Light Shining through Darkness

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

While reading through the Bible, I haven’t found one specific answer to this question of why bad things happen to good people. The Bible gives examples pointing to various reasons for different people and different situations. And sometimes what we think is a “bad thing” isn’t actually bad if viewed through the lens of eternity.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 9:1-3

This man was born blind. I am sure for his parents thought this was a bad thing. People thought the parents’ sin caused their son’s blindness. They probably carried guilt, shame, sadness, and maybe anger.

For the man, a life of blindness probably equated to life as a beggar. People might have also blamed him for his blindness. He may have felt sorry for himself, blamed his parents, and been angry at God.

But for this man, in this situation, the reason for the “bad thing” in his life was to bring glory to God. Jesus mixed saliva with mud, put it on the man’s eyes, had the man wash it off, and the blindness was gone. Jesus showed God’s power by healing the man.

And not only did Jesus heal the man’s physical eyes, but Jesus gave the man the opportunity to see the light of eternity. His physical blindness allowed him to see Jesus, physically and spiritually.

Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

John 9:35-38

Sometimes, what we see is a curse, is a blessing in disguise. What we see as a bad thing, may actually be something good. God sees the bigger picture and sometimes uses the darkness in life to lead us to eternity.

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Living Through a Torn Curtain

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Luke 23:44-46

God had given Israel precise instructions in the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 25 – Exodus 27) and the temple (1 Chronicles 28). There was a room called the “Holy of Holies” or “The Most Holy Place” where God’s presence lived. This room was only entered once a year, by the High Priest, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. There were very specific instructions on what the priest was to do (Leviticus 16), including cleansing, sacrificing animals, and sprinkling blood. If the High Priest entered any other time, or without following God’s specific instructions, the consequence was death. The purpose was “atonement” (reparation for a wrong committed) for the sins of Israel. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).

He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.

Leviticus 16:15-16,34

Then Jesus died the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. This symbolized a change in the way things were done – a new covenant on how sins would be atoned and a new operating system:

  • Jesus came as the new High Priest and the blood he brought was his own perfect blood. (Hebrews 9:11-14)
  • No longer does a High Priest need to enter the temple every year to atone for sins, Jesus did it once and for all, when he entered heaven after sacrificing himself. (Hebrews 9:24-28; Hebrews 10)
  • Atonement from our sins, and salvation, is through believing in Jesus. (John 3:16-21, John 14:6)

Under the new covenant, the punishment for sin is still death, but we have a High Priest who already died. His blood paid our price and atoned our sins. The temple is no longer a physical building, but it is the human bodies of those who believe in Jesus. God lives in us.

So what does this mean for us? If you haven’t already put your faith in Jesus, I encourage you to read the verses I have linked and spend time reading both the Old Testament and New Testament. God loves you and sent His Son to die for you, at no cost to you. For those of you who have put your faith in Jesus, thank him for his sacrifice. And then live for him, loving others, meeting together with other believers, and encouraging them to do the same.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Paul, Hebrews 10:19-25

Loving vs Sharing the Gospel

Skimming through my Facebook feed yesterday I ran across a sponsored article from Crosswalk.com and I stopped to read it (side comment: Facebook, you kill my productivity!). The article – 5 Signs Your Church Might Be Headed Toward Progressive Christianity – made me stop to think, especially slide #5 about “Love” and the red flag if a church teaches: “It’s not our job to talk to anyone about sin—it’s our job to just love them….”

My church talks about love a lot. Which is a good thing. We are called to love. Love God. Love others. Love is a fruit of the Spirit that should be evident in our life when we are full of the Holy Spirit. Rough estimate: I think my church’s sermons on love vs. sin/redemption are probably close to 85/15. And I think that is intentional because the church I attend has a mission of trying to attract people who don’t like church, people who have been burned by a church in the past, people who are new to the church, etc.

“Love” is a much easier pill to swallow than “sin,” “atonement,” and “hell.”

On the other hand, I grew up in a legalistic church that was all about sin and hell, at least that was my perspective as a child. We aren’t supposed to love on sinners. We were supposed to hand them a track and run, in case their sin rubbed off on us and we were corrupted.

The concept of loving people to heaven is very attractive. Just send money to Haiti. Volunteer at a food pantry. Pay it forward to a stranger at Starbucks. Pray for the unsaved from the comfort of my living room.

But what does the Bible say?

If you read through the entire Bible there is a clear theme:

  • Love
  • Sin
  • Punishment for sin = death
  • Sacrifice/Blood
  • Turning from sin to God
  • Forgiveness
  • Salvation
  • Obedience
  • Love

God absolutely tells us to love. We are to be hospitable. We are to be kind. We are to help the poor and the sick, the prisoner, the orphan and the widow. We are to love them because God first loved us.

But God calls us to take things another step. He called us to share the entire gospel message. Not just the love/heaven part. But the turning from sin part. The leaving your old life behind and following God, no matter what the cost. The penalty of sin is death part. Because you can’t get to the gift of God being eternal life if you don’t first address that the wages of sin are death.

Jesus said: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

And that, my friends, gets me way out of my comfort zone. That makes me nervous sweat a little.

But I also know real love isn’t just sponsoring a girl in Ecuador or going on a missions trip to love on orphans. Real love is telling the truth. The whole truth. Because the gospel truly is the most beautiful love story ever written.

‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Matthew 9:36-38

Transformation by Time Spent with Jesus

Everyone has sins they struggle with. On any given day, the main areas I struggle with are being patient, being respectful of my husband, not losing my temper, and controlling my tongue. And occasionally lust depending on the time of the month and if I happen upon a movie starring Channing Tatum, Idris Elba, or Zac Efron.

For years I thought, “I’m a Christian, so I shouldn’t struggle with sin so much. Why doesn’t God just take my sin and temptation away?” If God washes our sin away when we become saved then why do I end up gossiping on a regular basis? Why am I not overcoming sin?  Why am I still yelling at my kids? Why do I get so frustrated? Why am I not more like Jesus?

Then one Sunday in church I heard a word I’d heard a million times before, but for the first time, the concept stuck: Sanctification. Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Jesus . . . moving from a life of sin to a life that is holy. For the majority of people this isn’t an overnight thing, but a gradual daily transformation. Little by little. We become more like Jesus.

How does Sanctification happen? It doesn’t happen by saying a quick prayer or even going to church on Sunday. It happens by spending time with Jesus every day. Reading the Bible. Praying. Worshiping God. Memorize Bible verses and meditating on them. Fasting. That is all I need to do – keep my mind focused on Jesus and spend time with him every day. He’ll do the rest.

I’ve experienced this in my own life. I’m changing . . . ever so gradually. I still get mad. I still gossip. I still sin. But not as much. And the temptation isn’t as great as it used to be. And I can guarantee you I can’t take any credit for the changes in my attitude and behavior because I’ve tried to make changes myself and nothing worked long-term. I’ve gone to counseling, read self-help books, even joined support groups. Sure, I learned some helpful tools and had some accountability, but never experienced any deep heart transformation.

Until I started having coffee with Jesus every morning.

Then everything changed. Not overnight. Not anything noticeable to anyone but me (at first). But the old me has started dying. I leave a little piece of the old me behind every morning when I meet with Jesus. And I leave my daily time with Jesus with a little more of Him in me.

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  John 17:17 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2 

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,  1 Peter 2:2

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, Deuteronomy 11:18-20 

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.  1 Timothy 4:7-10

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14