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Miracles Didn’t Stop in the First Century – Primary Sources

June 11th, 2021 · 8 Comments · Bible, Miracles

I heard many times that the miracles stopped in the first century. They said the Holy Spirit didn’t give the gifts for two main reasons:

1 – It took the apostles laying on hands to impart the gifts per Acts 19

2 – The miracles were only to confirm the Word/New Testament so once it was written the gifts were no longer needed.

As with many things, this was a conclusion reached before the study was done and then the Bible retrofitted to support the view.

Did it require the apostles to pass on gifts?

No – read Acts 10.

Was the purpose of the gifts to verify the Word? Yes.

Was the purpose of the gifts ONLY to verify the Word? No.

Healing miracles were actually designed, get this, to heal a hurting person. The idea that there was only one reason for the gifts doesn’t hold up.

God can pass on gifts without any human intermediary. This was pointed out but we were taught those were “special” occasions but how do we really know that? That is based on a limited data set (Acts) without us really knowing what else God did at the time…except we do know what else God did from outside the Bible.

The early church fathers recorded miracles and Holy Spirit gifts hundreds of years later. What is more, these weren’t rare instances…over and over they state that these were happening a lot. In fact, Craig Keener (in his book on Miracles, which is invaluable) states that miracles were a primary evidence that let to the majority of conversions based on what the early church fathers said,

“Second and third century Christian apologists depict not only apostolic leaders but also ordinary Christians as miracle workers. Before the 300s exorcisms proved to be a major factor in the spread of Christianity; in the 300s exorcisms and miracles are the most explicit cause of conversions to Christianity mentioned in early Christians sources.”

Keener, Miracles

The last thing I want to do is give you the evidence so you can look it up for yourself and know what was said. This isn’t hard to find and it is a shame no one took the time to look this up before teaching the view I outlined above.

First, rabbinic sources note early Christian miracles. Some of these were opponents to Christianity and yet they didn’t deny it happened but openly acknowledged it.

Second, here are the early church fathers,

Augustine of Hippo
He was a skeptic of the miracles in his day – which makes me trust what he said here even more because he wasn’t eager to accept it as true until he saw it himself,

“A miracle that happened at Milan while I was there, when a blind man had his sight restored…I have been concerned that such accounts should be published because I saw that signs of divine power like those of the older days were frequently occurring in modern times too…many miracles have occurred there (at Hippo) and to my certain knowledge many miracles have occurred there which are not recorded in the published documents and nearly 70 of these documents have been produced at the time of writing – City of God, 22.8

Origen

Against Celsus 1.46 – “And there are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit which appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events, according to the will of the Logos. And although Celsus, or the Jew whom he has introduced, may treat with mockery what I am going to say, I shall say it nevertheless — that many have been converted to Christianity as if against their will, some sort of spirit having suddenly transformed their minds from a hatred of the doctrine to a readiness to die in its defense, and having appeared to them either in a waking vision or a dream of the night.”

Against Celsus 1.67 – “And the name of Jesus can still remove distractions from the minds of men, and expel demons, and also take away diseases;”

Cyprian

“And this also is done in the present day, in that the devil is scourged, and burned, and tortured by exorcists, by the human voice, and by divine power;” – Epistle 75, 15

Tertullian

“The clerk of one of them who was liable to be thrown upon the ground by an evil spirit, was set free from his affliction; as was also the relative of another, and the little boy of a third. How many men of rank (to say nothing of common people) have been delivered from devils, and healed of diseases!” – Scapulam, 4

Irenaeus in Against Heresies,

“men were saved both from most wicked spirits, and from all kinds of demons, and from every sort of apostate power” – 2.6.2

Talking to those who didn’t believe in the miracles,

“And so far are they from being able to raise the dead, as the Lord raised them, and the apostles did by means of prayer, and as has been frequently done in the brotherhood on account of some necessity—the entire Church in that particular locality entreating [the boon] with much fasting and prayer, the spirit of the dead man has returned, and he has been bestowed in answer to the prayers of the saints.” – 2.31.2

“Wherefore, also, those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ” – 2.32.4-5

More could be mentioned: Athanasius, Basel, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Athansius, etc.

Were they all making it up? Where is the refutation? They are stating these things were common and were like what happened in the first century.

If you prefer to have this content in video, you can watch it here

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Thriving on Negativity and Chaos

June 6th, 2021 · 6 Comments · Uncategorized

My training started out in clinical psychology. And that means you are always trying to figure out what is wrong with people and systems. For years, I really struggled with negativity and looking for problems…dwelling on difficult things. Someone would tell me good news and I could instantly think of a way it could go wrong and wasn’t afraid to say so.

God a new car? Did you hear about the recall?

Got that promotion you have been wanting? You know that means a new set of demands you may not be up for.

You see how it goes…maybe you know first hand how this works?

Man was that messed up! It is obvious in retrospect but not in the moment.

It has taken me quite some time of soul searching to come to understand just how unhelpful that kind of approach to life really is. In reality, it was thriving on chaos and it took me a while to understand that the world has chaos enough without me adding to the pile. There is so much joy that is missed…so much rejoicing with those who rejoice that is avoided. It is hard to make and keep friends when you approach life from a clinical perspective.

I finally learned to create and maintain filters on my language – to take those thoughts and hold them captive to Christ and find them wanting in comparison to the thoughts of Jesus.

We are not enslaved to our negative thoughts. By the grace of God we can convert our thinking and embrace the celebration of what is going well in the world without having to conjure up potential issues that might (but probably won’t) come up along the way.

This conversion of thinking brings true freedom!

Do you struggle with this or am I the only crazy one?

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Pray Specifically

May 13th, 2021 · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

We have seen over and over that when we pray specific prayers, God answers in specific ways. When you pray a specific prayer and you see the specific answer, it is a lot easier to credit God. If you pray generic prayers it is harder to pinpoint the answer. God may or may not have done something with your prayer…you may not know because the prayer was so general that it is hard to know if it happened or not.

At Backyard church we do our best to pray about everything. Every decision must be prayed over. If we realize we don’t know what we are doing, we stop and pray some more. It is important to not move ahead until you believe God has given the direction.

The result of this kind of prayer has been the growth of our faith, the deepening of our relationships with God and each other, and plenty of praise to the God who is present, powerful and who answers our prayers.

I really don’t think there is any way forward for the church in the West without prayer being the strategy. Not new programs. Not new staff. Not new worship.

Prayer.

Specific prayer.

Then we get to watch God work and answer. This leads us to a deeper understand of and appreciation for the power of God working in real time. That in turn emboldens us to press harder, love deeper, and reach further into the lives of those around us because we know God is with us and God will help us!

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Rejecting Christian Nationalism

May 10th, 2021 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

What has become more and more apparent over the last 10-20 years is that Christian nationalism is a massive gospel compromise that must be addressed. There are appropriate reactions and responses to blending the Christian faith with the nation…then there are overreactions as well.

One of the overreactions I have seen is that a lot of Christians have begun refusing to pray for the U.S.A. There are a variety of reasons for this (3 that come to mind for me) and caused me to go back to the scriptures to see what the Bible says about this. So I created a video to share my thoughts on this – the reasons people don’t pray for the USA, what the Bible says, a cautionary, and some practical advice at the end…see what you think!

Do you pray for the USA, if so what do you pray for?

If you don’t, why not?

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A Message To The Young Men Out There

April 17th, 2021 · 7 Comments · Uncategorized

We live in a world where no one is allowed to be okay…all in the name of making sure everyone is okay. Something is supposed to upset you all the time…and what is supposed to upset you the most young man, is you. You are upsetting, so they say. The message is that you are not right…that something is always the matter. Even if you get slightly upset you are guilty of a microaggression. If you show assertiveness, you are being oppressive. You just can’t seem to get it right.

Young men need to hear that by and large they are normal. Perfectly normal. There are outliers and there are times any one of us gets out of line from time to time but for the most part what has usually been ascribed as natural parts of being male have been labeled as problematic.

Someone needs to be telling our young men that being a problem is not baked into your DNA…it is baked into the outlook of those who want to find problems in everyone and bring disruption and chaos into the systems as they have traditionally existed.

Is it possible for a young man to get out of line? Of course…but being male doesn’t make you automatically bad and it doesn’t make you toxic because you don’t live up to someone else’s expectations for what men should look like who most likely have never had a healthy male example for them to see the benefits of.

So carry on young men. Don’t let people get you down. You are just as much an image bearer with that Y chromosome as anyone else. And yes, we do need accountability for the actual moments when someone is being toxic…but you aren’t toxic for being male.

I want my two boys to understand this. I want my grand kids to understand this. I want their future wives to understand this…how are we ever going to get along until we stop demonizing people for normal things like race and gender?

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How Funerals Skewed Our View of Death & Resurrection

April 1st, 2021 · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Having preached a fair number of funerals there are a few objectives for most preachers preaching a funeral:

1 – Honor the life of the deceased
2 – Comfort the family and friends
3 – Reflect the wishes of the deceased and family

Now, that second one is well intended but often results in the construction and perpetuation of unbiblical theology. With a desire to let everyone know the deceased is okay and with the Lord there is often a big push to make death seem like a friend. It is talked about like a passageway…something that is spiritually neutral.

But death isn’t neutral at all. In the Bible death is the wages of sin (Rom 6:23). Death is an enemy Christ defeats (1 Cor 15:26). Death is tossed into the lake of fire along with the devil and is judged (Rev 20:14). How much of that have you ever been exposed to at a funeral?

Death is ugly. Death leads to decay…the marring of the visage of our loved ones (not pretty, heartbreaking really). Death is not our friend. Death is not just a pathway to be with the Lord. Death is personal…a personal force of evil. Death stands opposed to the plan and people of God.

The flip side of this is resurrection. Once you have a biblical view of death you can have a biblical view and appreciation of resurrection. Resurrection is the undoing of the effects of sin and death. To raise a dead person back to life in the body. It is our final hope – that our bodies will be raised. Resurrection is not our souls rising but our new creation bodies rising…and that is what makes resurrection the sure sign of victory over death (per 1 Cor 15) in that the effects of death are reversed and the resurrected person on the last great day is raised to be like Christ – incorruptible/undecayable.

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Vision, Intention and Means (VIM) – Boldly Pursuing God’s Vision

March 29th, 2021 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Dallas Willard often emphasized VIM – Vision, Intention and Means. You can find this in his book Renovation of the Heart in chapter 5. He said that Christians must have “the vision of life in the kingdom”, “the intention to be a kingdom person” and “seeking out and applying to means to that end” (of obeying Christ). I believe all of that is absolutely true but I also believe it is incomplete.

Here is the adjustment – where we have vision and intention to carry out the vision (through concrete decisions and actions) that God supplies the means. God supplies the means to complete the vision. There is never a time where God gives someone a vision for how things could be, the person buys into the vision and lives into the vision (intentionally) and God allows them to come up short of the vision.

Where there is vision and intention, God supplies the means.

What vision has God given to you about what He wants you to do? It is up to us to pursue that vision or not. It is entirely possible, like Jonah, to know God’s vision for your next steps and completely ignore Him. But if you are paying attention to God’s leading and prodding…then you may well have a solid intention to carry out the vision as evidenced by concrete decisions in the direction of God’s vision.

If and when you take those steps and make those decisions you will begin to watch God provide the means to accomplish the vision – one step at a time!

The vision alone is not enough…intending to carry it out without decision or action is not enough to catalyze God’s provision…God won’t put gas in a car that is going to sit idle. No. Where God gives a vision and we embrace it…and we move in that direction…God will make sure we arrive!

We have seen this happen over and over and over again – God will not fall short. God’s people are so dying for vision that they will give in response to vision. God’s people will step up to the plate to supply resources where they see vision and execution! Now, please don’t think by provision of means I am just talking about money…that is the least important (though often necessary) piece. God will provide the power. God will provide the people. God will provide the talent. God will provide the words to say in the right moment and yes sometimes He will provide the money needed as well.

If you don’t see God’s vision for your life ask Him for it. It may not be some grand worldwide adventure. It may be to live faithfully right where you are. But even that can be a challenge! So be faithful. Keep your integrity. Seek God’s vision and pursue it with all that you have and watch God provide everything necessary to reach your destination. It is one of the most spiritually affirming exercises a person can live through!

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Follow My Example By Tod Vogt

March 25th, 2021 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Tod Vogt

Josh’s Story
He grew up in a suburban church – equipped in all the ways many other young Christians are equipped.  He learned the books of the Bible, the names of the apostles, the major stories and characters of the Bible.  Josh went to a Christian college where he majored in Bible.  He learned Greek.  He learned exegesis and he even learned some basic counseling techniques.

Ten years later Josh was in his second ministry position in a suburban church similar to the one where he was raised.  Only this church presented Josh with a challenge.  The leadership had decided that their church was to become a disciple-making church. 

THAT was the challenge! 

While Josh had attended lots of Bible classes – virtually every Sunday for decades– no one had ever ‘discipled’ him the way he understood the term.  How could he disciple others if he had never been discipled?

Josh’s story raises several significant questions:

  1. What is the purpose of discipleship?
  2. What is the difference between intentional discipleship and religious education?

What If I Haven’t Been Discipled?
It is difficult to take others on a journey you have not taken yourself – especially a spiritual journey.  That does not mean that unless you have not done the exact same thing, you cannot lead others.  Yet, if you have never submitted yourself to another Christian and invited him or her to personally guide you deeper in faith, you probably should not play that role in the life of another.  There is a sacred trust borne of the risk you take by submitting to the influence of a fellow Christian.  Those you lead should know you have taken the same risk you are asking them to take.

The Purpose of Discipleship
The purpose of discipleship is to become like Christ.  Like the apostle Paul writes in 1 Cor. 11:1, ‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.’  It is important to note that biblical knowledge is beneficial for becoming like Christ, but it is not the end.  It is the means.  There is much more to say about the purpose of discipleship but learning to live like Christ tops the list.

Intentional Versus Religious Education
Religious education focuses on informing the head in hopes that it will influence the heart.  It guides the student in learning facts and proper interpretations believing that Christians will live the right way with the right knowledge.  Yet, history has shown us that just because people have Christian education does not mean their heart and their character has been formed into the image of Christ.  When we intentionally disciple others, we invite them to take a spiritual journey with us (‘follow me…’), and we intentionally guide them in the ways of Christ (‘and I will make you fishers of people…’).  Discipleship offers a personalized feedback loop that education generally lacks.

Discipleship Cohorts
Mission Alive’s intentional discipleship process, Discipleship Cohorts (DCs), invites participants on such a journey of transformation.  DCs are designed for Christians who have never been discipled themselves.  It helps them take a journey of discipleship and helps them begin to imagine discipling others.  It is highly reproducible and allows participants the freedom to adapt as they see fit for their context.  Once a participant takes DC1, the first level (16 weeks), they are invited into DC2, level 2, to learn with others how to lead discipleship groups (another 16 weeks).  For leaders whose must recruit and train other leaders who will lead discipleship groups, Mission Alive has DC3, level 3, that functions as a national learning community of discipleship network leaders – a safe place for discussing the challenges of recruiting and training local leaders.

If you want to come alongside others and help them live the life of Christ, if you are willing to open your life to them and develop an authentic relationship, if you want to develop a reproducing discipleship process, Mission Alive can help you.  Reach out to us at contact@missionalive.org.

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Flipping the Script on Church Involvement

February 15th, 2021 · No Comments · Uncategorized

How does your church involve the members? For most of my ministry we had involvement forms that you would hand to new people and ask them to pick a few things to do.

While that is necessary on some level from an organizational perspective it isn’t the best starting point.

What is the best starting point?

In Acts 13, they are going to send out missionaries. They pray about it and the Holy Spirit tells them who to send. They didn’t start with we need three or four or five people.

Instead, they prayed and the Spirit helped me see what to do next. Three chapters later the Holy Spirit again moves them in the right direction. To do the mission before us we have to be in tune with the Spirit, be in prayer and be aware of how God has gifted His people!

Involvement should start with God – who has God sent you and what gifts has God given them that they care deeply about?

Tap into that!

We thrive when we use the gifts God gave us…and not only do we thrive, but so do those around us!

So let’s flip the script and start with God – who He sent and how He gifted and go from there!

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Legalism and Liberalism Are Two Sides of the Same Coin

February 11th, 2021 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

If legalism it taking the Bible and adding things that aren’t there…and if liberalism is taking the Bible and adding things that aren’t there…aren’t legalism and liberalism really the same thing?

Legalists add requirements and remove requirements…they “go beyond” the scriptures.

Liberals add requirements and remove requirements…they “go beyond” the scriptures.

While there are some differences in the specifics…at the end of the day the are both founded on our natural human tendencies to emphasize some things over others and to pride ourselves on knowing the truth in ways other people don’t.

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