Last week I posted about God leading me to the word believe as my theme for 2013. I'm a connect-the-dots kinda gal, and it's a hoot to see how the Spirit is leading me to examine how American Christians, including myself, believe as followers of Christ.
I see the largest disconnect in what we proclaim and what we practice. There seems to be a gap between what we claim as truth in scripture and how we live our ordinary lives. Our expectations or understanding of God's power within us appears sadly lacking when we profess to worship the God of all creation. It's not that we don't see or believe in miracles happening in the present, but it does seem fair to say that in our everyday American culture, an instantaneous cure from cancer, paralysis, blindness, or deafness are not a part of our "normal" experience. We want to believe God can release us from the bondage of addictions, an evil spirit, or chronic pain, and yet this still seems a mighty big pill to swallow. Start talking about experiencing being raised from the dead, and for a lot of us, those stories have us feeling like we've entered a fairy tale more than the kingdom of heaven. It's just plain weird. Miraculous healing can make us wonder if we stepped over some imaginary line to the edge of fantasy and witchcraft versus the Holy mysterious supernatural power of an omnipotent God. Let me take this a step further and ask: Do you and I believe we have the power within us to cure, heal, and raise others from the dead? Are we willing to speak and act on that power with confidence? Do we rush over to a friend's house, a stranger on a street corner, or an aquaintence in the grocery store and offer a healing prayer or touch? If no, is it because we don't want to look silly, are we embarrassed, unsure, insecure, inhibited, afraid, etc? Do we believe we possess the power? Are we leaving this kind of work up to others? Are we more aware of how often God doesn't heal than than the times that He does? In order to not confuse, disappoint, or discourage, do we hold on to The Power and keep it to ourselves just in case healing is not God's will? Are we ready for a powerful God?
We live in a culture of doctors, nurses, counselors, hospitals, insurance companies, antibiotics, radiation, and medicare. We live where miracles take place through small groups and therapy sessions. We experience healing in the ER, ICU, outpatient clinics, and on sick leave from work. I believe these are some of the ways God works today and I'm grateful. I don't mean to limit miracles to the medical world. In my life, most miracles have been a process. They've taken place through prayer, patience, and practice. This doesn't cheapen the miracle. I've seen my marriage raised from the dead...and that my friends, saved at least four lives. I pray that I don't doubt God when it comes to physical healing or dramatic displays of power, but the truth is, I do. At least I doubt God's followers. Skeptically, I watch documentaries of those who proclaim to have seen a woman regain her sight. My hardened heart finds it almost impossible to believe that a lifelong paralytic could stand up and walk just because a Christian laid on hands and yells, "In the name of Jesus...." This is the stuff of the Gospels, Acts, and Paul. Is it really for today? Is it really for me and you?
God's been doing miracles since the beginning of time, and our Bible records only a portion of the Lord's work. From cover to cover God's power is on display. Most comforting, or perhaps most disheartening, is that that even people who were eyewitnesses to some of God's most incredible miracles in ancient days forgot time and time again what a faithful and powerful God we claim to believe. Over and over God's people have doubted, questioned, and disobeyed. We say we trust a mountain-moving, water-parting, demon-slaying, dead-man rising God, yet when we suffer we often suffer most from a lack of hope.
John 14:10-14 has me riled up so bear with me...
Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
Did Jesus just tell the disciples...Did Jesus just tell you and me that when we believe in Him, we are able to do what he does, that we're able to do even greater miracles than he did when he walked the earth? Whhhhaaaat? Why don't we spend some time sitting in a spiritual jacuzzi on that one? That is crazy amazing stuff. John chapter 14 goes on to tell us about Jesus promising us the Holy Spirit. John 14:17 says, "The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. but you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." To this I shout, "I WANT TO KNOW HIM!" I want to be so steeped in the Holy Spirit that I throw off the hinderances of this world. I don't want miracles to be strange stories that give me shrivers or make me sneer, "Really?" I want miracles to become normal. Writing those words sounds greedy. As a follower of Christ, it seems to me that Jesus is telling me I should expect and experience God's power to fill me and flow through me everyday. Everyday. Are we ready for a powerful God?
Before you worry I'm power-trippin', let me share more "dots" God is connecting. There are few scriptures that come closer to the core of how I experience, or want to experience, Christianity than Matthew 18:1-5, Luke 4:14-21, and Mark 12:29-31.
Matthew 18:1-5 describes Jesus reminding his followers that a humble child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Pride and power don't make you great. A willing, trusting, heart brings you closest to Christ. A life of service and generosity ushers in the Kingdom.
Luke 4:14-21 defines the Good News. In this passage, Jesus, fresh from a 40 day fast in the wilderness being tempted by the devil and being cared for by angels, comes into the synagogue in Nazareth and reads a bit from Isaiah. Speaking the words of the prophet, Christ defines his ministry and purpose. Jesus states that he's been anointed by the Holy Spirit, is ready to proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and has the authority to release the oppressed.
Mark 12:29-31is just one of the places in the Bible where we learn what matters most to God. We must love God with all of who we are and we're commanded/expected/compelled to love others as we love ourselves. It is Christianity 101.
In service last Sunday I wanted to stand in Open Worship...my heart was not clear to move forward. But here I am in what has become my place to "stand" and share and process what the Holy Spirit is placing on my heart. This blog allows me the time and space to make what I hope are coherent statements about my faith. All that to say, that these "dots," these little pieces of how God is working in my life, felt tangibly close Sunday morning.
Last Saturday night, after watching the documentary Finger of God about seeing and experiencing God's power, miracles, and healing in today's world, I began to look over the lesson for the 4th/5th grade girls Sunday school class I was to teach in the morning. The curriculum instructed me to share the story of Jesus calming the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee. What an awesome story about Jesus' incredible and almost unbelievable power! Are we ready for a powerful God? The disciples in the boat didn't seem to be as they asked, "who is this?" Sunday morning the girls and I read the story and talked about miracles. They were well versed in reciting Bible stories, but when I asked them if they'd ever seen or experienced any recently, there was quite a pause. Then one child remembered her mom talking about being able to speak publicly (something she wasn't comfortable doing) after a friend prayed for her. Another child had heard the story of a boy who needed to do well on a test, but hadn't studied or had severe test anxiety. The boy went to bed and dreamed that he held the teacher's answer key. The next day he took the test and remembering his dream, he was able to take the test while "looking" at the answer key in his mind.
Then it was time for service, the verses from Luke 4:16-21 were the basis for Gregg's excellent sermon. Once again I felt blessed to sit amongst a congregation who loves Jesus and justice and sees them as interconnected. Believing we serve a God who transforms individuals and the whole world energizes my spirit and fills me with hope. This transforming love is described in Mark 12:29-31. Loving God is of utmost importance and usually a major "duh!" for believers. The trickier part is loving your neighbor as yourself. How do we do this? Sunday morning I wondered if it had something to do with believing God. Are we ready for a powerful God? Do we accept and want to follow a Messiah that asks us to want healing for others as much as we want it for ourselves? Are we ready to take God out of an ancient text and make Immanuel real and relevant today? Are we ready to believe, to show love, by entering into God's power and allowing the Holy Spirit to flow through us as we humbly trust the Creator of the universe with the faith of a child?