Do we have the eyes to see God’s grace?

crutchesWhen I was growing up, I was quite interested in miracles. I remember when I was a junior in high school, playing volleyball with our church youth group at the park. I jumped (with bare feet) on a broken beer bottle hidden in the grass, and received a very deep cut on the arch of my foot.

I didn’t like doctors very much, and the cut wouldn’t stop bleeding, so I stitched it up myself with a sewing needle and some fishing line, which I sterilized in alcohol. (I know that sounds awful, but the cut was bad enough that the edges were numb, so it wasn’t painful. And my DYI medical treatment actually worked out fairly well, and also impressed the girls.)

But the wound was very painful to walk on, and for awhile I had to use crutches to get around. My bedroom at the time was down in a daylight basement below our very small home in the San Antonio Heights neighborhood above Upland. It had no bathroom, and stone steps leading up to the main house above. Having to negotiate these steps to go to the bathroom was really annoying.

After about a week of this, my armpits were sore and I didn’t think I had the stamina to continue using the crutches. So one night in my bedroom down in the basement, it occurred to me that I should pray for healing.

After praying, I stood up and tested the foot by leaning my full weight on it (without crutches). To my pleasant surprise, the pain was gone, and I could stand on the foot.

Whether God actually healed me, or not, I’ve never been 100% sure. But the idea was intriguing.

Later on, at Biola, I had friends who claimed they were the frequent beneficiaries of miracles. One such friend was Ken (“Kimbo”) Joseph. Kimbo was an interesting character. He was the only person I knew who literally spent hours each day in prayer. And unusual things, things which he claimed were miracles, just seemed to happen to him. For instance, he was somehow able to get a meeting with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Kimbo didn’t have the money to fly to Egypt and back, but it was somehow miraculously provided. When he met with Sadat, he shared his faith in Christ with the man, and reported to us that Sadat was very interested and open.

A few weeks later, Sadat was assassinated.

To this day, Kimbo’s life and ministry has been characterized by miracles. He survived the poison gas attacks launched by a cult on a subway in Tokyo. And he’s traveled for years around Iraq. The fact that he hasn’t been killed there is in and of itself a miracle, in my opinion.

Casting Out Demons

One of our missions professors at Biola had a reputation as something of an exorcist. I interviewed him when I was the editor of the student paper. He had served in South America for years, where encounters with the spirit world were common, and he frequently helped people there who found themselves subject to demonic oppression. When he arrived in the U.S., he had no intention of continuing this practice, but somehow the need for his services just seemed to find him. I recall that one night he conducted an exorcism right underneath the window in Darlene’s dorm. (She was terrified just by listening to the event!)

Raising the Dead

I also remember meeting another man at Biola named Ha Jimmy. Ha Jimmy was a general in the native armies in South Vietnam that sought to oppose the communist incursion from the north. He was a member of the Hmong tribe of mountain people, and a Christian. He told me that shortly before South Vietnam fell to the Vietcong, knowing that defeat was imminent and the Americans were hightailing it home, churches in South Vietnam underwent a desperate sort of a revival in the face of impending doom. His own church began a prayer meeting one Wednesday evening, and those present became very absorbed in prayer. He said this went on until someone called out in surprise and pointed to a skylight — which showed that dawn was breaking. No one was aware that the prayer meeting had gone on all night.

That morning, he said, no one was tired. When they left the church prayer meeting, they said to one another, “It seems like God wants us to do something today, to go around the community and pray for people.” There were many people in their village who were sick and wounded. So they went from house to house, praying for people. And Ha Jimmy says many of the sick or wounded people were healed.

At one home, when they arrived, they could hear crying. The door was open so they walked in. The family was gathered around the bedside of a young man who had been severely injured. He had recently passed away, and his body was stiff and cold.

Ha Jimmy says he and the church members he was with felt the urging of the Holy Spirit to pray for this young man, so they laid hands on him and prayed. And as they did, a shudder went through the body, and the boy suddenly opened his eyes and sat up, completely whole. God had raised him from the dead.

This sounds incredible, to be sure, but I believed Ha Jimmy. He was a very unassuming and soft-spoken man, and not prone to exaggeration. He was a little older than most of us at Biola, probably in his late 30s or early 40s, but looked younger than his age.

My Own Miracle

Hearing about miracles second-hand are one thing, but seeing what is undeniably a miracle with your own eyes is quite another. I’ve had several of these events in my life, which I’ll share later, but the first occurred when I was a junior at Biola.

One summer I traveled with a group of about 90 other students on a short-term missions assignment to the Caribbean island of Trinidad. After a few days of orientation together, I was assigned to lead a team of four (two men and two women) to assist a small church in Port-of-Spain, the capital city of Trinidad, with evangelizing its area.

This is the only time I’ve actually ever preached in a chicken coop! Yes, that’s where the church met. And as I said, it was very small. But cackling chickens wasn’t the main challenge when it came to being heard in that church.

Trinidad was fairly evenly divided between Muslims and Hindus, with Christians holding minority status. The two groups were quite competitive, against each other, and also against Christians. I recall that one of the interesting things they would do on Sunday mornings was drive up and down the streets in front of churches, in vehicles equipped with very large loudspeakers on top, and blare Hindu or Muslim music and chanting at full volume right in the direction of your (outdoor) church meeting. The preachers in Trinidad all had really hoarse voices, trying to compete with the cacophany.

But, to my miracle: One Saturday morning our team of four was praying together about what to do for the weekend. We had heard a rumor that several of the other teams had gotten together and were putting on some sort of an evangelistic tent meeting somewhere on the island, but we had no exact location or starting time. There was no phone communication among team members back in 1978, and all we knew was that this meeting was being held somewhere “in the mountains.” This presented a challenge, since the entire northern part of the island, starting northwest of Port of Spain and extending eastward for at least 30 miles, is mountainous and penetrated by many winding roads. But nevertheless, we really felt like God wanted us to go, and so we decided to try.

We went out onto the road in front of the house where I was staying with Don, another gentleman on the team, and hailed a taxi. That’s not hard to do in Trinidad, where every other car on the road is a taxi. And these taxis, which are basically private vehicles with a “Taxi” sign slapped on the side, are typically driven by either Hindus or Muslims.

The particular taxi which stopped for us was driven by a Muslim gentleman. “Where would you like to go?” he asked. As the leader, I spoke for the group, if a little sheepishly:

“Well, sir,” I explained, “that’s just it. We don’t know exactly.” And I proceeded to tell him about the evangelistic tent meeting we wanted to go to, hoping that he had heard about it and might know of its whereabouts. He hadn’t. “We think it’s somewhere in the mountains,” we told him, unhelpfully. He laughed and said, “Do you have any idea how many roads there are in these mountains? I need more than that to go on.”

I shrugged and told him, “I’m sorry, that’s all I have. But we did all of us pray about it this morning, and we feel quite confident that God is going to help us find the meeting through you.” I have no idea exactly what possessed me to say that, but there it was.

He laughed again. “You will pay?” he asked. “If you will pay, I will look.” I showed him a $20 bill (which was more than adequate for a day’s drive around the country, at typical Trinidadi rates). “We will pay,” I assured him.

“Climb in, then,” he said. So we climbed in, and started heading east.

Every time we came to an opportunity to turn off the main road, and up toward the mountains, he would ask us: “This way?” And each time we would respond, “We don’t know, sir. You pick, please.”

Finally, laughing as he did so, he picked one of the many possible routes up into the mountains. And we continued the process for a long ways, as we came to various crossroads or forks in the road. “Which way?” he would ask. “Left, or right?”

“You pick, please,” we would tell him.

And he would shrug, and laugh, and pick one or the other.

After perhaps 45 minutes or an hour of this, it became apparent we were nearing the end of the particular road we were on. Buildings were fewer and further between, and we were way up in the mountains. Then we turned a corner, and there it was — the end of the road. And at the end, a large tent, with the sign “Prayer meeting here today!” We knew it was our friends who had put together the event.

We all cheered, and thanked him, and tried to pay him. But our taxi driver friend was visibly stunned, and refused our money. “Well,” we told him, “we are going to go to our meeting … would you mind waiting for us, then driving us home again when we’re done?”

He shook his head, and spoke softly. “Actually,” he said, “what I’d like to do is come in with you, and see for myself what this meeting is about, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Of course not!” we assured him. “You are our honored guest! It’s obvious that God has brought you here, not us.” He parked the taxi and we all went into the meeting together.

It lasted an hour or two, I don’t recall exactly. There was singing, and prayer, and preaching, and the Gospel was shared. Our taxi driver friend sat very attentive with us, in the back row, during the entire meeting. An invitation was made, and he did not move.

Then, the meeting was over, and we all returned to his taxi together and climbed in. “What did you think?” I asked him, from the front seat, next to him, with the other three in back.

“I think I need to ask this Jesus of yours into my heart,” he replied very quietly.

And so we prayed with him, and shared more on what it meant to be a child of God. And then he drove us home, rejoicing and singing all the way. He gave us his address and asked us to help him learn more about the Bible, which we did, visiting him on a weekly basis during the remainder of our time on the island. We tried to pay him the $20, but he refused, so I left it on the back seat of his taxicab, hoping he would find it there.

What is a miracle, anyway?

I love this memory because it really showed me what the essence of a true miracle was. It’s something God does, from beginning to end, in spite of us. God used our Muslim friend to find that meeting, and he knew it. God was speaking to him, working in his heart, all the way. There was no great skill that we employed in the process; we just believed God, and went along for the ride … so to speak.

True miracles can only be seen with eyes of faith.

This was the first of several times in my life when I’ve known beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was working. But real miracles don’t have to be dramatic, they happen every day. Every time you look up at the stars, or at a newborn baby, or think about how much Jesus loves us, you have to admit, “That’s a miracle.” In Matthew 6:22-23 Jesus said something I’ve always taken as a little cryptic, but only recently did it dawn on me what He meant:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

A friend at church pointed out that this entire chapter is dealing with our ability to focus and see the grace of God and how it impacts our lives and our world. Having a “clear eye” means we see things accurately, the way God sees them. Yes, the world is full of sin, and brutality, and ugliness. But it’s also full of God’s grace. Evidence of His love is everywhere … if we have the clear eye to see it.

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