I'm noticing a trend about some of the broken, messed-up and damaged Believers: God doesn't appear to give a rat's hindquarters about their brokenness. He doesn't seem to be offended by the outcasts, the rejects, the jerks.
If they’re hungry (and that seems to be a clue for all of us!), he is really happy to fill them and use them and empower them. He makes a freakin' mess changing the world through them. He's downright extravagant in showing out through them.
I've been with a number of clean and tidy and well-educated people recently. I'm noticing a trend about some of them, too. They look good, they sound good, they are comfortable to be around.
And there's a whole lot of us in between there.
But really, I see more of God's signs and wonders, more people healed and delivered, more completely unexplainable "coincidences" in the aftermath of the first group. They go places I don't like to go. They take on circumstances that make me uncomfortable. And the glory of God drools out from their brokenness, their foolishness, their awkwardness in ways that most of us aspire to.
It's interesting how our culture labels the beautiful people as the big successes. There's more of us in-betweeners, so we win the popularity polls.
But it's the broken, socially inept, rude, crude and socially unacceptable ones, the ones who actually believe God and His Book, the busted ones trying to do the stuff: these are the ones I think are actually getting it right.
I think if I hear that again, I’m going to scream.
May I speak plainly? That’s one of the stupidest spiritual-sounding things we could say in this day and age. I make the assumption that people who say that mean well, but come on! Let’s think about this a little bit:
The first century church, the church in the book of Acts, was a wonderful beginning. But they were only a beginning: this was the baby church, in diapers, as it were. I can tell you that I have no interest in going back to diapers. That would be such an epic failure, for the church of today to return to the “glory days” of the first century church! What was for them glorious success would be the worst of failures for us.
● “But,” someone will moan, “There were three thousand saved in a day!” That’s pretty good for rookies. Today, that’s less than an hour’s work in the Kingdom, and some reports suggest that’s closer to 20 minutes’ work.
Let us note that it only happened twice in the Book of Acts that three thousand were saved in a day. Today, more than three thousand people come to faith every single hour of every single day of every single year.
I’m thinking that’s an improvement.
● “But there were signs and wonders!” Somebody is seriously not paying attention. There were fewer than 20 miracles reported in the book of Acts, though there were repots of “lots of miracles.” Nowadays, we have lots of miracles on a regular basis.
I know one group that has a 100% success rate at healing the deaf, and nearly as good success healing the blind. I know two groups that won’t let people become elders unless they’ve raised someone from the dead. I know a group that legitimately calls themselves “The Dead Raising Team,” and they’re successful at it. I can’t tell you the number of successful healing teams I’ve heard about! They’re everywhere, and best of all, NOT just among the leaders, like the book of Acts.
Bethel Church in California reports thousands of documented miracles every time they send their students on outreach. And have you talked to the Healing Rooms movement recently?
Besides, I’m not sure I want more “Ananias & Sapphira events.” It’s my private opinion that even when that happened in Acts, it was an error, and not the will of God, but that’s another story. Surely it won’t be best for folks to fall dead in our meetings, when nobody can agree why it happened!
● “But they had all things in common!” I’ll grant that this is an area that we have room to continue growing in. But I am also aware that we’re talking about completely different cultures here. In that culture, if you couldn’t work, you starved to death. In our culture, the homeless guys on street corners make a (meager) living that in most of the world (or in the first century church) would be considered unmitigated wealth. (http://nwp.link/1s8woOt)
This does NOT mean that I propose that we stop helping the poor! Heaven forbid! This means I propose that we quit berating ourselves simply because we still have poor people among us: Jesus said we always would! (Matthew 26:11)
● “But they sold their homes! That’s dedication!” Well, some of them sold their homes. That was just good business; these were smart Jews! Jesus had clearly declared that the city would be destroyed shortly. It’s just good business to sell a house this week for full price that’s going to be destroyed with the city next week and be worth nothing! And clearly, if they “met house to house,” then not everybody sold their homes.
For the record, I know a bunch of people who’ve sold their homes for the ministry, several more than once. I know of others who sold themselves into slavery so that they could bring the good news to those in slavery, and they died in slavery. Most of these folks haven’t had books written about them, so they’re not known as well. But then Jesus taught us to keep quiet about our generosity, yes?
We could go on.
It is NOT my intent to disparage the excellent start that the Church had, as reported in the book of Acts. That was glorious.
What we have now is substantially more glorious. And that, too, is what we were promised. (See Isaiah 9:7)
1) Father, how do YOU see me? (Hint: if the answer isn’t about love, then it isn’t God speaking!)
Is this the time to pray for healing? Shall I go to war? Go to court? Or shall I just give thanks for the prayers that we’ve already prayed that are taking their time ripening? Or shall I keep on praying, in order to fill the bowl?
Our bottom line, I think, can be found in Jesus’ declaration: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
1) Leaders can be flattered and tempted to take the place of the Holy Spirit in a wounded person's life. ("They need me!") This is not an insignificant temptation; it feels good to be needed.
Jesus taught the Sadducees some lessons about the Kingdom. Let’s learn from them.
I’ve been fascinated with the story in Mark 12 where Jesus schools the Sadducees. They came to test him (it seemed to be the popular thing to do in those days), to try to get Jesus to agree with their heretical doctrines. Unsurprisingly, Jesus didn’t play along. But His reply is worth learning from, particularly in these “Last Days” which Jesus himself described as “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” The periphery of the Church contains so many self-appointed Guardians of the Truth, but many (or most?) of them seem to be speaking with the error of the Sadducees, or the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus’ response here is a wonderful lesson on identifying Truth.
The fact that Jesus takes the time to teach the Sadducees, rather than rebuke them publicly (he wasn’t afraid of that; see Matthew 23 for a blistering example), indicates something significant, I think. There were two primary theological camps among the teachers of those days: Pharisees and Sadducees. The interesting thing here is that the Pharisees actually had the better doctrine: they acknowledged the resurrection from the dead, they acknowledged the presence and ministry of angels, they acknowledged spirits, and therefore the Holy Spirit. The Sadducees did not acknowledge any of these (see Acts 23:8).
But it was the Pharisees that Jesus blasted publicly, not the Sadducees. Here, the Sadducees come to test Jesus with a hypothetical scenario, and Jesus responds gently, and shows them their error. I observe that when Jesus points out the error of the Pharisees (for example, Luke 12:1), he does not address their doctrine, but their hypocrisy.
I learn from this that I can be theologically sound, and completely messed up: I can have my doctrines correct, and earn the castigation and judgment of Jesus. Apparently, correct doctrine is not the highest and most valuable treasure to the Son of God.
The Sadducees must have had a more teachable attitude; they missed several key doctrinal points, but Jesus gently instructs them. Since I aspire to be teachable more than I aspire to doctrinal perfection, I suspect I can learn from his schooling of these teachable heretics.
The first thing that Jesus does in instructing these guys is that he completely rejects their whole foundation: they came to him with an elaborate hypothetical situation to convince him: he ignores it completely, focusing on the truth instead. I confess: I want to deal with the real world (as Jesus did here) more than with hypothetical situations which can only generate hypothetical theologies.
Before Jesus corrects their erroneous theology, he points out the source of the error: they’re mistaken (the word also means “deceived”) because they lack knowledge of two things: the Scriptures and the power of God.
It is an amazing thing to me that Jesus accuses the Sadducees of not knowing the Scriptures: these men spend their lives studying the Scriptures, and yet, Jesus says, they don’t really know them. Apparently it is possible to study the Word, to know theology, to earn advanced theological degrees (for that is what it meant to be a Sadducee), and still be deceived. Apparently book-learning isn’t enough.
The second thing that the Sadducees missed, which led to their deception, was that they didn’t have a working knowledge of the power of God. It makes sense that not knowing the power of God would be a contributing factor towards a theology that denies the supernatural. If you don’t ever heal the sick, or see people who do, then it’s easier to say, “God doesn’t heal the sick anymore.” I know of one seminary professor who declared, “Well, I don’t experience miracles, so God must not do miracles any more,” as he taught his poor students about the virtues of cessationism.
I believe that the reverse is also true: the reason that people come up with theologies – or excuses – to explain away the power of God is specifically because those people have not experienced the power of God in the way that Jesus expects us to.
For the scholars among us, the word “power” here is indeed the Greek work dunamis, the root word of “dynamite.” This is the same word that is used for healing (Luke 5:17), for resurrecting the dead (Romans 1:4) and for casting demons out (Luke 9:1), and which Jesus assigns, delegates, imparts to those of us who are His disciples (Luke 10:19). Jesus is describing signs and wonders when he describes the reasons for their deception: because they don’t know the signs and wonders of God, they are mistaken, in error, deceived: we must know the supernatural power of God to stay out of deception.
That leads us to a necessary corollary: we must use these two foundations in order to have our theology right: we must really understand the Scriptures – not just study, but letting the Author teach us – and we must have a working, experiential knowledge of the power of God. Indeed, a perusal of the Gospels will reveal that most of the time when Jesus taught the people, he then also healed them, or when he started with healing, he followed up with teaching. Theology teachers and Bible teachers whose ministry doesn’t include the power of God are – according to Jesus’ correction of the Sadducees – missing one of the two pillars of complete theology. Powerless theology teachers cannot teach theology well. That’s a scary conclusion, and it’s driving at least this teacher to pursue supernatural signs and wonders more passionately than ever before: I decline to fall into the deception of he Sadducees.
It is at this point in the conversation that things get really interesting. Jesus has explained what they were doing wrong that led to their deception; now he goes on to correct their theological errors. I’m not going to examine the theology that he’s teaching (it is self-apparent); rather, I want to look at the way he teaches it: He corrects their theology using the same two tools, the same two reference points – the Scriptures and the power of God – that he has just accused them of lacking, though he does so in the opposite sequence.
Second (I’ll cover the “First” in a second), Jesus refers to the Scriptures, using Moses’ reference to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to affirm the resurrection. While he’s using the Scriptures as his foundation, his interpretation and application of the Scriptures is prophetic, rather than the usual inductive or deductive tools more commonly used both then and now.
But first, he speaks as the Son of God, whose residence and throne are in Heaven, and he speaks to a situation that neither the Sadducees nor we have any way to understand apart from either a resident of Heaven comes to explain it to us, or us journeying to the heavenly realms to see for ourselves. Jesus’ declaration cannot come from earth when says, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” He’s describing eternity from the point of view of someone who has seen first-hand what the resurrection is like. “This is what it’s like on the other side of death and resurrection.”
That knowledge, of course, is impossible apart from the supernatural. I can think of a few ways that I could have learned those things, but not a one of them comes from studying well. Paul (2 Corinthians 12:4), Jesus (John 3:13) and John (Revelation 1:10 and 4:2) appeared to travel to Heaven while on Earth, though there’s very little teaching on the topic in church today. A whole number of people had things explained to them by angels (beginning with Hagar [Genesis 16], and including Moses [Exodus 3], Balaam [Numbers 32], Manoah [Judges 3:17], Elijah [2 Kings 1:15], Zechariah [Zechariah 6:5], Zacharias [Luke 1:13], Mary [Luke 2], Cornelius [Acts 10:22], and of course, John [Revelation 17:7].
I make two applications from this fact: A) I need to get used to supernatural revelation of information – whether it’s my visiting heaven or angels instructing me. And B) I need to not be afraid of basing theology on that revelation: Jesus did, and he taught it as theology – not just as a testimony – to unbelievers, based on his own revelation of Heaven.
(Of course the usual caveats apply: don’t use personal revelation – or prophetic interpretation of Scripture – to contravene Scripture’s clear teaching [how many cults have started that way?]. But at the same time, don’t run from it either!)
Jesus, of course, has a fine conclusion to this brief teaching. Verse 27 says, “He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.” He summarizes the whole conversation in a single, very obvious generalization of the nature of God: “He’s the God of the living.” If the Sadducees were as open to new understandings about God as it seems, then I can imagine two or three of them slapping their forehead and muttering, “Of course! Duh! God of the living! Why didn't I see that?”
Let me explain, because this feels like the kind of statement that might trigger a response. My complaint is not with that tract, nor with using it to present the gospel. My complaint is with the the gospel that the tract supports.
I've used the 4 Laws a lot, and I've led many to Christ with that tract. It's a good tract, but it's still a tract. But it is fundamentally a logical argument to present the logic of the gospel: here are the reasons why you should pray this prayer and receive Christ. I believe that a logical presentation of the gospel is an inferior presentation because of this: anybody that I can logically persuade of something (for example, the gospel) can also logically be persuaded away from that position. There are too many men and women who were logically persuaded have experienced that and are no longer following Christ: they've been persuaded again.
And it's my observation (and if you watch American advertising, they’re convinced as well) that our culture is less interested in logic, less compelled by argument; hence my conclusion that the 4 Laws is less relevant: we no longer live in a logical culture.
In its place, I would suggest an encounter with the supernatural power of God might be a fine introduction to a God who loves them.
I have a close friend that had been faithful in a solid church. My friend, also Tom, was faithful, but dying on the vine. (Some would argue that "at least he was still on the vine" and there is merit to that argument.)
Only because of the encouragement of a friend and mentor, Tom and his wife Pat went to a meeting where a prophet was visiting. The prophet "busted him": spoke to the deep hidden issues that he hadn't shared with anybody but his wife. The prophet gently and lovingly told Tom the questions that he had been hiding, and then he answered them. Tom and Pat are changed people. For the 5 years since that encounter, they've been very excited about God, about the Word, about fellowship, about knowing God, about introducing others to God, about caring for lost sheep. They're so excited, they've written a book about their supernatural encounters with God.
I have, if anything, a higher regard for the Word than ever before. I studied the Word and I studied exegesis, and I use those skills and techniques regularly today. I teach the Word, and I teach how to study the Word (among other subjects).
But, you know, Jesus never persuaded anybody about his message. Logic had no part in His version of the gospel. Never once did he point out, "because of this and this, therefore you know I'm the Messiah."
What he did was healed the sick, cast out demons, multiplied lunch. Pretty much every time he taught, he also did miracles. And pretty much every time he did a miracle, he used that to teach. Jesus did not use logic, He used signs and wonders. He healed the sick and cast out demons, and then declared that to be who God is.
I had been taught (I don't know if you got stuck in the same place I did) that knowing and obeying the Word was the answer. It’s valuable; and it’s not the answer. But it would be easy to foolishly go to the opposite end of the spectrum and say that knowing and obeying the word is irrelevant. That would be complete hogwash. The answer is (in my opinion today) that the Word is the best tool we have for knowing God. But it's only a tool; it's not the goal; the goal is that relationship; the goal is knowing God.
The message that Jesus brought was also not about the Bible of His day. He didn't ignore the Word; He used it. But the message He brought was "Follow me." It was "The Kingdom of God is at hand." It was about "I am the Way." The gospel that Jesus brought was focused on Himself. And Jesus used signs and wonders to introduce people to God.