Sometimes the ice is thick

frozen-rock-pondI wish I could point you to the originator of this analogy but I can’t remember where I heard it. {“Maybe your audience knows; you should ask him.” -DS} It goes something like:

Evangelizing your children is like throwing rocks onto a frozen pond. Nothing breaks through. But when the sun comes out to thaw the ice the rocks will fall in.

On a recent drive I was telling my wife that I’d been asked to ‘baptize’ a terminally ill convert in hospice care. Death was near but the baptism was on the following day. One of our young eavesdroppers asked what would happen if the patient died prior to baptism.

What he said was something like, “What if she dies before you can baptize her?”.

What I heard was, “Dad, I know baptism is important, but could you remind me and all my siblings that in Christ we’re justified by grace through faith?”.

So with my captive audience in tow I eloquently celebrated–in an age appropriate way, of course–the truth of the gospel. I spoke of how nothing we do or don’t do can ever make us right (or keep us right) with God. I succinctly explained that as important as baptism is (Jesus commanded it!) it’s a sign of salvation but not the saving work itself. Baptism doesn’t save us; Jesus does.

It didn’t take long but when I finished I couldn’t believe how well I had done. The only thing missing was the organ music & an aisle to walk. Maybe I should pull the car over and call for any converts to step to curb. This would certainly go down as one of the finest moments in otherwise checkered parenting career.

And then I heard the sweet voice of our scrubby, preschool cherub: “Dad, I wouldn’t kick a baby.”

I still have no idea what she was talking about. Babies played no part in my theological discourse. I was left wondering what my girl had heard. More accurately, I wondered if my girl had heard anything.

Did any of them hear what I was saying?

Reality check: I’ll never be able to talk my kids into saving faith. But “faith comes from hearing and hearing from the word of Christ.” So I’ll pile his weighty words on their cold hearts, praying for the day that his light melts the ice.

Where’s the miracle? (pt 2)

Where a divine mystery exists no single explanation will satisfy all of our questions. In the previous post I cited the tension that arises when a Christian believes the biblical accounts of miracles even as he stares into the miracle vacuum of his personal experience. In response, I consider Jesus’ interaction with miracle seekers in John 6. I won’t rehearse the story but would encourage you to (re-)read for yourself. The observations that follow aren’t intended as a definitive solution for the tension but I find them helpful:

1) Seeking Jesus is more important than seeing a miracle (Jn 6:2, 26). A miracle is never an end in itself but a sign that points to something bigger: God’s glory. Interestingly, John frames his entire gospel by Jesus’ miracles precisely so that in seeing a miracle the reader will turn in faith to seek Jesus (Jn 20:30-31). But on this point we should also note that Jesus seems to teach that miracle-driven faith should give way to word-driven faith (Jn 6:63; 14:11). That is, Jesus would have us understand that our faith is to stand on the authority of his word.

2) Asking for a miracle may not arise from our faith but from our flesh (Jn 6:26-27). Oh, the deceitfulness of the human heart. Not everything is as it appears. John narrates that “a great multitude was following [Jesus] because they were seeing the signs which he was performing…” (6:2); but Jesus asserts “you seek me not because you saw signs but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (6:26). On the face of it John and Jesus appear to be at odds in their assessment of the situation. But I think the context shows that John narrates the events (6:2) while Jesus explains the events (6:26). That is, people followed Jesus because they saw miracles but not because they wanted what those miracles pointed to. They saw five thousand fed and sought the miracle of satiation rather than the miracle of salvation (6:27, 35-36, 58).

3) The miracle has already been granted (Jn 6:36-37). Jesus is not guilty of a non sequitur when he transitions from his bread lecture to the assertion that “…you have seen me and yet do not believe.  All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” In light of the surrounding discourse the point is that the better miracle isn’t giving material food to the physically hungry but in granting spiritual sight to the spiritually blind. Which is the bigger miracle and the greater blessing: looking at bread or looking at Jesus through the eyes of faith (6:40)? That we would ever come to Jesus simply for Jesus is itself a miracle–a sign that the Father has already blessed us beyond comprehension (Eph 1:3ff).

Does this mean that we shouldn’t ask for a miracle? Not at all. Knock, ask, seek. But consider that sometimes our prayers are refused because the request is too small. A greater blessing may just be the reward that follows the disciple who walks by faith and not sight (Jn 20:25-29; 1Pet 1:8-9); who clings to the promise in the absence of fulfillment (Heb 11:6, 13); who sees Jesus by the miracle of new birth and claims that, while wanting to see more, he has seen enough (2Cor 4:6).

Where’s the miracle? (pt 1)

Whether a Christian or not, anyone who has engaged in even a cursory reading of the Bible observes the number of miracles recorded in its pages. Encountering these stories the reader is afforded, it seems to me, three basic responses: belief, disbelief, or disappointment. The first & last of these responses I take to be uniquely Christian. By belief I mean that the reader trusts that a miracle–something that defies natural laws– actually occurred. By disappointment I mean that the reader, believing that such miracles happened, experiences some lack of satisfaction or unfulfilled hope when he concludes that similar occurrences have not happened to/for him.

Almost 10 years ago I was struck with anxiety while attempting to navigate a major life transition. I pleaded with God to heal me. God has graciously granted a measure of restoration but all indications point to the fact that, in my case, the disorder is here to stay. I believe God was (and is) able to remove my illness as He did for others in biblical accounts but I was disappointed to find no complete, miraculous healing.

I look at the Williams family. Jeremy & Jennifer (along with countless others) have prayed for miraculous healing. Jeremy is suffering the debilitating effects of ALS. Jennifer was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Before ALS & breast cancer, their son Jacob was born with spina bifida. In each case, countless petitions failed to procure a miraculous healing. Jacob is in a wheelchair. Jeremy’s ALS progresses. Jennifer underwent a double mastectomy with chemo to follow.

Of course, the miraculous need not be limited to acts of healing. A miraculous provision in a time of need would be welcomed as would a divine sign when standing at one of life’s crossroads. We could point to broken homes which were in desperate need of a miracle that never came or the sometimes maddening normalcy in a local church that could be remedied by a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. The point is that any honest Christian can point to a time in which he asked God to do the (humanly) impossible but eventually realized that natural law was to carry the day.

I don’t doubt that miracles still happen. However, I think I’m like a majority(?) of Christians who deal with more disappointment than delight when it comes to the realm of the miraculous. So where are the miracles? Or maybe more accurately: why aren’t the miracles coming my way?