Monday, June 29, 2009

Give Us a Sign.

A man I met at work recently read Stark Raving Obedience. After a few minutes of conversation, he made it known that he believed in God and worked as a missionary. A week later, he handed me a slip of paper. “These are some questions I have about your faith,” he said. Since my shift had not yet ended, I told him that I would read his questions later and write my answers. I planned on writing him a note, but after I read these questions, I decided to write a post.

The note reads, “If God really speaks to you, some questions.

1. My middle name.
2. My father’s middle name.
3. My grandfather’s names (father’s father and mother’s father)
4. Grammatical use of “dad and I” & “dad and me”
5. Where did you get a story of a woman standing on her head?”

When this man told me he wanted to ask questions about my faith, these were not the questions I expected. However, this is not the first time someone has asked me to prove that I hear God speak.

I want to make it clear that hearing God’s voice leads to a closer relationship with Him. The purpose of this dialogue is to develop intimacy and ultimately for God to glorify Himself. When God tells me to pray for a complete stranger’s healing, it can seem strange at first. But when it so happens the stranger has an ailment or injury, I’m excited by the confirmation. Then, if we see healing occur at that moment (which has happened on a few occasions), God gets the praise and I learn to trust His voice even more.

On the other hand, for the man who wants me to recite his genealogy, what does he hope for? If I give him incorrect answers, does that supposedly prove God’s silence and my delusion? If I answer correctly, what would that accomplish? Would it bring him closer to God? To be honest, I don’t want to treat my conversations with God like a game of Mind Reader.

Some Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign in Matthew 12:38-40. “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’” A chapter earlier, they questioned His divinity and now ask for a sign as proof. Jesus refuses to perform tricks and says, in essence, that His death and resurrection will have to do. As if that weren’t enough, right?

Four chapters later in Matthew 16, the text tells us that the Pharisees approached Jesus with some Sadducees and again asked for a sign as a test. In fact, the text in Stern’s translation from the Hebrew says they did this in order to trap Him. Again, Jesus rebuffs them and repeats himself in verse 4. “‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.’ And He left them and went away.”

The Lord brought two things to mind as I thought of these passages in Matthew. First, Pharisees and Sadducees were theologically opposed to each other much in the same way that we see opposition between Armenians and Calvinists today. I had to laugh. Isn’t it funny how Jesus can bring people together? Even if it’s to oppose Him? Just a thought.

Second, I wondered how they intended to trap Him with their request. Jesus, as God, had the power to show them His divinity. Hadn’t He performed signs and wonders throughout His ministry? Then I remembered some passages in John. First, in John 6, Jesus miraculously fed five thousand people then told them to seek Him and not the sign. Most of the people didn’t like this rebuke. In fact, even the disciples found it hard to swallow at first. Then in John 7, the Jews question Jesus’s education as He teaches in the temple. He responds in verses 16-18, “So Jesus answered them and said, ‘My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.’” Now in John 8:12-13, “Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’ So the Pharisees said to Him, ‘You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true.’” In the following verses, Jesus explains how His relationship with the triune God allows the three parts to testify and glorify each other. They missed the point about His relationship with the Father, how He only said what the Father told Him to say, how He sought to bring glory to God.

I’m not Jesus. I don’t deserve the honor and glory and I shouldn’t do anything to seek praise due to Him. I want to point people to Jesus. I don’t want to waste time defending myself. When I read this man’s list of questions, I felt so much disappointment. Were these questions about my faith, I would have gladly answered them. But they seemed like a test of my truthfulness, sanity, and grammar. So, I respectfully decline to answer all but one of His questions. He asked where I got a story about a woman standing on her head. Fifteen years ago, a woman in a mid-Michigan church heard God and obeyed. My father came in contact with her through a friend of his, her pastor at the time. Since then, the story has grown legs and unfortunately suffered from a game of telephone. We are certain of the story’s accuracy as we tell it. If that isn’t convincing enough, we have fifteen more years of stories like hers.

I tell these stories in hopes that they will build people’s faith and come to understand more of the one true God who is both infinite and personal. Jesus forgive me for any other motive.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Miracles - Some questions on differing opinions.

Before I begin, I want to let you know that I’ll do my best to lighten up. The past several posts have dealt with issues that really messed with my faith. After a couple of months wrestling with scripture in prayer and discussion, I realize that I might have laid it on pretty thick. Ever tried to chew a peanut butter sandwich with a solid inch of Jiffy?

So I thought to myself, “I want to write about something fun, light. Enough with this heavy stuff for once.” For some reason, I figured miracles might make for an easier post. A breather. Everyone likes to hear about miracles, right? And as stories, they’re a snap to write. “Someone had cancer, people prayed, God healed the person.” Everyone applaud! “A single mom doesn’t have money to feed her kids and prays for provision, then money or an opportunity seemingly materializes out of thin air.” God be praised!

I’ve personally witnessed dozens of testimonies like the ones above. When someone gives a testimony of God’s power moving, God receives the glory. That’s how it’s supposed to work. But I’m going to tell you about a few instances where testimonies of miracles had a different effect.

Since reading 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, I’ve tried to change how I communicate Jesus with others, “my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” Instead of merely rattling off The Romans Road (which I agree is effective in certain situations), I’ve begun to share my testimony of God’s miracles and then offer to pray for people. If God moves (and He often does), then the person would see the power of Jesus for himself. They would have a harder time claiming that I cast a spell over them with “persuasive words of wisdom”. God be praised.

God healed my back of severe scoliosis after a church service in 1997. I mean, it was severe, folks. It’s a miracle I don’t have rods in my back. God has miraculously provided for my needs ever since I moved to Nashville. When people ask about my story, I automatically this stuff. Graham Cooke explained, “Your testimony is not what God once did in your life years ago. Your testimony is who God is in your life all the time.”

One night after an IKAIK concert, these girls invited me to hang out with them at another bar. They probably didn’t expect me to talk about God as much as I did, but that’s what happens when you ask about my life. I tell you about my relationship with Him. After about half an hour, a guy came over to our table and asked, “What are you guys talking about?”
The girl who invited me replied, “He’s talking about how lucky he is.”
“Luck,” I laughed. “I wouldn’t call it that.”
She said, “What would you call it?”
“God’s blessing,” I said.
She immediately responded, “Well I wouldn’t call it that.”

As I wrote out the notes for this post, a guy at work asked what I was writing. When I told him I intended to write about miracles, he asked, “which do you think it is, miracles or chance?”
“I think miracles are a part of God’s rational order,” I said.
“It’s all random chance,” he said.
I started laughing. He asked, “How can you believe in an ordered and reasonable God?”
“For one, I’ve seen Him miraculously answer my prayers.” I told him about how God healed my back. He then, whether on purpose or not, shifted the focus of the discussion. To me, the story of my healing is God’s power displayed. My co-worker’s only argument against it was to claim randomness, which no person in their heart can truly have faith to live by. A cook’s job requires a high degree of precision. If he were to apply his belief in Random Chance on cooking, chaos would burn his buns.

These stories might not surprise you. To be honest, they don’t surprise me, either. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Cornelius Van Til wrote extensively on the problems of explaining the Christian faith to those who don’t know Jesus because they have no context with which to give meaning to facts. I understand that without the Holy Spirit’s revelation, people cannot know God. Even so, I’ll continue to share my testimony, pray for people, and yeah, even reason with them.

My main concern here isn’t for people who don’t claim to know Jesus. I want to know how people in the church can claim to know Jesus but deny the miraculous today. In a piece written by First Fruits of Zion called “The Fingerprints of God”, the author writes, “As believers in a Divine Creator, we must learn to sharpen our sense of wonder to detect the inherent godliness that is infused into every particle of creation.” In one sense, a person can look at the world around them, recognize God’s order in creation, and praise Him for that miracle. Beyond that, though, I believe that God has control over every particle of creation. It’s not that miracles work outside the laws of reality, but rather God in His perfect knowledge of creation can work in ways we are sometimes unable to comprehend.

Did God ever give up this control? If God only does things that will bring glory to Himself, would cessation fit in with His plan? In this life we will experience hardships, pain, and suffering. We will pray to God and we won’t always see the result we expected. Does that mean God has somehow given up His sovereign control over creation? Does it mean that He decided to make the universe a dice game after the Apostles died? Replacing the miraculous with coincidence at any level, I think, would call God’s majesty into question. It allows for something to exist outside of His control.

Now, for the Christian, if you accept that miracles do happen today, what’s stopping you from asking for them? If you’re worried about pulling a Simon from Acts 8, then you’ve already got a good start. Your motives should be to glorify God and advance His kingdom. Are you worried that you might have to defend God if He doesn’t move the way you asked Him to? Well, He’s the one in charge. You don’t own the result of your prayers.

Think about this. Before Jesus sent out His followers in Matthew 10, He said, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” Hebrews 2:3-4 reiterates Jesus’s pattern with preaching and miracles. The verse I quoted from 1 Corinthians 2 shows Paul and his companions demonstrating God’s miraculous power. In chapter 12, he even promises the gift of performing miracles to those in the Corinthian church.

I know I wanted to keep this light, but the seriousness of Matthew 11:20-22 kept nagging me. “Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.’” Why was Jesus so hard on His own people? Because they knew God and should have recognized the power of His Spirit when it manifested in miracles. But they denied it, called Jesus the carpenter’s son, and shrugged off the message of salvation He intended to send with His miracles.

This post doesn’t really have a final point. I never intended to write on why I believe in the existence of miracles. Like I said earlier, they happen around me all the time, so I know they exist. But the reactions I get from both cessationists and unbelievers seemed too similar to ignore. What do you all think about this? Do you have any stories that can only be explained as miraculous? Do you think God lost interest in surprising people? Let me know.