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”!