Feeling Nothing? Welcome to a Life of Faith!

The music was glorious. The congregation was swept up in the joys of Christmastime. Hands were raised. Tears flowed. Yet once again I looked like a person waiting for a root canal. I felt nothing positive or negative. Mentally, I was plagued by guilt that I, a missionary, seemed unmoved by the ancient truths that saved my soul. Since returning to the US I had waited for “something” to happen to me. I wanted God to move on what I perceived was a hardened heart. After months of “waiting for God to move” I was starting to feel like I was waiting in vain. There was no zing, swoosh, or zoom. I heard no sound of a rushing wind. I was praying and still feeling like I was dead as a doornail. Then, God spoke.

“What they are doing is easy”. That was it. That was all He said. I didn’t feel a thing, but the impression of that sentiment was so strong I knew it was Him and I found myself realizing something I already knew to be true: nothing is as it appears to be. People’s upraised hands meant nothing if they were not living a life of faith.

The months rolled by and the time for our return to Papua was at hand. I was at a ministry wives’ retreat and there was a moving altar call that touched the lives of many. Women filled the altar, tears flowed, hankies flew and I found myself once again standing alone in the middle of the friends pinching the bridge of my nose like a woman with a migraine. I kept saying, “God please do something wicked* quick”. (*God speaks Bostonian).

Suddenly, I was standing under the eaves of our house in the remote village of Waipapa. I heard the Lord speak clearly and evenly, “I don’t want you to cry. I don’t want you to weep. I want you to go back”. Then, I opened my eyes and saw I was still in a room full of passionate pastors’ wives and they looked a lot more touched than I felt. I said to the Lord, “Couldn’t I have gotten a little zip with that?” This time He said nothing. I had just had an unemotional vision.

Getting older answers a lot of the questions you have as a young person. I am now glad I didn’t get goosebumps when other people did. The Lord knew what I needed and what would mess me up. A lot of emotion would have been a disaster where I lived, and sadly I saw a lot of people walk away from their calling because the enthusiasm they used as a barometer to confirm God’s will suddenly was not enough to keep them going. Life cannot be maintained at such an emotional level. If a rushing sense of emotion indicates the joy of the Lord, then a lack of it would seem to indicate that the joy of the Lord is not present. In truth, joy is a perspective not a feeling and any internal barometer of God’s will is by definition, egocentric.

The Lord knows our emotions like our bodies, were made to reflect His glory but are corrupted by the fallen world. I don’t need a zing to tell me God’s will when I have His Word. His Word says to preach this gospel “in season and out”, which is a nice way of saying, “When you feel like it and when you don’t”. The Spirit of God promises to lead me into all truth, but not all giddiness. God called me to missions and the longer I have served Him in that capacity the less I have heard affirmation of the call. I know I am called. He impressed it on me and then He stepped back and let me live that call out in faith. I had ‘only’ the Word of God and the Spirit of God to guide me. And if I rely solely on the scriptures and live them just as they are written, I will indeed have a super natural life with the Spirit of God leading me in all truth. I have seen a lot of miracles and I have seen a lot of sorrow. I have had some truly amazing days where I felt incredibly awesome. I have had an equal number of days when I felt in the pits. In between I didn’t feel a whole lot out of the ordinary.That means I am living a very scriptural life.

Yes, you will have your battles with your emotions. Never let your emotions define you or your choices. A heart of faith makes decisions based not on how we feel but on the Word of God. Now be free and live as big as your God.

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I Skinned My Shin On A Honda

I am 100% committed to an intelligent Pentecostal hermeneutic. If you have seen crazy stuff, as I sure have,  I understand if it has caused you to be skeptical.  I’ve been there.  Just be sure that human foolishness does not turn you away from that which is genuinely from God. If we abandon that which the Lord describes in detail in scripture because we have seen good things abused we are just as carnal in our approach as the person who abuses what God gives. In both cases we are elevating human reason and human experience above scripture.  The Word of God instructs us in proper, orderly usage of every thing from tongues in our private prayer life to the many gifts given to His Church. Disorder distracts from His glory. To decide not to pursue that which God has chosen to give us is not intelligence, but arrogance. It is our attempt to make intellectual peace with something that shouldn’t occur in the first place. We are essentially saying, “I’ve seen so much craziness, I am going to ignore the fact God addresses craziness and forbids it. Instead, I’ll neglect all of His gifts with which I feel uncomfortable.”  (“I” being the standard of what is good and what is not, just like the garden).  The idea of using what He has given, as He has instructed us is apparently too simple a choice.

Christians are a supernatural people. We should live like it. God is not unwilling to do what He speaks of in scripture but there is a remarkable dearth of volunteers to simply act on the Word of God.  If we genuinely sought that which God has placed before us, and acted in the orderly manner described in 1 Cor. 12-14 our services would be thrilling.  God never intended the a Pentecostal service be a madhouse that frightened visitors. This is not about us. The saints gather for a dynamic display of God at work and to bring others into a vibrant relationship with the Living God.  We shelve His plans, make our own,, and wonder why we find it hard to show up at our self-powered gatherings.  We know something is missing and ask what it is.  The Bible is rather clear what we’re missing so our choice should be clear.

Dumb Stuff That Turns Us Off

People get turned off to even the prayer language of tongues by “dumb stuff”.  Someone takes people in a room and tells them to repeat nonsense syllables.  People need a genuine experience with God and are understandably perplexed when they are counseled to repeat things that sound like items off the local Chinese restaurant menu. One pastor, expressing his frustration with people being coached that way that way, joked that there are people who would encourage sincere seekers to say, “I skinned my shin on a Honda”really fast believing the tongue twister would  trigger a real experience with God.  This kind of thing sounds crazy, because it is.  It also turns people off from using a gift of grace that is theirs by faith. Nothing makes the devil happier than to see God’s people make peace with living with less than God would give them. The less we have to fight him, the happier he is.

Why This Really, Really Matters

All of this really, really matters. We need all God offers His church not 54.9% of what is in scripture or only that which makes us comfortable. End time predictions do not matter.  It is always the final generation for everyone we meet. Everyone gets just one lifetime to hear.  God has made the same things available to every generation so each generation chooses whether to seek all that God provides or not.  I often feel that we are like people who show up to a five alarm fire equipped with buckets of water and Swiss army knives because “we’ve had some bad experiences with power tools” and then wonder why we are so ineffective at rescuing people from certain death.  Better for everyone is we showed up with the power tools and handled them according to the instructions.

Intellectual Objections

I understand fear of speaking in tongues, because I had a case of it myself. I didn’t want to make it up. I was not wild about having dozens of people cling to me like human fly-paper at an altar call. Yet scripture spends a lot of time talking about these very issues. I had one choice: to seek God and ask if it was true. The scriptures are remarkably convincing, as is God, when given a chance. Every revival in the last two millennia has been marked by a return to the gifts of Spirit.*  Is that because God only gives these gifts during revival or because we get desperate enough for revival that we finally pray for God to do “anything” in us and He simply does what He promised in scriptures?  Why do we choose to live with so much less?

Next: The Supernatural for the Skeptic

*I started to document details and have so many pages of references it does not fit a blog.  I will provide these upon request.

The Great “Who Is”

Sundays come and go. We sing to the Nameless “You”. We sing of being ravished by love, wanting to shout it out, jump, freedom (x7), and other nice things that happen to us. We don’t sing using the Name of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor of the Son of God who shed His blood to ransom us back, nor the Holy Spirit who indwells us. We do not sing of the sin from which we are blood-washed, the joy of salvation by the grace of God Incarnate. Often I think we should just rename it “we-ship” since we focus on our feelings, thoughts, reactions and how well it is going for us. Today, a pastor friend expressed her feelings after a morning of service saying, “I was singing like Jesus is my boyfriend”.

I laughed but with a heavy heart. Neither of us were raised with any Bible knowledge but as the Bible says, through the “foolishness of preaching” and the proclamation of Christ in song, we were changed. I’m a 10 years + older than my friend and hymns were not our chosen genre (think Crosby, Stills and Nash for me and she’s so young I don’t know) but as much as we joked about tunes in 9/8 time, we sensed God’s Spirit’s present when the church sang about Jesus, the Lord Almighty, the Maker of the Universe, the Son of God Incarnate who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Yes, music has modernized and we are glad for it. But we did not need to stop singing truth. Our God has a Name and His Name still makes my heart soar. We actually can sing “This I Believe” and we should.

NEWSFLASH: WE ARE NOT UNITARIANS

Unitarians have no name for God. They are lovely people who believe that it is possible but not mandatory that there exists a Nameless Great Gender Neutral Someone/thing/force who can’t really be known except as we/you/me/they/he/she/ze/e* perceives said Being. Unitarian optimists hope, in the wishful sense, that when someone dies they go to a better place. Unitarian pessimists just let people live on forever in their hearts. There is no assurance of anything since nothing can be known. They normally meet in very nice landmark churches with rainbow flags out front. They are not more welcoming than we are, but the one thing they firmly believe is that should A Great Who-Is exist then He/She/It welcomes you to that house of faith (or doubt) depending on your faith or faithless orientation.

Their music is as pallid as their belief: God has no name.

Our God Has a Name

Our God has a Name. We should sing it. We should proclaim it. We should shout it from the roof tops. We live in a post-Christian era when people simply cannot be expected to guess their way into the gospel. They don’t need to guess if we spend our services proclaiming Jesus Christ the Son of God. We are called to ascribe worth to Him. It is not a 45 minute sing-a-long led by a coach who tells us how to act like we are blessed. We don’t need to pretend if God is really there. We need to sing the truth and proclaim it clearly and with the joy that truth still resonates within my heart 40 years after I first heard it.

As my friend shared, she spoke of a teen, for whom time on earth would seem quite limited. He came to church for hope. When she asked him the subject of the songs, he replied that he presumed the songs were about God but had no clear idea they were about Jesus. Forty-five minutes of what might have been joyous song-filled proclamation of Christ, gave way to “singing like it was to a boyfriend” and this young man still had no clear hope.

Young People Change This

Each of us is called to reach our generation and train the next. I can’t sing or write like I am 20-something. Someone 20-something can and must create music that sings the unashamed, unabashed truth that Jesus Christ came to save sinners and if He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself. If He is not lifted up we and all who hear us will be bored to numbness. Don’t blame your pastor or worship leader. Fix it. Write songs worthy of the Son of God. Stop rolling the dice with visitors. Stop rolling the dice outside the church with other people’s souls. We are saved by One who deserves that we sing with beauty and power and promise. When a lost person meets you he or she should not leave without hope. May we always be ready to share the only name given among men by which we might be saved: The Name of Jesus.

*ze/e are new alternatives that a famous university is providing so students can choose their own pronouns

(Yes, I will pick up on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit tomorrow. I just had to get this out of my system).

When Azusa Street Makes Bad Theology

I chose that title to grab your attention. Before anyone panics: I am an ordained AG minister who whole-hardheartedly adheres to the fundamentals of our faith. I do not question the validity of the Azusa Street revival, nor do I question the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. But I chose this title after a number of young people told me that the foundation for their understanding of the doctrine of the Baptism of the Spirit was based on the events at Azusa Street. That misunderstanding deeply concerns me. Our beliefs are not based on any extra-biblical historical experience but on the only authoritative source for faith and conduct: the Bible. The moment we use experience as the basis for our beliefs, we open the door to deception. All our experiences should be evaluated in light of the Word of God. The Baptism of the Spirit is not something that was born out of a revival in 1906. It can and must be evidenced in scripture. If you hold firmly to that which is not found in scripture, lose it ASAP.

We are Christians, Not Existentialists

Azusa Street was a great revival prompted by the Spirit of God. I know this because that which was experienced was in accordance with the teachings of the scripture. As Christians we evaluate all experience in light of the Word of God. When John Wesley was so overcome by God’s presence in prayer that he slipped into “ecstatic utterances” we do not wonder if John somehow forgot how to speak his mother tongue or briefly lost his mind. He “prayed with the Spirit and not with (his) understanding”. (I Cor. 14:15)  Scripture interprets his experience for us. The world does not use the scripture to discern what is genuine and what is not. The world determines what is true and what is not based on experience and the end result is a subjective mess. Those who judge truth by experience are “existentialist”. Christians can determine personal preferences by experience (hazelnut, or caramel latte?) but we are never, never to determine truth by our experience.

Why is this Crucial?

I chose Azusa Street because it touches on a “distinctive” of our faith: our belief in the Baptism of the Spirit. It is vital. It is true. It is biblical and we should be able to demonstrate that from the Word of God. In the next several posts I will do my best to answer the questions I am most frequently asked regarding the Baptism of the Spirit.  At the same time, my prayer is that everyone reading this will remember that is is crucial that we evaluate everything through the lens of the Word of God. The fact that something “can occur” does not mean that it is from God. The magicians of Egypt were able to replicate some of the miracles that Moses performed. Scripture repeatedly reminds us that power is not the same as truth. Truth is powerful but not all demonstrations of power are truth.

False prophets will come. Deceivers will work signs and wonders that seem so powerful that were it possible they would deceive even the elect. (Matt 24:24)  People will cast out demons, prophesy and do mighty works in Jesus Name but they will still not be people sent by the Lord (Matthew 7:7). How will we discern what is true from what is false? Only by an excellent knowledge of the Word of God and discernment by His Spirit.

Next: A Deposit is not a Dollop

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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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