The Toxicity of Unbelief

“Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” … Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 

John 12:36-37

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 

So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

Hebrews 3:12 & 19

Living in a culture that celebrates doubt can cause us to forget all the warnings from Jesus and from the rest of the New Testament against unbelief. Scripture does not paint unbelief as something that everyone should embrace as a “normal” part of life. Instead, unbelief is regularly warned against as something that is toxic and damaging.

Imagine you are in an ancient army, fighting a foreign enemy for the sake of your King and the Kingdom to which you belong. Battle can become wearisome. Armor can get heavy. There are always casualties of war and that, by itself, can be discouraging. But imagine you press through all of this to continue to fight valiantly for your King.

Now imagine as you enter the battlefield one of the soldiers behind you says, “You know, I’m not sure I believe in our king anymore. I’m not sure we even have a king. Further, I don’t think that army over there is real either. I have serious doubts that we are even in a war. This army that you talk about us fighting against, maybe it’s just a figment of your imagination. Yesterday I was talking to this nice merchant who sells furs, I think her name was Lucy, and she told me she’d pay me a bonus fee to go home. I’m tired anyway, so I think I’m going to take her up on her offer.”

What is your response to your fellow soldier? Are you inclined to coddle them with, “Oh, I totally understand. It’s normal to question whether the King is real and whether that army over there is just a fictitious mirage. Take your time and go home. We’ll be here bleeding and fighting if you ever think you might want to return.” Is that what you’d say? I hope not.

My guess is that most of us would tap into our inner Master Sergeant and begin to challenge our fellow soldier to stay in the fight. We would remind him not to be deceived by Lucy’s lies and not to give up. We’d remind him of how much we need him supporting our flank and how being tired should never lead us into unbelief, no matter how tired we get. The King has called us to war and the Kingdom needs us to be all in! It’s a privilege and an honor to be in the King’s army, even when it’s hard.

Let’s call unbelief what it really is. It is deception. And the end result of unbelief is cowardice. It’s choosing the comfort of the couch over the challenge of the battlefield.

Rise of Skywalker: Biblical Themes

I took my oldest son to see Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker yesterday while my younger son was seeing it with a friend for his friend’s birthday party. We absolutely loved it! It had everything you’d want in a Star Wars movie. Without giving away too much, I noticed a couple biblical themes in the movie.

1. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

If you’ve seen the movie, you might think I was quoting from something that was said to Poe Dameron. But this actually comes from a section of scripture in 2 Kings. The king of Aram was trying to attack the prophet Elisha. When Elisha’s servant saw the vast army surrounding the city they were in, he felt overwhelmed. But Elisha could see what the servant could not. Here’s what happens:

“Go, find out where he (Elisha) is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

2 Kings 6:13-17

While all seemed lost and hopeless because of the vast army of Aram, Elisha knew that the Lord had sent an even greater army–an angel army–to guard and protect him and his servant. The army of Aram was sent into mass confusion that day and never touched Elisha.

This same thing happened when the resistance fighters, specifically Poe, thought they were outnumbered and alone. The massive force that was coming against them seemed overwhelming. Yet, two different times, Poe was reminded that there were more that were with him than were against him. We often need to be reminded of this as well.

2. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” &
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”

The first quote is Jesus’s final words in Matthew 28:20 before He ascends to the right hand of the Father in heaven. He is always with us. We are never alone.

The second quote is from Hebrews 12:1. The writer of Hebrews had just reminded the readers, in Hebrews 11, of all the great men and women of faith that had gone before them. Then he starts chapter 12 by saying that, because we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on from heaven, we can boldly accomplish our own mission.

Both of these passages came to mind as Rey gained strength from all the Jedi who had gone before her. She could accomplish her own mission knowing that she was the culmination of all the great Jedi who had gone before her and were now cheering her on. She was not alone. She was never alone. Neither are we.

 

Raising the Dead: A Conversation

Sam: Did you hear that Bethel Church is praying for the 2-year-old daughter of one of their worship leaders to be raised back to life? She died a few days ago and they are praying for the little girl to be resurrected. Can you believe that insanity?

Me: I can believe it. And I love it! I am so inspired by their faith and courage. I only wish I would be able to have the same boldness to take that kind of risk for the sake of the name of Jesus if I were in that situation.

Sam: What? Are you crazy? You actually believe we should be praying to raise the dead?

Me: In certain situations, yes. And, technically, what we’re talking about is resuscitation. Theologians usually reserve the word resurrection for what will happen at the end of all things when we get a resurrected and glorified body. To delineate this from when a person comes back to life after being dead, they use the word resuscitation. Lazarus was resuscitated. He was dead and was raised back to life in his earthly body, but he eventually died again (John 11). In common vernacular, resuscitation is what EMT people do through CPR before a person is dead. This is why some people prefer the term resurrection because it is a little clearer to the average church goer. But in theological terms, resuscitation is when a person has died, then they come back to life in their earthly bodies.

Sam: But that was like a one time thing right?

Me: Actually, no. Jesus resuscitated/resurrected Lazarus, the little 12 year old girl (Mark 5:40-42), and the young man during his own funeral in the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). He was following in the tradition of and improving upon the resuscitations/resurrections performed by the prophets Elijah (in 1 Kings 17:22) and Elisha (in 2 Kings 4:34-35 & 13:20-21).

Not only that, but the early church performed resuscitations/resurrections as well. Tabitha (also called Dorcus) was raised back to life by the power of God through Peter (Acts 9:36-42), and Eutychus was raised back to life by power of God through Paul (Acts 20:7-12).

Sam: But I thought that when a person dies, it was the sovereign will of God. Isn’t it just a person’s “time” when they die?

Me: I used to think that too. But with that thinking, the stories of resuscitation/resurrection in the New Testament make no sense. If it was the little girl’s “time” to die because of the sovereign will of God, why then did Jesus bring her back to life? This would seem to imply some conflict between Jesus’s actions and the will of God. Yet, we know Jesus only did the Father’s will.

Likewise, if it was just Tabitha’s “time,” if it was God’s sovereign will that she died, why did Peter pray that she be raised to life? Further, why did God then answer Peter’s prayer and bring her back to life? Or what about Eutychus? Was it God’s sovereign will that he fall out of a window and die while listening to a sermon from Paul? Is that what we are to believe? Clearly, Paul did not believe that or he wouldn’t have prayed for him to be raised back to life.

From these situations in the New Testament we learn that sometimes people die before their time and that Jesus has authority even over death.

Sam: So are you saying that sometimes people die before they are supposed to?

Me: Yep. Tabitha in Acts 9 died before her time. Eutychus in Acts 20 died before his time. Lazarus in John 11 died before his time. The young man in Nain died before his time. Jesus has authority over death, and He gives that authority to His disciples to be used for His glory.

On a number of occasions, I have cast out of a person a demonic spirit of death. The assignment of a spirit of death on a person is to bring all forms of death into that person’s life. And sometimes that demonic assignment tries to bring about an early death. On more than one occasion, I’ve tried to cast out a spirit of death only to have it fight hard to stay. It’s a stubborn demon and doesn’t want to let go of the person to whom it is assigned.

I believe that sometimes people die, not because it is their “time,” but because the enemy is trying to take them out early. In the end, Jesus wins anyway because, as believers, we get to spend eternity in heaven. But the enemy is actively trying to take pieces of the Kingdom of God off the chessboard because he doesn’t want God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. After all, Jesus told us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…“(John 10:10).

Sam: Wait, wait, wait! This is nuts. Are you serious? How are we supposed to know if a person died because it was their time or because of the enemy attacking them?

Me: Great question, Sam. How did Jesus know to raise some from the dead but not all? How did Peter and Paul know to pray to raise some but not all? They didn’t pray to raise everyone who died. They only did this occasionally. How did they know?

The answer is not formulaic, though we love formulas in western Christianity. Jesus was in constant communication with the Father so that He could execute the perfect will of the Father. Peter and Paul were checking in with the Holy Spirit for discernment and guidance. And so, we must do the same. The truth is, we don’t know. When a person dies, we have to ask the Lord what to do next. But in the range of options of “what to do next,” we need to have the option of praying to raise the dead.

Sam: But why?

Me: Because Jesus commanded it. When Jesus sent out His disciples, He commanded them, “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 10:7-8).

Then before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you“(Matthew 28:18-20). In other words, Jesus commanded them to heal the sick, raise the dead, and drive out demons. Then, before He leaves, He tells them to teach the next generations of disciples “everything I have commanded you.” This includes healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons.

Based on the book of Acts, that is exactly what they did. We see the early church heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons. Just because the American church has such little faith that we struggle with these realities doesn’t mean we aren’t still commanded to do them.

Sam: Okay, okay. First, doesn’t praying to raise the dead disrupt the grieving process? Isn’t that unhealthy for grieving parents? Secondly, do we have any evidence that God is still raising the dead today?

Me: As to the first question, the parents will be grieving the loss of their child for the rest of their lives. Is it too much to ask to wait for a few days in an atmosphere of faith and hope, trusting Jesus with whatever the outcome might be? The Bethel people have buried plenty of people. They’ve done lots of funerals. They are not denying reality. They have faced the fact that the child is dead. They are not praying for healing. They are praying for resurrection, which means they are owning the reality that she is dead. But they are also trusting that God is a God of miracles, that Jesus has authority over death, and that biblically, in certain situations, the church has a mandate to pray for the dead to come back to life.

All of that said, it must be done lovingly and carefully. Just as praying for the sick must be done with love and care, so too must praying for resurrection. It should not be done for every death, and it should never be forced on any family. But when parents ask you to join them in prayer for their child to come back to life, that is not the time for speculations about God’s sovereignty. It’s a time to get on your knees next to the parents and believe in resurrection.

Sam: But what about my second question? Does it even still happen? Do we have any reason to believe God still does this?

Me: Yes, Sam, it is happening today all over the world. Story after story of resurrection are coming out of Iris Global’s ministry in Mozambique. And before we doubt these stories because they are coming from Africa, we need to check our xenophobia and cultural prejudices at the door. They know what death is. They have hospitals, doctors, and morgues. They also have seen people who had been dead for days sit straight up in the morgue. Heidi Baker and Supresa Sithole have seen resurrections in their ministry over and over again. David Hogan of Freedom Ministries has also seen resurrections in his ministry in Mexico. It’s not hypothetical. It’s happening in the global church today!

But if your skepticism or cultural prejudices are still getting the best of you, a notable resurrection happened here in the U.S. a few years ago in St. Charles, Missouri. They made a movie about it called Breakthrough. John, who was 14, was trapped under a lake for 15 minutes. Then paramedics and ER doctors tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him for 43 minutes. This is medical record. Medically, there is no coming back from this. Yet, when his mom came in and prayed for him to come back to life, he did. His heart, which had not been beating for roughly an hour, suddenly started, not because of a defibrillator but because of prayer. Roughly 48 hours later, he was awake and answering questions.

Again, Jesus has authority over death, and part of our inheritance in the Kingdom is that we get to share in that authority because we are in Christ.

Sam: But why would God bring some back and not others?

Me: Sam, the answer to that question is way above my pay grade. But I am encouraged by the true testimony of Joanne Moody (watch her full testimony on YouTube here). She was dying on an operating table after years of having debilitating chronic pain, and she felt her spirit release from her body. She floated above her body and saw what was happening around her. Then Jesus entered the room. And He told her, “I have heard your cries and I know full well your pain. You can go with Me now, or you can stay, for the prayers of the saints have given you a choice.”

In other words, so many people were praying for her that God was going to give her a choice to go back into her body or to go to be with Jesus in heaven. Everything in her wanted to go be with Jesus. She wanted to be done with the chronic pain. Yet, in her heart, she remembered her son. Her love for him took over and in her heart she knew she had to go back. Jesus read her heart and responded by saying, “It is as you wish, child.” And with that, she was sent back into her body.

So I believe that, sometimes, the prayers of brothers and sisters in Christ give us a choice. I don’t know how it all works, but I believe that Joanne Moody’s testimony reveals that sometimes our prayers for resurrection give that dead person a choice as to whether they will stay with Jesus or return to their body. It is Jesus’s prerogative to give us these kinds of choices. But our prayers do matter. Our prayers do impact things in the spirit realm even when we can’t see their effect (read Daniel 10:12-14 if you struggle to believe the truth of this).

Sam: So, now are you going to pray for resurrection for everyone who dies?

Me: No. That’s not what we see in the New Testament. But I hope to be the kind of pastor who will believe that Jesus has authority even over death, and that if I am led by the Spirit to pray for someone to be raised from the dead, I will do it in obedience.

My prediction is that years from now Bethel will be seen as a church that pioneered radical faith. More and more resurrections will happen in the U.S., and people will look back in awe that Bethel was willing to believe even when most of the anemic American church was not.

Count me among those who are willing to look foolish if it means taking Jesus at His word.

Voluntary & Involuntary Suffering

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…

Philippians 3:10

If we want to know the power of the resurrection of Christ then we must chose to participate in His sufferings. This means that to the extent that we are willing to voluntarily suffer, is the extent to which we’ll operate in power and authority in that area of our life. This is a Kingdom principle.

When we empathize with and serve people, we will often find ourselves suffering with them in different ways. This is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we fast and contend in prayer for a breakthrough, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we sacrifice for others, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we stand for truth in the face of people mocking and slandering us, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we participate in the sufferings of Christ in this way, we will find that our ministry and our prayers will carry more resurrection power with them.

It’s not that we are “paying the price” for greater power. It’s that Jesus already paid the price on the cross so that sons and daughters of the Kingdom would be able to operate in greater resurrection power. Romans 8:11 says, “…the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you…” Jesus already paid the price, so our job is to identify with Him in His sufferings. The result is resurrection power.

Voluntary suffering is different than involuntary suffering. In this world full of sin and brokenness, we will automatically face involuntary suffering (accidents, illnesses, financial issues, relational issues, hardship, etc). Involuntary suffering is useful too but just in a different way. While voluntary suffering produces power, involuntary suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope. Romans 5:3-4 says, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

James put the same idea this way:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

James 1:2-4

So one way to look at it is that while voluntary suffering empowers the gifts of the Spirit, involuntary suffering (handled well) empowers the fruit of the Spirit. Voluntary suffering God uses to make us more effective. Involuntary suffering God uses to make us more solid.

Eyes of the Heart

The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men…

…the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 

Matthew 28:4 & 8

An angel showed up at Jesus’s tomb to tell the women that Jesus has risen. Scripture tells us that this angel caused quite a commotion. First, the earth shook, then the stone that sealed the tomb rolled back, and the angel himself was white like lightening.

Both the women and the guards standing there were afraid of the appearance of this angel. They all had that in common. However, their heart conditions must have been different because we see two very different responses in the midst of that fear. The women were “afraid yet filled with joy.” But the fear experienced by the guards became shock-inducing terror as they fell down like dead men.

The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) reminds us that the condition of the soil of the heart makes all the difference in how an event, a message, or an encounter is received. These women had hearts that were filled with faith. So when they were given the message that Jesus was alive, the hope of that message sparked the kindling of faith and ignited joy in their hearts.

The guards did not experience this at all. Their hardened hearts had no faith. The encounter with the angel increased the fear that already lived in their hearts. So fear upon fear became terror. Faith gives us eyes to see, and these guards were blind to the hope that his angel represented.

We are responsible for tending to the condition of our heart. We cultivate good soil so that when we encounter something fearful in life, good fruit can come from it. We cultivate good soil–a heart full of faith–so that if we have an encounter with the Lord or with something powerful from His Kingdom, we don’t shrink away in doubt but instead step forward in faith.

Notice that the very next line of Scripture, as the women are leaving to tell the disciples about all of this, says, “Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him“(Matthew 28:9). If a person can’t handle the presence of an angel, they certainly won’t be able to handle Jesus showing up to them. Our hearts have to be able to handle it. Hearts full of faith and hope are the only kind of hearts that can handle an encounter with Jesus.

So many people say they wish Jesus would just show up to them, either to answer their questions or calm their doubts. But most people would drop down as if dead, just like the guards, if He showed up in their room. Their ill-prepared hearts couldn’t handle His Presence and glory.

Jesus said it this way, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God“(Matthew 5:8).

The apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians echoes something similar, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…“(Ephesians 1:18).

Salty

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Matthew 5:13

Jesus compares the people of God to the salt of the earth. We have sayings in our culture that involve salt that can confuse the meaning of this passage. When someone says that a person is a “salt of the earth” kind of person, they mean that the person is a good, simple, straightforward, and trustworthy person. This isn’t what Jesus was saying.

Likewise, sometimes people will describe someone as “salty.” By this they mean the person is colorful in their language and often tough, aggressive, and/or defensive. Again, this is not what Jesus is describing in this passage of scripture.

Salt in Jesus’s day was often expensive and was pulled from the Dead Sea region. Getting salt this way often caused it to be contaminated with other elements and impurities. If it was too full of impurities, it would lose its saltiness.

Salt was used for flavoring and preserving foods in ancient times. Yet, because of its value, one had to be careful how much was used. Salt was required as part of the grain offering for the Jewish people because of its value (Leviticus 2:13). It was seen as a sacrifice to use salt. It was even called “the salt of the covenant of your God.”

Salt was a major element of meals where a covenant was being made between individuals or families. When describing His relationship to the priests of Israel, God said:

“Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.”

Numbers 18:19

So, salt not only seasoned food and preserved food, but it was a sign of a covenant.

With all of this in mind, Jesus said that His followers are the salt of the earth. They are to season the earth. As they spread out, they flavor every area of culture that they are in. When they gather together, it is for the sake of preservation–preserving the faith, hope, and love that are in Christ. And just as the rainbow was a covenant sign to Noah that the Lord would never flood the earth again, followers of Jesus are meant to be a covenant sign to the earth of God’s love and faithfulness. We are to be a living, breathing sign of the covenant–a covenant of salt–between God and humanity.

Yet, if we have impurities that contaminate our life, we lose our saltiness. We lose our purpose for existing. Sin has a way of making us forget that the reason we are on the earth is to bring the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” Impurities can make us lose our purpose in the midst of distractions and diversions. When we lose our saltiness, we lose our ability to do good in the world for the Kingdom.

The Reason For The Hope

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 

1 Peter 3:15-16

We are called to be ready to give the reason for the hope that we have. If someone asks about our good life, our good attitude, our good marriage or our good parenting, we are to use this as an opportunity to point people to the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus. And, using all the emotional intelligence we can muster, we are to do this with gentleness and respect.

The question for us is why would anyone ask? Are our lives marked with blessing, kindness, generosity, love and hope such that people would be curious about it?

Here are some practical ways to display the love of Christ:

  • pay for the groceries of the person in front of you in the “20 items or less” checkout line
  • leave a tip that is 50% or 100% of your bill
  • help someone pick up their stuff after they’ve dropped it and made an embarrassing scene in a store
  • encourage a parent who is struggling with the behavior of their child in public
  • be the person who is immune to the cries of the baby on the flight and offer to help
  • let someone else go first
  • let someone use your umbrella in the rain
  • tell someone that they are good at their job (especially in service industries)

If they ask why you are doing these things, be ready to give a reason for the hope that you have. Tell them that you’ve been changed by the love of Jesus and want others to know that they are loved by God. Keep it simple. Keep it personal. Don’t preach. Don’t sell the gospel. Simply live it and then speak it. Let God do the rest.