God, Help Me Overcome My Unbelief

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Mark 9:22b-24

“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us,” he answered.  “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Everyone struggles with doubt and some level of unbelief.  No matter how strong our faith may seem, there will always be moments when we have our faith challenged and we seem a little shaky in believing for the best.  Sometimes it feels like we are believing for the impossible.  Don’t despair though, this is exactly where God excels.

The context of this story here in Mark 9 is that there was a father whose son was possessed by an evil spirit that caused the boy to throw himself into fire or into water to injure himself.  The disciples of Jesus had not been able to heal the boy, and so the father turned to Jesus, hoping against hope that Jesus could heal the boy.

The man had faith and believed that healing was possible for his son.  But his faith had been shaken when the disciples could not heal the boy.  Jesus’ challenge was that we who believe must hold strong on to this belief.  Even when we do not see the immediate results of our prayer and faith, we are still challenged to stand strong and believe.

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I can identify with this story considering what has happened to me this past month.  Exactly four weeks ago, I was boarding the first of four flights that would take me from Madang, Papua New Guinea all the way back to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  One day I was still serving the Lord doing my Bible translation work, and the next moment I was flying to Canada to get laser surgery to fix a retinal tear in my right eye.

Now my faith has always been there believing that God is with me no matter what the circumstances are, that He will take care of me, and that He will bring good out of every situation for those who love Him.  (see Romans 8:28)  And so I trusted God that He would work things out as I left PNG on this medical emergency.

And God did take care of me.  In an amazing 52 hour journey from PNG to Canada, I was given such good treatment all the way, made all the connections, and had an incredible amount of energy that sustained me through the trip.  That alone was like a miracle to me, since for the past five years that I have battled with a muscle disease I have not had the stamina to travel far without needing to get rest.

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The next incredible part of this journey was this: after I landed in Calgary, my family picked me up at the airport and we drove straight to the hospital with the eye clinic and within four hours I was seen and scheduled for laser surgery by the city’s top retinal doctor for the following morning.

Then came the hard moments, both physically and spiritually for me.  The first laser surgery was blinding, painful (when the laser burnt some nerve endings), and not conclusive.  This led to a second surgery.  This time the doctor opted to go in the other direction and used the freezing method, not the laser surgery to seal the tear.

This second procedure is called cryopexy.  The doctor had a hand device that was connected by a tube to a tank of nitric oxide.  On the other end of the hand tool was a long metal probe.  The procedure was to insert the metal probe around the side of the eyeball and get to the retina from the backside and use the freezing gas to seal up the retinal tear from behind.

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Needless to say, this second procedure was extremely painful.  (Imagine getting a fat needle poked around behind your eyeball, then afterwards the gas gives you a “slurpie brain-freeze”.)  I was sure that this would take care of everything.  The doctor told us to visit in a week for a follow-up, and we began thinking, “Maybe I can go back right away to PNG and continue my ministry work there.”  But to our surprise, the doctor said it still wasn’t complete and I immediately got a third surgery, this one being again a laser surgery.

When the doctor said he hoped this would take care of it all, but he was worried about an artery that was crossing the tear which might mean an invasive surgery to remove the artery, we didn’t know what to think.  And for two weeks, we wrestled with this question, “Do I believe that the surgeries are finished, or will the situation continue to get worse.”

We were just like this father who had said so long ago, “I believe.  But God, help my unbelief!”  We prayed and prayed and asked many others to pray too.  And then we left it in God’s hands.  We went in yesterday to see the doctor.  He carefully examined the retina.  And then with a broad smile he said, “I got that pinned down really good, didn’t I!”  Oh what a relief to hear those words.

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As I reflect on the mental and spiritual battle I went through, I knew that my mind was playing all kinds of mental tricks on me which fought against my faith.  But my heart believed, ultimately, that God would see me through this positively.  And even if it had meant a fourth surgery, my God had never changed from being my God who loves me.

I know He would have brought me through and restored my eye no matter how many surgeries it would take.  And I believed that God would allow me to return again to PNG (in His timing of course).  And so this is now our prayer and belief that by the end of September I will be in PNG continuing to do my ministry for God there.  I invite you to stand in faith with us and also believe.

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Pray For Our Persecuted Brothers and Sisters

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[Editor’s Note: the following story is true.  While this event did turn out alright, there are countless more reports of persecution of Christians that do not end so peacefully.  As you read, try to imagine yourself being there and taking the place of our Christian brother and being on trial for your faith in Jesus.]

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“You will have to stand trial.” Alim (not his real name) sat in a chair, his hands sweating, as his brother continued, “They will come get you in the morning.”

What followed was a public trial in which Alim and another man were forced to answer to the local religious authorities for their belief in Christ. “Tell me, what have we done?” Alim asked. “Have we stolen from someone? Have we murdered somebody? If we have done wrong, we are willing to be judged, but tell us what we have done.” Much like Christ’s trial 2000 years ago, they were then faced with contradictory charges from false witnesses. Eventually, the man presiding over the trial held up his hand.

“I see no reason to condemn these men. They are moral men. They have faith in God. And they are willing to stand up for their convictions. If anyone stands condemned, it is you who dragged them here and are trying to condemn them with lies.” With that, he dismissed the charges and Alim and his friend went free.

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When I met Alim, he was sitting at a cafeteria table at a college campus in North Eurasia eating dolma and sipping tea. He and a few dozen other men and women from various countries in the former Soviet Union had come to hear a few men and women from Pioneer Bible Translators share about Bible Translation and Mother Tongue Ministry. Many of them were the only people in their families who knew Christ. Many had faced persecution from relatives and governments. Yet all of them radiated a peace and joy that I find uncommon.

During the week-long conference, they listened intently and asked many questions. They shared out of their hearts and their lives. They discussed the challenges they faced as they sought to reach their communities with the Gospel. They also responded to the challenge that my colleagues and I issued to realize that God has placed them in a position to reach people that we as Americans will never be able to.

In response to this challenge, they issued a challenge of their own. In different words and different ways, they said, “Come. Serve with us. Help us. Yes, we are here. This is our home. We have no choice but to be here. But we cannot do this alone. Teach us how to be translators. Teach us how to take the Gospel to different cultures. Pray with us in our streets. Live with us in our houses and see what God is doing and join in the work with us. Please do not be like so many others who have not seen us as equal brothers and sisters but have treated us like incapable children….”

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I feel like I learned far more than I taught at this conference. But the learning did not stop there for me. I spent the next couple of weeks in another country, the one my wife and I will be serving in. I was able to meet with brothers and sisters from other agencies to see what God is doing in the area. I heard others sharing things that fell in line with what I had heard at the conference.

Though the church is small and persecuted, it is none-the-less alive. They are a small but growing flame in a land of darkness. It even seems that the latest trials they have faced have been serving to unite them and strengthen their resolve to make disciples of every nation. They have already started to raise up and send their own people out across cultural lines, but they are asking for help. 

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In Matthew 10:21-22 we read these sobering words, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  It is hard to imagine that one of our own blood family members would turn against us and sentence us to death, just because we professed having a love for Jesus in our heart.

But such is the stronghold of some of the other religions of the world.  In those religions, they demand complete obedience to the laws and customs of that religion, or face the possibility of certain death.  It would be very hard I think to find a large percentage of our North American Christians who would be willing to stay true to Jesus under the threat of death.

And yet, in many other countries of the world, this is exactly what our Christian brothers and sisters face on a daily basis.  And not only are they challenging our faith today, to stand up strong for our belief in Jesus, but they are reaching out to us asking us for our help.  What can you do you say?  First and foremost, we must pray for our persecuted family members.

And we must also find and financially support reputable mission agencies that are committed to sending out their people to live among these spiritually impoverished people groups and bring them the Word of God.  Pioneer Bible Translators is such a mission.  Will you partner with us as we go out ministering to the last unreached people groups for Christ around the world?  Drop me a “Reply” message and let me hear from you.

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