i believe in miracles

do you? why not add your miracles too?

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Lucky Redefined: Luke 6: 17-19; Matt. 5:1-12; Luke 6:24-26 (how I would say it)


Note: Can we suspend, please, for this reading, the idea that luck denotes godless coincidence? In my use of the word “lucky” below, I mean it in the sense of “blessed” and “fortunate”—both synonyms of “lucky.” But I chose to use “lucky” because of its prevalence—we use it all the time in the same way Jesus uses “blessed.”

Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd made up of his followers, as well as people from all over Judea, Jerusalem and the coastal regions of Tyre and Sidon. Everyone wanted to hear him speak and to be cured of what ailed them. People with mental illness were walking away sane, and people everywhere were trying to just get a finger on him, because he was oozing power that was healing them all. [He was a real celebrity.]

At one point, Jesus found a nice level spot to teach from and he said, “Let me tell you who’s got it good. You are truly lucky if you esteem others as highly, or more highly, than you esteem yourself. This is the kind of person who matters in God’s kingdom.

“You’re truly lucky if you’re concerned enough about people to grieve over them, because consolation will be in your future too.

“You’re truly lucky if you have learned to harness your strength and power, and you don’t abuse your position. You will be the last man standing.

“You’re truly lucky if you yearn for and work for justice, because justice is coming, and you will get your fill of it.

“You’re truly lucky if you have a heart of compassion for others, compassion is coming too, and you will get your share.

“You’re truly lucky when you have kept yourself pure—not giving in to greed, lust or cynicism. Through these “clear lenses” can see God in creation and working in your life, and one day you will see him in person.

“A person who tries to make and keep peace is truly lucky because this is the kind of person who calls God ‘Father.’

“If you’re willing to suffer loss for doing the right thing, you’re truly lucky. You can be assured of your citizenship in God’s kingdom.

“For that matter, you’re truly lucky when people insult you, treat you poorly and say all kinds of mean things about you because you believe in me. That ought to make you jump for joy because, not only are you in good company with God’s prophets who were treated the same way, but you’ll be handsomely rewarded for your loyalty to God’s kingdom.

“But you know who I really feel sorry for? I really feel sorry for rich people, because money is their only consolation.  I feel sorry for people who have everything they want, people who have never had to go without. A time is coming when they will, in fact, go without. I feel sorry for people who don’t take life seriously. Everything is a joke, life is a party. When the gravity of life finally hits them, it will be devastating. And I feel sorry for people who seem to have the perfect life—everybody loves them and flocks to be around them. You know the false prophets were celebrities too once.”

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Time to Deputize some Men: Matt. 12:15-21; Mark 3:7-19; Luke 6:12-16 (how I would say it)

Jesus and his disciples headed out to the lake with a large crowd in tow. Word was really getting around about all the miracles he was doing, so people came out of the woodwork from places like Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea and the regions on the other side of the Jordan River, and even from as far away as Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus asked his disciples to set him up in a small boat in the lake, to keep the people from crowding in on him. All those miracle healings had sick people rushing to touch. Whenever people with mental illness saw him, they fell down in front of him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.”

Jesus warned people to not tell anyone else about him. All of this fulfilled the prediction that Isaiah had made when he said:

Here’s the one I’ve chosen—the one I love; the one who brings me joy. I will put my Spirit on him and he will preach justice far and wide. He won’t argue or plead with anyone; he won’t preach on a soapbox either. He won’t so much as pull a weed or kill a fly until he has caused justice to prevail. People all over the world will put their hope in him.

During one of the days at the lake, Jesus went out on a mountainside and spent the night speaking with God. The next morning, he called all of his followers over and designated 12 of them as deputies of sorts, giving them authority to reteach his teachings and to force the evil out of people. Here’s who made the squad: Simon (who he called Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James Alphaeuson, Simon who everyone knew as the Zealot, James’ son Judas, and Judas Iscariot, the one who turned him over to the authorities in the end.

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Sabbath Savvy: Matt. 12:1-14 (how I would say it)

One Saturday, Jesus was walking through a wheat field. His followers were running on empty, so they just decided to help themselves to the heads of grain. Always under close scrutiny, of course some of the Jewish religious leaders called them out. “Look! Your followers are breaking a law!”

Jesus answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his friends were hungry? He went right into the temple and ate the communion bread. That was against the law too, only the priests were allowed to eat it. Oh, maybe you missed the nuance there. The priests were able to eat the holy bread—clearly an infraction of the law—without actually being guilty of breaking the law. Well, guess what. We’re in the middle of something a lot more monumental than the temple. If you had done the homework I assigned you and learned what it means when God says, “I don’t want you to act out of duty, but out of compassion,” you wouldn’t be slamming these guys for no good reason. A day of rest was instituted to benefit people, not to penalize them. The Son of Man is in charge of the day of rest.”

He walked on and entered the synagogue. There was a man with a shriveled hand there. The religious leaders were trying to find some way to incriminate Jesus, so they asked, “OK, then, so is it against the law to heal a man on the day of rest?”

He replied, “If your dog got tangled in barbed wire on the day of rest, wouldn’t you help it out? And isn’t a person worth more than a dog? So no, it’s not a crime to help people out on the holy day.”

Jesus told the man with the shriveled hand, “Come here, sir, and stand in front of everyone.”

Then to the religious leaders, he asked, “Which is acceptable on a holy day: good or evil; to save someone or to kill someone?”

[Chirp, chirp.] Total silence.

Jesus looked around in disgust at these guys and their stubbornness. He told the man, “Stretch out your hand.”

He did, and it was completely restored—just as good as his other hand.

This really ticked off the religious leaders. They huddled up and started brainstorming ways to do him in—they even “reached across the aisle” to their political opponents, the Herodians, to devise a way to kill him.

[Irony alert: After unsuccessfully trying to bust Jesus on a Sabbath law infraction, religious leaders plot first degree murder on the Sabbath. I’m pretty sure that was against the law.]

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Can I Get a Witness? John 5:31-47 (how I would say it)

DSC05233fb (totally random Maypole)

I’m telling you straight up who I am, but nobody believes it. But I’m not the only one, there’s someone else saying the same thing, and it’s all true. You asked John about me and he told you the truth. Not like he’s any real authority, after all, he’s just human, but I’m just trying to help you to understand this for your own eternal good. John was like a beacon pointing to me, and for a while, it looked like you might see the light.

What I say about myself carries a lot more weight than what John says about me. Every time I do what I’ve been sent here to do, I prove I’m from the Father. Even the Father has proven that I’m for real. But I guess you’ve never really seen God or never really internalized his word if you don’t believe the proof he’s offering you. You burn the midnight oil analyzing the ancient texts, thinking in some way this is going to make you good with God. Those same texts prove my identity, and yet you refuse to come to me to save your life!

It’s not like I’m looking for people to fall all over me, I’m just saying, I’ve got your number. There’s no love of God in your hearts. Here I am, representing my Father, and you just don’t buy it. But along comes someone else with absolutely no backing other than his name printed on a business card and you’re welcoming him into your club. How could anyone expect you to believe in the real deal when you’re so busy congratulating yourselves, and spending zero effort to discover what God can award?

Don’t worry about me telling my Father, though. Moses has that covered. After all, he’s the one you’re counting on, isn’t he? Then again, if you really believed what Moses said, you’d believe in me, because he was the first to write about me. But you don’t believe what he wrote, so how could you possibly believe I say?

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What Gives Him the Right? John 5:16-30 (how I would say it)

DSC05172 fb (random pic from my recent trip to Hohenschwangau)

The Jewish authorities really had it out for Jesus because he had broken the laws about working on Saturday (their holy day). In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father works nonstop and so that’s how I work.” This only made things worse. Then they were really hot because not only was he breaking the law, he was also calling God his Father in a literal sense, which in Jewish custom is as good as saying you’re equal with that person.

Jesus tried to explain: “It’s like this: the Son can’t do anything on his own; he can only follow the example of his Father. Like father like son. And since the Father loves the Son, he shares everything with him. That’s right, and you haven’t seen the half of it. What’s still to come is going to blow your mind. Just like the Father can even bring people back from the dead, give them another chance at life, the Son can also give life away to whomever he feels like giving it to. More than that, the Father has delegated to the Son the authority to declare someone guilty or not guilty. Dis’ the Son, you dis’ the Father—the one who gave the Son his marching orders.

Listen, it’s like this: If you will just open your minds and accept the Father’s decisions, you’ll get life after death. You won’t be declared guilty because you’ve crossed over into the camp of the living. Real soon, in fact the wheels are already in motion, dead people are going to hear the Son of God, and the ones who do are going to cross over into the camp of the living. Just like God has the power to give life, he’s also delegated to the Son the power to give life. And he delegated to him the authority to declare someone innocent or guilty because he’s the Son of Man.

Don’t let this shock you. It’s mild compared to what else is going to happen—the day of the living dead, when everyone comes back to life at the sound of the Son’s voice. Then those who are declared innocent will live on forever, and those who are found guilty will come back to life to get what’s coming to them. So, you see, I’m no maverick. I’m just calling ‘em like I see ‘em and I always make good calls, because my sole motivation is to follow my marching orders.

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Bummed out by Bethesda: John 5:1-15 (how I would say it)

Jerusalem Bethesda BW 1 (Pool of Bethesda today. Not much to look at…)

Later on, Jesus went to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem, there’s a pool called Bethesda (an Aramaic word). The pool is encircled with five rows of columns, which are shaded. A lot of people with various disabilities—blindness, mobility challenges, paralysis—hung out there. One of them was a man who had been disabled for 38 years. Jesus saw him lying there and struck up a conversation. When he found out how long he had been disabled, Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be free of your disability?”

“Sir,” the man replied, “When the water starts to bubble, I try to get in the pool, but I never make it in time because I don’t have anyone to help me. Other people always beat me to it.”

Then Jesus said, “Just get up already! Take that mat you’re lying on and get going.” Immediately, the man stood up, picked up his things and off he went.

It was a Saturday, the Jewish holy day, and the Jewish religious leaders busted the guy for walking with a mat, saying, “Hey, you can’t carry that today! It’s a holy day and it’s against the law to carry anything.”

But he replied, “Listen, I just got healed and the man who made it happen told me to pick up my mat and get going, so that’s just what I’m going to do.”

They asked, “Who was this guy who told you to pick up your mat and get going?”

The man looked around but couldn’t spot Jesus because he had slipped away in the crowd, and he hadn’t bothered to ask his name.

Later Jesus ran into him at the temple and said, “Look at you, you’re all better! Now you better start living right or you’ll be worse off than before.”

The man went off and found the Jewish leaders and reported to them that Jesus was the one who had restored his abilities.

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No Experience Necessary: Mark 2: 13,14; Matt. 9:10-13a; Luke 5:33-39; Matt. 9:13b (how I would say it)

A large crowd followed Jesus as he headed back to the lake. As he was walking along, he saw Levi Alphaeuson sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “You should join me,” Jesus told him, and just like that, Levi got up and followed him.

Later, he had dinner at Levi’s house and among the guests were quite a few other revenue agents and all kinds of seedy characters. They ate right alongside Jesus and his most trusted followers. The religious rulers took note and asked Jesus’ followers, “Why does your teacher keep this unsavory company?”

Jesus overhead and replied, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor. Sick people do. Here’s some homework for you: Go learn what this means, ‘I don’t want you to act out of duty, but out of compassion.’”

The religious leaders said, “John’s followers were people of self-denial and prayer, just like our followers. But your followers eat, drink and make merry.”

Jesus answered, “Isn’t that how men should act at a bachelor party? After the groom is gone they can resume their regime.”

Then he taught them with this metaphor: “When your old jeans wear out, you don’t patch them with a piece from a new pair of jeans. Not only will you ruin the new pair, the fabric from the new jeans won’t match the faded, old jeans. And if you’re storing wine in animal skins to age it, you pour it into a new wineskin. If you use an old one, it will pop and the wine will go everywhere.

“When you’re introducing a new paradigm, you start with people who aren’t entrenched in the old ways. No one who benefits from the status quo wants a new paradigm. They say, ‘The way we operate now is just fine.’ That’s why I’m interested in people who want a fresh start, and not people who think they have mastered the game.”