Pastor Chuck's Takeaway

Monday morning theological reflections

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Retirement: The Promised Land?!

What is this? Coming up on 59, I’ve been wondering what will retirement look like. I still enjoy my work. That is good news, because the reality is I am an old parent, kids are expensive so I won’t be retiring for a long time, or so I’ve been advised. Having said that, how is our Christian vocation modified and transformed in this new chapter and in what ways does it remain the same. Elizabeth and I have discussed mostly in the abstract “The Promised Land”. We have financial plans and hope to be prepared. However, retirement seems like one of those things you don’t really know until you get there, you have to see for yourself, find out what works for you. Plenty of church people have invited me in to help them discern “WHAT DO I DO NOW?!” In my experience, those “greatest generation” retirees, mostly men, have the most difficult transition, work had always been their identity. So retirement can be a time of loss, they are looking for something to give them purpose and fulfillment. Some of my marriage counseling is for retired couples who are now both at home and wondering, “why is this person in my space all the time? They need to find a job, a hobby, some friends, or the senior center, in other words, ‘get a life!” I do marvel as some retirees that strike a marvelous balance; service to the church without being an indentured servant, support the grandchildren without being a full-time daycare provider, and travel/recreation without emptying the retirement account. I can imagine that kind of meaningful, family-oriented retirement with some merriment tossed in for good measure.

What does this mean? Over the last seventy-five years, retirement has been marketed as the never-ending vacation, with days filled with golf, happy hours, naps, and leisure. For those that can actually afford that lifestyle, people get bored. In 2019, seniors can expect to live for 20-30 years into retirement. Not only do you have to fund that, but you need to find purpose and community, what an opportunity for the church. When seniors tell me they have served long enough, I quote a favorite Christian author, “You are not done until you are dead”. Scripture is full of people being called to the ministry well beyond retirement age. There is Abraham and Sara, parents at 100 and 90 respectively, Moses comes to the burning bush and gets his Exodus assignment at 75ish, and prophets Simeon and Anna who hold the baby Jesus soon after his birth. I’ve been blessed to have some remarkable leaders and impact players in my congregations, that shatter the sad stereotypes of docile, irrelevant, and bland retirees. The church should lead the societal revolt by calling, encouraging, and challenging our older population to make a difference at whatever age. There is no denying that advancing age brings serious anxieties; losing your independence, loneliness and accumulated losses, and, most of all, death and dying. No question, God saves the most difficult, demanding, and unpredictable part of life for the end. And remember, we are all going to be there. I would say that if the purpose of the church is to prepare every soul for eternity, then the day of retirement to your deathbed are critical and concentrated for Christian formation.

What is the takeaway? Retirement does bring some “Promised Land” possibilities but also some inevitabilities that we do well to consider realistically. Plus, for all the plans and pipedreams you anticipate, things happen. Suddenly, you have a serious health condition or a family member does so you become the de facto caregiver. I know many of you have been through or will be going through those kinds of interruptions. With all the blessings, uncertainties, possibilities, and potential hazards of retirement, you need Jesus more than ever. For many, retirement is the second call, a new season of service, reflection, and spiritual growth, finishing school for eternity. To papaphrase the old Star Trek theme, as believers when a new adventure comes along, we ought “to boldly go” where we have not been before. We can do that because Paul reminds us that, “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s”. That means by faith you are free to do most anything in retirement; take some risks with a new venture, rest when you feel like it (I’m looking forward to regular afternoon naps), utilize your talents, possessions, and experience for the gospel, and remember and rejoice in the family and friends God has given you. Part of our Christian stewardship is to be intentional in leaving our legacy. Yes, your financial legacy to your family and to the church, as well. But, also to consider your relational legacy, how will your children and grandchildren remember you? Who have you blessed and who do you still need to bless? And if mobility or mental issues arise, someone you love is dying or does die, you are going to need to lean on the Lord more than ever. But, the promise is God’s grace is sufficient for you and me from birth to middle school to parenthood to retirement to deathbed and on to the real Promised Land. Take heart, you are the Lord’s.



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Mr. Mom’s Perspective

What is this? At a recent bible class on Genesis, we were trading insights and insults (in fun) about what it means when God declares, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him”. The creation account in Genesis 2 is more intimate, pedestrian, and “on-the-ground” than the view from On-High you get in Genesis 1. Here, God takes the time to evaluate the situation, contemplate a solution, make the woman from the rib of the man, literally bring her to the man, and the two shall become one flesh. Such a mystery yet such a necessity, so extraordinary yet so everyday, so magical yet so very functional. One of the great gifts of marriage is the division of labor, especially if you get a hard-working, efficient, intelligent, and committed partner like I did with Elizabeth. For many years, I admit I have taken that for granted, Elizabeth will get that done. So I can go merrily on my way: saving souls, writing sermons, counseling hurting people, and enjoying those leisurely pastoral lunches. Well, that has changed recently. Elizabeth, the stay-at-home mother/household CFO/repairman/shopper is now working a full-time teaching job and many of her former duties have fallen to me. Now don’t worry, she still does the really important stuff like banking, taxes, and making big purchases. But, now I am Mr. Mom with two high school students learning first-hand just how much Elizabeth and mothers in general have done, are doing, and are expected to do everyday!

What does this mean? When our children were young and I would return triumphantly home from another ministerial day, I’d burst through the front door, “Daddy’s home!” Of course, the kids were napping and Elizabeth was enjoying a few moments of tranquility, until I would blow it up with my grand entrance. Such has been my naivete about how mothers operate. One of my new responsibilities is to supervise, most nights, preparing meals and making sure all are fed sufficiently. This was easy for a while, I wondered what was the big deal. I’d just take a survey 30 minutes before mealtime, “What do you want tonight kids; pizza, burgers, Thai, or teriyaki?” and go get carry-out. A couple things happened to upend that strategy, the credit card bill exploded and Caroline, our 16 year-old became a nutritional Nazi. So we scaled back on take-out and started planning and preparing together simple (and they better be healthy!) meals. I respect and revere women and men who are skilled and creative cooks, what a daunting task! I don’t care what internet resources you have or how good your cook books, it is a real challenge, to do this undervalued, indispensable task everyday. Yet, mothers have been doing this since the dawn of time; planning, gathering (shopping), get the firewood (cooking), feeding (critics, too), and then being expected to clean up, too. NOW, I feel your pain.

What is the takeaway? What may be the biggest takeaway of my Mr. Mom experience is that you are always on-duty, always on-call (I need a ride NOW!!), always an ATM, must accomplish everything behind-the-scenes, with no need of acknowledgement or gratitude. DO YOUR JOB! There are moments I feel that way, I can’t imagine how much the REAL MOMS experience that. We are blessed with two great kids, as different as can be, who at their best, won’t clobber each other. Never know when Armageddon will begin. I’m sure I’m sounding like a martyr, but I am actually enjoying and embracing this time in life. Before they launch, I get to teach Caroline to drive a car and instill in Mark fitness habits. What I most appreciate is being able to be there when they get home from a stressful day at school, to hear of Caroline’s friend drama, and Mark’s escapades. Many days, we all go to the YMCA together. Mark pretends he doesn’t know me and Caroline is so into fitness, she doesn’t know I’m there. Then when we return to the house, we scatter to our respective screens for a few minutes before we come back together for dinner. Around then, the real mother shows up so we all check in for a few minutes. Having been on her feet all day, Elizabeth is a bit overwhelmed with the welcome. I remember I was on a Mexico Mission trip with a friend of mine. We were stuck in traffic in our rental van and started joking, “My wife is not here to tell me what to do, I am totally lost!”. There is more truth in that than I want to admit. The mothers are the heart, soul, captains, (brains, too), of the family. So much more than a suitable helper! Thank you Lord, for mothers!!

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Mother Mary vs. The Crown Prince MBS

What is this? Ralph Peters of the NY Post writes the world is descending into tyranny in 2018. Vladimir Putin was re-elected by 77% of the vote in a rigged election. He works hard at home to project a mythological figure, bare-chested and bold, like the czars of old. President Xi Jinping of China engineered a lifetime tenure (who needs an election?) and is the nation’s most powerful leader since Chairman Mao in his heyday, the latest Chinese emperor. The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, dubbed “The Punisher” by Time, launched his war on drugs resulting in thousands of murders by his death squads. There is Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, a would-be sultan, and good old-fashioned desert chieftans like President Bashar Assad in Syria and veiled in religion, the Ayotollah Ali Khamenei of Iran. The latest, greatest, and most lethal newcomer to this exclusive strongman club is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. MBS had the nation’s wealthiest princes and businessmen arrested, held captive at the Ritz-Carlton, in what was basically a shakedown. MBS had the Prime Minister of Lebanon kidnapped. Most recently, the CIA has concluded that MBS orchestrated the brutal murder (15-man team with a bone saw!) of a dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

What does this mean? Peters claims tyranny is flourishing because not everyone sees freedom as their top priority, preferring security. Many who are inexperienced in freedom, equate it with anarchy. Tyrants may oppress you, but they never demand you take personal responsibility, it is not your fault. They will find a scapegoat to blame and/or an enemy to demonize. Tyrants offer certainty, all you have to do is get out of the way, let someone tell you what to think and do. The Roman Empire was run by a tyrant, Caesar who claimed the title, “King of King, Lord of Lords” before Christ hijacked it for his own purposes. More locally, Mary and Joseph lived under Caesar’s governor and the regional desert chieftain, King Herod the Great. Talk about a paranoid, violent, and vicious strongman, killing his own wife and sons among others, to protect his power and throne. MBS could learn a few tyrannical tricks from cruel King Herod. Into this brutal world of Caesars, Herods, and repression, the Angel Gabriel comes to adolescent Mary with a shocking announcement, “Greetings, O Highly Favored One, the Lord is with you. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you will call him, Jesus”. One writer suggests both Gabriel and Mary are trembling at this point, because now it is all in Mary’s hands.

What is the takeaway? As to Christmas, Martin Luther claimed there were three miracles. One, that God became human. Two, the virgin gave birth. Three, that Mary believed, and that is the greatest of the three. Mary’s call is God’s response to a world of intimidation, tyrants, injustice, and bone-saws. The Christmas gospel is precisely what Paul is referring to, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength”. Christ comes at Christmas to disrupt the power structures and change the hearts of people, as Mary sings, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty”. Christmas brings a new day, a new reality, a new power from outside is coming to expose our poverty and enrich us with his eternal, expanding, and ultimately unstoppable grace. Right now, we see only glimpses of such grace, but they are there. Advent is a time to be on the lookout for God sightings. Next May I am joining a small group traveling to Lebanon to work in a refugee camp with an Egyptian missionary (Pastor Fawzi) and his wife (Haydi). Due to Assad and the Syrian war, refugees pour into the camp. Their specific ministry is to minister to young girls, think of Mother Mary’s age, who have been sex slaves to Isis. The hope is to witness the Holy Spirit bring healing, wholeness, and Christian faith to these young girls. I decided to go because I want to see first-hand how the power of God works among the wounded of this world. This is the hope of Christmas, the promise of salvation.

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Blessed are the Peacemakers

What is this? Division, discord, and rupture have been around since the dawn of biblical time. Cain killed Abel out of jealousy of his brother. When Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, refused to lighten the tax burden for the other tribes, the nation was divided into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel. Fellow missionaries Paul and Barnabas separated over a serious disagreement regarding personnel (Acts 15). The Great Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Church of 1054 was basically the formal end of a bad marriage. Three of the four congregations I have served as a pastor have had their own church split. Churches, families, friends, and nations are all subject to such division. Our nation is as divided as it has been in my lifetime. The rupture is everywhere and it’s surpassed the usual Democrat vs. Republican, Pro-life vs. Pro-Choice, and Christian vs. Secular separation. Now we must demonize and demolish each other; Black Lives Matter and Law Enforcement, President Trump and the media, haves and have-nots, Judge Cavenaugh supporters and Dr Ford advocates,  evangelicals and main-line Christians, nationalists and migrants. As a nation we just experienced the bomb scare targeting Democratic party leaders and the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue, resulting in eleven deaths. Nevertheless, as the mid-terms approach, the vicious campaign rhetoric is escalating, political parties blame each other, and its more difficult than ever to a civil conversation around the kitchen table or in the fellowship hall.

What does this mean? In my opinion, part of the problem is when one side comes at a complicated and emotional issue with a sense of absolute certainty. It shuts down any possible dialog. Few things irritate me more than pastors who publish their own version of a voting guide. I told my people I was planning to send out my own voting guide this year and they couldn’t stop laughing. It is equally absurd for a pastor to preach her politics from the pulpit, that is the ultimate one-way communication. I am just another citizen with a right to vote. Or at least, I didn’t get that gift of political revelation. Now, to preach against injustice is one thing, something we/I don’t do often enough, be prophetic. Sadly, sometimes our differences of opinion lead to family or friends terminating the relationship. This happened to me in the past year, when a friend of twenty-five years, essentially ended our friendship because he did not agree with my views on same-sex marriage. After a couple of long-winded lectures via email, he stopped communicating and I haven’t heard since. I confess that broke my heart because this guy was/is a brother in Christ to me. All I can conclude is being right was more important than being in relationship. In the current political climate, when our church faces difficult issues and positions are hardened, I challenge the brothers and sisters to see this as an opportune time to witness to the world, what it means to be Christian sisters and brothers. That may be the most persuasive witness of the day.

What is the takeaway? First of all, today is All Saints Day, a day in the church year when we remember all the saints, living and dead, who have been baptized into the body of Christ. It is not a spiritual hall-of-fame, it’s the collection of God’s peculiar treasures, that great cloud of witnesses the book of Hebrews claims surround us. The prayer of the day says “whose people are knit together in one Holy Church”. Since we are “knit together”, it means we are connected, attached, related, and bound up in this life together. Part of our responsibility is to treat each other like this is the baptismal reality and operate like we belong to each other. Christ’s life and death emphasizes that, for God, being in relationship is more important than being right. Jesus said it, but it doesn’t get near enough attention, “blessed are the peacemakers”. I see a peacemaker as a bridge person in a community. They have the intangibles, personality, and inclination to have the respect of all parties. This is not a people-pleaser, but someone who takes seriously their stewardship to work for community. They listen carefully, speak when needed, often a real truth-teller, have the courage to challenge the congregation, and yet (SOMEHOW) makes it clear they value all sides. As a pastor, I’ve been blessed to see peacemakers repair, restore, even bring reconciliation to a divided community. My All Saints Day challenge for you is to get out there and play the role of a bridge builder. I believer many people in the church have this gift, but have not exercised the power. Today is a good day to do just that, take serious your stewardship to work for community. Some of us aren’t even sure if we have that specific talent. Only one way to find out, PRAY, TAKE COURAGE, AND BE THE BRIDGE!

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From the Front Lines of Islam

What is this? This past weekend I was driver, manager, host, and all-around handler for an Egyptian evangelist, Fawzi Khalil. Through a mutual friend and fellow pastor, we arranged for Pastor Fawzi to spend three days with our church and we, especially me, were blessed. I arranged for him to speak in a couple different venues to small groups. From the time I met Fawzi at baggage claim, I knew he had a heart for the gospel, a humble spirit, and a fiery faith in Jesus. Being the same age, same vocation, and and having the same slapstick sense of humor, we connected immediately. Fawzi grew up in Egypt in a nominal Christian family, was entrenched in the communist party until he came to faith in Christ while studying at the university. His church, Kasr el-Dobara, in Cairo worships 10,000 with eight services on a weekend. The church leadership sent him as a missionary to Morocco to start-up, develop, and lead underground churches in a Muslim nation. He was imprisoned at one point and eventually exiled to Spain. With the ongoing refugee crisis of the Syrian War, in 2015 Fawzi’s church sent him to Iraq to oversee the mission work in the refugee camps. There Fawzi met his wife, Haydy, a missionary to young girls who escaped captivity (yes, sex trafficking and outright slavery) from Isis.

What does this mean? Now Fawzi, Haydy, and incoming baby John (Haydy is nine+ months pregnant) will share this ministry. Yes, the plan is to take the baby with them to the refugee camps. They supervise 35 missionaries from their congregation in places like Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, and Turkey. The miraculous stories Fawzi shared of Muslims converting to Christ were like something out of the Book of Acts. He says Haydy has this gift with the young girls, who have escaped their enslavement (often when the guards get drunk) and find their way to the camp. With the burden of family shame, the parents will often refuse to receive them back. The cultural context is so different. These girls are the age of my own 15-year-old daughter or younger. They have been through violence, trauma, and degradation we cannot even imagine, and now have no home. Not even Jesus can restore these girls?! Not so fast. Haydy and her team welcome these lost girls, spend the first 30 minutes simply holding them, no talking. Then they start the long road of recovery. Along the way, they share the gospel with them. Fawzi will work with the families, prodding and persuading them, these are your children, they did not choose this. Fawzi claims that when the violence and vindictiveness of Islam is exposed, specifically during a war, there is an authentic often anguished opening for the gospel. So he reports there are fifty converts per day, being baptized and connected with a local congregation. They are in these refugee camps because that is where the harvest is.

What is the takeaway? In the wake of our Fawzi weekend, I am still processing all that I heard and experienced. My sense is God had a hand in bringing Fawzi to us, but I am not exactly sure why it would be a good thing for an Egyptian evangelist to encounter an older Lutheran congregation. A couple of things I can say for sure. One, it is always a joy and a jolt to hear first-hand what God is doing and how the church is thriving in unlikely places. Especially, when we are saddened by the decline of the North American Church. Muslims conversions, underground churches, traumatized girls restored! Two, Fawzi’s take on Islam is sobering. When I say that, I deplore the tragic American label that every Muslim is possibly part of a sleeper cell. This is not what Fawzi is saying. Even when you figure that he is ministering to the victims and violence from Isis, Fawzi makes a point that the God of Islam is not the God of Judaism and Christianity. Yes, we share historical roots, Abraham is a father figure in each tradition. But, when you look at the character of Allah, see the impact on the people, Fawzi calls him distant, unpredictable, and demanding, it is far from the grace of God and forgiveness of the cross. Three, I will have to see Fawzi’s mission field for myself. It won’t be this year or next, but I will go to the front lines. Don’t tell Elizabth! Believe it or not, Fawzi takes small mission teams to Lebanon to work hands-on with the people, play with the kids, and see evangelism to Muslims at work. This is not a delegation that stays at the Ritz Carlton and drives through the camp waving to the refugees. You sleep in a sandy refugee tent, you are there to work, and they have translators all around. Fawzi prefers this to financial support, although he doesn’t discount economic help. Nothing challenges and nourishes my faith like hearing the gospel preached and seeing the church minister in unexpected places. Such glimpses of God at work keep your faith going until you meet Jesus face-to-face.

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Important Pastor Lunches

What is this? In our church office, it is a running joke that when I leave the office, I am on my way to do important pastor stuff, as if, that is all they need to know. My important pastoral work might include bringing communion to the homebound, preparing a study, or making a hospital visit. Sometimes, it is not really important or pastoral at all. When I was serving in Edmonds, I played on a church softball team. Between visits, I’d sneak a trip to the batting cages in to tune up for that night’s game. Having confessed that, in the past week, I have enjoyed three important pastoral lunches in a row with three eclectic colleagues, all very different, all very dedicated, and all very distinctive. One is a woman at my current congregation who is experiencing the call to be a pastor. Recently, she preached for the first time, did a fine job, and was riding the high. She is wrestling with how, when, and where to go to seminary with finances and family considerations. As she talked with a mix of awe, anticipation, and a humble heart, I was humbled. In her call story, I remember my first stirrings to serve. You have a sense of how daunting the task is, to preach, lead, and care for God’s people. As I assured her, it wasn’t her idea and God’s grace is sufficient to the task, I was remembering that reality in my own ministry.

What does this mean? The Old Testament prophets seem to object to the call for exactly that reason, think Jonah, Jeremiah, and Moses, it is simply too much for any mortal to do. This is true of God’s call to be a parent, teacher, or leader. Whatever God calls you to do, you need God’s grace to do it. It is surprising what God will call his people to do. My second lunch was with a former colleague, Jim, who was my co-pastor in Edmonds. We were a couple of single pastors that our congregation adopted as their own sons. We were there when Jim met his wife, Arlys, one of Elizabeth’s good friends. So we’ve shared a great deal. Jim was visibly animated as he talked of his new ministry, to close dying congregations. He is by nature, a melancholy guy, not given to enthusiasm easily. But, now Pastor Jim is the Gung-ho Closer. What gives? Jim has always been gifted in a crisis, helping people face calamity, and a congregation shutting its doors certainly qualifies. So this is an opportunity to use his skills in significant ways. He has always been a faithful and passionate preacher of the way God brings life out of death. Being reunited with Jim reminded me what a blessing it is to have good, godly people with whom you share the ministry. Plus, God calls unexpected people to do unexpected work for the Jesus’ sake.

What is the takeaway? Many people will come to church and prefer to remain in the safety of the pews, when God is calling everyone who shows up to share in the work. Yes, the church needs givers, servers, volunteers, and supporters. But, I am convinced that everyone likes to use their gifts and need to get into the action. It never ceases to amaze me how God changes a life, once they take the risk of stepping up to leadership, joining a mission, or trusting themselves to a small group and relationships in Christ. My third lunch is actually today with big, jolly Pastor Brent with his contagious sense of humor. We have lunch about every two weeks, usually at a spicy, Asian place because we both love food. Brent is both an encourager and a comedian, so he is always a trip. What I most appreciate about him is that Brent takes me back to my Baptist roots. He is the son of a Baptist pastor, now he is a Messianic Christian pastor. Essentially, that means that he is an evangelical that follows the Jewish calendar. His breadth of biblical knowledge and passion for evangelism inspires me in ways that complement my Lutheran emphasis of grace alone. Today we are having lunch at Pacific Lutheran cafeteria and attending a seminar on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He’s not a Lutheran (yet) but he is my brother in Christ. Bottom line: to share food, fellowship, laughter, and faith is what makes us Jesus’ people.

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Stopover at Miracle Ranch

What is this? A few weeks ago, I led a group of nine students and four adults on a mission trip to Vincente Gurrero, Mexico located about 100 miles from Ensenada. This ministry site (FFHM) is well-funded and quite diversified; orphanage with 70 children, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, a medical clinic, a bible college, an outreach program that includes child evangelism and a center for people in need to receive food & clothing. When you arrive at mission, the first morning they immerse you in the history and high points of their ministry. This is miracle ranch! A couple from California stumbled upon what was an abandoned brothel, felt called to start an orphanage and BOOM, they were off and running. And they are still generating miracles. We met a man who had been incarcerated for 11 years for gang-related crimes in the U.S., was deported to Mexico upon his release, was drinking three liters of hard alcohol per day (sounds like a candidate for rehab). Then after a few months at the rehab center (they do discipleship and detox), he came to faith and is now second-in-command at the center. During a time of extreme drought, when they were rationing water, their macadamia trees were nearing death. Then a trucker with two monster water trucks (from nearby agricultural businesses) stopped by to inquire if the mission could use the water. The driver did say, “there is a problem, all the water is heavily fertilized”. God delivered the good stuff!

What does this mean? The God stories go on and on. Every year, three or four of the rehab grads move on to the bible college to be  prepared as missionaries. On and on. As a mission team, the benefit of hearing these stories of transformed lives and meeting these amazing souls is it has a formative impact on our people. I have a 15-year-old daughter who loves this trip. How rare it is to see God’s work so alive, vibrant, and visible! Makes you wonder, why is God’s work not so alive, not so vibrant, not so visible in my life, in my family, and in my congregation? What are we not doing or doing wrong? Why does God seem so animated in Vincente Gurerro and so absent in Gig Harbor? If you look at the thirty-plus miracles that Jesus performs there is no formula. There are times when the gospel writer says that faith has made the difference, like the paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends (Mark 2). Interestingly, it was the friends’ faith that seems to have stirred Jesus to heal him. There is the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11) where it looks like Jesus decided this was a good idea, it would witness to the power of God. One of my favorite miracle stories is Jesus turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana (John 2). Compared to all the leprosy, hunger, injustice, and spiritual evil to deal with, this “miracle” of Jesus seems frivolous, like it is just for the fun of it. What is wine to save a party versus people with real needs? The beauty of the miracle is that, whether we like it or not, God loves a party.  God is more plentiful, more playful than we think, does stuff because it brings God pleasure, like saving us (Ephesians 1:5).

What is the takeaway? Mark 6 has a strange story of Jesus in his hometown where he is actually hampered and hindered by the locals’ lack of faith. Mark writes, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay hands on a very few sick people and heal them”. What gives?! The next line is almost disturbing, “And Jesus was amazed at their LACK of faith”. The Christ is not surprised by much, but here he is astonished by the famine of faith. It is crucial to note that Jesus performs miracles more to reveal the character of God, not so much the power of God. Yes, raising people from the dead and feeding five thousand with some bread and fish is very impressive. This is a God who can resuscitate life and materially provide (for convention-size crowds). But, the bigger deal is God in Christ is for life not death, will take us to the grave to resurrection on to eternal life. This God cares about daily bread, human needs, and, by extension, earthly concerns, yours and mine. I would say this, to the big question about why more miracles here than there, how come God seems more visible over there than around here? Jesus talks about faith as a way of seeing, a way of perceiving and receiving the world that God has made, even a humble approach and attitude to this extraordinary life and salvation we receive in Christ. When Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith, maybe they just don’t see it or don’t want to see what is right in front of them, salvation in a human package. Isn’t this our sin, as well? Miracles are so everyday; the sun is out, children in church, good sleep- we take it for granted. God gives so abundantly, worship is so accessible, blessings saturate our lives, prayers are answered, grace abounds, that we are not easily moved. Instead of gratitude, we are overcome with entitlement. What we need is to have our eyes checked, I am preaching to myself here, to see afresh all the mercy and manna and miracles that God has delivered to your doorstep. The other thing is we need to tell our own God- stories to our children, our friends, our neighbors, and our congregations! Telling those stories reinforces our life-giving faith. The psalmist proclaims, “HIS MERCIES ENDURE FOREVER”!