Do you believe?

I have a special corner of my house that I use almost exclusively for reading my Bible. There’s a comfy couch, pillows, and a blanket from Mexico. Surrounding said couch is books. Lots of books: Bibles in at least five translations and two languages, dictionaries, concordances, sermon references, and commentaries. I love reading through other’s thoughts on what I’ve read. Sometimes theses books confirm my own ideas. Sometimes they open up a new way of thinking. And sometimes, like today, they are downright disappointing and even disturbing.

I read this today in a popular commentary:

The signs authenticated the faith the early believers proclaimed, not the personal faith that any one of them exercised. In light of this and historical evidence it is reasonable to conclude that these authenticating signs were normative only for the apostolic era.

To what signs is the writer referring?

[Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

Mark 16:15-18 (NIV)

Nothing in Jesus’ commission to his disciples indicates that signs would only follow for a few decades. There is no time frame or limit in this passage. Jesus simply stated that signs will follow believers. Period.

So what happened? Why do we Westerners see so few signs, wonders, and miracles? Ask yourself this question:

Do you believe?

If a well-respected commentary can state that miracles were only for the early apostolic period, imagine what is being taught in our churches all over the world.

Allow me to break this down logically.

Jesus told the disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news. What good news was that? That Jesus had come to save them, to offer a new covenant through his blood rather than the blood of a sacrificial animal. This new covenant would bring eternal life to the spirit of any who accepted it.

Jesus told the disciples to baptize the new believers. Why? Baptism is an outward confirmation of an inward decision. You don’t need to be baptized to be saved, but it is a physical affirmation of a spiritual awakening.

Jesus told the disciples that miraculous signs would follow them.

Observe what power the apostles should be endued with, for confirming the doctrine they were to preach. These were miracles to confirm the truth of the gospel, and means of spreading the gospel among the nations that had not heard it.

Matthew Henry

Here’s my question: If signs and wonders aren’t for today, how is our message supposed to be confirmed? Why did Jesus go around healing people and teaching his disciples how to do the same if he didn’t mean for that practice to carry on? If miracles weren’t needed, why did Jesus bother at all? If the message is supposed to be enough, why is our message getting lost?

I believe in miracles. I have seen them firsthand. I have seen broken bones mend. I have seen stunted limbs grow. I have seen life when there should have been death. And I have seen people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because of those things. Miracles aren’t a sign for believers. They are a benefit to us because we believe, but they are a sign to the unbeliever that there is power in the blood that washes away our sins.

At the risk of reducing the Word to a new low, let me put it simply. You’re watching television late at night and a loud Australian appears on the screen with an incredible new product. He spends ten minutes yelling at you, touting the near-miraculous qualities of the product he’s trying to sell. You stay tuned because you’re moderately interested and oddly enthralled. Then he puts the product to use. You’re sold. You dial the 1-800 number before the five minutes runs out and, for just the added shipping and handling, you will receive a second item for free! It wasn’t his words that sold you, it was the product in action.

The Word of God draws people in. And for some, that’s all they need. But others need that extra confirmation. They need to see the product in action. They need to see what it can actually do. And if the world can’t see our “product” actually do anything, what are we really trying to sell?

God didn’t fill His Word with the miraculous only to stop once Jesus left the stage. His Word is filled with wonders because He is a God of wonders. We do Him (and ourselves) a great disservice by setting the miraculous aside when it was a miracle that brought us where we are in the first place.

So I will ask again, do you believe?

Read: Deuteronomy 29-30, Mark 16

Worth your salt

Read: Numbers 30-31, Mark 9:30-50

Little Manitou Lake in Saskatchewan has a mineral density three-times that of the oceans. Who cares? Well, what this means is that, unless you intentionally put your head under water and breathe in, you can’t drown. The water is so dense, a human being can float with no effort at all. The high mineral—salt—concentration in the lake (and spa where the lake water is piped in) has disinfectant and healing properties. It is only one of three inland bodies of water on the planet that has such properties (the Dead Sea being another). It’s rare. It’s special. It’s worth taking note.

Mark 9-50.jpg

Many of us might read through this little verse and just assume that Jesus wants us to be flavourful, add a little spice to the world around us. That’s what salt is for, after all. And that little part about being at peace with each other, just a nice little add-on. The complexity and weight of this verse is completely lost on us if we don’t understand the cultural connotations of salt at the time Jesus said these words.

  1. Salt was valuable. When you start a new job you settle on what? A salary. Ever wonder where that word originated from? You’d better be worth your salt or you won’t be keeping that job. Some speculate that, because of it’s high value in the Roman empire, that soldiers were often paid in salt. Roads were built because of salt. Trades were made because of salt. Lives were made or lost because of salt.
  2. Salt healed. Like patrons of Little Lake Manitou, the Romans were also aware of the healing properties of salt. Drinking a saltwater solution could reset the digestive system. Soaking an open wound in saline could help prevent swelling and infection.
  3. Salt preserved. While the term pickled didn’t arrive on the scene for centuries, the concept of preserving food with salt was not lost on the Roman empire. Salty olives were as much a part of the Mediterranean diet then as they are now.
  4. Salt was considered holy. Since Leviticus 2:13, salt was a part of Jewish sacrificial offerings. No sacrifice was to be made without it.
  5. Salt declared covenant. In both Jewish and Roman cultures, sharing salt at a table was indicative of covenant or servitude. For the Romans, to eat salt from the table of another put you in their service. For the Jews, to share bread with salt was a sign of covenant between those who share the meal.

When we take into account the historical significance of salt, this verse is so much more than a little platitude for us to remember. Whether in food or water, the presence of salt is undeniable. Imagine a society without salt. Imagine your life without salt? It’s impossible. As trivial as those little granules may seem, they are an essential part of our lives.

Now take that idea and apply it to believers.

Everything that salt was to society when Jesus walked this planet, we should still be to our culture today. Believers should add value, no matter where we are. We should bring healing. We should preserve those things that are good and helpful and nourishing to every life. We should be set apart as holy. And we should share a covenant not only with God, but with each other. Our lives should be set apart for service to the Father and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Suddenly this verse isn’t so little and that last bit about being at peace with each other means a little more.

Are you worth your salt?

An eternal sin

Read: Numbers 3-4, Mark 3:22-35

Mark 3:28

It’s a nice thought, knowing that all of our sins and blasphemies will be forgiven us. On this verse alone, we could hinge our very existence. Jesus said it, after all. But that’s not all he said.

But whoever blasphemes against he Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.

Mark 3:39 (NIV)

Yikes! We tend to believe that nothing we could ever say or do is beyond forgiveness, but apparently there’s this one thing that would earn us eternal damnation. Why? Why is this one sin so much worse than anything else we could possibly do? Once we understand who the Holy Spirit is and what his purpose is in our lives, the answer becomes very clear. Let’s start with what Jesus had to say about the Spirit.

If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

John 14:15-17 (NIV)

In Jesus’ own words, he describes a Helper that will come to live with and in us. So we have a Counselor, a Helper. Great. Why is it such a big deal to speak against the Holy Spirit?

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

Jon 14:26 (NIV)

Oh! Are you starting to get the picture? Without Jesus, in phyical form right in front of us, we need something or someone to give us a nudge in the right direction and remind us the right path we need to take. But there’s more!

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NIV)

Not only does the Holy Spirit help us, but he comes bearing gifts. Good gifts. No, not just good, great. Great gifts. The Spirit gives us gifts of wisdom and knowledge, faith, healing and miracles. Gifts of prophecy, discernment, tongues, and interpretation. Without the Spirit none of these things exist. And, without the gifts of the Spirit, how can the body be edified?

For we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV)

And there’s the verse that wraps it all together. Why is speaking against the Holy Spirit so unforgivable?

  1. The Holy Spirit was sent to help us when Jesus’ time on earth was complete. Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus prepared the way for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is there to help us, to guide us, and to remind us of all Jesus taught and commanded us.
  2. The Holy Spirit is here for our edification. He gives us these incredible gifts so that we can communicate better with God and do His amazing works on His behalf.
  3. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, the Holy Spirit is what holds us all together as one body. To blaspheme the Spirit is to speak against God, against Jesus, and against the entire body of Christ.

God has given us all that we need to succeed in the path He has set out for us, the Holy Spirit being our guide and Jesus, the Word, being the lamp that lights the way. Let us not fall into sin by reaching for one gift and not another, but let us take every advantage available to us so that we can live the full life intended for us.

Crumbs

Read: Exodus 1-3, Matthew 15:21-39

You’ve been invited to a feast. The table groans under the weight of the fare. All of your favourite foods are set before you prepared just the way you like it. The aroma wafts its way to your nostrils. Your mouth waters.

At the head of the table, your host gestures for the meal to commence. The person across from you, the one to your right, and the one to your left all dig in. You watch jealously as they consume the extravagant meal. All too soon, the food has been devoured. Your stomach still growls as the plates are cleared. Yours doesn’t even have a spot of gravy marring the shine. The other guests get up and leave the table. You remain seated. Before you is a single crumb. You don’t even know where it came from. You lick your finger and grasp the single morsel bringing it to your parched lips. You close your eyes and savour the small taste you were fortunate enough to have.

By now, I hope you’re thinking how stupid you would be to savour the crumb when you’d been offered the feast.

Jesus came to offer us the feast. We have an invitation to the table. We are honoured guests. But we often act like the dogs waiting beneath the table for the scraps to fall.

In Matthew 15, a Canaanite woman approached Jesus. Her daughter was tormented by a demon and she had heard of Jesus’ ability to heal. Jesus at first refuses saying that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (verse 24).

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

Matthew 15:26 (NIV)

Even after being insulted, the woman persists.

Matthew 15:27

Jesus commends her for her great faith and her daughter was healed at that moment (verse 28). The crumbs Jesus offered her were enough to accomplish all she had asked.

We, having been accepted into the family of God through the blood sacrifice of Jesus, have an open invitation to the table. We are not the dogs, we are the children. If the crumbs are enough for a miracle, what are we settling for that we are content to merely exist? It is long past time that we, the Church, take our seat at the banquet and accept all that has been waiting for us. Healing is for us. Freedom is for us. Prosperity is for us. Provision is for us. Miracles are for us!

Stop settling for crumbs when you can have the whole feast.

A new hope

Read: Genesis 36-37, Matthew 12:1-21

A look at any news outlet these days will let you know that there are an awful lot of people who have no hope. Even those who think they do, don’t. This is nothing new. Hopelessness has plagued the human race since the very first humans walked the earth. Our own weaknesses and insecurities often overshadow anything or anyone who may be able to shine a little light into our lives.

This is what the Jews were feeling in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Pharisees had interpreted the law to a point that there was absolutely no hope in ever being able to keep it. In the first few verses of Matthew 12, we find Jesus and his disciples accused of breaking the law simply because they were hungry. If the need for a midday meal was enough to break the law, how much more did the Jews struggle in their daily life to keep up with the strict parameters the Pharisees put on them?

Yet Jesus fought against these man-made restrictions. While still keeping the law, he explained the freedom in it. Certain exceptions could be made within the boundaries of the law. Jesus emphasized his point by healing a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees considered healing work and thus, decided it was unlawful to do so on the Sabbath. Jesus, on the other hand established that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12).

Matthew 12:21

Jesus’ ministry was not to publicly put the Pharisees in their place, but rather to show the average person that there was hope beyond what they’d been taught. Their faith wasn’t all about the rules, but the freedom that could be found in them. The law was not given to stifle humanity, but to benefit them. And Jesus, in fulfilling the law, came to do the same.

It is in Jesus’ name that our greatest hope is found. It is in his name that demons must flee and sickness must vanish. It is in his name that we are set free and in his name that we find life everlasting.

Where there is no hope, there is Jesus. Where hope has faded, he brings a new hope.

Get out of the way!

I’ve been to a lot of church services. I grew up in the day when we went to church twice on Sundays, once on Wednesdays, and attended extra services when a guest speaker was in town. We had youth group on Fridays and maybe even a mid-week Bible study. When I say I grew up at church, I mean that I actually spent the majority of my time at the church. Not much has changed.

In all of those church services, I saw a lot of ministry lines, altar calls, hands go up for prayer. But I rarely saw a pastor or speaker interrupt his or her sermon to do so. They weren’t wrong, but in recent studies and conversations, I’ve begun to wonder if they were always right.

While they were at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas came upon a man with crippled feet. He had been that way from birth, so he had never walked. He was listening as Paul preached, and Paul noticed him and realized he had faith to be healed. So Paul called to him in a loud voice, “Stand up!” And the man jumped to his feet and started walking.

Acts 14:8-10 (NLT)

As far as I can tell, this is the first the crippled man had heard the Good News.  It was Paul and Barnabas’ first trip to the area and they were bringing a new message to the people there. Churches and training centres hadn’t been set up yet. The apostles were setting up the groundwork for future ministry.

Then this crippled man shows up. He hears a message of miracles and salvation and his faith is stirred. What do we do now?

In some churches, he’d be required to spend several weeks in studies on faith and healing before someone may or may not lay hands on him.

In other churches, he’d be told that healing isn’t for today, God made him crippled for a reason.

Yet in other churches, he might have to wait for the end of the message for a call to the altar to be offered and hope that someone could help him to the front before the altar closes to new arrivals.

But what did Paul do? The moment he recognized that this man had faith, he stopped what he was doing and called out to him to stand. He didn’t pause to teach on how healing works. He didn’t have to explain what faith is. He didn’t fall to his knees to petition God with pleading groans so the man could be set free from his affliction. In fact, I haven’t found anywhere in the Gospels where this was the case.

Miracles happened when faith was present and the men of God acted on their recognition of it. Long, flowery prayers not needed. Explanations unnecessary. A simple command was all that was required to activate the faith that was already there.

If God says He’ll do something, it’s up to us to believe and proclaim that He will do it. And when the gift of faith shows up, get out of the way! Shut up and let God show off. This message we preach is not about us. It’s about the God who came to give us abundant life. What we have to say is far less important than what God came to do.

Start looking for faith and then practice acting on it immediately. It may require retraining our minds and our spirits to respond in a different way, but if the result is seeing the crippled walk, the blind seeing, and the sick healed, it’s worth it. Isn’t it?

Daily Bible reading: Job 35-37, Acts 14