How Miracles Make Skeptics

[If I were to have a conversation with Jesus, then this is what it would probably look like.]

Me: “I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”

Jesus: “Me?”

Me: “Yup.”

Jesus: “Well, then, bone-picker, let’s hear it.”

Me: “I don’t get why you let so many people become skeptics when you obviously have the ability to perform miracles that would prove to them that you exist, once and for all.”

Jesus: “Uh-huh.”

Me: “I mean, you’re obviously qualified for such a thing. You did all of those miracles in the New Testament.”

Jesus [smirking]: “Physician, heal thyself.”

Me: “What?”

Jesus: “Never mind …”

Me: “Was that some kind of inside joke?”

Jesus: “Hardly. I’ve never found that one particularly funny.”

Me: “Okaaaay … but you still haven’t answered my question.”

Jesus: “About why I won’t do miracles for skeptics.”

Me: “That’s the one.”

Jesus: “There are many answers for that, but for one, let’s just say that I don’t want to make people atheists.”

Me: “I’m sorry?”

Jesus: “Don’t worry, you heard me right the first time. I don’t want to make people even more skeptical than they already are. Many of them have a hard enough time with faith as it is. You wouldn’t believe how heavy a mustard seed can be.”

Me [frowning]: “You’re going to have to explain that one to me.”

Jesus [grinning again]: “I’ve heard that one before, too.”

Me: “Right. So …”

Jesus: “So … before I answer your question, let me pose a hypothetical: let’s say I was willing to be the wonder-worker that you want me to be. Let’s say I granted everyone a chance to witness a miracle of their choice. Maybe it’s restoring sight to a blind person, maybe it’s turning their family dog into a monkey. Seriously, any one miracle they wanted me to perform, I would do. Here’s my question: even if I were willing to do all of that, what difference would it make?”

Me: “Well, people would see the proof of you that they need to believe. Faith wouldn’t be so hard.”

Jesus: “It wouldn’t?”

Me: “Well, no. … Wait, are you doing the God-thing where you try to trick me?”

Jesus: “No, but I do think you’re putting too much stock in miracles. You mentioned the miracles in the gospels. What you didn’t mention was the number of times they made unbelievers out of people.

“I cast a demon out of a person, and my critics accused me of being demon-possessed. I healed a person on the Sabbath, and that only confirmed to onlookers that I was a Law-breaker who had pitted himself against God. I raised Lazarus from the dead, and that act of life-giving power spurred my enemies to conspire against me.”

Me: “But they also helped to give people faith! You healed people, and they followed you, like that blind man in John chapter 9.

Jesus: “That’s true, a lot of people not only found that I could heal them but also discovered what a life with me really meant. I did help a lot of people, but I think you’re giving my miracles too much credit. Some people came to me broken in more ways than one, even if they only publicly spoke of one source of pain. In some sense, they were aware of it–and because of that, I could do more for them to get rid of a disease or restore a useless hand.

But for others, they wanted signs from me not because they couldn’t believe but because they already believed something else. They were already entrenched in the notion that, whoever I was, whether it was a false prophet or the carrier of a demon, I couldn’t possibly be from God. In their case, they would have been better never to have seen a miracle at all.”

[Here is where I think for a long time.]

Me: “So you might not do miracles today …”

Jesus: “… because if I did, the people who saw them wouldn’t believe in me but rather, their twisted understanding of me. For these people, miracles wouldn’t prove my existence; they would simply prove the existence of a toxic distortion. The last thing I want to do is confirm a belief in someone who doesn’t exist.”

Me: “How?”

Jesus: “What do you mean?”

Me: “How could someone get to that point?”

Jesus: “Some people will just refuse to come. They’re addicted to the kind of evil that I came to kill. That’s one group among many.

“Another group consists of people who wouldn’t believe because that would mean submitting to the doctrine of their most-hated enemies. You know that churches are capable of telling people about My love even as they act against it. At times, you’ve been one of them, and … no, don’t keep apologizing. Your apologies are actually offensive to me after the first one.

“My point is, there are a lot of people who have been so hurt by those Christians that they haven’t yet reached the point where they understand that when they hurt you, they also hurt me. They either think I had something to do with it, or they’re just not in the place where they’re ready for me to be a part of their lives.ย And so if I were to do a miracle in front of them, they might reject it not because they hate Me but because they hate that church. They’d rather lick the fires of hell than admit that the Christians of their past were as right as they were hateful.”

Me: “If that’s the case, then what hope do they have? What if they die before they get to that point?”

Jesus: “What hope do they have? I’m alive. How much more hope do they need?”

Me: “But what if they die …”

Jesus [smiling]: “It’s like you said.”

Me: “Which part?”

Jesus: “I can do miracles.”

If Jesus Were a 90s TV Character, He Would Be …

Let’s get to know each other, shall we? I’m going to put forward a question, and you give the answer in the comments section.

Here it is:ย Jesus reminds me of the following character from a 1990s show I used to watch: __________________.

My answer: Wilson from Home Improvement.

He always steered you in the right direction but was odd enough to where you never could quite pin him down. If that doesn’t say “every freakin’ story in the four gospels”, then I don’t know what does.

Your turn. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Good News of Judgment: Every Lie Exposed

There’s a fearful-sounding passage in the book of Hebrews

“And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

… that used to make me think that Christianity’s promise was my life was hurtling toward an experience of unimaginable dread. Sure, I was saved, but I didn’t like the idea that to get to heaven, I’d have to sit through a Judgment that would inevitably lay out the plethora of ways in which I’d been disappointing.

But I think there’s also good news to be learned from the above-quoted verse. (It’s Hebrews 4:13, in case you were looking for a reference.) I think God’s act of revealing us for who we really are, exposing every thought and every work, can actually be a loving and liberating thing.

My suspicion is this:

At the Judgment, we’re going to see the lies we believed about ourselves–and be rid of them once and for all.

I believe this will be so because every work of ours is going to be exposed, and that inevitably means that God will also reveal our motivations behind our actions. Jesus has always been concerned with our hearts. He identified anger as a form of murder and lust as an active form of adultery. He warned his listeners not to pray, fast, or give alms to get the approval of other people.

Given the Lord’s focus on our hearts in the Bible, it’s not a heterodox opinion to believe that He’s going to bring up our heart’s true intentions during the Judgment. That can be frightening, because most of us are very good at disguising our true feelings, especially in church environments.

It can also be a good thing, because many of us believe things about ourselves that aren’t true in the least but influence our actions nonetheless.

Maybe you’ve always had trouble attracting a boy/girlfriend, so you’ve started to believe that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, a piece of your body or personality that God just didn’t get quite right. So you start to think that whenever someone comes along who’s interested, you should go for them–regardless of whether they’re good for you.

Maybe the career you chose isn’t as exciting as you thought, and because the job prospects in our country aren’t worth bragging about at the moment, you start to get to depressed because you’re convinced this is as good as life’s ever going to be. You had your chance to make something of yourself and blew it. Lots of people feel this way, of course, but not everyone gains dangerous amounts of weight and spends money they don’t have as a means to alleviate their sense of meaninglessness.

Maybe you were burned by a close friend in the past and have convinced yourself that people generally aren’t to be trusted, so you never develop other close friendships because you believe the people who are facing you today will turn their backs on you tomorrow.

Maybe you have a vision for something you want to do with your life, and you’re the only person who thinks it’s worthwhile. Everyone else is convinced you need to do something that will provide greater security and more money. You buy into what they’re saying and start to question the God-given ability you have to dream. So your life becomes a mediocre series of events in which you never risked because you never once thought that your greatest dream was actually a prophecy.

If God has promised to give an honest reckoning of our actions, then He has to look at the beliefs that drove those actions in the first place.That includes the false beliefs you hold about yourselves and others.

And when everything is laid bare, I’m convinced that He’s going to expose those lies for the lies that they are–and then you’ll be done with them.

You’ll see falsehood for what it is and exactly how it hurt your life. You’ll see the bruised relationships that were borne of your belief that people don’t like you and the collateral damage from thinking that you would never make a good husband/wife so your only option was to settle.

I’m convinced that God will show us how we falsely believed about ourselves so He can free us from those things once and for all. When that Day comes, I believe it’ll be those people who staked their lives with Christ who will experience this as liberation.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I wish this freedom were possible for everyone, regardless of whether they were a Christian. But I’m not sure it is, not because God doesn’t want to give it but because people, by their mistrust, won’t have it.

If you don’t trust Jesus in this life, why would you trust anything His Father says in the next? If you don’t take anything He says seriously now, then why would you care what He thinks are the falsehoods you believed about yourself? After all, you don’t think He’s a reliable source of information.

If that’s the case, then I’ll leave you with this: every Christian who’s ever lived has ultimately discovered that God’s invitation to this freedom has always outlasted their ability to mistrust Him. Unlike many of us, He doesn’t give up so easily.

The Good News of Judgment: Love is the Greatest

This series is devoted to exploring the idea that God’s future judgment of the human race is a good thing for us as people. Today, I want to talk about what He’s looking for in the Judgment.

For that, we start with some of the ways in which Jesus and his followers described this future day of reckoning.

Jesus told the parable of the tenants, in which each one was given a certain amount of money to invest while their master was away. They were rewarded or punished based on what they did with what they were given. There’s also the parable about the Sheep and Goats, in which the nations are divided up based on how they treated the worst-offs of society and were surprised to learn that to serve or neglect that group was to serve or neglect Christ himself.

There’s Paul’s insistence that we all will pass through fire and our good works will remain while our evil deeds burn up. John the Revelator sees a day when even the sea gives up its dead so they all can stand before the great white throne of God.

All of this can sound incredibly frightful (and I haven’t touched on every New Testament reference), as being judged by our works means that none of us are going to live up to what God wanted from us. But in this post, I want to explore why the forthcoming Judgment should make us be happier, more joyful people, right this second.

We’re going to be judged by our works.

And the greatest work of all is love.

I’m amazed at how long it took me to see this. Loving God and other people are the first and second greatest commandments, Jesus told us. Even Paul told us that without love, it wouldn’t matter if you offered your body up as a martyr. God is going to judge you based on how well you loved Him and others. He is judging you based on your love.

Love, after all, is the great commandment, according to the Lord Himself. Here are the apostle Paul’s powerful words:

If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

You could have all the miraculous powers of God. You could possess the kind of faith that, if unleashed, would change the landscape of the world. You could give away everything you own to the poor and even be martyred for Jesus Christ–but without love, you haven’t gained a thing worth keeping.

The promise of the Judgment, then, is God’s way of reminding you just how important it is to your life that you become someone who loves others regardless of who they are; that you release the burden of resentment that you carry toward your enemies; that you are, generally speaking, just happy to be alive and that it shows in your daily interactions with your co-workers, family, friends, and strangers.

The people in this life who were the most loving and compassionate, who have somehow tapped into that deep reservoir of affection that is Jesus’ heart, are going to be delighted someday when they find that their love was what God was looking for the entire time.

And for those of us who aren’t quite there yet, the promise of the Judgment is good news for us, too! Our Father isn’t looking for us to be moral code-keepers. He’s not looking for us to sacrifice happiness in order to be the kind of person He wants us to be. He’s certainly not looking for people who only do good things for other people because they’re afraid of going to hell if they don’t.

Our Father is looking for people who love. He’s looking for people who understand that happiness is not a vice to be avoided but a virtue borne of a heart that loves God, neighbors, and enemies.

And He cares so much about this that He’s willing to judge us for it.

How Our Government Acted Like the Final Season of ‘Lost’

[WARNING: If you’re one of those poor souls who avoided Lost for six years because you wanted to watch the entire series on Netflix, then the following rant is most definitely not for you.]

Tell me if this following progression of thoughts sounds familiar:

“Hmph. Well, that didn’t make much sense, but they’ve got a lot of time to figure this out so I’m not worried.”

“Okay, I’m really not understanding this at all, but they’ve managed to do good stuff in the past so we’ll see how this plays out.”

“There’s only a month left. Shouldn’t they be addressing some of the larger issues?”

“Only a few more weeks. C’mon, guys, let’s have some resolution here!”

“HOLY CRAP SNACKS! We’re one week away and there’s still nothing here that resembles a coherent plan!”

If any of that sounds familiar, it should. Because you either thought it during Congress’ recent fight over the debt ceiling or as you were watching the sixth and final season of Lost.

It can be a hard thing to watch a story progress, only to get closer and closer to the ending and realize that the people who are supposed to be qualified at driving this thing really don’t have a master plan for seeing it through.

I actually liked some things about the series finale of Lost, but let’s be honest: if the executive producers had really had a master plan for the show–and they had at least three years to figure it out, considering ABC announced the date of the final episode a few years in advance–then the final act of the Oceanic 815ers would have gone a lot differently than it did.

Even still, it’s a television show. It’s fiction. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for Congress’ recent fight over the debt ceiling. Again, the comparisons to Lost are obvious.

People who were looking on might be frustrated, but they could also take comfort in knowing that this issue still had a few months before it needed to be resolved. Surely, we thought, someone behind the scenes has a grand strategy for making this work! And, like the sixth-season watchers of Lost, disbelief and anger grew as people started to realize that the people in charge of this thing really didn’t have any idea of how it was going to end.

Like Lost, how a lot of things went down simply didn’t make sense. President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner worked together to create a plan that would’ve cut $4 trillion–only to have it rejected by people who would later vote for a plan that actually succeeded in cutting far less than that and earned this nation a downgrade in its credit rating. Boehner later floated a bill in the House that he knew would never be passed in the Senate–but he wasted a few days on it, anyway. Likewise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid focused his attention on his own bill that everyone seemed to know didn’t have a chance at passing.

And then there’s the Tea Party, which threatened to not raise the debt ceiling and, in so doing, destroy this nation’s economy–all so they could make a point about fiscal responsibility.

So what’s the solution to this? I’m not sure.

All I know is that people were never at risk of losing their jobs because Lost didn’t explain where that cork in the center of the Island came from. That show might have been crazy at times, but it was never dangerous.

Too bad we can’t say the same for Congress.

New Series: Good News! You’re Going to be Judged

God has appointed a day on which He will judge the world, Scripture tells us. My next blog series is going to examine why that’s a good thing.

It’s going to be titled “The Good News of the Judgment” and how our being answerable to God is cause for encouragement as well as concern.

Here’s what I intend to cover (and the topics could change):

  • What does it mean for God to judge us?
  • No Moment is Insignificant
  • We Will Be Judged by Our Love
  • Answering Some Objections

Hope you enjoy! ๐Ÿ™‚

~Justin