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.
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.
“Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
The first human relationship we’re shown in Scripture, other than Adam and Eve, is Cain and Abel. It ends in murder and this simple response to God’s inquiry: “…am I my brother’s keeper?” The whole story of Israel reflects an oscillation between love and hatred of neighbor, with devastating consequences for Israel and her neighbors.
Thousands of years later, our response, though different in language in vocabulary, remains the same. We live as though our actions only affect us, and as if our brother’s actions only affect them. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
When we neglect time in prayer and in the Word, it affects us, yes. When we watch pornography, when we overeat, when we exalt the opinions of others, when we engage in sex before marriage…we immediately consider the short-term consequences for ME. Most of us see this and feel the nagging guilt. And somehow, we convince ourselves that it is okay as long as we are the only ones affected. We can handle the consequences. We are attuned to the “cause and effect” world that God has made.
But we are near-sighted, unable to see the effect on everyone around us: our spouse, our friends, our co-workers, our boss, our children. Suddenly, our sin kept in private is unleashed, devouring everyone around us. In the same way that a small act of kindness is “passed on,” small acts of evil are passed to everyone we touch.
But this attitude doesn’t stop there. In the same way, when we see our brother, sister, spouse, family member…giving in to the deceitfulness of sin, we look the other way. Left to myself, I am a “peacemaker,” valuing the comfort of staying out of conflict much more than the potentially uncomfortable consequences of rocking the boat and telling a brother or sister something they don’t want to hear. This is a constant battle for me. But if I truly consider myself my brother’s keeper, this is not an option, it is an obligation. Sure, it may not affect me directly, but it affects my sister, her spouse, her children, her co-workers…the consequences are endless. God’s pronouncement is that it is not good for man to be alone. He has created us FOR each other: for each other’s flourishing.
In the Kingdom of God, we ARE our brother’s keeper. This is a central part of our identity as we seek to fulfill the greatest commands to love God and love our neighbor. God’s very design demands that we consider our brother, and even prefer him. Consider Jesus. If he had preferred his reputation over love, he would not have reached out to the “untouchables” of society. And if he had preferred his comfort over love, he would never have subjected himself to the excruciating pain of the cross. The ripple effect of his choice to be his brother’s keeper has changed the course of history. And as partakers in the new creation and kingdom that Jesus instituted, we too embrace our calling to be our brother’s keeper.
Instead of choosing solitude, we choose the gathering of the saints. Instead of choosing to keep our sins to ourselves, we choose to bring them into the light, eliciting the encouragement and accountability of those around us. We choose to surround ourselves by true friends, those that love our holiness over our comfort. We choose to fight against the individualistic tendencies of this generation, choosing instead to be a hospitable people, welcoming and inviting. And as we embrace our true identity, our true humanity as our brother’s keeper, we serve as a fragrance of the knowledge of God to those around us.
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.”