The price of scrap is up! For the last few loads I have taken in, general scrap brought $180 per ton (9 cents per pound). Naturally, appliance is a little less, prepared steel a little more, electric motors a little more yet, and following the scale up through, low grade copper wire, power chords, various grades of aluminum, radiators, batteries, brass, and copper till you hit number 1 clean copper at upwards of $3.00 per pound. So, a little load I took in today (only 840 pounds of scrap, 1 electric motor, several bags of aluminum cans and a bucket of cleaned brass) netted $144. This may not sound terribly exciting to you but not so long ago that same load would have brought no more than $40 – most of that from the brass. When the pandemic impacted industry negatively and piled that on top of our trade difficulties with China, the price of general scrap fell to $30 per ton – all the other prices indexed accordingly. For what it’s worth, the highest prices I have seen over the years (right before the cash for clunkers program came along and flooded the scrap market) was $235 per ton or just short of 12 cents per pound.
As we are not able to store large amounts of scrap at the church and we didn’t want to suspend the program, we never stopped taking it in (except for when the scrap yards closed entirely!) It is always harder to revive a ministry that stopped. While neither I nor the Corps of Scrap Dummies (they chose that name for themselves) are the type to object to hard work, I can tell you that it is considerably less fun to take scrap in at $30 per ton than it is at $180 per ton! I mean, we believe in keeping materials out of the landfills and in helping people get rid of unwanted metal items, but there is just something about rewards.
I object to the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ in the strongest possible terms. The point of Jesus’ atoning death and hope filled resurrection was not to fatten my pocketbook. I do not mean to say that God is unconcerned with the prosperity of His people. But I cannot find the promise that we should all be millionaires and I can find the warnings about the dangers of being millionaires (needles eyes, bigger barns, treasure/heart co-location et al). But my objections to the Prosperity Gospel do not at all mean that I miss the Biblical emphasis on rewards. Like when Jesus preached to the poor and persecuted about how great their reward would be in heaven or to the humble givers about how even a cup of water given in His name would not lose its reward. Or, as per Revelation 11:18 – when the time comes at last to reward the bond servants of God.
I know the promises about the righteous not begging for bread but there’s a lot of territory between not having to beg for bread because you can’t work or can’t find work and being independently wealthy past the need of having to work at all! And somewhere in there, peace and love and righteousness must be reckoned as reward enough for the time at hand and eternal life in the world to come as more than just recompence for all.
I am not complaining about people who have money and I truly admire those who can have great wealth without it ruining their spirit. More, I greatly appreciate the ministry many have made possible by their wealth. Nor was I just whistling Dixie when I said it was more fun to take in scrap at $180 per ton that at $30 per ton. But we never quit taking in scrap. In the end, whatever passes before then, I will be thrilled just to hear – ‘Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joys of thy master.’
I have always loved trees. In my childhood, much to the dismay of the adult population in general, I loved to climb trees. What else were they there for?! Well, as it turned out, adults had funny ideas about the answers to that question. They valued trees for such silly reasons as –
Right up into my young adult years, I never saw a tree I didn’t want to climb – all the way to the top if possible. There was this tall tulip tree on the high ground of our farm and when you got way up to the top you could look down on all the buildings, the county road and the tops of the trees in the lower woodlot all while swaying pleasantly in the breeze! There were some catalpas in my maternal grandparents front yard which measured the years of my growing by how far up into them I could get at the time. There were many other individual trees I could mention but you get the picture.
The problem, as hinted at in the opening paragraph of this post, was escaping adult supervision. Almost every really good climbing tree grew in the territory of an adult who would end up standing on the ground below LOUDLY insisting that I get down before I fell and killed my fool self – a thing I never did. Well, obviously, I never killed myself. But I never fell either. I have never fallen out of a tree. I have always thought that if I should fall out of a tree and hit the ground, someone else would have to climb back up and retrieve my fingers because they would still be up there gripping bark. I have one aunt – who didn’t even own the stupid tree – who would nevertheless stand below with an egg turner insisting I come down so she could whip me for climbing the tree in the first place. I never found that to be extremely strong motivation for coming down and, it turned out I was correct in thinking my aunt was not, despite her threats to the contrary, coming up to get me.
I will jump to the end for a moment and say that at age 63 I don’t climb as many trees – though it is not yet out of the question – and, I admit, I have come to love and value trees for all those adult reasons that seemed so meaningless to me back then. But along the way to my current position, there was a definite turning point. About the time I turned 14, adults (at least a certain class of them) seemed to change their minds about the advisability of my climbing trees. And those (mostly of the female persuasion) who still considered tree climbing dubious, at least let their forbiddings settle down to forebodings – by which I mean they might stand by and fuss and wring their hands and predict imminent death, but they quit howling for me to get down out of the tree.
If I lost you, let me clarify. Say a tree needed trimming or topping. Or, say a tree needed felling but it needed cabled first so it could be pulled away from a house, fence, power line, etc. Or, say there was an old-fashioned pear tree with fruit growing well out of reach from the ground. If the adults affected by these or other similar circumstances didn’t have immediate access to a bucket truck, they needed someone to CLIMB THE TREE. They needed someone who wasn’t afraid to climb way up to the top or shinny way out on a high limb. They often needed someone sure enough of himself in a tree that he could hang on with one hand while working a hand saw with the other. They needed someone who could climb trailing at least a light line which could be used to haul heavier cables or chains up to the fastening point. My popularity in this capacity lasted decades. It is only in the last couple of years that I have pretty much given it up. The last tree of any size I climbed, topped, cabled and felled was a sixty-foot fir at a restaurant owned by friends. The tree was crowded between a street, power lines, buildings and the restaurant sign with only one possible path for safely falling and it needed to be topped before it was short enough for that path. I attracted much attention on that occasion from passersby on the city street – all the females in the cars no doubt taking up the old pastime of writing my obituary in advance.
I have been a river rat almost all my life. One of the keener memories from my early childhood stems from the thousand or so times our family drove across the White River bridge entering Martinsville, IN (the county seat and nearest big (we thought so then) town where items not available at the little mom & pop establishments that dotted our township could be had. Whatever we kids were doing before we got to the bridge (singing, playing, fighting) I would disengage to stare longingly over the concrete railing at the mystery of the river winding away to the south (or the north as we left Martinsville). I would, of course, as my knowledge of local geography increased, find out where the White River went. It crosses the entire state, longwise and on a diagonal, starting as a tiny creek up in the northeast corner and becoming pretty-big water well before emptying into the Wabash across from Mount Carmel, Illinois. There are lots of bridges on the White and all these years later I still never cross one without looking wistfully up or down stream. Of course, now I’m looking at something more familiar. As I became a young teen I learned the publicly accessible fishing sites in our area and caught a lot of fish out the White River. Then, my father and I took an overnight canoe camping trip on the White (Indiana maintains public access sites about every 25 miles and camping is allowed below the high-water mark.) From that trip forward, nothing else would do. There are no bridges on the White River between Waverly, Indiana and Mount Carmel, Illinois that I have not canoed under and very little in the way of promising camping sites along those 200+ miles of water where I have not pitched a tent. (North of Waverly there are lots of dams and power generation facilities that take a lot of the fun out of canoe camping. Between Waverly and Mount Carmel there is only one dam and two power generation facilities – and the occasional gravel dredging operation.) Dad, siblings, friends, my wife and my own children (not yet born at the time of that first trip) have all been my companions on various legs of the journey. I’ve learned a lot about rivers in the process, how the channel changes over the years, how islands come and go, how some houses built too near the river come and go! I have become pretty sufficient at steering a heavily laden canoe through snag forests where the river has relocated trees that used to be growing on the bank. I have practiced the methods that allow for paddling a canoe short distances back upstream when needed. I have learned how to slice across the current on sharp bends and (usually) to recognize in advance where the bed of the river is significantly tilted across a curve so that the river negotiates what looks like a ‘C’ as though it were a ‘Z’ – trust me, it’s subtle from a distance but if you miss it, rounding the bend is complicated considerably. All these things are questions of current or flow. Everything on a river is.
So, on various legs of my river journey, I have put in some time thinking about that old life question of going with the flow or against it. Naturally, going against the flow is a lot more work and takes much more time and every time you try to rest for a moment – all your progress is undone. But there is a sense in which we as Christians must resist the flow of earthly culture and wisdom. This not only makes for hard paddling, it seems, if the context is only here and now, so futile.
Going with the flow is obviously easier – for a minute or two. Since all those dead trees are swept along by the current, the current inevitably pushes us along to the exact spot the tree ground to a halt against the rising riverbed. Nor is it just the snag forests. The current is always easy going for just a while before throwing us up against a boat breaking, man drowning obstacle. If we don’t resist the current at all, our journey will be short. In the end, what washes to the sea consists of wrecks and corpses. Still, resisting the current even enough to steer downstream, you still end up eventually at sea – in a canoe. Hmmm.
I know it’s all metaphor – but metaphors are helpful. I have finally come to the conclusion that the only way to avoid being washed to one ruinous end or the other is to cross the river. Every one of my trips ended with placing my foot on shore. Crossing resists the current but is headed not for the sea but to the other side. Again, it’s a picture – and yet, life as a crossing is not a new idea and if the river in consideration is the whole flow of earthly culture and wisdom – the only escape is to set foot on the opposite shore.
I’m going there. 2020 was quite an exercise in current related hazards and I do not know what will come up in 2021 but with Christ as my companion I will make the crossing.
It goes without saying that we never really understand the dynamics of the relationship we had with our parents until we are old enough and experienced enough to gain proper perspective. When I think back to my young childhood I am (uselessly) abashed at the total lack of understanding I had of my father. He worked long hours for long years at a job that represented no kind of dream for him and we five kids lined up to consume his paycheck and break all his stuff! That, of course, is not the whole of the story either – simply a strand I was incapable of grasping at the time. And, unless it was accidental on my part, I did nothing to make his life easier at the time. Later, as I understood more, I did better. Sadly, I must confess that I worked a lot harder to be a blessing to dad after I was out of the house than before. I suspect I am far from alone in this. In the last few years of his life, when his strength failed, all dad’s adult children worked tirelessly to help him remain as active as possible, as comfortable as possible and as engaged as possible for as long as possible. Dad took a yen to have some ducks around and duck eggs to eat. None of us even cared why? I built a coop and put up a pen. My older sister got six peeps (Campbells’s – egg layers) and raised them in her garage until they were old enough to occupy the coop. All siblings made whatever improvements were necessary as time went by, fed and watered the ducks, gathered the eggs, learned the best ways to cook with them, etc. It was but one thing. When dad could no longer make it to the woods we went and took pictures of the recent doings of the beavers, deer, snapping turtles, etc. My youngest sister is a nurse and kept on top of the increasing medical demands, giving the rest of us the training we needed. All my sisters went to great lengths learning to cook for dad’s specialized dietary needs. We built a new deck with a ramp to ease the process of getting to the car. My younger brother did the lion’s share of the home repairs. We trimmed and removed trees and repaired the leaky roof. We learned to do physical therapy and therapeutic wraps. We mowed, gardened, and kept the roads hot between dad’s house and the pharmacy, grocery, hardware…. Our only wish was that we could have done more. When absolutely no more could be done, we gathered round his bed and stayed till the time came to say goodbye. We experienced in those times, a fierce determination to bless our father. It was, as Dickens would have it, the best and the worst of times.
My experiences with my earthly father mirror my experiences with my Heavenly Father in at least this one way. There was a time when I was only concerned about being blessed by God. I still am concerned with that. I desire earnestly to be blessed by God. But I also wish to bless God – a thought that did not enter into my earlier calculations. It never even occurred to me that I could! God had everything to give and what could He possibly need from me?! Well, we learn better. Even though He never ages, fails, nor dies, God is a father after all and every father can be blessed by His children.
As we come to a new year, if we are goal setters/resolution makers let us try getting alongside the ambitions of the Apostle Paul who said – Therefore, we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. II Corinthians 5:9
Let us spend 2021 in a grand effort to please God.
When I was a young child, I would have climbing the walls the past couple weeks WAITING for Christmas to arrive! I do remember once thinking in July that we had gotten over the hump in the long WAIT for Christmas. Then, shortly after Thanksgiving the actual Christmas decorations would start going up. In our house a tree never showed up until about December 15 – 10 days being about the max for keeping a fresh cut tree looking good. Although mom had a box of actual store-bought Christmas tree decorations, we kids loved to string pop corn and paste bright colored construction paper chains together until almost no actual foliage could be seen. Stockings would be hung, somewhere in that last week mom always arranged a telephone call from ‘Santa’. A box of oranges (the only time of year we had oranges) and a dish of vanilla crème drops showed up (always managing to make their mysterious appearance when I wasn’t looking!). All these little markers and progressions finally led to laying awake in bed on Christmas Eve, having set out the milk and cookies and determined to stay awake until….zzzzz.
Then the big day arrived.
Well, things have changed. These days I feel like the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day passes far too quickly. There are so many things to do and so little time to do them that the season is over before I have much got to enjoy it. But there are high lights, markers and progressions: Singing the old Christmas Carols and the new songs the contemporary praise band learns, the Christmas play (the youth of the congregation really knocked our socks off this year – helpful hint: put your socks back on before leaving the church building – Ohio December evenings are cold. The personal Bible studies that inform and build the sermons for the Christmas season. All these things have nothing to do with the glitter and color that so thrilled my childhood days. And the mysteries of Santa have been squeezed aside by a much deeper and more profound mystery – the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The few weeks at our disposal are inadequate for considering such things and suddenly, it is January.
The secret lies in the realization that the blessings of the incarnation are not limited to a season. The big event came – as the Bible says – in the fullness of time: that is, following millennia of preparations that involved whole peoples, cultures, languages, nations, societies, and more. The markers and progressions that led to the Christmas event took in the whole phenomenon of Hebrew prophecy, the entire panoply of Eastern monarchs, the rise and fall of powers, earthly and heavenly, the ministries of men and angels and LOTS MORE. Nor is it only the relative past of all those years BC. The blessings of the incarnation have spanned all the years, languages, peoples and powers since as we mark off the steps along the way to the next phase of God’s REALLY BIG PLAN – in the fullness of time. Suddenly, hanging a stocking seems somewhat trivial and the taste of those crème drops fades.
I am not anti-presents, trees, decorations, etc. – I do believe glitter is immoral and ought to be illegal, but only because it is impossible to contain. But the Christmas season is already short enough and we do have to be careful of distractions from the actual point. I hope you have a blessed Christmas in every possible sense.
I am not much of a gambler myself. As kids my siblings and I would take a jar in which the family saved pennies until the jar was full, divvy up the coins and play poker until someone had cleaned everyone else out – then all the pennies went back in the jar. At some point the jar would get full and whosever turn it was would get an infusion to their savings account. Gambling is easy when it costs you nothing. But that isn’t usually the case. As an older teen I helped my grandparents a lot on their perspective farms. On one occasion my paternal grandfather and I finished up his haying for the year. We had just filled the last two wagons in the field and grandpa was certain it would not all fit in the remaining space in the barn loft. I said I though I could get it all in. He said he doubted it. I said ‘Wanna bet’. He asked ‘Bet what?’ ‘A root beer!’ I replied. Grandpa and I both had a thing for root beer. Mason’s was our favorite! Grandpa took the bet. We pulled the wagons to the barn and he ran the bales up the elevator while I scrambled, climbed and toted to arrange them in the loft. On the way from grandpa’s farm to ours we stopped at Campbell’s grocery where I bought two root beers. Then we finished the journey and put the last thirty some bales in our barn. Before giving up I had been hanging out grandpa’s loft window, clutching the track for the sliding window cover with one hand, hooking bales from the elevator with the other and swinging them into the rapidly vanishing available space. Too late I had considered the decades worth of scrawls on the loft wall where grandpa had counted, each and every year, the number of bales he put in that loft. Never bet against the man with certain knowledge!
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is probably best remembered for what has come to be called ‘Pascal’s Wager’. It was actually a minor portion of his thinking and not published until after his death. If you really want to warp your mind study Pascal’s Triangle! But the wager. A brief summation goes like this.
*God is or is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives. (if an infinite God exists He is outside the system of cause and effect and beyond the limits of our reason.)
*A game is being played. (You exist and must conduct your life by a series of choices.)
*You must wager. It is not optional. (Everyone decides for themselves whether God exists or not or, at the very least, whether the decision is important to them.)
*If you wager that God is and win – you gain all and lose nothing – or at the very least any small losses of present material and pleasure are miniscule compared to the eternal bliss you have gained - if you win the wager.
*If you wager that God is not and lose – you lose all and again, any gains in present material and pleasure you may have enjoyed are miniscule compared to the eternal bliss forfeited – if you lost the wager.
*If you wager that God is and lose - you actually lost nothing – endless extinction is the same whichever way you bet and, Pascal observed, believers seem to be as happy – if not happier – in the course of their lives.
*If you wager that God is not and win – if it can be demonstrated that believers are as happy, if not happier than non-believers in the course of their lives – what, exactly did you win?
Whatever anyone thinks of the wager, by describing it Pascal is counted as the father of both game theory and decision theory – both consequential to our modern lives! But, as to the wager itself. Most skeptics deride the theory as the very weakest possible proof of the existence of God – which is kind of like looking at an apple and saying it’s the worst shaped banana you’ve ever seen. Pascal was not trying to prove the existence of God. He was trying to describe the situation in which humans, lacking proof of God, find themselves. Criticizing the wager on the basis of something it is not is what as known as attacking a straw man.
From the perspective of a committed believer, I have only ever seen two objections to the wager.
Once, long ago, my father found himself laid off from work for the Christmas Season. In those days and in our neck of the woods at least, working class families did most of their Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve. Online shopping wasn’t even a dream yet! Dad would get a Christmas bonus and get off early on Christmas Eve. As soon as he got home – he and mom were off to shop. The department stores in the County Seat (My upbringing was considerably more rural than most people are used to and unless we kids wanted rough cut lumber from the local family owned sawmill under the tree and bologna sandwiches from one of the few local mom & pop groceries in our stockings – the County seat was it.) stayed open late on Christmas Eve for just such shoppers. Well, on the Christmas Eve in question, the stores were open and Dad had plenty of time but there was not only no Christmas bonus, there was no regular paycheck either. In addition to our parent’s shopping, we kids were usually given a few dollars to put with whatever small amount we had been able to hold on to so we could buy something for each other. None of that was on the menu. Jumping ahead, we kids always received $7 cash @ on Christmas day - $5 from one set of grandparents and a $2 bill from the other. As usual, when it rains it pours and the well pump quit the day after Christmas. Dad needed our Christmas money to buy a new one and spent the immediate post-holiday season seven feet under ground and hip deep in cold water installing it. But – that was afterwards. Dad was always pretty good with his hands and spent some of his presently copious spare time out in the unheated garage with the table saw, drills, and C-clamps manufacturing gifts. Mom spent as much time at the sewing machine, rapidly depleting her hoard of cloth and for just once in my experience, nearly emptying the button can (an old candy tin in which she kept buttons rescued from clothing we wore out). We kids caught the spirit and went to work. I painted my older sister’s room. My middle sister crocheted little tie thingies for us boys to put on the top buttons of our dress shirts. And so it went. All said and done, dad went back to work and there followed lots of Christmases where the gifts represented more money. I remember here and there over those years receiving a Secret Sam (look it up), a Johnny Eagle set (look it up), a Timex watch and a chromatic harmonica. But none of those gifts I remember and certainly none of the ones I have long since forgotten, had the same impact as the year we gave the work of our hands. Sure, I suppose we had to due to unfortunate circumstances. I can only say in retrospect that I am glad those circumstances arose. For myself, even my $7 (more money then than now) that went into the new pump, felt like just one more contribution. I felt closer to my family that year and closer to God as well. I pass this on for what it’s worth. Merry Christmas.
In my last post I tried to lay out my understanding of the term ‘miracle’. You can go back and review all that. The long and short of it is that as I have come to understand the definition and purpose of miracles, almost all the miracles recorded in the Bible fall into three widely separated periods concentrated and Moses/Aaron and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus and the Apostles. That amounts to 150 years out of 5,000 years of recorded Biblical history - 10,000 or more years if you try to assign dates to pre-flood history. Sticking with the 5000 year figure, Almost all the recorded miracles of the Bible are packed into just 3% of the Biblical time line. That leaves 97% of the time in question to receive no more than 5% of all the recorded miracles of the Bible. And we’re not talking about that many miracles to start with.
How many miracles are recorded in the Bible? Well, the count varies depending on the definition used by the counter. One list I checked says 126. Another says 163. Another says 185. * Let’s go inclusive, round up and say 200. Proposing 200 recorded miracles, we’re talking about 190 of them happening in three waves comprising 150 years which leaves 10 to be spread out over the remaining 4850 years. If the distribution were even, it would amount to one miracle every 480 years or so – give or take a few months here and there.
The point to understand is that miracles were always rare. And the few time periods in which miracles are more concentrated are also rare. And Jesus was plain on this – the majority of people fail to read the ‘sign’ portion of miracles correctly and get caught up only in the act of power itself – or what they perceive to be the miracle’s immediate practical uses. If I could just have a clay pot that was always full of olive oil no matter how much I took out – I could be rich! Thus, the performing of miracles mainly leads to the demand for – MORE MIRACLES – rather than to a stampede toward the truth God is trying to communicate. We’re that way. A miracle a day would only lead us to wonder why we couldn’t have an AM miracle and a PM miracle!
All of this is not to say that no miracles happen today. It is to say we should expect them to be rare and SIGNIFICANT. God cares about the suffering of the sick and hungry. But most sick people will not be miraculously healed and we shouldn’t expect multiplications of fish and loaves every Tuesday. We (by which I mean mankind) could put an end to world hunger if we wanted to. We could do it using the wonderful creation God has put in our care and a little conscience. World hunger is not solved because we are sinful. The same for crime, injustice, poverty etc. These problems will not be solved until the world to come. And the rare and significant application of miracles is supposed to point us to that world! The expectation that miracles should be commonplace so as to solve the problems of this world is a fool’s game and we shouldn’t play it.
When miracles are performed at all, especially in any time when miracles are concentrated, we should be first and foremost concerned to see what God is pointing us to.
In the meantime, prayers will continue to be answered. Providence will continue to be showered upon us. Angelic ministries will not cease. History will be guided by the Almighty Hand and Everything God does will always be wonderful. But when we talk about miracles, let’s know what we’re talking about and if one occurs – let’s focus on where God wants to lead us through it.
*If you’re interested, All the Miracles of the Bible from Herbert Lockyer’s unique ‘All’ commentary set is available online for as low as $5 used, $18 new.
Many people ask questions like – Do miracles still happen? Others are quick to point at something in their experience and call it a miracle. I have had many conversations with many different folk about – miracles. And I always find such discussions to be un-helpful until we can make sure we are talking about the same thing. God’s providence and answered prayers are wonderful things but they are not necessarily miracles. At least I don’t think so. Also, direct actions of God like the creation of the world or scouring that same world with a great flood may or may not fall into the category of miraculous. I have often heard it claimed that every new baby is a miracle. I agree that life itself is inexplicable without God and that babies are extremely important – and very cool! But if all the workings of nature (beautiful to be sure, a testament to the handiwork of God for certain) are understood to be miracles, the usefulness of the term – or, as I understand it, of Biblical miracles themselves – disappears. For miracles to serve their purpose they must be distinguishable from the general order of things – no matter how wonderful the general order is. Miracles must stand out against the background, not disappear into it. When everything is a miracle, then nothing is.
Taking the words used along with the term ‘miracle’ in the Bible and just paying attention to the VERY basics of context will help us form a more useful definition. The two words most closely associated with the term ‘miracle’ in Scripture are ‘signs’ and ‘wonders’ There are other terms but these three will give us a baseline understanding.
In and of itself, ‘Miracle’ indicates an act of great power. Good enough. But the specific application of power also creates a sense of ‘wonder’. Things formerly regarded as impossible may be possible after all! My previous comfortable world view may need expansion in light of this kind of act of power. In creating ‘wonder’ the specific application of power opens observers up to new possibilities.
Now, add the concept of ‘sign’ to the mix. The act of great power and the ensuing sense of wonder are not generalized. They convey specific information, point at something, directing our attention to a truth beyond the miracle itself. The point of Jesus’ miracles was not just to be impressive or even that sick people need healed, hungry people need fed, and so forth. The miracles pointed beyond the utility of being able to multiply food (Obvious utility) or walk on water (Think of the short cuts!) The miracles were also signs pointing to the truth that Jesus was the son of God and the Messiah. Jesus carefully explained that if you read the information on the ‘sign’ of the feeding of the 5000 as ‘Line up here for a free meal!’ you had missed the point.
A miracle then may be defined as an act or application of great power which creates a sense of wonder in the observers enabling them to perceive a truth beyond the miracle itself.
Now let’s add another kink. ‘Miracles’ as far as I can tell by looking at the use of the term in Scripture, require a human miracle worker. Perhaps some of you can show me something I have missed in Scripture but I do not find the world ‘miracle’ except in instances involving a human ‘miracle worker’. I realize the power comes from God. The human miracle workers generally realized that as well. Moses did get into some trouble for blurring over that distinction a little bit. In all of these cases, one function of the miracle as a ‘sign’ was for observers to trust and follow the human miracle worker as one currently appointed by God.
I add then to the definition – An act or application of great power, involving a human miracle worker, which creates a sense of wonder in the observers enabling them to perceive a truth beyond the miracle itself.
By this definition God’s original act of creation is not a miracle and as far as I have been able to find, the Bible never applies the term ‘miracle’ to the creation described in the first two chapters of Genesis. In fact, every use of the term ‘miracle’ in the Old Testament Scriptures refers to the acts of power done through Moses/Joshua to liberate the Israelites from Egypt and get them to the land of promise.
Which leads me to my next point. If we accept this definition of ‘miracles’ (and I am willing to be shown in Scripture why I should not) then almost all the miracles of the Bible happen in three concentrated waves through a very small handful of human miracle workers.
This concentrates almost all the miracles of the Bible into three widely separated fifty-year periods.
* Each of these time periods is closely associated with the formation of Scripture. Correlation is not causation I know. Just saying.
*It is consistent with the repeated admonition for later generations of Israelites to remember the miracles God did to lead them out of Egypt.
*It is consistent with the expectation of a prophet to come – a prophet like - or recapturing the glory of the days of – Moses/Elijah.
I’ll leave it here for the moment with the promise to add more soon. But if anyone is worried I will tell you this much – I do not believe that NO miracles can happen today and if I am correct and the majority of miracles are concentrated into brief spans of time, that in no way indicates that God is doing nothing in between those time periods.
Today is election day – so I won’t discuss the election. Rather, I will discuss something foundational to our nation. We live in constant danger of forgetting this crucial founding principle which sets the United States apart from other nations – all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, including but not limited to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our government is neither the source nor the guarantor of these rights. In fact, as President Obama correctly observed – our constitution is something in the way of a charter of negative liberties – that is, it primarily defines the things government CANNOT do (to us) in such a free society where our rights descend from a higher source. Long before President Obama, Thomas Paine stressed the difference between government and society regarding society as a great blessing and government as, at best, a necessary evil that, over time, tends to become an intolerable evil. I always recall the tag line from Paine’s discussion – I tell you; the palaces of kings are built over the bowers of paradise!
Many struggle here with what seems an inherent contradiction. On the one hand we believe it necessary to maintain a wall of separation between church and state and forbid the establishment of an official state religion. But on the other hand, our founding principle is based on the notion that we are endowed with basic human rights by our creator. A few thoughts.
Even as I say this I realize that prisons and capital punishment certainly seem to qualify as depriving individuals of liberty or life or the pursuit of happiness – all of which are counted among those unalienable rights granted by the creator. And yet – the rationale for so depriving individuals of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness is not the prerogative of the government but of the people. The people recognize that situations arise in which certain individuals, for whatever reasons, become threats to the everyone’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. A free society will not countenance my pursuing happiness by taking an ax to all my neighbors. This would be in complete disregard of the very idea of unalienable human rights. Whether my neighbors put a stop to the threat themselves or call on the services of the government – sacred rights are protected rather than denied by preventing me from taking the ax to my neighbors. The role of government is ONLY to carry out these terms of our social compact in as least violent and invasive way as possible.
Problems arise when the government ceases to be the servant of the free society and sets out to become its master. Problems arise when the government begins to regard itself as the author and guarantor of our unalienable rights rather than as the servant of all we rights-bearers.
So, it’s election day. Remember who we are and vote.