Thursday, July 3, 2014


by Jared Grosse
Have you ever experienced a miracle?  I did.
Once.  But before I tell that story, a quick word on the modern challenge of this topic.  Were a “miracle” poll taken in our local churches, I bet a good portion would identify themselves as cessationists (believing that all miracles “ceased” early on in the life of the Church). Some might side with the non-cessationists (believing miracles continue to happen whether we realize it or not, or perhaps only in specific time and places).  Many might just chalk it up to mystery, saying, “Who knows?”
The latter option is attractive because it keeps one from having to answer some very difficult questions.  What is a miracle, anyway?  Is it a natural or super-natural event?  If it is supernatural, can we call a material event (like a beautiful sunset or a successful chemotherapy) miraculous?  How do we reconcile miracles with science?  Why would God turn water into wine for a party but not heal my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s?  Questions like these make this a challenging topic.
Personally, I embrace the word “miracle” to describe natural events.  If you have ever been captivated by a beautiful landscape, or feeding a newborn child, or a brilliant starlit sky… well, you probably know what I mean.  It is that moment when we observe something explainable by natural causes, yet know deep down that it is beyond our ability to fully explain.  There is indeed something miraculous about the natural world of our common experience.
However, in light of personal experience and science’s ability to explain more of what happens, I admit that I tend to be skeptical of modern-day claims to “supernatural” miracles.  Be it lack of faith or misunderstanding, I have simply not witnessed such events or been persuaded by those who have.
That is, until May of 2011.
I graduated from college just two weeks earlier, and there was much to celebrate as I closed that chapter of my life.  Months earlier, three college friends and I decided there was only one proper way to celebrate our accomplishment: by bicycling coast to coast.  The adventure of a lifetime!  As I worked, saved money and studied hard in the months leading up to the trip, I remember feeling that the day would never come.  The daily grind of work, school, internships and marathon training became painful in the shadow of the looming adventure.  At last, when we mounted our heavy-laden bicycles in New York City’s Time Square to begin our pilgrimage west, it felt as if nothing could squelch the glory of that beautiful moment.
But something did.
As we rode out of Time Square, through Central Park, over the George Washington Bridge and into the hills of New Jersey, my marathon-trained body handled the steep grades with ease.  However, just as I was about to crest the largest climb of the day… POP!  Excruciating pain flooded my knee and my life quickly turned to shambles.  At first, I couldn’t imagine how I hurt myself.  Having just run a marathon less than a month prior, I should have been more than prepared to climb these hills!  However, as I sought an explanation, I became convinced that the marathon was what actually caused my injury.  Both knees had been dangerously swollen at the end of the 26.2 mile race, and it seemed that one month was simply not enough time to recover.
I remounted my bicycle, hoping that I was mistaken about the gravity of my injury, and that it would pass as my body adjusted.  But the pain worsened with each pedal, each brutal hill haunting me with the prospect of quitting this glorious adventure before it had really begun.  What if I tore a major ligament?  Could I recover enough to meet up with the guys a couple of weeks down the road?  How would I get home?  Were all the dollars, effort and travel that went into this for nothing?  This was no way to begin the next chapter of my life!
As the pain and questions piled up, so did my anxiety.  My hard-earned dreams were being dashed before my eyes with every painful pedal.  The prospect of riding another mile seemed impossible.
Somehow, though, I did.  It wasn’t pretty, but I managed to limp into camp that night with my peers.  As I was falling asleep and icing my knee, I prayed that, against the odds, this new chapter of my life would begin, not with pain and disappointment, but with promise and optimism.  That this trip would end, not with an injury, but with my friends at the Pacific Ocean.  However, my words felt weak, as did my chances of continuing this journey.
My faint hope that a good night's sleep would improve things was quickly crushed.  Instead, I was woken constantly by melting ice in my sleeping bag and the pain that it failed to alleviate.  In the morning, I emerged from the tent stiff, tired and thinking that going home might not be such a bad idea after all.  After tenderly packing up, I got on the bike and reluctantly followed my peers, quickly nearing the end of my ability to endure this punishment.  Hours of painful riding gave way to an unusual bright spot as we came to the Delaware River and our second border crossing.  After crossing the bridge into Pennsylvania, we all dove into the frigid state line.  We swam.  We splashed each other.  We laughed.  But, most importantly, we allowed two days of sweat and stress to wash off into the icy water.  Crawling back onto the riverbank, we drank in the sun’s warmth and the realization that we were living our dreams.
But that’s not the best part.  Because that swim was also the end of my knee pain.  It was as if the waters of the Delaware were infused with the healing power of the mighty Jordan in many of the Bible’s healing miracles.  From the moment I remounted my bike at the Delaware to the moment I dipped my bike in the Pacific Ocean nine weeks later, not ONCE did the pain return.  It was enough to flabbergast even this miracle-doubting skeptic!
I have often wondered if there might be a natural explanation for my instant recovery.  Could the frigid, flowing water have affected my knee in a manner a physical therapist could explain?  Could it be I sustained a minor injury (strained tendon, tight ligament, etc.) that was bound to pass soon anyway? Sure.
 Yet, I tend to doubt these objections.  After all, I spent hours the night before applying “cold water”(ice) to my knee.  I woke up feeling worse.  I also struggle attributing the extreme pain I experienced to a strained tendon.  But, frankly, I think raising these kinds of objections in an effort to demystify this experience is to miss an important point.
Miracles have little to do with natural versus unnatural explanation and have everything to do with expectation.  I was convinced that my ailing knee should have ended my trip.  There was no reason for me to expect that I should continue the harsh life of daily cycling for the next two months and 3,000 miles.  Even if a doctor gave me an explanation of the healing in medical terms, I would still consider this event a miracle.  Was it miraculous because it was supernatural?  Who knows?  But more importantly, it was a miracle because when all seemed lost, hope emerged from the most unlikely of places.  Because at the beginning of the next chapter of my life, I received exactly what I needed to continue the journey that would go on to shape my story in profound ways.  It was a miracle because it was an unexpected gift at a time of great need.
In the weeks and miles to come, our team of bicycle tourists continued to experience the miraculous.  It happened when a family picked us up on the interstate when we were hours from the nearest town – at midnight.  It happened when a rural Oregon farming couple invited us into their home when we desperately needed it.  It happened when my last tire went flat in Middle-of-Nowhere, Idaho, and my pitiful repair kit kept the shredded tire alive until I got to the next town 20 miles away.  However, we also experienced the miraculous in common events.  Like when we watched a perfect sunset unfold over the farmland of southern Michigan.  Or when this North Carolinian rode past a home in Metamora, Ohio oblivious to the fact that I would be living and writing this article in that very house today.
These experiences taught me that the miraculous and the unexpected do not have to be rare.  While they do happen on once-in-a-lifetime bicycle tours, the unexpected gifts of the miraculous are also right at home in the commonplace.  For example, I experience the miraculous when I make my morning cup of coffee just right.  Or when my community retreats from the busyness of daily survival to fellowship over a meal and a game.  I can find miracles most anywhere when I slow down enough to become aware of it.
Scripture points to a God of the miraculous.  We see this in supernatural events like the parting of the Red Sea, the plagues on Egypt, the virgin birth of Jesus and the healing miracles of the gospels.  However, we also see this in God’s decision to create, and recreate, the miracle of life.  We see it in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, an act which reclaims the goodness of ALL creation, even down to the stuff of our everyday lives.
Regardless of whether you identify as a cessationist, non-cessationist, uncertain or skeptic, we can all be grateful and aware of the biblical claim that all of life is a miracle to be appreciated.  It is an unexpected gift.  And we get to be a part of it.  Perhaps there is an event in your life, like my healing in the Delaware River, which needs to be reclaimed as the miracle that it is.  Maybe you need to slow down and take time to become aware again of the miraculous nature of everyday life.  Like my morning cup of coffee.  Or our beautiful Midwestern sunsets.  Or fellowship with loved ones.  Could it be that God is calling you, as He is me, to be the miracle of hospitality to the next bicyclist that rolls through town?  However God is calling you to reclaim the miraculous, may we remember that we serve a God who creates and resurrects all things.  May we be ambassadors of the truth that all of life is miraculous.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Are We Throwing the Baby Out With the Hammock?

by Chad Roper

That old “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” phrase may hold much modern wisdom for us as we field some of the curve balls that 21st century living throws our way.

First, though, we need to talk babies.

One thing that Sarah and I love to do is babysit. Watching our nieces and nephews allows us to briefly experience the joys and challenges of parenting with the comfortable assurance of a designated end point.  For example, if we become exhausted after a marathon crying session, or if the Pull-Ups leak all over our new bed––well, at least I know it won’t happen again the next night!

Case in point: our three-year-old nephew, Noah, is a “restless sleeper.”  Now to call Noah a restless sleeper is like saying that the sun’s hot, forever is a long time, or that the Pope is Catholic.  This kid doesn’t know what still is!

When you first get him down for bed, he’s pretty calm, and he lulls you into a false sense of security––enough that you almost drift off to sleep.  And that’s when the first kick happens.  Out of the nowhere, he lets loose with a full-bore, field-goal-worthy kick to the groin. Or the stomach if you’re lucky. And this is only the beginning.  About every two hours or so, he makes a full 360 degree rotation, punching and kicking whatever soft, fleshy parts of our bodies get within his range.  I’ve also learned that even if you manage to crumple yourself up at the bottom of the bed, well outside of “the circle of pain,” you still are not safe from Noah’s sleep sabotage.  I’ve never heard another human being be quite so verbally expressive while totally unconscious.  It’s as if he doesn’t hit his question quota during his waking hours!

One of Sarah’s many talents, for which she garners my deepest respect, is her ability to endure this assault for its entire duration.  I, on the other hand, learned my lesson from the first dose of this madness and typically get up as soon as Noah falls asleep to seek safer slumber elsewhere.  Usually this means sleeping in my hammock.

Now I fully acknowledge the unusual nature of utilizing a hammock as an alternative to the traditional pillow and mattress.  I know that most people would never consider doing such a thing.  But, as I am often reminded when it comes to things like this, I am not like most people.  As a backpacker and cyclist, I’ve come to love the wonderful benefits hammock camping affords.  They’re lightweight, incredibly packable and just plain simple.  I’ve had some of the greatest sleep of my life suspended over roots, rocks and rubble, on the inclines of mountains, or in dry as a bone during torrential downpours, all while peacefully swaying back and forth.

One day, long before I was married, I rearranged my bedroom, adjusted my mattress and washed all my sheets. With all the added complexity of beds, I couldn’t help wondering if there wasn’t an easier, more simpler way to sleep.  Maybe there was something outside of the box that I hadn’t considered.  I recalled the sublimely restful sleep I’d experienced in my camping hammock and wondered if I couldn’t replicate that in my house.  After drilling a couple eyebolts into the studs of my bedroom walls, I was totally sold on indoor hammocks! 

Much like Noah, I used to toss and turn quite a bit during the night.  After sleeping in my hammock, however, I noticed that these issues were completely eliminated. This prompted me to investigate further into using hammocks as beds.  I was amazed to discover that people had been sleeping in hammocks for thousands of years and that I was apparently the last one to join the party.  I also discovered that in addition to offering a good night’s sleep, the hammock also offered a lot of medical benefits as well, to include: falling asleep faster, increased length of N2 sleep (which is tied to greater brain plasticity), and a reduction of insomnia and restless sleeping due to healthy body positioning and zero pressure points.  When I then told other people about this “grand rediscovery” of mine, they oftentimes failed to share my enthusiasm. In some cases, they couldn’t even fathom what spending a night in a hammock was like.  This ancient, traditional way to sleep had become almost wholly forgotten.

Today, millions of young people, from my age down to little children like my nephew Noah, won’t even be aware of the fact that once upon a time, there was a day at the beginning of every week that was set aside by God for rest and renewal.  It was a day when grocery stores and gas stations were closed and families spent the day together, engaged in leisurely and restorative activities.  Can you even believe, given the way we live our lives now, that such a time ever existed? I’d imagine that if the gas stations were closed, a person would have to plan and prepare when they filled up their tanks. Might these be some of the same values that we’re losing?  I know there are many people who could not imagine the inconvenience of such a day and would feel greatly constrained by it’s observance.  Where convenience is concerned, I think it’s important to remember, that God provides us with such instructions not to burden us, but to lighten and free us and so that we can live better, more fuller lives with Him!  While it may be nice to live in a society of instant gratification, what have we sacrificed in gradually yielding up our day of rest?  What do we lose when we can’t spend time with our families and friends over holidays because they have to go work at a store that never closes?  What do we lose when of the health our loved ones deteriorates after years and years of non-stop momentum and stress? 

Maybe keeping the Sabbath holy isn’t the bathwater we think it is.

Life is an opportunity to be agents of Christ’s light, love and restoration, not only to those around us but to the whole world over. Preserving the Sabbath, as mandated by God Himself, helps us fulfill our calling. Weary ourselves, what do we offer our brothers and sisters who are on the verge of total physical and spiritual exhaustion? Who among us cannot use a day to be renewed and recalibrated by God’s goodness?

Compared to my grand “re-discovery” of the Sabbath and its purposes, the hammock realization became nothing! Observing God’s sacred day creates this beautiful life rhythm in which my work is orderly and purposeful. I have delineated boundaries, looking forward to definite end points in my tasks – the same way I do with babysitting.

Immersed in actively resting, my soul is refreshed and my perspective is rejuvenated. I am free to experience the love and peace of Almighty God, the One who spoke the universe into existence, in a brand new way. Reading my Bible with a fresh cup of coffee in hand, walking in the warm afternoon sun, appreciating His stunning handiwork … all are wholly new and wonderfully electric experiences. 

Observing the Sabbath is just one of many ancient and, dare I say, neglected expressions of our faith. Rediscovering and implementing this important aspect of Christianity will enrich our lives individually and corporately. Make time to rest in the knowledge of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

Hiding in plain sight, it’s His solution for that which afflicts us. We need only do it.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Warrior Spirit

by J. T. Bean

Silence grips the battlefield, the air thick with anticipation. Each man’s heart beats nervously as the clanking of armor and cold sharpened steel are the only sounds to be heard. The smell of smoke from the burning embers of early morning campfires drifts like a ghost through the ranks. The opposing forces stare menacingly from separate horizons across a great valley. The palpable presence of fear is suppressed as adrenaline begins to course through each man’s veins. Every soldier’s mind is burdened with the knowledge that death may be their fate. Even so, they prepare to fight. Suddenly, the general shouts a command. Trumpets blare. Feet and hooves begin to gallop forward. The battle has begun.

Moments later the armed forces meet violently in the center of the valley. Swords shimmer in the sunlight. Shields rise to fend off attack. The shouts of men in battle echo across the gorge. Some are bellows of great exertion as those who initiate an assault. Others are cries of terror wherever a foe has landed a crushing blow. Blood begins to spill. The pristine emerald foliage of the landscape is slowly dyed scarlet. Within minutes, the battle is over and the victor emerges from the scrum. The look of dreadful relief is evident on their faces. They have faced their fears, fought the enemy, and survived to tell the tale….

As you can tell, some of my favorite movies are war epics such as Braveheart, Gladiator, and Saving Private Ryan. These recent battle-scarred films have more vividly portrayed the brutality of war than Hollywood’s antiseptic versions of the past. When you see such a rough treatment of war on screen, where you can almost feel the intensity of violence, and hear the bullets whizzing overhead, it gives you a new appreciation for the bravery of real-life soldiers who have stepped onto the battlefield.

This kind of courage is rare. But it is necessary whenever you face a challenge in life. And whether the challenge is large or small, you have to be willing to take a risk and step onto the battlefield. French author AndrĂ© Gide is credited as saying: “A man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Often we are paralyzed by fear and do not venture out on a new journey, choosing rather to play it safe and keep sight of the shoreline. But it’s beyond the horizon, out into the unknown depths, that one finds adventure on the high seas. And if you never risk deep water, you never learn to swim!

Some people may assume that courage allows people to act fearlessly. However, a courageous person may actually be very fearful. But what separates them from cowards, is that the courageous forage ahead despite their fears. Courage is that character quality that allows people to ignore their fear and step out in faith anyway.

When I think of courage versus cowardice, there is no more striking example than the Old Testament story of Gideon. It is found in the book of Judges, chapters six and seven. God had called Gideon to lead Israel against their oppressor, the Midianite nation. Gideon was just a simple farmer. Not a warrior. Not a leader. Just a humble man of faith.

Still, God used him to rally 22,000 men to fight against their enemies from Midian. Unfortunately, most of these men were cowards. Given the chance to go home and avoid the battle, over half of them abandoned the cause and went back to the safety of their homes.  Gideon announced to them: “Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave.” The Bible says that when offered the opportunity to quit, of the initial 22,000 recruits, only ten thousand remained. That means 12,000 chickened out. More than half of them were too afraid or not committed to fighting. And I believe this is comparable to modern day life.

Think about it, when faced with a difficult challenge, how many people actually accept responsibility and work to overcome it? I’m sure more than half would take the easy way out and avoid any conflict. Or, put another way, if offered an opportunity to succeed how many people are not fully committed to the cause and walk away? Again, more than half for certain, would pack up their bags and vanish. In both cases, fear overtakes the one who quits. And those who fight and succeed—they are the risk takers—the ones who act courageously.

The truth is, more than half the population plays it safe. Very few are willing to take risks. They would rather avoid failure than take a risk. But sometimes, avoiding risk is failure. Think about Gideon’s army. In the end, it was a small band of brothers—300 in all—who conquered Midian with God’s help. They experienced a miraculous victory and became national heroes when their foreign invader was finally vanquished. The rest of the original 22,000 missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime. Instead of heroes, they were zeros! They missed out because they let their doubts get the best of them. They did not commit to the cause and wilted for fear of failure. Instead of taking a risk, they panicked, took their toys and went home.

As difficult as it may be, the choice you make to achieve what you want in life, is to take a risk. Be brave. Cultivate a warrior spirit—the spirit of courage. Courage overcomes fear and is willing to risk. And you will never know the joy of success without first risking failure and courageously overcoming your fears.