Thursday, June 23, 2005

Discipline of Feelings

I have been thinking recently upon 'feelings' - as I had been aware of some strong feelings that did not like suffering! Feelings have always seemed a hard thing to do away with - they seem like an integral part of who I am and as unpredictable as the weather. I recently read through Elisabeth Elliot's chapter in Discipline: The Glad Surrender concerning discipline of feelings and found some really helpful thoughts. Namely, I will never, in this life be free from a sense of feeling, but I do know that which I can do with my feelings. They can be named and offered to Jesus with a prayer that I would value obedience to him much more highly than "feeling good." Interestingly, a fruit of the Spirit is self-control.

Peter puts it, "You must therefore be mentally stripped for action, perfectly self-controlled. Fix your hopes on the gift of grace which is to be yours when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not let your characters be shaped any longer by the desires you cherished in your days of ignorance. The one who called you is holy; like him be holy in all your behavior."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Encountering the Supernatural

The following letter was written in response to the following italicized request.

Hi, I am writing to find out if you, or someone you know, have ever had an experience with the supernatural. I am looking for stories of Legend Quests, Native American spirits, spirits of professors, animal spirits, s̩ances, Ouija board Рpretty much any ghost story that has happened to you. All names will be changed.

Hello Kristen,

My name is Sarah Angell and I am a graduate student in chemistry here at Binghamton University.

Yes, I definitely have had an experience with the supernatural and with a ghost too!

I guess before I begin to tell you my story I should address the question, "How would one know if one had an experience with the supernatural or with a ghost?" I guess that one simple answer to that question would be that there is evidence that something that does not happen naturally happens anyway. Another might be that you see evidence of the supernatural - maybe a flash of light, maybe a being that does not have the normal material forms, or perhaps something somewhat simpler - we could contemplate that possibility later on.

This may seem like an interesting perspective for a scientist, but I think that many scientists are well aware of the limits and boundaries of science to comprehend the expanse of the universe. Science is strictly limited to understanding the cause and effect nature of the world of matter and energy. I think that most would agree that there is more to life than this. For instance, heartbreak is real, grief is real, joy is real, thoughts are real and although some may try to classify these as a type of psychological science, I think that we realize that it is hard for the natural boundaries of matter and energy to expand far enough to include these real and observable realities. Usually, though, it is not feelings that we define as supernatural. Try as hard as we will sometimes to separate feelings from our reality =), we often realize that they are all too closely connected and bound to our very existence. It seems that only death will remove these realities from the physical body of matter and energy in which we currently reside.

To define the supernatural, or at least a supernatural being, generally requires that we move outside ourselves. That which is not tangible that is us (our feelings and our thoughts) are not really supernaturally because they are, well, so natural. But the supernatural is something that is not inherently us, something that is free from the constraints of a material body.

Also before I begin to tell you my story, I would like to offer some history. Especially for a research project, if I came and told you that I woke up in the middle of the night and found a floating creature with five luminescent eyes staring back at me in the dark you would have to consider some very feasible possibilities: (1) I was dreaming, (2) I was schizophrenic, (3) I was lying, (4) I saw something that was actually material but just looked like it was a floating creature with five luminescent eyes, or (5) I was honestly telling you the truth. I will take a moment just to say that I make it my aim to live in truth, and that in this entire communication I desire to testify only to the Truth. The good thing about testifying to the truth is that your words fit into a seamless story. It is a coherent story that doesn't have missing gaps or illogical pieces. If what I have seen testifies to the same truth of which all history testifies, hopefully the story will seem to you, to be, believable. I will reference my story periodically. It will make it choppy. But it is better that I convey that I did not make it up. The book that I reference has been the most widely published book of all times.

The story of which mine is just a little piece, starts at the beginning of human time in the fertile crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates River. As would be expected in such a place between two rivers there is a beautiful garden, of which some have referred to as The Garden of Eden. I am sure that, even by our modern perspective, it could be described as the most lovely of all gardens. But I am certain that its natural beauty was not that which was most permeating and spectacular. It was the supernatural beauty of that garden that was particularly awesome. And I would venture to say we have never since known the fullness of that supernatural beauty since. For it was in this garden that God lived among the people that were made by Him and for Him, walking with them, talking with them. A man and a woman, in the full possession of all of the will that you and I know today, lived with God. Nothing was marred, all was just as we crave for it to be - at peace and rest (Genesis 1 and 2).

It was not just that this man and woman, whom we call Adam and Eve, knew a supernatural being that made this existence so wonderful. It was that they knew God. One can have an encounter with the supernatural and not know God at all. One can have an encounter with the supernatural and actually distance oneself from God. A spiritual experience is not necessarily a healthy experience.

And so it was with Adam and Eve - they had an unhealthy experience with the supernatural. This time the supernatural had taken the form of a serpent. This serpent was supernatural, but not like God. If God was the epitome of all that was good and perfect and peaceful, this serpent was the antithesis. All that was evil and vile and deceitful was found in this serpent. And the serpent told Adam and Eve to disobey God by eating from a forbidden tree. And Adam and Eve listened to that serpent and disobeyed, and had a somewhat less than supernatural experience - they realized that they were naked. They had defiled themselves through disobedience. They had chosen that which was all evil and vile and deceitful and were no longer pure and peaceful and at peace (Genesis 3).

And sometimes even a spiritual experience with God is not necessarily a peaceful experience - sometimes it is a very painful experience. Adam and Eve were soon to realize this for their God was exceedingly holy. Holy is a hard word for us to understand, but in the simplest of definitions, I use it to mean pure and perfect. And that which is pure and perfect (a white satin tablecloth for instance) cannot dwell in the midst of mud without changing its character. So God, whose character does not change, had to send Adam and Eve from that garden, because His holiness couldn't tolerate that which was defiled. He guarded the garden with an angel who carried a sword.

What had been so natural to Adam and Eve was gone. The old natural had been what we might now call supernatural. The new natural was what we now know as a plain, old ordinary occurrence. And right away, that which was ugly and imperfect became the norm, and within one generation Adam and Eve's son, Cain had killed their son, Abel (Genesis 4). It pretty much got worse. No one cared too much about God, and the less that they cared about God, the more they assumed the nature of the Enemy of God which had taken the form of that serpent. Adultery, rape, lying, cheating, murdering, stealing, all were present. Gone was the beauty and love and intimacy that had been present in that Garden of Eden. Present was everything that the serpent embodied.

There were some, though, who cared for God, and their lives were different. And God worked, in what we might call some pretty supernatural ways, among them. For instance a man named Noah sought to live like God had intended for man to live. And Noah understood God's voice among the clammer and mess that men and women had made of the world. And God told Noah to build an ark so that his family could be saved, because God was angry that the creation that he had made so perfect, so wonderful, so peaceful and beautiful was ravished by the ugly and base humanness that was a result of men and women following the serpent, the devil, the deceiver. Noah's life depended on his experience with the supernatural (Genesis, 6-8). Because sure enough, the world was destroyed and Noah's family alone was saved.

Through many different ways, and in many different times, God worked among His people, preparing a way for His creation to once again live like they were created to live - in peace, in harmony, in love. Often this involved very supernatural experiences. The patriarch, Abraham was visited by an angel and told that in his old age, he and his wife Sarah would bear a child and name him Isaac (Genesis 18). Sarah laughed at the angel, but God fulfilled the promise that the angel had brought.

Through Isaac, their son, and later, Jacob, his son, a covenant that had been made with Abraham, by God, began to be fulfilled. God promised Abraham (again another supernatural experience) that Abraham would be the father of many people (Genesis 15). Because Abraham believed this God, he was counted as being righteous, meaning that he could again enter into that perfect relationship with God. God wanted to restore the people to Himself, God wanted to call from every nation people to worship Him in purity and in love. But as part of the pathway to the fulfillment of this promise, God worked and labored with one people group - the Jews.

Through one supernatural experience after another, God spoke and interacted among His people in various ways. Moses was given the supernatural strength to inflict plagues upon Egypt where the Jews were held slaves, ultimately leading to the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 13)! There was even an instance of a talking donkey (Numbers 22)! God worked through, Elisha, a prophet, to even make a iron axe head float (2 Kings 6). These are just the briefest of examples of supernatural encounters that people had with God. All the while God had one desire - that his people would know him and love him and worship him and acknowledge him as holy. Every single interaction that God had with people was for this aim. God worked through judges, through the Jewish law, through priests and through prophets, each to further reveal the love that this God still had for all of mankind - a love that sought continuously to restore the perfect peace and love that had existed in the Garden of Eden - a love that sought to outdo the ugly sin that had become so commonplace and so unbearable.

But many people still did not pay attention to the work that God was doing - that perfect restoring work. Many people resorted to that serpent, the devil. In one instance, the first King of Israel, Saul, even consulted a medium who called up the spirit of a prophet from the grave (1 Samuel 28). Saul was severely rebuked. This medium was aligned with the power that still exists on this earth due to the ancient serpent, Satan.

This part of the story goes on for a long time. God loves his people and provides a way for them to be restored to him - some do love him, but many reject their God.

At one very crucial part of the story, the plan of redemption, of restoration reaches a very climactic point. God becomes a man (John 1), Immanuel, God with Us. Talk about supernatural! It wasn't that everything else had failed and finally God had to take the form of a man to do anything about this problem of evil. It was that it was the perfect time, the fullness of time, for God's plan of redemption to extend even further, beyond the Jewish people, to all of the nations of the world. This God-man, Jesus, who is called the Christ, did some pretty extraordinary supernatural things - he healed blind people (Mark 10) and raised dead people (John 11)! But, he did something that no one else before had ever done. Others had healed and even others had raised the dead. But Jesus did something different. He lived a perfect life. He loved perfectly (which does not mean that he tolerated evil). No one else has ever lived an entire life perfectly. Jesus taught some pretty radical things, too, - he said that we, too, could be perfect - perfectly in love with God, like it was supposed to be from the beginning. Jesus said that all of the law that had been given to the Jewish people could be summed up in two laws: (1) Love God, (2) Love your neighbor and surprisingly Jesus said that our enemy was even our neighbor. Many flocked to Jesus for healing, but many hated him. And one hated him more than any - that ancient serpent. Satan did not like that Jesus would want to reconcile people to right relationship with God. So Satan, being a supernatural power, put it in the hearts and minds of men just like he had in the Garden of Eden, that it would be all right to disobey God. In fact, it would even be all right to kill Him. After all, the serpent reasoned with men, this man is blasphemous! He says that God is his Father! This was too supernatural for them.

Which takes us to another garden. (I like that gardens show up in this story a lot!) This time the garden is called The Garden of Gethsemane. And here Jesus is praying. He is praying that we could love God, like we ought, that we could enter into that perfectly harmonious relationship with God and so be healed and restored. It is to this place that the serpent brings those who hate Jesus and arrest him. This time Immanuel is in the garden and Immanuel is led away. There is something somewhat ironic about that; before, man and women were led away from the Garden of Eden, this time Immanuel is led away from the Garden of Eden and when he leaves he says that those who are with him should be left free. The tables are turned - now Immanuel is leaving the garden, and man is staying behind. And furthermore, this time Immanuel partakes of the tree which before Adam and Eve had eaten. This time, however, Immanuel is nailed to it and left to die. It seems as though the serpent won this victory that was playing out between good and evil, and all who loved Jesus were saddened. But his death upon this tree was not without event, for at the moment when Jesus breathed his last, the temple curtain tore and darkness covered the land and the earth trembled and many said, "Surely this was the Christ!" What a supernatural event! All of the punishment that man had conjured up for himself by disobeying God from the time of the Garden of Eden to the very present moment was laid on the Christ. God became man and took the punishment we deserved and so fulfilled an extremely important part of the redemption story. When he died he made a way that we could live rightly - trusting, by faith, in that work that was done on the cross, made it possible to do what Jesus taught - to live perfectly before God.

But the best is yet to come. The most supernatural of all supernatural experiences was about to be unveiled. Pure love, Immanuel, arose alive! He spoke with people, even allowing his disciple Thomas to place his hands in the wounds on Jesus' hands and sides that came from hanging on that tree (John 20). Over 500 people saw Jesus after his resurrection before he ascended to heaven. Acts 1:3 reports that "He shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." The serpent had been defeated! And all those people that came to Jesus he gave power (supernatural!) to become the sons of God, even to them that believed on his name (John 1:12).

All, who believed could be God's children and enter into the relationship with the God of Adam and Eve. Glorious redemption was now near to all.

But it gets even better. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he promised that when he departed the Holy Ghost would come (Acts 1:8) and remain with his people until Jesus returned for the second time. And after Jesus descended and the disciples were gathered for Pentecost something truly amazing and supernatural occurred. "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:2-4)." Many others believed on Jesus that day when they heard the gospel preached in their native tongues by the Holy Ghost who spoke through the disciples in tongues that were foreign to them. Speaking in another language is pretty supernatural, but I think something more entirely supernatural happened when the Holy Spirit came. When the Holy Ghost came men and women were changed and could do what they could not do before: they began to fully partake of God's perfecting love. For example, the disciple Peter, who had denied Jesus in the office of the high priest when Jesus was put on that tree, testified before that very high priest - claiming that Jesus was the Messiah and was all powerful! The disciples worked miracles, too, and actually got in a lot of trouble for it! The serpent was still at work, and seeing that his days were numbered and that he ultimately would be defeated, tried to make many follow him. But the Holy Spirit worked powerfully in the lives of all who believed on this Jesus, and one named Saul (later Paul) who was being used by the serpent to persecute the followers of Jesus was blinded by light on the road to Damascus and spoken to by Jesus. Jesus told him, "It is hard for you to kick against the goads (Acts 9:5)." This is the message that comes to all - we are pursued by so great a Love - it is hard for us to kick against it.

Throughout the history of those who called upon Jesus in faith, many supernatural things have been done and occurred. [If I could take a moment and emphasize that I don't call upon Christian history, per se, as a testament to the work God in this world, unfortunately many who have aligned themselves with "the Church" throughout Christian history have only done the name of Jesus a disfavor.] In recent history, a Chinese man named Brother Yun, who suffered a great deal for loving Jesus in the midst of the Chinese Three Self Government, saw many miraculous signs and wonders done through the power of this Holy Ghost (I would highly recommend that you check out his book - The Heavenly Man).

However, all who believe on Jesus are called the children of God, and God does not just reveal Himself in supernatural ways to the few select of His children. And so here I stand, as me, responding to an email that asks that I report supernatural events. At this point, I would ask, what is the most supernatural event that occur in this day? One answer is crystal clear - if a person, one in the line of disobedience and hurt and self destruction, completely separated from God, could be reconciled to God's nature, pure and holy and all together loving, it would be a very supernatural thing.

And this is where I say, "I have seen it!" I have been changed. My change is not complete, for I must yield daily to the work of this Holy Spirit. But I am not who I was yesterday, and I am not who I was a year ago. As I embrace belief in Jesus Christ, yielding to the Holy Ghost, I become more like God - more truthful, more tender, more obedient, more reconciled and more completely in love with my Creator. More and more, God becomes the totality of my existence. This is nothing less than a supernatural experience.

But lest I overwhelm you with abstract language, let me try to make it more concrete and personal. If there has been a defining hardship in my life throughout the past year, it has been the loss of an extremely precious human friendship. Today marks the 1 year anniversary of that loss. The suffering of this loss has been real, but I have realized that there are two responses to suffering - one makes us bitter and angry at God; it follows the pathway of that ancient serpent and leads to the same place - ugly destruction and self-centered pity. Another response to suffering allows us to love Jesus with faith and trust that the God who orchestrated the universe is in complete control and loves us with an undying love. So today was hard in many ways, as anniversaries of a loss can be and I was overwhelmed by how easily I gravitated toward self-centered pity. My heart felt very heavy, my eyes were straining to see beyond me. But as a testament to the work of the Holy Ghost, I kneeled down to pray. There was no way that I, all on my own , could reach beyond the pain of the moment. But as I prayed (and, yes, many today still pray "in tongues" or other languages, as did I in these moments), my heaviness was lifted. I could love again, I could smile again. I didn't see a bright light from heaven, although many have; I didn't hear noises or see ghostly beings. But I perceived Love, a Supernatural Love, that knew suffering from hanging in agony on a tree and in my suffering I was comforted. But the Holy Ghost did more than comfort me - the Holy Ghost brought me to a place of being able to extend that love once again. As I prayed I was reminded of those that I must love in the moment. And when I was done praying, I picked up the phone and called the mother of a mentally retarded girl that I know to arrange a date to go swing on the swings with the girl at the park. This not as a testimony to me. This is my testament to the power of the Holy Ghost in my life today - there was no way that I could see beyond myself to call this girl before I spent time in prayer before God (the Bible calls it a Throne of Grace); but as I surrendered to the Love of God, the Holy Ghost filled me and allowed me to do what I, all by myself, had no strength to do. This is the testament for today. Tomorrow there will be a new supernatural story about the working out of Love in this world.

There are many spirits at work in this world, there is no doubt. But one day, every tongue in heaven and earth, will bow the knee to this Jesus, the eternal source of love and beauty. One day the evil will be punished and those who do not love God will be eternally far from him. Those who love God will love him forever in perfect harmony and love, just like it was in the Garden of Eden.

May you be encouraged, as you realize that there are many spirits at work in this world, to love God and believe upon the restoring work of Jesus. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me or if you would like to get together, let me know.

Sarah Angell

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Skipping Stones

Skipping Stones

Gliding over my surface strong
Barely touching down
Gleefully passing along

Till momentum’s rest bid them
Meet their silent death

“A stone well thrown”
One may say,
And I breathe a sigh
No ripple was shown

A proud and graceful fall
And not a ripple felt at all

All is well
Because no ripple caused a swell

Alas, a plunk
Who threw that?
A splash, a commotion
Not a peaceful motion

Ah, but for a moment there is still
Has the hurt of the plunk passed by with no ill?

But for an instance I hope
Until I know that, nope,

My surface has a ripple,
A big giant swell
And all is not well

The quiet seemed real,
Why did it pass?
After all, for this swell, I did not ask.

And then for a minute,
Longer this time
Quiet appears, the commotion long past
Forget that ripple – it went by fast!

I think all ‘tis the way that it was
Until I doubt it ‘cause

My surface has a ripple,
Smaller this time,
Yet it persists
And by now I am cryin’

Oh, why another ripple?
The stone has long sunk
And I would have just thunk

That a stone that drowned so long ago
Wouldn’t make such a persistent show

But, wait, there it is –
Rest comes again
Just like it was
Way back then

No stone, no splash,
No plunk, no swell
Surely by now all is well

Yet then I’m reminded,
That my quiet is numbered -
With a ripple rudely awakened while slumbered

An hour, a day,
A month, a year
Each time longer,
Each time stronger


The ripple is lost in the sea
That is no longer me

And my will
Is still