Category  |  Salvation

Seeing the Light

On the streets of Los Angeles, a homeless man struggling with addictions stepped into The Midnight Mission and asked for help. Thus began Brian’s long road to recovery.

In the process Brian rediscovered his love for music. Eventually he joined Street Symphony—a group of music professionals with a heart for the homeless. They asked Brian to perform a solo from Handel’s Messiah known as “The People That Walked in Darkness.” In words written by the prophet Isaiah during a dark period of Israel’s history he sang, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2 kjv). A music critic for The New Yorker magazine wrote that Brian “made the text sound as though it had been taken from his own life.”

The gospel writer Matthew quoted that same passage. Called by Jesus from a life of cheating his fellow Israelites, Matthew describes how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by taking His salvation “beyond the Jordan” to “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:13–16).

Who would have believed one of Caesar’s tax collector thugs (see Matthew 9:9), a street addict like Brian, or people like us, would get a chance to show the difference between light and darkness in our own lives?

Who Is That?

When a man installed a security camera outside his house, he checked the video feature to ensure that the system was working. He was alarmed to see a broad-shouldered figure in dark clothing wandering around his yard. He watched intently to see what the man would do. Somehow, though, the interloper seemed familiar. Finally he realized he was not watching a stranger roam his property, but a recording of himself in his own back yard!

What might we see if we could step out of our skin and observe ourselves in certain situations? When David’s heart was hardened and he needed an outside perspective—a godly perspective—on his involvement with Bathsheba, God sent Nathan to the rescue (2 Samuel 12).

Nathan told David a story about a rich man who robbed a poor man of his only lamb. Though the rich man owned herds of animals, he slaughtered the poor man’s lamb and made it into a meal. When Nathan revealed that the story illustrated David’s actions, David saw how he had harmed Uriah. Nathan explained the consequences, but more important he assured David, “The Lord has taken away your sin” (v. 13).

If, through accountability with others, God reveals sin in our lives, His ultimate purpose is not to condemn us, but to restore us and to help us reconcile with those we’ve hurt. Repentance clears the way for renewed closeness with God through the power of His forgiveness and grace.

Need a New Heart?

The news was grim.

My father had been having chest pains, so his doctor had ordered a test to peer into his heart. The result? Blockage in three arteries.

Triple-bypass surgery was scheduled for February 14. My dad, though anxious, saw that date as a hopeful sign: "I'm getting a new heart for Valentine's Day!" And he did! The surgery went perfectly, restoring life-giving blood flow to his struggling heart. A “new” heart. A second chance.

My father's surgery reminded me that God offers us a new life as well. Because sin clogs our spiritual "arteries"—our capacity to connect with God—we need spiritual "surgery" to clear them.

That's what God promised His people in Ezekiel 36:26. He assured the Israelites, "I will give you a new heart. . . I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." He also promised, "I will cleanse you from all your impurities" (v. 25) and "put my Spirit in you" (v. 27). To a people who'd lost hope, God promised a fresh start as the One who could renew their lives.

That promise was ultimately fulfilled through Jesus's death and resurrection. When we trust in Jesus, we receive a new spiritual heart, one that's cleansed of our sin and despair. Filled with Christ's Spirit, our new heart beats with the spiritual lifeblood of Jesus, that "we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:4). 

Homeless by Choice

Keith Wasserman has chosen to be homeless for a few days every year since 1989 in order to grow in love and compassion. “I go to live on the streets to expand my perspective and understanding” of people who have no homes to live in, says Keith, executive editor of Good Works.

I’m wondering whether Keith’s approach to become one with those he’s serving might be a small picture of what Jesus did for us. God Himself, the Creator of the universe, chose to confine Himself to the vulnerable state of a baby, to live as a human, to experience what we all experience, and to ultimately die at the hand of humans in order for humans to have a relationship with God.

The writer of the book of Hebrews stated that Jesus “shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (2:14). Jesus was made lower than the angels, even though He is their Creator (v. 9). He became human and died, even though He is immortal. And He suffered for us, even though He is the all-powerful God. Why would He do this? So that He could help us when we go through temptations and bring reconciliation between humans and God (vv. 17–18).

May we experience His love today, knowing He understands our humanity and has already provided the way for us to be cleansed from our sins.

 

Swept Away

When he invented the pencil eraser, British engineer Edward Nairne was reaching instead for a piece of bread. Crusts of bread were used then, in 1770, to erase marks on paper. Picking up a piece of latex rubber by mistake, Nairne found it erased his error, leaving rubberized “crumbs” easily swept away by hand.

With us too the worst errors of our lives can be swept away. It’s the Lord—the Bread of Life—who cleans them with His own life, promising never to remember our sins. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake,” says Isaiah 43:25, “and remembers your sins no more.”

This can seem a remarkable fix—and not deserved. For many, it’s hard to believe our past sins can be swept away by God “like the morning mist.” Does God forget them so easily? Especially God who knows everything?

That’s exactly what God does when we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. Choosing to forgive our sins and to “[remember] them no more,” our heavenly Father frees us to move forward. No longer dragged down by past wrongs, we’re free of debris and cleaned up to serve, now and forever.

Yes, consequences may remain. But God sweeps sin itself away, inviting us to return to Him for our clean new life. There’s no better way to be swept away.

The Greatest Rescue Mission

On February 18, 1952, a massive storm split the SS Pendleton, a tanker ship, into two pieces about ten miles off the Massachusetts coast. More than forty sailors were trapped inside the ship's sinking stern in the midst of fierce winds and violent waves.

When word of the disaster reached the Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernie Webber took three men on a lifeboat to try to save the stranded crew against nearly impossible odds-and brought thirty-two of the seemingly doomed sailors to safety. Their courageous feat was deemed one of the greatest rescues in United States Coast Guard history and was the subject of the 2016 film The Finest Hours.

In Luke 19:10, Jesus declared His own rescue mission saying, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The cross and the resurrection became the ultimate expression of that recue, as Jesus took upon Himself our sins and restored to the Father all who trust Him. For 2,000 years, people have embraced His offer of abundant life now and eternal life with Him. Rescued!

As followers of Jesus we have the privilege, with the Holy Spirit's help, to join our Savior in the greatest rescue mission in all of human history. Do you know someone who needs His rescuing love?

Great News!

The article in the local newspaper was short but heartwarming. After attending a faith-based program on building stronger family ties, a group of prison inmates were given a rare treat of an open visit with their families. Some hadn’t seen their children in years. Instead of talking through a glass panel, they could touch and hold their loved ones. The tears flowed freely as families grew closer and wounds began to heal.

 

For most readers, it was just a story. But for these families, holding one another was a life-changing event—and for some, the process of forgiveness and reconciliation was begun.

God’s forgiveness of our sin and offer of reconciliation, made possible through His Son, is more than a mere fact of the Christian faith. The article’s news of reconciliation reminds us that Jesus’s sacrifice is great news not just for the world, but for me and you.

In times when we’re overwhelmed by guilt for something we’ve done, however, it’s news we can cling to desperately. That’s when the fact of God’s unending mercy becomes personal news: because of Jesus’s dying on our behalf, we can come to the Father washed clean, “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). In such times, when we know we don’t deserve His mercy, we can hold on to the only thing we can depend on: God’s unfailing love and compassion (v. 1).

Out of Context

As I queued up to board my flight, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned and received a warm greeting. “Elisa! Do you remember me? It’s Joan!” My mind flipped through various “Joans” I’d known, but I couldn’t place her. Was she a previous neighbor? A past coworker? Oh dear . . . I didn’t know.

Sensing my struggle, Joan responded, “Elisa, we knew each other in high school.” A memory rose: Friday night football games, cheering from the stands. Once the context was clarified, I recognized Joan.

After Jesus’s death, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning and found the stone rolled away and His body gone (John 20:1–2). She ran to get Peter and John, who returned with her to find the tomb, indeed, empty (vv. 3–10). But Mary lingered outside in her grief (v. 11). When Jesus appeared there, “she did not realize it was Jesus” (v. 14), thinking He was the gardener (v. 15).

How could she have not recognized Jesus? Was His resurrected body so changed that it was difficult to recognize Him? Did her grief blind her to His identity? Or, perhaps, like me, was it because Jesus was “out of context,” alive in the garden instead of dead in the tomb, that she didn’t recognize Him?

How might we too miss Jesus when He comes into our days—during prayer or Bible reading, or by simply whispering in our hearts?

Love Changes Us

Before I met Jesus, I’d been wounded so deeply that I avoided close relationships in fear of being hurt more. My mom remained my closest contact, until I married Alan. Seven years later and on the verge of divorce, I toted our kindergartener, Xavier, into a church service. I sat near the exit door, afraid to trust but desperate for help.

Thankfully, believers reached out, prayed for our family, and taught me how to nurture a relationship with God through prayer and Bible reading. Over time, the love of Christ and His followers changed me.

Two years after that first church service, Alan, Xavier, and I asked to be baptized. Sometime later, during one of our weekly conversations, my mom said, “You’re different. Tell me more about Jesus.” A few months passed and she too accepted Christ as her Savior.

Jesus transforms lives . . . lives like Saul’s, one of the most feared persecutors of the church until his encounter with Christ (Acts 9:1–5). Others helped Saul learn more about Jesus (vv. 6–9). His drastic transformation added to the credibility of his Spirit-empowered teaching (vv. 20–22).

Our first personal encounter with Jesus may not be as dramatic as Saul’s. Our life transformation may not be as quick or drastic. Still, as people notice how Christ’s love is changing us over time, we’ll have opportunities to tell others what He did for us.

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