I love your presence (part 9)

Here are my notes from a Q&A time at a recent healing conference. Some of this stuff represents years of experience pressing in to God for healing so very helpful:

  • Q: in the past when it comes to healing there has been an emphasis on fasting, and an emphasis on the word. You guys are emphasizing the presence. What’s a helpful balance of these things?
  • A: Grace is a more recent revelation and things have got easier in the light of it. Who wants to go back to doing all the hard work? (me – I actually found this quite helpful. I know and live grace in terms of salvation, but it’s good to have it emphasized in terms of gifting and fruitfulness. It’s not quite a matter of “letting go and letting God” as we need to “launch out and let God” but everything I do needs to rest on and be colored by God’s grace. Fruit will only come through God’s work not mine. My expectation and confidence needs to be in God’s work and not mine. It’s the “abiding in the vine” thing. My work needs to be in step with God’s. Much more could be said of this subtle but important concept but I know I need to emphasis God’s grace more in all I do. PS. They are of course using revelation in the general sense of the word, not the theological sense, which is fine. I’m trying to get over it:-)
  • Q: How do you commune with a multifaceted God?
  • A: Hanging out with a God who is provision means you don’t have to worry about your finances. That is different to asking God to provide for you in the future. Stuff you don’t pray for will happen when you hang out with God who is provision.
  • Q: Could you say something about sickness and evil spirits?
  • A: Sickness is often connected with the spirit of infirmity. If the pain moves it could be a spirit but you need discernment. Stress can lead to illness in which case it’s good to pray for peace. Sin can lead to illness in which case it’s good for someone to repent. Demons can lead to illness in which case it’s good to deal with them. I have not got a 100% success on illness but I have seen 100% success in deliverance. In two Kings God seemed to send an evil spirit. Whether that’s actually the case or not it’s true that we are in a new covenant now! There is a supernatural break between the two. The Old Testament is a holding tank.
  • Q: How do you spend time with God?
  • A: Irrespective of your feelings God is with you but he wants you to experience his presence. Understand grace. You don’t have to feel anything to see God move in power. Spend hours waiting on God. Meditate in your hearts and on your bed and be still.  “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night” Psalm 63:6. “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” Psalm 37:7  Give thanks for the small manifestations of his presence and more will come. (Someone said that it’s good to think of God as “I am” and “ing” ie “I was, I am and I will be” healing, providing, etc…).
  • Q: What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh?
  • A: No one knows what it was. It is a common phrase anything that is against you. In the context it looks like its people he is talking about. We might say nowadays “a pain in the neck” not referring to a physical pain but a person who is causing the trouble. Jesus is perfect theology. Jesus always said yes when people asked him for healing. We need to interpret the epistles through the gospels not the other way around. Our theology has been too epistles centric rather than Jesus centred. (me – in the light of the rest of the Bible is more likely that Paul is talking about personal persecution rather than physical illness. Many times Jesus was persecuted as was the early church. His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane got an implied “no” and that was about persecution and pain inflicted by people. It’s just a coincidence I’m sure but he got a thorn in his side on the cross when the spear was thrust into him. The references to people not getting healed are mainly implied, don’t have a definite “no” associated with them, and are few and far between.)
  • Q: what is the balance in striving verses enjoying the presence? Do you fast and pray or do we you just soak?
  • A: we need to get away from formula. Discipline can work against you. Do things out of love. Seek first the kingdom which is his presence. If you feel like you are striving it’s probably because you are! If you are worried about how much time you are spending and how much effort you are putting in you are in the wrong place. It’s like food, it’s unhealthy to keep asking “Am I eating too much” or “Am I eating too little”.
  • Q: What about the long-term sick i.e. Joanie Erickson? (me – she was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident as a child. She has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She is a Christian author and speaker.)
  • A: It’s all about relationship. We need to put our hope in the love of God. These remain whether we are sick or not. We need to direct people’s attention to the love of God. They mentioned a blind lady who has prayed for and seen 50 blind people healed but is still not healed herself. Bill Johnson’s son is still deaf although he has seen many deaf people healed. The point is to be in love Jesus. We must not put our hope or identity in his healing but in his love. Healing is a tool to show us the love of God. It is an overflow, not the thing itself. God does not cause sickness but he can use it. God is a good father.God will heal you even if no one ever hears the testimony“.
  • Q: What about this type only comes out by prayer and fasting“?
  • A: Prayer and fasting in not a technique to be more effective. It’s about a lifestyle relationship with God. It’s not a tool to bring out for a tricky case.
  • Q: Should we pray “if it is your will”?
  • A: No! Asking God if he wants to heal people today is a silly question.
  • Q: “I can live with this” – not sure what the question was
  • A: Peter was once told he was healed of his asthma when he hadn’t been healed of it at all. He had a year of wheezing and not taking his medicine. [You will know if you are healed] Our bodies were created to heal themselves. Just because you get older doesn’t mean you should be pain.
  • Q: How should one move forward in the church where the leadership is not that into healing?
  • A: Bill has built something over the last 20 years but we can give it away much quicker. Always operate in love and honour. Steward your own circle of influence. Live by example. If you are awkward or pushy or not submitted it’s unlikely you will be received. If you are seen to be faithful in stewarding a small thing you may be given more space and influence.
  • Q: Have you seen much success in healing mental illness?
  • A: We have seen some breakthrough with bipolar conditions but are pressing in for greater breakthrough in other areas. We have seen some miracles with down syndrome. Kent has seen some progress in the area of depression.

Q&Q with the Hitchens (Hitchen vs Hitchen debate part 2)

Just to finish off my write up of Christopher and Peter Hitchens’ debate on God here are the questions from the audience. I have put myself into the debate too and made a few comments! As before I have done my best to represent the words of the combatants fairly given my limited time and typing speed.

Question :        Could you say something about self interest and morality.

Christopher :   Human solidarity comes to people very naturally. The idea that people didn’t know that rape was wrong until they got a stone tablet that told them is an insult to our decency and integrity. [The Israelites] would not have got there without knowing those things. The story of the good Samarian tells us that we don’t need religion to behave with ordinary morality. The priest didn’t do anything. It’s in my interest that people don’t suffer. I want them to have a bath for my sake!

Peter : In societies that don’t believe in hell, hell comes into existence.

Me : Surly no one argues that you can only do good things if you believe in God. The argument is rather than God gives you a basis for morality. Without God is it really always in my best interest that others don’t suffer? What if I believe the opposite ie that it’s in my best interest to make others suffer? I spend my life hurting others and die at a ripe old age having led a selfishly enjoyable life. How does morality force itself upon me? Morality makes sense if there is a God.

Question : Is truth real and how do you determine it?

Christopher : The task of finding truth may be unattainable but that does not mean we should give it up. The golden rule was stolen by the Christians from Rabbi Hillel (“don’t do to other people what you would not want them to do to you”). Except they mangled it (my recollection of what he said). “Loving others as yourself” is unattainable and it is sinister because of that. It is demanded that you do the impossible. You will always be in the wrong and in the claws of the priests. You are created sick and commanded to be well.

Me : Jesus did fulfil his own the positive version of the golden rule but I guess that misses the point being made that fallen man can’t and should therefore not be held responsible when he doesn’t. The bible recognises a version of this question “why does God still blame us” Rom 9:19 but does not give a full answer. It does however point to God’s right to do whatever he wants with the creatures he created. Maybe looking back a bit at Genesis will be helpful. Man was made in the image of God with moral responsibly. He was original created good and choose to do good. It was only when he chose to do evil that his nature/will became corrupted. The problem is then why his offspring are still held responsible given that they inherit a faulty nature. I don’t know but I would not be so quick to make the analogy between wills and bodies, moral failure and sickness. They are too different to assume that an absurdity in one maps to an absurdity in the other. In terms of the priestly control issue, it’s true that people misuse or misrepresent the truth about God to manipulate others but it doesn’t follow that there is no God.

Question : We should stop letting churches off paying tax.

Christopher : Religion is poisoning our democratic republic and its time we said “enough”!  BTW The green movement is taking on the forms of a religion. Original sin = humans existing! Sin = making smoke. Armageddon is coming and the way of Salvation lies in reducing our carbon footprint. Being environmental friendly is the new righteousness.

Question : What do you think about Intelligent Design

Peter : We do not know how things came into being. We should allow a hearing of various ideas including design. It’s telling that intelligent design arguments against evolution are not given space or tolerated. There has been a reversal of roles. Where once in the Stokes trial hard headed bible believing literalists tried to squash the discussion  of evolution, now evolutionists are trying to kick out all talk of intelligent design.

Christopher : We need to separate the fact of evolution from the means of evolution. There is debate about the later but no serious intellectual publications dispute the former.

Me : On the one had there is the issue of whether there is a plausible interpretation of Genesis that fits with a valid scientific understanding of the past. I have explored that in my other blog http://marcusbible.blogspot.com/ and I am sure will continue to explore it.  On the other hand there is the concept that sometimes get missed which is that God can and does sovereignly work through everything to accomplish his purposes. It is not a choice between creation or evolution as if he can’t work through a processes he set up, sustains and directs. He works through gravity and even human will to accomplish his purposes. If we look for God in the gaps we will look at him through a smaller and smaller window. We need to look for him in everything we know as well as everything we don’t know. We should glorify him for the rational order as well as exceptional miracles.

Question : What about subjective religious experience as giving us a valid window on reality?

Christopher : If you take the good subjective stuff you need to take the bad too. Someone says “God appeared to me and told me to help so and so” but someone else says “God appeared to me and told me to kill so and so”.  You need to take both or none.

Me : Why do you have to take all experiences as valid or none of them as valid? Why not form a coherent picture of what you see and use it to discern good from evil, valid from invalid? We can often discern a vision or mirage from reality in the light of the sum total of our sensory experience and our rational thought. We don’t say “everything I see corresponds to reality or none of it”.

Peter : People do bad things. Both religious and atheists do bad things but religious people do more good than atheists and rejecting religion will lead to an increase in bad things being done.

Question : Trotsky preached atheism and hung priests form the back a his train.

Christopher : Atheism is a necessary condition for enlightenment but not a sufficient one. Fascism and right wing Catholics did the same things. Why was Gerbils was expelled form the catholic church? For marrying a divorced protestant that’s why! No other Nazis were expelled and more than 40% of the SS were practicing confessing Catholics. No one was even threatened with excommunication! The Nazi party and Catholic church where united on many things…Northern Korea is the most religions state I have ever seen….You find me a state that threw of theocratic religion and said we adopt the teachings of Lucreacions, Democratus, Darwin and Rustle and fell into tyranny and torture.

Peter: Both religious and non religious people do bad things.  The most enlightened government in terms of its own self conceit was that of the French revolutionary terror which ended by executing so many people that the Place de la Concorde was ankle deep in blood and the executioners were too tired to finish their work. As for the soviet union, to portray the ideology and regime of  that country  as religious is an absurdity almost beyond belief requiring actually the most colossal nerve. It was a state that tried to murder God, it was a state of massacred priests, of desecrated and demolished churches in which people were brought up with enormous energy not to believe in God. There was no established religion there, no tax breaks for priests, nothing of that kind. A total, totalitarian horror of persecution of something which people believed to their own comfort in times of trouble and which they had to keep in their hearts privately if they wished to avoid being thrown out of their homes, jobs, and having their marriages deliberately destroyed though persecution.  That was the state of it. This was not a religious phenomenon. It is straightforwardly untrue to conclude that it was. I have conceded the evils done by my side, why can’t you! Just simply except that the soviet union was an atheist regime which hated God.

Christopher : because it would be false, because the Russian orthodox church stood then as it did with Stalin…there was never a moment that the powers at be didn’t find that church convenient [and the means by which to perpetrate evil]. Russia was not an atheist state, it was a pseudo religious state, trading upon its teaching.

Peter : The Bolshevik region from its beginning persecuted religion. That was not a religious phenomenon.

Christopher : regions take time to be expelled once the clerical class has been removed.

Me : Of course bad rulers can misuse Christianity. That does not make Christianity false, or the ruler religious. The key question is whether the actions of a regime are motivated by a belief in God or a belief that there is no God? Were they consistent with a religious ideology or an atheistic one? The answer, surly, in the case of Stalin, was that they were motivated by a belief that God did not exist. As far as the Catholic thing goes, I want to ask whether what they did was in line with biblical Christianity?. If Christopher can specify a branch of atheism represented by people like Democratus, then fairness should allow the specification of a particular religion or holy Book. The complication of course is that in Catholicism the teaching of the church carries authoritative weight too. You can’t just go to a book and see if the actions were consistent with it. (I would hope though that if you consulted authoritative representatives of the Catholic church today they would be grieved by the actions of the church back then.) I say again, the teaching of Jesus and an understanding of the whole biblical narrative, stand in utter opposition to what Stalin did. I share Peter’s frustration (as well as other like Alistair McGrath’s in The twilight of Atheism) that Christopher won’t accept that Atheistic regimes did very bad things.

Question: How can we avoid falling into a fundamentalist frame of thinking. How can we sustain a modern secular response to medieval fundamentalist atrocities?

Christopher : In the Middle East, a partition plan isn’t being accepted even though most people are ok with it because each side appeals to religion, saying “God gave us this land”. This persuades others and the stalemate continues, expect that is the Christian USA can support the Jews long enough (as a rope supports a hanging man) they can bring on the battle of Armageddon which is what all religions yean for anyway. “We want this world to be over” they say. Coexistence with religion is impossible. Now you see why religion poisons everything.

Me : It strikes me that there is a lumping together of all religion rather than looking at what the bible says. Of course worshiping false Gods will include very bad things among good things. I would say some key distinctions need to be made between Christianity and other religions. Following Jesus, as presented in the NT, does not lead to violence, hatred, persecution etc. At the end of the day though, in a democracy any moral stance by the majority will affect other peoples choices. The hard part is to put the OT acts commanded by God in a context such that they do not draw biblical Christianity down into the mire, placing it, with seeming legitimacy, alongside other religious groups who commit atrocities in the name of God or religion. That’s hard, but I believe it must be possible.

For one, the people were evil in ways it’s hard for me to think about. That’s ok up to a point but it leads to the question about the death of innocent children. At this point the temperature of the discussion gets as high as it’s possible for it go. I can point to the consequences of one generations sin on another (if parents are cruel or negligent their children suffer) or the presumed absence of any other way to provide a Messiah. The trouble is, though these are valid points that help intellectually, emotionally they fell like squirting water into a raging furnace.

My “Encyclopaedia of Bible difficulties” also makes the point that destroying the inhabitants of cities like Jericho was the only possible way of protecting Israel and bringing through the messiah. When Israel didn’t clear the land of other nations they were negatively influenced by them and turned away from God. They didn’t have the same spiritual recourses that are available to Christians today. We have the Holy Spirit in us to empower us on mission. Rather than withdraw from the world we are to be in it, where we shine without getting snuffed out, and bring flavour without being diluted. For this to be available Jesus had to come, and for him to come Israel need to exist. At least it’s reassuring to know that the situation has radically changed and there is no way that these things can be legitimate ways of extending God’s purposes and kingdom. Our weapons are not physical but spiritual; Rather than fire bullets we reach out with words;  instead of holding guns we serve with actions motivated by love (2 Cor 10:3-4). A double check on this is the truth that the things in the OT were shadows and pictures of the reality to come in Christ. The real challenge, it seems to me, is what would happen if you still accepted the OT but didn’t think the messiah had come. Would physical force, even genocide, to posses the land, still be a possibility?

Q&A with John Piper and other leaders at Bethlehem Baptist church

John Piper

Had a great time watching to John Piper tonight on youtube: The relationship between dad and daughter, what he would say to the Pope, evolution, birth control, what happens to infants that die, genocide in the OT, Halloween (www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuNmrD0yljg) , capital punishment, liking the doctrine of election, the truthfulness of Christianity (the argument from the “subjective authenticity of the writers” is one I have not heard before but like), pastors conducting marriage ceremonies for unbelievers, weather Christians should take antidepressants, do miracles happen today (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bgs38_x1XJg) etc.

On the last one Piper recognises that miracles are happing around the world today, especially in cutting edge missional settings but says that the miracles of Jesus were supposed to set him apart as unique and point to his Deity. His disciples had a power too but as it moves out from Jesus to them and to others it lessens.

“Just because people don’t get healed when they walk though our shadow doesn’t mean we should feel like failures…I don’t think that God ordained that the same intensity and clustering of power for supernatural intervention was intended to be normative for the whole church. It can break out any time he please in order to demonstrate his power and so revival has often brought that kind of demonstration but I think already you see in the NT evidences that on the periphery out here it is beginning to be less. Take a little wine for your stomach  Timothy because you’ve got stomach problems…Paul himself suffering many things like lashes and stoning, …[Miracles] are happening, they can happen, …but they were meant to signify Jesus and the Apostles as unique”.

This is in contrast to Bill Johnson who says that Jesus set the stands for us to follow. It also seems at odds with Jesus’ statement in John 14:11-14

Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (ESV)

Now surely the works Jesus did includes his miracles (in fact the NIV translates “works” as miracles in this passage) and these are to increase rather than diminish among those with faith. I do not think that the Paul’s advice to Timothy to take a little wine for is tummy (1 Tim 5:23) and the fact that he left Trophimus sick at Miletus (2 Tim 4:20) are to be taken as an acceptance of an inevitable decline in the miraculous working of God through his people. I don’t think that the NT represents Jesus and his disciples as the high water mark for the works that God is to do in the earth with God’s power gradually ebbing away through history. Signs and wonders were not there to authenticate the Bible as Gods word but the gospel as God’s message of salvation. The bible does not replace signs and wonders, rather it testifies to them as continuing in people like Philip who preached the gospel.

Anyway, here are some more Q&A’s from an mp3 I’ve just listened to where John Piper and other leaders from his church answer questions:

Q:Why have Q&A times?

A: Tradition, Transparency, feedback

Q: It is possible to know for certain that Christ rose from the dead?

A: Not historically. That gives you percentages. But as you encounter Jesus you know him and trust him with a certainty. It may come and go but it’s there.

Q: Is my sister saved if she continues unrepentantly to engage in sinful relationships?

A: She has no legitimate claim on assurance of salvation.

Q: According to Romans 7 the command “Do not covet” can actually produce coveting in me. How does that effect how the Christian reads the dos and don’t of the NT? Ie can the command to love God with all your heart mind soul and strength actually produce in us the opposite effect?

A: Only if we are a dead legalist without faith. If we approach the commands with faith in the grace of God, it will have a good effect. We have died to the law, to belong to another, Jesus, to bear fruit to God. The function of commands is different for the believer now in the New covenant. We belong to a person not a code. Live for the person and we will bear fruit.

Q: How can we continue to develop a relational culture?

A: They have a large groups of elders whose main responsibility is pastoral care

small groups! An elder talked about helping a family whose child was about to die. On leaving the hospital he bumped into their small group leader who had come to visit. So it’s a partnership between elders and small group.

Q: I’ve been praying for years for my dad who’s 91 to be saved. That’s a good and Godly thing to ask for but he’s not saved yet. What did Jesus mean when he said “whatever you ask for in prayer you will receive if you have faith”?

A : Piper – Short answer I don’t know for sure. “If you have faith” may mean a gift of faith. The faith of certainty. My father experienced that twice in his life. This verse is not saying “every time you don’t get an answer to a righteous prayer it’s your fault”. George Muller prayed 52 years and the person he prayed for got saved after George died. Paul in Romans 10 prays that the Jews be saved but in Chapter 11 he thinks that by some means he might save some. C S Lewis wrote and essay on the answered question of petitionary prayer, like in the garden of Gethsemane. How does “believe and you will get it” relate to Jesus’ prayer in the garden?

Got onto N.T Wright a bit too. Again very thought provoking comments on evolution http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFTmZ9PFMx8&feature=related, women in ministry, heaven and hell. Oh and even found some video of J I Packer. There are some great Godly people around and much to learn from them.