The God Who Heals

She trails behind the crowd, uncertain if she should approach. The mass of people surrounding him overwhelms her; she can’t see what he’s doing, where he’s going, let alone hear him speak.

She’d heard the reports about Jesus, amazing reports. Of healing, demon-expulsion, miracles. And Lord, did she need a miracle. It had been 12 years—12 long years of the incessant flow, of her very lifeblood draining from her. And not only that, but her savings, her possessions, her strength, her hope that anything would ever change.

Here, standing before her, was the man they said was a miracle-worker, a change-maker, the one who could cause impossible things to happen—and stop them from happening. This was Jesus of Nazareth.

Continue reading

No. 1 | Christ Came into the World

Advent begins. With it comes strife, hardship, and sorrow. You wonder how you’ll be able to rejoice this season, if any of Christmas’ delights will delight you, if any of its warmth will warm you or penetrate the heart you’ve kept guarded from further disappointments and grief.

Christmas is either the most wonderful time of the year, or the most difficult. It’s either laden with nostalgia and favorite things, or it’s full of memories that cause your heart to ache and your spirit to yearn for relief. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

For the suffering, Christmas seems to carry with it a sharp edge and a sour taste. When the pain feels unbearable, the relationship unchangeable, the grief immovable, and the disasters irreparable, what we need most isn’t relief; we need a Savior who can enter into our pain.

Continue reading

Seven Lies You’ve Been Telling Yourself About Church

Church is so boring…

Or is it?

I recently finished the short, but loaded, book How Church Can Change Your Life by pastor and author Josh Moody. In less than 100 pages, Moody responds to ten common questions about church—objections like the above—posed by Christians and non-Christians alike. He covers subjects such as Jesus’ view of the church, the purpose of baptism and communion, and why believers should not be duped into believing they can “be the church” through podcasting sermons and listening to Christian radio, while privately meditating in their pajamas.  

Moody’s book made me think more deeply about common objections I’ve heard from friends, family, and others regarding local churches, along with the lies that fuel these objections. Here are seven lies that you may also have encountered, whether personally or from other people, about church:

Continue reading

Evil Predestined by God’s Hand and Plan

There is nothing new under the sun. What can be said when terror strikes yet again? I find myself deeply disturbed and yet uncomfortably familiar with the hatred and death that is ravaging our world. Another attack, another groaning. “How long, O Lord?”

Our comfort is this: the cross. In Acts 4, we read that John and Peter were praying, on behalf of all the believers, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, that they might continue to speak God’s gospel with boldness. The men had just been arrested for speaking the truth in the public sphere. Here is what they pray:

Continue reading

How to Share Your Testimony

When preparing your testimony, ask yourself, “How do the details of my story ultimately point to God’s bigger story in the gospel of Jesus Christ?”

Bible teacher Nancy Guthrie explains the importance of this in a powerful way:

There are lots of voices out there today who will say that there is power in simply telling your story. To an extent that is true. But our stories alone have little power to inspire or change lives. What is more important is figuring out how to use our stories to tell God’s story.

Preparing Your Testimony

It is tempting to get caught up in the details of our own experiences, making our story an end in itself. But, as Christians, preparing and sharing our stories should be about so much more. Our testimonies should point people to the bigger story of God’s gospel.

Share your testimony in about two minutes.

Unfortunately, we’ve all heard ten to twenty-minute testimonies which lost their effectiveness because of their length! Regardless of how interesting we believe our personal stories are, we should keep in mind the limited attention span of our listeners:

People now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the affects [sic] of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain. (Kevin McSpadden, TIME Magazine)

An eight-second attention span may be exaggerated, but it makes a good point. We do not have limitless amounts of time to share what God has done in our lives, so we must be concise, clear, and compelling.

A good rule-of-thumb is to prepare a two-minute testimony on paper. Write down your main thoughts, then edit the testimony to include only the most compelling and clear points about how the gospel of Jesus Christ has transformed your life. Pass along your words to a trusted member of the body of Christ, someone whom you trust will give you honest and helpful feedback.

Then practice sharing your testimony out loud in about two minutes or less.

Share God’s story through your testimony.

Follow Nancy Guthrie’s wisdom by figuring out how to use your story to share God’s bigger story. If you do this, the opportunity may present itself later to talk more about Jesus Christ.

Here are some questions to help you share God’s story through your testimony:

  • At what point did I understand that Jesus Christ reigns over creation as Lord? When did I first grasp his authority over all things, including my life?
  • At what point did I understand that I was an enemy of God by nature? (This could address outward, rebellious acts or the more hidden, inward sins of pride, lust, shame, etc.)
  • When did the Holy Spirit open my eyes to see the gravity and consequences of my sin?
  • How did I first grasp that Jesus Christ came to save sinners by bearing their sin on the cross?
  • What was my response to God’s free gift of grace given through the righteousness of Jesus? How has believing on Christ changed my perspective on the world and my circumstances? How has Christ changed my desires and pursuits? What have I learned about God’s character through the gospel?
  • How would I encourage someone to put his or her faith in Jesus?

These are only several questions to spur on your thought process. Listen to various testimonies to hear examples of how other believers have structured their stories. There is not one right way, but there is only one truth — so make it your goal to share it!

(Some great Bible passages that clearly explain God’s story are Romans 8:31-34, Isaiah 53:3-6, Romans 5:6-11, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.)

Share an invitation to faith in Christ.

Finally, wrap up your testimony by inviting the listener(s) to faith in Jesus Christ. Consider Peter’s testimony to Cornelius in Acts 10:34-43, when he finishes with this invitation: “Everyone who believes in [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Use whatever opportunity God has given you — whether at a church event, in your workplace, or while hanging out with unbelieving friends — to encourage people to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ’s gracious Lordship and rule.

A Final Word

Always remember that your testimony is a miracle of God’s grace. This is true of every believer! Some of our stories may seem more dramatic than others, but all believers were raised from death to life when Christ saved us…and that is a miracle.

How do the details of your story ultimately point to God’s bigger story in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

[Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible]

From Slow of Heart to Burning Hearts

Seasons of spiritual dryness can be alarming, exhausting, even downright awful and heart-wrenching. I’ve had days, months even, when coming to the Word and spending time with the Father has felt like work, and I’ve struggled to feel his presence and love for me. I’ve wondered, God, where have you gone? I feels like you’ve hidden your face.

The seeming silence of God and the lack of obvious, joy-filled, abundant fruit springing forth from reading the Word are trials that most every believer experiences in their lifetime. It feels embarrassing to admit because we as humans like “having it all together”…or, at least, we like putting on the facade that we do.

But these seasons of dryness are worth talking about because we not only glean encouragement from hearing other people’s similar stories, we are pushed to remember what is true of God, his gospel, and his holy Word.

You Are Not Alone

In two very significant ways, those of us enduring dry spiritual seasons are not alone.

Firstly, many brothers and sisters of the faith have gone before us in this regard. And many are enduring the dryness alongside us right now.

Be comforted by David’s struggles in the Psalms:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? (Psalm 13:1-2)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)

Also consider Job, who felt God had deserted him and left him for dead; Joseph, who spent years in a jail cell, probably wondering when God’s purposes for him, as once revealed in his dreams, would come to pass; and the disciples, whose faces were sad and whose hopes were dashed after Jesus was crucified.

Believer, you are not alone in your discouragement! We are accompanied by a long list of Christians who yearned for the assurance that God was indeed present with them, especially during seasons of dryness and doubt. There is comfort in knowing that there is nothing new under the sun; just as God has been faithful to his Church throughout biblical history, so he will show his faithfulness to us. That is a promise.

Secondly, and more importantly, we are not alone because the very presence of Jesus is with us. How do we know that this is true? Where do we find assurance? At the cross. There, God turned his face away from his own Son, rejected him, and poured his judgment upon him – the judgment rightly deserved by you and me. Jesus experienced full and utter abandonment by God on the cross so that believers in Christ would never have to experience his wrath.

Jesus died a lonely death so that we would never have to be alone.

But Jesus did not stop there. Not only did he sacrifice his own blood for the forgiveness of our sins, transferring his perfect righteousness to our record, he then sent his promised Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts, confirming to us that we are indeed beloved, accepted children of the Most High God. The good deposit of our inheritance in heaven, the Spirit is our Counselor, Comforter, and Helper, who ministers to us the gospel-reality that we are never truly alone.

Burning Hearts

Knowing that we are not alone is well and good…but what do we do when we feel alone, when our Bible reading seems stale and our prayers lackluster? How do we practically put aside what we feel for what we know to be true?

We can learn from an account in Luke 24. Two of the disciples were traveling on the Road to Emmaus three days after Jesus had been crucified and laid in the tomb. Jesus appears to them, but they do not recognize him. He asks them about their conversation, and they sorrowfully recount the events of the crucifixion, how their hopes had been dashed when Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, died on the cross. Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb, and because the men could not see him anymore, their faith had faltered.

So Jesus calls them “foolish ones” who are “slow of heart,” and he helps to open their eyes to see him clearly once again. He does the same for us in three specific ways when we are struggling to trust that he is with us in dry and lonely seasons.

Jesus says, “Believe the gospel.”

It is all too easy to forget what we know to be true, even the very foundation of our faith, when we feel far from God. The events of daily life, our insecurities, our doubts, and our fears can keep us from fixing our eyes on Jesus; instead, we become distracted by what we are “doing wrong,” by our immediate circumstances, even by false beliefs about who we say Jesus is.

It is during these times that Jesus tells us to believe the gospel, just as he implores his disciples to remember the gospel-prophecies of the Scriptures:

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

Have you forgotten the gospel of grace, that Jesus took your punishment so that you would never be left alone? Do you need to remember that you are God’s beloved, chosen, and accepted child, with whom he is well pleased because of his Son? Are you fixing your eyes on Jesus, the author, perfecter, and object of your faith, or are you depending on your own efforts to draw near to God?

If this is you, as it is me, Jesus says, “Believe the gospel!”

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Jesus says, “Wait for me.”

The Bible’s command to “wait for the Lord” occurs over and over again, especially in the Psalms. This teaches us that there will be times when we feel that waiting is all we are doing! Waiting actively, as we choose to abide in Christ through Bible reading and prayer, but waiting nonetheless.

In Luke 24, the disciples’ eyes are opened to recognize Jesus only after he takes the bread, breaks it, and gives it to them to eat. Jesus is our Bread of Life, the Living Word, and we are nourished by him when we open the holy Scriptures to feed on his truth. Ultimately, it is Christ who feeds us with spiritual nourishment through the Bible, but we must choose to come to the table. It is Jesus who feeds us through his living, powerful, and active Word of truth, but we must choose to open the Bible and search its riches, expecting to hear from him.

There may be seasons when our time in the Bible seems dry and lifeless, but we can rest assured that our devotion to abiding in the word of Christ is indeed producing fruit within us, growing us into mature disciples, and teaching us increasingly more about the love of our Savior.

Jesus says, “Remember the faithfulness of God your Father.”

Keeping a record of God’s faithfulness toward us is a useful tool of encouragement for times when we feel distant from him. The next time you enter a season of dryness and you are wondering if God is present, think of biblical history and your own testimony, of all the times that God has revealed himself through his Son, his Word, and his Spirit.

After Jesus broke the bread and vanished from the disciples’ sight, they said,

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:32-35)

Brothers and sisters, think often of the faithfulness of God, especially when you are tempted to believe that he has left you alone to fend for yourself. Think of how he has supplied for your soul through the pouring out of his Son’s own blood. Think of how he has sustained your soul through the provision of the Bible and the gift of his Spirit. Think of how he has specifically provided for your daily needs. Think of his promise to glorify you when he takes you home! Proclaim his faithfulness to your own heart, take courage, and tell others of his goodness.

Let us trust that Jesus is the one who transforms the slow of heart into hearts burning with passion for more of him. As David sings in Psalm 27:1,

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

[Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible]

Who Then Is This Jesus Christ?

Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is the primary message relayed throughout the Gospel of Mark: Jesus is one with the Father, God in the flesh, full of power and authority over nature, demons, disease, and even death.

For many believers who have put their faith in Christ, Jesus’ power and authority is now made visible to us. Our eyes have been opened to him. We pour over the pages of Scripture, read about Jesus healing Jarius’ daughter and casting out Legion, and we worship along with the centurion, who said at the foot of the cross, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)

But it’s important for believers to realize that we, too, were once in spiritual darkness, unable to see the glory of Jesus Christ. We used to respond differently to Jesus. Before God kindly and graciously opened our eyes, the Bible tells us that we were blind to the truth. More than that, we were suppressors of the truth. We did not want to see the truth because the truth, we thought, would only condemn us (Romans 1:18).

So what a breath of fresh air when God allowed us to see the light of the knowledge of himself in the face of his Son: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Christ came and died and rose to be our Advocate, to cover us in his righteousness, if only we would trust his ability to do so by faith.

Many today are still blind and unable to see the glory of Jesus as the Son of God. And this is nothing new; many people in Jesus’ day were also blind to his person and work, his power and authority, his self-revealing holiness and goodness and divinity. In fact, in the middle chapters of Mark alone (3-7), we see various responses to Jesus from five different groups of people. It is important that we be familiar with these responses as we both search our own hearts and walk beside people of every context and background in our day to day lives.

The Religious

Perhaps the clearest portrait of this group is found in Mark chapter 7, where we read about a confrontation between the Pharisees and the disciples. The disciples had eaten without washing their hands, so the Pharisees decided to use their filth as an opportunity to make Jesus look bad in front of the crowds.

They asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (7:5) Jesus, in return, calls them hypocrites and says this:

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (6,7)

Rather than seeing Jesus as the Son of God, “The Religious” saw a threat to their own pride and power. See, if your pride is in your own morality, like theirs was, then anyone who crushes your attempt at being moral is going to be one of two things: your enemy…or your Savior. For this person will either threaten your own idea of what is right and wrong, as he claims to be the moral standard, or this person will be a refuge for you as you fall into his perfection and cry out for his help! As for the Pharisees, they were threatened by Jesus – so threatened that they plotted with the scribes to try and convict him of breaking the Law of Moses (3:6).

Who do you know who might fall into this category of response to Christ? The person who has a general belief in God but who believes that good works are sufficient for salvation. The person who holds a high standard of living in their day to day and judges anyone who doesn’t follow it to-a-tee…including themselves. The person who gleans more anxiety from spiritual disciplines rather than joy and freedom.

Maybe this is someone you know, or maybe it’s you. Jesus’ message for all of us is this: It is possible to honor Jesus with our lips and have it mean absolutely nothing. He calls it vain worship; we might call it “faking it” or “going through the motions.” Either way, it’s false worship because it’s misdirected worship. It’s about worshiping our own goodness and abilities, rather than God’s goodness. It’s about making ourselves feel better and boosting our own self-confidence through doing the “right things.”

Jesus, the Son of God, doesn’t want our empty, outward actions that are more devoted to ourselves than to him. He wants our hearts, our affections, that are cast upon his own goodness first, being transformed into outward worship as a result.

The Demons

The next “group” to respond to Jesus includes the demons and the “unclean spirits.” Mark tells us that “whenever the unclean spirits saw [Jesus], they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known” (3:11-12).

It’s fascinating that those overtly opposed to Christ’s glory, holiness, and work proclaim him rightly: “You are the Son of God.” This teaches us, again, that it is possible to honor Jesus with our lips and have it mean absolutely nothing.

In teaching about true, regenerative faith, James writes this:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (James 2:18-20)

In other words, just because someone titles Jesus correctly as the Son of God does not mean that they have faith; in fact, it could mean the exact opposite, that they attack his deity and perfection out of a hardened, evil heart.

Some of the smartest people I’ve met have known truths about Jesus but bore no fruit of holiness because their knowledge was not rooted in faith. It is only by faith in the Son of God, a belief in his ability to save needy, desperate sinners, that a person bears the fruit of the Spirit. Is your testimony of Jesus, or that of someone you know, an empty label, your heart hardened to his glory?

The Resistant

The next group we meet is extremely common nowadays, and we see its prevalence even in Jesus’ time. “The Resistant” are those people who get a taste of Jesus…but who are offended by him, rather than humbly broken by his love and grace.

The best example of resistance to Jesus is found in Mark chapter 6, when Jesus ministers in his hometown, Nazareth:

On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:2-6)

This passage makes extremely clear that the teaching of the gospel is the fragrance from death to death for some who hear it (2 Corinthians 2:16). People are resistant firstly because, by nature, their hearts are hardened and rebellious and secondly, because the gospel demands the giving up of their very lives to the Lordship of Jesus. This is deeply offensive to people who insist on believing that truth is relative and that their lives are accountable to no one but themselves.

Notice that Jesus “could do no mighty work there” because of “their unbelief.” A person resistant to Jesus, questioning his truth and denying his power and authority, is rocky ground where the seed of God’s Word cannot take root and grow (Mark 4:4). If this is you today, don’t resist Jesus any longer! He has demonstrated his power and authority by rising from the grave, and he reigns over creation, including your own life. Submit to him by faith, knowing that he desires not to condemn you but to give you life in his name.

The Perplexed

Often, the disciples of Jesus cannot seem to understand his identity, even though he is walking right alongside them in the flesh. Mark’s Gospel confirms how perplexed the disciples often were by Christ. But don’t we see ourselves in these men?

When the twelve men get caught in a storm at sea, they are terrified to find Jesus taking a peaceful nap on a cushion in the boat. When they wake him, he rebukes the wind and the sea, saying to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). We are then told the men “were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”’ (41).

Jesus, the one who called the disciples to himself, for whom they left everything to follow, who had healed a paralytic, a man with leprosy, and one with an evil spirit, is still utterly perplexing to the men! Their questioning reveals to us that it is possible to know Jesus but not to trust him fully.

Even King Herod knew of Jesus and his miraculous powers as demonstrated through John the Baptist (6:14), but Mark tells us that he was perplexed all the same (20).

Faith in this life can be a complicated thing because “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). The disciples did walk by sight, yet even they struggled to trust Jesus with their whole hearts when fearful circumstances arose. How easy it is to take our eyes off Jesus and fix them on what’s happening around us. But Jesus gives us more grace, continuing to reveal his own glory to us, so that we will gaze increasingly upon him and not upon our storms.

The Believing

Finally, we see a response to Christ in Mark 5 that should deeply encourage us and spur on our own faith. Jarius, a ruler of the synagogue, has a daughter who is dying, and he believes that Jesus can simply lay hands on her and make her well (5:23). While Jesus is enroute to Jarius’ home, some men report that his daughter has died, and they encourage Jarius not to trouble Jesus any longer (35).

But Jarius, by faith, believes in Jesus’ power to heal his daughter after Jesus says directly to him, “Do not fear, only believe” (36). What is stunning about this command is its directness: Jarius is only able to follow Christ by faith because Jesus has first commanded it within him. Lo and behold, Jesus raises Jarius’ daughter to life by a two authoritative words from his lips: “Talitha cumi” (41), which means “little girl, I say to you, arise,” and everyone was “immediately overcome with amazement.”

This account beautifully teaches that faith is a gift from God, imparted to us through the Word of Life, Jesus Christ. It is through our seeking him in the Scriptures, as Jarius sought Jesus, that we come face to face with his power and authority and are changed.

What are you afraid of today? What obstacle seems too cumbersome for you? With whom will you share Jesus? Where do you need to believe Jesus and exercise your faith in him?

Hear him say to you with all power and authority on heaven and earth, “Do not fear, only believe!” Follow him trustingly, no matter the outcome, knowing, understanding, believing he is who he says he is: the Son of God!

[Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible]