WHY MIRACLES?

“If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. … Why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” [John 10: 24b-25, 36-38 (NLT)]

glossy ibisAfter driving out an evil spirit from a man in Capernaum, Jesus went to the home of Andrew and Peter. When He learned that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever, Jesus went to her bedside, took her hand, helped her up, and the fever was gone. Having shown his authority over both demon possession and physical disease that day, reports of His ability circulated throughout town. That evening, a crowd gathered wanting to be healed by Jesus.

Early the next morning, Jesus went off by himself to pray. As word of His power spread, more people desirous of healing gathered around Peter’s house. Wanting to bring Jesus back to town to continue His healing ministry, the disciples searched for Him. Rather than return to Capernaum, however, Jesus informed the disciples that they needed to go elsewhere to preach to other people, explaining, “That is why I came.” [Mark 1:38]

Jesus fed the hungry, cast out demons, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, brought healing to the sick, and even raised the dead, but those miracles were secondary to His real purpose. Miracle-making was merely a sign of His authority as the Messiah. While our lives are far better with Jesus, His purpose was not to make our lives painless, simpler or free from trouble.

Although many were healed by Him, Jesus’s ministry was not one of physical healing but one of spiritual healing and salvation. His purpose was not to repair bodies but to fix souls. He explained it best Himself when He told Nicodemus that God sent His son to save the world. In response to the repentance of the corrupt Zacchaeus, Jesus told the crowd: “The Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” When Jesus disclosed to the disciples that He’d come to give His life as a ransom for many, He never said He’d come to make our lives easier with miracles. Jesus came to change the world and save our lives!

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6 (NLT)]

Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true. [John 18:37 (NLT)]

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SHUT THE DOOR (Elisha – 5)

And Elisha said, “Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled. [2 Kings 4:3-4 (NLT)]

naples doorwayHer neighbors probably thought she’d lost her mind when she sent her boys out to ask for empty containers. Shutting the door certainly kept out the creditors, naysayers, and doubters along with any talk of unbelief that could hinder the widow’s faith. That closed door shut out interruptions, distractions, anxieties, and whatever else that might have kept the widow from focusing on God. Because that shut door even kept out Elisha, there was no mistaking who was responsible for the flowing oil: God!

Not every miracle is meant to be as public and impressive as the parting of the Red Sea. With the door open, once others saw what was happening, they even may have brought their own jars to cash in on the widow’s seemingly unlimited supply of oil. The closed door meant that, rather than a public display of God’s power, this miracle was to be a private demonstration of God’s mercy and grace. There are many other private miracles throughout Scripture. When Elisha restored the Shunammite woman’s son to life, he did it behind closed doors. Elijah’s resurrection of the widow from Zarephath’s son also was done privately and only Peter, James and John witnessed Jesus’s resurrection of Jairus’s daughter. Many miracles, like Jesus’s healing of the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman or the Roman officer’s servant were done from a distance with no witnesses. While these instances of God’s miraculous provision and healing eventually became known far and wide (we still read of them today), at the time, they were a personal matter of one person’s faith and God’s amazing power.

Because it cut out other options, shutting the door showed the widow’s total trust in God. Leaving the door open would have implied that she wasn’t quite sure about Elisha’s promise. With an open door, once she saw the oil pouring, the woman could have sent her boys out for more jars; something tells me that the oil would have stopped flowing the moment she did. After the door was closed, the number of jars indicated her faith. Shutting the door meant she’d shut the door on other people and other options. Having opened her life to God, she was all in and committed to Him.

Do we truly trust God’s provision? When He calls us to do something, are we all in? Do we ignore the skeptics and pessimists? Do we focus on God or our fears? Do we give God credit for our blessings or do we tend to chalk them up to coincidence or good fortune. Do we trust in God even when what He tells us to do seems impractical or implausible? Do we put all of our faith in God or do we rely on ourselves and keep a backup plan handy? Peter certainly shut the door when (without a life-jacket) he stepped out of that boat onto the water!

I guess it comes right back to Monday’s message, “Any Bridges to Burn?” The widow trusted God enough to shut the door on her neighbors and any other options and Elisha trusted God enough to shut the door by burning his plow and cooking his oxen. Having faith is believing that God will do what He says He will. Do we have enough faith to shut the door?

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. [Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)]

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. [[Jeremiah 17:7 (NLT)]

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WHAT DO YOU HAVE? (Elisha – 4)

“What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”
“Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,” she replied. [2 Kings 4:2 (NLT)]

swamp lilyRemembering that Elisha burned both plow and oxen to become an itinerate prophet for the Lord, let’s rethink the way he may have said “What can I do to help you?” With no home or money and possessing only what he could carry, how does the widow expect him to help? In the very next sentence, however, Elisha tells her to take stock of what she already has. Although she expected Elisha to solve her problem, he showed her how to solve it herself (with God’s help, of course). As it turned out, with a little work on her part and God’s intervention, the little she had was more than enough; she didn’t just pay her debts, she had money left over.

When God asked Moses what he had in his hand, the man thought his staff was just a piece of wood. When presented to God, however, that staff became a snake, brought forth Egypt’s plagues, parted the Red Sea, and made water spring from a rock. When offered to Jesus, six empty stone jars were filled with vintage wine. When offered to God’s prophet, another poor widow’s resources of only a little flour and few drops of oil were enough to feed three people for three years! When surrounded by hungry crowds, Jesus asked His disciples, “How many loaves do you have?” After taking stock of their resources and being blessed by the Lord, they had enough to feed a multitude.

What has God given you? The widow didn’t think she had enough but, in God’s hands, it became more than enough. If a small flask of oil can turn into gallons, think of what God can do with our resources (whether money, time, possessions, skills, experience, influence, or talent) if only we offer them to Him. Consider what God did with twelve Jewish men, ordinary people just like us, when they offered themselves to the Lord! When we take a step of faith and willingly offer what little we have to God, He will use it, sometimes in supernatural ways, but always in wonderful ones.

Elisha asked the widow, “What do you have?” God asks us the same question.

Trust God for great things; with your five loaves and two fishes, he will show you a way to feed thousands. [Horace Bushnell]

When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?” “Twelve,” they said. “And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?” “Seven,” they said. [Mark 8:19-20 (NLT)]

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ELISHA, THE WIDOW, AND THE OIL (Elisha – 2)

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)]

cassiaDuring the days of Elijah and Elisha, there were several schools or companies of prophets in Israel. Probably some of the 7,000 Israelites who remained faithful to Jehovah, they were the prophets’ disciples, maybe something like an ancient version of the Knights of Columbus. Although they gathered for fellowship and study, had a spiritual calling, and were under the prophets’ guidance, they carried on their ordinary work and family lives.

One of these men died and left bills that his wife couldn’t pay. As payment for the man’s debts, a pitiless creditor threatened to take the widow’s sons as bond servants. Without her boys, the woman had no way to support herself and, with no resources, she was facing a hopeless situation. After the frantic woman told Elisha of her dilemma, the prophet asked how he could help her and what she had in her house. Since she’d probably sold or traded anything of value by that time, I wonder if she thought his question foolish; nothing of value remained. Taking stock, other than her two sons, her cupboards were bare, her purse empty, and all that remained was a flask of oil.

The prophet told her to get as many empty vessels as she could from her neighbors. “Don’t ask for just a few,” he warned. After bringing them into the house, she was to shut the door and then fill all the containers with the oil from her one flask. Although this may have seemed like an exercise in futility, the widow and her sons obediently gathered up all the pots and jars they could and then filled jar after jar with oil. Miraculously, the oil only stopped flowing when no more empty containers remained. The prophet told the widow to sell the oil to pay her debts and then live on the money that remained. This miracle did more than just pay her bills; it would maintain her family until her boys could start earning a living.

The quantity of oil that poured out was not limited by God; it was determined by the woman’s faith. God’s provision knows no limits; there was enough oil to fill just one flask or as many as 100,000 jars. When they’d filled the last jar and the oil finally stopped pouring, I imagine the widow regretted not finding yet another container. We have a God who can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

As faith-filled believers, we know God can do the impossible. Yet, how much of our lives and resources do we commit to Him? If we bring Him just a little, that’s all He can bless. How many jars do we bring to God? What is the limit of our faith?

Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back [Luke 6:38 (NLT)]

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BATTLES

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. [Romans 8:35,37 (NLT)]

columbineI prayed for Pearl for over a year. This beautiful toddler had Stage-4 cancer and her bones, brain, and internal organs were riddled with the disease’s treacherous cells. Her prognosis was bleak and there were times she nearly lost her life to the effects of the various remedies rather than the cancer. That Pearl is alive and cancer free today is nothing short of a miracle. Nevertheless, she and her family went through a very dark valley to get to this place of victory. I’m sure, if given a choice, they would have preferred God to have miraculously healed her prior to the long battle she fought for over a year.

The Old Testament is filled with conflicts. In a few instances, the Israelites were given victory without ever having to go into combat. 2 Chronicles 20 tells of the time God promised Jehoshaphat the battle was God’s. At the very moment the people began to praise Him, the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mt. Seir started fighting among themselves. By the time the army of Judah arrived, every one of their enemies was dead. 2 Kings 19 tells of a night when 185,000 enemy Assyrian soldiers were struck dead by an angel of the Lord. When the survivors awoke to the corpse-filled camp, they retreated to Nineveh where they remained. Because God took His people around the dark valley those times, the battles were won without engaging in combat or suffering loss.

For the most part, however, God’s assurance of victory rarely meant there would be no struggle. Yes, the walls of Jericho fell but, when the Israelites charged into the city with their swords and captured it, it’s hard to believe the people of Jericho didn’t defend themselves vigorously. Although the Israelites defeated them, Scripture never tells us they suffered no battle injuries or fatalities. In Joshua 10:2, God assured Joshua of victory over the Amorites but that conquest didn’t come easily. They fought so long and hard that Joshua had to ask God to prolong the day until they’d defeated their enemies. The spoils of war may have gone to the victors but, surely, they came at a cost and not every Israelite safely returned home that day. Even when we’re victorious, every battle leaves scars of one kind or another.

God could defeat armies without using any of His soldiers but He often sent His people into battle. I have no doubt that God could have miraculously cured Pearl without her and her family having to suffer through a year of painful expensive treatment and the agony of never knowing what the next procedure or test would bring. But, like the armies of Israel and Judah, they had to go through the dark valley and into battle before victoriously coming out on the other side.

The Apostle Paul tells us to rejoice in our troubles and trials because they lead to patient endurance which leads to maturity of character. I imagine Pearl’s family felt there had been more than enough character building long before her suffering ended. Nevertheless, they remained faithful and hopeful because they knew they were never alone in that dark valley. The battle was neither Pearl’s nor theirs; it was God’s.

We do not live in a perfect world. Although we are assured of victory, we are not assured of a battle-free life nor are we assured of victory while on this side of the grass. We will be faced with trials, temptations, loss, struggle, disease, suffering, and death. That God has won the war does not mean His Christian soldiers won’t ever have to fight! Nevertheless, we are victorious!

For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. [1 John 5:4-5 (NLT)]

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ON THE RADIO

So Joshua told the Israelites, “Come and listen to what the Lord your God says.” [Joshua 3:9 (NLT)]

While recovering from foot surgery, I had home visits from Mike, a physical therapist. He told me of a day, more than eighteen years ago, when he visited a new elderly patient. The obviously wealthy man lived alone in a beautifully appointed 6,000 square foot penthouse overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Mike remembers him as the most unpleasant, uncooperative, bitter and miserable person he’s ever met. After that visit, the therapist drove to a nearby town for another new patient visit. Although less than an hour’s drive northeast of the affluent man’s luxurious home, it was a world apart. Today, the population in the first town has a median age of 65.6, a median household income of over $90,000, and a poverty rate of less than 10%. Just thirty miles away, the second town has a median age of 26, with a median household income of less than $29,000, and 41.6% of its population live below the poverty level. Although the numbers were different eighteen years ago, the disparity would have been the same (or even worse).

The home Mike visited was a stark contrast to the beachfront luxury penthouse. As he gingerly walked up rickety wooden stairs and knocked on the screen door of a mobile home, Mike wondered what to expect. Visiting a woman who’d had a total knee replacement, he was warmly greeted at the door by her husband and offered a cup of coffee and a churro. As he entered their cramped home, he saw pictures drawn by grandchildren decorating the refrigerator and family photos on all the tables. He knew they were people of faith from the pictures of both Mary and Jesus hanging on the walls and the cross by the door. Yet, even without those signs, the couple’s words, joy, optimism, generosity, and love for one another were evidence of their faith.

That first day, as Mike was driving back to town, Danny’s Song, by Loggins and Messina, played on the car radio. When he heard the words, “And even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey, And everything will bring a chain of love,” he couldn’t help but think of the couple he’d met that morning. It was when he heard, “Yeah, don’t you live alone, Try to earn what lovers own,” that Mike thought of his wealthy old client; he was so affected that he had to pull over to the side of the road. The man had everything that money could buy and, yet, he lived alone and had nothing of real value. The couple, living in a rented trailer, had next to nothing and, yet, they had everything: faith, family, purpose, love, and one another! As rich as the old man was, he couldn’t buy the love that the couple owned.

Eighteen years later, Mike still remembers that couple and how, in a beautifully orchestrated God-incident, Kenny Loggins’ words in a popular song helped point him to the things that mattered most in his life at a time he most needed to rethink his priorities. My therapist learned a valuable lesson that day, one his wealthy client never did. The woman became his favorite client (and not just because of the churros and loving family he met during his several visits). Every time he left their home, he felt that some of their faith, joy and hope rubbed off on him. That moment eighteen years ago has stayed with Mike all these years as a constant reminder of what actually is important in life.

Just in case Mike didn’t get His message about priorities, did God arrange that song to come on the radio at exactly that time for him? I don’t know any more than I know if God was responsible for having Zach Williams’ song Fear is a Liar come on my car radio the afternoon I desperately needed that reminder. All I know is that God, with his quirky sense of humor and amazing sense of timing, could certainly manage a song on the radio!

God speaks to us in a number of ways: Scripture, Jesus (the Word who became flesh), the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, other believers, and His amazing creation. Scripture also tells us He’s spoken in some unusual ways including the urim and thummim that were kept in the high priest’s breastplate, the fleece of a sheep, a burning bush, a rainbow, and even a donkey! Capable of speaking to us at any time in any way He chooses, He might well have used a Kenny Loggins’ song. God keeps after us until we get the message and Scripture tells us that it never went well for people when they failed to listen to Him. Let’s always be open to hearing God’s voice and receptive to His message, whether it’s in the sky with a rainbow or on the radio with a song!

As it is written in the Scriptures, “They will all be taught by God.” Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. [John 6:45 (NLT)]

I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for he speaks peace to his faithful people. But let them not return to their foolish ways. [Psalm 85:8 (NLT)]

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