Miracles

The other night at dinner, I read to the kids the story of Jesus calling his disciples. After a miserable night without catching a single fish, Jesus instructed the fishermen to cast out the net one more time. Exhausted and skeptical, Peter relented, and to their great surprise they caught “a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking” (Luke 5:6). A short time later, Jesus commissioned them, “From now on you will be catching men” (5:10).

I then asked my kids if they thought this was a miracle. After all, there was no healing or resurrection or magical pixie dust. All of us agreed this was no coincidence, but qualified as a genuine miracle from God. Peter’s response proves it. “ He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Lk. 5:8).

One of my kids then asked if God still does miracles today. (Side note: I absolutely LOVE discussing the Bible with kids in the 5-12 age range. They ask so many good questions like this! Often, the most fruitful discussions are rabbit trails that flow out of the Bible passage. When a parent or teacher asks a few simple observation questions, they get the kids minds working and you can almost hear the gears turning in their head. They are so inquisitive at this age!).

But back to the question. Does God still do miracles today? In short, yes. But the long answer is a bit more complicated. You see, a miracle, by definition, is something supernatural, spectacular, and outside the physical laws of nature.

Even in Bible times, miracles were less common than you might think. The Bible was written over the course of 2,000 years, and yet probably only 200 of those years saw a high concentration of miracles. These were focused around prophetic activity and the giving of new revelation, particularly during the eras of Moses/Joshua, later Elijah/Elisha, and finally Jesus/the Apostles. Outside of that, miracles were few and far between.

Most often, God works through providence. This is his sovereign hand working through the billions of contingencies in our world to make sure his will is done in exactly the right way (Prov. 16:33; Ac. 17:26; Col. 1:17). The providence of God itself is truly remarkable and worthy of our awe and trust.

But occasionally, God will intervene in a special way and perform a miracle. We should not expect to see miracles, nor should we be discouraged if we do not see them in the present age. But occasionally, God just might perform a miracle, perhaps in response to a special season of prayer.

Does God still do miracles? Yes. How often? We are not told. We should not expect to see them, but we know he is a powerful God, and whether he works through providence or miraculous means, we can always trust he’ll do what is best.

The World’s Greatest Teacher

And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22).

The world has heard many great teachers and motivational speakers over the years, but none compares to Jesus. People traveled for days on foot just to hear this Jewish Rabbi speak. Here are three things that made his teaching ministry so remarkable.

1. He taught the Scriptures. Jesus did not speak his own private words of wisdom (Jn. 5:30-31). He spoke on behalf of God. He was the prophet par excellence (Deut. 18:15). He had a masterful understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, quoted them heavily, interpreted them in context, and then explained how he was their fulfillment. By accurately handling the word of truth, he taught “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:29).

2. He didn’t shy away from hard topics. Jesus loved to talk about heaven, but he also had much to say about sin and hell. He didn’t mince words. “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mk. 9:47-48). Perfectly balancing truth and love, he found a way to warn his audience and speak hard sayings without insulting them.

3. He practiced what he preached. Jesus was a shepherd who led by example from the front, not a cattle driver whipping from the back of the herd. He was never proud or hypocritical, and he never asked others to do what he was not first willing to do. His life backed up his message with complete authenticity. He preached, “Blessed are the merciful” (Matt. 5:7), then he modeled that same mercy when he was unfairly arrested and crucified (Luke 23:34). Even his twelve disciples, who spent every day with Jesus and saw him up close, would later be willing to give their own lives for him because they knew he was the real deal.

Jesus truly was the master teacher. And though we have no recordings of his voice or videos of his gestures, we do have the Holy Bible, a reliable record of the wonderful things he said. Let us accept the invitation of God from heaven, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; LISTEN TO HIM” (Matt. 17:5).

The Call to Ministry

A lot of people get confused by the idea of a “call to ministry.” I was talking with some friends recently about how God called me out to California, and then how he called me into full-time ministry. My daughter overheard the conversation and blurted, “It’s like the Force.” Hmm. Not exactly the analogy I was looking for.

But if the call to ministry is not like the Force in Star Wars that binds all things together, what is it like? I would define God’s call as an intense desire to serve the Lord in a specific area that aligns with one’s gifts and is increasingly affirmed by the body of Christ. We should not be seeking some mystical experience as much as a spiritual prompting accompanied by great joy and an affirmation of godly people.

A few verses that come to mind:

1 Timothy 3:1 “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” Paul speaks of aspiration or earnest desire (Gk. epithumia, often translated “lust” or “strong urge”). Far from ambition being a bad thing, Paul says it can be a very good thing, as long as the focus is on the Lord and not our own reputation. When evident in a young man’s life, this holy flame of desire should be fanned, not extinguished.

Romans 12:3 “Everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Here the Bible says we need to take a sober, honest reflection of our gifts and long-term usefulness to the Lord. The question is not if we have a gift, but what gifts God has endowed uniquely to us, and how we can best use them to glorify God and build up his church (Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Cor. 14:3, 26).

Acts 6:3 “Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” Here we have a great example of biblical qualifications, congregational consent, and God’s providence all working together. God gave clear requirements to the church, then led them to select certain people who met those qualifications and who joyfully served. There was freedom in decision making, but all within the boundaries that God had set. As a result, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7).

If you are interested in learning more about the call to ministry or God’s calling on your life, I recommend the book “Am I Called?” by Dave Harvey.

The Firing of Paige Patterson

Yesterday morning, I woke up to the news that Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was fired overnight by the school’s board of directors. He was not personally accused of any sex abuse, but still, he made some very crude comments toward young women and took a controversial stance on gender roles and domestic violence.

Scrolling through social media, I can see that friends and ministry partners are all over the map on this one. D.A. Horton tweeted “Dear #SBC18, I’m deeply grieved how power & privilege inside our convention are used to build walls of self-preservation & systemic protection.”

And a former student of mine wrote, “For months now I have been praying about this seminary and whether or not I should consider applying. Paige Patterson remained the biggest stumbling block in my decision, originally because of his disdain for the doctrines of grace, but more so now because of his more recent scandals. I am very happy with the decision that has been made.”

Meanwhile, other Christians cry foul at this decision by the Board of Directors. One seminary professor wrote, “The timing and tactics in this situation are those of the Left. This is how they take out good men and they’ll continue to do this. It’s just getting started.”

Without a doubt, there is a double-standard in morality between what the world expects of Christians, and what they expect of themselves. The left claims love and tolerance for all, yet silences intelligent design theorists and anyone with a Judeo-Christian worldview on sexual ethics. Yes, there is hypocrisy on the left. But when they identify legitimate failings on our part, we must not be guilty of the same hypocrisy. We must be swift to admit wrongdoing and model biblical repentance, not play the same cover-up tactics they are used to seeing.

This is a messy issue. Both sides need to avoid knee jerk reactions and visceral posts that social media engenders. We are not privy to full details of what went on in that Board meeting Tuesday night. I believe those board members sought God’s wisdom, and made a Spirit-led decision that would show a balance of grace and truth — neither condoning Patterson’s actions, nor ignoring his many years of faithful service.

I close by reposting what I wrote yesterday to a friend on Facebook: “Amidst a long and faithful ministry, Dr. Patterson made some unwise and offensive remarks that hurt our gospel witness and came back to bite him. He was no Larry Nasser or Harvey Weinstein, and it’s questionable whether he should have been fired for his remarks, but it’s a sobering reminder that ‘Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’ ” (James 3:1).

Hosting Friends

Last weekend, Jeff and Jenny Thomas drove out to Yucca Valley to visit our family and the church. Jeff has been out before – back in December 2011 — but Jenny and the kids had not been able to join him. This time, both of them were here, along with their youngest daughter.

The Thomases arrived Saturday afternoon and we had a chance to do some early catch up as we grilled corn-on-the-cob and hamburgers. The kids immediately hit it off well and played in the other room.

After dinner on Saturday night, we all headed out to Blackrock Canyon for an evening hike on the High View Trail. The sunset over Mount San Gorgonio was spectacular. By the time we got back to the van, it was fully dark, and they were able to enjoy our dark night sky, including a nice view of the crescent moon and Venus in the western sky.

Sunday morning, Jeff preached on “The Majesty of God and the Meaning of Man” from Psalm 8. For the offertory, Jenny sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” a song I remember her singing at PBC, and that still touches me today. After the service, we had a potluck luncheon and Jeff shared about their new ministry with TLI. This organization was founded in 2009 and includes a respectable lineup of board members and advisors including DA Carson and John Piper. I was struck that 85% of pastors around the globe have no formal theological training. This is a recipe for doctrinal error and experientially-driven ministry to creep into churches. Right now, the Thomases are in fundraising mode to gain a liveable wage and begin training indigenous pastors around the globe. The whole day at church was a wonderful. I only wish more people had been there to enjoy it.

Later that afternoon, we drove the Thomases out to Joshua Tree to show them more of the National Park. We had a nice hike near Barker Dam, ate a picnic dinner in the van, scrambled around Split Rock, drove through the Jumbo Rocks campground, then enjoyed a look at the twinking city lights of the Coachella Valley from Keys View. Jenny admitted she was surprised by the desert. I think she had pictured something more like the sand dunes of the Sahara, and hadn’t imagined there would be such beauty, peace, and striking rock formations in the high desert.

Driving back to town Sunday night, we had some great conversation about pastoral ministry and missions work, and once the kids were tucked in, we continued to talk, share, and pray for each other into the late hours of the night.

It’s amazing how good friends and spiritual fellowship can lift the spirit. God has crossed our paths with the Thomases many times these past 18 years, and it felt like we picked up right where we left off. “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Proverbs 27:9).

The blog of Stephen Jones