How Important is it for Modern Christians to Believe in Miracles?

 

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Miracles happened in Jesus’earthly life, and have continued to occur through out history. It is part of our Christian faith to pray for miracles for healing of our love ones. But is it possible we may (sometimes) be praying for the wrong things? Rather than praying for God to intervene against his natural laws, should we be praying for strength, courage and guidance for all parties? Do some people lose faith in God because he selects not to intervene and heal illnesses that are (normally) impossible to heal? Would you allow an unanswered prayer – for healing – to interfere with your Christian faith?

My Christian faith and belief in Jesus Christ are not centered or dependent on miracles. Jesus’ miracles were especially needed in the first century A.D. to convince his polytheistic followers that he was the true Son of the only God.

The center of my Christian faith is based on “the life and the  mind of the human Jesus.”His life models the way to live and demonstrates how imperfect humans may reach out and upward and make decisions to give of themselves with love and caring for the needs of others.

Miracles today, reveal the power and activity of God continuously in the world, but for me, they are secondary to the central message of Jesus Christ. The power of God is real but I am more moved by the love, compassion and forgiveness of God rather than a dependence on or fear of his power.

Finally, I am convinced that the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ is real. It is backed by multiple historical reports of the Gospels as well as other historical records. There is no doubt in my mind that the miracle of the resurrection occurred and it stands forever as the foundation of our Christian faith.

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The History of Christian Suffering

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First century Christians suffered greatly for their beliefs in Jesus Christ. About 313AD Emperor  Constantine gave relief to the Roman Christian community by legalizing Christianity at the Edict of Milan. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius in 380AD. However, the developing Catholic Church still held the average citizen in bondage and many suffered for minor violations of church rules and dogma. Misdeeds by the Roman church grew to a point that in 1517 Martin Luther, a Catholic priest, pinned his ninety five thesis’s to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Battle lines were drawn and many on both sides suffered punishments for their beliefs. After the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in 1455, complete bibles were available for the first time and the common folk sought to read the scriptures only to be persecuted by the churches.

The Christian church grew on both sides and expanded across the new found continents and missionaries and  itinerant ministers traveled into foreign lands and suffered rejection and sometimes death as they attempted to convert the unchurched to Christianity.

While substantial progress has been made in spreading the Word, many wars have been fought between competing nations and competing religions and many have suffered and given their lives for their religious beliefs. 

But now we live in a modern society and religious persecution is prohibited by our Constitution or the laws of other nations. Suffering for one’s Christian beliefs in a modern society takes on a different form from that of our Christian ancestors. As successful, happy and comfortable living Christians, how do we or how should we suffer for the cause of Christ? God’s special servants, our missionaries, continue to labor under difficult conditions and many are  still suffering servants. But they are the precious few, and we are the vast majority. In our own secure communities as Christians, how shall we suffer? Maybe “suffering” is too harsh a descriptor? Each of us is faced everyday with choices to “step out for our Christian faith” or duck quietly into selfish activities that consume and fill our comfortable existence. But what does it mean to “step out for our Christian faith?” Does it have to mean an earth shaking event? Maybe, but most likely it takes on a quiet and gentile form. Could it be, for most of us, that suffering for the kingdom is simply committing to:

  • Praying earnestly everyday.
  • Calling a friend or neighbor and supporting their needs.
  • Visiting a sick person at home or in the hospital.
  • Attending church and Sunday school on a regular basis.
  • Financially supporting our churches and other worthy causes.
  • Helping a disadvantaged person in some loving way.
  • Teaching Sunday school or singing in the choir.
  • Serve on important Sunday school and church committees.
  • Taking seriously the selection of our elected officials.
  • Being a good parent or grandparent.
  • Taking care of some lonely animal.
  • Support worthy civic groups that provide for the needs of the sick, poor and underprivileged.
  • Just be positive and kind to everyone you meet.

Well, shall we label these as examples of  “ modern suffering” or would they be more appropriately called “stepping out for our Christian faith”? These and many other examples of Christian service are continuously available to you and me. The key question is what path of life shall I choose to follow?

What is the Long Range Future of Our Traditional Protestant Churches?

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I am troubled by hearing reports that many traditional Protestant Churches are declining in membership nation wide.  This includes our United Methodist Church (nation wide) though not necessarily in the south east United States. I understand that a high percentage of our  young seminar graduates are leaving the traditional denominations. I do not have benefit of official statistics. Maybe I’m wrong?

However, if the trends in church commitments are not positive, what are we doing wrong? Is it because many young adults dislike our music or ritual or creeds? Is it the way our ministers present their messages? Since I am an elderly, senior, traditional Methodist, I like most of how our churches operate. I like traditional hymns like – Amazing Grace and the Ole Rugged Cross. I’ll admit that some sermons put me to sleep but not all of them.

In recent years a number of changes have occurred in my church. We have a very successful contemporary service that is well attended. We recently sponsored a “Big Band Dance” in the fellowship hall on Friday night that attracted a large crowd. Ten years ago such an event would have been unheard of in our church. We now have a very dynamic choir and a full size orchestra that are marvelous! Some things are changing for the good at least at our church.

My middle aged daughter and her husband recently invited my wife and me to attend a Mega Church in Buckhead in North Atlanta. We traveled up escalators in a multi-story, modern office building into a giant auditorium that seats 3000 people. We understand this church has three services every Sunday and they are all full. By the time the service began, the place was packed with young adults probably twenty five to forty five years old. A multi-instrument band played upbeat music from an enormous stage surrounded by three hugh video screens. People were dressed causally, carrying  books, Bibles, coffee or bottled water. It felt weird to us ole folks. The speaker – who actually looked alive- appeared as a hologram image on the stage. We were in the balcony but could hear well and see everything up close and were amazed how real the speaker seemed.

Having some knowledge of the churches background, we came expecting a rigorous sermon with “fire and damnation”. This did not occur. The video minister spoke in normal tones, cracked jokes and generally caused his audience to relax. His message was upbeat, positive but direct. He spoke about the importance of regular Bible reading. He seemed very capable of selling his message to the congregation. While we were not particularly impressed with the loud, repetitive phrased music, in all fairness the whole service was a good experience.

We are not ready to transfer our membership but one has to ask the question – what’s wrong with the churches in these young peoples neighborhoods? Why does my daughter and her friends travel ten miles or more to Buckhead and pass two dozen traditional churches on the way?

Because of this unusual church experience, I have begun to ask questions of younger adults. Here are some of their responses:

  • We feel like this church is more in tune with our needs.
  • Traditional church services are generally stodgy and boring.
  • There’s no excitement demonstrated by most traditional church services.
  • We can go to church dressed causal and relax. Most traditional churches are too formal.
  • We like the new upbeat music. Old hymns are not for us.
  • The speakers seem to connect with us in the manner of his/her presentations.
  • We are not particularly in favor of standard creeds – they don’t seem to relate to us.

Well, this is my report. I’m not suggesting that these young people are all correct in their feelings or preferences. This is what I have learned. My first thoughts were – Praise the Lord, they are going to some Christian service rather than walking their dog or playing golf. Can we learn from these new findings?  Additionally, I wonder if these Mega churches are providing the kinds of support our traditional churches are providing?  I wonder if these churches are sponsoring and financially supporting missions as we do? I wonder if these young people are meeting in small groups, like our traditional Sunday School Classes, and studying and discussing the Bible? I wonder if these modern, young people get involved in personal Christian service or are they just spectators who wish to be fed and entertained?

 When most of us ole folks are gone to the heavenly Father, will our traditional churches survive? I’m less sure than I was ten years ago.

Oh Lord God – please show us the way, Amen.

The History of Traditions

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We have grown up with  and blessed with many wonderful traditions. Tradition is defined as:  an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior, the handing down of information, beliefs and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction.

Examples of Good and Lasting Traditions include:

  • Celebration of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
  • Celebration of special national holidays –  New Years Day, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, 4th July & Labor Day.
  • Celebration of birthdays and anniversaries.
  • Attending church and Sunday School
  • Apostles Creed, the Eucharist and Hymns
  • Pledge of Allegiance
  • Star Spangle Banner
  • Political Elections  
  • Marriage
  • Classic Poetry

At various times in history, the Christian church supported and often defended the following past traditions:

  • The earth is flat (from Socrates 400BC to Columbus 1492 – almost 2000 years).
  • The sun and other planets orbit around the earth – Copernicus reversed this tradition confirmed by Galileo
  • No one but ordained clergy may own or read the Bible – subject to persecution by the church.
  • The first born son shall inherit all of his father’s estate.
  • Slavery is justified for economic reasons.
  • The white race is superior to all other races. We now know this is a social and political distinction.
  • A woman’s place is in the home – subject to the wishes of her husband.
  • Women may not own property, have a bank account or vote – up until 1920 in this country.
  • Men should be paid more than women for the same job.
  • Women may not be ordained as ministers in the church.

So even our great “democratic” country has been slow to change. Past traditions have been both good and bad. Would it seem reasonable that our loving God expects us to keep studying, learning, praying and adjusting our interpretations of his Word as new revelations and scientific facts are given to us? Will our Christian churches have the knowledge and the courage to adjust to changing information and new knowledge? How long, O Lord, will it take to open the eyes of many  who still insist in the literal interpretation of all scriptures?

Ten Reasons Why Some Christians Avoid or Reject Evolution?

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  • It has been a traditional belief for generations that the Bible says – God created the Universe, the Earth and Mankind in six –twenty four hour days. We must not disagree with tradition!
  • To suggest, that the progressive advancement of scientific knowledge should become a basis for the understanding of beginnings, is blasphemous and tends to discredit the Bible!
  • Most laypersons are not educated enough in scientific disciplines to understand complex evolutionary processes.
  • Some Christians would rather blindly accept the literal interpretation of Genesis 1 & 2 so they want have to study and think. After all “blind faith” is far more acceptable than an “informed faith”.
  • Some say: “Since the Biblical Story of beginnings has little to do with their Christian faith, outlined in the New Testament, why worry about it?”
  • Many (if not most) Christians have been taught by their church leadership that “the Bible is God’s Word” rather than “the Bible contains God’s Word”. To suggest that God’s Word may be hidden in Biblical allegories makes some people nervous.
  • Many hold on to the ancient tradition that the Bible contains all important information and knowledge regarding God’s creation. Who needs science?
  • The history of science has included a number of brilliant and capable atheists. No one should trust the scientific research and discoveries of an atheist!
  • God will object to man’s probing into and challenging traditional concepts of creation. One must simply accept the conventional wisdom by faith.
  • The complex concepts of Evolution involve six to eight technical disciplines (i.e. geology, biology) that most well meaning Christians are not trained to understand.