Words or power: Talk is cheap

I recently saw a post on Facebook, asking why the modern American church seldom sees miracles. It's an interesting question, and I suspect asking ten people will bring ten different answers. But I want to add my voice to the "chorus," because I think the chorus is mostly wrong. I think scripture and history are pretty clear about this matter.

The book of Acts is a good place to begin.

Soon after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Jesus, we saw something striking. When Peter and John were headed to the Temple to pray, they encountered a lame man asking for money. With a word, they healed him, in the name of Jesus. As a result, some 5,000 men came to believe.

The leaders hauled Peter and John before them - took them to court - and demanded an explanation. Peter, "filled with the Holy Spirit," gave a moving defense of their actions (Acts 4:8f). After hearing Peter, the authorities noted that these guys were poorly educated country folks who should not have been able to make such a defense. They also noted, however, that they had been with Jesus (v. 12).

Much of American Christianity is dry, sterile and self-centered because we have redefined "Christianity" to eliminate risk, making it easy but also self-centered and sterile. A perfect fit for our times, but not what God had in mind. Little evidence that we "have been with Jesus."

There is much research showing that the people around us are asking questions. Important questions. Conversations are happening about the purpose and the end of life. But the church is not included. In fact, most folks say a church is the last place they would go for answers.

Something is badly wrong.

Here's my answer to the original question:

In John 20, the risen Jesus appeared to his followers and said two things that are pertinent to our lives today: "As the Father sent me, I am sending you," and "Receive the Holy Spirit." Then he instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, when, he said, they would receive power to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8).

Jesus lived a supernatural life and instituted a supernatural faith. Miracles were a part of who he was. There was not a day when he was "just doin' what comes naturally."

We are sent to the world by Jesus. Scripture is clear that we are sent by Jesus to continue what he began.

We are empowered. It is also clear that Jesus acted by the power of the Holy Spirit, and gives that same Spirit to his followers, to do the same work.

But living by the Spirit and obeying God's voice is risky. And people with shallow, self-centered faith avoid risk.

So, we have multiple churches in nearly any town, few of them preaching a gospel of power, a gospel of challenge to follow Jesus, "taking up the cross" and living out God's purpose for us in our lives.

We have churches full of empty words, churches that consider themselves successful if their members are "nice," upright, middle-class Americans, who don't drink, smoke, or cuss. At least, not too much. In public.

When smooth-talking teachers came to Corinth, Paul wrote to the church there, "The kingdom of God does not consist in (mere) words, but in power" (I Cor. 4:20).

We have churches full of words. But there are few who are faithful to the biblical mandate. We have few churches who make a difference in their communities, who exist for others, and not themselves. Few who have credibility to those around them.

Dry. Self-centered. Insipid. Without credibility in the world. Without a reason to exist.

8 Comments

We, as a supposed Christian community have become as fallow as the pharisees in the days that Jesus walked the earth. Most Christians balk at the mention of the power of His Spirit given freely to he who has true faith. And what Christian do you know that excercises true faith.

I agree with Larry. However (of course there was going to be a however) I think miracles are still quite common today, it just depends on where and how you look.

We often read a chapter in the bible and assume that it's describing events in time as we comprehend it when in reality, events are dragging and time periods are longer than we think.

Take the passage about the tower of Babel, for instance. It's so short that one feels that the events happened in the space of a year or so, when really the confusion of languages could have taken centuries to come about. This would mean than the confusion of languages wasn't a miracle as such, but God accelerating a natural social process: where two or more are gathered for a cause other than Him, there will inevitably be confusion, incoherence and lethargy. The eventual confusion of languages was just one manifestation of this process. But with the brief narration, one may read a "miracle" into an event that didn't quite seem like a miracle at the time.

God took His sweet-natured time between promising Abraham a son and actually delivering. But in the passage, the time period "feels" a bit shorter. Miracles as we think of them, then, are not God's normal mode of operation. If Christ's life was about one "miracle" after another, it was because the Word only had a few years to achieve what He had to achieve -- and so He walked over a few oceans and multiplied a few loaves of bread to get it all done

Otherwise, I think God still performs miracles with the same frequency as in the Old Testament (which is less than we'd imagine.) However we don't see that because we are, as Larry puts it, "Dry. Self-centered. Insipid. Without credibility in the world. Without a reason to exist." Our sorry spiritual state doesn't change God("Even when we are not faithful, Christ is faithful"), but it does dull our sensitivity to His movements and presence. A miracle isn't always a miracle while it's happening; sometimes, it's only a miracle in hindsight.

Just a thought

i watch the cattle line up for slaughter. totaly ingnorant about what is to come. these cows die and that is it, end of game. unlike our fate, where only time stops when we die. our souls gather at the end. each arives at the same time.(the dead in 1000 BC arrive when we do becouse in death time stops)the first will be last and the last will be first. some will collect their great reward. some like myself with no faith and have burried the seed given to them, afraid to let the holy spirithave control will be cast into whatever hell is..... cast not your pearls to the swine. how do you tell the differance without works.

I too believe that miracles happen all the time-

One it depends on how you look at them- two I think many times people do not realize that miracles/blessings have happened becasue it does not happen they want or need it to-

"God never closes one door without opening another"

It may not be what you want but it could be something that you need-

You may not see the larger picture and what outcomes certain events will affect-

I think the controversey comes from the miricales in Jesus' day were more cut and dry- you could see them right in fron of your eyes and there was nothing to question-

However- and I am not sure what book this is in- doesn't Jesus say something to the effect of - once I am gone there will be no more miracales of this kind until I return- sort of along the lines that there will be no more prophets after I am gone and any claiming to be are false prophets? (I'm para-phrasing...please correct me if I am wrong)

Alicia,

Thanks for your comments. It's evident you have given these things a good deal of thought.

Unfortunately, you are mistaken on a couple points. First, Jesus did not say there would be no more miracles. In fact, he said those that follow him would do greater things than he did. Second, He likewise did not say there would be no prophets. Both Luke (Acts) and Paul (I Corinthians; Ephesians) write about prophets in the New Testament environment.

We seldom refer to things as miracles because we live in a day and age where absolute science helps us explain the absolute mechanics or series of events that lead up to some of the real life episodes we use to so easily dismiss as miracles. Which is extremely different from the day and age when biblical scriptures where composed. It was natural human instinct to make up answers if they didn't know the truth.

Hi Rebecca,

Interesting comment, and I have heard that perspective before. One question for you: How would you -- or modern science -- explain someone being healed of a bleeding wound in seconds, after nothing more than a prayer to God to heal her? Seems to me that doesn't fit anywhere in the scientific explanations you suggest. What do you think?

With all do respect please forgive me for speaking frankly of such matters. Well I don't know all the details of a bleeding wound or how it is healed. Or if it even really happened. Nor will I pretend to. I do keep the gratitude of knowing that there was a time when the things we take for granted today would have been considered miraclous. Just like when I make calls from Los Angeles to New York. I have an idea of how these phone calls are made possible, but I could not in good faith, give you the absolute mechanics on what makes that so. I can, however,tell you there was a time when all of the most brilliant people on the planet thought the world was flat. Then they sailed around it and realized it wasn't. There was a time when all the most brilliant minds assumed the Titanic would not sink, or that the Atom was the smallest element. With trial and error we've come to learn that unsinkable ships do sink, and when we split that smallest element we found out it was by far not the smallest element we thought it was, and it was filled with a whole bunch of other stuff that came pouring out of it. So what I am saying is just because I don't know what the absolute mechanics of the situation is doesn't mean that an absolute mechanics doesn't exsist. If you are more egar to dismiss away things you don't know about or can not explain in it's entirety as a miracle I understand. However, theories without adiquette research fall more a long the lines of an uneducated guess.

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  • Rebecca said:
      With all do respect please forgive me for speaking frankly of such mat...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Hi Rebecca, Interesting comment, and I have heard that perspective be...
  • Rebecca Shields said:
      We seldom refer to things as miracles because we live in a day and age...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Alicia, Thanks for your comments. It's evident you have given these t...
  • Alicia said:
      I too believe that miracles happen all the time- One it depends on ho...
  • gare said:
      i watch the cattle line up for slaughter. totaly ingnorant about what ...
  • Siya Khumalo said:
      I agree with Larry. However (of course there was going to be a however...
  • Dirk said:
      We, as a supposed Christian community have become as fallow as the pha...

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