We’ve got a brand new series starting today by “T,” our friendly lawyer who is famous here for winning the Crocs in our Christmas contest! This series is about spiritual gifts, but it’s a series of down to earth real-life examples of the gifts at work. Join me in thanking T!
As many regulars here know, I (“T”) believe God still heals (in every sense), still speaks to us and through us in a variety of ways, and generally does all the amazing things we see Jesus and his followers doing in the New Testament. In a nutshell, I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are still being given as part of God’s continuing gospel work and mission. There are a lot of ways we could discuss the topic here, but for this series, I’m going to share stories—personal stories—and then discuss them.
As I share these stories, ask yourself, “What would/should such experiences communicate to the people involved?” “How is the form of communication at work here significant?” “Where would or should such experiences affect the theology and/or practice of the people involved?” “How are such experiences best explained?” Also, please feel free to email me some of your own favorite stories at tnflaw at bellsouth dot net.
I have a few distinct and hopefully humble hopes for this series. The first hope is to change some associations many of us have with words like “Charismatic” or “prophetic” or even “signs and wonders” and “(divine) healing.” In the last twenty years, the numbers of folks and institutions who still hold to cessationism in this country has declined enormously, which is wonderful. But in its place a quiet and uncomfortable disbelief/non-practice/ignorance/disdain of some of the Spirit’s gifts is now the norm for much of evangelicalism and beyond. Many Christians both within and outside of Charismatic circles are rightfully put-off by the stories of weird and opportunistic excesses that are easy to find. But I know of no proverbial “baby” that gets tossed out in practice more often with dirty bathwater than the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even while the theology of the gifts gets affirmed in theory. Especially as the global church becomes larger and increasingly charismatic, we need to develop more generous imaginations regarding our global family in Christ and what the gifts really do and how and why.
My other, maybe central hope for this series is just to be an encouragement. Belief in God is not automatic. Hope in God is even less so. I want to give some energy for hope in God, which such stories tend to give. In sum, it’s good to tell others what God has done.
One note of caution. These stories aren’t meant to “prove” anything, least of all to the person who’s mind is made up on whether God exists or acts in whatever forms. Despite my belief that such events can and do build one’s faith, they are not silver bullets, nor are they intended to be. Anyone expecting such will be disappointed. Take them for what they are: reports of God acting for specific people in specific times and ways. Here goes.
Luke and Sarah (not their names) were long time friends of mine and Kim’s. They were about our age and married just a bit longer than us. They were both pastor’s kids, now with young kids of their own. They were all part of a small group of 12 or so people that met in our house that was the very beginnings of a church plant. It was a flexible, informal meeting on Friday nights, usually focused on discussion. This night we decided to take a fair amount of time and just pray and listen. So we settled into a time of relative silence with occasional praises under our breath.
As we prayed, Kate, with her own baby in arms, began pacing back and forth a bit behind the couch. She finally broke the silence and said very reluctantly something to the effect of, “I don’t want to chicken out, and I feel like God has given me something to say in tongues, so I’m going to just say it.” And then she did. Most of us had seen someone give a tongue out loud once or twice, but it was still uncommon, and it had never happened in this group. I’m sure some had never seen it before.
After she spoke, Amy spoke up and said, “I think God is saying, ‘I’m leading you into my freedom, and it’s through honesty.'” That struck me as true, but I had no idea what it was supposed to mean. Then, a bit later, John (an engineer and, very typically, not given to any kind of emotionalism) got up and stood behind Luke, put his hand on his back and began to silently pray for him. As John prayed, he put his hand down and embraced Luke from behind. Then John began to cry. Then he fully wept as he held Luke. Luke received it and even thanked John afterward, but remained relatively stoic. None of us knew what to think as we closed the meeting, at least I didn’t, and it was certainly different. Though I think all of us believed that God was in this, whatever it was.
When Luke and Sarah got home that night, there was a message waiting on the machine. Sarah hit the play button and it was Luke’s lover. I don’t remember when I got the call, it might have been midnight that night, but me and another leader of the church, John, who had wept over Luke, were heading over to Luke and Sarah’s house the next morning. It slowly came out in chunks over the next week and a half that he had been living a full double life with numerous affairs over the last 8 years—all but the first two of their marriage. As John and I rode over there together we shared our shock, our feeling of being out of our depth, but also the encouragement that God had clearly picked now to be the time for this to be dealt with.
The night before had set the tone. We were sick, but not judgmental; we dared not be. We felt that the heart of God was crystal clear. He was weeping over Luke and this whole situation. Of course, we also made it clear to Sarah that if she needed Luke out of the house—whether that day or in two weeks or two months or whenever—that we would arrange for that immediately. And of course, much more was said, prayed, counseled, and cried about, both that day and in the next several weeks and months. As for specifics, I will only add that Luke’s attitude was amazingly repentant, but he initially questioned how much detail he needed to share with his wife since it would only cause more pain. Encouraged by the idea that honesty was the path God had given for freedom, we told him strongly that in order to have any shot of ever getting her trust, he should give her every detail that she wanted. His body was rightfully hers and she wanted an accounting for it. He had hidden himself too thoroughly and too long from her. She wanted reality; she wanted honesty, far above being paternalistically lied to in avoidance of pain. So he, reluctantly at first, gave her honesty, and not just about his sins. I can’t summarize all that happened over the following several months. But I will tell you that they both surrendered to a practice of transparency with each other and even others that was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, emotionally and in every possible way. He admitted his affairs, his fears, his insecurities, everything. And she did the same. It was the way out; it was God’s freedom from the bondage he was in and that she was in, too. There was a lot more to it, but she never had him move out, though we repeated the offer many times. The following year they had a renewal of their vows in their home.