Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Interactive Spookiness

Call... what is it? Let me tell you some stories, autobiographical ones, so no names will have to be changed to protect the innocent. God talks to people. Not just the folks in the Bible, but folk like you and me. God has talked to me.

As I was finalizing suicide plans my junior year at Penn State, something strange and unexpected occurred: I heard/sensed a communication inside my mind. The words were, "But you haven't given Jesus Christ a shot at your life yet." My suicide plans stopped, and I began to plan a change in direction. Not knowing what else to do, I called my mom who had "gone religious" about six months before, and asked her if I could join her church. A couple of weeks later I marched down the aisle of that Southern Baptist church and publicly confessed Jesus as my Lord.

About a week after getting saved, the most unusual event that has ever occurred in my life happened. This one makes me sound crazy, so I don't often talk about it. Saying it now sets that ship sailing! Jesus showed up in my bedroom as I was praying. I'm convinced he was really there. His presence was so real, powerful, and scary that I jumped on the bed and buried my head under the pillow for fear I would see God and die. I was lost in the experience, but I did get to ask one rational question of him, "How will I know you, how will I know what you want?" He said, "by the Book, you will know me by the Book." That experience is why I believe in the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. Later, in Bible college doctrine was taught that undergirded it, but it's not why I believe it beyond a shadow of doubt. I became a voracious reader of the Word!

I was at North Central Bible College in the cold climes of Minneapolis. My wife and I had dropped our careers, packed up our belongings, and went sight unseen to Minnesota to pursue the call of God on our lives. We had fasted and prayed, sought counsel, and then proceeded to do the exceptionally stupid. We relocated 1100 miles from home, without jobs, with very little money, to an apartment we'd never seen in a city we'd never been to, all in the dead of winter. I was walking home from an evening class, and the weight of it finally came down on me. I called out to God while walking in an alleyway home, "Am I really called, or did I make a big mistake?" His voice spoke to me, "you are called to the ministry of message. I will send you to the hard and broken places." My wife and I finished my preparation and have been following that call ever since.

In February of 1994, I was interceding for my congregation in the auditorium of our facility. I was distracted by my own sense of frustration but was trying to lay hold of God. Suddenly, I was seeing things. Only my wife, and an old pastor friend, know the details of what I saw, it's something I've kept and pondered in my heart. Yet that vision is what has kept me where I am these many years. I have thought about going elsewhere a time or two, but have never been released by God to another vision. It seems a silly thing rationally; "how?" "no way!" are the responses of human logic, but here I am because God speaks to people. He spoke to me.

There have been other instances in my life of his voice invading the spaces of my heart and mind-- directing my course, cluing me in on miracles about to happen, telling me the secrets of some one's heart, comforting me in the journey, telling me what to say.

I am so glad it's not all an academic exercise of literary criticism and philosophy. I'm absolutely relieved it's not a mathematical equation I've been left to figure out. I'm so grateful it's not an entrepreneurial experiment to see what scares up some traffic. God speaks! So here I am, satisfied and at peace, doing what I do in the midst of interactive spookiness.

5 comments:

  1. Amen.

    I know in my own life that if I didn't know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ has called me to become a foster parent, I would never, ever do this. But, knowing He did call me to it, I know He will provide through it. He won't put me to anything that He won't take me through.
    He speaks. I'm so glad I don't serve a wooden idol made by hands that have eyes, but don't see, ears but don't hear... my God sees, hears, knows, and ACTS.

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  2. Amen flyawaynet. Where God guides, he provides (that's how they said it in Bible College). It can be scary to follow the living God who is unmanageable by us, unlike those idols, but it sure comes in handy when you have to cross the sea with your enemies at your back.

    God's blessings on you as you take on the challenge and step into the opportunities of foster parenting.

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  3. SLW,

    Perhaps I am the embodiment of the academic and philosopher you hint at. I personally drifted away from the church and only came back when I was helped to rationally understand the Gospel and was convinced of its truthfulness. I have never had a profound experience of God's presence — no clear voices or appearances — but I have seen His providence in answered prayers and in meeting needs just as they are encountered. I have not sought any special manifestations from God, nor have I expected that I should or necessarily would unless special circumstances warranted it and He chose to provide it.

    Perhaps I am missing a blessing that is available to all, but I have seen pillars of the faith who have much the same experience as I, and I will serve God as much as I am able even if He speaks only through the written word and the spirit-led passions which that invokes in me. I know He is true and good, and I will be with Him in the end. There is no other, and nowhere else I can go — He has the words of life — and I will follow Him according to the wisdom of His Scriptures and the ineffable guidance of His Spirit, and I will believe on Him even if I never hear his spoken voice or see His appearing until the end of the age.

    I envy your experiences with God, but I do not expect that they are normative for believers. Perhaps I am wrong, and if so, I pray God will correct me.

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  4. Paul,
    I doubt you're that academic and philosopher I hint at! If I have any problem with those who would fit such a bill, it is with their dismissal of such experiences out of hand, and worse, of those that have such. God gave us brains, and I don't have any misgivings about using them, but I am thankful for the for experiential as well.

    Though you may not have shared this kind of experience, you certainly don't reveal any lack passion of spirit, nor has your expression of belief ever struck me as anesthetic. There's no way you could have come to the clarity of vision you have for who Jesus is without very real interaction with the Spirit of God, even if it was not overtly visionary.

    I enjoy reading your witness to the intelligentsia on your blog: it puts me in mind of the Apostle Paul before Festus and Agrippa. Since I believe God manages to give each of us what we need to accomplish his purposes for us, I have little trouble seeing his hand on you in what I see you do.

    Though there are many pillars, who have much to commend them by way of godliness, dedication to witness, holiness, and more, the pillars I most want to emulate are Paul, Peter, John, Phillip, Stephen, Barnabas. Their witness says more than any who have come since. Not only were they the closest in time to the undiluted message of Jesus, but they also reveal what walking in the command of Jesus actually looked like. In my mind, that's the normative foundation. Anything that is less than or other than that doesn't have the credence that it does. The clincher for me, is that all of them were promised experiences of Spirit and then experienced them.

    Paul, it is not my wish to discomfit you in any way, but I would like to ask you nonetheless to consider whether or not the scriptures themselves paint any picture of Christianity that isn't supposed to include such experiences. Can we get by without them, I guess we can. Is that, however, the promise of the Word?

    In the meantime, let us both "follow Him according to the wisdom of His Scriptures and the ineffable guidance of His Spirit."

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  5. SLW,

    I hesitated to submit my comment, as I was afraid of causing any contention with a brother, which I know you to be. In spite of the fact that you may sense some theological differences, your comments are very gracious. For my part, I certainly do not deny experiences such as your own, nor could I, since they are attested to in Scripture and God has the freedom to do even those things which are not common to every believer. I would hesitate to presume that I should expect the same work of the Spirit in my own life that was exhibited in the apostle's and founders of our faith, both by virtue of my own lesser role and by nature of a lesser need to authenticate a previously established Gospel to myself and others.

    As I indicated, I have only limited exposure to such experiences (in myself or others), but I have heard such testimonies. Generally they are in situations of extenuating need. I have heard numerous testimonies of Jesus' appearance to Muslims in dreams and visions where access to the Gospel is in short supply. Your own testimony of suicide intervention seems of a similar urgent nature. It would make sense, then, that where Bibles and preachers are in good supply that there would be lesser occurrences of such special interventions, as God has said He is pleased to use the "foolishness of preaching." Of course, the Holy Spirit undergirds that effort regardless of the medium of the witness.

    There seems to be something of a division between those of the "charismatic" bent and other non-charismatic evangelicals (not to mention the Reformed group). Perhaps it is primarily because those with similar experiences in their relationship with God tend to flock together. But this does make for theological suspicion and class division, especially since I think many person's theologies are colored by their individual experiences, which they believe to be normative and necessary. So, one group may believe there must be a single point of manifest weeping repentance at the alter to be a true believer, another might believe that a willful, sober commitment is enough, but yet another might believe that speaking in tongues is essential.

    There are many humans with many sins and many needs, but one Lord to save them and gift them for their many roles in the one body. We do well to receive the generous bounty and not impoverishment the body in division. I count myself blessed through experiences like your own and enriched by our diversity.

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