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.
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.
Dear 3 year-ago me,
Congratulations on getting married and getting accepted into Redeemer. You look like you couldn’t be more excited — as if this is something you’ve waited on for years. The Lord has given you an extraordinary gift in David and his encouragement. Cherish it.
People will make jokes to you about seminary (“more like cemetery” they will say). You don’t want to listen to them because you think you’re different. But their intentions are good and their warnings worth listening to.
You will be tempted to think of your time in seminary as a “means to an end.” You don’t now — you don’t “have” to have this degree to serve as a minister of the Gospel. Especially as a woman. As a result, you see this season as a true gift, the pursuit of knowledge of your Savior. Keep this intention ever before you. Pray hard against the temptation to see this time as a means to an end.
You see, especially towards the end of your time at Redeemer, the temptation will grow stronger. With past voices in your head of “you will be successful at anything you do,” you will start to be afraid. Afraid of what they will think when you don’t have a high-powered job right after you graduate. Afraid of the pay cuts you’re sure to face after being in the business world. Afraid of the word “internship.” Afraid that you wasted 3 years of your life slaving away with nothing to show for it. Afraid that you missed out on what everyone else seemed to be doing with their lives. Afraid that 30 is too old to start a new career. Afraid of not finding your place as a woman in ministry. In a word, you will be afraid to fail.
You see, this fear has tripped you up all of your life. It has led to seeing successes as disappointments. It has bred discontentment. It has darkened otherwise shining moments. And you will stare it in the face for the hundredth time.
But take heart. Remember that your Jesus has a plan. Remember that his way almost always looks mysterious. Remember that his life was one of humble servanthood. Remember that he is worth trusting with everything you’ve got. Remember that he has provided for you in countless unexpected ways up to this point. Remember his miraculous salvation in your life, a salvation that speaks more life into you day after day. Remember that the journey of seminary, not unlike the journey of your whole life, is to know him.
This is the best advice I have for you: Make your aim to know him. In every class that you take, are you meeting him? Are you in awe of his goodness? Is the overflow of that worship making your face radiant? Are you keeping your relationships a priority – because they are the most precious in his sight?
27 year-old me, you are in for a wild ride. Keep your eyes set on Jesus and you can’t go wrong.
And don’t be afraid to fail. In the failing, in the ashes – you will know him. And you will find life.
Yesterday, Saddleback Church in California hosted a one-day conference called Mental Health and the Church. The event’s stated purpose was to “call the Church to action on behalf of those living with mental illness, equip lay and pastoral leadership, and stand side-by-side with those who suffer.”
The event was encouraging on so many levels. First, it was encouraging to see a united Church stand together in this issue. Although different denominations were represented, I heard one voice: the community of faith needs to be the hands and feet of Jesus as we serve and seek out those that are hurting. After all of the controversy surrounding World Vision’s decision, it was refreshing to see a Church united in love to serve and care. Sure, our solutions may be different, but the goal is the same: to invite in, to have compassion, to weep with, to impart hope. Many times, out of fear or ignorance, we have excluded and shamed those struggling with mental illness. That has to change.
Second, it was encouraging to see brave men and women step forward in the public eye and share about their own experience with mental illness. There were many tears shed on that stage: tears of grief, tears of exhaustion, tears of joy in hope. The courage it took for many to bring these stories into the light was awe-inspiring. It confirmed a desire in my heart to work with the hurting and the broken…to sit down and hear their stories, to weep with them, and to impart hope. I’m thankful for their courage to put a face and name to this specific form of suffering.
Lastly, while the conference gave some helpful practical advice (that I’ll be taking back to my Church), it spurred me on to think about creative ways that we, as the Church, can partner with others in the community to give people the help that they need. Statistically, the Church is still the first place people come to get help with mental illness. I couldn’t believe that when I heard it. We have an obligation and an opportunity to impart the person of Jesus and the hope of the Kingdom of God to these brothers and sisters. Simply put, we must do better. One panelist said, “If we reject people with mental illness coming through our doors, they think God has rejected them.” We are Christ’s ambassadors, and as such, we must welcome, and serve, and include, and love.
Consider this statement from Paul on unity within the Church.
“21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
How does this change our approach to those in our congregations that have mental illness? How does it change our approach to those in our communities with mental illness? The Gospel calls us to honor, not shame. The Gospel calls us to seek out and serve the weak, not marginalize them. I am convinced that we are faced with a great opportunity to serve, to love, to welcome. How does this look in your church context? How can we do better?
We’ve had our fair share of struggles with the institution of “the church.” Especially the unique challenges that come with a “mega church” (still weird to say!) that has experienced rapid growth in attendance, but not necessarily membership. When everyone starting calling Donald Miller out for his blog post about his frustrations with the institutional church, we saw a lot of where he was coming from.
Then I read this by Shauna Niequist: “She’s not a Megachurch. She’s my Sister’ and thought – yes. Yes, this is the way I feel about our church.
You see, this church is much more than a building. It is more than the size of weekly attendance. It is more than their celebrity status. It is much more than something we do on Sundays. Its identity cannot be found in those things because it is much, much more.
It is the people we call at midnight on a Saturday because we can’t go back to our own home.
It is the weekly dinners, the confessions, the griefs, the joys, the marriages, the babies.
It is the “band of brothers,” the community that the rest of the world longs for.
It is the pastors that take your call late at night because they care about you.
It is an extended family — the kind with all its quirks, all of its heartbreaks, yet wrapped up in a commitment to be “for you,” no matter how much that hurts.
We have been pretty banged up in this season, but it has been an opportunity for the Lord to show us how well this Church that the he has granted us, this family, loves us…and how much we love them. They are not perfect — no family is. But they have sacrificed time and spoken words of life into our weary family. We have felt more and more like sojourners on this road of life, but we know that we have fellow travelers alongside us…yearning for our true home.
“Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his Cross. Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of the Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of his Passion. They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves, bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy.”
This quote from Reliving the Passion by Walter Wangerin Jr. stings a little at first.
“They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves…“
Do I truly love Jesus for His own sake, or do I love him for my own comfort? What happens when I’m uncomfortable? Do I expect to share in Christ’s sufferings, treated no better than he was? Do I expect my way to look different than the way of the cross?
The truth is, I want the joy that Jesus offers without embracing his prescribed way of joy. I want circumstancial comfort instead of embracing my Comforter in the midst of circumstances I wouldn’t ever choose.
And there have been a lot of circumstances I wouldn’t ever choose.
It seems that the more we try to sacrifice, the more we labor to serve and to lay down all that we own at Jesus’ feet, the more opposition we encounter. We have had several Judas-esque betrayals and false accusations. We have had to sit through two “trials” of sorts and keep our mouths shut, while our accusers hurl insults and lies at us. I’ve sat there, biting my tongue and looking away to hold back the tears. And they have left me extremely weary.
Yet – this. “They who love Jesus for His own sake…bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy.”
There can be no resurrection without the Cross. I believe this for Jesus, but do I believe it for me?
Instead of stewing with uncontrollable anger, I want my response to be a compassionate “Father, forgive them.” As I’m being insulted, I want to see the face of Jesus in excruciating pain: shutting his mouth in response to THE false accusations of all false accusations. Because the truth is, I am Judas. I am the one hurling insults at Jesus. But through the Cross, Jesus has taken on my Judas-ness and freed me – but this was not the freedom I was hoping for. I wanted freedom from the shame, the insults…yet he granted me something much deeper – Himself, his presence. He granted freedom from the chains of bitterness and the plots of revenge.
Philippians 4:10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
And so I wait. Instead of despising the suffering, I bear it — knowing that His cross did what only an instrument of torture and death could do – produce a resurrection. I look to him as one that is united to him in both his suffering and his resurrection. I wait, while he uses this cross to produce unimaginable joy — a joy that proclaims to the world that I love him — not for my comfort’s sake, but for His sake alone.
On this Valentine’s Day, here’s one of my favorite descriptions of love from Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage. Thankful for a husband that displays this type of radical love on a daily basis!
“…We must say to ourselves something like this: ‘Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think “I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.” No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us – denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him – and in the greatest act of love in history, he STAYED. He said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.’ Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day.”