The leader of a large San Diego church contends that people miss the reality of miracles more often than not.
Pastor James "Jim" Garlow, senior pastor of the 2,500-member strong Skyline Wesleyan Church, argues in his new book that divine intervention can and often does occur on Earth. Titled Miracles Are For Real: What Happens When Heaven Touches Earth, the work defines miracles and makes sense of why they do, or don't, manifest themselves before God's people.
Garlow said his scrutiny of supernatural events began when he started work on a different book about heaven and the afterlife. While researching that topic, he said his wife of four decades discovered she had liver cancer.
The resulting health crisis was trying, the author admitted, but one that ended in a struggle as drastic as the initial illness itself. Convinced his wife's slow recuperation was nearly impossible, Garlow and Keith Wall, an experienced online columnist, teamed up to tackle a book on miracles as a result.
"The definition of miracles is those things we can’t understand," Garlow said. "They enormously encourage our faith and show us a glimpse of the future of the kingdom and how God works in our world. It's been intriguing seeing God's hand at work in peoples' lives in ways we can't understand."
Wall's work with Garlow soon convinced the pair that they had to address two sides in the miracle debate. The first, Garlow said, were skeptics, or those who "have an inborn arrogance based on the idea that if they don't believe in miracles, they can't occur." The other camp, he continued, are Christians who might benefit from a better definition of the term.
"So many Christians label things as miracles too fast," Garlow said. "Conversely, many things we consider natural are themselves miraculous. We thus deal with miracles in one sense all the time and at other times they appear to us randomly as incredible manifestations. God does both for a purpose and we have to decode that purpose."
Garlow said that several reasons explain miracles' existence. They can show the nature of Christ, he argued, or complement Christians' faith. At other times, he continued, miracles make clear good's triumph over evil or what a perfected world will look like after Jesus returns. Regardless of the cause, Garlow concluded, the end result is always making God's glory known to saints and sinners alike.
"God alone can go beyond the laws of the natural world by superseding the known laws of nature," he said. "Such miracles are an appetizer course for the main meal that is the kingdom becoming present in the future."
Garlow said he had encountered several miracles in his ministry. One early example occurred in 1999, he recounted, when Skyline relocated campuses during Palm Sunday. Moving a typically lightweight cross, the church's crew found it nearly immovable when they reached their new location. It was as if God had given Skyline a sign that he was watching over them, Garlow said.
"We have no other explanation for what happened that day besides that it was a miracle," Garlow said. "It was like God had gone ahead of us and greeted us there with his presence."
A much bigger miracle, Garlow added, is the way in which faith can follow us through all of life's changes. The author and pastor said he first felt God's pull at age nine and has kept Christianity dear ever since.
"That purpose and peace has never left me at all," Garlow said. "I can't imagine life without focus on the centrality of Christ to everything. I can't fathom what it would be like without that anchor."
Correction: Tuesday, December 20, 2011:
An article on Monday, Dec. 19, 2011, on Miracles Are For Real incorrectly reported that the author is a pastor from San Francisco, Calif. Pastor James Garlow leads a church in San Diego, not San Francisco.