode where I’m chasing after experiences of all kinds. I’ve observed that social media isn’t helpful with this. I see everyone’s amazing experiences that make my mundane, routine existence today feel like I’m doing something wrong or that my life sucks compared to others.

I’ve come to the conclusion of late that if I seek after and find God in the everyday, mundane liturgies of my life then I find myself both more content and open to God doing the amazing and miraculous in His time, for His purpose, if and when He chooses.

And so, I enter day 19, 429.

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.

 

Surprised Anew by the Struggle to Hang On

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son.”
Judges 13:2-3 (NRSV)

Any who sojourn through God’s Message will run across a number of stories of divine fertility like the one in today’s chapter. You can’t escape them. It is a recurring theme. When you have journeyed along the path of infertility, stories like this carry an emotional wallop. It is not a knockout punch as from a lone opponent standing before you. It is more like being surrounded and getting sucker punched from various directions before you have time to react.

Grief from giving up hope pushes one way, while eternal hope kicks in from another direction sending me spinning in two directions at once. Anger from “Why not us?”  hits hard in the gut just before faith in the possibility that God might still do something miraculous tugs me suddenly upright. Shame slides in from behind to trip me with “What have we done wrong?” and I struggle to maintain equilibrium with a less than confident “Thy will be done.” Contorted suddenly in unexpected ways, scabs stretch to the point of tearing old wounds open. I consciously reach for Joy that appears in this moment to be just beyond my reach.

Joy is not beyond reach. I grasp it. I cling. Some days I’m surprised anew by the struggle to hang on.

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featured image “El Angelus” by Jean-Francois Millet

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 19

The Angel of the Lord. And it so happened that that very night an angel of God came and massacred 185,000 Assyrians. When the people of Jerusalem got up next morning, there it was—a whole camp of corpses! 2 Kings 19:35 (MSG)

When we left the previous chapter, the city of Jerusalem was beseiged by the dreaded Assyrian army and the envoys of the Assyrian king were trash-talking to King Hezekiah's representatives. I mentioned that the key to breaking a seige was perseverance (in the face of a painful season with little provision), a strong will (to stand against the arrogant taunts the enemy continually spoke to break you psychologically), and a Deliverer. In today's chapter, we read (a' la Paul Harvey), the rest of the story.

King Hezekiah went first to consult with God's prophet, Isaiah who assures the King that God is not going to let the Assyrian King take Jerusalem. If you want to read more specifically regarding God's message through Isaiah concerning Assyria, read Isaiah 10:5-19 and Isaiah 37. King Hezekiah responds by going to the temple, bows down before God, and praying like he'd never prayed before.

The next day the Assyrian camp was littered with 185,000 corpses. The Deliverer, the Angel of the Lord, brought about a miraculous and unforeseen outcome. The event of the Assyrian army's demise was reported by other historians of antiquity. The Greek historian Herodatus wrote of the event and explained that bubonic plague had rapidly spread through the camp. It brings to mind the Angel of the Lord spreading the plagues through Egypt in delivering the Israelites from captivity in Egypt.

I love the story of Jerusalem's dramatic and miraculous deliverance. At the same time, I think about the seasons of life in which I feel beseiged on all sides. It's perplexing why God dramtically delivers in some moments, and remains agonizingly silent in others. I look back, and I understand that seasons of drought and pain have ultimately produced good things in my life like perseverance, reliance, wisdom, faith, endurance, and humility. Experience has taught me that God's purpose is at work in my pain.

Nevertheless, I prefer those moments when God miraculously delivers us from our troubles.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and aussiegall