Posts Tagged ‘miracle’

A Christmas Story (Alas, No Carols Were Involved)

December 24, 2012

I had an enjoyable time serving as a volunteer for the Christmas Store program through my church.

It began with my serving as what I termed a “poultry elf” delivering Christmas food packages to the cars of the hundreds of families who were signed up to participate in  our Christmas Store.  Without mentioning any names, it actually began with the daughter of the Christmas Store coordinator coming through the door with a family while serving as a personal shopper.

Oops.  I’d better tell you about the Christmas Store.  It is a wonderful program that seeks to provide a Merry Christmas! to families in need.  As families show up for their appointments, a family photo is taken with Santa, which is printed out and ultimately given to the family as a nice card.  This year we had The Best Santa Ever.  The man was a giant teddy bear who towered over 6’6″ and didn’t need a pillow with his Santa Suit.  This volunteer was there every single day for 12 hours a day during the four days the “store” was open and never missed a single family (again, out of HUNDREDS of families).  Little boys would stare up at this giant in sheer amazement.  The Best Santa Ever.  I had one of those “ahhhhhhh” moments when Santa got up during a short break in the action to cool down outside in his red “They don’t call it the North Pole for nothin'” suit: half a dozen children sitting in the foyer immediately sat at attention and waved and waved shouting, “Hi Santa!  Hi Santa!”  I said he’d be back: he just had to check on some reindeer.  Mind you, our Santa looked like he could have wrestled down and saddled up a polar bear and ridden IT.  Best. Santa. Ever.

After the picture, children go into rooms according to age to wait while their parents “shop” for their gifts.  The Christmas store has one “big gift” and “two small gifts” for every single child.  Last year the coordinator cried describing a miracle to the congregation because they had been OUT of gifts and suddenly nearly a dozen enormous bags of presents showed up in a locked room in which only she and the church staff had the key.  It was ALWAYS kept locked because lots of presents were in there that were yet to be brough out onto the floor and we didn’t want them stolen for the sake of the children to come.  And the coordinator knew there were no more presents because she’d gone in there minutes earlier and freaked out to find an empty room with families still coming through.  And then whammo, suddenly there were awesome presents!  Those presents got the store through the rest of that final day.  She is to this day convinced that God beamed those presents into that room.  I don’t know who – or Who – put those huge bags in there, but to me it is every bit as much a miracle that God could move someone to buy that many presents and then smuggle them into that locked room at just that right moment.  Either way, it’s always amazing to see how God works, isn’t it?

Anyway, a “personal shopper” escorts each parent, guardian or couple through the rooms that the appropriate gifts for the children’s ages are displayed.  The personal shopper gets an opportunity to talk with and pray with the parents as they go through.  After the parents pick out the gifts for their children, they go to the wrapping room to wrap the gifts while the children are waiting in classrooms with volunteers.  They aren’t just “waiting,” mind you; they get to hear about Jesus Christ.

After the gifts are wrapped so the children can’t see them, the parents pick up their children and proceed outside – where a food package is waiting for them.  Each family gets a 13 lb. turkey and a large box of canned and dry goods.

So anyway, the daughter of the Christmas Store coordinator comes out while I’m helping as a “poultry elf” and tells me that this family gets two packages because she’s signed up to go through the store (she’s a young, poor, single mother herself) and she wants this family to have her food package.

Well, that’s neat, I thought.

Anyway, I was serving for a couple of hours bringing the food to the families’ cars when I came upon one particular family.  The mother was so surprised and so delighted about the food that it lit me up.  They had five kids and she told me both sets of grandparents were going to be there.  Well, I did the math and came up with the decision to give this family another food package.  And watched momma’s face light up with joy again when I came out to their old car with it.

I interrupt my narrative to add the fact that this family was black and that the people who provided all the food were rich old white people who are clearly greedy by liberal definition.  Because greedy rich old white people on behalf of the chapel at an incredibly caucasian-populated “snowbird trailer park” common to our area had spent over $5,000 buying those turkeys.  Other rich, greedy white people had bought all those canned and dry goods for these families to have a Merry Christmas dinner regardless of their race, culture or creed.  And a whopping share of families spoke only Spanish.  Which is really quite surprising given the “fact” that rich greedy old white people hate them Mexicans so damn much.

I just wish that the liberals who so frequently slander evangelical Christians had the slightest clue about how much money and time we give to the people they slander us for hating.  I just wish that they knew that Christians in thousands of churches give billions of dollars to the needy; and that maybe they would rather be able to do that than let Obama seize their money so he can give it to political boondoggles like Solyndra.  But as hard as it is for a rich man to enter heaven, the Bible is even more clear that it is even harder for an ignorant fool to ever become anything other than an ignorant fool.

We also gave away lots of toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste, pretty much you name it, we gave it away) to help these families.  One young Hispanic family just had lost everything in an apartment fire.  We found them immeidate housing, and gave them clothes, jackets, blankets and everything we could round up to give them.  And we’re not done with that family yet, either.

But I digress.

I told the coordinator what I’d done knowing that she wouldn’t be happy with me and knowing why she wouldn’t be happy.  Those turkeys had to last for all the families.  And my “generosity” could cost another family such that they didn’t get any food at all.

Well, I thought about it.  The worst people on earth are those who are “generous with other peoples’ money.”  We call them liberals and they are the worst, the most self-righteous, the most sanctimonious people on earth as they seize money from people they demonize in order to cynically redistribute it to people who will vote for them and keep them in power.  And it didn’t take very long to occur to me that if that situation were to arise, well, I owed that family.  After all, I had given that extra food package to that family.  And if anybody needed to “pay his fair share” to take care of the family that may not have received a package because of what I did, it was me with my own money; not the “Other People’s Money” with which liberals “help.”

A figure just popped into my head with crystal clarity: $35.  That was about what each food package cost as I thought about the cost of the turkey (about a dollar a pound at Wal-Mart) and the canned and dry goods.  I made sure I had $35 cash in my billfold and decided to monitor the turkey situation and make sure I would be there for the first family to not get a turkey if that situation occurred and give them $35.  It was worth it; I’d felt led to do it and it felt like the right thing to do.

As it turned out, we had more than enough turkeys.  I was “spared” having to give money to some family I’d deprived.  And I felt further vindicated that I’d done what the Lord had led me to do.

Yea for me.

But it turns out God wasn’t done with that $35 that I now merrily thought was mine again.

You see, there was another issue that was going on at the same time.  The daughter of the coordinator was trying to give away three very cute puppies that she’d brought in her old minivan.  The son of our Santa Claus – a teenager who had ADHD – made it his mission in life to give away those puppies.  And he gave away two of them.  One of them went to a mother who had just lost her dog when it jumped out of her car.  When she heard that these puppies were a mix of the same breed of the dog she lost, she came over and ended up adopting a pup.  Her son was soon holding that dog and utterly refusing to give it up.  But the third puppy was a different story.

It clearly had an eye infection, because it’s eyes were “gooey” and rather painful looking.  And nobody wanted it because they didn’t want to get stuck with the vet bill.

Santa’s son was beside himself worrying about this puppy he’d tried to give away all night.  He had waylaid each family as they came out clutching this puppy to his chest to keep it warm.  He was afraid that nobody would help it and it would die.  He desperately wanted his dad to let him take that puppy home – but it was pretty obvious that this was one Christmas wish Santa was NOT going to grant.

I heard the daughter of the coordinator talking to some other volunteers.  She didn’t know what to do.  Even the shelters wanted to charge her to take the puppy, and she couldn’t afford to pay for a veterinarian’s office charge.

I heard a young man say that the Animal Samaritan’s charges $35 for a vet visit, not counting the cost of the medicine the pup would surely need.  Which was WAY too much for the daughter to afford.

And then I heard God say, “Ahem.”  I didn’t have to look up at the sky and point at myself with a questioning look.  I knew He was talking to me.

And I realized that God had been buttering me up just like the turkeys I was giving away with the notion that I should pay $35 for a food package for a needy family.  Because He’d known that I wouldn’t have otherwise felt very led to give money for the care of somebody else’s puppy problem.  You know, unless He sneaked it in on me.  I love animals, but I generally give my money to charities for PEOPLE.

That’s when I realized that I’d already devoted that money to the Lord, whether I’d thought so or not.  And the Lord had a use for it.

Because I didn’t WANT the Christmas store to run out of turkeys; and why was I “off the hook” to the Lord for money I had already committed to Him simply because the Lord had graciously come through and given me what I wanted?  And I realized I wasn’t giving money to help a puppy; I was giving money to help PEOPLE to help that puppy.

I suddenly blurted out that I would be willing to pay that $35 vet bill – which just somehow happened to be the exact same figure as the figure that had been repeatedly in my head regarding the cost of the food package.  And another guy immediately volunteered another $20 to help that puppy out.

Found out this morning that that sum was exactly the cost of the entire vet bill for that puppy.  And that it will be fine now.

Well, there was another little miracle in this story: that teenage boy was determined to take that puppy home because he was worried about it and wanted to make sure it was okay.  He’d come to love it because he’d held it and watched over it for a good share of the day.  When I came out (this being after the last family had been through the store) there was a rather raging argument going on between that kid and his no-longer-Santa dad.  But I was able to calm the boy down by assuring him that the puppy would get to go to the vet and somebody would surely adopt him when he was recovered from his eye infection.

It’s so often amazing how God works.  He worked for a mother and young boy who had just lost their dog by giving them an adorable puppy of the very same rather rare breed that they had lost; He worked for the coordinator’s daughter who wanted to do the right thing for that little puppy but was daunted by the cost of doing that right thing; He worked in the heart of that ADHD boy who may have been worried about that puppy as an extension of himself (if the puppy was a throwaway because of its eyes, was that boy a throwaway with his ADHD?); and He worked on me, frugality and all.  Because He brought me through a process – as He so often does – to the point where I was able to see things HIS way and then rejoice at the outcome.  I’d started out reluctantly being willing to pay for the consequences of something I’d felt led to do.  I ended up trying to think of how I’d ever spent that same amount of money that had brought me more sheer pleasure than this – and couldn’t think of a single time in my life.

There were scores of people who received Jesus through the Christmas Store, not counting those who were rededicating their lives to Christ.  Over nine hundred Bibles were given away.  God moved, whether any atheist could see it or not.  And He moved in large ways and in small ways through His people.

Merry Christmas!  Celebrate the birth of the King of kings.

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Thanking God For The Rescued Miners: Today I’m A Chilean

October 13, 2010

The Chilean miners have spent 69 days in a dark, hot, humid hellhole.

They were under the ground for seventeen days, surviving on 200 calories a day, drinking water they salvaged from equipment radiators, or groundwater they dug out of the earth, before anyone knew they were alive.

It was after those 17 days that the surface world managed to send a probe down to the 2,000 feet underground depths where they were holed up.  The miners scratched a note on the probe that said, ““Estamos bien en el refugio los 33,” or, “All 33 of us are well in the shelter.”

Amazingly, against all odds, and beyond all hope, they survived.

Even more amazingly, they survived without killing each other.

What a feel-good story, as these men come out of their graves, one by one!

Their country reached out to the world for help – and help came.

But this is Chile’s moment.  And I hope the whole country basks in the same light that I’m sure those miners are or will soon be joyfully basking in.

I heard a billion people have watched at least part of the rescue.  I’m one of them.  And I’ve had tears in my eyes.

When I heard about the collapse, I prayed with hundreds of millions of others for survivors.  But when I heard that 33 men had survived, and that it would be months before they could be rescued (if they even could be rescued), I was daunted.

What would it be like to spend that kind of time with 32 other men in a dark hot hole 2,000 feet under the ground, not knowing if you’d ever come out of that hole alive?

I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like.

And then I saw the video of the miners, who seemed … content, even happy.

What amazing men.

And what amazing faith.

One of the miners named Jimmy Sanchez said, “There are actually 34 of us, because GOD has never left us down here.”

Another miner, Mario Sepulveda, said, “We 33 miners are walking hand in hand with God.”

That same minder also said, when he finally came up from what should have been his tomb, “I was with God and I was with the Devil, they fought me, but God won. He took me by my best hand, the hand of God and I held on to him I never thought for one minute that God wouldn’t get me out of there.”

The 27th miner to come out of the depths of the earth had the word “Dios” written on his mining helmet.  “Dios,” of course, means “God.”  He knew who got him out of that hole.

It was a miracle that those miners survived.

It was faith that enabled those 33 men to survive their ordeal.  Just as it was faith that motivated the magnificent men above to labor unceasingly to free those 33 men.

We can all imagine the hell that could have descended upon those men 2,000 feet under the ground; fighting like raving animals for the shrinking food supply, or banding into gangs that fought each other.  Faith kept them together.  Faith made them selfless.

In the same way, did the rescuers know that their rescue efforts would succeed?  Of course not!  It was faith, taking a step into the unknown, doing what was right, and praying that God would help them, that sustained that rescue effort for 69 long days and nights.

God can do anything.  But He loves most of all to work through people.

And today, after more than two months of working through people, we can all rejoice in a miracle.

May the world look at Chile, and bask in the very same sunshine that those dead-but-now-alive miners get to see this day.

Update, Oct 17: The shirts that most of the miners wore out of the mine said, “Thanks to God” on the front, and had Psalm 95:4 (“In His hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are His also”) on the back. And then under the Psalm appear the words, “To God be the honor and the glory.”

And on the sleeve of the shirts was the name “Jesus.”

[Youtube link]

The miners also asked that 33 Bibles be sent down to them.

On Celebrating The Virgin Birth Of Jesus With Both Heart And Mind

December 25, 2009

I take my “Santa cap” off to the American Spectator – which is such a strong force for political conservatism – for providing articles such as this one.

There is more than health care, or cap-and-trade, or deficits, or any part of the ideological battle between Democrats and Republicans.  Because long before we were fighting any of those issues, we were celebrating Christ.  And we shall be celebrating Christ long after all of these other, lesser issues are gone.

The Case Against the Case Against the Virgin Birth

By Jeremy Lott on 12.22.09 @ 6:07AM

Every year at about this time, readers can count on a few Christmas-themed articles appearing in newspapers and magazines that question the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. It really is something to see the wide variety of people who get worked up over this ancient Christian belief.

Scientific reductionists — the Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins set — will tell us that it’s impossible. By definition, a virgin cannot be with child. Certain biblical scholars will be trotted out to poke holes in the dogma, by making points about the Bible passages in question that sound convincing to non-scholars. And moderate, embarrassed believers such as Newsweek editor Jon Meacham will try to smooth things over. The Virgin Birth, they will say, is symbolically but not historically or scientifically important. It’s about new life or specialness or some other non-offensive, wooly-headed thing.

The scholars will say that the verse in Isaiah (7:14) that prophesies a “virgin shall conceive and bear a son” is a mistranslation. “Virgin” could be “young woman,” you see. They will point out that only two of the four Gospels of the New Testament mention the Virgin Birth and that the Virgin Birth Gospels (Matthew and Luke) do not agree about many details. They will say that the earliest Gospel (Mark) leaves it out entirely.

Therefore: Who can say what really happened? The point of this exercise is to paint defenders of the virgin birth as narrow fundamentalists who cling to two tenuous, unscientific, conflicting scraps of the biblical text that rely on a questionable translation of Old Testament prophecy. There are perhaps a dozen problems with this approach. We’ll focus on three:

One, it manages to misrepresent all four Gospels at the same time. Matthew and Luke have miraculous conception and birth narratives. Mark and John are rooted in the first chapter of Genesis. That itself says something about Christ’s origin. According to the first chapter of John, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God.” In Jesus, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

In fact, all four Gospels are rooted in Genesis. Modern audiences tend to focus on the creation narratives of the first few chapters and skip over the genealogies. To a first century Middle Eastern audience, those lists were far more important. Echoing this, both Matthew and Luke attempt to construct genealogies of Jesus, and in the process both books finger God as the father and Mary as the mother.

Two, in pointing out contradictions between Matthew and Luke, scholars and more progressive believers think that they are scoring points against literalism and fundamentalism. The supposed contradictions do present a problem for some believers, but they help make their case as well. Historians are trained to suspect collusion of sources: if two accounts line up too neatly, then one is likely based on the other and thus less valuable. It’s better to have two divergent accounts — even wildly divergent accounts — of the same event to serve as confirmation of the details where they agree.

The stories about Jesus’ conception and birth in Matthew and Luke are far enough apart — the “wise men,” the flight to Egypt, and the murder of innocents are in Matthew but not Luke; the census, the shepherds, the meeting between the mothers of the still unborn Jesus and John the Baptist are unique to Luke — that they must come from different sources. They both agree about the Virgin Birth.

Three, the case for a mistranslation of Isaiah is simply beside the point. Yes, the word in Hebrew could be rendered “young lady” but that’s irrelevant. When an angel tells Mary that she will have a child and she wonders, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) she’s not saying “since I am a young lady.” The Gospel writers, the popular early Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, and the early church all understood it to mean “virgin,” and their understanding is what matters here.

None of this is indisputable proof for the Virgin Birth, nor is it meant to be. We can give evidence for miracles but cannot replicate the results in a laboratory, and the chasm between history and mystery is where faith comes in. However, the hostility of scientific reductionists to the idea does not make nearly as much sense as it used to. Now, with advances in reproductive technology, a woman who was biologically a virgin could in fact conceive a child. Experiments in animal DNA are showing that you can manipulate eggs in such a way that sperm is not necessary to create a whole new creature. If scientists in the 21st century can manage it, is it really such a stretch to say that God 2,000 years ago would have been up to the task?

You should go to the American Spectator site itself to read this, as there are some excellent and informative comments that follow the article.  But I have a few things to say, myself.

The Septuagint was the translation into Greek by Jewish scholars (it is often abbreviated as “LXX” because tradition holds that 70 scholars were involved in the translation), and was undertaken and completed between 300 and 200 BC.  It was not written by Christians.

It is, however, particularly noteworthy to Christians that the Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew word “almah” in Isaiah (which basically meant a young woman of marigiable age still under the protection of her family) as “parthenos,” which is the Greek word that clearly means “virgin.”

Some scholars rigidly maintain that the Hebrew word “almah” does not necessarily mean “virgin.”  But the fact of the matter is that in Hebrew culture/tradition, a young unmarried girl under her family’s protection was basically either a virgin, or else she was stoned to death as an adulteress.  When you add the fact that the LXX scholars – who clearly were more in touch with the understanding of the ancient Hebrew Bible than we are today – deliberately chose the word “parthenos,” you have a rather ironclad case that the Jews understood Isaiah 7:14 as prophesying a virgin birth (i.e. an immaculate conception).

Only Jesus – in all of recorded human history – has been proclaimed as having been uniquely born of a virgin.  And the two largest religions in the world – Christianity and Islam – recognize and affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a young Jewish virgin girl named Mary.

The passages presented in the New Testament then eradicate even the tiniest shred of remaining doubt.

The so-called “scientific reductionists” claim that the miracle of the virgin birth was impossible.  What is interesting is that a “virgin birth” is quite possible today, given our medical technology.  I bring this out just to say that these are philosophical atheists, who don’t believe in the virgin birth simply because they do not believe in God.  Otherwise, their view toward the virgin birth becomes asinine: they would literally be arguing that God the Creator of all matter, energy, space, and time would be unable to replicate a feat that humans today routinely perform.

As one who accepts the possibility of God, I have no problem whatsoever accepting the possibility of miracles.  Some atheistic thinkers have defined a “miracle” as “a violation of the laws of nature.”  But they are trying to load the issue and tilt it toward philosophical naturalism by doing so.

Let me explain it this way.  Suppose someone accidentally knocks my cup of coffee off the table and I catch it.  Is this a “miracle”?  After all, according to the law of gravity, that cup should have continued to fall and strike the ground – and that didn’t happen.  What did happen was a personal agent possessing sufficient power chose to intervene and change the outcome of natural laws by themselves.

A miracle is God – the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe – intentionally choosing to reach down and intervene in the affairs of men, usually by a means we our limited understanding cannot fully understand.

Please allow me to explain why Christmas is so important to me, by means of a series of declarations of faith:

I believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.

I believe that God supernaturally implanted into Mary’s womb (and specifically into one of her unfertilized eggs) a human baby possessing a perfect human nature, uncorrupted by the effects of the Fall.

I believe that this baby, Jesus, possessed every single property essential to human nature (flesh and bones, a human brain, etc.) such that He was 100% man.  Sin is not essential to human nature; God created both Adam and Eve without sin.

I believe that this baby, Jesus, simultaneously possessed every single property essential to Deity, particularly the Deity of The Word, the Second Person of the Triunity of the Godhead.  Such that He was 100% God.  As He grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52), He came to recognize His unique Christ-consciousness.  And specifically, He began to become aware that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6-7, and Micah 5:2 (among some 300 other unique and amazing prophecies).

I believe that when God created human beings in His image (the Imago Dei) in Genesis 1:27, He was in fact creating beings whose image and nature He Himself would one day assume.  He created Adam in His image so that He could ultimately assume Adam’s image and so save mankind from the Fall (Genesis 3).

I believe Jesus voluntarily restricted the use of His divine prerogatives prior to His assumption of human nature, such that He lived His life on earth as an ordinary human being who had to rely completely on the Holy Spirit for His power (just like every Christian since has had to do).  Please read Philippians 2:1-11.  And then read it again and again.

I believe He came to live a perfect life on earth as a human being so that He could fully and truly represent the human race.

I believe that He died in my place – and in the place of everyone who believes in Him – so that I could be fully restored with God the Father (Luke 19:10, Mark 10:45).  I believe that I am a sinner (Romans 3:23; 6:23), saved only by grace and by faith in the name of Jesus (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 5:1; 10:9).

I believe in the words of a simple poem,

He came to die on a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood (see John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17).

I believe that Jesus had to become a man to die in my place – or even (as God) to be able to experience death on my behalf – and that He had to be God to have the power to save me from my sins.  Only Jesus, as true God, and true Man, could save me (Hebrews 9:24-28).

And I believe that, because of His finished work of sacrifice in my place, that I will live forever with Him in heaven, celebrating an eternal life more magnificent and more exciting than anything I have ever begun to imagine.

And all of the wonder of God coming to His creation, all of the wonder of the most loving act in the history of the universe, all of the existential cries that are answered by God taking my place and saving me, are all answered in the birth of Jesus.

And so I read Job 19:25-27 and say with him, “For I know that my Redeemer lives…”

And so I read with tears of joy the words of Mary in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

And so I recognize in that First Christmas not only joy to the world, but hope for the world.  And the source of that Christmas joy and hope is Christ.

Merry Christmas.