It only took one sentence to break my heart. I don’t mean that it just made me incredibly sad, or that it hurt for a few minutes—I mean that it literally shattered my heart. It made me stop and re-evaluate all of the things I was taking for granted in my own life.
I work for a Christian international relief organization, and some of the work we do is in countries that are closed to the Gospel. In several of these countries, Christians aren’t allowed to gather, they’re not allowed to own Bibles, and they’re not allowed to speak the name of Jesus. We had a guest visiting from one of these countries, and for the first time he was invited to church. After the service, he had tears streaming down his face as he said, “This must be what Heaven is like.”
In Greek, the word “Gospel” translates to “good news” or “a message of victory”. That is the definition I’ve heard most often: The Gospel is the good news that Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might become children and heirs of God.
Even during His time on earth, Jesus was the living Good News. He took what others deserved and, in return, gave them healing, freedom, and right-standing with the Father.
“Therefore, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…”
– Hebrews 10:19 -22
Scripture tells us that we should have the confidence to enter into the presence of God because Jesus acts as our high priest. The purpose of the high priest in the Old Testament was to enter the Most Holy Place, stand before God, and make atonement for his people so that they could have right-standing. Christ secured our eternal redemption through His sacrifice, so we are forever in a position of complete right-standing with God. We are His heirs, and we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).
We live in a world that leaves scars. We fight an enemy that leaves scars.
Sometimes our scars hold us back from the things we want to do and the people we want to be. It’s like we aren’t sure we are really whole.
Wholeness isn’t something we can see, and maybe we’re a little like Thomas. He said, “I want to see with my own eyes and touch with my own hands.” Maybe we’re holding our scars up to Jesus, saying, “I don’t see the healing! I want to be who you need me to be and do what you’ve called me to do—but what about these?”
Jesus answered Thomas the same way He answers us. With His scars.
We live a life filled with God’s promises—healing, provision, protection—but sometimes it feels like we live a life of waiting on God’s final promise. His Second Coming.
Scripture is filled with people waiting. Abraham and Sarah waited 100 years for their promised child. Joshua and Caleb waited 40 years to enter the Promised Land. The world waited three days for the promised resurrection.
Friday was the day that Christ took all of our sins on Himself and was crucified. Sunday was the day that He rose from the grave and gave us victory over death. But Saturday was a day of waiting.
Sometimes it feels like we are living in Saturday.
You can learn a lot about yourself by re-reading old high school journals. I recently found some of mine and was reminded of all of my favorite quotes, song lyrics, books, and movies. Between things I had written myself and things I had copied down from other sources, I could also clearly see the opinion I had of God. One of my favorite songs was “On Distant Shores” by Five Iron Frenzy.
First, a disclaimer: this song is amazing and I still love it. However, the lyrics that I wrote down in my journal didn’t capture the full picture of what the song was saying. Instead, I pulled out the ones that I thought I related to:
With resilience unsurpassed, I clawed my way to you at last.
We have always had a need to make sense of the world we live in—through science, through mathematics, through geography—so that we are able to explain and justify our experiences. However, God’s ways don’t always make sense.
As an analytical person who works every single day in spreadsheets and numbers, it makes logical sense to me when the world says, “We don’t need prayers; we need action.” I have to remind myself that prayer is the most important action we could take.
“Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” – Isaiah 43:7
What does it mean to be created for God’s glory? Scripture tells us that we were all created for His glory, but sometimes people tend to get the wrong impression from that statement. We are taught to be humble, and not to boast in our own works, yet here we see God literally creating things that will exalt Him. To understand what it means to be created for God’s glory, we have to first understand what His glory is.
When I think of the word worship, I usually visualize someone with their hands in the air, maybe on their knees, singing or crying out to God. For believers, worship is a time where our minds can be transformed and our hearts can be renewed – but for that to happen, worship can’t just be external. It has to be internal as well.
I grew up in church, and I’ve attended Sunday morning worship all of my life, but I can’t count the number of times when I was singing the words with nothing happening in my heart. In Matthew 15:8-9, Jesus said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; they worship me in vain.”
In Leviticus, one of the main themes was the idea of clean vs unclean. Leviticus 11-15 used to overwhelm me with all of the lists of clean and unclean animals, illnesses, and discharges. For the most part, in this context, being clean or unclean directly related to holiness, and it was often something that was determined by priests. To be unclean meant that you had no access to God. No one could approach God in an unclean state. God is and was holy, so anything that came into His presence also needed to be holy.
Reading through the Old Testament several years ago, I remember being so confused by what felt like a bipolar God. In Exodus, He responded to the Israelites grumblings in the wilderness with grace over and over again. Then suddenly in Numbers, He responded to the exact same grumblings with curses and serpents. Did He just run out of patience with them? Did He decide after the golden calf that they weren’t good enough for His grace anymore? Did His grace for me also have limits?
This is a challenging topic to write about because it is so personal, but that’s also what makes it so important. Sometimes the church hurts us, and that pain can directly affect the way we see religion, relationship, and God Himself. Depending on the situation, “the church” could represent a physical place, or it could mean the church as a body of believers.
Grace in the English language typically means elegance, beauty, or mercy, but in scripture, grace is the foundation of our salvation and redemption. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Grace is the means that allowed us to be reconciled and restored to righteousness in His sight after the fall. God’s grace is His goodness toward us when we were still sinners and had no reason to expect His favor.
Most Christians believe that healing happens even today, and many of us have either been healed or have known someone who has been healed. But how many of us also know someone who wasn’t? How many of us have been left confused, disheartened, and heartbroken after praying for healing that never came?
For as long as I can remember, I have always been a worrier. The constant worrying kept me up all night in grade school and gave me anxiety attacks in high school. I worried about school, boys, my grades, my salvation, my family, my friends, my weight… you name it, I probably worried about it.
A few years ago, though, while I was reading in Exodus, God gave me a revelation about worry that changed my life.
A popular idea in Christianity is that we have been made clean, or given a blank slate, or washed white as snow. There are countless worship songs that mention this, and it’s such a beautiful picture. Our sins were scarlet, our account was marred, but Jesus washed us white as snow.
But what happens when we mess up? When we miss the mark, it feels like we smear black on our slate and we have to start all over again to get clean. Growing up, I thought I needed to be re-baptized, or re-dedicated, or re-saved every single time I did something I shouldn’t have. I wanted to be white as snow again.
Several years ago, I had a friend in my life who couldn’t understand why I believed in God. It was the first time I’d been around someone who constantly questioned my faith. When something bad would happen, she would always ask me, “Where’s your God? Couldn’t He have stopped that?” When I would read my Bible, she would begin listing the reasons the scriptures couldn’t be true. When I would pray in front of her, she would ask me if that was really helping the people living in poverty every day. Usually I was able to respond to her, but sometimes I would get frustrated, or even angry. One time, when I was at my breaking point, I turned to give her a harsh response, and God stopped me. “Look at her passion and tenacity. When I change her heart, imagine what she’s going to do for my Kingdom.”