Scars: The Tattoos of Faith

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December 27, 2016

Scars

The Tattoos of Faith

By Vinnie MacIsaac

Scars. Life wounds scabbing over. Everyone has them. In faith, out of faith, it is all the same, this world and the people in it wound us, cut us, burn us, beat us, and eventually scars us leaving us with long term if not permanent memorials of our most painful mile markers.

The Apostle Paul was one of those people who, in spite of being used greatly by God, was still a pretty humble man and yet greatly scarred. But if there was one area of his life he did brag about it was his weakness and the scars he gained in ministry because of his weakness.

“…I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 [1]

To point out just a few of his highlights here is a shorthand list:

• Beaten with rods
• Beaten repeatedly with lethal scourges
• Often left near death
• Imprisoned
• Shipwrecked three times
• Once left a drift
• Trapped on rivers, seas, cities, and in the wilderness
• Robbed
• Pelted with rocks and left for dead
• Endangered by his own people
• Attacked by false brothers
• Left for dead
• Hungry, cold, thirsty
• Suffering sleepless night filled with fear and anxiety
• Mistreated by Gentiles (unbelievers) but also the church, even!

Paul suffered more than anyone other than Jesus.

Paul! He had some serious scars. And I bet if we look around the church, things are not much different today. Both inside and outside the church today people are pelted with lies, abused, beaten nearly to death physically and emotionally, called stupid, rejected, suffer constant depression, are used, and hit by all sorts of objects, the least of which includes words, insults, and neglect. So many in the world are denied the basic human rights of love, healthy touch, and security. This world is so full of hurt and we never really know who it is who will come through the doors of our church and what it is they have faced or are facing right now as they slide on in.

Now we can play the blame game if we want. But at the end of that tunnel it all comes down to some of these wounds are actually “self-inflicted,” some are “other-inflicted,” and evil forces inflict some we don’t see and identify with the naked eye. But I am not as worried about who is at blame, as I am as to why we keep covering them up. Paul didn’t cover his scars; he wore them like a man.  He wore them with pride, he bragged about them; they were his tattoos[2]  of faith.

But week after week, I see people come into the church, and I see their scars, and I see their pain, and I see that they keep them well covered up. We wear smiles, cheers, and platitudes, along with suits, and dresses, and zeal, and we rush into the pews, sing some hymns, listen to a sermon and make a mad dash for the door lest someone, or anyone, see our ugly scars poking out of our highly-engineered cover up pleated skirts and silk ties. We go to church to simply play, “cover up Christianity.” If you were to listen to Christians today, you might get the insane, warped idea that the ability of living in this world without incurring scars is some how the ultimate test of spirituality.  It makes me wonder have they even read how Jesus was rewarded for His Spirituality?

When we hide our hurts, we teach people it is not ok to be in pain.

Listen to me, if you’re new to the church, or a life-long member, I need you to hear what I am about to say. There are only three types of people in Church:

  1. Imperfect people with scars that still love and need love

  2. Liars, who deny they have any scars and have become masters of what I call “Cover up Christianity.”

  3. Those who don’t have scars but, rather, fresh wounds, who sit quietly in the pew bleeding out, having learned by trial and error it is unacceptable to share their pain with the person next to them on the pew.

But what is really unacceptable is how many people sit and suffer simply because they don’t know it is ok to hurt, ok to be blemished, and ok to have scars.

In reading Gene Edwards masterpiece of Christian leadership, “A Tale of Three Kings” I found him to give a very meaningful recount of the interconnectivity of King Saul, King David, and Absalom. He hinges the whole idea on 1 Samuel 19:10, when Saul throws a spear to kill David but David refused to throw one back. You see, when we get spears thrown at us we can decide at that moment will we be a spear thrower or a spear dodger? Are we going to get or give scars? And the brilliance of the book is Edwards’ realization that it is David’s choice in 1 Samuel 19:10 that determines how he will experience God’s grace when Absalom goes for his throne. The way we treat others on the way up the ladder, will determine how we get treated as others climb the ladder in our latter years. What we need to understand, though, is we have the choice  to be the type of person who inflicts scars on others, or not. How we choose will have everything to do with how God chooses to use us.

 

Being one who gets scars, or gives scars, or helps heal scars is all a matter of how you see God dealing with your scars where you are. For it is the same for Paul, as we read above; five times he received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Forty lashes were considered equal to the death penalty in the Roman Empire. A person who got scourged 40 lashes was not expected to live. So in order to avoid going to trial, they’d whip a person 39 times and hope it was enough to kill them. Five times, Paul, a Roman citizen, had his legal rights violated and was nearly killed by brutal lashings. Yet, not only did he live but he also penned these words about his life,‘But He (God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me’”  (2 Corinthians 12:9). How much Grace does it take to escape near-death five times? When you were whipped in those days the tip of the whip would have a small piece of iron or sometimes even a hook designed to tear into your skin and tear out chunks of your flesh. Paul received a minimum of 195 such lashes (5x 39), but, God’s Grace was sufficient for each lash and Paul was made all the more prefect in faith by trusting God in his struggle and the residual scars left from his encounters. Imagine, Paul laying there bleeding, in agony, yet God’s grace was sufficient to heal him. Grace did not let him die, but best of all, Grace did not allow him to be angry, or bitter, or negative and lash out back but rather, when he was healed, Grace lead him to stand up and preach the Gospel of forgiveness, again, often to the very people who gave him such treatment.

It is true, no matter what your scars are they are not so bad or damning that you need to lash out, or be ashamed. You are made perfect by God in your weakness. Don’t hide them from God or His people, because God’s Grace can use them as they become your tattoos of faith. Here is a moment of honesty, this is something I have to tell you as a pastor, and as a fellow human being; Stop hiding your scars. You are hurting others, no worse, you are killing others. You may be the reason others sit in the pews bleeding out, because they just don’t know it is ok to hurt!  Your perfected “Cover up Christianity” is so convincing it is literally killing them, by keeping them from reaching out for the one and only thing that is sufficient for healing their pain; God’s Grace!

Here is the thing about God’s Grace, it is Amazing! It really does heal! I say this as a man like you, like us all, of many hurts, wounds, and scars. I am a fellow liberal partaker in the Grace of God, who even at this point in life still does not have it all figured out and  most times is, at best, limping to the foot of the Cross; and too often still damaging others on my way. Yet it is still true… God’s grace is sufficient and His power is still made perfect in my weakness. Oh, one more thing about this Amazing Grace, if it is sufficient for me, it is sufficient for whoever else sits down on the pew beside me, no matter how bad or how ugly their scars. I don’t care if this is your first week in church or you last, we all have been wounded by the evil one and are being healed by the Holy One.

Due to my lack of medical expertise I owe Wikipedia, which is where I found this powerful definition of a scar;

“Scars are areas of fibrous tissue that replace normal skin after injury. A scar results from the biological process of wound repair in the skin and other tissues of the body. Scarring is a natural part of the healing process.”[3]

You see the point is scars are simply proof God is healing us, and that what once was a wound is in the act of being restored and while it may not be beautiful now, it will be later.  But, today you live because of the scars in your life! It turns out that these ugly scars we keep trying to cover up in the end are the very proof of the existence of God the skeptics of this world long to see. Proof that God is real and has real power. The truth is that since the fall of humanity scars are, in fact, the way He heals and makes His power known;

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” —Isaiah 53:5 [4]

The question we all need to ponder is how many skeptics, doubters, agnostics, and atheists walk around seeing no tangible reason to believe in God, simply because Christians are fearful to show of the tattoos of their faith, scars of their healed and healing wounds.

So here is a word up to all Christians denying your scars; you are denying the very power of God. It is the greatest statement of disbelief in God’s Grace that a professed believer could express. It is to go on official record as claiming God’s love, forgiveness, and most profoundly His transformational power is just too puny and feeble for your pain and the embarrassment of your suffering.

Miracles still happen, every single day. Ironically, and yet tragically, we put on our perfect dress suits, go to church with only smiles on our faces and pretend to be without the need of healing, and fail to show the world our scars which are the very healing they so much time for with restless and ambitious appetency to believe. Your hurt, your healing pain, your grace under fire, your salvation among the ashes of life are the very scars the world is precisely needing to see, in order to believe in the power of God!

In the Hebrew scriptures there is this odd passage, that theologians have tried to explain away, and there is a multitude of interesting interpretations of it for which I won’t get into, except to say in the light of the New Testament, we can now only see such a verse as being about Jesus, in the Kingdom, after the end of the reign of sin.

And one shall say unto him, “What are these wounds in thine hands?” Then he shall answer, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” –Zechariah 13:6 [5]

You see, while we hide our scars now, our scars will completely heal.  In time, at the great resurrection, behold, we will all be made new. We will finally be given a glorified body, our Scars will be wiped away forever. Already, if you will believe it, they are passing away before our own eyes. But Jesus… as they say where I am from, “Not so much.” The scars inflicted on him for our sins; they never leave him. They are there for life; and by that I mean eternal life. Imagine a million sets of a billion eons from now when the sins and suffering of this world is but a faint fleeting memory and someone in Heaven ask Jesus, “Oh what are those scars about again?” He will answer, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” Jesus is forever proud of His scars! For His scars means your life. Without His scars we all die. We need to understand, scars are a matter of life and death.  He will not cover that badge of honor up for all the vanity in the universe.

When will you, when will I, when will we, stop covering up our scars and be able to say, “These are the residue from which I was wounded in the house of my friends?”  Yes, in the end we need to come somehow by the grace of God able to call even those who wounded us, and even those who wounded us in the vilest ways “friends.” That does not mean in anyway we allow abusive and harmful people back into our lives, as Paul would say, Heaven Forbid! But it does mean we have to let hate and bitterness of the sting of our pain go and the truth is that is why we have a faith community. The church is nothing if it is not a group of imperfect people on a journey to learn to love perfectly as God pours out His love on them. As we dance in the love of our Heavenly, prefect Father’s love, let us also invite others to the dance and when they get here make sure they are treated with dignity, love, and healing that we ourselves seek to receive. When will we finally see that scars are just marks of healing, tattoos of faith, and inflictions by those who belong to the house of our friends? Let it be so in the Church of God! For we never know who it is who comes through our doors, sits in our pews, and longs for fresh cut wounds to become healed over scars. Let us, the Church, be a place of our, and their, healing in Christ.  To this I say, let all the people declare “Amen, in truth, so be it!”

This song was performed at Solid Rock on February 11th, 2017 and It felt right to include it with the article version of what was once a sermon. 


Footnotes:

[1] 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 ESV (English Standard Version)
[2] To avoid someone feeling the need to call me out, I’ll say up front that my usage of the word “tattoos” is metaphoric and not literal and that can be clearly discerned by the context. The Bible expressly forbids the tattooing of ones’ body in Leviticus 19:28. However, I’d also point out that the context of that command in Leviticus 19 is making cuts and marks on your self to pagan gods (see also 1 Kings 18:27-29) and seems quite far from the modern usage of tattoos. Regardless, this has nothing to do with my usage.
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scar
[4] Isaiah 53:5 ESV
[5] Zechariah 13:6 KJV (King James Version)

 

2 Comments

  1. I read Edwards’ book Tale of Three Kings several years ago. Great. Summarizes the challenges a leader faces in a very interesting way.

    • admin says:

      Thank Barry, Stan Patterson put me on to “Edwards’ book Tale of Three Kings” during a rough patch in my own leadership forming years. It made this so clear. I needed to lead like David if I wanted to love God like David. Great book!

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