Belief And What We Put Our Faith In – A Reprise


skydivingI believe that skydiving is safe. However, you aren’t going to see me getting into a plane with one of those flimsy parachute contraptions strapped to my back! 😉

Clearly, belief is not the same as putting our trust in that thing we say we believe. For example, see what James said to Christians: “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (Jas. 2:19)

Believing and trusting are not the same thing. That’s a good principle to keep in mind when we look at extra-Biblical encounters with God. Yes, extra-Biblical.

God makes Himself known first in His creation.

Some time ago, I passed this liquid amber tree in full autumn colors (yes, here in SoCal, we do have the occasional tree that turns into gold and red and yellow and brown). As I slowed to admire the beauty, a woman walked by, never looking up, apparently oblivious to the glory swaying over her head. How sad, I thought, that God is so present and people can completely miss Him.

Because of His great love, of course, God went farther than simply showing Himself through creation; He revealed Himself through prophets, His law, His word, and His Son.

But that’s not all. He also revealed Himself through dreams and visions and angel visitations. The Bible records any number of these, and we’re especially reminded of them at Christmas time. Angels appeared to shepherds, wisemen discovered the birth of the King of Judea by studying the stars, Mary learned she would become pregnant from an angel, Joseph too, and then he had a dream warning him to take his family and escape to Egypt.

There’s more. The wisemen were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. The Holy Spirit revealed to a man named Simeon that he would not see death until he beheld the Messiah–which he did when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the temple on the eighth day. More amazing, the Holy Spirit also communicated something to Jesus’s cousin John, while he was still in the womb, and as a not-yet-born baby, he “leaped” when Mary entered the house and greeted Elizabeth, his mother who was carrying him.

So, yes, God reveals Himself in many ways. Some believe He no longer does so, but I find this position a stretch that doesn’t fit either Scripture or reports from various parts of the world today. From any number of sources, I’ve heard recently of people coming to Christ as a direct result of a dream or vision.

And yet . . .

I think a look at the Apostle Paul’s life in regard to visions might be instructive. Certainly he had an extra-biblical encounter with the living Christ. It’s why he made an about-face and stopped persecuting Christians to become one himself.

He also had a vision of what he referred to as the third heaven, though he left open the possibility that he’d actually been transported there bodily (see 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). But here’s the thing. Paul did not formulate his theology based on his vision.

His encounter with the living Christ was consistent with Scripture. Apparently his vision of the third heaven was just something for him—not something extra that informed Christians what to believe or do.

In fact, in his letter to the Colossian church, Paul was clear that visions were not a sound basis for deviating from Scripture.

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind (2:18 – emphasis mine).

Paul believed in visions. He had them. And yet here he is saying that things not consistent with Scripture—self-abasement and the worship of angels—were not to become part of the practice of the Church simply because someone had a vision that said those applications should be included. Visions weren’t enough in and of themselves to become the basis of doctrine.

That approach to extra-Biblical information is a good rule of thumb, I think, and a means of escaping much false teaching.

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared here in December 2012.

Published in: on October 18, 2017 at 4:54 pm  Comments Off on Belief And What We Put Our Faith In – A Reprise  
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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.

Belief And What We Put Our Faith In


skydivingI believe that skydiving is safe. However, you aren’t going to see me getting into a plane with one of those flimsy parachute contraptions strapped to my back! 😉
Clearly, belief is not the same as putting our trust in that thing we say we believe.

That’s a good principle to keep in mind when we look at extra-Biblical encounters with God. Yes, extra-Biblical.

God makes Himself know first in His creation.

Yesterday as I was driving to church, I passed this maple tree in full autumn colors (yes, here in California, we don’t have lots of trees that turn into gold and red and yellow and brown, but the ones we have stay around a long time). As I slowed to admire the beauty, a woman walked by, never looking up, apparently oblivious to the glory swaying over her head. How sad, I thought, that God is so present and people can completely miss Him.

Because of His great love, of course, God went farther, revealing Himself through prophets, His Law, His Word, and His Son.

But that’s not all. He also revealed Himself through dreams and visions and angel visitations. The Bible records any number of these, and we’re especially reminded of them at Christmas time. Angels appeared to shepherds, wisemen discovered the birth of the King of Judea by studying the stars, Mary learned she would become pregnant from an angel, Joseph too, and then he had a dream warning him to take his family and escape to Egypt.

There’s more. The wisemen were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. The Holy Spirit revealed to a man named Simeon that he would not see death until he beheld the Messiah–which he did when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the temple on the eighth day. More amazing, the Holy Spirit also communicated something to Jesus’s cousin John, while he was still in the womb, and as a not-yet-born baby, he “leaped” when Mary entered the house and greeted Elizabeth, his mother who was carrying him.

So, yes, God reveals Himself in many ways. Some believe He no longer does so, but I find this position a stretch that doesn’t fit either Scripture or reports from various parts of the world today. From any number of sources, I’ve heard recently of people coming to Christ as a direct result of a dream or vision.

And yet . . .

I think a look at the Apostle Paul’s life in regard to visions might be instructive. Certainly he had an extra-biblical encounter with the living Christ. It’s why he made an about-face and stopped persecuting Christians to become one himself.

He also had a vision of what he referred to as the third heaven, though he left open the possibility that he’d actually been transported there bodily (see 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). But here’s the thing. Paul did not formulate his theology based on his vision.

His encounter with the living Christ was consistent with Scripture. Apparently his vision of the third heaven was not because he made no claims based on that vision–no special standing before God or position in the church, nothing new Christians were to believe or do.

In fact, in his letter to the Colossian church, he was clear that visions were not a sound basis for deviating from Scripture.

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind (2:18 – emphasis mine).

Paul believed in visions. He had them. And yet here he is saying that things not consistent with Scripture–self-abasement and the worship of angels–were not to become part of the practice of the church simply because someone had a vision that said those applications should be included. Visions weren’t enough of themselves to become the basis of doctrine.

That’s a good rule of thumb, I think, and a means of escaping much false teaching.