A Virgin Shall Conceive


When I first started this blog, I anticipated writing more posts about fiction, understood from a Christian worldview. As it’s happened, I’ve ended up writing more posts about the Christian worldview than I do about fiction. And what better time to do so. I mean, Christmas is not exclusively a religious holiday, but it nevertheless does have religious significance. And not just religious. Christian meaning!

We aren’t celebrating the birth of any old god. Rather, Christmas rivets our attention on Jesus, the Christ, who entered the world as a baby.

The first miraculous part of His coming was His conception. His mother Mary was a virgin. Clearly anyone reading the Christmas story must question this. I mean, how many virgins do we know who get pregnant?

Interestingly, C. S. Lewis addresses this very subject in his book Miracles. This volume is much more of an apologetic for God and His work in the world than I had realized. As an aside, I can see more clearly why Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, called himself the anti-Lewis. But because Lewis had himself been an atheist, he could anticipate the arguments an atheist would make against the Supernatural.

Unsurprisingly, the miracle Lewis refers to with some frequency is the virgin birth. Here are some of his thoughts in answer to the common atheist argument that people of old believed in miracles because they didn’t have the scientific knowledge we have now.

You will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancé was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. … When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancé’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature. All records of miracles teach the same thing. In such stories the miracles excite fear and wonder (that is what the very word miracle implies) among spectators, and are taken as evidence of supernatural power. If they were not known to be contrary to the laws of nature how could they suggest the presence of the supernatural? How could they be surprising unless they were seen to be exceptions to the rules? And how can anything be seen to be an exception till the rules are known? … If St. Joseph had lacked faith to trust God or humility to perceive the holiness of his spouse, he could have disbelieved in the miraculous origin of her Son as easily as any modern man; and any modern man who believes in God can accept the miracle as easily as St. Joseph did.

Good stuff, important to recall when we are approaching the celebration of the Incarnation. At every turn concerning Christ’s birth, there was a miracle. It’s helpful to remember that the things which seem impossible are impossible, except for God who can do the impossible.

This post was inspired by one that appeared here in December, 2007.

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God Speaks However He Wants


I’m privileged to be involved in the book launch for the third edition of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by the late Nabeel Qureshi, who had been a member of Ravi Zacharias’s RZIM apologetics team.

I suspect it isn’t the usual practice to do a full-out book launch for a third edition, expanded though it may be, as this one is. But Nabeel died of cancer not long ago, and he can’t do any of the promotion an author might naturally shoulder for a new edition of his work.

The fact is, this autobiographical account of how Nabeel became a Christian, is important. More people need to discover this book. Consequently, I’m happy to help get the word out.

I read the first edition a number of years ago based on the recommendation of our church librarian. Boy, was she right! Nabeel faced difficult questions and a near impossible decision. He didn’t shy away from revealing what he went through.

But back in February 2014, before I’d even read the book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus inspired me to write a blog post about the way God speaks to people. In honor of Nabeel, I’d like to share it again, with a few necessary revisions. BTW, the third edition is available for pre-order now. It will come out August 21.

– – – – –

One more story, this passed along from the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry newsletter—a Muslim came to Christ after experiencing a dream or vision (in this man’s case, three dreams and a vision). I’ve heard a proliferation of such stories, from disparate sources, all reputable.

It’s enough to convince me that God is on the move in parts of the world that we once thought were closed to the gospel, simply because missionaries weren’t welcome. But God is not limited the way we so often think He is. Yes, He chooses to use His people to declare His message, but He’s not limited by our weakness or unwillingness.

However, listening to some faithful believers—even some pastors who have studied Scripture—you’d think God was working with both hands tied behind his back and a gag over his mouth. Consequently, the only means at his disposal to bring people to Christ is humans preaching God’s Word.

I believe in preaching, and I know God works through the proclamation of His Word. But the fact is, that very Word tells us about the Apostle Paul who came to Christ, not after hearing a sermon or studying God’s law and prophets. He came to Christ because he saw a vision.

Not only that, the Apostle Peter saw a vision that led him to believe that faith in Christ was not limited to Jews, but that Gentiles were welcome also.

In addition, Scripture tells us there will be a time when

[God] will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
And even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days . . .
And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Will be delivered. (Joel 2:28-29, 32a)

Yet some people believe God’s miraculous works such as prophecy have ceased. How do they resolve the places that Scripture seems to contradict this idea? Are they saying dreams and visions ceased . . . until they didn’t? But when did this ceasing begin? Certainly not before Paul’s conversion. And if it ceased when the cannon of Scripture was closed, who told the leaders of the church this fact? I mean, I think it’s a stretch to make Scripture say that the gifts of the Spirit that are miraculous would be done at some future, undisclosed date—until they wouldn’t be done, at some other distant undisclosed future date.

I know this is controversial. And it’s potentially dangerous. Because as soon as you say, God can work through visions, then you have all kinds of wack jobs claiming they’ve had visions and met with angels and received a new and more complete word from God.

Except, the people in Muslim lands who are seeing visions and dreaming dreams are being pointed to the Bible and to Jesus Christ. Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, formerly a devout Muslim who authored the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus has just such a story. Here’s part of the description of his conversion from the RZIM newsletter:

Growing up in a devout Muslim family, Qureshi read the entire Quran in Arabic by age five, memorized more than a dozen chapters by his teens and boldly proclaimed Islam to his friends of other religions. “We are Qureshis, descendants of the Quresh tribe—Muhammad’s tribe. Our family stood sentinel over Islamic tradition,” he describes. “Islam was the lifeblood that coursed through my veins. Islam was my identity, and I loved it. I boldly issued the call of Islam to anyone and everyone who would listen, proclaiming that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.”

Qureshi’s love for Islam defined and directed his life until a close college friend defended the Christian message with compelling evidence and disrupted everything he knew about religion, faith and meaning. Shaken by the potential that Christianity might be true, he turned to God for direct guidance and was given a vision and three dreams that led him to Jesus.

“That led him to Jesus.” That’s the key, I think. Any visions or dreams that lead a person elsewhere or to a different personality, to a different gospel, to a “new” understanding, is patently false.

But what an exciting truth: God is not limited in the way which makes Himself known. That He chooses to use us in the proclamation of His truth is awesome, but we’re not the only means at His disposal. He can have a personal, direct conversation with an individual if He chooses—as Paul tells us in the book of Acts. As does the Apostle John in the book of Revelation.

Oh, that was Scripture times, someone may say. Things are different now. God doesn’t work that way any more.

Do we believe this because we think God isn’t as strong as He once was? Or do we believe it because people who claim “special knowledge” have started cults or tricked people into giving them money or convinced others the end of the world was on a certain day? Do we believe this because WE haven’t seen any visions or had any “pointing to God” dreams? Do we believe this because we say we believe the Bible but filter it based on our own assumptions or traditions that have been passed down to us?

It’s the latter that I think influences a lot of evangelical, non-charismatic, western Christians today. We are quick to judge the Pharisees for the traditions they held on to in place of God’s clear word, but I tend to think we cling to our traditions pretty strongly, too.

Time, I believe, to read God’s Word with fresh eyes and let Him speak however He wants.

The Prophetic And The Miraculous—A Reprise


Elisha011In debating the existence of God, presupposition is everything.

If you presuppose there is no God, as atheists do, then you demand evidence but rule out anything that smacks of “flying monkeys,” or the like, because whatever defies natural law is simply myth.

This approach eliminates fulfilled prophecy as evidence of God’s work in the world. It also eliminates miracles—those will be dumped on the myth pile as nonsense believed only by the delusional.

I thought about this fact as I read the account in 2 Kings of the amazing miracles that occurred during the reign of unbelieving kings. These were not atheists but rulers who no longer worshiped the one true God, or Him exclusively. They believed in prophecy and they experienced miracles. In some cases, the phenomenal work of God changed these kings, but more often than not, they went on acting as they had before—either taking God’s work for granted or crediting it to one of the false gods they worshiped.

The thing that I’ve overlooked in the past is how much prophetic and miraculous activity there was during those times. They did not have the Bible, but they were not short on God’s revelation. There were schools of prophets, and when Queen Jezebel, known for her worship of Baal, tried to eliminate the prophets of God, at least a hundred survived. A hundred! Survived!

For ages and ages, I’ve thought there were Elijah, Elisha, and the prophets who wrote the books of the Bible. Period. Well, not so. Scripture records the names of some twenty prophets who were actively communicating God’s message during the era of the Kings of Judah and Israel, but there is also mention of various schools of prophets or sons of the prophets living together in a kind of collective it would seem.

I’ve wondered about those. Did they inherit their job or need to be instructed in order to hear God’s voice? Did they volunteer to be prophets? Or were they “schools of prophets” like geese are gaggles? Just kidding on that last one.

Mostly the prophets recorded by name seemed to be called by God though Elijah apparently called Elisha to be his disciple, his heir apparent. I suspect those in the schools or the collection of sons of the prophets, then, would also have been called by God.

And the miracles seemed to be plentiful. Elisha was God’s instrument for an abundance of supernatural activity. He gave direction for Naaman, the Aramean military leader, to wash and be cleansed from his leprosy. Conversely, he spoke a word and his greedy servant Gehazi contracted leprosy. He gave a widow directions to gather many jars in order to collect a miraculous multiplication of oil to provide for her financial needs.

He spoke a word and a barren couple conceived. Years later, the son who was born died, and Elisha prayed and he was brought back to life. During a famine, he saved the lives of a group of those prophets by miraculously countering a poisonous ingredient inadvertently thrown into their stew pot. He even made iron float so that one of those sons of the prophets could retrieve an ax head that fell into the river.

There’s more—he repeatedly told the Israelite king where the Arameans were planning an ambush so he could avoid them. When the Aramean king sent a force to capture Elisha, he prayed and God opened the eyes of his servant so he could see the amassed forces of God surrounding the enemy. Then he prayed again and God blinded the eyes of the Arameans so that they didn’t know where they were and meekly followed Elisha where he wanted to take them.

I could go on. The point is, during this one period of history, there was an abundance of prophetic and miraculous activity. If people needed signs to believe in God, He gave those in abundance.

And yet, this period was one of great apostasy and ultimately of judgment. The various Israelite kings led their people astray. Baal worship was not just tolerated, but the religion of the ruling house. They instituted male cult prostitutes and prophets of Baal and sacrifices to Baal. They branched out to include worship of female fertility deities.

All the miracles and all the prophecy didn’t change the hearts of the kings bent on disbelief. Nevertheless, God was faithful to make Himself known. He gave them chance after chance to turn to Him in repentance. He allowed enemy armies to assail them, then miraculously delivered them; He brought famine then sent rain to relieve their drought. He foretold what He was about to do so that there would be no doubt His hand was on them. He wanted them to know that He is LORD.

And still, most went their own way.

All the evidence in the world can’t change a hard heart or make a blind man see. Instead, a person away from God must cry out to Him to give him sight, to soften his heart.

God alone can heal and save, but He doesn’t force anyone to come to Him. He pursues with everlasting love, and His abundant revelation—His prophecies and His miracles—testify of His faithfulness

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in November, 2014.

Then There Is Christmas


All too quickly Thanksgiving Day has passed and we are racing on toward Christmas. I know when I was a kid, I looked so forward to Christmas. As I grew older, however, Thanksgiving began to take first place as the holiday I most loved. Now I don’t have any favorites. Both are great in their own way.

The thing about Christmas, it’s pretty hard to hide the “Christ” part of the holiday. Oh, sure, some people try in various ways, but in the end somehow the idea still seeps through that there is religious significance to the day.

Yes, we most likely have all heard that Christmas had pagan roots and practices that Christians co-opted, but the fact is, if Christ had not been born, there would be no followers of Jesus to impact the culture so much that such a day as Christmas overshadowed the other winter celebrations and practices.

In the twenty-first century Christmas is as much under attack in the US as it has ever been, largely because God and His work in the world is under attack. More and more people simply do not believe in Him—or believe in Him the way the Bible reveals Him.

Over and over I hear how impossible things like miracles are because there’s no verification of them, apart from the Biblical record which is discounted because, after all, the people that wrote it were superstitious dimwits who didn’t know anything about science.

What those who use this approach don’t realize is that the people of the first century were people just like us. They were not imagining God when there was a gap in their understanding of the way things work, a lack of scientific knowledge, as so many atheists assert.

C. S. Lewis, who was himself an atheist for a good portion of his life, understood this argument against belief in God better than someone who has only heard others declare it. He wrote a whole book dealing with miracles, which seem to trip up so many atheists. Lewis looked particularly at the Incarnation, specifically at the virgin birth, as evidence for God.

You will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancé was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. … When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancé’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature. All records of miracles teach the same thing. In such stories the miracles excite fear and wonder (that is what the very word miracle implies) among spectators, and are taken as evidence of supernatural power. If they were not known to be contrary to the laws of nature how could they suggest the presence of the supernatural? How could they be surprising unless they were seen to be exceptions to the rules? And how can anything be seen to be an exception till the rules are known? … If St. Joseph had lacked faith to trust God or humility to perceive the holiness of his spouse, he could have disbelieved in the miraculous origin of her Son as easily as any modern man; and any modern man who believes in God can accept the miracle as easily as St. Joseph did. (from Miracles by C. S. Lewis, emphasis mine)

Pretty clear. The issue isn’t that our scientific knowledge has advanced so much we no longer believe in the supernatural, but that our understanding of God has diminished. Anyone who believes that God is all powerful has no problem understanding that He can do what seems extraordinary and would not happen apart from Him.

A virgin birth if there is no god? Of course that would be impossible. But God changes the equation. Factoring Him into history, things that could not have happened become understandable, even expected in a surprising kind of way. We don’t know what God will do or when He will do it, but we know that He acts in ways that aren’t limited by the physical laws He established and upholds. So a virgin birth? Sure. A resurrected Savior? Absolutely. A returning king? Without a doubt!

Published in: on November 24, 2017 at 4:58 pm  Comments (11)  
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The Flaw In Atheist Thinking


Miracles_coverIn remembrance of C. S. Lewis upon the 50th anniversary of his passing, I reread one of his books entitled Miracles.

Lewis, himself having been an atheist, brought a perspective I had never considered before. He made clear how irrational it is to try and prove the Supernatural by using the Natural. It can’t be done because the two are separate entities.

It’s like two scholars debating the scope of knowledge. One might say mathematics is the only field of study. The other might argue that no, literature is also a field of study, wholly different and separate from mathematics.

Sorry, the first one says. I can find no evidence for literature.

That’s because you’re only looking at the properties of mathematics, counters the other.

Where else would you expect me to look? his friend answers. I’m searching and searching in the vast field of knowledge, and there is no sign of literature.

Don’t you see, says the second professor, your search is limited. If you look beyond math, you’ll find literature.

How can I look beyond the only thing that’s there?

And so the argument would continue. The first professor cannot grasp the idea that the field of study with which he is familiar is not the sum of all knowledge, and the second professor can’t grasp how he can demonstrate with math how literature exists.

He might think of ways that math and poetry are alike, how math is the basis of music and music is an art akin to literature. He can even point out how literature has structure much the same way math does. But none of those evidences will be proof to the professor not willing to consider that math is not the sum total of all knowledge.

In the same way, the atheist who believes the natural world is the sum total of all that exists will not find any “circumstantial evidence,” to use a law term, to be compelling proof that something, let alone Someone, exists beyond the scope of what his five senses can detect.

It actually makes perfect sense. The flaw in the logic, however, is the assumption that Humankind can detect all that exists with our five senses: atheists take that as a given which needs no proof.

However, it is a false assumption that nature itself exposes. The fact that we did not for thousands of years detect other universes did not write them out of existence. The fact that we did not detect atoms and subatomic particles for thousands of years, did not negate their reality. Our five senses failed.

Relying upon the use of our five senses, we were wrong to think the earth was flat, that the sun rotates around the earth, that there were no other stars than the ones we can see, and any number of other errant ideas. Our five senses, then, are fallible.

Some might counter that, in fact, it is the advancement of knowledge which has allowed Humankind to correct these wrong beliefs by the use of our senses. Our technological improvements have made it possible for us to see further and look at smaller.

But that doesn’t address the issue. The human capacity to detect reality is flawed. We can go for generations believing a lie because our five senses have restrictions. What restrictions might they have now to which we’re oblivious?

An honest person will admit that we cannot know what restrictions are limiting our understanding. Which of course opens the door to the Supernatural. Because we don’t see, touch, taste, feel, or hear God in the same way we do our sister or boss or neighbor, does not mean God does not exist.

The ironic thing is that Humankind for centuries accepted the existence of the Supernatural, in large part because of their five senses, but also, I’d suggest, because of a spiritual sense.

Biblical history records that humans had encounters with God–that He insinuated Himself in the affairs of Humankind–so their five senses verified the existence of the supernatural. Some heard God’s voice, others saw His Shekinah glory, still others felt His Consuming Fire. Others, however, received visions and were filled with His Spirit.

What’s happened, then, it would seem, is what happens with all our physical capacities when they aren’t used: they atrophy. The ability people once had to interact with God, dependent upon their spiritual vision, faded, and had God left us to ourselves, I suspect we would have completely forgotten all about Him. Thankfully, He had no intention of abandoning us.

His greatest intervention was His decision to take on the appearance of a man, live so as to show us the Father, and die in order to make a way for us to once again interact with God.

Jesus Christ penetrated the natural on behalf of the Supernatural to restore our faulty, faded vision–the kind that allows us to see beyond the restrictions of our finite senses.

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in November 2013.

Published in: on August 17, 2017 at 5:43 pm  Comments (10)  
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Signs And Wonders


As Thanksgiving approaches here in the US, I want to keep perspective. God’s greatest gift to His creation is His Son. He is the ultimate evidence of God’s love, and He, really, should be the focus of our thanksgiving. All the other things are peripherals. They serve a purpose, but they mainly point to the main thing—Jesus Himself.

In light of this fact, below is a reprise of an article first published here in June 2012.

God is powerful and does amazing things, never more clearly demonstrated than when He sent Jesus, God incarnate, to live on Earth with those He created. God’s greatest feat, yet this is the one that a great many people deny. Here is the line of demarcation that divides humanity.

The thing is, Jesus came with proof.

Recently as I read the book of John, I noted how many times that gospel referred to the signs Jesus did. And yet, you know what the Pharisees asked for as proof He was the Messiah? Yep, signs.

As I look at it, Satan seems to be most concerned with calling into question Jesus’s identity. I’ve studied and analyzed the record we have of those three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, comparing them to the classifications of sin mentioned in 1 John (“the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life,” – 2:16), and to the specific doubts Satan stirred in Eve (“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise” – Gen. 3:6, emphasis mine).

But more recently I began to see these temptations as a direct challenge by Satan demanding that Jesus prove His deity–(“If you are the Son of God…,” “If you are the Son of God …,” and then turning it on its head, “If you worship me…”) This “prove it” demand was the same one the Pharisees hounded Him for, all the way to the end. Even as He hung on the cross, they were saying, If you’re the Christ, get yourself down from there.

The real issue with Jesus throughout history is whether He is who He said He is.

Toward the end of his gospel, John gave a clear statement of his purpose for writing–an explanation for his preoccupation with signs:

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

John also recorded Jesus’s own statement about the witnesses He had. In the Jewish context no fact was established without two or three witnesses. Jesus came in with three several times.

The point is this. The signs and wonders in Jesus’s day had a specific purpose. They established His identity.

They also served a definite purpose in the early Church—they established the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. First in the disciples, then in the other Jewish converts, and later in the Gentile believers.

So what about signs and wonders today?

I have no doubt God can do signs and wonders today. He can multiply bread, move mountains, heal the blind, raise the dead. He is still God, after all.

But what’s the point?

Part of me thinks, Well, need, for one thing. There are people who need food and who can’t see and who have died. But just like the fact that Jesus didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom, He didn’t come to set up a utopia either. All the people Jesus healed eventually died of some other cause. They didn’t stay cured. Not physically, anyway.

The signs and wonders, though, point to the real reason Jesus came. He conquered death. He defeated sin. He triumphed over Satan. His signs and wonders were the precursor to the ultimate victory He enjoyed, breaking the bonds of sin and establishing the Way to reconciliation with the Father.

Signs and wonders are not the gift. A magician named Simon discovered that. He of all people, who presumably had trafficked in the dark arts, was amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit, released when the apostles laid hands on people. Simon wanted that power.

But it wasn’t for sale. The power was nothing more than the evidence of that which Simon could have–the indwelling Holy Spirit who would seal him for salvation.

Signs and wonders? They aren’t the big thing. They are merely the evidence of He who is Bigger, Grander, Mightier than we can imagine, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He’s given us all the signs we could ever want to believe that He is who He says He is.

Published in: on November 20, 2015 at 6:29 pm  Comments (4)  
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Signs And Wonders


Feeding_the_5000009God is powerful and does amazing things, never more clearly demonstrated than when He sent Jesus, God incarnate, to live on Earth with those He created. God’s greatest feat, yet the one that a great many people deny. This miracle is the line of demarcation that divides humanity.

The thing is, Jesus came with proof.

Recently as I read the book of John, I noted how many times that gospel referred to the signs Jesus did. And yet, do you know what the Pharisees asked for as proof He was the Messiah? Yep, signs.

As I look at it, Satan seems to be most concerned with calling into question Jesus’s identity. I’ve studied and analyzed the record we have of those three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, comparing them to the classifications of sin mentioned in 1 John (“the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life,” – 2:16), and to the specific doubts Satan stirred in Eve (“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise” – Gen. 3:6, emphasis mine).

But more recently I began to see these temptations as a direct challenge by Satan demanding that Jesus prove His deity—(“If you are the Son of God…,” “If you are the Son of God …,” and then turning it on its head, “If you worship me…”) This “prove it” demand was the same one the Pharisees hounded Him for, all the way to the end. Even as He hung on the cross, they were saying, If you’re the Christ, get yourself down from there.

The real issue with Jesus throughout history is whether He is who He said He is.

Toward the end of his gospel, John gave a clear statement of his purpose for writing—an explanation for his preoccupation with signs:

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

John also recorded Jesus’s own statement about the witnesses He had. In the Jewish context no fact was established without two or three witnesses. Jesus came in with three several times, one being the signs and wonders He performed—things like feeding the five thousand from a few loaves and fish or walking on water, healing a blind man and raising a child from the dead.

The point is this. The signs and wonders in Jesus’s day had a specific purpose. They established His identity.

They also served a definite purpose in the early Church—they established the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. First in the disciples, then in the other Jewish converts, and later in the Gentile believers.

So what about signs and wonders today?

I have no doubt God can do signs and wonders today. He can multiply bread, move mountains, heal the blind, raise the dead. He is still God, after all.

But what’s the point?

Part of me thinks, Well, need, for one thing. There are people who need food and who can’t see and who have died. But just like the fact that Jesus didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom, He didn’t come to set up a utopia either. All the people Jesus healed eventually died of some other cause. They didn’t stay cured. Not physically, anyway.

The signs and wonders, though, point to the real reason Jesus came. He conquered death. He defeated sin. He triumphed over Satan. His signs and wonders were the precursor to the ultimate victory He enjoyed, breaking the bonds of sin and establishing the Way to reconciliation with the Father.

Signs and wonders are not the gift. A magician named Simon discovered that. He of all people, who presumably had trafficked in the dark arts, was amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit, released when the apostles laid hands on people. Simon wanted that power.

But it wasn’t for sale. The power was nothing more than the evidence of that which Simon could have–the indwelling Holy Spirit who would seal him for salvation.

Signs and wonders? They aren’t the big thing. They are merely the evidence of He who is Bigger, Grander, Mightier than we can imagine, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He’s given us all the signs we could ever want to believe that He is who He says He is.

This post originally appeared here in June 2012.

Published in: on April 23, 2015 at 5:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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Why I Told My Story


First Century GalileeSome time ago, I realized that I had a habit of starting blog posts with “backstory,” something you should not do if you’re writing fiction. I’d begin my article by stating why I was writing on that particular topic—as if most readers really cared why I decided to write on Ebola instead of King David.

So yesterday without preamble, I wrote a post entitled “My Story,” a piece which fills in the gaps of a couple other articles which tell how I became a Christian.

But it’s bugging me that I left out the backstory, the why I was writing My Story. So now I’m backtracking.

Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preached from Luke 9/Mark 5ff. As usual, he connected lots of dots until a whole picture emerged, and there was one particular picture that is memorable and beautiful.

Part 1: Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to an area known at the time as the Decapolis, an area populated primarily by non-Jews who were pagan, worshiping various gods. They were heavily influenced by Greek culture, so many of those gods came from the Greek pantheon.

When Jesus arrived in the Decapolis, He went to a place where there was a demon-possessed man living in a graveyard. He was out-of-control violent and had superhuman strength. The people of his community apparently tried to restrain him because Scripture mentions his breaking chains that bound. Chains!

Instead of going the other way, Jesus held a conversation with him and eventually ordered the demons (there was a group of them) to come out of him. Chaos ensued. The demons, with Christ’s permission, entered a herd of pigs (which were apparently used in the sacrifices to those pagan gods) which rushed into the sea and drowned. The herdsmen fled the scene and apparently told anyone who would listen what had just happened.

Soon a crowd arrived. They found the man who’d been demon-possessed clothed and in his right mind. Instead of showing gratitude that this crazy man was sane and sober and lucid, they were scared to death and told Jesus he needed to leave. At once.

The former demoniac told Jesus he wanted to follow Him. Well, of course, why wouldn’t he? And Jesus was in the business of telling people to follow Him, so it was a perfect storm, right? If I were writing the story, I’d have the man packing his bags and climbing into the boat with Jesus.

But thankfully, God is better at figuring out what’s best than I am. Consequently, Jesus told him to go home instead and tell the people “what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19b) As a result, the man “went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:20).

Part 2: Jesus went back to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee where he performed a number of other miracles—healed some people, raised someone from the dead, fed the 5000 using just a few loaves and fish, walked on water—then he returned to the Decapolis.

This time things were different: “Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd,” and healed him (Mark 7:31ff).

In the area where the man freed from demon possession had gone to tell of the great mercy God had shown him, now people weren’t asking Jesus to leave. They were bringing to Him people who needed healing. They were coming in crowds so great that Jesus had to say, enough. Not that they listened: “And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it” (Mark 7:36).

The point is simple: though we can’t know for sure, there’s a good possibility that the one man who went home and told people about God’s great mercy and what Jesus had done for him, turned the Decapolis to Christ.

Before the man told his story, the crowd was frightened and told Jesus to go away. After the man told his story, the crowd came to Him and were astonished.

It’s not a leap to think the man freed from the legion of demons made a difference because he was willing to tell his story.

And isn’t that what God has asked each of us to do? Which was Pastor Mike’s point. Jesus delivered the great commission to one man as an example for us that we might also go and tell.

Published in: on November 19, 2014 at 7:38 pm  Comments Off on Why I Told My Story  
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The Prophetic And The Miraculous


Elisha011In my recent discussion with atheists Arkenaten and company, I realized something critical—in debating the existence of God, presupposition is everything. If you presuppose there is no God as atheists do, then you demand evidence but rule out anything that smacks of “flying monkeys” or the like because whatever defies natural law is simply myth. This approach eliminates fulfilled prophecy as evidence of God’s work in the world or miracles because those will be dumped on the myth pile as nonsense believed only by the delusional.

I thought about this fact as I read the account in 2 Kings of the amazing miracles that occurred during the reign of unbelieving kings. These were not atheists but rulers who no longer worshiped the one true God or Him exclusively. They believed in prophecy and they experienced miracles. In some cases, the phenomenal work of God changed these kings, but more often than not, they went on acting as they had before—either taking God’s work for granted or crediting it to one of the false gods they worshiped.

The thing that I’ve overlooked in the past is how much prophetic and miraculous activity there was during those times. They did not have the Bible, but they were not short on God’s revelation. There were schools of prophets, and when Queen Jezebel, known for her worship of Baal, tried to eliminate the prophets of God, at least a hundred survived. A hundred! Survived!

For ages and ages, I’ve thought there were Elijah, Elisha, and the prophets who wrote the books of the Bible. Period. Well, not so. Scripture records the names of some twenty prophets who were actively communicating God’s message during the era of the Kings of Judah and Israel, but there is also mention of various schools of prophets or sons of the prophets living together in a kind of collective it would seem.

I’ve wondered about those. Did they inherit their job or need to be instructed in order to hear God’s voice? Did they volunteer to be prophets? Or were they “schools of prophets” like geese are gaggles? Just kidding on that last one.

Mostly the prophets recorded by name seemed to be called by God though Elijah apparently called Elisha to be his disciple, his heir apparent. I suspect those in the schools or the collection of sons of the prophets, then, would also have been called by God.

And the miracles seemed to be plentiful. Elisha was God’s instrument for an abundance of supernatural activity. He gave direction for Naaman, the Aramean military leader, to wash and be cleansed from his leprosy. Conversely, he spoke a word and his greedy servant Gehazi contracted leprosy. He gave a widow directions to gather many jars in order to collect a miraculous multiplication of oil to provide for her financial needs.

He spoke a word and a barren couple conceived. Years later, the son who was born died, and Elisha prayed and he was brought back to life. During a famine, he saved the lives of a group of those prophets by miraculously countering a poisonous ingredient inadvertently thrown into their stew pot. He even made iron float so that one of those sons of the prophets could retrieve an ax head that fell into the river.

There’s more—he repeatedly told the Israelite king where the Arameans were planning an ambush so he could avoid them. When the Aramean king sent a force to capture Elisha, he prayed and God opened the eyes of his servant so he could see the amassed forces of God surrounding the enemy. Then he prayed again and God blinded the eyes of the Arameans so that they didn’t know where they were and meekly followed Elisha where he wanted to take them.

I could go on. The point is, during this one period of history, there was an abundance of prophetic and miraculous activity. If people needed signs to believe in God, He gave those in abundance.

And yet, this period was one of great apostasy and ultimately of judgment. The various Israelite kings led their people astray. Baal worship was not just tolerated, but the religion of the ruling house. They instituted male cult prostitutes and prophets of Baal and sacrifices to Baal. They branched out to include worship of female fertility deities.

All the miracles and all the prophecy didn’t change the hearts of the kings bent on disbelief. Nevertheless, God was faithful to make Himself known. He gave them chance after chance to turn to Him in repentance. He allowed enemy armies to assail them, then miraculously delivered them; He brought famine then sent rain to relieve their drought. He foretold what He was about to do so that there would be no doubt His hand was on them. He wanted them to know that He is LORD.

And still, most went their own way.

All the evidence in the world can’t change a hard heart or make a blind man see. Instead, a person away from God must cry out to Him to give him sight, to soften his heart.

God alone can heal and save, but He doesn’t force anyone to come to Him. He pursues with everlasting love, and His abundant revelation—His prophecies and His miracles—testify of His faithfulness

Published in: on November 6, 2014 at 6:35 pm  Comments (4)  
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God Speaks However He Wants


Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus coverOne more story, this passed along from the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry newsletter–a Muslim who came to Christ after experiencing a dream or vision (in this man’s case, three dreams and a vision). I’ve heard a proliferation of such stories, from disparate sources, all reputable.

It’s enough to convince me that God is on the move in parts of the world that we once thought were closed to the gospel, simply because missionaries weren’t welcome. But God is not limited the way we so often think He is. Yes, He chooses to use His people to declare His message, but He’s not limited by our weakness or unwillingness.

However, listening to some faithful believers–pastors who have studied Scripture–you’d think God was working with both hands tied behind his back and a gag over his mouth. Consequently, the only means at his disposal to bring people to Christ is the preaching of God’s Word.

I believe in preaching, and I know God works through the proclamation of His Word. But the fact is, that very Word tells us about the Apostle Paul who came to Christ, not after hearing a sermon or studying God’s law and prophets. He came to Christ because he saw a vision.

Not only that, the Apostle Peter saw a vision that led him to believe that faith in Christ was not limited to Jews, but that Gentiles were welcome also.

In addition, Scripture tells us there will be a time when

[God] will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
And even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days . . .
And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Will be delivered. (Joel 2:28-29, 32a)

I’m not quite sure how the people who believe God’s miraculous works such as prophecy have ceased, resolve the places that Scripture seems to contradict this idea. Are they saying dreams and visions ceased . . . until they didn’t? But when did this ceasing begin? Certainly not before Paul’s conversion. And if it ceased when the cannon of Scripture was closed, who told the leaders of the church this fact? I mean, I think it’s a stretch to make Scripture say that the gifts of the Spirit that are miraculous would be done at some future, undisclosed date–until they wouldn’t be done, at some other distant undisclosed future date.

I know this is controversial. And it’s potentially dangerous. Because as soon as you say, God can work through visions, then you have all kinds of wack jobs claiming they’ve had visions and met with angels and received a new and more complete word from God.

Except, the people in Muslim lands who are seeing visions and dreaming dreams are being pointed to the Bible and to Jesus Christ. This latest which I heard about today is Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, formerly a devout Muslim who authored the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus which is due to release tomorrow. Here’s part of the description of his conversion from the RZIM newsletter:

Growing up in a devout Muslim family, Qureshi read the entire Quran in Arabic by age five, memorized more than a dozen chapters by his teens and boldly proclaimed Islam to his friends of other religions. “We are Qureshis, descendants of the Quresh tribe—Muhammad’s tribe. Our family stood sentinel over Islamic tradition,” he describes. “Islam was the lifeblood that coursed through my veins. Islam was my identity, and I loved it. I boldly issued the call of Islam to anyone and everyone who would listen, proclaiming that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.”

Qureshi’s love for Islam defined and directed his life until a close college friend defended the Christian message with compelling evidence and disrupted everything he knew about religion, faith and meaning. Shaken by the potential that Christianity might be true, he turned to God for direct guidance and was given a vision and three dreams that led him to Jesus.

“That led him to Jesus.” That’s the key, I think. Any visions or dreams that lead a person elsewhere or to a different personality, to a different gospel, to a “new” understanding, is patently false.

But what an exciting truth: God is not limited in the way which makes Himself known. That He chooses to use us in the proclamation of His truth is awesome, but we’re not the only means at His disposal. He can have a personal, direct conversation with an individual if He chooses–or so Paul tells us in the book of Acts. As does the Apostle John in the book of Revelation.

Oh, that was Scripture times, someone may say. Things are different now. God doesn’t work that way any more.

Do we believe this because we think God isn’t as strong as He once was? Or because the people who claim “special knowledge” have started cults or tricked people into giving them money or convinced others the end of the world was on a certain day? Do we believe this because WE haven’t seen any visions or had any “pointing to God” dreams? Do we believe this because we say we believe the Bible but filter it based on our own assumptions or traditions that have been passed down to us?

It’s the latter that I think influences a lot of evangelical, non-charismatic, western Christians today. We are quick to judge the Pharisees for the traditions they held on to over God’s clear word, but I tend to think we cling to our traditions pretty strongly, too.

Time, I believe, to read God’s Word with fresh eyes and let Him speak however He wants.