The Supernatural for the Skeptic

So you label yourself a skeptic? If you believe in the scriptures, and you want to serve Jesus, then I am skeptical of your skepticism. I will challenge that label right now.

Noting that every time the music starts Sister Sally shouts and looks like she’s having an attack of appendicitis, does not make you a skeptic. It means you find distraction, distracting. Another famous Pentecostal, Paul, had no tolerance for people disrupting corporate worship. God is a God of order, not to put a leash on the Spirit but a leash on us so we don’t distract from a spontaneous move of the Spirit.  When the Spirit moves there is reverence, not craziness.

You are not a skeptic if you question whether “Miracle Mike’” is always right when he recounts his daily dealings in the supernatural. Mike’s a great guy with great testimony. He is open to the Lord using him. Good for Mike. Many people miss God working through them because they are totally unavailable to be used at all. But Mike is young in the Lord, and being right some of the time, doesn’t make him right all of the time.  So if your Christian dad is dying of cancer and you can’t reconcile it with Mike’s declaration that anything less than total healing is a sign of apostasy, you are not a skeptic. God is perfect, Mike is not.  People err but the scriptures never set us up for false expectations. The Apostle Paul whose handkerchiefs were used in miracles of healing, (Acts 19:2), was forced to leave Trophimus sick in Miletus. Paul fell ill in Galatia (and planted a church while he was at it), faced hunger, shipwreck, and loss. He even despaired of life (2 Cor. 1:8). I trust no one is going to questions his Pentecostal commitment. To be “Pentecostal” is to believe in and use the gifts of the Spirit as they are recorded in scripture: nothing less and nothing more.  We rely on God’s power to work miracles and we rely on God’s power to preserve us in persecution. We know that deliverance takes the form of signs and wonders and we know deliverance is provided when Jesus says,  “my grace is sufficient for you”. (2 Cor. 12:9)

You are not a skeptic to want something real and biblical.  “Real” looks like the scriptures: all of the scriptures, not just the exciting experiences we all want to have. A real experience includes: power and persecution, deliverance and death, triumph and tarrying. It is a balance experienced.

Avoid the Acceptable Error Zone

Unfortunately, the normal response to human error is human error. Frustrated in Pentecostal churches many seek safety by settling in the “evangelically acceptable error zone”.  If you attend a church where the worship music is straight up Hillsong and the preaching is expository, you are safe and can grow in the Lord. Just get comfortable ignoring large portions of scripture that explicitly instruct us regarding the Baptism of the Spirit and the corporate gifts. People can convince themselves this is OK because they’ll tell you, “We’re still open to the gifts”. This is code for, “We’re actually ambivalent toward the gifts but if  a rushing mighty wind sweeps through the building and we burst into glossolalia, we promise to hold a board meeting to consider incorporating gifts into our church culture”. *  Disregarding scripture is wrong no matter what form of error we choose. Chaotic meetings where people draw attention to themselves leaving no room for the Spirit to move are meetings where we’re disregarding scripture.** Ignoring the gifts of the Spirit is also willful disobedience to scripture. Could we consider another alternative, radical though it may be?

A Radical Alternative

“Follow the directions”.

Yeah. You saw it there in black and white. What if we read scripture and follow the directions?

A “real” experience should look like the scriptural model.  A good Pentecostal church is one where the preaching is meaty and the gifts are freely used. Gifts don’t interrupt the service but follow the flow of what the Lord is doing. I know this can happen because the Bible tells us what our gatherings should look like.  I was saved in an environment where the gifts were used properly, people were saved weekly, and the services were beautiful, moving and always in order. (In 8 years of revival, everyone was healed but not a single person was slain in the Spirit).  I was not afraid to bring an unsaved friend to church for fear the service might be crazy.  Anyone who drew attention to themselves was quietly invited to step outside where the deacons gave instruction.  Only once did I bring a friend who refused to return. Her reason: “God was in there and I don’t want God running my life. I want to run it myself”. She could sense God’s powerful presence.

Labeling yourself a critic is destructive to you and the Body of Christ. There is no “opt out” clause from membership in the Body of Christ. The best choice is to choose to become a “full gospel” Christian, where “full gospel” means you commit yourself to actively pursue all God has promised in His Word.  It also means you refuse to ignore any part of  God’s Word just because it stretches your comfort level.  You might not want to “seek the best gifts” but you will because it is a command. (I Cor. 12:31). By choosing to be a “full gospel” Christian, you can bring health to the Body of Christ, and restore joy to your own soul. We can’t afford to ignore anything the Lord said we need.  Lay down that skeptical label, pick up the scriptures and walk the truths of scripture, just as scripture tells us to.

We, God’s people, need revival. Let’s commit to live a New Testament life style, corporately and individually.  If we follow Him on good days and on days when we’re perplexed in the depths of our souls, will will see the glory of God.  The best cure for skepticism, is to follow God’s instructions and encourage others to do the same.

  • * AG churches that do not teach on or encourage the use of the gifts are not Pentecostal.
    ** “Pentecostal” churches that ignore Paul’s teaching on proper use of the gifts are also being unscriptural.

Next: Paying off your college debts   www.vanaria.org

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A Deposit is Not a Dollop

I am writing this on the assumption that most of the readers of this blog believe the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, although it may occur at the time of salvation is, in fact, a distinct experience from being born again. As this is a blog, not a book, to those readers who do not believe that may I recommend the book by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones book, Joy Unspeakable. He does an excellent job of addressing the scriptural foundation for a distinct experience. His work is endorsed by the likes of J.I. Packer and other main stream evangelical theologians.

As a Pentecostal it is very important to me that young people trained at Pentecostal institutions do not adhere to any teaching which is inconsistent with scripture. “Intelligent Pentecostal” should not an oxymoron. Whatever we believe we should be able to address and demonstrate from scripture. This blog will be brief but vitally important.

Be Ye Baptist, Presbyterian, E-Free or AG

Everyone who confesses Christ is Lord and believes in his or her heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, is saved. 1 Corinthians 12:13 is clear that the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the Body of Christ. Every Christian on the face of the earth has the Holy Spirit residing in him or her in equal measure. If the Spirit of God does not live in you, then you are not saved. (Rom 8:9) The Spirit of God is given to each and every one of us as an “earnest” of our inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5, Eph. 1:14). This “deposit”, this “earnest” is God’s pledge, His absolute assurance that we shall inherit all that God has promised us. We are eternal beings and as surely as the Spirit of God indwells us, everything God has promised in His Word, all that we shall eternally enjoy in His presence shall be ours. How do we know? We know because He’s given us the Holy Spirit whereby we call God, “Abba, Father”. The word “earnest” is used three times in the New Testament. The indwelling of the Spirit of God assures us of our incorruptible inheritance and long after debates about tongues and other gifts shall cease, we will, by God’s grace, forever bask in His presence with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Bad Foundations Make Bad Theology

One of the things many non-Pentecostals believe is that we believe they have less of the Spirit of God dwelling with in them than we do. That’s unscriptural and blatantly false. I always presumed it was a misunderstanding of what we believe but was caught off guard recently when a very reliable young man explained that he was being taught that the Spirit is a deposit for the believer who will get the full measure of the Spirit of God when he or she is baptized in the Holy Spirit. (This discussion occurred when our Calvinist-Baptist friends were visiting, making for lively discussion.). I reread the current AG position paper today and I am baffled how something could be remotely misconstrued to sound like we believe we have more of the Spirit of God living inside us than anyone else. It dawned on me that we just live in a day and age when so many people are in debt that they associate the word “deposit” with purchasing a new vehicle, or getting a stereo system and buying on the installment plan that the word “deposit” sounds like installment payments are sure to follow. While in the world of finance, that is what “deposit” may mean that does not transfer over to scripture. The Holy Spirit baptizes us into the Body of Christ. He indwells us in equal measure. Period. That is what the scriptures teach and that is what we believe.

And all this matters because the Baptism of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, praying in the Spirit, is so important we must lay a strong scriptural foundation.  Sound doctrine can only be founded on sound doctrine, not conjecture. I have no desire to believe what is not in scripture. However, scripture is clear, so let us intelligently, and with the Spirit’s guidance, rightly divide the Word of God.

Next: All Do Not Speak in Tongues
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Healing – Part One

Healing is Biblical. It is not a Formula

The first time I laid my hands on a person with a tumor it was so large it could be felt in the arm of the woman for whom I was praying. I had been a Christian for about three months. The pastor told me to lay hands on Michelle and I did as I was told and as we prayed it shrunk. I could feel it shrink in my hands. She was supposed to get her arm amputated that morning but she was healed and I felt it. She went to the hospital that morning and they marveled.  For the next eight years, during which our church was in a state of revival no one died of any prolonged illness but everyone was healed. One close friend was healed of metastatic ovarian cancer and later attended what was then known as Zion Bible Institute. The only man who died was a well beloved deacon who dropped dead two days after Christmas and shocked all of us. We just never got a chance to pray over Don.

So, in 1988, I went off to the mission field believing that healing was the norm. Our first week among the Kobon-people presented enough challenges to blow my theology out of the water. One woman hemorrhaged to death in my husband’s arms. Over the next four years we prayed for everyone. I’m not sure but at the time I thought they all died. I reached the point of saying, “Dear Lord, they are so sick maybe I better not touch ‘em”.

I had prayed full of faith and people died. That was not in my theology.

In the years that followed I struggled a lot with the issue of faith and healing and began to notice things I had not noticed before in scripture. Personally, I am partially paralyzed below my waist and am very much a “walking miracle”. In praying about my own situation the Lord reminded me of Jacob who wrestled with God and thanks to the Lord’s touch,  limped for the rest of his life. How many people would have dragged that poor man down for total healing to every altar call were he in a healing service?

I began to see that on some days Jesus healed everyone of everything. On other days Jesus didn’t heal everyone. He just picked someone and healed one person and the rest, well, He loved them but they were as sick before as after. (See John 5 for selective healing). For the first 30 years of His life there is no record he healed anyone and His own earthly father died in that time. How had Jesus prayed then?

I thought of the Apostle Paul who first evangelized the Galatians because he got sick in their area (Gal. 4:13) and of Elisha who was suffering from the illness that ended his life when he prophesied to Jehoash (II Kings 13:14) There are countless other instances of illness healed and illness not healed in the scripture. There simply is no formula.

What Do We Learn?

The good news is if you pray for some people and they are healed and you pray for others and they are not, you are having a very biblical experience. Welcome to the real world where God does things you do not expect. Keep praying, because that is what we are commanded to do.  If you are currently a “walking miracle machine” you’ve been saved a fairly short period of time. Be sensitive to the Spirit.  Eventually you see healing evangelists who have a real gift but continue to try and work beyond what the Lord has enabled them and finish a meeting with as many spiritual casualties as healings.

Secondly, scripture records highlights. Extraordinary moments between God and man. It is condensed information. If I wrote the highlights of my life in a hundred page volume it would sound like I lived from one amazing moment of glory to the next, with slight breaks for terrifying incidents which we survived only for more amazing things to come. Ask anyone who knows me well and they can tell you I’m fairly boring on a good day. “Non-episodes” are not recorded so we tend to think the highlights were the norm when they were, in fact, the highlights.

Thirdly, when I was once asking God, “Why?” regarding His timing and response to prayer, He replied back with a question of His own. “You want to worship a God whose character is infinite, limitless and eternal, all-knowing and unseen. Do do you really expect Him to answer all your prayer in accordance with your character which is finite, fallible and trapped in time?” Good question to which the answer is, “No, I do not.”

God is in the business of furthering His kingdom and healing is part of the plan. It is never an end in and of itself but there are many more questions we face.

Tomorrow: what makes a person truly healed?
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