Saturday, July 9, 2016

Miracles, Signs, and Wonders that I’ve Experienced (Part 8 in the “Why I Believe Enough to Keep Following Jesus Even When it is Hard, Costly, and Dangerous” Series)

Miracles, signs, and wonders. They certainly aren’t the only reason I believe.  They are not even the most important reason.  Still, some “signs and wonders” which I have personally experienced have helped me to keep believing in Jesus enough to continue following Him even when it is dangerous, difficult, and costly.

In this post I will share three short stories about miraculous events I have personally experienced.  These miracles are not as “spectacular” as some of the miracles in the Bible, but they are meaningful to me because I have firsthand knowledge of them.  After I share these stories, I will share some thoughts about the role of signs and wonders in helping us to believe.

1st Story:  A Demon Voice

This story happened while I was living in Groton, CT sometime between 1989 and 1991. Hope and I were members of a small group Bible study that met in a home.  The leader of our small group was a very godly man named Larry Thompson who has since gone to be with the Lord.

One night a young lady was visiting our small group meeting.  I remember very little about her, but I do remember that she was petite.  During our sharing and prayer time we began to pray for this lady.  Then she began to act in such a way that made us think that she might be oppressed by a demon.  We all began to pray more fervently.  I do not remember many details, but I do clearly remember one thing.  A voice came out of that small, petite woman.  The voice was deep and did not sound like any voice I had ever heard. I am convinced that even a very large man could not have produced a voice like that if he wanted to.  Hope heard the same thing.  We had no doubt at all that it was a demon speaking.  I don’t remember now what the demon said.  The demon’s words are not important or valuable. What matters is that we heard clear evidence of a demon.

We continued to pray, and the woman appeared to be set free.  A real demon was cast out in Jesus’ Name that night.  I have seen other people delivered from demonic oppression, but in none of those cases was the evidence of demonic activity so undeniably clear.

2nd Story:  God’s Voice Confirmed

This story happened in 1989, also during our time in Groton, CT.

Our church was holding renewal services (similar to revival services).  These services were originally planned for one week but due to the large crowds and the sense of the Lord’s working and blessing, they continued for several nights a week every week for around six to eight weeks.  I was able to attend only a couple of times the first week because the submarine I was stationed on went out to sea.  Hope continued to attend as often as she could.

One night the speaker’s message was from the book of Job. He emphasized that we must be willing to give up everything we value for God. Hope had been frustrated since moving to Groton because she had not been able to find a teaching job.  At the end of the message she went forward to surrender her teaching to the Lord.

The speaker had said nothing about missions in his message.  Yet, while praying that night Hope distinctly heard the Lord say to her, “You will follow your husband overseas and teach your own children and others about Jesus.”  It was not an audible voice, but what Hope heard in her mind was clear and specific.  Hope immediately understood this as a call to go overseas to share the truth of God with the unreached.  Hope and I had never discussed the possibility of full time ministry of any kind, much less the possibility of serving the Lord overseas.  I was doing well in the Navy, and as a young ambitious officer I imagined that someday I would command a submarine and then go on to be an admiral.  When we were first married, Hope expected to be a Navy wife for many years.

Hope thought something like, “How can I follow my husband overseas if Mark doesn’t know this is God’s will?” She decided to send me a cassette tape of the message with a short note.  I received the small package with the cassette tape when my sub pulled into port in the Caribbean. Hope did not tell me what she had heard God say to her.  It seemed like the type of news better shared in person.  She only encouraged me to listen to the message on the tape.  So in a room available for off duty crew members, I put the cassette tape into my Walkman and I listened.

That very night the Lord led me to the conclusion that He had prepared me and gifted me in such a way that I should go overseas to share the gospel with the lost. I was so excited about this that I remember walking outside at night and praising God.  This was a radical change of plans, to say the least.  I talked with Hope on the phone, but I did not share this new calling, for I thought that something this big was better shared in person.  Little did I know that God had already told her!

Our submarine returned to Groton right before Thanksgiving.  I quickly told Hope what the Lord had showed me and she in turn told me what she had heard God say.  The way that God unexpectedly gave the same calling to each of us while we were separated by hundreds of miles was a clear and miraculous sign for us.  By God’s providence, my cousin who had just recently returned from serving the Lord in Africa was visiting family nearby and we met with him that same week.  He encouraged us in our new direction, and our church also affirmed and supported our calling.  And it came to pass as God said it would when he spoke to Hope.  I had to finish my time in the Navy.  Then we spent three years studying at a Bible seminary.  After that we moved overseas and shared God’s truth and love with others for fourteen years there.

And what about the part Hope heard about her “children”?  After eight years of trying to get pregnant, Hope conceived about a year after we moved to Indonesia.  That was Joy!  But Hope heard “children”, not just “child”.  We are convinced that “children” also included two wonderful, young Indonesian ladies who lived in our house and worked with us in ministry for many years. Hope and I were like spiritual parents to them.

The supernatural nature of our calling gave us strength to persevere many times when it was very difficult.

3rd Story:  A Supernatural Dream that Revealed what was Coming

This happened in 2000 while we were living in Indonesia.  I had a very intense dream.  When I woke up I immediately got up and started praying because of the intensity and contents of the dream.  I felt it was not merely a dream, but a supernatural message from the Lord.  I was wide awake and praying around 2 a.m. just a few minutes after the dream.  That’s when our phone rang.

It was one of my sisters calling from America.  It was day time there, but she knew it was the middle of the night for me in Indonesia. In fourteen years, it was the only time that family called me in the middle of the night. She was calling because of a family crisis. As the family crisis unfolded over the next weeks and months, I could see that it was a fulfillment of the dream.

I do not feel free to share the contents of the dream because the dream and its fulfillment include personal information that involves other people.  The dream showed in a fairly obvious symbolic form what was going to happen.  The dream did not tell me what to do or give me guidance.  However, the dream helped me because, through the supernatural nature of the dream and the providential timing of the phone call, it told me that God already knew all that was coming.  It was a very difficult and painful season for me and resulted in a prolonged period of depression.  Knowing that God knew ahead of time was an encouragement to me.  It helped me stay anchored in Him during the storms that followed.

Ten Quick Thoughts about the Role of Signs and Wonders

What follows is a list of thoughts related to how God sometimes uses signs and wonders to strengthen our faith in Him.

1.  For myself, the relatively “small signs and wonders” I’ve experienced have helped strengthen my faith in Christ. 

2.  There are many examples in the Gospels and in Acts of God using signs and wonders to bring people to faith in Christ.  Here are a few examples:

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. (John 2:23 NIV)

This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. (Acts 9:42 NIV)

When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. (Acts 13:12 NIV)

There are many other examples, including: Matthew 4:24-25; Matthew 20:34; Luke 5:9-11; John 1:50; John 4:53; John 6:2; John 7:31; John 10:37-38; John 11:45; Acts 4:4; Acts 5:12-14

3.  Miracles from God serve not only to help some people initially accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they also help those who are already following Jesus to grow in their faith.  Consider these two examples where signs and wonders helped the Disciples who were already following Jesus and already committed to Him:

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11 NIV)

"I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” (John 13:19 NIV)

4.  While the level and amount of signs and wonders which Christians experience today is less than what happened in the ministry of Christ and His Apostles, God still works miracles today.  Many Christians have shared with me miracles they have experienced which helped them believe.  This has happened in both the US and also during our time in Indonesia. 

5.  There are widespread reports from Muslim nations of God using dreams about Jesus to help Muslims have the courage to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  I personally have heard numerous stories like this from Muslims who have become Christians.  I think it is likely that God gives more miraculous signs to those who are facing more severe opposition to the gospel.

6.  Christians who experience signs and wonders are not more “blessed” than those who do not:

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29 NIV)

7.  It is right and good to pray and ask for signs and wonders if we are doing so with the right motives.  The church in Acts prayed for signs and wonders:

Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." (Acts 4:30 NIV)

8.  We should not expect signs and wonders to always bring a positive response.  Some religious leaders who heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead responded in this way:

So from that day on they plotted to take his life. (John 11:53 NIV)

9. We should not expect signs and wonders to make our lives on earth easy and comfortable.  In the Bible and in the world today, God’s work, including signs and wonders, occurs in a setting of persecution and suffering for the gospel.

10.  Miracles are one of many ways which God uses to strengthen our faith in this dark and difficult world.  God has done this for me on several occasions when I really needed it.  But there have been other times when God used other methods to strengthen my faith.  These other methods include God empowering seemingly “normal stuff” such as reading the Bible, prayer, and encouraging me through the acts and words of other Christians. 

Sharing Stories

Christians are sometimes understandably hesitant to share miracle stories.  People are skeptical.  And people are skeptical for good reason.  There are a lot of charlatans, conmen, and false prophets out there.  But the existence of false stories does not mean there are not any true ones.  So I encourage you to prayerfully seek God’s will for the right time and place to share your stories.  You just might help someone to believe or strengthen their faith:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did.” (John 4:39 NIV)

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

Other Posts in the “Why I Believe Enough to Keep Following Jesus Even When it is Hard, Costly, and Dangerous” Series

                 Note:  Part 2 includes a poem I wrote

Seeing Evidence of God in Creation

Seeing Evidence in the Bible

note:  Yes, I’m aware that part 6 is out of order.  That happened due to an article I read about scientific evidence for God that I saw after I had written part 5.

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