Tag Archives: miracles

That’s fishy. . .

Faith life can be weird, right? I often feel like as a follower of Jesus I am living between extremes that look totally off-putting, yet when I’m doing a good job of it there are these incredible rewards.

One example of where I try to live in the tension is around God intervening in my life. On one extreme there are those who have some kind of faith but believe God doesn’t ever touch reality now that He has set it in motion. That’s not me; I believe God acts in the world. That said, I generally like people who adopt this view, and I don’t find it difficult to relate to… if I hadn’t had my personal experiences with God, I’d be in this camp.

You know, miracles. Like that one time I found my keys.

You know, miracles. Like that one time I found my keys.

On the other extreme are the folks who experience God intervening in every decision of their lives, thanking God for getting out of speeding tickets, for good parking places, for Vikings victories, for the McDonald’s employee giving them an extra large helping of french fries, etc. I appreciate thankfulness, and I’ll thank God for anything good, but I’ve watched people thank God for coincidences as if God designed those coincidences specifically to bless that person… like “Thanks God, you know I needed Adrian Peterson to rush for 180 yards to win my fantasy football game this week, I appreciate your effort on my behalf.” That kind of prayer is harder for me to identify with.

So here I sit, trying to live between the poles (or, you could argue, setting up a false dichotomy…). I believe firmly that once upon a time, as I set off to kill myself, God intervened, saved my life, and changed me forever. I also believe that I’m likely to find the best parking space out of 100 about… 1% of the time. When I do, I’m grateful, but I don’t experience it as an intervention from On High designed to make my day better. A little skepticism not only never hurt anybody, sometimes it keeps you from being an idiot.

I have a saying that I pull out when something happens that seems extremely coincidental, to the point where I might reasonably attribute it to God. I say “Hm… that’s fishy.” A good number of people in my life know that’s one way I say that God might have intervened at this point.

"Dude. I'm calling shenanigans, right here and now."

“Dude. I’m calling shenanigans, right here and now.”

This last week I was at the Vineyard national conference in Anaheim. The Vineyard is the church movement I’m a part of, and I was apprehensive about the conference this year. I was concerned about some meetings I had set up, concerned with my place in my church movement, and generally just feeling anxious.

The night I got there two very nice middle aged ladies I’d never met asked to pray for me. Out of the blue they began to pray words that spoke directly and completely toward my apprehension and anxieties. They spoke powerful words of encouragement and of God’s presence in my conflict (which, mind you, I hadn’t told them I was having… they knew nothing about me other than the fact that my hand had been in the air).

When they were done I felt gladness, a lifting of anxiety/apprehension, and great peace. I thought… “That’s fishy.” It seemed like an act of God.

Over the next three days, people randomly prayed for me three times. All three times they walked up to me cold, prayed words that perfectly fit my situation, and wandered off oblivious to what was, for me, becoming simultaneously a surreal experience and a growing confidence that God is with me and genuinely loves me. No one prayed a single word for me that didn’t fit. No one had any details or knowledge of my life. Everything they prayed gave me greater peace and joy.

It was, in short, one of the fishiest experiences I’ve ever had. I ended up having a number of amazing meetings, and a couple challenging ones. I’m so grateful that before the latter took place, I had received tremendous encouragement and security through either the most absurd coincidences I can imagine… or God had intervened in my life for no purpose other than to bless me.

It was pretty fishy, and I’m pretty grateful. I’ve been thanking God a lot this week, and I’ll be doing so for awhile.

I’m also more grateful than ever to be part of a faith community. The challenges of life (anxieties and apprehensions about people, for example) are a given. Crazy fishy intervention by God seems to happen a lot more often when people are praying around me. It’s almost like God speaks to us through one another, or even loves us through one another 😉

Try to leave some room for the Holy Spirit, guys.

Try to leave some room for the Holy Spirit, guys.

On to the questions!

1. Do you ever see God in the coincidences of your life? How often, and how would you know?

2. Have you ever had a supernatural experience (or extreme fishiness, if you prefer!) while someone else was praying for you?

3. What do you think of my story… do you have any stories (positive or negative) that are brought to mind as you read?

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The Awe of God – A Guest Post by Brant Skogrand

Dan’s Preamble

Wow, have we been guest-blogger-posting fools lately, or what? One of the great things about running a tiny li’l blog like this one is meeting other bloggers. Brant Skogrand is a fine fellow who attends River Heights Vineyard with me, and he has a little something to say. Brant normally blogs here. If you like his post here, why not check out the rest of his stuff?

End Preamble

 

*          *          *

Six years ago, inspired by the awesome experience of hearing God audibly speak to me, I started a blog. Called The Awe of God, I set out to capture and document instances of God speaking to people.

Here’s what I have learned along the way.

  1. God connects with each of us uniquely. For some of us, God speaks audibly. For others, it’s through scripture. Visions have been reported. In numerous instances, God speaks through the people around us. Other times, it’s a still small voice inside.
  2. God has a plan for our lives. Whether it’s showing a woman that she has breast cancer in order to educate others or saving a man from suicide, God will speak to us in order ensure that His will be fulfilled.
  3. By following God, things could happen that we never would have imagined. Like Alfonso Fernandez, who followed God to become the Spanish radio voice of the Minnesota Vikings. Or Jennifer Henderson, who left her $100,000-a-year job at a Toyota plant to open a Christian bookstore.
  4. While many people may be reluctant to admit it, they have heard God’s voice. Sometimes people don’t want to disclose that God talked to them for fear of appearing haughty (especially here in Minnesota) or seeming too religious. However, covered by the anonymity of a survey, 20 percent of Americans admitted to USA Today that they had heard the voice of God. Sometimes what God says to us is just extremely personal, and we don’t feel like sharing that with others.
  5. God’s presence is fleeting. I guess that He doesn’t want to overstay his welcome. Or it could be that He just wants to make a short yet powerful statement, such as the time when a grandmother heard of a chorus of harps as she was comforting her dying grandson.
  6. God has a sense of humor. Johnny Hart, the creator of the comic strip “B.C.,” felt that God wanted him to do the comic strip as a way to share God’s humorous inspiration. Author John Eldredge shares God’s sense of humor in his book “Beautiful Outlaw” when, asking God why He doesn’t give John hearts anymore, God responds by having John come upon a dried piece of cow manure – in the perfect shape of a heart.

Thank you, God, for your amazing presence. I am still in awe.


Hi, my name is Daniel. . .

I was recently reading a study that Darren  sent to me. It was a paper, written by an atheist group, on five clergymen who secretly did not believe in God. The paper contained transcripts from interviews conducted with these five men, and each of them told a bit of their story – how they came to be ministers, what lead to them losing faith in God’s existence, why they didn’t “come clean” with their atheism, etc. One thing I noticed about these five guys is that they all said that they’d never experienced anything miraculous in their lives. Each of them had a hard time believing in anything supernatural, to the point that even believing in God in a liberal way (which downplays the role of miracles in the Bible and focuses more on Jesus’ morality) became impossible for them.

I sympathize with these clergymen. I really do. As I’ve said before a time or two, if your faith in God is based on things like the Bible, or tradition, or philosophy, then I think you’re going to have a hard time maintaining that faith. My faith in God is based on the fact that he does, occasionally, do stuff. It’s not always huge, but it’s there – personal, experiential evidence that an immaterial being listens to me, loves me, and can make changes to the world around me. The experience of the miraculous creates a context in which the Bible, the tradition, and the philosophy can be studied, wrestled-with, and contemplated fruitfully. If the Bible confuses me, that’s okay – I don’t worship the Bible. If I disagree with the tradition, or think that the philosophy sometimes falls short, my experiential faith carries me through those times. Faith is something that I place in people, not ideas.

For instance, I would never say what I am about to say, if I had hope that an idea was going to come along and lend me aid. Instead, I say what comes next because I’m hoping that a person (named Yahweh) will give me a hand out of a situation that I am in.

If it’s not entirely obvious from my profile photo, I’m a pretty big guy. I’ve always been big – I was a chubby toddler who became a husky boy who became a big man. I’ve come to accept that certain things are just a fact of life. For instance, my metabolism sucks. Also, my knees are bad from carrying all this weight for such a long time. In addition, I have Type 2 diabetes. These are things that are just a result of being a guy who, I have felt for a long time, was born to be big.

I’ve recently realized that I can’t blame my weight on genetics alone. I’m sure my biology has a part to play in this, but I now know that my habits are a bigger contributor than I previously assumed. The habit that hurts me the most is a sin so “old timey” that in the Middle Ages it was considered one of seven “deadly sins.” Obviously, I’m talking about gluttony – but these days, we call it food addiction.

Here are some signs of how I have a pretty fucked-up habit.

–         I sometimes eat in secret

–         I often eat when I’m not hungry

–         I occasionally eat things that do not taste good, just to be eating

–         I sometimes eat when I flat-out don’t want to eat.

It’s weird to realize that you’re addicted to something as commonplace, as innocuous, as food. I’ve always lived a pretty clean life. I didn’t know what weed smelled like until I was in my mid-twenties. I’ve always been very moderate in my drinking (one or two memorable occasions notwithstanding). I don’t smoke cigarettes, and I haven’t had a cigar in years. I thought that I was immune to addiction.

But food? How do I give up food? Unlike addictions to substances, gambling, or sex, food is a basic biological need. I can’t quit it cold turkey. I’ve tried to curb my habits on occasion over the years. Sometimes I can for a couple of weeks, or maybe (once) for a couple of months. So far I’ve never been able to make it stick. I’ve tried to change my habits for a number of reasons – I’ve done it to loose weight, I’ve done it to control my blood sugar, I’ve done it to just “feel healthier”. Food addiction makes all of these attempts impossible, because eventually the urge to go to the fridge and put whatever is in there in my mouth becomes overwhelming.

Recently, I was chatting with my mother-in-law, and the subject somehow got around to life after death. I told her some stuff that I’d recently read that was written by my academic hero, N.T. Wright. He talked about how the idea that we all had an immaterial soul was not Biblical – that the Bible preached a physical resurrection, not a spiritual, immaterial one. I mentioned this to my mother-in-law, and she said, “Yep. And we’ll be perfect – we won’t have sickness, or scars, or be overweight.” We’d have glorified bodies. And that got me thinking – if, on that future day that the world was redeemed, I was resurrected as a skinny, sexy Dan, doesn’t that imply that my weight’s ultimate causality – the underlying problem with my addiction – is that this world is broken, and that I myself am also broken?

This is where God comes in.

I am fasting from everything but water for the next twenty-four hours. I’m not fasting to start a diet, or to try to live a healthier life, or to cleanse my body of toxins. I am fasting because I need help from a being outside of myself. I’m fasting because I need the miraculous intervention of the person who has, on the odd occasion, miraculously intervened before – in my life, and in the lives of others that I know. I’m fasting because I am broken, and because I am broken I need to be fixed. I’m fasting because it’s a tradition within the Christian faith. For whatever reason, fasting is something that seems to sharpen the spirit. It brings focus to the faster’s mind, and it seems – for me, anyway – to make it easier for the person fasting to hear God. Maybe it helps God hear them, too. I’ve previously fasted for 24 hours  and for three days, and both times I felt my faith grow stronger for a time.

After my fast is over, I’m going to confront this addiction with renewed focus. I know it won’t be easy – I’m not asking God for easy. What I am asking God to do is to make overcoming this habit possible. Occasionally, I’ll give mention in this blog as to how my struggle is coming along. . . not because I’m assuming you’re all dying to know, but because this is blog about a faith journey, and sometimes going to God with your baggage is part of that journey. If I don’t document this part of my journey just because it’s a little embarrassing, then one could rightly question the honesty of the blog.

Today’s question – would you pray for me? You don’t have to comment, or give me encouragement, or in any way draw attention to yourself if you don’t want to. But when you chat with God next, could you mention that I need his help? 


Twist and Doubt Part One – Awesome Thomas

If I had to identify a personal hero in the Bible – a character that inspires me in times of trouble, whose story I identify with my own – I think the person who would fit the bill the best would be “doubting” Thomas. Sure, he didn’t have the hews or hair of Samson, the wisdom or hoes of Solomon, or the tall walls and big horn of Captain Jericho, but he had a particular quality that worked well for him, a quality that I possess in spades – skepticism.

It WAS ‘Captain Jericho’, right? I’m generally drunk when I read my kids Bible stories.

I understand that Thomas has gotten a fair amount of shit over the years for his moment of doubt. I didn’t grow up Christian, but I’ve been called a “doubting Thomas” enough times in my life to catch on that I wasn’t being paid a compliment. In my experience, a “doubting Thomas” was someone who doubted inappropriately – like, at the wrong time, or by doubting something that should be beyond doubt. Since you’re reading a faith blog, I’m sure you’re familiar with the “why” of this judgment – but in case you’re not, I’ll let the Bible tell you. I think it’s a pretty neat story, but don’t take my word for it.

Take a look. It’s in a book. Read the BIIIII-BLE!

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[c] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,”he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:24-29 NLT)

 Some thoughts on this passage from John. . .

1)      Thomas didn’t doubt Jesus, so much as he doubted the other eleven who had seen Jesus. He was assuming that his coworkers were raving lunatics, and for a good reason. He couldn’t really doubt Jesus unless he’d touched his wounds and then continued to call “bullshit.” And he didn’t. 

2)       I’ve heard people say that Jesus was chiding Thomas when he said, “You believe because you have seen, but blessed are those who believe without seeing.” That’s probably why “doubting Thomas” is an insult. But was he really putting Thomas down? Maybe he was just pointing out a fact. Speaking as a skeptic, I do think that people who can believe without seeing are blessed. It’s a lot easier to have faith when you aren’t a skeptic. I know that if Jesus said those words to me today, my response would be to nod in agreement and say, “I know, right?”

3)      Jesus didn’t waste any time in helping out Thomas. He materialized in a room with a locked door, said “What’s up?” to everyone there, and then said, “Hey Thomas. I heard what you said. It’s totally cool. Come check out my wounds. There’s no reason not to believe I’m alive.”

Point three is my favorite, because it parallels my own experience as a skeptic who came to God for no apparent reason. In fact, I believe that God loves a skeptic. God loves doubt – it’s incredible fertile soil for miracles. When a person who doubts God experiences a miracle that defies logic in some way – when they touch the wounds of Christ – the faith that follows is incredibly vigorous. I think that skeptics always assume that “miracles” happen to people who are expecting miracles to happen. A believer gets a cold; the believer prays for healing; the believer gets better – hallelujah! That testimony means little to nothing to a skeptic. But when someone who doubts has an experience that kills that doubt, that person has a story, now. That person has something compelling to say, and they have a weapon against the doubts that may rise in the future.

“Just this once, Thomas, and then I expect you to Facebook the hell out of this.”

One of the things I like best about my pastor, Ryan Bauers,  is that he’s a bit of a skeptic himself. That makes me take his “miracle stories” more seriously, because I know that he doesn’t just blindly assume that God is behind anything that seems remotely mysterious. He’s currently doing a series at Hillside Church called Exploring the Supernatural, and last Sunday’s message was about God doing miracles in our world today. In giving the message, Ryan told a couple of anecdotal stories about miracles that he had experienced, or had seen others experience.

It’s a great series, by the way, and if you have time I think you’d really like it and should totally check it out. My favorite story in that sermon is about a man who attends our church, who had been dealing with Hepatitis C. After joining a small group with others in our church, he received prayer about his illness. When he went to his next doctor’s appointment, his blood work showed results so good that the doctor asked him to come in and re-test, because he assumed that the results actually belonged to someone else. The Hep C was gone.

Cool story, huh? Here’s my favorite part – when Ryan heard about this story from the guy at our church, he didn’t just shout “Praise Jesus!” and give a round of high-fives to everyone assembled. Instead, he asked the guy, “Could I see your test results, from before and after the prayer?” When presented with something that could have been miraculous, he asked for evidence. In the face of the seemingly-impossible (or at least the very highly improbable) he asked to “touch the wounds.”

And you know what? He was given the evidence, and it only made the miracle more believable. It made the story better. That’s why God loves to give us evidence. God isn’t afraid of doubt. God isn’t threatened by it. God sees doubt as an opportunity to blow our minds. Jesus wasn’t mad at Thomas for being skeptical. In fact, he was so willing to help Thomas overcome his doubt that it was the first thing he did when he appeared in that room, after saying hello. In the face of Thomas’ doubt, Jesus was stoked.

“Well. . . you’re welcome, I guess.”

I’m not afraid of doubt – I’ve been there, done that. I’ve felt doubt before, and I’ll feel doubt again. But knowing that, I still have faith that God will come to me in that place and use my skepticism; he’ll make it work for him. He’s just that cool. So. Here’s my question to you, faithful readers. How have you dealt with doubt in the past? Have you ever seen God turn your doubt  into something awesome? Do you think, like I do, that “doubting” Thomas gets a bad rap?