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Friday, October 18, 2013

How Do We See Miracles?

Galatians 3: 1-6
 1O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  2Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  4Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?  5Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

I have a very hard time believing in mere coincidences. I can’t accept that events which occur and plant themselves before our eyes as noteworthy and remarkable can be dismissed as meaninglessness and chance. But still, I probably don’t use the word “miracle” very often. It seems to me something that should be used sparingly, like “hero,” or “despair,” or cilantro. Be sure you need it before you use it.

But I do believe in miracles, and I do believe they come directly from the hand of a personal God, and that they work into individual lives in dramatic, “in the moment” ways, even while they ripple out, maybe invisibly, into the greater work he is doing in history.

So after hearing today’s sermon, I could hardly consider it a coincidence that I had been asked to reflect on this one for the church blog. God knows what he is up to, even if I can’t see it very clearly.

I was particularly thankful for the pastor's explanation of the three approaches in modern thought to miracles: Cessationist, Continuationist, and Analogous. As he predicted, most of us have heard of, whether by formal name or not, both of the first two positions. But the “third way” comes into play here, and hearing it named was new to me—though it is where I think I fit best.

I was never at home in either the Cessationist or Continuationist camps. I accept that the scriptures are complete, and so I agree with the first position in that regard. Everything we need to know about God's work and how it brings us to salvation is in the book already.

But in my own personal experience, I have seen too many things I cannot call coincidences to accept that God does not still act in some regard, supernaturally, outside of the normal order of things as we expect it.
The description of the Analogous position is satisfying to me: God is still involved. He still turns the king’s heart like a watercourse and reaches into my life to touch with healing, or presence, or provision in ways I cannot explain away as the workings of an impersonal universe. But it isn’t new revelation.

It is instead affirmation of the revelation the Bible has already given. It is the work of the Holy Spirit continuing to testify to all that the apostles, and Christ himself, and the prophets, and the God who took his people by the hand and led them out of Egypt have been saying all along: I AM is with you.

And I need that affirmation. I have a chronic case of spiritual amnesia. I hear it’s a plague among believers, and I am absolutely infected. I have no excuse. I know his voice, and I’ve seen the physical miracles in my own life so many times. Evidence as clear as manna falling from heaven.

When we were newlyweds, God clearly met me before I, in my seedling faith, had even thought to ask him. I was paying household bills and found we were $90 short of all that was due, with no paycheck for either of us coming for weeks yet. I remember sitting at our tiny kitchen table fretting. Just fretting. Not praying. Not asking him for help. I was living the naturalist then: We don’t have it. My pristine credit is about to get a black mark. Oh woe is me, what shall I ever do? And then the phone rang. I mean it. Right then, the phone rang. I wish I could say with smug piety that I had prayed and God answered, but that isn’t honest. I didn’t pray. He still came.

A local businessman who was an acquaintance was on the phone. He owned a property less than a half mile from our house and he was also in charge of maintenance for his church’s property. His lawn care guys had spontaneously quit on him, and both properties needed to be mowed ASAP. Could Bill just load up his mower and quickly run over to both and mow the grass to make it presentable? He’d be glad to pay and his budget was . . . wait for it . . . $90. Exactly. Oh you of little faith? Why do you still doubt?

I’ve held a tiny, beautiful newborn in my arms and listened while her pediatrician counted off the assortment of symptoms she had: double inguinal hernia, hypercalcemia, failure to thrive, stellate irises, upturned nose, narrow chin, small stature, heart murmur. They ticked off identical to a checklist for a frightening genetic disorder called Williams syndrome. You’d better believe I prayed that time. And miraculously, over the next few months, I saw those symptoms and the possible diagnosis just evaporate. Miraculous healing? Or no-less-miraculous revelation that it was not ever her condition at all, despite the great weight of evidence suggesting it was?

I’ve seen another of my babies, who was predicted not to live, pull a ventilator tube out of her own lungs when just a few hours old and proceed to thrive against all expectations. I’ve known what it is to experience the mercy of my believing grandmother passing into the Lord’s presence while I was on my way to give her the worst news a mother could ever hear: that her youngest, her baby girl, was on her way to that same place as well. I consider it a perfectly timed act of the loving, merciful Holy Spirit that she never had to hear those words, that I never had to speak them to her, and that in her blessed passing, my own suffering mother was released from her need to “hang on for Mama’s sake,” and was able to go as well just 36 hours later.

I see in all those things a miraculous provision of physical needs. And I know: Our God is with us. Yet even so, I forget. A week later, a month later, I do need to be reminded again. I forget too the spiritual preparation the Spirit has done before each of those events too. My presumed self-sufficiency in the first example needed to be addressed. And he did it so lovingly. Rather than run us into financial ruin to show me my need for him, he let me think myself sufficient, momentarily showed me the falsehood in it, and immediately provided. He entered with power and I wasn’t even looking for him at all in that scenario. But I learned. He’s there, even when I’m not noticing.

And oh, how he prepared me for the birth of Jane, with all her many issues then. It is no coincidence that for most of two years prior to Jane’s arrival, my older daughter would bring me one and only one book to read to her, over and over and over again: The Baby in the Basket—a very young version of the story of baby Moses. Sometimes the message has to come simply and repeated until it sinks in. I read that story at least three times a week for two straight years. I read it to her from Exodus as well, so she would know all the details. Every baby doll in our house was named Moses. But the character that I drew closest to was Jochebed, the baby’s mother. Even before I found out that my next child might be seriously ill, the Spirit spoke to me through that mom, from millennia ago. I had wrestled deeply alongside the mother who had to surrender her beloved infant—no ordinary child—to the current of God’s will, knowing that holding too tightly would mean his certain doom. I had come to praise God for doing that which we all as parents long for him to guarantee: that if we truly do give them to him, he will give them back. He had prepared me spiritually for surrender. He’s there, even before I think I need him.

At a time of sheer panic, with a baby seemingly dying inside me, and me, strapped to a gurney in complete helplessness, I was calmed by the word of God’s power speaking within me, assuring me of his presence and activeness in even that desperate situation. Preparing me spiritually for what was about to happen, when I would see his power enacted physically as well.

My core issue, at the heart of my spiritual amnesia, is to forget that God has set his love upon me permanently. I am much more prone to believe that I am unloved and unlovable, that God will lose interest in me and cast me aside. It is my lack of faith. It is calling him a liar. Regardless of our position on miracles, Pastor Dave tells us there are two undeniable miracles every believer in any time will experience (even me): 1) Faith in Jesus guarantees a raised soul from the dead, eternally and forever in his presence. That is a supernatural and miraculous work. And 2) Every believer, after leaving this planet, will experience a complete transformation that makes us like Christ. That too is a supernatural and miraculous work.
That is the truth of our common faith.

The presence of the Holy Spirit with us now is proof of those two miracles to come. He is already here, acting, working, reminding me of those truths. Every “lesser” miracle I’ve seen has illustrated his presence with me. I am not abandoned. I am not left an orphan. The miracles of daily life don’t give me new insight into what God is doing in history. But they do affirm and remind me of what I knew in the beginning, when I first believed. They refresh my love and affection for him, which fades like the flower of the field in the tedium and turmoil of this life, when I am so focused on my own wants and needs and plans instead of on him. They testify to the “already” condition—that he is with me always, even to the very end of the world—and look ahead to the “not yet,” those two guaranteed miracles we will know once the time is accomplished.

No, I don’t believe in coincidences. My God is with me, the Great Physician is acting through his Holy Spirit to heal me progressively of this blight of spiritual amnesia by never leaving my presence. There is a balm in Gilead—even for the weak and faithless such as I.

1 comment:

cpurser7 said...

Love this installment! You even referred to one of my favorite verses from Proverbs (21:1): He still turns the king’s heart like a watercourse.
The fact that you continue to praise Him for His goodness in all situations and trials, points you toward a loving God that is not created by hands or our imaginations. Nor does He simply give us what our itching ears often long for. Instead, He gives us a peace that surpasses all understanding. We are so thankful that you and your incredible family are part of our lives during this journey.