Read an Excerpt
Signs from God
I’m thankful, Lord, that all the darkness in the world has never put out Thy light.
I was about eight when I first became aware of what a “miracle” was. In this case it involved Jesus’ mother, Mary. Even though she had died a long time ago and presumably had gone to heaven, as all good people do, she also somehow had appeared to children about my age in a place across the ocean called Fátima, Portugal, to give them some messages. The apparitions had occurred in 1917, when our country was involved in the First World War (although we American Catholics did not hear about the sightings until many years later). Mary had told the children that everyone must pray for peace. If people did not, that current war would end only to have another, more serious one break out, and Russia would “spread its errors” throughout the world. The messages seemed incomprehensible to world leaders and were almost universally ignored. Just a few months after the apparitions ended, communism took hold in Russia, and the Second World War did turn out to be worse than the first.
Although the political significance was beyond my young grasp, I was fascinated by the idea that heaven and earth could intersect in this way, that Mary (or, as we called her, the “Blessed Mother”) could visit earth for a particular purpose.
As I grew, I heard of other visions—some involving Mary, others with her and Jesus—offering similar messages: “God loves you. Ask for forgiveness. Amend your lives. Pray for peace.” The Catholic Church is slow to investigate and accept such events as genuine (although Fátima was eventually authenticated), and news of amazing happenings in other Christian denominations were rare and usually “over there,” halfway around the world in some remote area, having little influence on my daily life. I decided eventually that miracles were spectacular, sun-spinning events, bestowed on rare occasions upon special saints so the rest of us would not forget our ultimate destiny: heaven.
In the mid-1980s, however, my thinking changed. That’s when our family received a miracle of its own.
I’ve written about it before, how our son was rescued from freezing to death on the side of a road by—there could be no other explanation—an angel disguised as a tow-truck driver, who then mysteriously disappeared. The event sent me on another quest about miracles, with new queries. If God would do this for us, just an ordinary family,
would he do this, was he doing this, for others? Yes! It seemed to be a well-kept secret, but soon I found more than enough people from a wide variety of religious faiths with angel stories to contribute to a book. It was a book I titled Where Angels Walk that I doubted many people would read. Yet less than two years later, the popularity of angels had swept the country: talk shows featured them, stores carrying nothing but angel merchandise opened, and both Time and Newsweek devoted their Christmas covers to the subject. What was happening—was it just a new trend? In part. But, as Time noted, “if heaven is willing to sing to us, it is little to ask that we be willing to listen.”
As angels remained popular, I noticed something else: an increase in the frequency and intensity of mystical occurrences being reported among “ordinary people.” Now that the floodgates had opened, people no longer hesitated to stand up at a conference or in a church audience and give testimony to a wonderful event in their lives. As a nation, we were becoming more comfortable relating earth to heaven. Miracles were no longer uncommon and limited to saintly figures. It seemed that many of us were touching a piece of God’s glory.
And accounts of miracles keep increasing. We find people bearing the stigmata (the wounds of Christ) in the United States and other countries. There are numerous reported visions of the mother of Jesus. Although her longest-running alleged appearance (daily since 1981) takes place in Medjugorje, Herzegovina, she is no longer limited to hillsides in predominantly Catholic areas but seems to be touching all cultures, appearing on a Coptic Orthodox church in Zeitoun, Egypt, and in Rwanda, Syria, and Korea. Since April 1987, on the first anniversary of the explosion in Chernobyl, as many as half a million people in Ukraine have claimed to see ongoing apparitions of her, accompanied by angels.
Nor are such messages limited to the mother of Christ. Protestant missionaries recount an amazing flow of God’s Spirit in places such as Australia, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines. For example, a “great miraculous outpouring of our time . . . erupted in 1971 at a Bible school in Nha Trang, South Vietnam, during the dark days of the Vietnam War,” writes Paul Prather in Modern-Day Miracles. “Spontaneously, students began to confess their sins and to minister to each other with a tremendous sense of joy. They decided to go out witnessing about their newly charged faith. Wherever they went, miracles shot out from the Nha Trang Biblical and Theological Institute into the countryside like Roman candles. Sensational healings and exorcisms became particularly common, but there were also reports of dead bodies that resurrected through prayer.”
“Spiritual signals” are also happening within religions other than Christianity. In the mid-1990s, there were four lunar eclipses over Jerusalem, all coinciding with significant Jewish holy days; in 1994, the birth of an all-white buffalo in Janesville, Wisconsin, fulfilled a Native American prophecy that portends new spiritual knowledge. About that same time, reports came from India that statues of Ganesha, the Hindu deity with the head of an elephant, had started drinking milk from spoons. Word quickly spread via phone and CNN to temples in the United States and elsewhere, as Hindus of different castes and educational backgrounds flocked by the millions to their holy places with milk. The episode lasted for little more than a day in India, and about a week in other countries, as most Indian scientists debunked it. Yet it undoubtedly drew the Hindu world’s attention to spiritual matters, just as tears flowing from Greek Orthodox icons, the sun spinning at holy shrines, and other unexplainable happenings seem to do.
“Some people argue that supernatural acts reported by religions other than their own are superstitions, the results of hysteria or even hoaxes,” writes Prather. “Still others hold that God is quite willing to perform miracles for people who happen not to belong to their own organization.” The most recent Roman Catholic catechism states specifically that God doesn’t necessarily limit his work to Christians, much less to members of particular denominations. Every person he has created is his child, and is equally loved.
But God has always loved his children. Why does he seem to be sending more miracles today than ever before? “There has never been a global outpouring of divine manifestations of this magnitude in the known history of the world,” writes Janice T. Connell in Meetings with Mary. “[The] visionaries of Medjugorje have said that no one in the world will be excluded from the messages delivered by the Blessed Mother. People everywhere are becoming aware of the seriousness of the times and the opportunities entrusted to humanity.” Even if some of these manifestations are fraudulent or hard to interpret, such as the Hindu milk episode or oil flowing from statues, their sheer number encourages us to believe that God is sending signals to his people. He wants our love and attention because, without him, life is so much more difficult to understand and endure. He wants to be first in our hearts.
Both Gallup and Fox News polls in the summer of 2005 found that nearly 80 percent of Americans now believe in angels, the largest percentage ever. However, in many cases, heaven is meeting resistance: “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12). According to the Bible, there have always been satanic beings roaming the earth, tempting humans to turn their backs on God and to live in selfishness and sin. And this perceived recent increase in heavenly activity has no doubt generated the same level of intensity on the “other side,” leading to what some call spiritual warfare, the ultimate battle for souls.
What’s Ahead for America?: Christian leaders share their concerns about the spiritual state of the union.
Charisma, October 1996
Last year Americans spent more than $8 billion on hard-core videos, peep shows . . . adult cable programming . . . computer porn and sex magazines—an amount much larger than Hollywood’s domestic box office receipts and larger than all the revenues generated by rock and country music recordings.
U.S. News & World Report, February 1997
Signs and Warnings: Has the Final Hour Begun?
Signs of the Times, January 1994
It doesn’t take an expert to note that, despite God’s attempts to reach us, there is still a lot of chaos and suffering in our world. Children weep over a broken home, teenagers find life deprived of meaning, young couples worry about finances and broken promises, the elderly grapple with disease and loneliness; and then there are wars, famine, prejudice, destruction of nature. . . . If God truly loves us, why does he allow all this to happen?
• Sometimes hard times occur through no fault of our own but are just a result of living in an imperfect world. God does not send suffering to his children, but as C. S. Lewis once noted, “pain is God’s megaphone.” It gets our attention. When these periods come, our job is simply to endure, getting through them with the help of God and those around us. Perhaps the struggle will teach us lessons that we can use later to help others.
• People who are attempting to move closer to God will often find obstacles in their paths. There is a saying that “if you’re not doing anything for the kingdom, Satan leaves you alone. But if you’re becoming an effective soldier, you’ll find yourself under attack.” Members of my Wednesday night prayer group often joke that if the weather is bad, the car breaks down, or a headache develops, it will happen on a Wednesday, giving us
an excuse to stay away from our two-hour prayer time and the graces and spiritual insights that might have resulted. But the Bible confirms our observation: “When you come to serve the Lord,” says the book of Sirach (2:1), “prepare yourself for trials.” The solution here is to persevere. Relief will come.
• Suffering happens, too, as a result of sin, freely chosen. Should we be surprised when children brought up on a steady diet of gross and immoral movies and television programs act out what they see? Should we be surprised when people dabble in the occult, settle problems through violence, abandon their responsibilities? One emergency-room physician told me his personal theory: If people simply lived by the Ten Commandments, we would have no health-care crisis in our country because hospitals would not need to treat those suffering from gunshot wounds, victims of spouse or child abuse, those suffering from sexually transmitted diseases or drug overdoses, and so on. Instead, hospitals could use their resources primarily for those ill with diseases.
As God continues to try to get our attention, what lies ahead? Few people believe that the current era heralds the end of the world or the Second Coming; Jesus told us no one would know the day or the hour this would occur. But will there be a repeat of what happened when the Fátima prophecies in 1917 went unheeded? Or are we heading toward some sort of worldwide moment of truth or chastisement, when God’s people may have to summon the courage to take a stand and get involved in society as never before?
Perhaps. But it’s possible that there are more wondrous events ahead too. One pastor had a vision in which he saw himself in a crowded football stadium. Suddenly the Holy Spirit was beside each person in the stadium. Instantly everything stopped because God was showing every person just where he or she stood on the pathway of life and eternity, in his or her relationship to God and to evil. In the vision, people began to weep just to see the glory of heaven revealed in that way—and to realize how they had or hadn’t used the gifts they’d been given. And how amazing to see dignitaries from hundreds of countries standing in silent solidarity and mutual respect at Pope John Paul II’s funeral. Could it be the beginning of a new kind of peace?
Whatever comes, we know that God will make all things—even the hardest situations—work for the good of those who love him. What an awesome time to be alive and to see how God can turn difficulties into shining moments of hope and glory!
So this is a mystery book, one without an ending. It includes people not only from the United States but from other countries who have been touched beautifully by the hand of God or one of God’s angels. It also includes those who have gone through Job-like experiences, suffering, or difficulties that have challenged many of their beliefs. Yet they hung on and can testify that, despite whatever we may witness in the coming years, God will keep his promise: “If my people . . . humble themselves and pray, and seek my presence and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Not My Way but Yours
You will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.
W?hen Duane Miller awakened on Sunday morning, January 14, 1990, his throat was raw, his voice a bit raspy. But he barely gave it a thought. Scheduled to preach two morning services that day, he was already mentally reviewing his material. Would his congregation be consoled, informed, inspired by his words? As senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas, Duane loved God, loved to preach and sing (he had started singing professionally at the age of sixteen), and loved family life with his wife, Joylene, and their two college-age daughters. And although his church was suffering through some financial problems—which often resulted in twenty-hour workdays for Duane—his natural optimism was strong. With God on his side, what could go wrong?
Now, however, as Duane prepared for the day, he experienced that ominous stuffy, headachy, dizzy feeling that usually heralds the flu. Drinking hot tea, he managed to preach at the first service, but singing was almost impossible—even his range seemed limited to just a few notes. “During my second sermon, every sound and inflection grated on the back of my throat like sandpaper,” Duane recalls. He cut his talk short, canceled the rest of his duties, and reluctantly went home to bed. Obviously, the long work hours had finally caught up with him.
The flu took almost ten days to abate. But Duane’s throat did not recover. “It was painful and constricted, as if someone had my windpipe between his two fingers and was squeezing it whenever I swallowed,” he explains. “There was a constant choking sensation. My voice was weak and hoarse.” When Duane finally saw a physician, the throat was so swollen that the doctor could not get a scope down to examine it. Duane’s nightmare had begun.
The doctor was almost certain of the diagnosis. He suspected that the flu germ had penetrated the protective sheath around the vocal cords and permanently destroyed them. Duane was probably going to live the rest of his life without a normal voice. There was the possibility, however, that the doctor’s suspicions weren’t correct, so he suggested Duane try some medication and visit several specialists.
When, fourteen days later, there seemed to be no real improvement with medication, Duane went to the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston for more tests. On their recommendation, he took a six months’ leave of absence from his church. Perhaps his voice—his whole body—was just worn out and needed some time to recover.
Duane was discouraged during this time but not panic-stricken. After all, he was a man of faith who believed that God could and often did heal. God was obviously taking his time in answering Duane’s prayers, but Duane never doubted that he, ultimately, would be healed. Hadn’t God called Duane to the ministry, where speaking was absolutely essential? Despite his fears, Duane waited for God to disclose more of his always-perfect plan.
But God revealed nothing, and as time passed, new symptoms developed. Duane lost his equilibrium, and often his vision would blur. Was he going to lose his sight now as well as his voice? Life slowly became unworkable and unbearable. How could one communicate, earn a living, even take care of errands without being able to make the most minimal of sounds? Financial difficulties grew. “The mortgage company, phone company, the grocer—no one gives discounts just because you’ve lost your voice,” Duane says. Still he believed the answers would come.
They did not. By the time the leave of absence ended, his voice hadn’t improved, and the physicians offered no new diagnoses. The original diagnosis had been correct, and there was no hope of reversing the situation. Although Duane could still emit some sounds by using fatty tissue near the vocal cords, known as “false cords,” these too would wear away in time. The doctors agreed that within a year or so Duane would be completely mute.
Brokenhearted, Duane resigned his pastorate. The family returned to the First Baptist Church in Houston, one of the largest church communities in the country, where he had served as pastor for twelve years prior to going to Brenham and where they had many old friends. “I faced the indignity of more medical tests, the humilia-tion of being without a vocational future, the anguish of watching my singing and preaching ministry being completely shut down,” Duane writes in his book, Out of the Silence. “But I no longer faced them alone.” He always had been the giver in this congregation, and now he was in need. It was not the role he would have chosen, but, for a little while, being surrounded by friends made life more bearable.
Joylene and the girls found jobs (which kept the college bills paid), Duane ran an agency that allowed him to work on paper rather than with his voice, and the family managed to rent a house they all liked very much. And when some physicians were almost positive that Duane had multiple sclerosis, the final test result was negative. In the midst of the agony, there was always just a trace of hope.
Duane was fully aware that people suffered handicaps and physical pain far more crippling than his. And yet his voice was essential to the job he had always assumed God had called him to do. What had changed? Did God now find him unworthy? “The anguish of my physical impairment began to bludgeon my spiritual life as well,” Duane recalls. “If I hear anyone who goes through a trying test say he or she never doubted God, I think that person is either lying or has lost touch with reality.” What are you doing, God? Don’t you love me anymore? Have you abandoned me? How many people throughout history, both famous and obscure, have struggled with these questions? Duane Miller was no exception.
By now, because his condition was so rare, Duane was a medical celebrity. At one seminar in Switzerland, specialists from all over the world examined photos of his throat. “From the very beginning, everything had been recorded and documented, like time-lapse photography,” he explains, “because every time I went to see any doctor, he would put the scope down my throat and photograph the changes, especially the growing scar tissue.”
It was as if God wanted everything officially recorded so that everyone would see that the glory, when it came, was all his.
During the past three agonizing years, Duane had learned to make himself heard by forcing air through his throat and screaming at the top of his lungs. Then someone from the congregation found a microphone that, when pressed against Duane’s lips, could amplify these sounds. This opened up a new possibility: perhaps Duane could occasionally teach his former Sunday school class at First Baptist. He was hesitant. Who would want to sit through such uncomfortable sounds? But his friends encouraged him, and, once in a while, he preached a short lesson.
He was doing just that on the morning of January 17, 1993, having been persuaded to substitute at the last minute for another teacher. The class was also being tape-recorded, a routine practice. The two hundred or so attendees knew about Duane’s voice. But because Duane had always tried to keep his more personal problems to himself, no one in the audience was aware that he had recently lost his job and his medical insurance, had a book proposal rejected (not because of his writing ability but because he would not be physically able to do any media promotion), or that he was nearing the time when the doctors believed he would become completely mute—in short, that he was as low as he had been since the beginning of his ordeal. Nor had Duane selected that particular day’s lesson, based on Psalm 103, because the series had been prescheduled. “I was feeling no great faith—in fact, inside I was still asking God, ‘Why have you punished me this way?’”
In Psalm 103, the psalmist reminds us not to forget the gifts of God,
Who pardons all your sins,
heals all your ills,
Delivers your life from the pit . . .
your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
These were hard concepts for Duane to discuss. He truly believed that God does such things, but everyone in the congregation had watched Duane struggle for three years; they knew that God had not healed or renewed their beloved friend, despite his courage and goodness. How effective a teaching could this be?
Duane spoke for more than twenty minutes before reaching these particular verses, and he was just about ready to cut the lesson short—his throat was hurting terribly, and the strain of pushing the words out was so great that he wondered if anyone could hear him anyway—but he forged on. Reflecting on the “pit”—where he felt he was now, in a pit with no way out—he said, “I have had, and you have had, pit experiences.” On the word pit, Duane felt something odd. The “fingers” that had been locked around his throat for three years seemed to let go! People looked up—what had happened? Duane sounded different.
Duane noticed it too. His voice was stronger, less hoarse. “Now . . . to say God doesn’t do miracles today is to put God in a box, and God doesn’t like to be put in a box,” he said. Then he stopped, stunned. He could hear himself! His voice was normal!
Joylene left her chair in the audience and ran up to the stage. “I don’t . . . understand this right now,” Duane said without the microphone. “In fact, I’m at a loss for words!” He put his arms around Joylene and began to weep. Some in the congregation broke into tears; some cheered, laughed, and praised God.
Others dashed out of the room to find the senior pastor. “Duane’s been healed!” they shouted.
Could it be true? “I wanted to laugh, cry, sing, shout, dance, and hug everyone I could, all at the same time,” Duane recalls. “After a few brief minutes, I thought, what better way to celebrate the restoration of my voice than to teach God’s word?” So he continued the lesson. And at the end of the session, the congregation burst into the most appropriate of all endings, the doxology “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.” “I don’t think anyone who was there that day will ever sing the doxology in a casual manner again,” Duane says. “The truth of its simplicity struck our hearts for eternity.”
Word, of course, had started to spread. Dr. John Bisagno, senior pastor of the church, was conducting the scheduled worship service in the main church and now summoned Duane to the platform. People who had attended the early service had heard about Duane’s restored voice, so there was standing room only in the worship center as Dr. Bisagno approached the pulpit.
“You all know Duane Miller,” Dr. Bisagno began. “He’s been around here for the better part of twenty years. And most of you know the problem he has had with his voice these past three years. I want him to come and tell you what God has done in his life.”
Duane approached the pulpit. “Well, I’ll try,” he said. At that, some five thousand people jumped to their feet and began to worship God much as Duane’s class had done. Some wept, some laughed, others clapped; many fell to their knees, and tears flowed freely. The organist began to play the Bill Gaither chorus “Let’s Just Praise the Lord.” And everyone did.
Since his healing, Duane has been back to many physicians for reevaluation, and every photo taken of his throat since January 17, 1993, shows a complete lack of scar tissue on his vocal cords. They are as smooth and healthy as they were before his tribulation began, with absolutely no indication that any problem ever existed. “Even if you could explain the coincidence of my suddenly being able to speak,” Duane says, “you have to understand that scar tissue doesn’t disappear by itself. What happened to it?”
And yet, after much thought, Duane is convinced that this is the central message of his entire experience. Scar tissue does disappear—at least the spiritual kind. God has said that he will perform glorious works for his children, and what could be more glorious than knowing that our lives, with all their failures and mistakes, can be completely restored in an instant, through his love and grace?
Nor should the very public aspect of Duane’s miracle be overlooked. Not only did the witnesses in his congregation and throughout Houston experience a deepening of their faith, but word spread throughout the world as well, primarily because the entire event had been tape-recorded. So often, miracles are private, tender in their intimacy. But in this case, God had unleashed the tongues of thousands, all eager to share this good news. “God healed me not because I earned it, deserved it, had enough people praying, or any of those other reasons,” Duane says, “but because he wanted people to be drawn to him and to give him all the glory.” To further that cause today, while serving as senior pastor at the First Baptist Church in Bellaire, Texas, Duane is also the executive director of NuVOICE Ministries, a group committed to the church through speaking, teaching, presenting seminars, consulting, and praying.
Many believe that this is just the beginning of the glory God is going to reveal to his people in the coming years. Our God—yours, mine, and Duane’s—is truly an awesome God.