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Archive for the month “October, 2013”

Jesus’ Greatest Miracle!

I’m probably like a lot of you! I like to rank things. I’ve watched TV and scanned the internet. They can make a whole show or long article out of ranking a specific topic. Examples are and not limited to the top actors of all time. How about the best movies, best TV shows, cooks, baseball players, teams, stores, hamburgers, pizzas, restaurants and the list goes on and on. When we rank things it is out of love. We show an interest in the subject and are willing to study the different ones in depth. A person who ranks things likes to dig deeper. They enjoy the topic so much because they actually love all of the listed things. It is not a knock on any of the entrants that are not chosen number one. For some reason in the ranking person’s eyes one of the entrants stands out a little from the rest. Obviously you could ask ten people to rank a topic and get ten different answers. Rankings are subject to individual interpretation because we all see things differently. The quality that puts something at the top of my list may put it on the bottom of yours. Whenever a list is made or one thing is put above all others we are inviting debate. Debating is a good thing because it makes us confront how we feel. It makes us dig deep into the topic. It causes us to think about our opinions and take another persons opinion into consideration. Taking the time to study and break down a topic and form an opinion shows that we love the subject!

With all of this in mind let’s set the ground rules for the debate. There are thirty seven earthly miracles that Jesus performed that are recorded in the Bible. Obviously there were many that were unrecorded. Naturally we can only study the ones that we know about. The miracles in the Bible occurred in his last three and a half years. Also the miracles I’m talking about are ones that he did for or to other people. Usually in these kind of rankings there is a countdown. As in the number 37 miracle is and right down to the number 1. I can’t do that in this case. A miracle is a miracle and to decide if it was harder to cast a demon out of someone or to heal a sickness cannot be done. I don’t know the answer to that, all I can say is that with God all things are possible! For that matter I am not ranking the miracle on the difficulty factor. Any miracle after all is “a miracle” and is totally out of the realm of the natural progression.

From looking at the list of miracles that are recorded in the Bible, one can conclude that Jesus did most of his miracles because of one of the following reasons. Either he was asked to heal and the person had faith to believe he would, or he did it out of love that he had for a group of people that they also had for him. Let’s take that second reason for example. Nobody asked Jesus to feed the multitudes. Yet twice it is recorded that he did so. Both times Jesus was preaching to a group of people and both times the people were more concerned with hearing what he had to say than to meet their physical eating needs. Rewarding them for their faithfulness he took the small amount of food they had on hand and blessed it! As many as 5,000 people were fed and there were in both cases leftovers! Another example of Jesus doing a miracle out of love for the people was when he was at a wedding and they ran out of wine. Running out of wine would have been a catastrophe but Jesus miraculously turned the water into wine and the wine he created was better than the original! You can also put the time that Jesus walked on the water into this category! Why was he walking on the water? He did it to get to his beloved disciples who were out on a boat in the middle of the sea. Also in this category would be when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. It was out of love for his family and the hurt that it caused.

Healing a withered hand

Healing a withered hand

The other category is when Jesus was asked by someone for healing. Sometimes when the person would come forward Jesus would ask them what they needed. They would invariably say “so that I can see” or healing from some other affliction. When they asked in faith believing, Jesus was quick to heal them! Sometimes he would ask for a step in faith. If he told them to go, their faith has made them whole, they may have started walking (faith believing) and received their healing then! I’m reminded of Jesus telling a man with a withered hand to extend his arm forward. When he did in faith Jesus healed it instantly! Jesus also acted on faith of other people on behalf of the afflicted one. I’m reminded of the time that friends lowered a cot with the sickened man on it to Jesus from a hole they cut in the roof. Another time a leader of the day came to Jesus to heal his son. You don’t even have to go to him, he stated. I know that if I command someone under me to do something it gets done. Jesus marveled at his faith and healed his son at that hour. There was also a time that Jesus was on his way to heal the daughter of Jairus who had died when a woman came up and touched his garment. She had suffered from a bleeding issue for twelve years. Instantaneously she was healed! Jesus knowing that he felt the healing power leave him wondered who touched him? Admitting that it was her Jesus told her “your faith has made you whole.” Jesus made his way to Jairus’ daughter who now was dead and because of his faith in asking Jesus raised her back to life again!

All of these miracles that I mentioned and so many more are wonderful miracles that Jesus did that changed lives! Like I mentioned earlier it would be impossible to rank them in importance because each one affected the lives of others so wonderfully! When I first heard a sermon entitled “Jesus’ Greatest Miracle”, I didn’t really believe that the one picked out could possibly be his greatest.

In Luke chapter 22 starting with verse 47 the text begins. “While he was still speaking, there came a crowd and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the son of man with a kiss?” And when those who were about him saw what would follow they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.” Now you may ask “How can this be Jesus’ greatest miracle?” Certainly many of his other miracles had to be harder. Certainly healing all of the afflictions that were presented before him had to be greater than just an ear.

The painting "The Ear of Malchus" (circa 1890s) by James Tissot

The painting “The Ear of Malchus” (circa 1890s) by James Tissot

Remember though that Jesus’ other miracles involved a formula of hope, faith, and love. The people on the receiving end had at least one if not all of the qualities. This person had none of them. He was there doing his job which was to arrest Jesus. He happened to be in the wrong place as the sword sliced off his ear. He was an enemy of Jesus and desired to have him killed. Yet Jesus in spite of all of these facts showed the attitude of forgiving his enemy by making his ear whole again! It was the same spirit that he displayed on the cross when he said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It is the same spirit that Jesus displayed when he came down to earth to die for us. Romans 5:10 states that “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” You see we were all God’s enemies until we came to him. We were all like that servant who was wounded and even though we were enemies God touched us! It wasn’t necessarily the difficulty of the healing or the faith the person displayed. In this case no faith was involved at all! It was Jesus healing someone because of who he was! He was living the commandment of “love your enemies.” The sermon concluded with the pastor saying “I have studied all of the miracles Jesus did in his ministry and one greater than this I haven’t found.” After he made his case I have to agree because I haven’t either!

Routinely Eating Fast Food

It’s a Saturday morning and I’m out and about with my mind wandering.  Have you ever been driving and you get to your destination and you wake yourself up with the question “How did I get here?”  If you are like me, there are times that you are thinking about other things and the car is on auto pilot.  Anyway I catch myself between thoughts because as a creature of habit I am mechanically on my way to work instead of the intended store or other destination.  I say to myself “hey wait a minute, you don’t work today!”  I always catch myself after a mechanical turn or two, but it’s funny how much we are creatures of habit.

Maybe it can be said that we are creatures of routine.  If you are like me you wake up at a certain time for work and go through the same routine daily.  For me there is an order to when I take my shower, get dressed, eat my breakfast, brush my teeth etc.  I’m not sure if I have a morning routine or if it is my habit to do these things in the same order every day? One habit or routine I do have is that when I go into the bathroom I turn the light on. There have been times that we have lost electricity and I find myself entering the bathroom and automatically flicking the switch only to find the power is out.

I wondered what the difference was in routines and habits so I recently searched the internet and read an interesting article.  An example was used of a person trying to lose weight.  They changed their routine and ate Cheerios every day because they heard it is healthy and supplies the grain they need.  This is called a change of routine as they went from eggs and bacon to Cheerios every morning.  Unexpectedly something out of the routine happened.  They were invited to a breakfast and they discovered that Cheerios was not an option.  The routine was broken and they went back to eating eggs and bacon that morning.  They discovered how much they like their eggs and bacon and it became harder to go back to their new Cheerios routine.  Now consider changing a habit.  A habit is more broad based and long term.  In this example they make a habit of having more grain in their diet.  Usually the Cheerios fills the bill in the morning, but when the routine unexpectedly changes, they can still pick out something on the menu to fill the grain need!  In their mind they know that they stayed with their plan and carry on their new habit of more grain at breakfast!

Each of us have different mannerisms that make us individually interesting!  Our mannerisms are ways we react to situations.  Some people stick their tongue out for instance when they are concentrating.  My son and I were watching a baseball game recently and the batter kept stepping out of the box after each pitch to pull and adjust his batting glove.  My son wondered aloud why he needed to do this same routine after each pitch?  Or would you say it is a habit or mannerism?  It’s tricky how we react and sometimes it’s hard picking a label.

I was watching highlights of an old Dean Martin roast from the 1970’s.  Dean would have a special victim and he would have famous guests who knew that person.  The guests would all get up and make us laugh as they made light of the victims shortcomings.   On this particular episode they were roasting  Johnny Carson.  Rich Little was a famous impressionist at the time.  He had Johnny’s voice down but the thing that made it hilarious was he also had Johnny’s mannerisms down too!  He did what he considered Johnny’s three best jokes.  Of course the jokes themselves weren’t very funny, but the mannerisms Johnny has on stage were so realistically duplicated that it had me cracking up!

I’m still thinking about the routine vs the habit idea and evehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uW_qQfKwbDEn throwing in mannerisms.  For some reason they all blend together in my mind.  The fact of the matter is that all of them can get so ingrained into us that they become automatic.  It’s like when you are driving your car and a deer runs out in front of you.  You don’t have to think to hit the brakes, it is automatic.

I’ve heard it said for so long that the reason it is so good to go on a vacation is that it gets you out of your routine.  I have to agree with that.  Although we get comfortable with routines we find that we are not living fully and feel almost mechanical.  Yes mechanical in that we feel like we need to have a schedule and stick to it!  We feel like we are in a box where we are conditioned to act and react certain ways.

If you ever have worked in fast food places you know what it is to get in a routine.  The fries and hamburgers are made a certain way and cooked a certain amount of time.  All of the hamburgers should look the same.  The customer always knows what they are getting.  You can go to a McDonald’s in Michigan and it will be the same as one in Alabama, Ohio, or Florida.  Nobody ever said that fast food is good for you.  The value of fast food is that it is convenient and fast.  It fills you up and it is a routine in itself.  You might get used to going through the pickup window or ordering from the counter.  Either way the employees are trained to get you through the line in a timely fashion!  Years ago I wrote a poem called Fast Food Christianity.  The thought at the time that I wrote the poem was that fast food wasn’t good for us! Similarly getting our spiritual nourishment in a fast food way wasn’t good for us either!

The Drive Through Routine

The Drive Through Routine

Fast Food Christianity

By Lewis Hamilton
From the book “The Gardener and My Garden” c1997

Fast food restaurants
Computer Technology
Knowledge expanding
We’re in the new century

Planes flying everywhere
Scanners at the stores
Medical technology
like never before

Microwave ovens
next to fax machines
Instant relief from pain
Quick oil changings

Quick drying, fast moving
products that we try
See it on a commercial
Soon you’re going to buy

Fast stop Christianity
service ends at noon
Better not end later,
OK if it’s too soon

Big fancy churches
buildings made for men
We won’t be too humble
so God cannot come in

Sunday afternoon restaurant,
smorgasboard and all
Preacher got long winded
giving an altar call

Break this heavy chain, Lord
I’m spiritually tied
Fast food Christianity
has me satisfied.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:27

After thinking about routines and habits we all have I’m thinking a little differently about the meaning of this poem. You see we like our little routines and we like to categorize. There are times that God becomes a routine in our life. We drive the car of life like it is on auto pilot without thinking about others around us. Even things like going to church and praying can become a routine that we do because we are supposed to. The person in the poem realizes that fast food Christianity has satisfied them and they know that it shouldn’t. It’s like eating that hamburger and fries and thinking it is satisfying our nutritional needs. We have turned the power switch (like my switch in the bathroom) only to realize that the connection to the power is gone. Only by taking God out of a religious ritual of routine habits and into a loving relationship will we get the power back!

What’s Inside Your Refrigerator?

The power company is sending us a new statement these days.  The normal monthly bill gets here and we take care of it.  A week or two later the new statement arrives.  The new statement actually compares the amount we spend on energy with our neighbors.  We have been all over the charts in these statements.  Sometimes for some reason we don’t know, we happen to have a good month and our rates are lower than our neighbors.  The next month we may be in the higher percentile of energy bills.  This whole statement thing gets our mind on how we may be able to do better.  I’ve discovered that people disclose ideas on the internet on how to lower energy bills.  Of course there are the normal ideas of not turning on the air conditioner all of the time.  (Maybe opening up a window at night when the temperature is lower would help).  In the colder months set your temperature a little lower.  Other ideas are to turn off lights in rooms you are not using and unplug the computer.  There were two ideas that I hadn’t really thought of and they involved big appliances.  One was to wash more in cold water to save money on heating the water, and the other was to clean out your refrigerator.

How much is enough?

How much is enough?

I’ve been thinking about this refrigerator thing they were talking about.  I’m reminded of a little cartoon that was on our refrigerator at work.  The cartoon had a lady pulling out an old bowl from the office refrigerator as she was assigned to cleaning it out.  “Who is William Johnson?”, she asks as she notices his name taped on the bowl.  “William Johnson retired in 2002”, someone answers from  across the room.  The bowl in the cartoon shows an aroma filling the air and the ladies face has a sickening frown.

Although it is very important to remove old items from your refrigerator, the energy zapper they talk about in the article is related to the amount of things in the refrigerator.  You see the more things in the refrigerator, the harder the refrigerator has to work.  It has to do with the air vents and the fact that too many items will block them.  The refrigerator will take up much more energy as it can’t do it’s job because things are blocking it’s flow.

Recently a friend of mine made a call to a family member.  Later it was mentioned how draining the conversation was.   The call was supposed to be a positive experience bringing the individuals closer together.  Instead however, every topic that came up was followed by a negative spin from the other family member.  It got to the point where my friend had to get off of the phone because of the zapping of energy the conversation was taking!  Much like the jammed up refrigerator, our attitudes can zap energy out of other people.  Instead of continuing to be that burden, God has a way of cleaning us out and helping us to focus on the things we really need!

Consider the jammed up refrigerator again.  Our refrigerator for instance has a lot of space and it never occurred to me that filling that space could cause problems.  Usually we think of a full refrigerator as a good thing.  We buy things we think we will need to fill that thing up!  It’s like things in our lives.  We like to fill our lives with a lot of things.  When God is working everything that we do can be a reflection of him!  However, when we let things come between us and our God, it blocks  his Spirit from flowing in our lives.   The things that seemed so important have now become a repulsing odor in our being.  With God there is always hope when we turn to him!  If we let him purge the things we don’t need in our lives and are blocking his Spirit, we will find true happiness!  No longer are we an energy zapper,  we become an uplifting instrument that God can use!

What I Really Need

By Lewis Hamilton
From the book “The Gardener and My Garden” c1997

TV commercials, magazines,
billboards we drive by
comfort, luxury,
simple as pie

Stylish, elegant
going by the book
This new pearl necklace
gives me just the look

Tender, juicy, sweet and light
so come by and taste
Supermarket checkout line,
there’s no time to waste

Running to each item
they say will satisfy,
learning after buying
of their clever little lies

Material possessions
but nothing for my soul
Hunger unsatisfied
taking its toll

Jesus come by quickly
my spirit you will feed
Not food for my body
but what I really need.

For just as the sufferings of Christ
flow over into our lives, so also
through Christ our comfort overflows.
II Corinthians 1:5

Prideful Righteousness

I picked out the things that I wanted and headed straight for the cash register.  There was just one person being checked out so here I was next in line.  I laid my three or four items on the counter.  The lady that was ahead of me was paying for her items and the cashier was almost done ringing her up.  Just then the lady happened to turn.  Then she turned toward me.  “Did you know there are a lot of people upset with you?” I looked over to where she was looking and to my surprise there was a line all the way back in the store.  It seems they had a big sale and it was “Saturday Madness.”  The rules of the cash register were that the line formed about fifteen feet from the purchase area and the next person in line got called up when the cashier was ready for them.  So here I was with my stuff I was ready to purchase immediately,  walking back to the end of the line way back in the store!  That is the way it should be right?  It reminds me of when we were kids in school and were lined up in the cafeteria line.  Maybe one of the other kids got out of line for some reason.  When they came back the others wouldn’t let them back in.  “No cuts”, was the slogan everyone used.  In other words the ones who stay in line get rewarded for it and the ones who get out have to start all over.  We all like things in black and white and when changes are made to our way of thinking it doesn’t go over well!  There are times we cry out “that’s just not fair.”

Two different members of Detroit teams faced the same kind of issues recently.  The football team had a pass receiver who was very talented.  He was so talented he figured he should be the number one receiver on the team and it’s first option.  The coach felt that there was another receiver on the team that deserved being number one.  In a rebellious action almost unheard of this receiver started doing things on his own.  In a game he purposely lined up out of the position the coach wanted him to be in.  It didn’t take long before he found himself out of the game.  Even though this receiver has great talents, he was eventually released from the team.  The second member was on the Detroit Tigers baseball team.  He had pitched very well the whole season as a starter, but when it was time for the playoffs a question came up.  You see there were five starting pitchers and in the playoffs only four starting spots were needed.  He was asked if he were the one, (which he eventually was) that had to go to the bullpen was he good with that?  His answer showed where his heart and mind was!  “Whatever he decides he wants me to do I will do it to the best of my ability!”

In Luke chapter 15 Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son.  In the first two verses we get the context for the message.  “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him.  And the Pharisees and Scribes murmered, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  They proudly considered themselves the religious leaders and any religious leader was too good to be associated with the tax collectors and sinners!  Knowing what they were thinking and saying, Jesus mentioned two different scenarios for them to consider before he told the prodigal son parable.  One was about a man who had 100 sheep and lost one.  He would make every effort to find his lost sheep.  The second was about a lady losing one of her ten silver coins.  How she would sweep the house and seek diligently until she found it.  In both cases the man and lady knew how things should be.  They wanted all of their sheep or all of their coins intact.  When one was missing things were not the way they were supposed to be, much like when we happen to count our money and  find that we are short twenty dollars.

The Bible never mentions the word “prodigal.”  Through the years people have linked the term  to the description of the son Jesus mentions in his parable.  Prodigal by definition is “one who is given to wasteful luxury or extravagance.”  Following the two examples mentioned above Jesus starts the parable beginning in verse 11.  And he said, “There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.  And he divided his living between them.  Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.  And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want.  So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed the swine.  And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything.  But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough to spare, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”   And he arose and came to his father.  But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion on him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”  And they began to make merry.

prodigal-son2

We’ve all heard this story and most of the time the emphasis is placed on the forgiveness the father extends to his wayward son, but I’d like to talk about the older brothers attitude.  The story goes that the older brother heard the celebration while he was out in the field and he asked one of the servants what it meant?  He was told that his brother had come back and a fatted calf had been killed to celebrate the event! The older brother became very angry and stayed away from the celebration.  When the father realized his oldest son was away, he went out and found him.  The older son was very clear that he didn’t agree with the decision his father made.  In his opinion this was not the way things should be!  Starting with verse 29 the older brother states to his father “Lo these many years I have served you and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed him the fatted calf!” The father answers his son in verses 31 and 32.  “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

The story ends before we find out how the oldest son reacted to his fathers words and if he accepted them?  Does he come back to his senses like the younger son did when he returned or does he continue in his pride and self-righteousness?  Notice that pride separated both of the sons from their loving father.  The youngest son pridefully took all of his inheritance and left.  The older son let his own pride and self righteousness interfere with his relationship with his father.  While pride took the youngest son away from his father, humbleness put him back into his fathers arms!  That is how God is!  When we humble ourselves he hears our prayers and forgives our sins! God is all about having us in right relationship with him! When we come back to him it is a reason to celebrate much like finding the sheep that was lost!  It is not known whether the oldest son swallowed his pride and self righteousness, humbled himself and got close to his father again.  We do not know if he accepted the situation as it was or if he lived the rest of his life in unforgiveness?

It’s obvious that the father had a strong opinion of how things should be!  He wanted to be close to both of his sons and he wanted them to share in his wealth.  When the younger son left he broke his fathers heart.  Things were no longer the same as he desired them to be.  Yet, the loving father granted his younger sons desire to break fellowship because true love could only be a two way street.   Though it hurt him deeply he didn’t stand in the way.  The father was thrilled when his youngest son came back!  Things would be the way they should be again! He thought his oldest son would be happy too and was surprised by his selfish, prideful attitude.

The oldest sons attitude still lives today.  Sometimes when we see things work in someone’s favor that seems undeserving we cry out “that’s not fair!”  The oldest sons position exemplifies the attitude we all are taught regarding fair play.  He liked the idea that the younger son got what he deserved and it is only right that he, (being the faithful son), will get rewarded! After all he had always been there for his father!  His attitude toward his brother did not show love, only selfish pride as he pridefully considered himself better.  It was like his brother got out of the line and I’m not going to let him back in… No Cuts!  His brother made a bad decision so it was fair that he must suffer the consequences and go to the back of the line!  The older brother pridefully liked the idea that he was the faithful one and treasured all of the benefits that he thought came with it!  When his brother returned he was bitter for what his brother did and the fact that his father would consider forgiving him.  When the father had the big celebration, he felt things were totally unfair.  Feeling that he (the faithful brother) was not appreciated, he didn’t come to the celebration.  It was the equivalent of rebelling against his father much like the receiver did when he lined up wrong on purpose.  When circumstances change we have to realize that our place on the team is still secure.  The father loved his older son just as much as he ever did!  There are times in our lives that God may switch us to a different role.  Sometimes the decision doesn’t seem fair in our way of thinking. When God decides to use us differently or exalt someone else, we need to trust our coach that he knows what is best! Our thoughts should only be on what is best for the team!  Sometimes our thinking should be adjusted as we take our minds off of ourselves.  I’m sure that God is pleased when we have the pitchers attitude that whatever he decides my role is I will perform it to the best of our ability!  Likewise when our Heavenly Father forgives our brothers (and it doesn’t seem fair) we need to swallow our selfish pride, humble ourselves, and forgive them also!  When we take this attitude we become a reflection of our Heavenly Father who is always willing to forgive and forget all of our trespasses when we are humbled and truly sorry!

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