Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Miracle - The Voice of God

I often talk about being led by the Spirit. There are so many doctrines and versus that you can debate in the Bible. I have heard both sides of lots of issues. Isn't that what denominations are, people that disagree on certain versus in the Bible; or place more importance or certain versus? There are those that debate if there could be an apostle in this day and age, if you can really speak in tongues, are there idiots in the church, can believers be possessed by demons... if you ask me, that answer is yes to all of them... but certainly they are debatable.

I guess, I was thinking about times when I was sure that I heard God. Four or Five years ago my kids wanted to go to a conference about 120 miles from the house. The registration fee for the three of us was nearly $100; plus the price of food and gas. I had heard so many good things about Acquire the Fire, that I wanted them to go... and me too! I talked it over with my wife who says "yes" to just about anything she thinks I will like. As we talked, I saw she had a lot of concern about the cost. I was about to cancel the outing, thinking that $100 was a little extravagant for this time in our life, when I head the Lord say, "just go, I will take care of it." I did not know how it was going to happen, but I felt that it was going to be taken care of. So, the girls and I got in the car an headed for the conference.

We arrived there a little early and walked into the arena area where we enjoyed the first meeting. At the end of the meeting and the music, we saw a friend of ours from church. We got to talking about how good the conference was. The topic of the cost of the conference came up, and we realized that we didn't have wrist bands. "How did you ever get in without them!", she exclaimed. "They have five or six people checking at every door for them." We never even saw anyone selling them, nor did anyone check us when we went in. (Sometimes day meetings are free at these type of events, I honestly did give it a thought.)

Just before the second meeting, absolutely not wanting to sneak in, we went to a table where they were selling the wrist bands. I went over to see what it was going to cost for the rest of the day. They were charging the full admission price for the entire weekend; one meeting was the same as the entire conference. I spoke the to gal at the table and told her that I was sorry that we had gone into the meeting earlier without knowing about he wristbands. She said that it would not be a problem, but that we couldn't go in like that again. "Thank you anyway," I said. I went to the girls to tell them we were leaving. I didn't even have $100 if I wanted to stay. They seemed a little disappointed, but they understood that it was expensive for me at that time. They started to say how much they had gotten out of the first meetings' dramas, message and worship. We headed for the door when the the gal from the table said that God had told her to just give us the wristbands. I told her that she didn't have to. She held them out and said, "You know we never do this. Ever!" I told her again, that she didn't have to and that we had just enjoyed being there for the time we already had. She insisted that we take them. One more time I said, "are you sure?" She simply said, "God bless you," and held them out for the us to take. Then I heard the Lord say, "I told you I would take care of this."

The voice of God is a wonderful and sometimes scary thing. However; we have His assurance that we will hear His voice and know it." The rest of the meetings were really life changing for the kids. They still talk about some of the things they heard that day. Me, I am just glad that God speaks to His people.. and especially me. On the way home, I thanked God that He had made way for us to be there.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Do You Really Need a Miracle?

I have been pondering miracles lately. If you have been reading this blog for a few months, you'll know that I believe in a supernatural God, one who does supernatural things. I love reading books such as "Like a Mighty Wind" and "Caught up in Paradise". They inspire me to believe God for amazing stuff. And you know, He has done it in front of my very eyes. As I look around at the people that I am in contact with, I see lots of needs. From finances to cancer, I know folks that need miracles.... or so it seems.

Here are some of the things that I have heard about miracles over the years. "If you have faith, you'll have miracles." "If you pray for potatoes, God will give you a hoe." Or, "coincidences are God's way of remaining anonymous." "We don't need miracles, we have science." And today's winner, "miracles ceased with the death of the last apostle." All of these statements are intended to illustrate a particular paradigm or worldview of God. As you can see, each one has its limitations.

As always, we want to clear up any misconceptions and understand our part, while leaving God His part in the process. First of all, God hasn't changed. He is still in the business of doing miracles and healings. I am also convinced that God is not trying to remain anonymous. I assure you that He wants credit for every sunrise, every healed cut and all the supernatural stuff that we didn't expect, or can't explain. Those are the easy answers.

The more difficult answers pertain to how to get a miracle. Before I go there, I want to take a moment to discuss the reasons that we may not get one. God's desire is to be in relationship with us. He wants us to know Him. There was once a prophecy floating around the Charismatic church stating that we wanted to see His hand move, be we didn't seek His face. I think that is certainly a factor. God is not in the business of dispensing miracles. They are often a byproduct of our relationship with Him. We'll call it the privilege of adoption. Membership definitely has its benefits! However; God is much more gracious then to only give gifts to those who know and love Him. He loves all of mankind in spite of their sin. He pursues each person for a relationship with Him. The start of that relationship may, just in fact, be a miracle. Yes, one spent on a dirty smelly faithless goat.

Is it true that God only does miracles for "good" people? Nope, you can't earn one.

Well, then what is it that can get God to move in a miraculous way? Here are the factors as I see them. Most of the people that I know that speak of miracles are baptized in the Holy Spirit. The miracles seem to follow those folks more then they do in other denominations. You can certainly be at odds over how one is "baptized in the Holy Spirit," but I assure you, these are the folks that are getting more consistent results. So you are spirit-filled. Then there are only three more criteria that seem to go along with God moving. The first is practical need. I meet lots of Christians that are in a fix, where the think they need a miracle. My question is this, how did you get there? Are you out of money? What did you spend it on? Are you working full time? There always seems to be a path to destruction. It might be a very level one, not necessarily a cliff. Do you really have a need, or did you create one? Real miracles come out of real need. It is doubtful that you'll walk on water if there is a boat or bridge.

Number two: It appears that the folks that experience the bonafide miracles are folks that have a deep relationship with God. I said experience, not receive. They may the vessel of the gift. They are the ones that not just read that Bible, but they live it. They may only get a few minutes a day, but they are in the word, not just reading it. I don't mean they are "good" folks, I mean they are dedicated folks. They are humble, teachable and open to God; they desire to know Him, not about Him.

They pray, but it is not a matter of the amount of words or time, but it is about the personal words they speak to the living God. The people that I know, that experience angels, miracles and other types of angelic activity look for it, wait for it and lastly, they expect it. Not only for themselves, but for others. Their lives are passionate for Him, and the blessings they witness are byproducts of putting Him first, not something that they deserve.

The last thing I believe that it takes for a miracle is faith. Someone has to believe and it's not always the receiver. However; where miracles are happening, they is usually a Christian not far from the scene, whether in prayer or there laying on hands.

There are a few facts about miracles you may want to be aware of. First, healing is not a miracle. In fact, within the church there should be lots of different types of healings, both physical and emotional as there are "gifts" of healing. There are curses that need to be broken and demons that need to be cast out. These supernatural events are the nature of the spiritual realm in relationship to the physical body. But miracles, they are a different sort of thing. They are walking on water, turning staffs into snakes, water into wine and things of that nature.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Grace vs. Grow

I continually stand amazed at how we function, or dysfunction in the church. Look, everyone in church is looking for grace, and in loads of other places besides. Getting off the hook, not being found out and being forgiven are top of the list for most folks. When we do get caught, grace is wonderful. I remember my dad not whacking me for busting a neighbors window with a poorly thrown rock. Because of his grace that day, I didn't have to suffer any punishment, OR make excuses. Had I been pressured, my 10-year-old mind would have blamed someone... the spinning of the earth on its axis, that fact that my dad hadn't taught me to throw rocks with better accuracy... umm... the target that I was trying to hit moved (Technically the targeted telephone pole had once been a tree in the woods which was moved to our front yard by the power company.).

The question is when is grace appropriate versus consequences, or punishment for our actions? As I write this, it sounds a little harsh, but it is the actual point of this blog. I understand that punishment is greater for seemingly greater offenses. Certainly murder demands punishment. But what about more minor offenses like, not calling someone in the church that you promised to call? Is it OK to decide not to show up as a greeter because, after all, you are just a volunteer? That is the type of dysfunction that I am talking about. The quandary is this. If leaders put pressure on parishioners to do what they say they said they were going to do, is it OK to reprimand them if they don't? The truth, in some cases, people will just find another church where the pressure is off and the grace appears to be greater. We used to call this extravagant grace for just about anything "sloppy agape"; a condition where people gave grace as an excuse for bad behavior.

It is the age old conflict: grace vs. legalism... and who is right question. I think this is a far more important question then "are we predestined or not," don't you think? The answer I suppose needs to be balanced erring on the side of grace. The prefect answer would be to always know what God's will is and do that. Didn't Paul say we must be led by the Spirit?

As Christians we need to grow up. We need to mature to the point of not just doing the right thing, but being led by the Spirit in all things. Spiritual maturity is not just "not drinking, not smoking and not cheating" while touting our testimony as if we have done something great! That behavior is shameful and needs God's mercy and grace. I doubt that acting on our addictions is taken lightly in the throne room.

Spiritual maturity is acting like Jesus did; the healing Jesus, the loving Jesus, the honest Jesus, the preaching Jesus, the teaching Jesus, the praying Jesus, the confronting Jesus, the disciplining Jesus and yes, the overturning tables Jesus. Everything He did was done without judgement, and except for the tables (maybe) without anger. He set boundaries, standards and taught them to those close to him. He was not concerned that few, if any, were going to be there at the cross with Him while he suffered and died. He knew His destiny, and never wavered from God's will. I bet he thought of other things to do while He spoke to the Father about the cup. And it seems, He had less grace for the religious leaders of the time then He did for the tax collectors and prostitutes.

The acceptance of grace is not a license to coast until we get to Heaven. The process of sanctification is life long, and it is never completed. The point is this, we that are more mature, need to teach others, set boundaries that are loving, yet cause others to grow in grace and maturity. We need to teach others to be led by the Spirit, while working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Then we have a starting point.

Hopefully we will stop doing "let's get through the week sermons" and starting teaching and ministering reconciliation and spiritual maturity through example, mentoring and real relationship; the kind where folks are committed to each other for the sake of Christ and the good of the church. Hopefully we can hold each other accountable for that which we said we are going to do in love.

You know, I am not so sure my dad did me any favors letting me off for the rock incident. But I'll never forget the grace that I received that day.
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