Recovering Our Supernatural Heritage
Bobby and Johnny were the evil twins of the parochial school. They were always getting in trouble, always picking on people and it always seemed wherever they went things turned up missing somehow. They were creating all kinds of trouble. So finally one day the old monsignor had had enough. He grabbed Bobby by the ear, towed him into his office, and leaned over upon him, hoping to shake some fear into him, about the way God knows everything. He said, “Bobby, where is God?” Bobby shook himself out of the monsignor’s grasp, ran down the hallway and shouted out, “Johnny! Johnny run! God’s been stolen and they are trying to pin it on us!”
Have you ever had something stolen from you? We did once. We came here, in fact, twenty-one years ago to candidate to be one of the pastors of this church. After candidating and having a glorious weekend beginning life with you we got a good signal of why our life back at home was ending. Our little house in California got broken into while we were gone, and all kinds of stuff was stolen. I guess it was a sign… When you’ve been robbed, there’s that ripped off feeling, there’s that violated feeling that something that belongs to you has been taken.
That’s exactly what Joshua and Caleb felt. The people had been enslaved in Egypt. They had no freedom, they had no life, and they were suffering and miserable. They heard the whispered promises somewhere of a magnificent life with God in their own land in freedom and joy and love and wonder. They had heard these whispered stories: but so far, they were only stories. But through a series of miraculous supernatural events God delivered them from slavery. He brought them out of bondage, and they headed straight toward the promised land. The journey was just a couple of weeks long: and there they were on the edge of the promise. The twelve spies go in; Caleb, Joshua and ten others. Caleb and Joshua come back and say, “Yes, it’s ours. It belongs to us. God’s promises are true. Let’s go in. Ok there are a couple of dudes there about Shaquille O’Neal’s size. You know some of these fellows hanging around the promised land have size twenty-two shoes.” (Shaq really has those by the way. I saw them in a museum once. Yeah, no kidding, twenty-two size shoes. You could water ski in them.) “There are a couple of guys Shaq size in there: but what is that to the living God? Nothing. In God we can certainly do it. It is ours, it belongs to us.” But then the ten spies say, “Augh! There are giants there! There are not only giants but the whole Orlando Magic is in there.” (Does Shaq still play for them? I don’t follow sports as much as Hamilton did, but anyway...) “The whole team is there with these giants. We can’t have the promised land.” They persuaded the people and the people got filled with fear, bitterness and anger and said, “No it’s not ours. It’s not ours.” And because of their unbelief they sunk back into the desert for forty years.
See folks, they didn’t understand this. Wandering in the desert wasn’t God’s A plan. He was ready to take them right in because it belonged to them. But by their unbelief, by their refusal to trust God, what was theirs was stolen. They didn’t have to wander those forty years! They did because of their unbelief. God said yes and they said no. God said, “trust me”, and they said, “no way”. So they wandered with their tails between their legs for forty years. Missed it, missed it entirely!
Folks, the message of the morning is that the supernatural help of God in our lives is just as available to us as it was to Caleb and Joshua, and all the people in the Bible, who saw a world full of miracles. Folks, it is our birthright! But it has been stolen. God is doing miraculous works all over the world. The things that are happening in the Bible are happening everywhere: except for the westernized world.
How did we get robbed? You say, “Jim wait a minute. Robbed? Now, how can we be robbed of something we never had? Isn’t that supernatural stuff just for the Pentecostals? Jim, did you take the wrong turn when you were driving to church today?” No I didn’t. It’s for all of us. The ministry of God, the fullness of the natural and the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit is promised in scripture for everyone who knows and loves Jesus. That is our birthright. It’s the biblical vision for us all. This is our world view and it belongs to us.
Is this Presbyterian? Now, that question may not mean a lot to some of you. As the years went by John and I would notice our new member classes and about nine-tenths of the folks didn’t necessarily come from a Presbyterian background - and that’s great. That’s fine. We’re here for Jesus. Many of you came not because this was a Presbyterian Church or any “terian” church, but because it was a fellowship alive with the love of God. Praise God that’s why you’re here! God didn’t, by the way, create denominations. We did. For others this is an important question: “Is this Presbyterian?” I have fifty-four years of life in the Presbyterian Church and I treasure it immensely. It’s great! But we’re all in this revival and renewal together regardless of our background. We’re coming together on the same page regardless of what brought us here. But I’m talking this morning about whether the supernatural heritage is for us or Presbyterians. Actually it is! What’s not commonly known is that the founder of Presbyterianism, John Knox, had supernatural experiences with God. He considered himself a prophet - as many of his contemporaries did - in that supernatural sense: speaking out (wisely and graciously) what he was convinced that God was trying to tell him. He heard God’s living voice; warnings, promises, and guidance. John Knox gave a warning from God to his good friend William Kirkaldy, that unless Kirkaldy repented of the evil that Kirkaldy was plotting he would be hung over the wall of the castle of Edinburgh toward the sun. Kirkaldy refused to repent and John Knox’s prediction that the Lord had given him to warn his dear friend turned out just as Knox said.
John Knox’s mentor, George Wishart, was a man who flowed in the giftings of the Holy Spirit. John Welch, another of the Presbyterian reformers in Scotland was not only prophetic but had the gift of healing. One of the many stories told of John Welch is that a young man whom he loved dearly died when he was visiting John. That’s a scary thing to happen: one of your visitors die! This man died, and John Welsh loved this young man so much that he refused to let them take the body. Doctors came and examined this young man and they said, “John, this young man is dead. Let him go.” John Welsh refused and he prayed and prayed and prayed for him. Several physicians came in and they pinched this young man’s legs really hard, they put a bow string around his head twisting it violently: no response. They checked him out further. They told John Welsh, “He’s dead. Let him go”. Finally, after forty-eight hours of John’s being with this corpse, in response to prayer, the young man sat up - came alive! They asked him, “How are you doing?” and he answered, “Well my leg hurts and my head is kind of sore, but other than that, I’m fine.” Folks this is in our Presbyterian history. It’s significant that in that time, in that time of desperate persecution, the stories of miracles among the Presbyterians, the stories of survival and renewal, the voice of God: those supernatural experiences were commonplace.
So if we Presbyterians started like Joshua and Caleb, where did we go wrong? Where did God get stolen? Why do we not tend to see these things - not only around Presbyterians, but really, in most of the American church? What happened? How did the “ten spies” manage to win the day?
Well, I think the answer is this. We went from being persecuted, in the time of Knox and John Welsh and George Wishart, we went from being persecuted, we went from being desperate and hounded - hungry for the presence of God and knowing that if the miraculous power of God didn’t intervene we didn’t have a chance - we went from that to being one of the “mainline” denominations. Our cultural success, our getting on top of the pile cost us our desperation. We could “do this on our own now”. We hid behind our intellectual and cultural pride. See, what happened here is what always happens with pride. If we say: “I haven’t experienced it and therefore it can’t happen,” folks, that’s pride! That’s the real reason why so many in our country do not believe the miraculous is possible anymore: “Because I personally haven’t experienced it, therefore - since I’m on top of the pile and I’m all knowing - well it must not be real." Folks, I don’t want to miss the things that are outside my experience that God knows about! I want to lay hold of all that for which I’ve been laid hold of by Him! Why? So we can swell up with pride (if we’ve seen miracles in our midst), so we can say “we’re all that and a bag of chips”? No! So that God might be glorified. That God’s name might be elevated, that people’s lives might be invaded by the healing power of God, and that you and I would see more situations in our midst turned around by the grace and the healing power of God.
Jack Deere in his book, Surprised by the Voice of God, gives an incredible account, a long account, of what I am talking about briefly this morning: about the recovering of the supernatural in an integrious and wise and real way in our midst. He tells a story of a time when he and a young pastor, who did have some of these discerning revelatory gifts at work in his life in an authentic way, were ministering to a crowd of middle-schoolers. This young pastor calls up a girl named Julie and he says, “Julie, I’m getting this sense from God - and you tell me if I’m right or not, I might not be right - but I am getting this sense from God that you were up awake crying at night three nights ago. Your parents were fighting. They were planning a divorce. And Julie, you were saying to yourself that it was your fault. You were blaming yourself, Julie. Well, God told me to tell you that He loves you and your parents' fighting is not your fault.” Julie said, “Well yeah that’s exactly what I was doing. That’s exactly what I was thinking. How did you know that?” “Well,” the young pastor said, “God told me that.” She said, “Oh.” ”Julie do you still believe that it’s your fault?” “Not any more.” You see, the working of the giftings of the Holy Spirit set that girl free from a lifetime of being crippled by guilt. Who wouldn’t want something like that to happen in their midst?
Folks, these supernaturally empowered things are happening all over the world except for us in the westernized world. In our culture, we have become a people who’ve shut themselves down in a windowless dingy concrete basement - and complain that we’re not getting any sunlight. Or that the sun doesn’t exist anymore. My challenge to us is: open the doors! Come out into the sun! We may have to admit we’ve been wrong. We may have to give up our pride, our sense of security, based on what we can rationally control. Folks, what I can rationally control has not changed my life. What I’ve reached out to find in Jesus Christ that I can’t totally understand, that I don’t have hot wired, that I don’t have all figured out: that is changing my life! We’re reaching out to Him beyond our pride! That is changing my life and I want that! And I want this more than “my business as usual”.
I think a lot of our problem with the supernatural power of Jesus is personal. Some of it is pride: but some of it is personal. I think all of us have had experiences where we’ve prayed for something, we’ve gone all out in prayer: and we haven’t seen it happen. Has unanswered prayer made you bitter toward God, cynical toward the stories I just told? I pray you give that to God and wrestle that through. I don’t have easy answers to that, folks. Nor do people in the healing ministry. One of the most amazing stories I ever heard was about John Wimber, a healer in the healing ministry in recent decades, and David Watson, also a leader in Britain: they had an incredible healing ministry. They saw lives supernaturally changed. One day David Watson got cancer and they thought, well, we’ve seen this in many other people, we’ll pray, and God will get this healed. But nothing happened and nothing happened and nothing happened. Finally David Watson died of cancer: just as surely as somebody does that has never been prayed for. But before he died he said, “You know John, we’ve seen people healed. I don’t know why God is not healing me. We don’t know sometimes. But John, don’t give up praying for healing. We know what we’ve seen.” They concluded two things: One, God’s job is to heal. Ours is to pray. Second, God told them, “if you give Me the glory when I do heal, I’ll take the responsibility for when I don’t.”
Sometimes it’s what we’ve seen in the culture that makes us afraid of the supernatural. We think that supernatural ministry can be abused. Sure! And it has been! Of course there are stories of fraudulent predictions, fraudulent healings, fraudulent messages from God. Anything can be misused. The Bible can be misused! Do we throw out the Word of God because it’s been misused? The name of Jesus can be misused. Do we throw out Jesus because He can be misused? Of course not. Many of you right now are probably sitting there thinking, “what about the phonies on TV”? Ok, they are there. But God doesn’t want Jim Tilley to be concerned about "the phonies on TV.” God wants Jim Tilley to be concerned about Jim Tilley and whether or not I’m a phony. He wants to challenge me not only to read this Bible, to preach it, but to live it. To lay hold of all that’s in it. I think if I didn’t lay hold of that, if I didn’t challenge us to, I’d be a phony. So don’t worry about “the people on TV.” Let’s worry about our growth!
I encourage you to get rid of all the woundedness, the disappointment, the bitterness and the cynicism that may be in your life: because that will kill you. It will hollow you out. It’s tried to, several times, to me. Give to God where you don’t believe Him, where you don’t trust Him, where you struggle. Give that to Him!
So this morning, we’ve been laying the groundwork for recovering the supernatural: not in a phony way, but in an authentic, wise, grounded and biblical way, for our day. I’ll leave you with a couple of quick thoughts on our next step. First, give Jesus your pride. Give Jesus your pride. I wrote my dissertation on Christian healing. One of the people I interviewed for it was this dynamic man named John Wimber we’ve mentioned, who was used mightily of God in a real, authentic healing movement. When I interviewed John Wimber he said, “Jim, you don’t know what you don’t know. And what you don’t know is vast.” At first I was offended. Then I realized he was right! And again I realized I’d rather have what I don’t know yet in God, than just live the rest of my days cramped in a naturalistic, antisupernatural, concrete prison.
Folks, there comes a point in life when we realize we have to choose. Choose to keep what we’ve got and pretend that’s all there is: or admit there’s a vast amount we don’t know. I want what God has, not what I have! I want His glory, not these rags! That’s a core life decision I’ve made. I’d rather risk looking foolish then content myself with the “same old, same old” always wondering in the back of my soul, what would it be like if only I’d sail out and believe and learn and risk failure, risk being foolish? May our motto be: “We want the great things we read about in scripture to happen to us”! Why would God give us a book chock full of things that don’t happen anymore? Folks, that would be cruel! That would be torturous! Read through the Bible, and say, “well, God was working in those people’s lives all right. Sure isn’t working in mine.” What is the point of that? There is no point! God gave us a Book of his plan for us. God gave us a blueprint of how to grow in the ministry of not just two, but all three, People of the Trinity: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”: we say that every week. Do we believe it? Are we willing to risk our pride, our appearance, our lives for it? John Wimber says, start praying small! Start, in your church, praying for colds! Start with the easy stuff. But make a lifetime commitment, he said, to learn the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In John Wimber’s church they got really serious about healing prayer. You know what happened when they did? At first: absolutely nothing! Pretty soon they felt pretty stupid. But the more they dug in, the more they learned to listen to the voice of God, the more they risked it, the more they admitted that they didn’t know what they were doing sometimes, the more they were humble and said, “Lord, we’re not ‘all that and a bag of chips’. You show us and teach us.” The more they hungered for it, the more they began to see breakthroughs of the supernatural in their life together. Slowly they saw people get miraculously healed. Everybody? No. But a lot more than before they took the plunge.
Would you like to see more lives changed? See more of the joy and the glory and the healing of our lives and the glory of God? We’re on that growth curve! Here at First Presbyterian Church we’ve had these Ignite weekends put on by the Presbyterian and Reformed Ministries International, laying down the foundation of something that’s biblical, not wacky; grounded, not arrogant, but wise. The theology, experience, and the ministry of the Person of the Holy Spirit: a foundation the Presbyterians once knew well, but we allowed it to get stolen because we’d rather have our pride. We’ve had over a year with an extended study in the Dunamis Bible Study learning about the Holy Spirit! We’ve had some incredible experiences in that group! This year we had a session retreat, and all-church retreat, learning to listen to the voice of God. We’re going to be starting some new extended prayer groups here this next week. We’ll probably start real slow. That’s ok! We’re not trying to “prove” anything. This last week you saw in the newsletter that one of the qualities and characteristics we are looking for in our interim pastor is a person who has a hunger, and a biblical viewpoint, to learn more of not only the Father and the Son but the Holy Spirit. We put that in our search page because we don’t want an interim just to tell us who we are - we want the Lord to tell us who we are. For an interim who believes in this vision to join us in pursuing that because “it’s the message not the messenger” and its Word is what it’s all about.
I don’t miss the things that were stolen from our house in Pasadena twenty some years ago. I don’t think I even remember what they are. But I look at scripture - and I look at my own experience - and I realize something’s been stolen that’s mine - and yours - and for the greater glory of God and the transformation of our lives. I want it back!
So here’s the question for you this morning. The “Joshua and Caleb” report has just been given to you this morning: God can do miracles! How are you going to respond? Like Joshua and Caleb? And pursue, trust, risk, adventure and go in to the Promised Land? Or are you going to respond right now like the ten spies and slink back into the “business-as-usual” desert? Folks, Jesus died on that cross to give us more than “business as usual”. He died to give us this adventure in God! It’s yours! It’s ours! Let’s recover it!
And let’s pray. Lord, we’re moving into new ground. But Lord, according to Your written Word, according to this word that our Presbyterian forbearers lived for and died for, according to this Word that they experienced very fully, this is Your ground. This is our ground and we want it back. Come what may! For we pray it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. James A. Tilley
First Presbyterian Church