I Believe in Miracles

Imagine for a moment that your very best friend is the son of the richest man in town.  They live in a palatial mansion, with Downton Abbey-style servants.  They have multiple cars, a private jet that can take them anywhere in the country, and oodles and oodles of money.

Your friend and his father are extremely close.  They are virtually identical in every way.  They like the same movies.  They like the same clothes.  They enjoy the same sports, the same food, the same music.  The phrase “like father, like son” is an understatement.  That is just how alike they are.  In fact, they are so close that your friend will not do anything without running it past his father.  They think alike in every way.

One day your friend stops by your house unannounced.  He pulls you aside and says, “Hey, I know times have been tough for you.”  Of course, he is absolutely right.  You have been struggling of late.  Ever since you lost that high-paying engineering job last year, you have been trying desperately to make ends meet.  In fact, you just started working at McDonald’s yesterday after your unemployment had run out.

So he continues, “I want you to have this.”  Then he pulls from his pocket a check drawn from his father’s bank account. Signed by his father and dated today, the check is made out to your best friend.  The amount, however, is blank.

“I want to endorse this check over to you,” he says.  “How much do you want me to make it out for?”

What would your answer be?

Seriously ponder this question before you read any further.  Please.  It is too important for you to gloss over this.  Because for you to understand what I am going to say next, you must first understand how you, yourself, would behave if the world were to become your oyster.

If you know how you would respond, if you have seriously thought it out, you probably fall in one of these categories.

  1. The Self-Sufficient Type.  You might say, “No, thank you.  I don’t want to be a burden.  Besides, nobody takes two-party checks anymore.”
  2. The Too-Embarrassed-to-Ask Type.  You might say, “Thank you. I really appreciate it, but I don’t want to impose on you too much.  Could I have $1,000.00 to help with the rent?  I will pay you back when I am on my feet again.”
  3. The Matter-of-Fact Type.  You might say, “Thank you. I really appreciate it.  Could I have $15,000 to catch me up on all of my bills?”
  4. The Aggressive Type.  You might say, “Thank  you.  I really appreciate it.  How much do Ferrari’s cost these days?”

Now if we are really honest, the aggressive types really offend us.  Maybe it is our culture, but audacity is generally a turn-off.  I suppose this is because we are generally taught from a young age to not take advantage of other people.  So if we were to observe someone else being so aggressive, we might think: “Where do you get off asking your best friend’s father to pay for your Ferrari?  What have you done to earn a $250,000.00 sports-car?  Crap!  You can’t even hold down a job, and you dare to ask for a Ferrari?”

Am I not right here?

As for the matter-of-fact types, we like them a bit better, but not by much.  At least they are not being “materialistic.”  Still we judge them. “Have some dignity, man!  At least ask for a loan and offer to pay it back!” we think.

Again, I am on to something, am I not?

When we get down to brass tacks, most of us probably fit into the first or second categories.  When we have close friends, none of us really want to impose on them — even when we know that it would not be an imposition.  Often its out of pride.  Sometimes its because we know that the transfer of money between friends often ends friendships, so we don’t ask.

Regardless, when the offer is made, we generally put on a good front and say, “I’m ok.”  Or even if the pain is simply too real that we just can’t fake it anymore, we merely ask for the bare minimum and say, “I’ll pay you back!”

When it comes to our interactions with friends and family, we do not want anyone to know that our lives are in shambles.  So we put on the best front that we can, and then we go out into the world full of pain.  And even when our closest friends — who feel our pain vicariously because they are walking side-by-side with us — offer to help, our natural inclination is to resist the assistance (or to accept as little help as possible).

So what does this have to do with miracles?

Well, everything!

You see, in many respects how we interact with others impacts how we relate to God.

Take a close look at these Bible verses.  John 14:9-14, Mark 11:24, John 15:7, Hebrews 4:16.

In John 14, Jesus talks about how He and the Father are just alike.  He also says that if we ask for anything in His name, He will do it.  (This sounds like a blank check, does it not?)  Why does He promise this?  So that the Father will be glorified in the Son.  (I believe this means that the more we ask for and receive from the Son, the more the Father is glorified.)

In Mark 11, Jesus says that we can ask for anything that we desire, and if we believe that we have received it, we will have it.  This accords with John 15 where Jesus says that if we abide (or rest) in Him, and if His words rest in us, we can ask for what we desire, and it will be done for us.

Now pay close attention to Hebrews 4.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Notice the word “boldly.”  When we are in need, we are to “come boldly unto the throne of grace.”

Now let’s go back to the hypothetical story about you and your best friend.  Imagine that Jesus Christ is your best friend.  Imagine that you have a need — be it a health, mental, financial, emotional, family, or whatever else kind of need that you could possible have.  Imagine that He has given you a blank check — drawn from the Bank of the Throne of Grace — that has been endorsed over to you.

In view of the Bible verses we have just read, what would you have Jesus list as an amount?

  1. Would you say, “No, thank you,” and decline His offer?
  2. Would you say, “Thank you,” and then ask for barely enough to get by, while promising to be a good little boy or girl from now on?
  3. Would you say, “Thank you,” and then ask for everything you need to get you back to where you once were?
  4. Or would you say, “Thank you,” and then ask for everything you need to get to where you have dreamed of being?

A few weeks ago I posted a blog about the story of the Prodigal Son, which is found in Luke 15:11-32.  I won’t repeat everything I posted in this original blog.  However, I want to make a few salient points.

We often read this story from the perspective of the younger son, the prodigal who lost his way only to return. However, my favorite part is that of the older son who also lost his way.

You see, most churches are filled with older sons. These are the people who do everything right. They don’t lie, cheat, steal, or commit adultery. They tithe their 10% and go to church every time the door is open. They are perfect in just about every way — except for the most important part of all:

They are working in the fields when they really don’t have to.  Put another way, they do not have the ability to receive God’s grace because they are too busy trying to earn it.

Instead of basking in the Father’s presence where they will be given all the security and assurance they will ever need, they choose to work for God’s blessings like a hired servant.

Instead of viewing themselves as sons and daughters, they see themselves as servants, waiting for God to reward them for their obedience and their good works.  Then when other less-deserving people get all the breaks, they become bitter and jealous wondering what good is there in serving God when all the rewards go to the people who are unrighteous.

The Father is generous by His very nature. Instead of trying to impress God with our obedience or our holiness, we should set that aside and just run to His throne, jump in His lap, and say, “Daddy, I need ____________________.”

Had the older son done this… Had he said, “Dad, I would like to have a fatted calf to celebrate with my friends,” don’t you think the father would have obliged? If the older son had done that–instead of slaving in the fields to earn what already belonged to him–he would have been much happier and less bitter toward his brother.

Instead, his work ethic, his lack of audacity, his unwillingness to boldly ask the father what he really wanted actually kept him from being in his father’s presence.  (For as long as he was working in the field, he was not with his father in the house.)  And that kept him from getting what he really wanted.

In conclusion, if you are a child of God — if you have accepted Jesus Christ into your life, allowing him to wash your sins in the Blood that He shed so that you, also, may become adopted into the family of God — and if you have a need that the Lord must meet, then all you have to do is to boldly ask God for what you really want, and then step out of the way.

In other words, don’t talk yourself out of a miracle.

Look, none of us deserve for God to perform a miracle on our behalves.  So there is no need in trying to justify ourselves by our own works or with our own since of false modesty. Get past that.  Get over yourselves.

Instead, be bold.  Just ask.  And then let Him do His thing.

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A Tale of Two Brothers

ATTENTION: This message is for anyone who needs for God to perform a miracle in their lives (or for anyone who may one day need for God to perform a miracle).

Let’s go straight to the Scripture (which is found at Luke 15:11-32):

11 And he said, A certain man had two sons:

12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.

15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.

17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,

19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.

22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:

23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:

24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.

26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.

27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.

28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.

29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:

30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.

31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.

32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

Just about anyone who has ever darkened a church door has heard this story.  A rebellious son asks his father for his inheritance and then squanders it on wine, women, and song.  Eventually, he becomes so broke that he has to find work tending to swine — which for a Jew was especially shameful.  Finally he comes to his senses and says, “Hey, I’ll go back to my father and ask for a job as a servant; at least they eat better than this.”  So he goes back home, where he sees his father waiting for him to return.  Such a beautiful picture of unconditional love.

Over the course of 2,000 years, I suspect that there have been hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of sermons about the “prodigal son.”  But in my life I have heard very little about the older son.  You know?  He’s the one who got upset when his father celebrated the return of the rotten scoundrel who had wasted his inheritance on “harlots” (as the King James Version records).

Well, if you are a Christian — if you are a believer in Jesus — who for whatever reason needs a miracle from God in a situation that your now face, the story of the older brother is the most important story that you will hear today.

As the passage shows, the older brother did everything right and nothing wrong.  He worked in his father’s field.  He obeyed his father’s commands.  He was the perfect son.  Or so it seemed.

Look closely at verse 29:

29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:

For “these many years,” the older brother said, “do I serve thee.”

The older brother didn’t see himself as a son.  He viewed himself as a servant.   Like a servant, the older brother expected to get paid for his work.  So when he heard that his father was throwing a party for his younger brother — the younger brother, mind you, who had disrespected their father by taking his money and leaving for parts unknown– the older brother was angry.  He was furious.  He was bitter.

“Thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.” 

Now before we go any further, can you understand from where he is coming?  The older brother has done everything right and absolutely nothing wrong.  The younger brother, on the other hand, has done nothing right and absolutely everything wrong. If anyone deserves to be celebrated, it’s the older brother!  But instead of rewarding the older brother for his “many years” of loyal service, the father throws a feast, a banquet, an extravagant party, for the worst possible excuse of son — the one who took his inheritance and blew it on prostitutes.

Look at the father’s reply:

31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.

Everything the father had was the older son’s already.

Ponder that thought.  Contemplate it very carefully.

The fatted calf — and all the other cattle in the herd — belonged to the older son.

The house where the party was taking place — and every other building on the estate — belonged to the older son.

Everything that the father owned belonged to the older son.

So why hadn’t the son killed his own fatted calf and hosted a party for his friends?  Better yet, why was the older son still working in the field?

Essentially, for “many years” the older son worked in his father’s field to earn something he already possessed.   Therefore, instead of behaving like a son, he felt like an over-worked but under-appreciated servant.

Now, before we delve any further into the older brother, let’s take a closer look at the father.

When the story begins, the younger brother asks the father for his inheritance.   Did the father argue with him?  Did he refuse his request?  No he didn’t.  Even though it broke his heart to say goodbye to his son, the father gave the younger brother everything he asked for — even though the lad clearly didn’t deserve to have it.

The next time we see the father, it is when the younger brother returns.  The father is, presumably, the first person to see him.  And when the father does see his son, the father drops everything and runs to him.

The last time we see the father is when he is speaking to the older brother and tells him that everything he has belongs to the older brother.

Notice the complete and unconditional grace of the father.

When the rebellious son comes to his father and asks for his entire inheritance, the father blesses him with it.

When the rebellious son returns to his father after having blown his inheritance, the father runs to him, dressing him with a robe and celebrating his arrival.

When the perfect son angrily refuses to enter the house, the father comes out to him and tells him that he owns everything.

Do you see the pattern?

Both brothers received extravagant blessings from the father every time they were in his presence.  Conversely, both brothers received nothing from the father when they were out of his presence.

The older brother, in particular, was so busy working for his father that he was unable to receive the blessings that his father was ready, willing, and able to provide.

I think we can reasonably assume that the father was not working in the field, himself.  Had he been working in the field, himself, he would have arrived to the house at the same time the older brother did.  Besides, the  father had servants to do the work for him.

Assuming that the father was not working in the field, then the older brother’s laboring actually kept him from being in his father’s presence, and by extension, from the blessings that his father would most certainly have bestowed.

Simply put, the father didn’t bless his sons based upon their performance.  The fact that the older brother did right and the younger brother did wrong was of no import.

No, the father blessed the sons — both of them — because they were his sons and because they were in his presence.

And so, if you need for God to preform a miracle in your life, here is what you need to do:

First, you have to become a son (or daughter) of the Father God.  Reconciliation with God comes when we place our faith and trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  When Jesus died, He paid the price for our sins.  All you have to do to become a son (or daughter) of the Father God is to place your trust in the finished work of Christ.

The Apostle Paul writes in the book of Romans, chapters 8 and 10:

Chapter 8

12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.

13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

Chapter 10

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.

13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Jesus also describes this experience in Mark 16:

15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Now, after you have been adopted as a son or daughter of God — and I suspect that most of you already have — all that is left for you to receive your miracle is for you to enter into God’s presence.  But to do that, you have to stop behaving like a servant and get out of the field.

You have to stop trying to impress God with your religiosity, or your good works, or your obedience.

Just stop it.

Your good works do not bring the presence of God.  Instead, the presence of God produces your good works.

Your obedience does not bring the presence of God.  Instead, the presence of God produces your obedience.

You cannot be in the house with the Father (or on the the side of the road with the Father looking for your prodigal brother) if you are in the field working like a servant trying to earn God’s blessing.  And if you are not with the Father, you will not receive your blessing.  It’s as simple as that.

Dr. Godslove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Uncertainty

My first two posts have dealt with public policy. Today, this discussion will move to the world of theology.

A few days ago, I was going through a very difficult time. I had been worrying about the typical stresses of life—e.g., family, business, money, etc.

When I get stressed out, I pray. And when I REALLY get stressed out, I pray and read the Bible. (Most of the time, I just listen to the Bible on my phone, but when I get really worried, I pull out the computer and do an in-depth Bible study.)

Last weekend, I did one of these in-depth studies. I came across something that I had never seen. In more than twenty-five years of studying the Bible, I had never comprehended what I am about to share.

If you are going through a difficult time… if you are suffering, or afraid, or otherwise in need of God to make a real mark in your life, take a close look at 2 Corinthians 12:9, which reads:

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

In this verse, the words strength and power come from the Greek word, dynamis.

Strong’s Concordance defines dynamis as “inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth; power consisting in or resting upon armies, forces, hosts.” Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines dynamis as “the state of that which is not yet fully realized.” Dynamis has been translated as power, miracle(s), and mighty works in the King James Version of the Bible.

Conversely, the words weakness and infirmities come from the Greek word, astheneia. Strong’s defines astheneia as “want of strength, weakness, infirmity; want of strength and capacity requisite to understand a thing, to do things great and glorious, to restrain corrupt desires, or to bear trials and troubles.” Astheneia has been translated as infirmity, weakness, disease, and sickness the King James Version of the Bible.

Let’s juxtapose the two words together. Essentially, dynamis is the potential to do great things. It is power that is stored up, ready to be released. Think of all the potential force that an army has; that is dynamis. On the other hand, astheneia is the lack of strength. Astheneia is inability to do great things; it is the inability to stand up to difficulties.

You see the difference? Dynamis and astheneia are complete opposites.

Before we go back to the text, let’s examine the phrase made perfect. This comes from the Greek teleioō, which, according to Strong’s, means, “to make perfect, complete; to carry through completely, to accomplish, finish, bring to an end; to complete (perfect); add what is yet wanting in order to render a thing full; to bring to the end (goal) proposed.”

So let’s reword the first half of this verse, replacing the English with the Greek:

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my dynamis (unrealized potential might) is teleioō (completed, reaches its goal) in astheneia (inherent weakness). …

From this, we can see that the purpose—the goal—of Christ’s power is to complement man’s weakness. Christ’s miracle-working power is completed in our lack of strength. In the same way a solution is incomplete without a problem, Christ’s power is incomplete until it is applied to a human frailty.

Now, how do we actually apply Christ’ strength to our weaknesses? Let’s look at the next half of the verse …

… Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Examine the word glory. In the Greek, it is kauchaomai, which means, “to glory (whether with reason or without); to glory on account of a thing; or to glory in a thing.” It is translated, glory, boast, rejoice, make boast, and joy.

Look at the word that. It comes from the Greek word hina, which means, “that, in order that, so that.”

Now, look at the word rest. It comes from the Greek word episkēnoō. Incidentally, this is the only time in the New Testament this word is used. It means, to fix a tent or habitation on: to take possession of and live in the houses.” It also describes “the power of Christ descending upon one, working within him and giving Him help.”

So let’s reword the second half of this verse, replacing the English with the Greek:

… Most gladly therefore will I rather kauchaomai (rejoice, with or without reason) in my astheneia (inherent weakness), hina (so that) the dynamis (unrealized potential might) of Christ may episkēnoō (fix a tent, take possession of, and live) upon me.

In grade school, we were taught cause and effect. Here, the word hina (so that) implies a cause and effect relationship.

We rejoice—with or without reason—in our inherent weakness so that the Power of Christ will fix a tent, take possession of and live upon us.

Put another way, if you want the mighty Power of God to take control of your situation, all you have to do is rejoice in the fact that you can’t handle it—that you are too weak to solve your problem by yourself. When you do this God will take you over—possess you—and strengthen your weakness, just like an army staking a claim on its territory.

Looking back over my life, I can see just how true this maxim is.  Here is a simple illustration.

Eight years ago, I had just graduated from law school and was studying to take the bar exam. Because I had attended law school in Virginia, I had not been trained in the finer nuances of the laws of Mississippi, where I had selected to move. So I took two-month study course, while cramming as much time as I could to prepare.

When I first started to prepare, I was nervous. If I were to fail, I would have to wait about six months to take it again; in the meantime, what would I do to support my wife and son? I began to panic.

One day, I decided to figure out how the test would be graded. After doing some research, I found that the test used a strange normalized curve. I learned that if the average score on the exam’s multiple-choice section was relatively high, then my score on the essay section would enjoy a boost; but if the average score on the multiple-choice section was exceptionally low, then my score on the essay section would take a hit.

Since my grade depended, in part, upon how other people performed, I reasoned that I was not in complete control of my destiny. If the other test-takers were to bomb the multiple-choice section, then I might fail, regardless of how well I really did on the essays. Likewise, if the other test-takers were to pass the multiple-choice test with flying colors, then I might pass the essays, even if I were to screw them up.

Oddly enough, this actually took a lot of pressure off of me. When I realized that the test was not in my hands, I had no choice but to put the outcome in God’s hands. From that moment, I had no fear. I had confidence of success.

Now don’t get me wrong. I still studied. I didn’t sit on my butt and play computer games all summer long. I studied. But I wasn’t afraid of failing. I was allowing God to work through me; I was allowing His grace to get me through the trial as I partnered with Him.

In retrospect, what I was doing was rejoicing in my weakness. I lacked control over the situation. I could study (which I did). I could prepare (which I did). But in the final analysis, there was nothing that I could do to ensure success. Whether I passed or failed was not within my control. Since it was not in my control, it was that much easier for me to trust that God would get me through it.

And so here is my advice. When you have a difficult situation, sit down and itemize the areas that you have control over and those that you don’t. Then, take the list of those areas that you lack control and celebrate them; don’t bemoan them.

The more you celebrate your weaknesses… the more you rejoice in your difficult situation… the more God’s Power will invade your life. It will fix a tent on your situation. Then, you will understand what Paul means when he says in the following verse: “… for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

In closing, take a look at Acts 16. Paul and his buddy, Silas, were imprisoned. It was pitch-black dark. They were in chains. They were in a really bad place.

Yet they praised God. When they did, the walls came tumbling down.

When they were at their weakest, their (presumably joyful) praises released the dynamis of God into their situation. Thus, even at their weakest point, they were able to bring down the house.

You may be at your weakest point, ready to give up. This means that you are in the very best position to see the dynamis of God manifest in your life. Give it over to Christ, rejoice in the fact that He’s got it, and see what God will do for you in the midst of your suffering.