TAILOR-MADE

When the sun went down, everyone who had sick people – all kinds of sicknesses – brought them to him. He laid his hands on each one in turn, and healed them. [Luke 4:40 (NTE)]

paper kite butterflyThinking of Jesus’ first miracle caused me to consider His other miracles. Along with general accounts of Him healing people in Capernaum, Gennesaret, and Jerusalem, the gospels mention 35 specific miracles He performed. When we consider the way Jesus healed the blind, His miracles seem almost tailor-made for the people blessed by them. John tells us that Jesus healed one blind man by mixing His spittle with dirt, rubbing the resulting mud over the man’s eyes, and telling the man to wash in the pool of Siloam. Mark tells of another occasion when Jesus took a blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Surely, they talked but we don’t know about what. Jesus then spit on the man’s eyes and laid His hands on him. Although the man regained his sight, he didn’t understand what he saw so Jesus did it again. Was that one miracle done in two parts or could it have been two miracles: one to restore the man’s sight and the second so he could comprehend what he saw? Another time, Jesus skipped the spit and merely touched two blind men to restore their sight. Then we have the healing of Bartimaeus: Jesus immediately restored His sight without spit, mud, washing, or touch.

Like Bartimaeus, many were healed just by Jesus’ word while others were healed by His touch or by touching His robe. Some, like the woman with the blood disorder, spoke with Him and others, like the Syrophoenician’s daughter and the Roman officer’s servant, never even saw Jesus. Some miracles, such as the raising of Lazarus were done quite publicly while others, like the raising of Jairus’ daughter, were done in secret. A deformed hand was made normal, a paralytic walked, a severed ear was restored, lepers were made whole, a storm was calmed, and demoniacs were freed of their demons. When we compare His miracle at Cana with the feeding of multitudes, we see that Jesus transformed in the first instance but expanded in the others. No two miracles were quite the same and no two lives were touched in quite the same way.

The gospels tell of Jesus healing many people in Capernaum. They’d waited until evening, when the Sabbath was over, to carry the sick to Jesus and gather around Him. Faced with a crowd of hurting people, Jesus didn’t wave His hand over them and do a mass healing. Luke specifically mentions that Jesus laid hands on each person in turn. He had a personal concern for each one and the healing received was a healing designed specifically for him or her.

As a petite woman, I hate “one size fits all” clothing; even the more honest “one size fits most” apparel never seems to fit. In a perfect world, I’d have a personal seamstress design and custom make my clothes. The world, however, isn’t perfect so I settle with good enough. Although the world isn’t perfect, our Lord is and His miracles tell us that ours is not a “one size fits all” God. Because he designed and created us, He knows us more intimately than a seamstress fitting us for a form-fitting gown or a tailor for a custom suit. Coming right into our lives, Jesus gets up close and personal and we never have to settle for good enough. Knowing our unique situation and needs, His answers to our prayers are tailor-made just for us.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. [Psalm 139:13-14 (NLT)]

What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. [Luke 12:6-7 (NLT)]

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HE CARES! (Cana – part 4)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. [Philippians 4:6 (NLT)]

sunflowerIn spite of the theological reasons I gave for the miracle at Cana, providing wine for a wedding still seems an odd choice for Jesus’ debut miracle. Compared to the rest of His miracles, it almost seems frivolous. While the situation was embarrassing for the host, it wasn’t as grave as a demon-possessed child, thousands of hungry people, a crippled woman, a paralyzed man, or a dead friend. When considering Jesus’ reason for performing this miracle, Max Lucado had a simpler explanation than mine. He suggests that Jesus was concerned about the dearth of wine at the wedding simply because it concerned Mary; He cared because she cared! Pointing out that God is there for both the great and small, Lucado asked, “If Jesus was willing to use divine clout to solve a social faux pas, how much more willing would He be to intervene on the weightier matters of life?” Lucado certainly has a point; since it mattered to Mary, it mattered to Jesus.

Do we ever vet our concerns and only hand God the critical ones? Thinking our prayers must have a certain weightiness or urgency, do we pre-qualify them before we consider them worthy of God’s ear? Shouldn’t we present all of our troubles to God and let Him decide what is important?

Three years ago, following hurricane Irma, contractors were in short supply in Southwest Florida. A friend’s rental property had been damaged. When the tile man called to say he’d start work that day only if the stove and refrigerator had been moved out to the deck, she didn’t dare object. The appliances were still in place and this small woman, on the far side of 70, had no idea how they’d get moved. Nevertheless, knowing that the window of opportunity with her contractor was narrow, she agreed. Wondering how she’d move the appliances or find people for the drywall and painting she’d need once the floor was done, she prayed, “God help me! ”

At the time, Irma was considered the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in history. Leaving a string of Caribbean islands devastated, it affected nine US states, turned streets into rivers, ripped down power lines, uprooted trees, and demolished homes and businesses. In our state alone, Irma took 87 lives and did $50 million worth of damage. If prayers were ranked by urgency or direness of circumstance, she knew hers would be low on His list. Nevertheless, the situation was important to her and she prayed as she drove to the condo.

As God would have it, when my friend pulled into the parking lot, two young men were standing by a truck. Mustering up her courage, she approached them and asked if they could help her. With time to spare before they started working on another condo, they moved her appliances. As the men were leaving her unit, my friend asked what sort of work they did. You guessed it; they did drywall and painting! Her prayer had been answered in full!

Billy Graham said, “Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no one bothered to ask.” If Mary hadn’t brought the wine problem to Jesus, the wedding celebration would have ended early and, if my friend hadn’t prayed about her dilemma, she might still be waiting for her condo repair! My point is simple: if it’s important to us, it’s important to God! Let us never limit Him by thinking we know what He can or will do.

Children do not find it difficult or complicated to talk to their parents, nor do they feel embarrassed to bring the simplest need to their attention. Neither should we hesitate to bring the simplest requests confidently to the Father. [Richard J. Foster]

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. [1 John 5:14 (NLT)]

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

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THE BRIDEGROOM (Cana – Part 3)

You yourselves know how plainly I told you, “I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.” It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. [John 3:28-29 (NLT)]

wedding - 1939That Jesus chose Cana for His first public miracle and turned water into wine may not be as random as it first seems. By providing wine for the wedding, Jesus took on the bridegroom’s role which foreshadowed things to come.

John the Baptist described Jesus as a bridegroom and himself as the groom’s friend, much like today’s “best man.” In Jesus’ day, the groom’s best friend might have served as master of the banquet. The master of the banquet, however, knew he wasn’t the one hosting the party and the celebration wasn’t about him. By calling Jesus the bridegroom, John accepted his secondary role.

The bridegroom imagery continued when Jesus explained why his disciples didn’t fast. Fasting was for a time of mourning but weddings were a time to rejoice and Jesus compared his relationship with the disciples to that of a bridegroom and his guests. It would be inappropriate for the groom’s guests to fast during the celebration while the groom still was present. The time for fasting would be when He no longer was with them.

At another time, Jesus likened His followers to bridesmaids who were waiting with lamps for the groom to come and collect his bride. Some weren’t prepared with enough oil and, since the groom was a long time coming, their lamps went out. Without the light, they couldn’t accompany the wedding party back to the groom’s house for the celebration. This parable warned Jesus’ followers to be prepared for His return.

We find a bridegroom again when Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast given by a king for his son. Two invitations were sent to such a celebration: the first asking them to attend and the second telling them it was ready. When the guests who initially accepted the king’s invitation refused to come, he sent out a third invitation but the people refused and his messenger was killed. With his invitation rejected, the king extended his invitation to everyone.

In Ephesians, we find Paul continuing the metaphor when he says the way a man and his wife are united is “an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.”[5:31-32] It comes full circle in Revelation when Jesus, the Lamb of God, is called the bridegroom and His church the bride.

Let us not be like the guests who reject the King’s invitation or the foolish bridesmaids who weren’t ready for the bridegroom’s arrival. We want to join in the celebration. We are, after all, the bride of Christ!

Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself. … And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.” [Revelation 19:7,9 (NLT)]

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WEDDING WINE (Cana – Part 1)

“A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him. [John 2:10-11 (NLT)]

kaui weddingWhen the catering manager pulled me aside and said we had a problem, my mind rushed through various scenarios that could turn our daughter’s wedding into a fiasco. When he admitted not having the wine I’d ordered weeks earlier, I got nervous but, when he offered to substitute a better wine at a lower price, I heaved a sigh of relief and recalled another wedding when the guests unexpectedly got better wine! This happened 18 years ago but I still remember it whenever I read about Jesus’ miracle at Cana. The guests at our daughter’s wedding had no idea why they enjoyed such good wine and neither did the guests at that wedding 2,000 years ago.

Our daughter had a small destination wedding but weddings in Jesus’ day were a community celebration and the host typically invited as many as he could. The Jewish culture was one of hospitality and the festivities often lasted as long as a week. Not having the right wine was a minor glitch for us but running out of wine at that wedding was a disastrous breach of etiquette for the groom whose responsibility was to provide enough food and drink.

Perhaps Mary knew of the shortage because she was one of the women serving food. In any case, she knew that her son could fix a bad situation and instructed the servants to do whatever He said. Jesus told them to fill six stone jugs with water and then take some to the master of the banquet (whose duty was to oversee the entertainment and supervise the distribution of food and drink) for sampling. Upon tasting the wine, he expressed his surprise that the groom had reserved the best wine for the end when the guests’ palates had dulled.

Jesus’ first miracle tells us a great deal about our Lord. Prior to this, during His 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, He’d refused Satan’s temptation to use His power to satisfy His hunger. In Cana, Jesus used His power to serve others rather than Himself. Out of compassion, He prevented the disgrace of insufficient wine from haunting the newlyweds for the rest of their lives. The vessels Jesus had the servants fill were special stone jars set aside for sacred purposes and reserved for ceremonial washing. The Jews were meticulous about their rituals and these vessels would never have been used for wine. Nevertheless, as Jesus later demonstrated by healing on the Sabbath, touching the unclean, and eating with sinners, compassion and love were the new way to fulfill God’s law.

The servants were told to fill the jugs all the way to the brim. Rather than adding something to the water, Jesus changed it! He doesn’t just improve lives; He transforms them and turns sinners into saints! Because of Jesus, rather than the best wine being served first, it was served last. It was a sign of new and better things to come: a new covenant of grace that was better than the old one of the law. We see Jesus’ humility in a miracle done so quietly that only the servants and His disciples knew what had happened. It was the bridegroom, not Jesus, who got the credit for the superb vintage. We also see the richness of life that Jesus offers. Those six jugs would have provided enough wine, not just for the wedding feast, but for the entire village for several weeks.

Jesus came out of love so it is fitting that His first recorded miracle occurred at a wedding feast—a joyful celebration of love. From the outset of His ministry, it was clear that Jesus’ message was not one of asceticism and severity but one of love, joy, and abundance. Like the better wine served at our daughter’s wedding, there’s no extra cost to us; God’s grace is free. It was Jesus who paid the price for our salvation.

The same Jesus Who turned water into wine can transform your home, your life, your family, and your future. He is still in the miracle-working business, and His business is the business of transformation. [Adrian Rogers]

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:10 (NLT)]

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THE MISSING DAY (Part 2)

And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. [Joshua 10:13 (RSV)]

button bushMy initial interest in The Book of Jashar arose from Joshua 10 when, while in the midst of heated battle, Joshua prayed that the day would be prolonged. Scripture reports that both the sun and moon stayed in place until victory was won by the Israelites and that the account is found in The Book of Jashar.

In Joshua’s miracle, time stood still. In 2 Kings 20, instead of time stopping, time appeared to go backwards when the shadow on King Hezekiah’s sundial went back “ten steps.” Without an explanation of how God accomplished these miracles, people often assume He stopped the earth in one and briefly reversed its rotation in the other. But, if the earth suddenly stopped spinning, the atmosphere, oceans, and anything not nailed down would keep spinning. Their momentum would cause a 1000 miles-per-hour wind. There would be earthquakes and tsunamis and anything not attached to bedrock would be swept away. If the earth suddenly went backwards, the result would be equally disastrous. Scripture, however, only tells us the sun and moon stayed in the sky and the shadow on the sundial retreated; it never explains how.

For centuries people have pondered these two miracles and questioned the accuracy of their reports. Why people find them more unbelievable than the ten plagues inflicted on Egypt, the parting of both the Red Sea and the river Jordan, manna from heaven, the virgin birth, various miraculous healings, raising the dead, or any other of the more than 120 miracles we find in Scripture is beyond me. Perhaps it’s because these two miracles seem to defy physics and all we know about the way our planet works. Let us remember that the one who spoke the universe into existence can certainly do things in a way we can’t understand or explain.

Nevertheless, there is a persistent urban legend that says astronomers have found a missing day, dating back to Joshua’s time, in the astronomical calendar. This tale started in the late 1800s and has been updated periodically to reflect new science and technology. The latest version is that NASA, while making calculations for a space launch, found a missing 23 hours and 20 minutes. A Christian explained that it must be Joshua’s 48-hour day. He clarified that it wasn’t a full 24 hours because of Hezekiah’s sundial episode when time went backwards and then forward again, adding 40 minutes to its day. While scientists can calculate the past or future positions of heavenly objects with precision, there is no way they can know if time from over 3,000 years ago is missing! To detect missing time, they would need an accurate earth-based clock with which to compare their astronomical observations. Such clocks, however, didn’t exist in the era of sundials and there are no precisely-timed astronomical observations from Joshua’s time.

Scientific proof of these events is impossible and, while Biblical scholars have various explanations for them, they are only speculating. I prefer the easiest answer of them all: God can accomplish His will in ways that defy natural explanations. As the writer of the laws of nature, He can both enforce and alter those laws at His will. What happened was impossible; nevertheless, it happened. Rather than concentrating on the how, let us remember the who!

Ah Lord God! It is thou who hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and by thy outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for thee. [Jeremiah 32:17 (RSV)]

Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” [Mark 10:27 (RSV)]

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JEHOVAH RAPHA

Steamboat SkiThe same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. … It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. [1 Corinthians 12:9,11 (NLT)]

Several years ago, what should have been my first ski run of the day became my last one of the season when a tumble down an icy slope left me with three broken ribs and tears in both my ACL and MCL. After the closing prayer at church that evening, the woman behind me said, “I see you’re in a lot of pain. May I lay hands on you and pray for you?” This woman believed she’d been gifted by the Holy Spirit with healing and I’d often seen her praying over others after church. Unsure about her supposed gift, I was in such pain and despair that I would have accepted any offer of relief. She accompanied me to the front of the church where a few others joined her as they laid hands on me and prayed.

I certainly needed prayer; my body hurt but so did my heart. Scheduled to depart in five days for a much anticipated tour of Belgium and the Netherlands, I suspected my injuries meant we’d have to cancel the trip. I also feared that I’d seen the last of my days skiing on the mountain.

While I can’t say whether those hands and prayers made an immediate difference, I know I felt far better leaving church than when I arrived. I still had torn ligaments and broken ribs, but my pain had eased and my spirits had lifted. The following day, we returned to the Midwest. Only time would heal my ribs but the orthopedic surgeon gave me a full leg brace and scheduled physical therapy. We took our trip and, in spite of my discomfort, had a wonderful time. Hoping to avoid the surgery that seemed inevitable, the next several months were spent in intense physical therapy. Fortunately, without needing surgical repair, I returned to the slopes and continued to ski, albeit with a leg brace and a little more caution, for several more years.

Was my excellent recovery because of the hands laid on me and prayers offered for me or the skill of my physician and physical therapist or both? Only God knows for sure, but I believe those petitions reached God’s ears and He acted on them. Through the healing prayers and touch of my brothers and sisters in Christ, God gave me the spiritual, emotional, and physical strength (along with good medical care) to recover fully.

Throughout the Bible we read of miraculous healings: Naaman was healed of leprosy, Elijah brought the widow’s son back to life, Peter and John healed a lame man, Paul healed the father of Publius, and physical healing was Jesus’ most common miracle.  We have a God who hears our prayers and has the power to heal: our Jehovah Rapha. Today, however, miraculous healings seem few and far between.

Before that evening, I’d questioned whether the Spirit still bestowed the gift of healing on believers. Could someone’s touch really serve as a conduit for God’s healing grace? I no longer doubt; while the spiritual gift of healing may not always manifest in immediate or inexplicable recovery, it does exist.

While few of us may be gifted with healing, every one of us should be engaged in intercessory prayers for the sick. Nevertheless, no matter how strong our faith, the faith of those who pray for us or of those for whom we pray, healing does not always occur. Let us remember that healing is more than the mending of broken bodies; it is the mending of broken souls. God is more concerned with our spiritual salvation than our physical well-being and the restoration of our bodies may have to wait until we enter God’s glory. The healing of our souls, however, can happen right now!

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. [James 5:13-15a (NLT)]

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