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.

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Healing – Part Two

What Makes a Person Truly Healed?

Those familiar with New Testament Greek know the words we translate in English as “saved” or “healed” are based on the same root ‘sozo’.  Yet, we know that being healed and being saved are not the same thing.  Though it has stunned me, I have seen people healed of terminal cancer, terminal heart problems, and survivors of impossible car accidents, who walked away from the faith.  If you met them today, you would never know they had believed. Physical healing does not guarantee salvation.  People can be healed but not “made whole”.  There are people who do not cling to Jesus and so their healing will ultimately fail. The same cannot be said of those who are cling to Him no matter what comes.  Everyone who has placed their hope in the Lord can say with certainty,  “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God”.  (Job 19:26) On my tombstone I want these words inscribed, “From this place, I shall rise” because I am certain that  in a very short time I will enjoy all the benefits of total healing as I walk the New Earth and speak with my God. Complete physical healing was paid for in the atonement and is the absolute, unshakable destiny of all who believe.

Affirming that truth does not diminish the importance of praying for the sick.

If Jesus Healed Everyone, Why Can’t We?

Jesus did not, in fact, heal everyone but it is a fact that everyone for whom He prayed for physical healing, was healed.  As my husband has wisely observed, “Unlike us, Jesus always knew the Father’s exact purpose and perfect will and acted accordingly.”  Jesus’ miracles demonstrated His Divine nature.  Jesus rarely healed the same way twice. He spoke. He spat. He made mud.  He healed in crowds.  He healed people alone.  He laid hands on them or He didn’t show up at all and just gave an order.  If we learn anything from the healings of Jesus in regards to our own ministry it is that healing is not related to methodology.  If Jesus did nothing of Himself but did only that which He saw His Father doing, we should approach healing prayer with a sense of holy dependency.

If Jesus did not heal everyone, it should not surprise us that we do not either. God has gifted individuals within His body with a special gift to heal (I Cor. 12:9) and told us when we are sick to call the elders for prayer (James 5:14).  When burdened for someone we love we have every right to “pray about everything” (Phil 4:6) and in praying for their healing  we do so secure in the knowledge that the answer does not depend on us, but on One Worthy to Open the Scrolls. I have a perfect God with perfect vision, perfect timing and a perfect nature.  The answer as I perceive it might not be the final answer at all.  The purpose of healing is never physical healing in and of itself. God’s great desire is that “all men might be saved”. (I Tim 2:4)  God wants everlasting ‘sozo’ for everyone He created.

Healing and Wholeness

So where does that leave us?  I come back to my favorite “wholeness” story in scripture: Jacob.

In praying about my paralysis the Lord gave me an answer many years ago using the story of Jacob.  Jacob was a robust man the night he wrestled with the Angel of the Lord. He was so strong, he wrestled till dawn.  Then the Angel of the Lord touched his hip and put it out of joint. For those who have never had a hip go out, I am told it is agonizing.  In spite of his pain Jacob, hung on and refused to let go until he received a blessing. In his “disabled” state he got what he asked for:  his name was changed to Israel and he realized that he had seen the Lord Himself.   Jacob had a big night. It just cost him his hip and he limped for the rest of his life.  ( Gen 32:31-32)

Which version of Jacob was “most whole”?  Was the non-limping, pre-theophany Jacob “whole” because he didn’t limp or was the observably disabled man who was given the name Israel a man more whole than he’d been when his hip was in place?  Jacob met God face to face and left with a mark of physical dependency.  His “observable brokenness” was the visible reminder of the most amazing night of his life.  God valued Jacob’s long run wholeness over his ability to walk without pain. He was “healed” with a limp.

Exodus 4:11 and Healing Ministry

Most people have not heard sermons on Exodus 4:11. “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Ex. 4:11)

As surely as people are born with brown eyes, or long legs, the Lord creates some born blind or deaf or mute for His own purpose. They are not “sick”.  They were created as they are.  Even those of us that have become disabled may pray for deliverance and receive the answer,  “My grace is sufficient for you”.   Paul prayed three times, got an answer and moved on.  Not everyone is intended to be “delivered or physically healed” of what we might think is a “disability”.

How does that impact healing ministry? As stressful as it might be, we need to be discerning.

Ask anyone who has an observable disability and they will tell you how difficult it is to respond to an altar call.  It doesn’t matter what the message is on, if you move forward, people tend to swarm you and pray for physical healing.  That can be very distracting from the work the Spirit of God would do in your heart. I know I am not alone in staying in my seat so I can actually concentrate in prayer. Something is not quite right when disabled people have to expend a lot of energy keeping other people comfortable with their disability.

Last night a young man shared how he has been called out from the platform, an unpleasant experience I have also had.  One night  I was responding to an altar call to intercede for the lost, when the speaker interrupted my prayer and challenged me to “throw away that cane”. Not wanting to make a scene I motioned to speak to him privately and told him the Lord had answered me on that and I tried to return to prayer. Unfortunately,  he persisted so publicly that I had to leave the service because the focus on lost souls was being totally overshadowed. At first I just sat in my car and cried in frustration but a moment later, I caught myself laughing a bit realizing that a man wearing contact lenses was challenging my faith. Apparently it had not crossed his mind that if he applied his theology to himself, then he should have pulled his contacts out of eyes and tossed them to the floor, claiming 20/20 vision was “his birthright”.

“We walk by faith and not by sight” even in healing ministry.  “Sozo” is God’s heart for His people, and His desire is that they might be forever saved and healed.  If we pray for the things He loves, we cannot go wrong.

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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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