December 15, 2017

Sundays with Michael Spencer: January 18, 2015

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Note from CM: 2015 will mark five years since the death of Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk. Today, we continue our “Sundays with Michael” series with an excerpt from post that was originally published in January 2009.

• • •

A good and dear friend recently updated me on developments in her recent spiritual journey.

Let’s stop here. If you’re reading this, here’s a question for you: What do you expect to hear now?

Thought about it? Good. Let’s go on.

Most of what she told me about would go in the category of signs and wonders.

A prayer was answered with the sudden appearance of a rainbow, and so on. Mystical, personal stuff in the realm of answered prayers and personal experience. Her entire spiritual life is not studying scripture, but about what she describes as a “deep, personal experience of God” that includes His very real activity to show His hand in signs and wonders.

Scripture isn’t absent, but my friend’s journey is one where experience is leading and scripture is following. My friend is immensely happy, by the way, and closer to Jesus than ever before.

I had to immediately admit that this isn’t my journey and isn’t likely to ever be. I’m honestly afraid of anything in the category of “signs and wonders.” I’m very suspicious of any and all personal religious experience of this sort. I’m a skeptic when I hear most testimonies of miracles or signs. I tend to think that it isn’t true, is exaggerated or won’t last.

I’m ruthless to preachers in this regard. When I preacher talks off into a story of a miracle, sign or wonder, I’m wearing a helmet that says “Don’t try that stuff on me.” I’m kinder to regular Christian folk, but I’ve still got a skeptical attitude that the devil himself would admire.

I believe that religion, as a human phenomenon and by its very nature, creates a world where people believe that things happen that haven’t happened. The line between fact and reality goes very thin and takes a good bit of the week off.

I don’t find it at all unusual that a guy like Todd Bentley can say the last three rows at his meeting were all in caskets dead yesterday or that angels are tossing elephants around in the green room. And I’m not surprised that people believe him and defend him.

Now I won’t argue with you that there’s a problem with me in this area. (If you haven’t noticed.) Christianity is a religion of miracles that are essential to its existence. While I would stand by my frequent assertion that the number and frequency of miracles in the Bible is generally over-emphasized and exaggerated, I’m all signed up to affirm that the Bible is a record of miracles, signs and wonders.

I know that the Christian worldview is open to the intervention of God. I’m not a deist. I pray for God’s intervention all the time. I’ve experienced it. My family was once awakened from a sound sleep to discover our house on fire. How? By a noise in the street that I just happened to get up to check out….and thereby discovered the laundry room on fire. I’ve seen God answer prayer for my wife, my children, my mother and the ministry where I work.

But there’s no doubt that I have a bias in this area. Is it an over commitment to logic? An inevitable part of the Protestant use of the Bible? Residual damage from being a Calvinist?

14022522983_6cf20d8b21_zThere was a time, when I was a very young Christian, that I was part of a Charismatic prayer group that did little other than sing, pray for miracles and talk about miracles. When I left that chapter of my journey, I didn’t leave angry or hurt, but I wonder if I left feeling superior? Convinced I- at that time a dispensationalist- knew more than those kinds of people?

Have I spent so many years preaching, that I’m convinced God works by argument? By debate and verbal persuasion? How did I get so biased against the many other ways that God certainly uses to wake us up, draw us to himself and assure us of his presence?

Am I frightened by the unordered, uncontrollable aspect of God the Holy Spirit? Have I fled to the security of God working through chapter and verse so that I can understand him? Does my skepticism give me the illusions and delusions about God that keep my feeling safe and in control?

My friend’s spiritual journey hasn’t made her a raving loon. She doesn’t claim to hear voices or see visions. If she did, I don’t think it would turn her into someone bizarre and embarrassing.

My friend Pat had two heart transplants before he died a few years ago. When he came back from his first one, he was profoundly changed by a vision of Jesus on the cross, there in his hospital room. He told the story many times, with obvious and sincere emotion. It assured him of God’s love and salvation. After years of alcoholism and living far from God, he loved the cross of Jesus, and he believed he’d been taken to it that day.

I know a dozen explanations for what happened to Pat. Doctors can explain it to you. So can most psychologists and more than a few counselors. But the thing is, Pat didn’t see Jesus all the time, like Harvey the Rabbit. He saw the cross once, in a vision, and his life was changed. It was “outside the Bible,” but it was very much inside the Bible, too.

My friend’s journey isn’t an exposition of Romans. It’s a discovery that God is out there, beckoning her own to another chapter of loving God and loving neighbor. She’s sane as a judge. And she believes a rainbow appeared out of nowhere, just for her.

I’m the skeptic, and I assure myself that my skepticism makes me a believer in what God has said in scripture. (I mean, I have an ESV Study Bible!) But I have to face the fact that I’m often an unbeliever in the God beyond the page. I’m a skeptic about experiences happening today like those I read in the life of Abraham, Jacob and Moses.

Somehow, I sense that for all the theology I’ve imbibed, by faith and my connection with God are smaller. And while some will say that my friend and others have walked away from the Bible, I’m wondering if they have taken the Word into the Wild, where the God who surprises with signs and wonders still lives.

Comments

  1. Michael’s brilliance was in humble pieces like this, in his willingness to admit (and defend) his beliefs (aka skepticism) while also acknowledging that his own belief system might be flawed or incomplete. We can all learn from his example. Just because we’re skeptical of something, doesn’t mean we’re right, and doesn’t mean what we’re skeptical of isn’t real.

  2. Christiane says:

    “And while some will say that my friend and others have walked away from the Bible, I’m wondering if they have taken the Word into the Wild, where the God who surprises with signs and wonders still lives.”

    Michael Spencer definitely had the poet’s simple, graceful gift of making language sing.

  3. Connecting the mind and the heart. This sums of my spiritual journey. I’d die a happy man if I could somehow master this. Is there room in the world for the scholar-mystic tension? I hope so. The one empowers the other, if truth is the aim. I want to refuse to take the flood story literally while pursuing divine rapture. I want to employ the best of biblical criticism and Ancient Near East studies while praying for healing and discerning the spirits. Well, I guess I kind of do this stuff already.

    I do tend to surprise people by the kinds of conversations I have with them.

  4. In the midst of my wife’s struggle with cancer and chemotherapy about 13 years ago, as she was asleep alone in bed, she suddenly stirred and awoke. Three men were positioned around the bed, one on each side and one at the foot. She simply knew it was the Trinity. They spoke to her, “Peace. This will be difficult, but you will live.” And then they were gone.

    She insists that she was wide awake. She is certain it wasn’t a dream. Her bout with cancer was difficult, but she has been in remission now for more than 10 years.

    And though I found and find her experience hard to believe, how could it be right to cast doubt on her certainty? Her certainty that she was visited by God, and given a healing promise, is more important to her than that she survived. The belief that God was there with her, both at that moment and ever since, has made a world of difference for her.

    Still I doubt.

    • Robert, I encourage you to “doubt your doubts.”

      21 years ago our son was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was 13 years old. On the night prior to the surgery that would confirm the diagnosis, I fervently prayed that the tumor would be benign. As I lay in bed praying, I heard a Voice saying, “Go read Psalm 41.” Coming from a paradigm like Michael Spencer, I discounted it as a trick of my mind and I continued to lay there and pray. But the Voice spoke again. This time it was more commanding, “Get up. Go read Psalm 41.” I flew out of bed and grabbed my Bible. I’ll let you get yours and read what I was given that night 21 years ago.

      Our son is now 34 years old and he has 3 children of his own. Did I believe what the LORD told me at the time? Oh how I wanted to and yet like Michael Spencer, I struggled with accepting that I had actually heard the audible Voice of God. (That doesn’t happen anymore – right?) My Pastor was the one who wisely told me to “doubt my doubts.”

      The LORD was very gentle with me and as our son went through his treatment (2 years), amazing things took place. First of all, he was in remission after only 4 months. During that time there were inexplicable blood results; even with a chemo compromised immune system, he never had a cold or the flu that other family members got and lastly, he went through puberty!

      After I finally came to terms with the promise of Psalm 41, I told our son what the LORD had given me. He was elated and yet disappointed that I had not told him this right away, you see he believed immediately.

      I had an opportunity to discuss this experience with a wise woman of God. You see, I am chagrined to admit that this was not the first time I heard the audible Voice of God.

      Several years earlier, our family had been over to my parents for dinner. When we returned home I could not find my purse. (I have a “thing” about losing things.) I retraced my steps, went back to my folks house, even looked in their garbage cans out at the street but I could not find my purse. Again, I was in bed praying earnestly about this and suddenly I heard a Voice saying, “Go look in the box.” I wondered, “What box?” And then I remembered. I had taken a huge salad bowl to my mother’s house and when I brought it back I put the box in the playpen (which was a semi-permanent fixture in our family room at the time.) I flew out of bed and ran down the stairs. When I opened the box, there was my purse.

      I related this story to a well known woman of prayer and asked her why the LORD would speak audibly to me about something so insignificant as a lost purse. She replied, “Perhaps it was so you would recognize His Voice.”

      I have not heard His audible Voice since that fateful night 21 years ago. An yet I KNOW God still speaks to us. Although He does mostly through His Word, I am reminded that God also spoke through a donkey . . . When we begin to “limit” what God can and can not do, we limit our relationship with Him and I suspect we begin to worship a god of our imagination (Tozer).

      Over the years I have learned to be more attuned and open to the Presence and activity of God in my life as a result of these encounters and yet I still struggle to trust and obey.

      I suspect the LORD will continue to use your wife’s encounter to encourage you BOTH as you journey with Him here.

    • The best prayer in the Bible is “I believe; help my unbelief.” In my experiences as a hospice chaplain, I have heard similar tales, Robert. I hold them lightly, rejoice with those who have them, and confess that such things are mysterious and wondrous to me. Whatever my doubts — and they are many — I refuse to be dogmatic in denying such experiences. On the other hand, I would never build a theology on them or insist that one person’s glimpse behind the curtain should be given to me or anyone else.

      I’m more the Balaam type. God has to hit me over the head with lessons from the mouths of donkeys.

  5. I have seen things happen and I have said it before. Saw a woman who couldn’t walk get up and scream the pain is gone as she walked in front of 50 to 60 people. Had my hand on her when I felt something move with in her. Thing is nothing really changed in my relationship with God because of it. I went on as if it didn’t happen. I would have went on if it didn’t happen in the same way. It was in a food bank line where we were praying with people and they were getting bags of food. All those people saw it but went back to their thoughts of getting their food. Where the ripple effects went I have no idea I didn’t see them.

    Later I was asking myself did that really happen. I actually had to tell myself you were there it happened. It was then I realized how hard it was and is for people. I have seen a lot happen and I have seen a lot not happen. I wonder why all the time. I haven’t pray for healing since Cindy died. I was asked to go to healing prayer as someone to pray over people but I have declined during the last 7 months. I was asked again this week and I said I would In February. I really don’t know what to expect. I am going to go and it has been my experience when we go and make a step God meets us there. I have no expectations so I can’t be let down I just want to see what He is doing and if he chooses to move through me I am available. I love Him and can’t live without Him and I’ve tried real hard throughout my life. Whether something happens or not it won’t change were our relationship is going and growing because I love Him and can’t live without Him. Sometimes I stumble on the realization it is that way for Him with me.

    • If I had something to add it would be scripture adds to me and my experiences. Of course I hate sayings like you can read a manual to repair an automobile but never do it so you really don’t know how to do it. I thought Stuarts comment about God not having class systems melted my heart by love. His love cause I know its true. It rang out as true. I have said to many if God moves you to do something well do it even if it is well out of your comfort zone and if you don’t well He still loves you. So many thoughts here have added to me and especially when I am wrong.

      I have wondered how would have God been able to tell me about good and evil if I had never experienced it for myself. How would I understand not to eat of the tree. What could I base my discernment on. I want to experience Him and I do in everything and like Robert’s resolutions everything is becoming like a jewel. All those things I took for granted. How bout the not so good? Does God take those too and use them for benefit? Is this something that you were talking about Charles?

      • W, I consider myself fortunate that my first five years of adult voluntary church attendance were at a Pentecostal church where love and common sense trumped doctrine and display. It allowed me to realize that moves of Spirit such as you describe can be real and a means of growing spiritually. It also allowed me to realize that the other side of it you describe is real, the times when things don’t happen as we want, the times when if a message in tongues was interpreted, which it is supposed to be and rarely is, the message would be something like, “Look at me, I’m speaking in tongues, I’m really spiritual and most of you aren’t, I’m really something else!”

        I led the class of high schoolers and they asked real questions, such as you ask. Given the choice, I would rather interact with high schoolers than so called adults any day. Kids are not yet set in stone and not afraid to question authority, which often needs questioning. I answered them as best I could, including telling them I didn’t know the answer and they should be cautious about anyone claiming to know.

        But increasingly I was nervous about being too open. What if you want to be “filled with the Spirit” but this experience of speaking in tongues doesn’t happen? Well, sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe if you really knew, most of the time it doesn’t. But anyone can speak in tongues if they want. Babies do it. People in other religions do it. Doesn’t mean that it is coming from God necessarily, but it can. There were elders who might have bristled at this and sent me on my way, so I eventually left while things were still good.

        The matters you speak of, now and often, I think come down to discernment and trust, both very personal qualities. The Modern era and Science have taught us to mistrust subjective responses, but I believe the subjective response is the final decider in the search for Truth. There are things you simply Know, but not necessarily have to share. The trick is to separate out the response of your ego from the response of God’s Spirit within you.

        Often not easy, but something that can be gradually learned from good teaching and experience, including making mistakes and things going wrong. Maybe our basic task here on Earth. This is where it helps to have Scripture and informed communities such as this and the accumulated wisdom and teaching of the past. not to forget Spirit. But in the end it is you responsible for what you have learned and done, or not, and not your ego. You are not your ego.

        • Thank you for you response. I have seen for a long time Paul didn’t talk about things like healing and raising people from death when it came to himself and I see a very humble man on a mission. I have walked beside a man who liked to beat his own drum and it was exaggerated a lot. I found it very frustrating in the way some things really did happen they just weren’t as embellished as he made them out to be. He posted on Fb to read his page cause it reads like acts. I was there. To me it detracted from them and they did not need that, they were able to speak for themselves. I am not sure of the motives there and it could be innocent enough but still trying for me.

          Paul said to follow the example set which is something I would want to do. I am 54 the things I have learned these last 7 years have been extraordinary for me. Maybe not for others but for me. I am leaving here someday and I know I will only go so far. I wonder sometimes what that means. God loves me. I know this because even in my limited way of thinking why would someone so divine created something he didn’t love. I will move in Him as He allows me to and try to learn to love like Him. Sometimes I hate ego as I am not just the tile setter all the time and I am just learning it is my privilege to make the floors the saints walk on, the showers they shower in and the kitchens they cook in better. I just wish they were easier to love at times.

          I will still look for His touches in others and learn that he that is in me is able. I won’t let those things define me or make those things seem like for some reason I am more spiritual than others. Love just wouldn’t act that way. In fact love would say that the one who is poor is the most important and I’m not talking about money. God bless you Mr. Charles Fines

      • I’ve never seen God heal someone after prayer. No more than God’s creation healing itself either naturally through the body, through drugs, through other creations helping (doctors, etc)…but not supernaturally. Never instantenous. Yet I’m told to believe he does that, without proof, without real good Bible support…simply by the word of the person telling me and some mysterious faith, with the caveat that if you *see* the healing, well then it’s not going to happen because it’s not faith beyond sight, or something.

        It would be awesome to believe God heals today like Jesus supernaturally did during his ministry or the apostles sometimes did in the book of Acts. Would be awesome to believe that.

        My whole point about classes was that there are no haves and have nots in the Kingdom of God. Not anymore. We are all equal. There are no prophets. There are no kings. There are no apostles. There are no spirit-filled and non-spirit-filled. There is just the body of Christ, Holy Spirit poured out upon all in equal measure.

        • I understand what you mean Stuart. My children are all loved the same. My youngest works with me and receives many benefits from that the other children do not. It isn’t that I don’t want to give them this it is I can’t. If you look you will find If you knock the door will be open to you. Most of the people I know say anyone can do these things. Where do you see Paul saying that only some can. It doesn’t matter that you might not seek these things or any others that are listed God still loves you and there is peace in that. You might want to spend time with Him the way you want to and I have no reason to say you are wrong. When Paul talked about gifts he said some are given this and that he never said at times we couldn’t be moved by the spirit when someone wasn’t there to do it. I find that at any time He chooses this is available.

          I heard a man say I was given the gift of teaching and he teaches that the other gifts aren’t available because he can teach anytime he wants and it isn’t so with the others or why wouldn’t people with the gift of healing go around and rid the people of their hospital beds. Maybe you could answer this? I have heard him teach and he can keep it. I actually like him I just don’t want what he has to give away. How many have I heard from the pulpits that have hurt my relationship that don’t talk through the spirit of God but their own gift. Such arrogance in those who can get up spew smelly stuff all over the place. No there are no class systems in the way we are being treated. It is a nugget of truth but sometimes the depths go deeper than what we first intended.

          • Stephen is an example for me. One that stands up and gets my respect. Jesus became me so I could have what He has in a blood covenant. That covenant is spoken of throughout the Bible. You know all these things. You are far from stupid. Sometimes it takes a bolt of lightning to knock us down. I might ask Paul sometime what that is like.

  6. The obvious fact that there is such a wide range of belief and disbelief in these matters does not bother me. People are different one from another and it is good to be in an atmosphere where this is accepted. What bothers me is when people attempt to impose their belief or disbelief on others as if we should all be the same, should all be just like whoever is doing the imposing, that whoever is not is either ignorant or deluded or bound for hell, probably all three. Michael is a good example of self-awareness and an open mind.

    • “people attempt to impose their belief or disbelief on others”

      True. However, dealing with these types of claims is socially difficult. How do you tell someone “No, I don’t believe you experienced that”. They will take it as being accused of being a liar, a charlatan, or crazy.

      I have tried “that is a very special experience, I think you should treat it more respectfully by keeping it to yourself. That doesn’t work any better.

      Many people who have had [or not] these types of experiences are eager tell everyone they meet.

      What do you do when you are the guy manning the IT help-desk and the guy from QC calls and starts telling you about the prophetic dream he had? What I did then was reply as ambiguously as possible, and then notified my supervisor. That slowly snowballed into damage of property, threats, a meeting with employees concerning evacuation procedures and weapons-on-premise policies, and ultimately a suicide. Today. I would recommend behaving differently – I recommend being much harsher and more aggressive.

      It that attempting to impose my disbelief?

      • Depends on the dream. If it was a “prophetic dream” about the dreamer getting an Uzi and gunning down everyone inside the building, then perhaps your action was reasonable. Otherwise, it seems very underhanded to jolly someone along who’s telling you a meaningful dream about himself, and then report him to the supervisor!

        But this is certainly an extreme case, whatever the dream was. Do most reports of supernatural phenomena end in suicide?

        “How do you tell someone “No, I don’t believe you experienced that”. They will take it as being accused of being a liar, a charlatan, or crazy.”

        Because they *are* being accused of just that.

        “I have tried “that is a very special experience, I think you should treat it more respectfully by keeping it to yourself. That doesn’t work any better.”

        Because that’s a very patronizing way of saying “Shut up. I don’t want to hear this and neither does anyone else.”

        Actually, most people who have NDEs and other close encounters with God don’t talk about it, just exactly because of this sort of ridicule and other pushback they are sure to get. I’ve had my own moments, but there are a very small handful of people to whom I’d dare confide them.

  7. I commented earlier how much I like this article. I’ve had my own “God moments” aka “God experiences” aka “confirmations of His hand in my life” to know they shouldn’t be discounted no matter how bizarre some of them sound. Even still…

    After reading other comments here and considering my own experiences, my biggest issue with reading too much into these moments is this: What do you tell people who DON’T have those moments? What do you tell people about God when He does NOT give them Psalm 41 as their 13-year-old son lies on his bed with leukemia? What do you tell people about God when He does NOT have a noise wake them up in the middle of the night and discover their laundry room is on fire? What do you tell people about God when He saves YOU from some pain and suffering, but does NOT save others?

    • I don’t think it is as important to tell these stories as we are commonly led to believe. Paul never shared his experience of going to the 3rd heaven until circumstances required it as a lesson to the Corinthians. These experiences don’t “prove” God and if we receive them, I tend to see them as personal communications from God to his people. Perhaps they are more about assurance than apologetics.

    • Exactly. True or not, there is little profit in these types of experiences.

      • Except to the one who has them, like Robert’s wife. To her it was meaningful and sustaining. Who is anyone else to say that her experience is of “little profit?”

        • Yes, it gave her hope, and it allayed some of her fear. It made it possible for her to face chemo and radiation therapies with more courage and strength than she felt she would have been capable of beforehand.

          And it wasn’t because she felt certain of surviving the cancer; the experience, and the words she heard, were not completely unambiguous. In the Bible, Jesus promises life to those who will have to die before they receive the life he promises them, and that is indeed a difficult thing. My wife has been reading the Bible all of her life, and she was aware that in the Scriptures God’s ways of keeping his promises are often paradoxical and confounding, not the ways we would choose ourselves, and not always comfortable for us. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die…”

          But she was no longer afraid to die, not like she had been before. In the wake of her experience, life and death no longer seemed so far apart, or antithetical, to her. She no longer feared that suffering and death might mean abandonment; she became confident that even in death God would be with her, Life itself would be with her.

        • True. I would say more correctly: there is little profit in talking about these experiences.

          • I understand what you’re saying. God knows all the sensationalism surrounding these things is not a good thing, and reticence is often called for.

            But imagine this: After their encounter with the risen Jesus in the upper room, the Apostles take a vote and, by majority rule, decide that, since there just isn’t much profit in talking about enigmatic and miraculous experiences like the one they’ve just had, however meaningful it may be for them, it would be better not to say anything about it outside their little circle.

          • And, Finn, if your advice was heeded, there would be no canonized saints in the Roman Catholic Church, since that’s how it gets started: people talk to others about miraculous events that occurred in connection with the invocation of a reputedly holy deceased Christian, and eventually, when enough people get on board, this is brought to the attention of the hierarchy, who do an investigation to see if there is anything to it. But it all starts with people talking to others about their miraculous experience in connection with invoking the deceased person. No talk, no Saint Francis, etc.

    • Yes, the extremely selective nature of these experiences is the most troubling thing to me, too. I left my recliner in the living room to go fix some lunch for myself. Five minutes after I left it, an enormous oak fell and hit my front window and put shards of glass more than a foot long in that chair and all over the room. I would have been very badly injured or dead if I’d been sitting there. The wind was the tail end of a southern hurricane, I learned later.

      A reporter came and took a pretty dramatic picture of the tree semi-embedded in my house, and asked me about it. I told him what I’ve said above. He seemed to be waiting for me to say something, and finally prompted me: “Seems like Somebody was looking out for you.” I answered as honestly as I could, “I don’t know. I’m not sure how that works. A 12-year-old boy was killed in that wind, and a young couple on their honeymoon. Why would God let them die, but save some elderly woman who’s had a good long life? I just don’t know how that works.”

      I still don’t. Maybe what happens in material reality is just blind, dumb luck. Maybe I was just hungry. I guess I’d really rather believe that than believe that God chose me to live out of the four of us.

    • Just as a follow-on comment to my own comment (and as response to others here)…

      I actually have no problem with people’s testimonies. I like hearing people’s testimonies.The beauty of a person’s testimony is that they are personal and give personal assurance (a word I think Chaplain Mike used), and no one can take away a person’s personal testimony. (Others may DOUBT a person’s testimony, but if I’m the one who experienced it, then they can’t take it away.) The Bible is full of testimonies; our lives are full of testimonies. Used and shared properly (led by Holy Spirit?), they can shape my faith and my walk. But I think great care must be used in sharing them, for they can make God appear more like a Genie-in-a-bottle or a Magic Wand, which in the long run could hurt other people’s perception of God.

  8. “I’m a skeptic about experiences happening today like those I read in the life of Abraham, Jacob and Moses.”

    I am a skeptic because I hear about signs and wonders ALL THE TIME, while substantively nothing changes. And the overwhelming majority of those claims come from people of dubious motivation and/or mental condition.

    Angels apparently speak to homeless people regularly – yet never say anything useful.

    As for Abraham, Jacon, and Moses there were often hundreds, if not thousands, in attenance to witness many of those signs and wonders.

    “But I have to face the fact that I’m often an unbeliever in the God beyond the page.”

    I do not see how that tracks. Extraordinary claims require extraoridnary evidence, or at least confidence, religious or not. Many witnesses would help. I am brutally skeptical of this kind of thing but I do not feel that this changes my faith in “God beyond the page”. Contrary, I am skeptical because I have a deep respect for “God beyond the page” and it is a notion that shouldn’t be casually bandied about. If God is going to step off the page and do something I doubt anyone to whom it is relevant will have problems recognizing it – the God in Scripture may be a confusing entity, but he is not one most people [who have actually read the text] would describe as “subtle”.

    This “to whom it is relevant” matters a lot to me as well. I could report a couple of Religious Experiences, I experienced them. I ‘beleive in’ those experiences. And I keep them [almost] entirely to myself. I do not ask anyone else to accept them; because they probably would not, because they almost certainly should not. I have spoken about them with some of my closest friends – that is a circle wide enough.

    • Finn, that story you tell above about work sounds like a nightmare. I’m curious how it is that you are hearing of so called signs and wonders so much of the time. I certainly don’t, other than sometimes at church or Bible study, don’t know anyone who does outside of Pentecostal circles. Is it possible you are doing something at some level to attract this? Is it possible this is coming from a higher power? Is it possible you just need to change jobs? I dunno.

      I’m trying to think of generic responses for you to use. I hope you heard the comment above that your own responses are not helpful. I have my own issue to deal with in the Bible study I attend where there is someone who often speaks as a prophet from God and usually just aggravates me. I’m thinking he is there for me to learn better how to deal with aggravation. These responses wouldn’t work for him but you’re welcome to try any you think might work for you.

      1) Jack, I’m sorry, but I think this is inappropriate for work and unprofessional. Maybe you can share this at church.

      2) Molly, I’m a skeptic and this sort of thing just rubs me the wrong way. Let’s not hurt our friendship.

      3) Alfredo, I’m a believer that religious matters and politics are off limits for most conversation. Maybe with your friends.

      Of course this is probably just kicking the can down the road, but maybe worth a try. I think being honest is important so as to leave the other person some dignity, but not brutally honest. And if they come right back, maybe

      4) Maggie, forgive me, but this is just making me angry. If you keep it up I’ll have to walk away.

      I would say if you often find yourself becoming harsh and aggressive to deal with it, you really should look for another job if at all possible. And if the same thing happens there, consider this might be an internal problem.

      • > I’m curious how it is that you are hearing of so called signs and
        > wonders so much of the time. I certainly don’t,

        I am out-and-about in public spaces quite a bit [which I enjoy]; and our downtown/mid-town area has now encircled ‘mission row’, an area that was for a long time rather isolated. I believe it has a lot to do with the current reconfiguration of spaces and economic tides. And it is a region with a, while not dominant, still strong Fundamentalist/Evangelical subculture. One gets approached by those bearing a warning of judgement, or story of a miraculous healing – it isn’t an uncommon experience.

        > Is it possible you are doing something at some level to attract this?

        I try not to be That Hostile White Guy. This opens me up to a degree of this; I accept that as part of the package. It has taught be a great deal about being Charitable – which is not a natural gift of mine; but it in the movement it is hard to know what is the correct or responsible response to someone.

        Aside: On the other hand – the upside – is that, amid the crowd, there are some pretty amazing people. You get to meet them too.

        > Is it possible this is coming from a higher power?
        > Is it possible you just need to change jobs? I dunno.

        It is not a regular issue at work – it has been awhile since I have encountered it there. But there I had a connection to the situation so I experienced it as this kind of thinking played itself out. Mostly it is an experience on the street, on the bus, in the plaza – there you just have to deal with the one encounter and whatever happens later is not connected to you.

        > my own issue to deal with in the Bible study I attend where there is
        > someone who often speaks as a prophet from God and usually just
        > aggravates me.

        I’ve have had that experience, and you have my sympathies.

        > I’m thinking he is there for me to learn better how to deal with
        > aggravation. These responses wouldn’t work for him but you’re welcome
        > to try any you think might work for you.

        I am not much for the ‘divinely appointed teaching moments’; but I know I need to be more Charitable in dealing with people, so I accept it as an opportunity to exercise that.

        > 1) Jack, I’m sorry, but I think this is inappropriate for work
        > and unprofessional. Maybe you can share this at church.

        This is most likely how an older and more mature me would handle the situation now [at work]. Younger me wasn’t that politically adept.

        > 2) Molly, I’m a skeptic and this sort of thing just rubs me the
        > wrong way. Let’s not hurt our friendship.
        > 3) Alfredo, I’m a believer that religious matters and politics are
        > off limits for most conversation. Maybe with your friends.

        These are good suggestions. They deflect.

        > Of course this is probably just kicking the can down the road,
        > but maybe worth a try.

        Much of life is kicking the can! 🙂 At least then you have something to kick.

        > I think being honest is important so as to leave the other person
        > some dignity, but not brutally honest. And if they come right back, maybe
        > 4) Maggie, forgive me, but this is just making me angry. If you keep it
        > up I’ll have to walk away.

        True, and it makes it about me, not them, so it is easier for them to walk away. It is not my disposition to come up with that type of response on-the-fly. I will try those out. I am an Engineer by blood-and-marrow – my default response is “let’s analyze this”. 🙂

        • Finn, if I understand you right, and this is now mostly something you encounter in what we like to call “the inner city” being squeezed by what we like to call “gentrification” or “urban renewal”, that’s different than a work situation. You’re probably dealing with the sorts of people that Jesus dealt with in the crowds he attracted, people lower down on the economic scale but not on a scale of God’s love, people more at home in a storefront Church of God in Christ than an Episcopal Church with upscale cars in the parking lot.

          So I’m thinking my suggestions for you above wouldn’t work so well in a street situation, and that probably it calls more for patient listening, if you can come up with that as an act of love. And it would be far more important to respect the people’s dignity as human beings. What they are telling you may be the only bright spot in a hard and dismal life that neither you nor I could handle.

          Maybe a response like, “That’s quite a story! I’m going to have to think about that.” And for stone crazies or drunks or hustlers, “Hey, that’s great but I’ve got to run, I’m late. Tell me the rest next time I see you.” And trying to see each one as not only a human being, but as Jesus in disguise. “I was hungry and you didn’t feed me, I was thirsty and you didn’t give me water . . .” You know the rest and it’s a hard one. Sometimes no easy answers. Room to grow.

  9. Isaiah 45:3
    I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness – secret riches. I will do this so you may know I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.

  10. David Cornwell says:

    I have come to believe that what we call miracles perhaps are not. They are temporary manifestations of the Kingdom breaking through the barriers of time through power of the risen Jesus. The times and situations are diverse. They bring with them surprise and joy, and hopefully thanksgiving.

    Importantly, they are beyond explanation and not subject to normal rational modes of thinking, thus filled with mystery. Sometimes they seem to happen in the presence of a humble servant, gifted in intercessory prayer. Sometimes not.

    In my lifetime I’ve witnessed a few of these happenings. At times my knowledge of these things have buttressed my faith, especially when my human reasoning produces nothing but doubt.

    • David, I’m curious how you would define miracles other than as “temporary manifestations of the Kingdom breaking through barriers of time through the power of the risen Jesus.” The two seem like one and the same thing to me.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Robert, I agree. I hesitated when writing it in this manner. What I’m struggling with is whether we should be surprised or not, or should doubt their occurrence when they (seem to?) happen. In our rationality we almost do not want them to happen because it shakes our world view. Yet it’s easy to concoct occurrences we call miracles and we see television charlatans basically wanting money to perform.

        If none of this makes sense, then make sense out of it for me.

        • David, the best we can do is puzzle it out together, all the time knowing that whatever conclusions we arrive at are temporary and conditional.

          I addition to rationalization of the mysterious and charlatan exploiters, there’s also the very real danger that many Christian mystics have pointed to: becoming attached to manifestations and wonders, and looking to them instead of looking to their source. In Saint John of the Cross’s “Dark Night of the Senses” and “Dark Night of the Soul,” the dark nights are the severe means God uses to detach the soul from material gifts and spiritual consolations, so that the soul may ultimately come to depend on God in “naked faith,” as John calls it. I think that the experience of the cross, of contradiction and paradox, goes all the way through Christian devotional life, and Christian experience and life. But how to balance all of this, I have no idea.

      • “I’m curious how you would define miracles other than as …”

        +1

        This is just describing the same thing in a different way.

  11. Joseph (the original) says:

    signs and wonders???

    meh…

    after camping out in the uber-Pentecostal-charismatic family that has more crazy uncle types than you could shake a stick at, I will always be a skeptic of other people’s claims. I don’t even harbor a mild nod to anything shared second hand. therefore, only first hand experiences are something I would scrutinize more if I thought there was any real benefit in it for me.

    I know the craziness and one-upmanship of signs and wonders stories that defy the imagination. uber-spiritual Christianeze urban myths and legends that get bloated with every retelling. it got to be, well, crazy in the most commonly understood sense.

    do miracles happen? yes, I do believe they do. is God into the supra-sensationalistic ‘stuff’ that is meant to be the precedent and not the exception??? of course not. is the ‘miraculous’ ever meant to be the norm??? of course not, or it wouldn’t be miraculous now would it…

    I’ve had very vivid dreams that I do believe were divinely inspired (not grandiose revelation akin to the gospels), but only half-a-dozen or so. my epiphany when I was 20-years old was definitely a divine encounter, but I don’t share this story often because its meaning was personal, not communal. and it looses its impact on the retelling instead of it becoming a happy-clappy testimony time for others to marvel at…

    have there been inexplicable experiences that have happened to me, or through me (praying for others)??? yes, but my acceptance of them does not require me to give them the ‘official’ designation as miracle or sign or even a supernatural wonder…

    God doesn’t need to prove to me His existence, or His working in the world today. He knows my doubting, or rather, my skeptical discerning nature as a result of my faith journey, so His agenda does not include a lifelong effort to convince me of every miraculous happening that I am convinced is not. Nor does my doubting tendency prevent Him from working in and through me either…

    miracles could be happening regularly at the imperceptible level more than I care to admit. or God could be selective and capricious and exhibiting divine favor willy-nilly to those that seem less deserving, or even clueless. I don’t chase after, or seek signs and wonders as a way to bolster my faith, or use them to prove the existence of God or His workings in the world today. I will remain a cautious skeptic when such claims are made though. I think how a person reacts or relates to such claims reveals more about the person than it does the God they claim was responsible for the supra-natural happening. just my own personal ‘subjective’ experience anyway…

    other results may vary…

    saude!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “have there been inexplicable experiences that have happened to me, or through me (praying for others)??? yes, but my acceptance of them does not require me to give them the ‘official’ designation as miracle or sign or even a supernatural wonder”

      This. I have experience I accept, and I have personal experiences I am on the fence about – that I do not really know what to make of.

      And I am comfortable being on the fence. And if someone else does not accept an experience I do accept as ‘religious’, that’s OK.

      But very often, or even most often, when these stories are told there is an implicit *DEMAND* that they be accepted as such. And if they are not accepted the one who does not accept them is deemed the aggressor.

  12. I have had problems with scepticism and unbelief. The hermeneutic of doubt pervades our entire society.

    I never forget that there were places that Jesus could not perform miracles.

    A Philipino pastor living here once told me

    ‘We have a saying amongst our community that Satan is not in Canada because he could not get a visa’

    He told me that in his Christian community God speaks to people through dreams/ visions and miracles happen and that the spiritual world is real. And that Canadians are simply sceptical, so nothing happens.

    There may be a kernel of truth in this.