If you’ve been a christian for any length of time you’re you will I’m sure have stories of people who thought they were acting in faith but ended up in disaster.
Even if you don’t have much experience of Christianity you might have seen the headline in the newspaper, is a group of Christians in the USA and they take literally the Bible promise that those who believe will not be harmed by snakes. So they believe that God is glorified if they dance in the worship service when the anointing comes holding a rattlesnake. There was a new TV documentary about that church and one of the pastors just died last weekend from a rattlesnake bite.
So it’s understandable when people say this kind of reports that they get a strange impression about faith.
We understand that faith is not about taking literally promises in the Bible that about having a relationship with God then it’s a different story. If we’re in a relationship with God then there are times when we will take literally his promises. But we don’t turn the words of the Scriptures into dogma. We don’t take them out of context to support a lifestyle or a practice or a ritual that we have grown to love.
In Mark 16:18 it says “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptised 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 languages; they will pick up snakes; if they should drink anything deadly, it will never harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.
So it’s true that Jesus says to handle snakes and not be harmed will be a sign of belief. But it is clearly in the context of the purpose, of the mission. And that’s to go into all the world and to preach the gospel to all creation. Jesus says that in his name we will drive out Demons, we will speak in new languages, yes will pick up snakes and yes will drink poison and will not be harmed but will also lay hands on the sick and they will get well.
So my understanding is that I never put myself this in a situation, when faith is being tested for faith’s sake. But faith is tested in relationship. In mission and in purpose. God’s purpose is to reconcile the world to himself. And this has to do with faith working through love rather than faith being a demonstration of power.
We had an experience in India, I told you last time about the lady who was healed of a snake bite. There was also an incident where one of our team was bitten by a snake. I was speaking during a three day conference on inner healing and deliverance, and during the second day when I was teaching on deliverance, we read this verse together Mark 16:15. And I was making the point that these signs follow those who believe.
After the teaching we did some deliverance, we cast out Demons, and usually when people get delivered they also get healed, so we had some testimonies of healing. And we all went home tired and rejoicing. And the next day my translator who was called Bredi showed up, she had a big grin on her face and she says,
“David, look at my heel. I got bitten by a snake last night. I was so full of joy about what got it done I was singing in tongues I walked into the kitchen in the middle of the night and I felt this thing going over my feet and I hit the light switch and I saw this south Indian viper and it bit me on the foot and then slithered out through the window. To be honest I was so full of the joy of the Lord and I didn’t even think to go to hospital. I stood on the promise. And I’m fine.”
So of course we were all rejoicing and when I went back to my room that evening I wanted to post this testimony in Facebook. But suddenly my mind started talking to me. “Maybe this snake is not even poisonous.” I am a scientist. I studied psychology and zoology and physiology. So I quickly googled south Indian viper just to check what kind of snake it is … And I saw the most disgusting pictures of people’s hands and feet that were rotting away, due to the bite of a south Indian viper. So, I was happy yes it’s a true miracle the word of God is true. So I posted my Facebook comments praise the Lord someone was bitten by snake during our conference and they did not get harmed just like Mark 16.15 and precisely on the day I was teaching on that verse.
So later we returned for the evening session and as the worship time began I saw there was no sign of Sister Bredi. And I kept looking to see when she would arrive, cause the doubt started to attack me, my scientist brain kicked in, I thought well maybe it was a grazing bite and just a little poison and she had a a lot of body mass, so I began to estimate how long it would take her to feel the symptoms. I started to become afraid and just at that moment she walked in with her husband smiling.
By the way, let me tell you she had nothing to gain from this story. She was a lawyer, her husband was working on the Indian space project. They were middle-class family with enough money. They were not being paid by the church. We were not sponsoring any programs in the church, so there was no need for anyone to impress us. There was no motive for making up a story.
And this story illustrates how things work. How faith and our natural mind are in opposition. The Bible and our experiences with God invites us to have faith and to grow to the next level of faith. While the natural mind argues and provides reasons why what we want to believe is impossible.
The good news is that we are all like this. Abraham is described in the Bible as a great man of Faith but there are many stories where he let his natural mind dictate his decisions. Moses, was a giant of faith, but when God called him he went through a long and tortured dialog of self-doubt – I can’t speak, no one will believe me etc… and he really doubted God many times.
So doubt is a normal part of growing in faith and if we learn how to handle it we will grow effectively.
Some people say that faith is not actually the problem. It’s unbelief we have to deal with. This is based on the idea that Jesus says if you have faith like a mustard seed. In other words even if you have a very small amount of faith, then you can move a mountain. I’m not sure is unbelief is substantially something different from lack of faith. But I know that we do have this battle in our minds. Our natural mind always wants to argue with our spirit. We receive revelation into our spirit through the relationship with God, and this revelation needs to be established as an experience, and this takes steps of faith. It takes action, or as the book of James says it takes works. So when we have faith and that we take a step, we act in faith, things start to happen which become an established experience. And during that process we will be tempted again and again to listen to the voice of our natural mind that our human experience to listen to the voice of the devil or to listen to the opinions of the worlds. But if we hold onto the Lord that means to focus on his character to focus on his nature to focus on his promises, and to align our actions with his commands rather than with our human traditions, our faith will result in a reality being established in our lives which will bring a greater revelation of the glory of God.
You see the problem of Jim Coots, the snake handling preacher was that the message to the world gets is that it is about the tradition. He said that his grandfather started this, his father did it and he has to pass on the tradition to his son. And the world is left perplexed and amazed by the faith. But Jesus says let them be known by their love. We cannot take verses about faith out of the context of mission, and mission is about leading people into freedom: It is about deliverance – casting out demons and healing the sick and teaching the commands of Jesus.
We have to keep faith in the context. Many people quotes the verse which says if you have face like a mustard seed you can speak to a mountain and it will move. You rarely hear the context. People use that verse when talking about the financial problems, people use that verse when talking about illnesses or sicknesses. And when Jesus talked about the mustard seed of faith, which moves mountains, he was talking about casting out demons.
You see our calling, our purpose, our commission is to establish the kingdom of God, and to establish the kingdom you have to take territory and there is an enemy there is a rule in this world trying to stop you take territory. And territories the hearts of people and there are spiritual forces holding the hearts of people in bondage. And I’m not just talking about people who practice witchcraft.
Is it one of the reasons why the church in Europe is fairly insignificant however this is because we have denied the reality of the spiritual battle. We want to sideline any discussion of the spiritual realities that we cannot understand with our materialistic western world view.
Dealing with the demon forces was at the heart of the ministry of Jesus. If we look at the narrative in the book of Mark we see that the ministry of Jesus was established and became famous because his ministry was casting out demons. But we try to reduce it to preaching doctrine, establishing social programs, community development, worship movements and these are all good things, but the heart of the ministry of Jesus was destroy the works of the devil. The devil was clearly a reality to Jesus. And the devil is clearly a reality for all the great men and women of God that I know. I’m talking about people who move in a strong anointing, who sees signs and wonders on a regular basis, who are regularly baptising new believers. They know that the devil and his Demons are real and that we have to deal with them because Jesus gave us that command. And a couple of hundred years of the Enlightenment doesn’t negate eternal spiritual truths.
That is why I teach on deliverance and that is why we practise it when necessary. And that is why, if we happen to encounter a snake on a mission trip, then we’re not afraid of it, just as if we happen to encounter demonic forces of life we are not impressed afraid. We take the authority Jesus given us and we deal with that situation. And we move ahead to bring people into reconciliation with the father by faith working through love.
But returning to the story of Jim Coots, there is a telling moment in the Nat Geographic documentary “Snake Salvation” in which he stared and which aired in 2013, when Coots explains his motivations. Firstly he talks about it being the tradition of his grandfather and his father. Then he says is a biblical command “The shall take up serpents”, he compares this ‘shall’ with the ‘shall’ in “Thou shall not commit adultery”. i.e. for Coots, to take up serpents is part of the law of God, and unfortunately, Paul and Jesus warned us that the law, without grace, brings death. If we are trying to keep the law but fail in the tiniest part of it, then we are guilty of breaking the entirety, which is a death sentence.
I believe this is a vital point if we are to understand what went wrong last weekend in Kentucky or what went wrong with the estimated 100 believers who have died of snake bites during the history of the Appalachian holiness movement.I don’t think the issue was that we are not supposed to test God, although Jesus told Satan that he would not jump down from the temple for this reason. Because that would make it seem like Coots was testing God and God decided to let the snake bite bad for once. Coots actually said that he believed that if he is bitten and dies then it will be God’s time for him to go. Is this what happened? Did God decide he wanted to call Jimmy home and make Mark 16:18 the laughing stock of the world press.
I don’t think so! I think instead that by choosing to make a law of Mark 16:18 Coots put himself under the law and laws, be they natural or spiritual, operate with the principles of cause and effect. You have to calculate the amount of faith and the amount of sin or toxins etc… and let’s hope the latter outweighs the former. That sounds like the dilemma of every religious person, who has not grasped the revelation of God’s all sufficient grace and the need for faith not in the sense of tradition but in the sense of vibrant obedience to an ever-changing and dynamic relationship with a God who loves us and all the created things.