|Daffodils by Mark Houser. Used with permission.|
|My wife Jenny hiking down PinchIn|
|Daffodil Flats, at nowhere near full bloom|
|Daffodils by Mark Houser. Used with permission.|
|My wife Jenny hiking down PinchIn|
|Daffodil Flats, at nowhere near full bloom|
This road of being a Christian is a rocky one, full of mountain highs, valley lows, hidden pits, stinking bogs, and open fields. Where I’m at right now is kinda like where I was 10 years ago right after God interrupted my life, but different. Then, I hardly knew God beyond His saying, “Trust me.” I didn’t know what that would mean then. Now, I still don’t really know what that will mean in the days ahead, but I do know God a whole lot more. I know that God is good, and I know AND feel that God loves me. I may not know what the next step will be, but I know the Lord. Beyond that, there is a little bit of clarity for me in what’s going on because certain themes have just been present.
One of the resources I found helpful, outside of the Bible, is a book I read a few years ago called Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, by John Piper. It’s available as a free download if you wish to read it for yourself. My plan is to reread it again this year, as the theme of being satisfied in Jesus is at the forefront of where God has me right now. The Digital Age sings in their song Captured, “I’ve never felt more found than when I’m lost in You.” That is where I’m at, and it is a place of wonder and marveling. They also cover a song called Fall Afresh, which is what I’m desiring my prayers to look like: “Spirit of the living God, come fall afresh on me. Come wake me from my sleep. Blow through the caverns of my soul, pour in me to overflow.” Yes… that is simultaneously where I am and where I am not yet, but desire.
|My pastor, Matt Rawlings, baptizing me. Photo used by permission from Bev Peeples.|
In January 2005, I was fast asleep. Perhaps more appropriately, I was dead asleep. God knelt down, got right in my ear, and gently said, “Wake up!” I was disoriented, and wondered what the heck had just happened to me. My path was altered, my life was lovingly interrupted, and I had no idea where I was going.
Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life was not the book I anticipated it would be. In any way. I hope to express to you, the reader, not only themes and thoughts of this book, but how it personally affected and challenged me in my own thinking. We won’t be lingering in the abstract.
What is Miracles all about? I do not think I could express it as succinctly as Eric Metaxas does in the closing thoughts of the first chapter, so I will let him speak for the book: “What if the half-truth of the desire for something beyond us could meet up with the half-truth of the desire for only what is really real and true, which we can know and see and touch in this world too? What if those two halves could touch and become the one true truth we were both looking for? This is a book about that.”
Miracles is presented in two sections. The first is the Question of Miracles. What are they, how do we define a miracle, how do miracles and science relate, and other questions and discussions of miracles. The second is stories of miracles from sources that Metaxas himself accounts for as trustworthy. It may be helpful to you, as it was me, to see a miracle as a sign. A miracle points to something other than and beyond itself.
In the first section of the Question of Miracles, I was caught off-guard, because this was part of what I didn’t expect. How everything that exists is even in existence is amazing. From the beginning of time until the present, the balance necessary to keep everything in motion is astounding. One of my favorite quotes from the first half of the book is this: “The more science learns, the clearer it is that although we are here, we shouldn’t be.” You will not read a dismantling of science here, but a confirmation of it. Metaxas is not dismissive of science, but rather that which is unscientific. I finished every chapter thinking to myself, “This is incredible.” The tone is conversational, not confrontational. What are we to make of science, the universe, the earth, water, life, suffering, Jesus, and the resurrection? Metaxas asks the reader to consider “what if…” instead of demanding “you should.”
One thing that I felt may be a stumbling block to Christians reading this is the discussion around the age of the earth. Whether you believe that the earth is billions of years old, or six thousand years old, to me, is not a hill to die upon. Do not allow yourself to get snagged on that bramble bush of cognitive dissonance, but consider what IS. Now let’s untangle and keep going.
Moving from the Questions in the first half to the Miracles themselves in the second half, I found myself moving from being amazed to being challenged. This is the next part of what I didn’t expect, as I thought when I started that the book may just be a download of data. What these miracles exposed in my own heart was what I’ve heard referred to as tribalism within Christianity. Eric Metaxas seems to operate outside of the tribes of Christianity. By that, I mean that he does not segregate himself by only participating with one group of doctrines or ideas, but seems comfortable among Episcopalian, Catholic, Presbyterian, charismatics, and Greek Orthodox in his conversation. Being narrow minded is not something you could easily accuse Eric Metaxas of. So what of being challenged? I’ll be honest here. I don’t have much struggle believing that God can create and hold together the unfathomable measures of the universe. But that God could actually work through a faith healer? That felt like an uncrossable chasm to me. I even talked to my pastor about it, who kindly told me that it is God who heals, not faith healers. Even within my own Christian walk, reading Miracles has laid me out as narrow minded. Metaxas gracefully shows us that God works where He will through who He will. God is not and will not be confined to any box that we attempt to cram him into. I could not help but think of the Beaver in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, commenting about Aslan that “He is not a safe lion, but he is good.” Indeed.
So what of this God, and what is he all about? I fell into a trap in the Miracles section. I began to see the miracles not as signs, but as stories of unusual events that happened. The author doesn’t present them in this way, but it is the mindset I carried into it. As I finished the “A Girl and a Squirrel” miracle, I realized something. In the beginning of the book, Eric Metaxas clearly says that miracles are meant to be signs that point towards God. Having read miracle after miracle, I lost sight of that. Eric tells us to read between the lines, but then I found myself only reading the lines. He’s inviting you to investigate for yourself who this God is that cares about the sadness (which we are tempted to call silly) of a 10 year old girl. That God is a God of compassion? This is certainly a challenge in the world where the truth is used as a baseball bat to beat people with. Eric Metaxas not once wields that bat, but is himself a recipient of that compassion. In his own testimony, he says, “God knew me infinitely better than I knew myself, and he had taken the trouble to speak to me in the most intimate language there was: the secret language of my own heart.” I love this.
Further, in the testimony of his own conversion, Eric describes a man he seems to recognize as “He wasn’t an angry man; there was a kindness and gentleness to him. He wasn’t someone with a theological ax to grind; he seemed to embody the peace of God, the way Christians are supposed to but often don’t.” This is another area where I was challenged. I have been that guy with a theological ax to grind, not embodying the peace of God. I’ve had relationships strained because of how dogmatically I have held positions and valued them over the actual person. To read this miracle story laid me bare. In direct contrast to who I have been, Eric Metaxas fits the description of the man he recognized as he writes this book. It was just as refreshing to me as it was challenging.
Miracles is not a book filled with Christian-ese cliches and platitudes. It’s not a theological hammer, crushing you against the anvil of doctrine. It’s not page after page of to-do lists. It’s not a book of fluffy “Chicken Soup for the Soul” stories that bear no weight in the real world. It’s a book you’ll actually enjoy reading. Who is this book for? People who have questions. People who doubt. People who have longings, wishing they knew more and wishing the world was better. People like me. Miracles has gently challenged me to reconsider things I had written off as wrong.
As I was reading the final pages of Miracles, I was sitting in the room with my kids while they watched the movie version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. As I set the book down, the scene was Reepicheep humbly approaching Aslan to say, “Ever since I can remember, I have dreamt of entering your country.” What I can say of Miracles by Eric Metaxas is that I see a little more clearly, like wiping a layer of fog off a mirror, that there is a God who is not only vast, unconfined and amazing in his power, but personal and amazing in that he would condescend to rest his arms around the shoulders of broken people like me. This God of compassion bids us to come and rest in him. The flames of my dreams of entering His country have been fanned.
You can read more about Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life at http://www.ericmetaxas.com/miracles/
*Disclosure: I was accepted to be part of the Launch Team for Miracles by the publisher. In no way did this require a positive review for the book, but I was only asked for my thoughts and quotes that stood out to me.
When I went to Shortoff Mountain in the Linville Gorge last October, I had the pleasure of William “Wigg” Faulkner serving me as a guide. He has been visiting the Gorge for years and years, and over the last few years he has been systematically exploring the Gorge’s many rock outcrops, springs, and canyons. Linville Gorge has many secrets, and as another explorer of the area has said, it does not give them up easily.
One of the scenes I had the privilege of seeing, the pond on top of Shortoff, is not a secret nor is it difficult to get to. it is not hidden away along some scraggly rabbit trail, with torn and windblown surveyors flagging hinting at its existence. The pond is right along the main trail, the Mountains to Sea Trail, which extends over 1,000 miles across North Carolina.
This was the first time I had been on Shortoff, and I had heard about the pond on top of the mountain. As we stopped, Wigg told me about the pond and shared fond memories of it. Wigg told me how the pond used to be bigger than it is now, and in recent years, there was a fire on top of Shortoff that scarred and destroyed much of the area. With a longing in his voice, my friend said, “I don’t know if it will ever see its former glory.” To this I replied, “One day, it will.”
Two short sentences. Major theological implications.
The pond on top of Shortoff, like the rest of creation, is subject to futility and hardship and entropy under the curse. The sin and fall of man in the Garden of Eden did not only bring death to man, but all of creation. Once there was Eden, and now it is fallen. Now it is decaying, just like you and I. Thistle and thorns have overtaken the garden, and if you’ve done any off-trail exploring in Linville, you definitely know this to be true. But also like the rest of creation, the pond on Shortoff is groaning and aching for the day when Jesus Christ returns and the great reversal occurs. Sin and death are defeated, eradicated, and will only remain in stories as conquered foes of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All creation will be made new and restored to its original glory. Not the glory of pictures we’ve seen from a hundred years ago, but glory of when man was not at odds with God. The glory of when all was right in the cosmos. Like Christians now, like the nation of Israel prior to Jesus Christ’s birth, the pond on Shortoff and the rest of creation is desperately singing “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”
Perhaps you’re wondering where I’m getting all this, and you’re right to think so because I am certainly not smart enough of a man to figure it out on my own. What do you expect from a guy who likes to wander through the woods to say, “Ooh! Pretty !”? The Bible has many places in it that speak of when all things are made new, but I will only get you started:
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
Romans 8:18-23 (English Standard Version)
Also, I highly recommend the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn for further study on the topic.
Matt Chandler says in his book The Explicit Gospel, “The aim of the Scriptures is to direct our worship to the one true God of the universe, and the universe itself is designed not to occupy our worship but to stir our heart of hearts to behold its God. The heavens do not declare the glory of themselves, after all, but the glory of God.”
An analogy I thought of while thinking about this is that it is like my marriage. I love my wife, and I love her baking, cooking, parenting, creativity, photography and many other traits and talents…but these all stem from her. I love HER, and many things come with that. If I only love the cookies she makes or the pictures she takes, but spurn her? That is no love at all, but hostility. With Jesus, I long for the renewal of creation, the sinless existence, the amazement of heaven, but without Jesus all of these things would not be. Love Jesus, friends. All good things stem from him.
Next time you are out, and you see creation subjected to futility and decay and death, be reminded that the Lord will one day make all things new. Yet even in that, the renewal of creation is not our hope, but Jesus who brings this renewal.
“In the truest sense, Christian pilgrims have the best of both worlds. We have joy whenever this world reminds us of the next, and we take solace whenever it does not.” ~ C.S. Lewis
“If the ‘wrong side’ of Heaven can be so beautiful, what will the right side look like? If the smoking remains are so stunning, what will Earth look like when it’s resurrected and made new, restored to the original?” ~ Randy Alcorn