The Gospel MAssage

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” – Luke 2:8-14

So another Christmas has come and gone, and now we’re setting our sights for the more secular celebration of the New Year. And for another year, those of us who are Christians and therefore actually have a reason to celebrate Christmas) try to emphasise to the world the reason for the season.

And yet, it’s hard not to notice that the Gospel message that is preached today seems to be pretty different when compared to the way the Bible presents it. For one, we seem to have taken the notion of sin (Job 15:14; Eccl. 7:20; Mat. 15:19; Rom. 3:23), God’s just wrath (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18), Hell (Ps. 9:17; Mat. 25:41, 46; 2 Thes. 1:8-9; Rev. 20:15, 21:8) and the need for true repentance (Ps. 95:7-8; Mat. 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 15:10; Acts 2:38, 3:19, 17:30) out of it. Why? Because we live in the Great Cushion Era, where we have become obsessed with avoiding each other’s toes.

We don’t want to offend; we don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable; we want to see our churches filled with happy-smiley people. And I daresay that we have succeeded in this spectacularly, at least in the West where bearing the name of Christ doesn’t really cost much and can be dropped at the tip of a hat. Yet I hope you noticed that the Scriptures I just quoted all include Jesus’ own preaching. I wonder sometimes whether He’d be welcome to preach in most evangelistic events today.

Why is all this important? Because people’s souls are at stake. In today’s watered-down, Jesus-has-a-great-plan-for-you Gospel, the need for repentance is minimised, if not eliminated altogether. But without repentance, there can be no salvation (cf. 2. Cor. 7:10) because the person sees no particular need for it. There is no humbling before God’s Holiness; no brokenness over offending His perfect Law. How can I see myself as poor in spirit (Mat. 5:3) unless I have grasped that I have nothing of value to offer Almighty God (Is. 64:6)? After all, Jesus Himself said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mark 2:17). In other words, salvation follows repentance, and repentance follows an understanding of sin and its consequences.

And that’s not all. We also need to understand that a poor Gospel will create poor Christians, who in turn will create poor churches. Need examples to believe me? Look at the state of the Church today: the Word-Faith movement, the Charismatic movement, the Seeker-sensitive movement, and the recent post-modernist Emergent Church movement. Toronto Blessing, Name-it-and-claim-it, Jabez prayer. On one hand you have Robert Schuller with his melting-pot, it’s-all-about-you ecumenism, and on the other you have Brian McLarenDoug Pagitt and Rob Bell with their “We don’t know anything for sure” theology. And all this is just wolfed down by people who are disappointed with the “old” way of things and are looking desperately for something “new” and “more” to thrill them. Sounds like Hollywood? It should, because that’s the spirit.

Somewhere down the line we phased out all the “bad” stuff of the Gospel and left it standing on one leg. What is the meaning of the Cross if the sin that necessitated Jesus’ sacrifice isn’t mentioned? What does “Jesus loves you” mean to anyone if they don’t know that God is angry at their sin and will judge them justly in Hell for all eternity and yet paid the price for them? Instead, we proclaim a Gospel that sounds more like a self-help recipe than God’s commandment – and we subsequently treat the rest of His Word like that. It’s like Jesus said: “… he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47b – NASB)

The result? Man-centred churches teeming with unsaved people still headed straight to Hell but who think they’re “squared with God”. Ministers who jump from one gimmick to another in order to keep the herd happy and entertained, ’cause if they’re not, they’re out the door before you can say “Purpose-driven”. This is the stuff atheists see and then spout their own nonsense about the failure of Christianity. This is why Youth Groups see more sexual immorality than high-schools. This is why churches are rampant with gossip, backstabbing, perversion, divorces, religious hypocrites, money-taking and backsliding; this is why they’re driven by fads rather than the Holy Spirit and by human wisdom rather than the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). No wonder Paul wrote to Timothy:

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)

But when a person understands the Biblical truths that:

1) They – like the rest of us – have offended God’s holy standard (see the Ten Commandments for example – Exodus 20:1-17)

2) That God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:36) and, as a just Judge, He will send them to eternal hell

3) That there is nothing they can do in of themselves to avoid that deserved punishment,

then they will clutch at the message of salvation – that Jesus has fully paid for their sins on the Cross – like a terminally ill man that seeks out a potential cure. And that’s how the Bible always presents the message – there’s nothing in there about “asking Jesus into your heart” or “join God’s great plan”. It is a sombre, sobering and grave message of God’s justice, mercy and grace. And when a person comes to Christ like that, what can ever cause them to want to leave? How can they ever be spiritually proud or conceited? How can they not glorify God every waking moment and be eternally grateful? How can they ever take His Word lightly? How can they not seek Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength? How can they desire to sin? It is only then, at GENUINE conversion that the Holy Spirit indwells a person (Eph. 1:13) and makes him or her into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).

Q. Isn’t all this that old-time Bible-bashing?

A. Maybe, though I’d just as soon blame the Church for NOT focusing on the Bible enough – enough to keep worldly priorities and values out. But if we are called to preach the Gospel like Christ Himself did, we would be hypocrites to do so without His own compassion and love for the unsaved (Mat. 9:36).

It’s time to pick up the sword of the Word before it’s too late. Satan thrives on rendering churches inactive and unfruitful, and his top strategy is in corrupting the Gospel message because that is where the root of everything lies. So, it is my prayer that, next Christmas, the angels’ message of “peace on earth” will receive its true meaning.

Does the God of atheism exist?

It’s been a couple of busy weeks, and that’s been reflected on The Upturned Microscope. I had to graduate last week and had my parents up for a few days, and then I had to travel to London for a job interview this week… sometimes I feel busier than when I was actually doing my PhD.

But, in the same time, I haven’t been idle in matters of the Kingdom, as I’ve spent no small amount of time researching modern-day atheism. Yes, you read that right. And if you, like I used to, harbour a generally dismissive attitude towards the Great Debate, perhaps you, like me, might want to revise your position. Because, after all, people’s eternal souls are at stake, no matter how laughable our atheist friends find such warnings.

Now, let me point out that the following will involve some names, but it is merely within the context of my own opinions. No slander nor ad hominem attacks are intended, so please don’t sue me.

Before I became a Christian, I had a certain guilty admiration for atheists. Having been raised in an evangelical church with good people and even better friends, I didn’t have much religious disgruntlement to motivate me to doubt God’s existence as is the case with some atheists. But I did think they were pretty cool (about time I used that word here) in that I considered them to be in a way free of the “restraints” of religion – something like a new species of humans, looking down us, the stupid masses who clung to our awe of God for fear of His wrath. Now, I respect atheists, in much the same way that I respect all people who sincerely and thoughtfully are looking for greater answers. But it’s hard sometimes to read Richard Dawkins’ latest rant or watch fashionable deniers of the Holy Spirit on YouTube and keep a straight face.

This, friends, is a disease inherent to all men and women, and it’s called Ignoramus spiritualis, or spiritual ignorance. Take a look at 1 Cor. 2:14: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned”.

What Paul is saying there, is that if a person has not been made a new creation by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; cf. John 14:16-17; cf. 2 Tim. 1:14), then that person is unable to comprehend, let alone accept the Word of God. And it is my humble opinion that this principle is nowhere illustrated better than in those who call themselves atheists.

One of the most memorable confrontations I came across was the May 2007 Atheism/Christianity debate between theRational Responders (Brian Sapient and Kelly O’ Connor) and The Way of the Master’s Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. I must admit that, like many others, I was generally disappointed by all those involved. Don’t get me wrong – I generally like both Cameron and Comfort, and I fully agree with their Law/Grace method of evangelism. But, as they admitted from the start, they’re not scientists, and in this brutal arena such a background is often indispensable. As a result, the Christians appeared ill-prepared and their tepid responses to the atheists’ attacks left much to be desired.

To make things worse, both Cameron and Comfort kept appealing to subjective experience (“deep down, you know there is a God”)rather than responding with evidence to support the existence of God, which just fueled the atheists’ prejudice that Christians are just silly superstitious hypocrites.

And finally, the Christians were mostly geared to doing all-out evangelism rather than debate. What’s wrong with that? Well, you’re either there for a debate or you aren’t. And claiming that you can prove God exists without reference to the Bible and then referring to the Bible in your opening statement doesn’t fly very well with an audience that’s there to listen to an evidence-based dialogue. Having said that, the WOTM duo has responded to criticisms such as mine by pointing out that their goal from the start was to do apologetics BUT first to preach Christ and Him crucified. As they put it, “our primary goal was to preach the gospel and then (where possible) support our preaching with apologetics, reason, logic, with a loving demeanor. That’s what we tried to do.” So I will concede that, in the face of the particular atheists’ hostility, emphasising the Gospel over pointless debates might have been the better approach. After all, reason is only for the reasonable.

Which now brings me to the atheist duo. I’ll admit I had never heard of either Sapient (an alias) nor O’Connor back in the old days and I was surprised – to say the least – that they got to represent the atheist viewpoint in such a major debate (it was televised on ABC). Angry, hostile, sneering, jeering, mocking, highly emotional, condescending and often downright rude (at some point, Comfort had to ask them to look at him when he spoke to them!), they hardly seem fitting to fill the shoes of atheism’s spokespersons in a big event like this. If anything, their yelling and crowd-pleasing blah made them look like religious fanatics (for all their weak countering, the Christians remained generally calm and composed throughout the debate). For example, when a viewer asked if the atheists were concerned about the possibility that they were wrong, O’Connor turned to the audience and yelped “Pascal’s wager! Whoo-hoo!” Call me fussy, but I expected a little more maturity in an encounter like this.

Solely from that debate then, it doesn’t seem to me like atheism has evolved (ha!) much over the past decade. The terms have changed (Richard Dawkins is still throwing his “meme” theory around), but the roots are the same: God doesn’t exist because…

… religion is the root of all evil in the world

I never understood that argument, no matter what format it takes. It’s like saying that you deny the existence of Ford because people who drive Ford cars appear to cause most road accidents in the world. No one is arguing that Religion has been exploited by religious fanatics and hypocrites to carry out often abominable acts (think IRA and Al’Quaeda). But there’s a big difference between God’s existence and people behaving like maniacs in His name. The Bible, at least, is full of such examples and accompanying warnings (cf. Mat. 23:13). So failure to obey God doesn’t make God disappear.

But there’s another dimension to this: I have yet to meet a calm atheist. Why? Because I have yet to meet an atheist with a positive religious experience. None of them ever says something like, “My family was religious and they were very supportive and loving, and we attended an excellent church with loving, caring friends… but one day I reached the logical conclusion that God does not exist.” No. I will challenge any atheist to look me straight in the eye and tell me that their atheism didn’t spawn from some kind of religious disappointment/disillusionment. And I find it strange that they usually criticise religion as something rooted in emotional elements, when their own atheism seems to stem from something similar – a de-religious experience. You don’t believe me? Watch the RR/WOTM debate again, and then watch Brian Sapient being interviewed by WOTM radio’s Todd Friel at the end of the debate.

… evolution is an established, proven fact

No – it’s not. And I say that as a biologist. Evolution is a theory that tries to explain how all things bright and random came to be, but it’s not without fundamental holes. We need to understand this, because Evolution has gradually been moved out of the Science field and kicked into the Philosophy/Politics ballpark. And that’s never a good thing, because it often removes the analytical hand of Science and replaces it with heated emotion that often clouds judgment and misinterprets data. And let me also point out here something that most scientists do agree about: The theory of Evolution in of itself might not disprove the existence of God in general, but it does cast doubt on the God of the Bible. Which is equally bad, but at least should remove Evolution from the atheists’ arsenal.

Okay. I’ll admit that Creationists haven’t done a bang-up job in supporting the Biblical account of Creation. And that, I believe, is because the job is left usually to people who have no serious scientific training, or who do but argue as if they don’t. When Kirk Cameron pulled out his Croco-duck painting to argue against interspecies transition, I echoed Sapient’s cry of frustration. And yet, these lame weapons from the ’70s are given today to Christians as a “sound” argument against evolution! And then they get “blown out of the water” with complicated terms like “macroevolution” and “silent mutations”… please, Christian scientists, speak out as both Christians AND Scientists! And if you’re out there, please let me know.

… morality is not an absolute; it’s just a learned way for society to survive

This is the attack on Absolute Morality or – as C.S. Lewis put it – “who gave me my notion of right and wrong?” Morality is an important issue, because it either originated from an absolute source (God) or it’s just a trial-and-error approach to social survival that we learned over millions of years.

Well, it’s a big debate, I’ll admit. But I prefer to take the apostle Paul’s approach in the epistle to the Romans: Creation speaks of God, and conscience speaks of His Law (Rom. 1:18-32). After all, if we made up our own morality, we wouldn’t make it so hard, would we? And what would we benefit from setting hard standards of perfection? In other words, why would we make ourselves feel bad about ourselves? Doesn’t it seem more plausible that our conscience is simply a remnant of our “according to God’s image” nature telling us that there is a Perfect Law higher than ours?

Maybe that’s not clear. What I’m saying here is that, if morality had evolved as a conglomerate of social memes (transmitted units of information), then it would seem unlikely that we would devise standards that would be impossible to keep, like the Old Testament Law. The product would be guilt, and surely that’s not a good thing for species’ survival, is it?

Now, the above are in no way a comprehensive list of all atheist arguments, nor do I think that I’ve answered them comprehensively. I didn’t set out to do so. What I wanted to do is share some of my thoughts on today’s atheism that seems, to me at least, to be suffering from emotion-driven fanaticism with tired arguments rather than sincere seeking for the truth. What do I mean? Well, allow me to submit to you that atheists frequently demonstrate a spectacular lack of knowledge of Christian theology and doctrine. Now this puzzles me, because Christianity is one of the “world’s evils” that they are trying to debunk. Let me demonstrate in a quick FAQ fashion:

How could have God make the world perfect when there is so much imperfection and destruction in it?

The Bible teaches that though God made the world perfect, Man sinned and caused the creation to Fall (Gen. 3)

How can we talk about a just God, when even salvation is predestined?

This seems to be a favourite with the Rational Responders. Predestination is a hard one to swallow for our small finite minds (so it’s hard to believe that it was cooked up by humans). It’s easier to ask why would a just God even offer salvation to some? Because we’re talking also about a loving, gracious God.

Oh yeah? Then why would a loving God order people killed in the Old Testament?

Because He is also a Just God. Didn’t we just talk about that?

And so forth. But that just returns me to our original passage: “…the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). And you can argue and argue until you’re blue (or red) in the face, but in the end, believing in God and knowing God requires honesty, sincerity and what we all lack, humbleness. So I’ll leave it too here, with a prayer that, if you are indeed seeking God, you will do so with an open heart that will fill your mind later (Rom. 12:2). And if you know God through His Son Jesus Christ (there really isn’t any other way), then that you will set your heart and mind to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15).

So with all the above in mind (yes! We DO involve the mind!), take a look at what God’s Word says about the issue:

Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’— Exodus 3:13-14

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
— Prov. 1:7

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”— James 4:6

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”— Psalm 14:1

The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derisio
n.— Ps. 2:1-4

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him — Heb. 11:6

God speaks? Wheels and pizzas.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment – Phil. 1:9

On Sunday at church, a lady got up at the end of the service. She went up to the pulpit, took the microphone and said in a “spiritual” tone:

“While we were praying, God gave me a picture. It was a… a wheel of a car that was spinning fast… and I felt that God was telling someone in here: ‘You need to slow down. You are getting too filled with Jesus, you are striving too much to take it all in, you are working too hard.’ God is telling you that you need to stop and just enjoy the ride”.

You won’t get any Amen’s from this blogger – oh no. In fact, while she was talking I accidentally snickered twice (loud enough for the person next to me to turn and look. Twice.)

I can’t help it. When stuff like that is catered on a regular basis to the Church and everyone – including the leadership – nods in approval and reverence, something happens in me. I want to call it “righteous indignation”, but it’s more “sorrowful grief”. It’s a tragic state when abnormal things are gulped by an undiscerning Church and accepted as normal.

Let me be more precise. The statement that lady made was so wrong in so many levels that I wouldn’t even know where to start from.

First of all, a PICTURE from God? When I first came to the UK I was well into the whole Charismatic scene, and even then I found it difficult to swallow this “new thing”. A picture? You mean you just had a vision (which would still be suspect)? No, not a vision. Nothing as fancy as that. Just a picture that God put into my head as a means of an illustrated truth.

Please tell me if I’m wrong, but WHERE IN THE BIBLE DOES ANYONE EVER GET A PICTURE? Why is this important? Because there is no Biblical precedent for this method of revelation. Well, someone will say, pictures are just a short version of a vision. Answer: People in the Bible received VISIONS, which were elaborate, detailed, supernatural presentations in which God presented Himself (e.g. Num. 12:6) and/or His will (e.g. Acts 9:10-17). And, of course, visions also communicated God’s continuing revelation until the completion of Scripture (the book of Revelation is essentially one long vision). And I think the fact that they refer to these mental “popups” as “pictures” rather than visions shows how uncertain the messengers are about their origin and validity of their messages. In other words “I’m not sure if this is from God, so I won’t call it a vision – but I’ll throw it out there and you’re better off accepting it as if it came from God’s own desk.” But what does the Bible tell us about situations like this?

Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; They speak a vision of their own heart, Not from the mouth of the LORD – Jer. 23:16

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die – Deut. 18:20

In short: If you’re going to speak for God, you better be sure it’s His message.

So how do “pictures” match up to this? I’ve heard a hundred people talk about “pictures” that they’ve had, and no-one has ever even come close to the Bible’s visions. Instead, they talk about something that anyone’s brain can spit out. Seriously: close your eyes for ten seconds and try not to think of anything. Then open your eyes and tell me what your “picture” was. How much more would this happen to an impressionable, emotion-driven person who is actually looking for it? For example, a couple of weeks ago, another lady at my church whispered to the vicar that she‘d had a picture of “a crust-filled pizza”, from which she concluded that God wanted us to be “filled” (with what, she didn’t say) rather than “empty”. The vicar smiled and delivered the message just before giving us the Grace. And such embarrassing ludicrousness, my friends, is accepted as normal, no questions asked.

But back to the “spinning wheel” of the first lady (guys get pictures too, don’t worry). It reminded me of another factor: The message.

This isn’t anything new. God set standards against which we can test the veracity of any message that claims to be from God, whether it is a vision, a “prophecy” a “word of knowledge” or even a “picture” (cf. Jer. 28:9). And what was that lady’s supposed message from God? Don’t try too hard on the Jesus stuff. Take it easy. And what does the Bible say?

Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren… – Deut. 4:9

You shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, His testimonies, and His statutes which He has commanded you. Deut. 6:17

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. – Prov. 4:23

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him – Heb. 11:6

And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises – Heb. 6:11-12

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble – 2 Pet. 1:5-10

Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless – 2 Pet. 3:14

Not enough? Take an example of our Lord, and how chilled and easy His approach to God was:

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed – Mark 1:35

We are called to seek God with everything that we have; to strive after Him; to consume ourselves in seeking Him (cf. Ps. 119:139a). But in this lady’s “picture”, God was suggesting that someone ought to take it easy on the religion. Sorry, but the Bible (God’s sufficient message) doesn’t back that up.

Finally, look at that “someone”: God’s messages are always clearly addressed. Look at the prophets speaking to either Israel or specific kings and people of other nations. Think of Jonah and his mission to the people of Nineveh (Jonah 1:2). Think of ANYONE in the Bible who had a message and you will see that it is NEVER vague about ANYTHING, and especially not about the person on the receiving end.

So what do we have here? A message that might or might not be from God, delivered in a dubious manner, and which instructs an unidentified recipient to do something that clearly goes against Scripture.

Need we say more?

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world – 1 John 4:1

Miraculous thoughts

So that familiar subject came up the other day: Miracles, and what should we do about them? Do we pray for them? Do we pray against them and those who claim to perform them, even in the name of Christ?

The answer wasn’t simple, and neither did I offer one like that. But it did bring to mind the fact that a lot of Christians today have what appears to be an unhealthy obsession with the manifestation of the supernatural – so much, that it often leads them to practically blasphemous attitudes towards the Lord and spiritual callousness to their fellow Christians.

So, it’s worth a little exploration here, or at least I can offer you some thoughts on the issue. And let me start by saying that today’s body of believers is still heavily influenced by “theologies” of the Prosperity Gospel, the “name it and claim it” prophets and the Charismatic movement (at least its more extreme branches). And there is no way you can have a discussion about the miraculous today without stepping on a pebble from one or all of the above.

Why do I start like this? Because, like most issues, the issue of the miraculous is essentially an issue of heart. And I daresay that in today’s world (at least the western part of it) our hearts more often than not beat for us first and for the Lord second. I’ve said it repeatedly in this blog, and I’ll keep saying it: The root of most “Christian” problems is a self-centred, rather than Christ-centred Christianity (cf. 2 Cor. 5:15). Deep down, even if we don’t admit it, we see Christ as our servant, not the other way around. And the legacy of the Prosperity Gospel in its various forms, and today’s new Christian fad, the Seeker-Sensitive/Emergent Church movement, have left us thinking that, somehow, God owes us – big time. And when the Bride of Christ approaches her future husband (Rev. 19:7) with prenuptial demands instead of loving submission, she is bound to be disappointed. Why? Let me answer with another question: What is the best way to spoil a child?

So, the Bible is clear that we are here to serve the Lord, Who gives us the privilege to participate in the work of His Kingdom in various capacities and positions (1 Cor. 12:18). But – having understood that, how do miracles fit into it, if at all?

First I think it’s important to define “miracles”. Are we talking about anything supernatural that comes from our Heavenly Father, or do we have in mind specifics like healings and the occasional raising of the dead? Well, I really can’t see how a “miracle” can be narrowed down to only include such “grand” events, and it must, by definition, include everything God does that is supernatural. So, I don’t see why the genuine repentance of a sinner shouldn’t amaze us more.

But let’s just focus on those “big” miracles for a moment. Should we praying and expecting those? Does their absence from our ministries and churches reflect a lack of faith on our part? Does our sovereign God want to do things but our cold cold hearts are somehow stopping Him?

I doubt it. And I doubt it because I see nothing in the Scripture assuring us that miracles will be the norm. Nowhere is the Church commanded to go and supernaturally heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons, so we can’t really exercise faith on this matter. How can I approach a sick man and pray for his physical healing when I don’t know whether that’s God’s will for him (1 John 5:14-15)? For example, the apostle Paul had a major physical issue and even prayed repeatedly for it to be removed to no effect. Why? Because God had a reason – a good reason – to leave him with it (2 Cor. 12:7-10). And – note this – God also told him why.

So what I’m saying here is that: 1) we often desire miracles for the wrong reasons (James 4:3) and 2) God never promised that miracles will be the norm.

So let me point out one more thing: In the Bible, and especially in the New Testament, miracles like healings, exorcisms and resurrections always have a reason. Jesus’ miracles demonstrated His divinity and Messiahship and gave a foretaste of the future-Kingdom of God (John 2:11; Acts 2:22); the apostles’ miracles established their genuineness and authority as messengers of God so that the Gospel would be kept pure (1 Cor. 2:1-5; Gal. 1:8). Nowhere else do we see miracles being performed, especially not by believers in the churches. None of Paul’s prayers for the Church (Eph. 1:15-21; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-12) ask for miracles, but focus on the deeper, spiritual and real needs of the believers – something that in today’s superficial Christianity we have neglected and ignored.

A final note: some will throw James 5:13-16 as an example of the Bible instructing us to pray for healing. I’d love to do a study on the passage later, but suffice to say that if you read the context, you’ll see two things: 1) that “the prayer” of the elders (verse 15) needs to be “of faith”, which we discussed above, and 2) one of the reasons for the illness (not always) is sin – physical sickness is a result of God’s judgement (verses 15b-16; see 1 Cor. 11:27-32).

I know that I haven’t covered everything here, but I hope that some things are clearer. I’m not saying that God is small, nor am I putting Him in a box. What I am saying is that God has different priorities than us and that our will is not always aligned with His “perfect and acceptable and good will” (Rom. 12:2). He is always the Great I AM, the LORD God, the Creator of the World, and nothing can diminish His power. But He will not do anything to encourage us in a wrong way, and that includes miracles.

Bottom line:

Delight yourself also in the LORD,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
– Psalm 37:4-5