Category Archives: Personal

Apprenticeship

By Marv

Note: I’m part of something called the “Apprenticeship” in the ministry school of the Dallas House of Prayer. These are a few comments about the experience:

A friend of mine asks me how “healing school” is going. He means the Apprenticeship, and I guess that is as good a designation as any, because the goal is to follow in my older Brother’s footsteps, which are described like this:

“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)

I think though that my friend is puzzled by the whole school aspect. For a lot of people “gifts of the Spirit” seem like something that ought just to work automatically if you got ʼem, and not something you can just take a class in if you don’t.

The idea of a learning curve in supernatural, Spirit-empowered ministry seems counter-intuitive.

So how does this work? What is it we are doing with the schooling? It’s spiritual, right? So are we somehow training our spirits? Maybe. I really don’t have a good answer to that right now. So then, is it about the mind? That’s the kind of learning we are familiar with, training the mind. I’ve had a boatload of that, by the way. Do I need some more?

Before we give in to something that is a bit of a reflex in “Spirit-filled” circled, let me come to the defense of the often-denigrated mind. “My brain,” says Woody Allen, “that’s my second-favorite organ.” Well, not entirely sure what he had in mind, but if we’re big fans of the spirit, which is made to interact with the Holy Spirit, I want to commend the mind to a close second. It’s very important especially if full function in the spirit is what we aspire to.

The mind serves as a kind of switch, directing our focus, our point of concentration. The apostle Paul tells us:

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6)

I figure I could teach a PhD course on setting the mind on the flesh, if anyone actually needed a lesson. Setting the mind on the Spirit, however, that’s something I could stand to beef up more than a little. And so I want to suggest that this is one thing we’re about in the curriculum of the Internship and the Apprenticeship. “Renewing the mind,” Bill Johnson says, is “when the impossible begins to look logical.”

Maybe then it’s really an unlearning curve.

A few things I’ve been unlearning:

  • A settled and confident expectation that “it” won’t work (a) this time, (b) for me. Whatever I may be telling myself in the front of my mind—based on the amazing statements of the Word of God, that the promises of God are “Yes” and”Amen,” what I seem to know in my knower is “No.” I know that I know that it’s “No.”

I am in the process of unlearning this.

  • Normal Christianity looks much like regular folk, only we have an extra compartment for Bible, Church, and God stuff. Day-to-day life is much the same for me as for the next door neighbor with whom I share a common culture. Tweak it: I don’t cuss. I think some things about history that he doesn’t. I have ideas about the far-off future that he doesn’t. But on the rudiments of how the world works, we’re just not that different.

I’ve been on this unlearning curve a good while now. What I’ve been discovering in the Apprenticeship is that I may not be as far along it as all that. But we’re moving on.

  • God tolerates me. We do use the word “love,” but I give Him credit for better taste than that. I’m quite pleased He’s let me in the door. I’m convinced He isn’t going to kick me out. He’s quite magnanimous, after all. If I sit in the corner and be quiet, maybe He’ll toss me a bone from time to time.

He’s unteaching me this putrid notion, insulting to Him as it is. As yet I have grasped a mere scintilla of His measureless love. But give me time, the infinite takes a little longer.

  • To be is to do. Time’s a wasting. We’re burning daylight.

I have known in a conceptual way that spending time with the Lord is important. This has a way of becoming just another “do this” however. I’m unlearning “relationship” as a kind of code term for holding a correct theological position or having come into a particular judicial standing or exhibiting behavior that is more or less moral, on my better days. What part of “Real, Living, Present Person” do I not understand? Whole bunches of parts, sorry to say. I fall easily into my mental ruts.

But I’m unlearning.

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The Day I Stopped Speaking to My Wife

by Scott

I remember the early days of our relationship. In the 9 months between meeting and marrying, my wife and I were only in the same city a mere 40 days or so. We were divided most of the time by an ocean, but thankfully had great support in both the US and UK. Therefore, in those many days apart (even when we were both in the UK), we spent much time emailing and texting by phone. I’m talking about emailing and texting a whole lot! It was all-consuming as we looked to stay in touch day after day after day.

As our relationship heightened, we began calling each other, though we also maintained the little love notes via text as well. Our mobile phones were the major place of communication. I remember one month my UK mobile phone bill was around 85 GBP, which was some 50 GBP more than the normal monthly bill. I was shocked, but it was truly worth it in my eyes.

We also moved into the realm of love-letter writing. So, yes, I am a bit of a sensitive romantic. After moving back to the US, being even further apart from my beloved, this became an integral part of staying in contact, expressing our heart’s desire for one another. And, of course, both of us saved each and every one of those emotion-stirring, affectionate letters. They were not just words. They were an expression and revealing of the love we had for one another. And being so far apart, you can imagine their role in articulating our deep affections.

It was extremely difficult following our engagement in the US. After staying for a full 7 weeks, my beloved had to return to the UK to prepare for our wedding and finalising details before moving to the US. It was a painful 9 weeks apart. But, again, I am thankful for the frequent phone calls and almost weekly letters.

But, of course, once we were married, we were able to be together forever. We were no longer divided by the space of an ocean, thousands of miles apart. We were now joined together as husband and wife.

And, for all these years, even through difficulties and struggles and misunderstandings and arguments, we remained true to one another. From multiple moves across oceans, to the bearing of our children, to learning how to lead a church forward in a completely different culture than we were used to, we stayed faithful to the love we held one for the other. Through all this time, we came to know one another’s likes and dislikes, dreams and passions, and even what we shared in common (like sushi!).

In the years of our growing relationship, we would even pull out old emails and love letters, to read over them, and be inspired by the love that began years ago. Of course, this is common to many a couples. But from your own perspective you’re not thinking about all those others. Their love compares in no way to your own. This is part of your journey of the expression of the covenant love you have for one another.

And how about the conversations, the deep exchanges over cups of coffee, over romantic dinners, over date-nights out, over holiday time away. Sharing of those desires and dreams I pointed to earlier. Even learning how to work through arguments and disagreements and deep wounds. The poured-out prayers to our Father for all sorts of things also knit our hearts together.

Yet, there was the day – the day I decided it was best that I stopped speaking to my wife.

Now wait a minute, don’t get mad at me just yet. It’s actually all ok.

You see, the day I made such a decision, I sat down with my wife and presented her with a gift. A rather amazing gift, I might add. It was a collage of all the love letters, emails and texts I had sent to her over our years of love, all bound into a beautiful anthology. I was even able to remember the details of quite a few of our conversations. And so I also included those within the volume.

As I handed her this hand-crafted book, I explained that it contained all my love in word form. Therefore, because she now had this extensive record, I no longer needed to express my love through the vehicle of words. We had reached a place where such expressions were no longer needed. And if she ever found herself questioning my love, questioning what I thought about her, well, she could head to the text. There she would find the unveiling of my true love, all in the words we had shared for years past.

Ok, I’m sure you have easily caught on that I speak in parable here.

This never happened. Well, most of it did. But not the part about deciding to no longer speak to my wife. And I would never, ever desire to do such. Such would actually become counter-productive to the covenant relationship in which we have been joined together.

Now, I could actually put together such a record of the emails, love letters and conversations we have held in years past. That would be quite a gift! It could even be revisited over and over again as an inspiring reminder of our love for one another. But it would never actually replace the reality of sharing real conversation. If I ever suggested such, well, my wife might not be too pleased. And that is quite an understatement.

Yet, I believe this can and does happen with God’s people. For many, it is somehow easy to accept that God no longer speaks because we now have the bound anthology of the canon of Scripture. Or, if He does speak, it is only within the context of the words of previous centuries.

But I believe such betrays the very nature of our God, a nature that is relational at its core, with communication being the very essence of God’s relational nature.

Please don’t misread this statement here, but we are not ultimately people of the book. We are ultimately relational beings, sons and daughters of our Father. We are ultimately people of the Spirit, the Spirit who has been sent to continue to communicate and speak on behalf of the Father and Son.

Again, please don’t misunderstand anything here. I am not so much addressing the God-breathed and authoritative nature of Scripture. I am not here to say that there is no great investment within the communicative-speaking nature of our God as shown in the revelation of the Bible. Matter of fact, just as my wife actually does find an expression of the unveiling of my love in keeping emails, letters and conversations within a safe-keep box (and I’ve kept quite a few things from her), we find even more in God’s revelatory expression of Himself in Scripture.

But my wife would never bestow upon all of that written communication as the sole source of our relationship. It is para-revelatory, if you will. It goes hand in hand with the actual relationship we share on a daily basis. Actually, it might even become subsequent to the real love we share through being together and sharing deep, intimate conversation together.

So, you see the parable breaks down somewhat, as I am not relegating God’s revelation in Scripture as a side-project. But each parable has a major point, and that chief point I am looking to bring across is that our revelation and understanding of our Father must be seen in cultivating a real relationship together. And that real relationship consists of both actual speaking and listening one to the other.

It’s not even about investing our understanding His voice mainly in the biblical words given in the past. It is, but to solely invest such into the Bible is, again, to betray a God who has been speaking and revealing and unveiling Himself from the beginning (which includes well before our beginning). And I suppose He desires to continue such into the rest of future-eternity.

Imagine those who recording what is now in the Bible. They could not fathom a God who stopped revealing Himself. Imagine ourselves in the age to come. As we hear the voice of the Father, we would fill with confusion as to why we would thought the pause button had been hit at some point in our history.

Again, for something so core, so essential, to the nature of our God, one cannot fathom the ceasing of such.

I will never, ever stop speaking and unveiling my heart to my beloved, my wife. And I believe the same stands true for the One who has always spoke, is speaking, and will remain speaking for the age to come.

A Simple Way God Spoke Through A Song

by Scott

I thought I would share some music musings that I had originally posted over at The Prodigal Thought. I wanted to share a simple little story about an ol’ favourite singer of mine, a song that has been stuck in my head this week, and a little story of how God spoke to me through the song.

One of my favourite singers since I was a little toddler has been Kenny Rogers. Yes, Kenny Rogers! Now, I don’t listen to him on a regular basis today, but my ventures with Kenny Rogers all started when I was just a little tyke of a boy. I fell in love with his singing when he appeared on one of the Muppets episodes (not the Muppet Babies cartoons, but the real Muppet puppets). And my parents taped that one show (on a VHS tape) and I watched it constantly, continually, perpetually, even religiously. My parents regularly recall how I would always call out to them, ‘Mommy, daddy. Kenny Waagerrs and Mwuppwets! Kenny Waagerrs and Mwuppwets!’

I supposedly could not get enough. And I have vague memories of that one show with Kenny Rogers embedded deeply within me.

Well, interestingly enough, before I was to move to Brussels, Belgium, I had been involved with a guy’s prayer group on a weekly basis within our local church. A few weeks before I moved, the guys were specifically gathered around me, praying for my situation. I had shared how there were a lot of things going on with preparing to end out things in Memphis and preparing to head to Brussels. I was beginning to feel quite overwhelmed.

As the guys were praying for me, one of my good friends, Sam, spoke up and said something to the effect of: Scott, I don’t know if you know the Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler. But I really believe God wants to speak to you through the one line that says, ‘You’ve gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.’
Sam went on to share how, in this time, there are things that I need to consider if they are worth holding onto or if it is simply better folding them and laying them down. Though you might laugh, and some might even mock at my suggestion that God could ever speak through such a song, it was quite a strengthening word given to me from a simple line from a simple song, a song from my favourite singer as a little tyke. I will always remember that evening as I gathered with a handful of guys for prayer. And who wouldn’t remember a time when God speaks like a two-edged sword into your life and situation?

So, lately I have been singing that song. And so, in tribute to my most-liked singer as a little boy, and in remembrance of that strengthening word before heading to Brussels, I post this video of The Gambler by Kenny Rogers.

Reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated: a humble response to Dean Gonzales

by Marv

What I liked best about The Cessation of Special Revelation: A Humble Argument for the Cessation of NT Prophecy and Tongues,  a blog series posted last year by Dr. Robert R. Gonzales, Jr., Dean of Reformed Baptist Seminary is the refreshing way that it takes the “humble” part seriously.  Dean Gonzales comports himself as a gentleman throughout, without the faintest whiff of ad hominem.  He also approaches the subject as a scholar, concentrating his argument on how best to understand the relevant scriptural texts.  In this he takes on Wayne Grudem’s position on prophecy, as laid out in The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. The fact that he chooses a worthy interlocutor such as Dr. Grudem is commendable.  As a whole Dean Gonzales takes an approach that ought to be widely emulated.

He is also clear.  He lays out his main thesis in a form of a syllogism, and backs it up with scriptural citation and logical discussion.  The syllogism reads as follows:

Major Premise: All pre-parousia divinely authoritative special revelation has been completed and has, therefore, ceased.
Minor Premise: NT prophecy and tongues are forms of pre-parousia divinely authoritative special revelation.
Conclusion: Therefore, tongues and prophecy have ceased.

Appreciative as I am of his approach, I am not, however, convinced by his argument.  It is a variation of a fairly conventional one, tying the term of charismata to that of the Canon.  In fact I have to object to his references to “scriptural-quality revelation.”  The Bible ascribes, I think, unique attributes to itself.  There is no other revelation, never has been, of equal “quality” to that of Scripture.

This is why the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, to which both Dean Gonzales and Reformed Baptist Seminary ascribe states that:

“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”

In multiple places Dean Gonzales makes reference to oral prophecy in the early New Testament church as “canonical.”  If this is so, I cannot see how to avoid the conclusion that not only the Holy Scripture, but also every genuine prophecy ever uttered would constitute the Canon.  The Confession, at least, would seem to limit canonicity to those prophecies that the Holy Spirit saw fit to inscripturate.

Similarly, the Bible warrants application of the term inspiration to the Scriptures, the written product of the Holy Spirit’s work.  Whether we are justified in using “inspired” for other manifestations of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7) is not readily obvious, to me at least, and his doing so tends to give Dr. Gonzales’ argument a certain circularity, assuming facts not in evidence.

Again, to the Confession, the Bible is the only “infallible” rule.  Contrary to the dean’s assertion or assumption and (perhaps) even Dr. Grudem’s understanding, even Old Testament oral prophecy was not “infallible” in the way that the Scriptures are.

If OT era prophecy were infallible, how could there be false prophecies?  I find it odd that verses such as Deut. 18:22 are often cited to suggest that OT era oral prophecy was inerrant or infallible, when it demonstrates precisely the opposite:

“When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”

We are never similarly warned to watch out for “false Scriptures.”  In both the OT and the NT era, “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32).  The Word of the Lord came to the prophet (Gen. 15:1, 1 Sam. 15:10, 2 Sam. 7:4).  In this last reference, Nathan received the Word of the Lord precisely because Nathan the prophet had spoken presumptuously to David earlier in the day (2 Sam. 7:3).  There is no great intertestamental shift involved that would allow for similarly presumptuous utterances in the NT era, such as the instructions to Paul not to go to Jerusalem, which he sees fit to ignore (Acts 21:4).

The OT prophet was responsible to report the Word of the Lord accurately, though he could fail to do so.  The Scriptures, on the other hand, by being theopneustos are guaranteedcertified to be the Word of the Lord.  They are thus of a quality above and beyond that of oral prophecy, in any era.  This is why Peter specifies “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Pet 1:20, emphasis mine).  The distinction of two levels of prophecy: “Scripture-quality” and otherwise, does not originate with Dr. Grudem, but is apostolic.

Now, one specific line of argument calls for special mention.  In his part seven he makes a point about the word “mystery” (μυστήριον), which at first blush gives an impression of decisiveness and may in fact be persuasive to many people.  Yet I’m afraid it does not hold up to scrutiny.

As he makes the point succinctly, I will simply quote him:

What I really want to call your attention to is the fact that according to 13:2 and 14:2 both prophecy and tongues reveal “mysteries.” The term “mysteries” is not referring to garbled nonsense. That term translates the same Greek word that Paul used in Ephesians 3 to speak of the canonical-level NT special revelation uttered by apostles and prophets. And according to these passages in 1 Corinthians, these “mysteries” are “known” through the gift of prophecy (13:2) and they are “spoken” through the gift of tongues (14:2).

This argument fails in at least three ways:

1.  In bringing in Ephesians 3:3-9, Dean Gonzales commits a neat little fallacy known as “illegitimate totality transfer.”  The red flag that should tip us off to this is his phrase “the same Greek word that Paul used…to speak of…”  This is meant to imply that the Eph. 3 passage provides us the definition of the term μυστήριον, that is, that it refers to “canonical-level NT special revelation uttered by apostles and prophets.”  But this semantic information is not carried by the single noun μυστήριον, but by an entire descriptive clause: “which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (v. 4).  This is not even a description of what a “mystery” in general is but specifically what Paul there calls “the mystery of Christ.”

The word “mystery” (μυστήριον) essentially denotes a “secret.”  The term was well known in the Greco-Roman world due to the plethora of “mystery religions” in which as part of the initiation, certain items of secret knowledge were imparted to the novice.  The practice has survived to this day in the arcana of societies such as the Freemasons, who possess a convoluted mythology which members are forbidden to reveal to outsiders.

Dean Gonzales simply overloads the word with extraneous meaning, as if he had reached into Eph. 3 with sticky fingers and pulled away half the context along with the noun.  Looking elsewhere, we come away with a more Ockham-friendly understanding that what μυστήριον conveys is the concept “secret” or something unknown or whose meaning is not easy to discern.

“As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Rev. 1:20)

“But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.” (Rev. 17:7)

In these two cases the “mystery” is the secret to what the visionary imagery symbolizes.  John saw some strange things, knew they meant something, but did not know what they meant, needed to have someone decipher them.

2.  This is what is happening in 1 Cor. 14:2.  Paul is pointing out that a message given in a tongue sounds strange to the hearers, who know it means something, but do not know what it means, and cannot know unless there is someone who can decipher them.

Paul gives us no excuse for not understanding this, because he restates his point multiple times. Verse 2 alone makes Paul’s meaning clear: the problem with one giving a message in tongues in the church assembly, the problem is “no one understands him.” Then he restates his point: “but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.”

Dean Gonzales states that by “mystery” Paul is “not referring to garbled nonsense,” but the issue is not nonsense versus meaningfulness, but meaning that is hidden versus meaning that is known. That by “mystery” here Paul means a message with hidden meaning (due to being in a foreign language) is evident from the many ways he says it:

“…speaks not to men but to God” (2)

“no one understands” (2)

“speech that is not intelligible” (9)

“speaking into the air” (9)

“I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.” (11)

“when he does not know what you are saying?” (16)

In short, the meaning of the word “mystery” in 1 Cor. 14:2 is made so abundantly clear within the context of the chapter itself, that giving preference to examples in remote context, theologically rich though they be, does not make exegetical sense.

3.  In 1 Cor. 13:2, Paul is talking about prophecy, not tongues, and so the concept of unintelligibility is not the issue.  Indeed, here he is making reference to “secrets” in the sense of deep, hidden, unrevealed knowledge.  This is clear because of his parallel of “all mysteries” and “all knowledge”:

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…”

But does this verse justify Dean Gonzales assertion that “Paul portrays NT prophecy as a revelatory gift by which the one who possess the gift comes to understand ‘all mysteries’”?  That Dean Gonzales would make such a claim is rather surprising in view of the fact that he knows perfectly well that in verses 13:1-3 Paul is engaging in hyperbole.  He argues as much within this very discussion: “Paul’s reference to the “tongues … of angels” may simply be a form of hyperbole.”  Indeed, it is clearly hyperbole to suggest that any mortal human being would “understand all mysteries and all knowledge.”  This is a hypothetical gift of prophecy taken to the nth degree, not any reasonable expectation of what a given prophecy from a given church member would entail on a given Sunday.

Dean Gonzales then is very seriously overstating the nature of oral prophecy in the New Testament church.  It may well be opening up secrets of a sort.  Paul says as much in 1 Cor. 14:24-25:

“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”

But these secrets are not theological or doctrinal truths, hidden in the recesses of God’s eternal plan, things which, once revealed, find their place in God’s Canon, as a “prophecy of Scripture,” alongside the writings of Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John.  They are individual details of a particular person’s life, revealed to that person, through the Holy Spirit for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3) or else to convict regarding “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

This is what Jesus does in John 4:17 when he says to the Samaritan woman:

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

To which she replies:

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”

Jesus’ words to her, while perfectly true, and divinely authoritative, were for her specifically, not for the Canon, even though a few of the details occur as recorded speech within a canonical gospel.  Jesus told her more, things which are not reported by John, since the woman says Jesus “told me all that I ever did.”  They are important for her, but not “canonical” for the people of God.

On another occasion when Jesus gave a prophecy, he revealed future secrets of Peter’s life, but when asked about John’s life, Jesus said “what is that to you?”

Yet these are acts by which Jesus, prophesying through the Holy Spirit, spoke faith-enhancing words to individuals, none of which constituted temporary stand-ins for Scripture, the Canon being as yet incomplete.  Even these were not in the same class as Scripture, not “canonical.”

This brings us to the main problem with Dean Gonzales’ conclusion that prophecy ceased as the Canon closed: it contradicts the express teaching of Jesus.  Jesus prophesied, and intending that His church also would prophesy, He sent the Holy Spirit:

“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.” (John 14:11-12)

“Whoever believes in” Jesus, is considerably broader than just those living prior to the close of the Canon.  Indeed, it has nothing to do with the Canon.

And Jesus did just as He said, pouring out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, with the promise:

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

The difference between OT era and NT era is not thus “canonical” versus “non-canonical”: there has always been this distinction.  It is not “infallible” versus “fallable,” since a prophet could always (though should never) speak presumptuously.  The significant difference, post Pentecost, is what we may call the “democratization” of prophecy.  In pouring the Spirit on “all flesh” so that even the most humble believer may prophesy, prophecy is no longer tied to the theocratic functioning of the nation of Israel.  While the prophet still has responsibility to speak the revelation accurately, there is, in the church, no death penalty for failure to do so.  In fact we are explicitly told “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).  Our instruction is to “test everything” and “hold fast what is good” (1 Thes. 5:21).

“Good,” the apostle calls it, to which we may “hold fast.” This is not something to be rejected, but among the good works which we are told to stir up (Heb. 10:24) not to douse (1 Thes. 5:19).

That is the importance of Cessationist arguments such as Dean Gonzales’, to which, I respond, I hope, with equal respect and gentleness, yet with conviction that it does not teach what the Lord and the apostles in fact taught regarding prophecy and tongues.  To teach that prophecy and tongues have ceased in the Body of Christ, if in fact they have not ceased, is to discourage our brothers and sisters from the good that Our Lord has intended them to do.  Therefore, any argument that they have ceased had better be significantly more decisive than the one we have been examining.

Experience, Faith, and the Word

By Marv

My wife’s parents were like many French people, agnostic to atheist, covered over with a vague New-Age layer. Many years before the events of this story happened, she had a thought occur in her mind, with a comfort and confidence, and she took it to be the Spirit of God speaking to her. “Your mother will come to faith first, then your father.”

Now, regeneration and conversion is a miracle always, but in a country such as France, you tend to diminish your expectations by a factor of ten, no, more like a hundred. It’s a tough, tough place for Christianity. We talked to them about the Lord, but apart from a little more openness for our sake, nothing much happened. It was hard to have too much impact; we were in the U.S. and they were in France.

One day in 1999, we had just brought home a new electronic answering machine. Back then those things were still gadgety enough to be kind of cool. You had to put a code on it to be able to retrieve messages. My wife suggested 828, because she liked Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” We were about to get a lesson about that verse.

We installed it, and the first time it rang, we decided not to answer but let the machine pick it up. What could it hurt?

Only it was her parents calling from France—with bad news. About 18 months earlier, my wife’s mother, Nicole had been operated on for cancer, successfully, we all thought. The cancer was back, and it wasn’t looking good.

In the next few weeks Nicole declined rapidly. My wife talked to her doctors, but French doctors are typically not frank with the patient or with family in regard to bad news. They told her they could treat her, which Nicole seemed to interpret as “cure,” but this was not what they meant. My wife eventually persuaded the doctor to level with her, since she was so far away and needed to know whether and when to fly over there. “Come now,” she was finally told, since they gave Nicole perhaps a couple of months.

While she was preparing to go over there, my wife spoke to her mother on the phone. We knew most of the evangelical ministers in their town and we wanted to get someone to her to pray for her. My wife quoted to her James 5:14: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

She wasn’t in any church, but we were working on arranging a pastoral visit with someone we had contact with. But before this could happen, she was at the hospital for chemotherapy, and a Catholic priest happened by. She told him what her daughter had said, and asked him if he could anoint her with oil and pray over her, like James said. Now for Roman Catholics this verse has basically become the basis for extreme unction, last rites for the immediately dying. Yet he agreed, and came to her house the next day and did just as James instructed.

Well, my mother-in-law still died of cancer, but it was a year later, and here’s what happened in that year. First of all, though the cancer was not cured, she did have an immediate change of symptoms, whereas she was weak and also unable to eat, she had new energy and her appetite returned right away. She was up and out of bed, and was able to spend many pleasant months with her husband and later with us, when we came to be with her.

We still had “our people” come and pray for her, and they spoke with her about the Lord. Now she was ready to listen. And she did listen, and she placed her trust in the Lord, and she started attending that evangelical church. My father-in-law went with her, and seeing her faith, and impressed by the love that body was giving them, he came to faith as well.

The cancer was still progressing and eventually Nicole did become weak again and unable to do much out of bed. But the very last day, as it turned out, that she was physically able to attend church, both she and my father-in-law were baptized. Nicole gave her testimony, between tears, recounting the story of the priest’s prayer, and her healing, partial and temporary as it was. Then she said, “If I had not gotten sick, I never would have come to know the Lord.”

Nicole still had confidence that the Lord could heal her, and she even thought he would. Now the doctors still had not made it clear to her that they considered her terminal, and we did not wish to discourage her either. You have to understand something; in this beautiful, but post-Christian country despair fills the air, so thickly sometimes that you feel you could cut it with a knife. Cancer patients as a rule do not go gently into that good night, and if her oncologist did not spell out the doom she foresaw, it was to grant a measure of false hope to her remaining days. That is the only hope she was able to dispense, having seen so many agonizing as death approached.

One night my wife stayed with her mother in the hospital, conflicted over knowing the medical prognosis and yet not wishing to overtax her mother’s new faith. But Nicole had a dream about Jesus, and she awoke the next morning both radiant—and knowing she was going to die.

“There’s going to be a reunion,” she said mysteriously. Not understanding, my wife asked her what reunion, with whom? “A reunion with Jesus,” she said.

Her remaining weeks were spent in one hospital or another, and all her friends came and visited her. And Nicole told all her friends about Jesus and how wonderful he was and how she was so happy to be going to be with him. This was a new experience for the oncologist, who was not at all used to hopeful—dying patients.

The doctor told us she wouldn’t last until Christmas, but she did. She died in January 2000. In those last weeks, her estranged son came to see her, and there were tears and there was forgiveness.

At the end of the most difficult but amazing year of her life, she went to her dearly anticipated reunion. The church was packed for the funeral, all her family and friends had come. It was a long service. We gave her testimony. We gave our testimonies. The pastor preached to gospel. That day everyone Nicole loved was gathered together and heard about the love and grace of the Jesus she had come to love and with whom she was now joyfully present.

Perhaps I should think it inadequate that her healing was not quite a “New Testament quality” miracle, not complete, irreversible, permanent. Right.

I am persuaded that the Lord used experiences, in Nicole’s life, in all our lives, to encourage, to build up, to demonstrate His love. And to demonstrate the truth of His Word. Frankly, I really did not have much confidence in the Roman Catholic priest who had prayed for her. But our faith is not in men but in the Lord and in His Word. Besides, James did say to call for the elders, the presbuteroi in Greek, and in the history of the church that word became prêtre in French,“priest.” Of course, the greatest gift was not the physical healing, would not even have been her being totally cured of her cancer. James goes on in verse 15: “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

And the Lord proved His Word that all things, even painful, grievous things work together for good to those who are called, and “those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Rom. 8:30b)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (vv. 35, 37-39).