Amazement

People were overwhelmed with amazement.

Mark 7:37

Jesus went into the region east of the Sea of Galilee called the Decapolis. This region was known for ten cities that were networked with each other and Greek in culture. It would have been likely to find a high Gentile population in this region. Yet, word of Jesus’s miracles had spread and people brought Him a man who was deaf and mute.

Jesus touched the man’s tongue, put His fingers in the man’s ears, and commanded them to “Be opened!” In the original language this is a passive imperative in the second person. That means it is a command that can only be obeyed passively. One way we see Jesus heal in the Gospels is to command parts of the body to “be healed” or “be opened” or “be made well.” Jesus isn’t commanding the unhealthy body part to heal itself. Instead, because these are passive imperatives, He’s essentially speaking to the unhealthy body part and commanding it to receive healing from God (passive).

When the man’s hearing and speaking were immediately healed, the people “were overwhelmed with amazement.” And these were likely Gentiles or, at the very least, Hellenized Jews. Jesus was getting a better response from these folks than from many of the Jewish leaders.

Being overwhelmed with amazement is the proper response to the Kingdom of God invading earth. It is the proper response to seeing or hearing about a healing, a miracle or a deliverance. This is how we were supposed to react to these things. Unfortunately, cynicism, skepticism, and the fear of being tricked by charlatans has left a deep wound in the heart of the American church. And this has caused muted reactions to moments when God moves in power.

Here are some reasons why many Christians are no longer overwhelmed with amazement when God moves in power:

  • Unbelief: they’ve heard too many stories, or witnessed it themselves, of fake healings or church leaders trying to use the miraculous for personal and financial gain. So when they hear of a testimony of someone getting healed or set free from demonic oppression, they just don’t believe it.
  • Indifference: they don’t necessarily doubt the stories of healings and miracles, they just have been taught that these things aren’t important. They’ve been taught an almost Gnostic version of the gospel that says the really important story is the one where a soul gets saved. Material/physical stuff doesn’t matter. Or an updated version of this is where a person gets really excited about a person outside the church finding loving community inside the church, yet all other stories of God moving in power get a shrug of the shoulders.
  • Confusion: they hear these stories and don’t really have a compartment in their brain to put it. They’ve lived in the American culture that is saturated with the worship of rationalism and empiricism, so God doing the supernatural is disorienting. They don’t know what to do with these stories of healing and miracles so the stories are mostly met with blank stares.
  • Familiarity: they have been a part of a church community where healings and deliverances happen regularly. Over time, people become so accustomed to God moving in supernatural power that they take it for granted. It becomes so commonplace that people stop living in awe and wonder of the Lord.

All of the above reactions are understandable, but they’re also unhealthy. The people of the Decapolis had it right. When God moves in power, when the Kingdom of God invades the kingdom of darkness, when someone gets healed or delivered, the proper response is worship. The proper response is awe and wonder. The proper response is deep gratitude and thanksgiving. And if we see it happen right in front of us, the proper response is to be overwhelmed with amazement!

Proximity Healing

As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Mark 6:54-56

A guy in my church came down for prayer after our service was over on Sunday. He wanted prayer for his foot that had been bothering him for some time. When we prayed, he immediately started to feel heat all over his body to the point where he started sweating. The Presence of God was on him in an intensified way. As I continued to pray for his foot, the pain left. The prayer time took no more than 5 minutes. Jesus healed his foot right there.

But why ask someone else for prayer? Why go to someone who has seen people physically healed before and ask them to pray for your physical ailment? Can’t we just pray on our own? Doesn’t God just heal whomever He wants whenever He wants? Why would the book of James recommend that we go to particular people for prayer?

Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. 

James 5:14-15

In the time of Jesus, people traveled long distances carrying their loved one on a mat just to get them near Jesus. Proximity mattered. They wanted Jesus to touch them or for them to touch the edge of Jesus’s cloak. Either way, power seemed to be coming from Jesus that was bringing physical healing to people. Jesus was a touchpoint, a conduit, of God’s power. So they traveled to get near Jesus wherever He was. The Gospel of Luke says it this way:

…a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

Luke 6:17-19

But couldn’t God just heal all those people in their own homes? Couldn’t God just heal them in their own synagogues? If God really wanted them to be healed, couldn’t God just answer their prayers for healing right where they were? Why would God have them travel to Jesus to get healed?

The answer is, “Yes.” God could have healed each of these people right in their own homes and in their own synagogues. He could have sovereignly healed them right where they were. But He didn’t. Just like He could have healed my friend in my church who came forward for prayer. God could have answered His prayer for healing right in his own bedroom. But God didn’t. God chose, instead, to use me as a touchpoint of His grace, a conduit of His power, in order to heal. This is something that is a regular pattern for God.

When God flows through us, through the Holy Spirit, to bring healing to someone else, we are functioning like a spring of water. Sovereign healings are like rain. Someone in ancient times could wait and say, “If God really wanted me to have water, He would send rain.” And there is some truth in that. But understanding the ways of God is really important. Another way God provides water is having people travel to a spring, or to a well, to collect water. People shouldn’t just wait on rain; they must travel to that spring if they want water.

Waiting on rain isn’t always always an act of faith. Often it is an act of misunderstanding the different ways that God provides water for us. The same is true of healing. Waiting for a sovereign healing is sometimes an act of faith. But often, it is simply a misunderstanding of the different ways that God provides healing for us. Sometimes we must travel to a source of healing, a place or person where God is regularly pouring out His healing through the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:9-10, 28).

So we should always pray for our own healing and ask God to bring healing. But sometimes we must go to the wellsprings of healing. This means seeking prayer from those within our church who operate in gifts of healing. It also might mean traveling to people and ministries who specialize in gifts of healing and miracles.

In Jesus’s day, people could have stubbornly stayed home and reasoned with themselves, “If God wanted to heal me, He would do it wherever He wanted and whenever He wanted.” But this is a misapplication of the truth of God’s sovereignty. Those who traveled to Jesus got healed. Those who saw the power of God pouring out of Jesus, and understood that proximity mattered, picked up their friend on a mat and did whatever they could to get them in front of Jesus. They understood that sometimes God sends rain to us and other times we must go to the wellspring for water.

We need to be ready in faith to travel, to go to where God is pouring out His healing power. We need to be able to identify healthy springs and go to them. We need to have enough wisdom to discern the difference between the charlatans and the real servants of God. Going to someone who has gifts of healing still does not guarantee our healing, but it acknowledges one of the primary ways God brings His healing into this world.

Region of the Gerasenes

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

Mark 5:1-5

Jesus encountered a heavily demonized man in a Gentile region and a spiritual battle ensued. But the battle was not between Jesus and the demons. That wasn’t even a battle. Jesus immediately and easily cast a legion of demons out of the man. The real battle was over the region. When one reads the full story in Mark 5, it becomes clear that there was a demonic principality who sat over that Gentile region and did not want to be overthrown (Ephesians 6:12).

First, the legion of demons were perfectly fine leaving the man, they just didn’t want to be sent out of the region. “…he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area”(Mark 5:10). These demons had likely operated with impunity and without resistance in that region for centuries. They had gained authority in that region over the people there. And they were likely ruled by a principality who protected them.

Secondly, when the townspeople discover what happened to the man and the pigs, they ask Jesus to leave the region. “…the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region“(Mark 5:17). The people were more terrified of Jesus and His authority than they were of this crazed and demonized man living among the tombs. They likely were Gentiles and had been under the influence of the demonic principality of the region their whole life. They became as afraid of Jesus as the demons were. They needed Jesus to leave because His power and authority were a threat to all that they had normalized.

Third, Jesus was willing to leave because He didn’t want to overthrow the demonic principality of that region and leave a spiritual vacuum. Imagine overthrowing a dictator by force and having no government to replace it. Things end up worse than before. Jesus says as much in Matthew 12:43-45. So instead, Jesus enacts a subversive spiritual revolution through the man that was just delivered of a legion of demons. But the man wanted to go with Jesus. “…the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him“(Mark 5:18).

It’s like the man could still sense the darkness of the region. He knew that darkness all too well. He didn’t want to stay there. He wanted to be near Jesus. He wanted to be near the light, safety, and freedom that enveloped Jesus. He didn’t want to stay in that region still ruled by that old, familiar demonic principality. But Jesus knew that the only way to overthrow a demonic principality was through subversive spiritual revolution. In other words, the principality would be displaced when there was enough people of the Kingdom of God no longer bowing to its demands in that area.

Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Mark 5:19

When we first read about the demonized man with a legion of demons in him and how Jesus set him free, we can think this encounter was all about one man. And in a sense, it was about that one man. But more than that, this was about a region under the rule of the kingdom of darkness. This was about Jesus planting a small seed in the enemy’s garden and watching as it becomes the largest tree in the garden, gradually displacing all the weeds that had grown there.

The spiritual battle was not between Jesus and the demons. That is a fight that is all too easily won by Jesus. The spiritual battle was between the people of that region and the demonic principality calling the shots in that area. That is where the real battle was.

That is where the real battle still is.

What you hear

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 

Mark 4:24

Jesus had just gotten accused of being possessed by a demon by the Pharisees. He was casting out demons everywhere He went, and they didn’t want to admit that this was from God. So their assumption was that Jesus’s power was coming from a demonic spirit rather than the Holy Spirit.

When His own family members saw the large crowds following Jesus, even they said, “He is out of His mind!”(Mark 3:21) They still saw Jesus as their brother, a carpenter from a small town, and struggled to understand what was happening with so many people getting healed of disease and delivered from demons.

After telling the Parable of the Sower, Jesus then says, “Consider carefully what you hear.” We might expect Him to say instead, “Be careful what you say.” But He doesn’t say that. He wants people to guard what they hear. He wants them to know what they consume, with their ears and eyes, will affect them.

Based on the follow-up statement about measuring others, Jesus is saying there is a direct connection between what we listen to and how we will judge others. If we listen to gossip, we will measure people incorrectly, just as the Pharisees and Jesus’s own family did with Him. If we listen to bad news all the time, we will measure the world incorrectly. What we allow in our ears matters.

One of the strategies of the enemy is to manipulate what we hear. He is a master linguist who loves to manipulate language. He’s a master at propaganda and slogans that change the meaning of words to fit his evil schemes. We see this characteristic reveal itself in political powers that have committed genocide and horrible atrocities throughout history. One thing that is true of almost all of them is that they were good at manipulating people through propaganda, slogans, and the redefinition of words.

It’s happening now in our own culture over the definition of love. The enemy is trying to get our entire society to embrace a selfish kind of “love” focused on self-fulfillment rather than the self-sacrificing kind of agape love of scripture.

I saw the same thing happen in the church as this slogan became popular, “It’s okay to have doubts.” This was a reaction against fundamentalism’s obsession with certainty. And, originally, “doubt” meant “uncertainty.” So, originally, the idea was that it is okay to be uncertain about things. Being uncertain about some things is not contrary to a life of faith. I agree with this whole-heartedly.

However, what started to happen was a slight-of-hand with the definition of “doubt.” Soon, doubt no loner meant “uncertainty” and started to mean “unbelief.” Yet, people used the same slogan, “It’s okay to have doubts.” But now this slogan meant that it was okay to embrace unbelief. I couldn’t disagree more. Unbelief is antithetical to a life of faith. Unbelief became welcomed and accepted in the church through the Trojan-horse word “doubt” all by simply manipulating its definition.

Can you see how it works? Can you see the enemy’s scheme with language and definitions? Can you see why Jesus said, “Consider carefully what you hear.

The same kind of manipulation of language is happening now around discussions of gender identity and racism. Words that used to mean one thing now mean another. Old definitions are thrown out and manipulative new definitions are added.

We saw the same thing happen in the abortion debate. The murder of children became “a woman’s choice.” Who in their right mind would be against something labeled simply as a “choice.” And who in their right mind would be against “re-education” if we label it correctly. Again, you can see the enemy’s schemes clearly once they are exposed.

Language matters. Correct definitions matter. Truth matters. What we actually allow ourselves to listen to, what we allow our children to listen to, matters. We need the Holy Spirit to give us discernment to see through the nonsense that is out there in our culture right now.

Consider carefully what you hear.

Defining Disciple

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot,

Mark 3:13-19

This is the passage in Mark 3 where Jesus chooses the 12 disciples who would eventually become the apostles of the early church. If a brand new believer were to read this passage and one were to ask them, “What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus today,” what would be their reply? Taken directly from this passage, this might be their response.

A disciple is:

1. called/invited by Jesus to follow Him (and they say “Yes!”).

2. to “be with” Jesus.

3. sent out to preach the gospel.

4. given authority to do the works that Jesus did (including driving out demons).

We see something very similar in a related passage of scripture in Matthew’s Gospel.

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Matthew 10:1-8

If a brand new believer were to read this passage in Matthew and one were to ask them, “What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus today, ” what would be their reply? Taken directly from this passage, this might be their response.

A disciple is:

1. called/invited by Jesus to follow Him (and they say “Yes!”).

2. given authority to do the works that Jesus did (including driving out demons and healing every kind of disease and sickness).

3. sent out to proclaim the message of the Kingdom.

4. commanded to freely receive from the Lord and then freely give to others.

Can you see the pattern? Can you see the similarity?

There seems to be four main component parts of being a disciple. First, we are invited to surrender our lives to following Jesus, and we say “Yes” to Jesus with our whole life.

Secondly, we are invited to just “be with” Jesus so that, in the midst of increasing intimacy with Him, we can freely receive from Him. Because we freely receive, we can turn and freely give.

Third, there is an aspect of our life that includes the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the good news of the gospel declared with our words.

Fourth, we have the authority of Jesus to enact the demonstration of the Kingdom of God, the good news of the gospel shown through our actions. We have authority to do what Jesus did.

Are all four of these aspects of being a disciple of Jesus part of our own life? Are we missing one or two? If we’re missing something, ask the Lord to show you what it looks like to take the next step.

Encounters with the Lord

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Acts 9:1-6

Saul was on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians when he had a life-changing encounter with the Lord. Jesus showed up in such a powerful way that it knocked Saul to the ground and blinded him. This was the beginning of the Pharisee Saul becoming the apostle Paul.

Encounters with the Lord change us. But not all encounters are like the one Saul had. Throughout the Bible we see people having encounters with the Lord in different ways. And in the New Testament church, because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, those encounters only increased in variety.

What follows is a list of a variety of different encounters that are available to us. This list is not exhaustive but instead representative of the variety of ways Jesus encounters us through the Spirit. There are as many kinds of encounters as there are characteristics of Christ.

1. Mercy Encounter: most Christians have had this kind of encounter with the Lord. This is when the Lord reveals our sin and our unworthy state as we stand vulnerable before the Lord and He pours out his forgiveness upon us. As His grace and mercy envelop us, we feel free from the guilt and shame of our sin. We feel washed clean and made right with the Lord. Tears often accompany this encounter.

2. Truth Encounter: this is when we have been shackled by a lie (or lies) and we didn’t even know it. The Lord reveals a powerful truth to us through scripture, through prayer, through a sermon, or through a friend. That truth rocks us to the core and breaks the chains of the lie we had been believing. Jesus is the Truth as He comes with a fresh perspective and sets us free. An “ah ha” feeling, a feeling of new revelation and new perspective, often accompanies this kind of encounter.

3. Love Encounter: this is when the Love of the Father gets poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. We may have felt unaccepted or unloved until this moment. When God’s love pours out on us we feel totally accepted and cherished as a child of God. Performance mentality is broken off of us. We finally accept that we don’t have to earn God’s love. We just bask in it. More than tears, weeping often accompanies this kind of encounter. Others have felt what they can only describe as liquid love pouring onto them.

4. Power Encounter: this is when the power of God shoots through someone’s body like electricity. These encounters most often happen during prayers of impartation, prayers for healing, and prayers for deliverance. The power of God surges through someone physically and they have physical reactions to it. They often tremble, shake, fall to the ground, have muscle contractions, and sometimes experience pain. It makes sense that our frail human bodies would have a hard time handling the power of our omnipotent God. Sometimes, especially if this kind of encounter is new to someone, it is a little frightening because a person can lose control of their bodies for a moment.

5. Peace Encounter: this is when the peace of Christ comes and blankets us. We suddenly go from a mind filled with anxiety, fear, worry, and grief to a complete calm. All the anxiety, fear, and worry leave. We feel totally at peace. Our problems that seemed so huge before melt away. The problem doesn’t change but we see it differently now. We are confident in God’s ability to work in any situation. We are not worrying about the future nor trapped in the past. When the peace of Christ blankets us, we are completely present in the moment. A sense of total calm mixed with unconditional hope often accompanies this kind of encounter.

6. Joy Encounter: this is when the explainable joy of the Lord fills our hearts. This is not joy based on people around us or our circumstances. This is an outpouring of joy from the heart of God. Sometimes there is a feeling that a person is so filled with the Spirit that they feel intoxicated or high. The heaviness of life, despair, depression, and hopelessness immediately evaporate as they are overwhelmed by the joy of the Lord. This joy encounter can be momentary (just a few hours) or it can last days. People often experience uncontrollable laughter even when nothing around them is funny.

7. Fire Encounter: this is when the fire of God comes upon a person. This is a kind of power encounter. The person feels heat all over their body or in one particular part of their body. It gets so hot that the person often sweats profusely though no one around them is warm. This can be localized if someone is praying for healing for a particular part of the body, or it can be felt all over if the Presence of God is all over a person.

8. Vision/Dream Encounter: this is a revelatory encounter where God gives a person an open vision. An internal vision is when God gives us a picture or a scene in our mind’s eye. That is a much more common experience than an open vision. An open vision is when a person is stopped in their tracks by seeing a spiritual vision externally with their physical eyes. We see this kind of encounter many times in the New Testament. Those with prophetic gifts will have more of these kinds of encounters. This kind of encounter can also happen while we are sleeping if Jesus comes to speak to us in our dreams.

9. Angelic Encounter: this is when a person sees with their physical eyes an angel near them. Often the angel has been sent to do something or say something to them. The angel is never worshipped as they are simply servants in the Kingdom of God. But the experience of seeing an angel can shake a person and cause a level of holy fear. The angel often has just been in God’s Presence and, like an aroma or a kind of radiation, the residue of God’s Presence can be felt on them.

10. Fear of the Lord Encounter: this is when a person encounters God’s Presence and God reveals to them just how close He was to them. When that revelation hits, the awesome fear of the Lord falls upon them. The awareness of just how awesome, powerful, holy, and glorious the Lord is hits a person all at once and it’s terrifying. Holy fear envelops them. Shaking, weeping, and repentance often accompanies this kind of encounter.

I know all of these encounters are real and available to us as followers of Jesus because I’ve had most of them. Though I’ve never had an open vision, I have had inner visions and I’ve had good friends who’ve experienced open visions. Though I’ve never had an angelic encounter, I have good friends and loved ones who have. All the rest of these I’ve experienced firsthand. And this is only a list of 10. There are so many attributes of God and encounters with Him that await those who pursue Him.

We don’t pursue the encounter, we pursue Jesus. We go after Him with everything we are and He meets us where we are with a unique encounter just for us. Encountering Jesus through the Spirit is life-changing. Every time we have an experience with Him we are changed by it. We get a taste of His nature and His character and we want more. And as we get to know Him, we want to be just like Him.

COVID-19 and The Gospel

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:15-20

The gospel and being filled with the Holy Spirit were always meant to spread like a virus, not unlike COVID-19. One person can “infect” a whole group of people. Yet, what are the preventative measures that stop the spread? Masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and inoculation.

Masks = when people hide their face, when they are afraid to be transparent about their life

Hand sanitizer = when people refuse to get their hands dirty, when they want their Christianity tidy and neat and don’t want the mess that comes with the Holy Spirit and a servant-life of following Jesus

Social distancing = lack of connection, lack of community, relational distance

Inoculation = vaccines work by exposing the immune system to part of the virus without being exposed to the whole thing. People get inoculated from the gospel and the Holy Spirit when they get a partial exposure but don’t experience the whole thing. This leads them to believe they have experienced the whole thing, and they are not impressed when it is offered again. They’ve built up a hardness of heart, an immunity.

By far the strongest preventive measure against a virus is a vaccine. Likewise, the strongest preventive measure the enemy can enact against the gospel and the filling of the Holy Spirit is partial exposure without full exposure.

I see this with the gospel when people say, “Oh yeah, I grew up in church.” What they often mean is, “I already know all about Jesus and the church and I don’t want any part of it.” But of course, that isn’t true. They were exposed only partially to the Kingdom and all that comes with following Jesus. If they knew the whole thing, they’d want all of it.

I also see this with the filling of the Spirit, mostly from those who have some experience (usually bad experience) with the charismatic tradition. People saw a charismatic televangelist or went to a charismatic. church for a time in their life and had horrible experiences with that. They now believe they are an expert on the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Spirit. They reject so much of the Spirit’s work in the world because “they already know.” But if they really knew the fullness of the Spirit, they would be running around telling everyone about it. They’ve become inoculated with just enough exposure to leave a bad taste in their mouth but not enough exposure to see what all the fuss is about.

This is why it is vital for churches and Christians to be “all in.” When we give people a partial exposure to the gospel or a partial exposure to the gifts of the Spirit, we run the risk of eventual inoculation. We must be all in ourselves, sold out for Christ, and invite people to an uncompromised experience of the Kingdom and the Spirit.

Gnostic dualism

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Mark 12:30

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

When asked what the greatest commandment is Jesus responds that it is to love the Lord your God with your whole being. It was a holistic view of humanity that Jesus had. We are to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and body.

Likewise, when the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about sanctification, he expresses a holistic view of humanity. The process of sanctification, where the Holy Spirit transforms us into Christ-likeness, is supposed to happen in our spirit, soul, and body. We are whole people that need transformation in every part of us. We are spirit, soul (mind, will, emotions) and body.

In the early years of Christianity a heresy started to creep into the church called gnosticism. Gnosticism didn’t have a holistic view of humanity and instead was a kind of dualism. The idea was that our spirit is what mattered but that our body was disposable. So whether you used your body to sin or treated your body poorly didn’t really matter as long as your spirit was connected to God. As long as you began to discover the secret knowledge of spiritual enlightenment, that is what made you spiritual. Your body was just a shell to carry your spirit and the knowledge of the secret mysteries. This philosophy was denounced as a heresy in the church because it did not express the biblical understanding of humanity or God.

This kind of gnostic dualism is still creeping into the church today.

In more conservative evangelical wings of the church, it looks like an emphasis on “getting souls saved” or “winning people to Christ” while forgetting to care for people’s physical needs. There can be a tendency to downplay the importance of caring for the poor and helping people with material needs in favor of getting someone to confess Jesus as Lord. In some evangelical churches, working for a more just society and care for the marginalized is totally rejected. This is residue of gnostic dualism. A holistic and biblical approach to humanity and the gospel would emphasize the importance of both salvation and meeting people’s physical needs.

In more progressive and mainline Protestant wings of the church, this dualism looks like an emphasis on caring for people’s emotional needs while forgetting that Jesus wants to heal people’s physical body. There can be a tendency to downplay the reality that God still wants to heal people’s physical illnesses in favor of only caring about people’s emotional healing. In many progressive churches, the idea that God still supernaturally heals bodies from illness and injury is completely rejected. Healing in the church is exclusively an emotional category while physical care is left up to the medical community. This rejection of healing ministry for the body is rife with gnostic dualism. A holistic and biblical approach to humanity and the gospel would emphasize the importance of both physical and emotional healing.

And in typical fashion, progressives often point out the dualism of conservatives and can’t see their own. Likewise, conservatives often point out the dualism of progressives and can’t see their own. This lack of self-awareness mixed with a myopic view of others is how the enemy defeats the church.

Gnostic dualism in any form is not the true gospel. It is not how Jesus viewed humanity nor how the apostle Paul viewed humanity. The gospel addresses the whole person. The gospel sets us free from sin, heals our heart, and offers healing for the body. The Kingdom of God is interested in bringing new life, redemption, and restoration to the whole person, not just part of a person.

Hungry

One who is full loathes honey from the comb,
    but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.

Proverbs 27:7

This proverb could rightly be re-written,

“One who is content with religion, who loves church but is not desperate for Jesus, will hate it when the Presence of God comes crashing in with all of His weird manifestations and powerful encounters. But to those who hunger for more of God’s Presence, who are desperate for life-changing encounters with Jesus, who know that church is worthless without Him, even uncomfortable moments with Him are better than comfortable moments without Him.”

Are we full? Are we satisfied with the intensity of the Presence of God in our midst? Or does He have permission to disrupt our comfort? Does He have permission to cause weird things to happen to us and those around us? Do we crave the level of the Presence of God that the priests experienced when the Temple was dedicated?

When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying,

“He is good;
    his love endures forever.”

2 Chronicles 7:1-3

God’s Presence was so thick and so real that it totally disrupted their worship plans. All they could do was bow with their faces to the ground and proclaim God’s goodness and love. Do we hunger for that level of God’s manifest Presence in our midst? Do we long to see God drop fire down in the center of our worship space? Or are we so full with other Christian activities that we’re missing the best part?

While Christian community, small groups, social justice and outreach programs are all good things, they are not the main thing. Jesus is the main thing. God in His glory is the best thing. All other aspects of church should flow from our all-out pursuit of Him and our experience of Him in our midst.

Christ is preeminent. He is above all things!

Father, may you stir in us that deep hunger again! May we become so unsatisfied with Americanized church that we begin to simply long for your manifest Presence in our midst. We are changed when You draw near!

Attending to Jesus

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Mark 1:12-13

It is astounding to me that Jesus––God incarnate––needed angels to attend to Him after His time of fasting and testing in the wilderness. The fact that Jesus would humble Himself to the point of needing attending to is amazing to me. He allowed Himself to be in need. He allowed Himself to suffer. He allowed Himself to go through the fire of trial and temptation.

This truth also points to the reality that Jesus continually chose not to tap into His power as God and instead continued to act only as a man. God does not need help. God does not need attending to by angels. But we do as humans. Jesus chose not to pull from His divinity. Instead, He chose only to pull from His connection to His Father and from the Holy Spirit within and upon Him. He did this to model for us the resources we have in our own connection to the Father and the Holy Spirit within and upon us.

The apostle Paul said it this way:

…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

Philippians 2:5-7

Jesus, although He was in very nature God, never used His divinity to His own advantage. He chose to stay dependent on the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit. All of Jesus’s strength came from the Father and through the Spirit. All of Jesus’s miracles, healings, and power came from the Father and through the Spirit. Though He could have tapped into His divinity at any point, He continually chose not to. And in doing so, He left us without excuse.

We don’t get to read through the Gospel accounts and let ourself off the hook by saying, “Yeah, but that was Jesus. He was God.” Jesus didn’t leave us that out. He modeled full dependency on the Father, complete obedience, and total cooperation with the Spirit as a man. When we are called to be Christ-like, this is what that means.

Jesus implied our ability to imitate His life when He said:

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 

John 14:11-12

Jesus expected that we could look at His miraculous works and allow that to foster faith in Him. He also expected that whoever believes in Him would be able to do the same miraculous works, and even greater. What an incredible claim! And if that claim was spoken by a televangelist, I wouldn’t believe it. But it wasn’t. It was spoken by Jesus Himself and recorded in the word of God.

Jesus is our goal. He is our benchmark. His life is what we are trying to replicate by the transforming power of the Spirit within us. Our goal is to imitate the life of Jesus…full obedience and dependence on the Father…full cooperation with the Holy Spirit…total surrender to God’s will. And along with this the expectation that we too will face trials, temptations, and hardships in this life just as Jesus did. We too will face moments of such depths that we’ll also need angels to attend to us.