POSSIBILITIES

He [Jesus] asked, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? [John 6:5,7-9 (ESV)]

great egretTwo disciples, Philip and Andrew, are mentioned in John’s account of the day Jesus fed over 5,000 with a boy’s lunch. When Jesus asked Philip where they could find food enough for all of the people, the right answer would have been, “Lord, you have the power to feed them all.” Instead, Philip, who may have been the first century equivalent of an accountant before following Jesus, immediately did a feasibility study and figured the massive expense. Ignoring the solution standing in front of him, he only saw impossibility.

On the other hand, we have Andrew. Perhaps before becoming a disciple, Andrew was the equivalent of a corporate recruiter; Andrew looked for potential and promise. The first thing he did after deciding to follow Jesus was to get his brother Simon and bring him to the Messiah. When faced with a hungry crowd, Andrew simply scanned the countryside to see what assets were available. Even though he knew the boy’s lunch wasn’t enough to feed a multitude, seeing its potential, he offered what little food there was to Jesus.

One disciple saw why something couldn’t be done while the other saw possibility in a meager offering. Philip saw only what was missing but Andrew saw the assets around them. One said there wasn’t enough and the other, even knowing it wasn’t sufficient, offered what little there was and expected Jesus to make it enough.

Nearly three years ago, a handful of people gathered in a park gazebo and started a church. The Philip in us looked at what we had and figured it was impossible—too little money and too few people. Even though we knew it wasn’t enough, the Andrew in us heard Jesus’ call and faithfully presented what we had to Him. In Jesus’ hands, our insufficiency became more than enough. Even though COVID-19 has prevented us from meeting in-person since mid-March, we’re on solid ground financially and able to tithe our funds to those in need. Our on-line services and App have kept our church family connected and enabled us to spread the message to thousands all over the world. Perhaps it was for such as time as this that God took our not enough, multiplied it, and enabled us to feed so many.

When God calls us, we often answer His call by seeing only what we’re lacking—whether time, energy, experience, people, money, or something else. The question, however, isn’t how we’ll respond with so little but what God will do with what we have! God’s math isn’t like man’s. The One who multiplied five barely loaves and two fish to end up with food enough to feed a multitude can multiply potential in amazing ways. As Andrew did with the boy’s meager offering, let us offer what we have and trust God to make it sufficient.

When they laughed at St. Theresa when she wanted to build a great orphanage, and had but three shillings to begin with, she answered, “With three shillings Theresa can do nothing; but with God and her three shillings there is nothing which Theresa cannot do.” Do not let us imagine, then, that we are too poor, or too stupid, or too ignorant, or too obscure to do any real good in the world wherein God has placed us. [Frederic Farrar]

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. [2 Corinthians 9:8 (ESV)]

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GOD SHOTS

Give thanks to the Lord of lords. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles. His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 136:3-4 (NLT)]

sunflowerAfter hearing people say, “It’s a miracle!” regarding the speedy development of the COVID-19 vaccines, I began to wonder what constitutes a miracle. In his book Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem defines a miracle as “a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself.” I’m not a theologian but his definition seems to qualify a miraculous event by its infrequency and awesomeness rather than its nature. By his definition, last month’s “great” conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn might qualify. It certainly was awesome and, since that hasn’t happened at night for nearly 800 years, it certainly qualifies as uncommon. It was, however, predictable and the two planets will be even closer together the night of December 25, 2874. I prefer Pastor Taylor Krug’s definition:  “A miracle is a particular event that occurs within the natural world that cannot be sufficiently explained with a perfect science and an exhaustive understanding of the cosmos.”

Yet, even with Krug’s definition, I can’t clearly draw the line between an amazing inexplicable incident and a sure-fire miracle. Sometimes people, places, and things intersect in extraordinary and mystifying ways. I have a friend who calls these profound happenings that defy explanation “God shots.” While writing about the SK8 church yesterday, I thought of the bizarre coincidences that brought us together.

Our association with the ministry began with a haircut. When my hairdresser closed shop, I picked a new salon from the phone book and took the first available appointment. Because of a last minute conflict, I had to reschedule and got a different stylist. We talked while she worked and our exchange took an unusual turn toward Jesus and our mutual faith. Then, for some odd reason, the conversation turned to our family business. Learning we make a product for skateboards, she told me about her involvement in a skateboarder ministry. The next morning, the coffee shop barista recognized our company logo on my husband’s cap and told us her dad had started a SK8 church. Almost immediately, her father came in to post a SK8 church notice on the bulletin board. We introduced ourselves and our association began—all because of a haircut at a randomly selected salon and a baseball cap. While not miraculous, I think that qualifies as a God shot.

During the years, we continued to see these God shots at SK8 church. Someone totally unrelated to the ministry or skateboarding was given a PlayStation he didn’t want. Rather than selling it, he brought it to the SK8 church. Why them and not EBay? Only God knows. The following afternoon, a woman with no connection to the church gave them her old car. What seemed like an odd donation actually was the timely answer to a prayer. You see, living at the church was a homeless young man who’d just gotten a job but had no way to get to it. A coincidence or the hand of God?

When the SK8 church wanted to build a skateboard bowl, they had the materials and workers one weekend but not the expertise. When the pastor called a professional boarder for technical advice, instead of giving advice, the pro drove from Missouri to Colorado the next day. He preached to the kids that night and directed the building project throughout the weekend. The God shot? He originally had a professional obligation for that weekend but it had been cancelled only minutes before the pastor’s call.

From our viewpoint, much of life seems incredibly random but we must remember that our sovereign God always is in control. He both causes things to happen as he did when a supposedly random arrow killed wicked King Ahab but He also allows things to happen, as He did when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and Satan plagued Job. Whether the incredible speed with which these COVID vaccines were developed qualifies as miraculous, I don’t know but, without a doubt, God’s hand was in it. Thank you, Lord!

Praise the Lord! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord? Who can ever praise him enough? [Psalm 106:1-2 (NLT)]

O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them. [Psalm 40:5 (NLT)]

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THE MIRACLE OF MIRACLES

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. [Luke 1:41-42 (KJV)]

Yesterday, I mentioned Dr. Frank Crane’s comments about the wonders of everyday life. After saying, “The miracle of miracles is life,” Crane adds, “The most amazing, baffling, mysterious thing in all the universe is a seed.” While cutting into an orange this morning, I looked at the seeds hidden in the juicy fruit and recalled his words. Think how a single orange seed can grow into an orange tree that produces countless flowers that almost miraculously transform into oranges that will then produce even more seeds. The amazing power and potential held in the core of one small seed is there because it was designed by God.

It was my granddaughter’s 17th birthday recently and, since I couldn’t be with her, I looked through old photos of her instead. I recalled the day I first saw her. Only a day old and small enough to fit in a Christmas stocking, Bree was in her mother’s arms. The sight of the two of them took my breath away. For some odd reason, I recalled Elizabeth’s greeting to the Virgin Mary, “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” I’d read and heard that phrase countless times yet I’d never really considered it. But there, right in front of me, was my daughter, the child who’d been the fruit of my womb, and she was holding her own child, the fruit of her womb. By extension, that infant also was the fruit of my womb along with my mother’s and grandmothers’ and the wombs of their mothers before them. That little girl’s DNA held fragments of people she’d never know. Both past and future were locked within her being. Remembering that sense of wonder I felt upon seeing her, I thought of Crane’s words about the miracle of miracles: the life within a seed. How does God pack soul, blood, hair, skin, teeth, eyes, bones, nerves, talent, heart, personality, imagination, sense of humor, fingernails, and the ability to love, laugh, and cry into the two microscopic cells that join to become a human being?

We just celebrated the miracle of Jesus’ incarnation when God took on human flesh. He became a fetus in a woman’s body—the fruit of her womb—and was born. In some miraculous way, the hand of God touched a virgin and impregnated her. How He did this is a matter beyond our comprehension and yet He did. As Christians, we attest to the virgin birth in both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds. There are, however, some people who accept all of Scripture’s miracles except for this one. Yet it really is no more amazing than God’s many other miracles. Parting the Red Sea, manna from heaven, Jericho’s destruction, turning water into wine, stilling a storm, the sun standing still, feeding a multitude, giving sight to the blind, walking on water, resurrecting the dead, and ascending into heaven all defy the laws of nature.

We don’t have to look to Scripture to be witnesses to God’s ability to do the unbelievable; just look at the miracle of miracles—life itself! The birth of a child, even when conceived the usual way, is miracle enough to convince me that the author of nature’s laws can rewrite them any time and any way He wants. The Human Genome Project spent thirteen years mapping all 3.1 billion base pairs in human DNA—the entire genetic blueprint of a human being—and yet they never found the innate sense of right and wrong that exists within each one of us from the moment we’re born or the very essence of humanity. What is the DNA of an immortal soul? My 23andMe report doesn’t say and the Human Genome Project still doesn’t know!

For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. [Nicene Creed]

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. [Matthew 1:23 (KJV)]

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. [Luke 1:34-34 (KJV)]

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THE WONDERS OF THE WORLD

Men know about God. He has made it plain to them. Men cannot say they do not know about God. From the beginning of the world, men could see what God is like through the things He has made. This shows His power that lasts forever. It shows that He is God. [Romans 1:19-20 (NLV)]

alstromeria - Peruvian lilyIn one of his four-minute essays, Dr. Frank Crane posited that that the Seven Wonders of the World weren’t the most wonderful things in the world; the wonders of everyday life were! I have to agree. The seven wonders are man-made and, of the original seven, only the great pyramid in Giza remains. On the other hand, the night sky has been there since God created it when time began. Within our galaxy there are some 300 billion stars. The Milky Way, however, is just one of some 2 trillion galaxies (making for a total stellar population of roughly 70 billion trillion.) Since that’s just in the observable universe, there probably are plenty more that haven’t yet been detected. That those trillions of stars are orbiting around an ever expanding universe boggles the mind! Nothing made by man even comes close.

I look over at the Alstroemeria (Peruvian lilies) my husband brings me each week. How is it possible that no two of those flowers are exactly alike? Yet, there’s no duplication in them or in snowflakes, zebras, fingerprints, butterflies, and those 70 billion trillion stars either!

As wondrous as God’s creation is, I wonder if we appreciate it. In 2007, a young man exited the metro station in Washington, DC, took out his violin, and began to play. The violinist was virtuoso Joshua Bell and his instrument, made by Antonio Stradivari in 1713, was worth $3.5 million. Bell played for three minutes before anyone even turned a head, another half-minute before someone dropped a dollar into his open violin case, and six minutes before anyone stopped for a moment. Sure that people would notice and recognize Bell, crowd control had been the initial concern for this experiment. There was no need to worry. Although 1,097 people passed by Bell during his 43-minute concert, only seven stopped for at least a minute to listen to a man who easily commands $1000 a minute to play a concert and for whom standing ovations are the norm.

Later, when viewing a video of the experiment, Bell said he understood why a crowd didn’t gather—after all, it was rush hour and people had to get to work. What mystified the violinist was that people didn’t even notice him; it was if he were invisible. There was no applause or acknowledgement of his music until near the end when one woman passed by him. Having been to one of Bell’s concerts, she recognized the violinist and stopped to listen. When he’d played his last note, she thanked him before continuing on her way to work.

Those commuters in DC have become so accustomed to the noisy busy world around them that they totally missed seeing and hearing Joshua Bell. Like them, has the noise and busyness of our lives dulled our senses so much that we no longer see or hear the wonders around us? We don’t need to leave our homes to see the wonders of the world. The Great Wall of China doesn’t hold a candle to the sky on a clear night. As impressive as is Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue, it’s really no match for a field of summer wildflowers and the marble structure of the Taj Mahal pales in comparison to the structure of the human genome.

Because God hasn’t hidden His glory from our senses, the Apostle Paul says there is no excuse for not knowing of His existence. Yet, just as people were deaf and blind to Joshua Bell, even those who know God are often as deaf and blind to His glory. We have eyes and ears but, in our rush, we neither see nor hear. Like Bell, God is an artist whose handiwork is worthy of a standing ovation yet, like those commuters, we frequently fail to acknowledge His presence in the everyday wonders of the world. The next time you hear a bird sing, smell a flower, see a rainbow, or bite into a juicy piece of fruit, thank God for the intricacy, beauty, and wonder of His creation. He’s a virtuoso!

O Lord, how many are Your works! You made them all in wisdom. The earth is full of what You have made. … I will sing to the Lord all my life. I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May the words of my heart be pleasing to Him. As for me, I will be glad in the Lord. [Psalm 104:24, 33-34 (NLV)  

When I look up and think about Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in their place, what is man, that You think of him, the son of man that You care for him? [Psalm 8:3-4 (NLV)]

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THAT CHILD WAS GOD!

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. … So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:1-2,14 (NLT)]

For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. [Colossians 2:9 (NLT)]

nativityHe came as a baby! God Himself humbly came into the world as a helpless infant. Our nativity scenes and Christmas cards portray a serene Mary holding her peacefully sleeping child but babies are anything but calm and peaceful. They are messy and incredibly noisy little creatures who, when not sleeping, are crying, eating, drooling, peeing, or pooping (often all at the same time). That was God sleeping in the feed trough and nursing at Mary’s breast but He didn’t have a gold halo around his head. Looking the same as every other newborn, he was doing and feeling the same things every human baby feels. On the eighth day of His life, He was circumcised just like every other little Jewish boy and I’m sure He cried in pain! That crying baby was God!

Jesus came into the world without benefit of a sterile hospital birthing room and Mary didn’t rock Him to sleep in a soothing-motion bassinet or rocking cradle. She didn’t sit in a cushioned glider chair or have a nursing pillow when she fed him. He didn’t have super-absorbent, ultra soft, hypoallergenic disposable diapers covering his bottom nor did Mary use warmed sensitive-skin baby wipes to clean that bottom. In all likelihood God had diaper rash and, with no special baby shampoo, He cried when the soap got in His eyes. Mary carried Him in a simple sling rather than an ergonomically designed carrier. It was God incarnate who had the runny noses, sore throats, tummy aches, stubbed toes, and bruises that came with childhood.

Jesus had to be fed and then learn to feed himself; he probably spilled more than once. He had to learn how to crawl, walk, and run and must have bumped his chin and skinned his knees frequently. He had to be potty trained and, in all likelihood, had more than one accident. The One who was the Word had to learn the Hebrew alphabet and how to read. Picture God singing the Hebrew equivalent of the ABC song: “Aleph, Bet, Vet, Gimel, Dalet, Hey…” At Joseph’s side, Jesus must have gotten a few splinters and sore thumbs as He learned the carpenter’s trade. Fully God and fully human, Jesus got tired, dirty, and hungry just like every other child!

God, being God, could easily have come into the world full grown. Jesus could have skipped the indignities of babyhood and challenges of childhood but He didn’t. When God came into our world, He experienced every human emotion and physical sensation. He knew cold, pain, sorrow, loss, toil, discomfort, fatigue, and temptation as well as love, joy, comfort, and encouragement. Jesus was there when time began and yet the One who created mankind humbled Himself and experienced humanity. That baby—that little baby boy was God Himself!

How can God stoop lower than to come and dwell with a poor humble soul? Which is more than if he had said such a one should dwell with him; for a beggar to live at court is not so much as the king to dwell with him in his cottage. [William Gurnall]

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. [Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT)]

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CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. [Isaiah 9:2 (NLT)]

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

Two nights ago, we joined a long line of vehicles slowly wending their way through a nearby neighborhood famed for its over-the-top holiday light display. Each street follows a theme and over 300 homes are brightly decorated. The streets were aglow with meteor shower, icicle, garland, fairy, net, star, blinking, ball and laser lights along with illuminated blow molds, inflatables, and cut-outs of everything from Santa exiting an outhouse to the Grinch, igloos to elves, and candy canes to Olaf and the Minions. As bright as that neighborhood’s display was, it pales in comparison to one done by the Gay family in Lagrangeville, NY. Holders of the Guinness world record for holiday lights on a residential property, their 2020 display uses more than 670,000 lights that are choreographed to 256 songs.

The first holiday light display was in 1882 when Edward Hibberd Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, hand-wired and strung together 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and placed them on a tree. After connecting them to a power generator, he set the tree on a rotating pedestal in his parlor window where the brightly lit revolving tree drew a crowd of admirers. Even though electricity was not readily available, as Edison’s partner in the Edison Lamp Company (makers of light bulbs), Johnson was more a promoter of electricity and light bulbs than the spirit of Christmas. Nevertheless, by 1894, the tradition of Christmas lights was firmly established when the White House Christmas tree was illuminated by 120 bulbs. Today, in the U.S., about 150 million light sets are sold every year and some 80 million homes display Christmas lights.

Last night, we again joined a long line of vehicles and drove through another holiday display. While less extravagant, this show was more meaningful. From the safety of our cars in a darkened church parking lot, we visited 1st century Nazareth and Bethlehem. Starting with the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary, we saw the Christmas story unfold in several live scenes while the relevant Bible verses were broadcast from a small speaker by each display. Rather than plastic reindeer or inflated snowmen, we saw real donkeys, camels, and sheep along with people portraying the holy family, angels, shepherds, and wise men.

While nowhere near as impressive as the previous night’s extravaganza, this simple representation of the Christmas story was a reminder that Jesus wasn’t flashy or brash. Even thought He was God, His birth was barely acknowledged. Although a star marked the event, only pagan astrologers noticed and, even though a host of angels made His birth announcement, only shepherds heard them. Rather than thousands of people coming to admire a spectacular display of lights, only lowly shepherds and sheep gazed in wonder as the light of the world lay in a manger.

Amid the season’s frenzied shopping, gaily wrapped presents, holiday music, cookies, cards, ugly sweaters, trimmed trees, elves on shelves, Santas, and all of those bright lights and decorations, let’s not forget that Jesus is the reason for the season. To be more specific, Good Friday is the reason for Christmas! The reason God took on the flesh of man and was born of woman was so He could die—something He couldn’t do as God. Jesus became man so that, by dying, He could take away the sins of the world.

When we see the festive lights of this season, let us remember that the real light of the world has nothing to do with LEDs, bulbs, generators, kilowatts, electricity, or even the sun. The light of the world comes from the Son who came to us as a baby in a small Judean village.

The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. [John 1:4-5 (NLT)]

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