Oftentimes, when we talk about something being a “miracle,” what we mean is an intervention or inbreaking that can only be attributed to God. His power is manifest in a special way, leaving us in awe — that He (still) moves and acts today. This incites worship and breathes new hope and a new awareness of God’s presence into our souls. Miracles scream: He is with us! He hasn’t left us!
But why exactly are we in awe that He moves and acts today? Have we unknowingly been influenced by a deistic worldview — believing that God has set everything into motion and then removed Himself from the loving care, protection, intervention, …. of His creation? Has this mindset falsely convinced us that answers to prayer are uncommon and that we’re actually the ones sustaining the world around us? That without our help, everything would fall to pieces?
My prayer — our prayers — have defined (and hoped for) this kind of miracle: an intervention, a change in course, that could only be attributed to the hand of God. We received what we have been asking for on Sunday with the relief in back pain — but perhaps God’s “miracles” are a little more “behind the scenes” than we’d care to admit. Sure, God loves to be the show off — He’s the only show off that actually has the credentials to back it up. But what if His daily boast is the slow, intimate, daily process of renewing His creation? None of us become a sage overnight. None of us become holy overnight. What if what we’re truly looking for in a “miracle” — God’s power and presence manifest in a special way — is here — and merely needs to be searched out?
What if God desires to accomplish the miracle through waiting, through hoping, through daily obedience, through the surrenduring of our allegiances?
And what if we’re missing the miracle through these means — leaving us disappointed that He hasn’t answered in the way we deem best?
What if the miraculous is happening beneath our noses, yet we’re conditioned to miss it?
What if, in our waiting for the kingdom to come in a big, showy way, the kingdom is actually coming; what if the coming of the kingdom in our lives is more like the Messiah coming in a manger than as a political King?
What if the kingdom is actually near — when we’re living as if it is still far off?
In this sense, we are seeing miracles work through our journey with chronic illness. At yesterday’s doctor’s appointment, she explained, in body chemistry terms (most of which I cannot understand) the effects of chronic stress, lack of sleep, anxiety…but also, set us up to allow God’s miracle to work — for the body to heal itself. That the body gives inescapable signals that we are running too hard is a true act of grace. That the body heals itself as we align with God’s intentions is unbelievably gracious.
Although we do “reap what we sow,” if the body is equipped to heal itself in MONTHS after YEARS of wear and tear — He is truly a God that waits for us to turn to Him — and is so patient in the waiting! So, we walk forward another step…expecting and believing in the miraculous presence and healing of our good and gracious Father.
As I start off on yet another “radical” (I actually don’t think it is that radical, but plenty of others think so…so I’ll go with it) adventure serving the refugee community in Dallas, I’m yet again faced with the underlying fear that constantly lurks in the background of my always-processing introverted mind: “You’re of little value.”
This fear seems to surface when I’m experiencing something with money, so it would make sense to feel some perceived loss of worth as I’m raising funds for the work of Free City International.
Much of my life has been spent trying to quiet this voice with high achievement in any and all areas of life: academics, sports, health, finances…trying to “prove” to myself that I am valuable to someone, to society, to God.
The problem is, none of these things can actually provide true, lasting worth. If we’re not more than the sum of our achievements…if we’re not more inherently valuable in our “being” rather than our “doing,” then we’re stuck on the roller coaster of highs and lows: self-esteem and shame.
Back to my job. I remember a time in seminary that someone understood my career ambitions as “she wants to help people” (their words). I remember feeling degraded – “helping people” sounds so much less dignified than business executive or lawyer or doctor or professor. “Helping people” is something everyone can do, while the rest of the professionals “earn their keep” through multi-layered degrees, titles, and high salaries.
But the funny thing is, now that I’m actually in the profession of “helping people,” I couldn’t think of a more worthy identity. Sure, I’m of more value in God’s sight than what I do to help people, (PREACH!) but putting that aside, I can think of nothing more worthy of giving my life to.
When I die, if my gravestone reads: “She helped people,” I feel assured that this is the “well done good and faithful servant” I strive for. If this was Jesus’s work while he walked this earth, why would I be tricked into thinking that it is an unworthy ambition?
Friends, I urge you to be faithful in the little things and simply love God and your neighbor. What does it look like to leave your co-worker’s world a bit brighter than before you came? What does it look like to listen deeply to another’s story of pain? What does it look like to make your ambition helping the people that God has put in your path?
If you’ve been following the immigration crisis on any level, you’ve been confronted with a wide array of passionate responses and proposed solutions. Some will shock and some will instill a renewed hope in humankind. But everyone has their opinion, and everyone a voice. And the voices are shouting loudly.
Honor the dignity of humanity, especially children!
I know these are children, but illegal is illegal!
Help the helpless!
Close the borders!
Although Scripture has a lot to say concerning how we ought to treat the sojourner among us (Ex 22:21, 23:9, 23:16, 24:17-18, Deut 23:16, 24:17-18, Mal 3:5, Matt 25, Eph 2:12-19, Heb 11, Rom 12:13, 3 Jn 5, to name a few), I propose, through the use of Luke 16, that we embrace a Jubilee perspective in light of Jesus’ coming and his coming again.
The parable of the unjust steward at the beginning of Luke 16 is arguably one of the most difficult Lukan (or Synoptic) parables to understand. At first glance, the parable appears to commend dishonesty and acting in one’s own self-interest at all costs, but this interpretation can hardly hold weight placed alongside the rest of the kingdom ethic Jesus presents throughout the rest of the Lukan and Gospel material.
In light of both linguistic and historical-cultural considerations, the steward, out of his desperation and in a ‘last-ditch’ effort to secure his future after being “let go” by his master, acts on his master’s behalf and reduces debts, rightfully earning him the characterization as ‘unjust steward‘ (verse eight). The master does not commend the steward’s continued unjust behavior (nor does he address it at all), but merely commends the steward’s shrewd behavior in seeming to find a way out of imminent danger. In his commentary on Luke, J. Nolland summarizes this point well when he says, “…this new third-party situation keeps the transferred wealth out of his [the master’s] reach (presumably nothing remains of the master’s earlier losses). The master’s redress seems to be still limited to the dismissal of the steward. The steward has acted very cleverly indeed! He has found a way forward where there seemed to be none.”
The parable should be seen in light of Luke’s narrative as a whole, comprised of both his Gospel and the book of Acts. Luke’s purpose in writing his narrative in the context of Christian opposition was two-part: to remind his readers of God’s redemptive work and character and encourage them to continue Jesus’ legacy in seeking and saving the lost. Luke anticipated that the people of God needed a change of perspective in light of the opposition they were facing. To obtain a change in perspective, Luke posited that the people of God should look no further than the arrival of Jesus as the one who has inaugurated the kingdom, a metaphorical Year of Jubilee.
The Year of Jubilee was seen as an intensified Sabbath Year in which slaves were freed, debts were cancelled, the land was fallowed and land was returned. Luke intentionally shapes his Gospel and the book of Acts with this as a central motif. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus reads from Isaiah, Scripture containing ideas and words that are full of the themes of Jubilee. These themes re-surface again and again in both his Gospel account and in Acts. It is important to note that the theological basis behind the Year of Jubilee is a reminder that YHWH is the true owner of everything; therefore, slaves nor land could ever truly be sold. Although the cancellation of debts in the parable of the unjust steward offers a literal connection point to the events of the Year of Jubilee, Jesus offers a deeper meaning, an alternative perspective that transforms the lives of the disciples. Like the Year of Jubilee brings drastic change and a perspective shift that all things belong to YHWH, so the arrival of Jesus and anticipation of the age to come should bring drastic change in the lives of his disciples. In Jesus, the “last days” have arrived and an entirely new epoch of redemptive history has begun.
Living Within a Jubilee Framework Today
Jesus, through his life and teaching, showed that mercy, love, and true justice trump any established cultural norm, law, or self-preservation efforts. He consistently shattered others’ expectations of him, always pointing to the value and significance of the coming of the kingdom of God. But today, upholding the law, greed, cultural expectations, political affiliations, and self-preservation seem to be winning the day. And winning this argument.
If the kingdom of God has come in Jesus; if the metaphorical year of Jubilee is here and YHWH truly owns all, what should our response be? If we are stewards of everything we have been given, what does it look like to steward well here? Does our own definition of “justice,” or Christ’s own example and teaching on mercy win the day?
Will we embrace the Year of Jubilee, stand beside Jesus, and say:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”
For a more detailed explanation of Luke 16, see my exposition Luke 16.
Last night’s debate between Bill Nye (The Science Guy!) and Ken Ham reminded me of why I appreciate my seminary training.
And I needed a reminder.
Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I have loved school. I have senioritis, so that’s saying a lot. But there are times I can’t stop thinking about the same question: Has it been worth it? The academic rigor, the physical toll, the sleepless nights, the vocabulary drilling, the money…it all takes its toll.
But tonight, I was reminded that I am called to speak intelligently to those who want (or demand!) logical, thought out answers. Including myself.
The “three-year ago me” would have been troubled by a lot of what was presented tonight by Nye. I’m not a science geek, and have never been. All that he said about rock formations, stellar astronomy (yes, when Nye said he was a “stellar astronomist,” I thought he was giving himself a compliment…and that’s after 2 semesters of astronomy in undergrad), microbes…let’s just say the concepts alone would have sunk me. They seemed more plausible than what Ham had to offer. Ham had good intentions, but when it came to the “scientific explanations” for certain things, Nye seemed to be able to do more.
Yet after slowly and carefully working through Genesis 1 last semester and asking a million questions from from different perspectives, I feel confident that the “Bible as a scientific textbook” approach to the Scriptures is a modern phenomenon which asks modern questions. The Bible IS interested in where we came from, don’t get me wrong. But if you begin to see the Bible FIRST as a story, and Genesis as the introduction to that story (and the nation of Israel’s story), the pressure to make the Bible answer questions it isn’t primarily concerned with dissolves. Do I believe that God is the ultimate Creator of everything? Absolutely. Do I also believe that we have an obligation to take Genesis 1 in its historical, cultural and canonical context (among others)? Absolutely we do. Yet, instead of doing the tough work…we get scared. And when we get scared and defensive, we don’t think through our answers.
Thank God that in my heart, I wasn’t scared. Nye didn’t threaten anything within me…instead, he stirred my compassion for all the “science guys” out there. Sure, he mocked Ham a few times here and there, but God has made Nye in His image with a beautiful mind. A mind that marvels at the creation (Nye actually used the word “joy” to describe his scientific discoveries), yet has absolutely missed the beauty of the Creator.
You see, God, in his merciful providence, knew that deep-thinking “talk myself in or out of anything” me would NEED a firm grasp on tools to access the truth intelligently. He knew that I would need it, and that those around me would need it too. So here I am, desiring to finish strong – for the sake of the truth, the glory of Jesus Christ – in my mind, and in my sphere of influence. He has created me for such a time as this — may I live faithfully unto His Name.
I know that may strike most of you as…well…strange. But as soon as I opened them, I was immediately reminded of the tremendous love of our Father this year. Here goes nothing.
Most of you know that 2013 marked our first full year “on support.” David left the fire department at the end of 2013 to support raise full time (for 2 ministry jobs, may I add!) while I continued as a full time graduate student. We were not allowed to withdraw any salary until we got close to 100% of our salary raised. It took us 10 months, and we are still not at our true ‘100%.’ We planned for 5-6 months, worst-case scenario.
7 months in, I got a part-time job…but still have been getting paid less than I ever did (for the same job) prior to seminary. It is not much – let’s put it this way: his W-2 from October – December was the same amount as mine from July – December. We didn’t pull a paycheck for David’s work until October.
In addition to living expenses, we have been paying off my school tuition as we go so we don’t incur any debt from it. And we have had some pretty momentous medical bills along the way.
You guys, our W-2’s were collectively $22,000. I’m pretty sure we were, by America’s standards, below the poverty line. I cannot believe that number.
Yet we never went without, in the truest sense of the word. In fact, I would say we’ve lived abundantly. We never stopped our charitable giving, even when we weren’t getting paid a cent. We have treated to meals and gifts. And minus one car repair that is still being paid off, we are out of debt. I don’t say any of this to boast, except to boast in Our Heavenly Father who is true to His word. We have been transformed by the idea of “seeking first the kingdom of God” and trusting Him for the rest. I wouldn’t run my life any other way. That was our aim, and He delivered abundantly. By all Biblical standards, I would call it a miracle.
I know the details of all this aren’t important, but hopefully they illustrate the magnitude of the God we serve. My prayer is that our testimony of this past year spurs YOU on to step out into the unknown. To seek the opportunity that brings the fullness of joy in His presence. I urge you, seek first the kingdom of God! We have a long way to go to truly doing that in the fullest sense, but God has honored our small steps in that direction. He takes the little courage and trust that we have (that He works in us!) and works miracles. Taste the joy that is waiting for you in His presence, seeing Him work modern day miracles.
I approached the seminary season with great hopes of having all of my questions answered. I ask a lot of questions…so much so that my husband calls me “The Riddler.” Much to my surprise, my questions would birth new questions, deeper questions…questions that have left me feeling as if the very foundation I am standing on is weak. Instead of the newfound confidence I craved, both for myself and for my ministry to others, I have been left with newfound insecurities. I feel like my marriage to Jesus has somehow reverted back to the awkward dating phase, “So…Jesus, tell me about your family. Your favorite color. How you grew up…” It is a bit frightening and I am left vulnerable; vulnerable to answers that I don’t expect, vulnerable to being wrong about something I was so confident in before…vulnerable.
Yet, how would Jesus define my foundation? Would he define it was “thinking rightly” about him? In the same way, how does my husband define the foundation of our marriage? Is it defined as knowing everything about him? Is there room to “rethink” things I thought I knew about him that end up being wrong?
In Matthew 7, Jesus speaks about our foundation, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
The variable in this story is the one who either does or does not do the words that he/she hears. Each one hears, yet the emphasis is not on “hearing rightly,” the emphasis is on the doing. I would argue that right hearing leads to right action, and is very important. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t subject myself to a grueling 3 year intensive study of the Scriptures. However, for the sake of today, Jesus equates the one possesses a strong foundation with the one that does the things that he/she hears.
If I equate my foundation with “right thinking,” I am certainly on shaky ground. This perceived vulnerability has led to a wall in my relationship with Jesus – “If I can’t be sure about you, Jesus, then why should I come to you at all? Why should I trust you, if I don’t even know if I’m trusting who you really are?” The one person I can rely on and put full trust in has made me with limitations in my knowledge. As a result, certain parts of him are veiled, beyond my reach. He has chosen to reveal himself in time to humans made from the dust, rather than in one moment of full clarity.
The reality is, my foundation in marriage and in relationship to Jesus is seen most clearly in covenant actions – first and foremost, actions or vows made on my behalf. The very foundation of Christianity is on the actions of God in history. Jesus not only “thought rightly” about me, but he chose certain actions: humbling himself and taking on the form of human flesh, resisting temptations and dying on my behalf. He certainly thought well, yet earned his “well done, good and faithful servant…not, “good argument” or “good analytics!,” but “well done” on the basis of his actions. Because he obeyed the greatest commandment to love God and love neighbor, he stood strong against the most destructive of storms: betrayal, shame and even death itself.
With Jesus as both my foundation and example of true humanity, I build on the foundation of love with which he loved me. Even in my wrong thinking, he loves me, and beckons me come. And because he loves me, I know love and am free to love. He is more concerned about my building on his unshakeable foundation of love – trusting him in the things I do see of him and loving my neighbor in the ways I ought – than my abstaining from love because I don’t fully know and can’t fully see. He waits for me to come, to hear, and to respond.
It went something like this:
“God, the time is here! We are both getting to do what we love, and I cannot wait to fundraise. Ok, so maybe we thought it would look a little different…with us going overseas to save orphans and all. But, you have been preparing us for this for the last several years. You have come through for us in big ways! I know I will experience you in ways that I couldn’t in any other way. And that will trump every difficulty along the way. I will be so in awe of you, that my afflictions will seem light and momentary! So, let’s do it! This is an adventure…and I love adventures! I know there will be up’s and down’s, but knowing you will make it all worth it!”
Light and momentary. You can’t fault me for trying to be Biblical. But honestly, the ‘afflictions’ (3rd world problems) have been more so…’heavy and seemingly endless.’
The funny thing is, I’m not an ‘overly optimistic’ personality. I think I’ve just been given a courageous personality in a lot of ways…for better or for worse. A lot of times, when I read the Bible, I’m convinced that this is actually who God is and what He promises (I thought that was normal for everyone, but have since learned that its not). And I have taken plenty of these type of scary steps before. Steps into the unknown. But in a momentary lapse of judgment, it was as if I forgot all the struggle, all the pain, all the fighting with God, all the prayer, all the sleepless nights…that came with the other scary steps. Confident in my own wisdom, I convinced myself that God would make Himself glorious by stacking the odds against us, and then showing up big time. I thought we would be some freaky type of modern day George Mueller, praying secretly in the closet for funds to arrive…and they just…would. I was wrong.
There is a little something in me that has wanted to “hold off” on writing this series until I was in a better (more ‘spiritual’) place with this season. Everything in me knows that I will probably laugh at some of my heavy burdens once it is all over (like today’s antics leaving me stranded in Plano with nothing but a 1/8 Camel Bak of water and 3-$100 bills, don’t ask). But, I think what all of us need most is someone to be courageous enough to be honest. Really honest.
Honesty forges gaps that nothing else can. There is something so beautiful about raw honesty. It reminds us that we are not crazy, and we’re not alone. I wish I would have read some type of testimony (other than George Mueller’s…note to self, don’t read crazy “best case scenario” versions of what you’re about to go through!) of a woman that has walked this road before me. When I said that to David, he gently reminded me that testimonies were, in fact, part of the assigned reading for our fundraising bootcamp. Oops. Something tells me that they’re not putting stories like mine in those books, though. Because if they did, I doubt anyone would willingly quit their job and choose to “trust GOD!!” (insert cheerleading stunt off of the living room couch here) So, this is my non-bestselling version of some things you might expect (or may already be experiencing – God have mercy on your soul!). Stay tuned. And for the love of God, pass this along to those that are in this season, or will be in this season in the near future (or any future, for that matter). I’m on a mission to kill the false pretenses about what you’ll face and get to the nitty gritty, the good, bad and the ugly.
Glad you’re along for the ride.