On Repentance

yellow stripes road Repent. It is just one word, often spoken in scripture as a command, but it has great power, if obeyed, to change the course of history. An overstatement? I don’t think so.

Imagine if dictatorial world leaders were to kneel before God and repent. Imagine if corrupt politicians in Democratic Republics across the globe were to humble themselves at once and repent. Imagine if every criminal, every liar, every adulterer, every thief, every drunkard, and every addict in every city and every home in the world were to obey this one word, humble themselves before God, submit to His will and repent.

What a change! What a revival of righteousness our world would enjoy. 106 occurrences of the word repent or repentance in the Bible and each one is commanding us to change our mind and turn from sin.

It’s a word we’ve forgotten and have fallen out of habit in proclaiming. We need to repent.

I want to give you 5 reasons for repentance:

1) The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand

Matthew 3:1-2 says, “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is one of the most often repeated reasons in scripture that we’re encouraged to repent. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It’s here, working, and available to you! Something greater than anything on this Earth is accessible to you if you’ll repent of your sin, change your mind about God, and turn from your will to His will.

2) That your sins would be blotted out

Acts 3:19 says, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…”

This forces us to face a few uncomfortable truths. We all have sin in our life that needs to be addressed and God is the judge who will one day address them.

You are a sinner and you need a savior. I am a sinner and I need a savior. If our sins aren’t dealt with and blotted out, they will be held against us when we are judged by God. The wages we earn from our sins will be death but the gift God gives us is eternal life. The only way to access that freedom from sin and it’s wages is through repentance!

3) God Loves You

Revelation 3:19 says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”

Repent because God loves you. The conviction that we feel when sin is addressed is a sign that His Spirit is drawing you to repentance. When clearly understood, and powerfully felt, His love is a strong motivation for repentance.

Luke 15:10 says, “…there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Heaven celebrates when we repent!

How could I continue to reject the self sacrificial and supernatural love that God has shown to me? You and I should repent of our sin, not only because God is our judge, but also because He is our advocate, our substitute, and our savior. We should repent because He loves us.

4) Because we should

Mark 6:12 says,”And they went out, and preached that men should repent.”

When Jesus sent His disciples out two by two to preach in the cities they went everywhere preaching that men should repent. Let’s face it, we need to change. That was the disciples sermon and it is still our sermon today.

We should repent. We should change our minds about God. We should completely turn from our sin. Our hearts are nasty and given to selfishness and evil. God is great, and worthy of our full devotion. Put simply, we should repent because we’re wrong and He’s right!

We need a change of mind. We need a change of heart. The way of the world just doesn’t work. It has consistently proven itself incapable of sufficiently dealing with the questions that consistently plague the soul of mankind. The disciples were right, men should repent.

5) To turn away God’s wrath

Luke 13:5, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

Romans 2:5-6, “But because of your hardness and [unrepentant] heart, you are storing up treasures of wrath against yourself on the day of wrath when the righteous judgment of God will be revealed, and He “will render to every man according to his deeds.”

God is love but He is also a judge. He will justly and fairly judge all those who continue practicing sin without repentance. That judgment will include exclusion from Heaven and the eternal death of the soul. We must repent in order to turn away from us the wrath of God.

On the day of Pentecost, when the listening crowd asked Peter what they should do in response to the message he had just preached to them about Jesus and His substitutionary death on the cross, Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38).

If you want to be filled with the Spirit, if you know God loves you, if you want to turn away the wrath of God, if you want your sins to be blotted out, and you want to walk in the blessings and promises of the Kingdom of God then you need to repent!

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On What is Best

old empty church pewsOne of the near universal traits of human nature is that we rarely want what is actually best for us.

We know we should eat more vegetables but they don’t taste as good as onion rings. We know, intellectually, that some fresh cut fruit and a bottle of water would be a good start to our day but instead we grab a Pop-Tart and some chocolate milk as we rush to our car. We know we should devote some time each day to exercise but we really enjoy our leisure time. We know we should balance our checkbook, clean our house and maintenance our vehicle but we just don’t. Furthermore, we know that most of our frustrations in life are the result of our negligence in those areas and yet we still don’t change. We want the comfort of a clean house and the convenience of a good running vehicle but not the effort and expense that is required to have those same things.

We trade what we really want for what we want right now.

We know what is best for us but we often settle for the tyranny of what is convenient, easy and acceptable. As author Jim Collins has aptly put it, “The enemy of great is good enough.” So we counsel ourselves into apathy with platitudes like, “Everyones house is dirty”, and “no one is in perfect shape”, and “I don’t have the time” when what we really mean is, “that would take more effort and discipline than I’m willing to exert”. 

We know more truth than we’re living. Unfortunately, this basic principle of human nature doesn’t stop at oil changes and ice cream but it affects our relationship with Jesus Christ.

We know we should we pray but instead we sleep in. We know we should read the Bible but we’ve got errands to run. I haven’t fasted in weeks, haven’t given in the offering and haven’t volunteered to serve but I’ve made time for the game, the meal out with friends and the new toys. I want a strong faith and a spiritually healthy family but I trade what I really want for what I want right now.

God is offering us everything we really want but we’re not taking Him up on His offer. We don’t seem to actually want what is best for us. We allow the hustle of life to rob us of the treasures available in Jesus and HIs kingdom.

John Piper says it well in his book, A Hunger for God,

“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20).

The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.”

It takes discipline, courage, and strength to seek what is best. So then, what is the cure?

The cure is to create disciplines and routines in your life that put you in places and around people that will support and encourage your pursuit of the things of God. Go to church, avoid environments and individuals that compromise your faith and disregard the truth of God’s Word. Set a day every week to fast and a time every day to pray and read your Bible. These habits and the people you surround yourself with will serve to encourage you to faithfully pursue the kingdom of God first and to trust His promise that “all these other things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

The great truth we often overlook is that Jesus doesn’t deny us the things of life that we want. In fact, He promises to give us those things! He simply reorganizes when and how they are acquired. They are moved from being the object of our pursuit, to the neglect of God, to becoming the result of our pursuit of the presence of God.

In Psalm 16:11 David declares that he has found “the path of his life”, “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore”. Where? In the presence of the Lord.

Often the only thing that can pull us out of our apathy, and consequently birth an appetite for greatness in us, is a taste of what can be. Maybe this is why David challenged us to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). He is what’s best for us and once you’ve tried what He has to offer you’ll settle for nothing less.

On Being A Child of God

teddy bears

I had been gone for a particularly long and exhausting day. When I walked in the door all four of my children and my wife were occupied.

My oldest child was reading a book. One of them was playing on an iPod and another with a toy while my wife was making dinner. All good things.

My youngest daughter, who is only 18 months old, was the only one who acknowledged that I had come in and she did so in a thrilling way.

She squealed. Then she dropped her toy and ran towards me. She wrapped her tiny arms around my legs and refused to let go.

I’ll be honest, I felt like a million bucks.

In that split second I heard in my head, “that is how Jesus wants you to see and enjoy Him.”

 

Jesus said, “…unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew‬ ‭18‬:‭3‬ MEV)

Teenagers and adult children often dislike the company of their parents and willfully avoid them. Little children are thrilled to see their parents.

“become like little children”

Teenagers and adult children will argue with their parents and challenge their beliefs and assertions. Little children believe everything their parents say.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children often want special events or occasions to spend time with their parents. Little children just want to be next to their parents all the time, or on their lap.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children tend to do their own thing, often without regard for their parents wishes. Little children will often do whatever they’re asked to do. All they want is to please their parents.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children want to do things on their own and try to figure out their way to accomplish goals and meet needs. Little children just grab their parents hand and hold on.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children worry and stress over needs, responsibilities and the future. Little children don’t worry about anything. They completely trust their parents to provide everything they need.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children only request reasonable things that wouldn’t seem an imposition of their parents. Little children believe their parents are able to make their wildest dreams come true. As a result, they ask for anything and everything, believing their parents will supply.

“become like little children.”

Teenagers and adult children develop personality traits that make it difficult to get along with family members and causes disagreements from time to time. Little children often love everybody and offer a smile to anyone who looks their way.

“become like little children.”

What would our world look like?

What would the church look like?

What would your family look like?

What would your heart look like?

What if we were to trust Him thoroughly, obey Him completely, worship Him singularly and love Him wholeheartedly.

What if we all were to “become like little children” and look at God as the good Father that He is.

A Good Reason To Humble Yourself

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (‭James‬ ‭4‬:‭10‬ ESV)

Being humble is much like being smart. If you have to tell people you are, you probably aren’t. It’s a quality much more often, and more easily, claimed than actually possessed.

The only one who could have sought glory or honor that would have been rightfully deserved came in humility. Jesus was God, manifest in the flesh, yet He came as a baby, born to young, poor parents, in a rural village, using a manger for a cradle.

Phillipians 2:5-11 says we should have the same mind as Jesus, who made Himself of no reputation and, humbled Himself to die on the cross. But because He humbled Himself, “God exalted Him”.

So often, in trying to lift our status or reputation in the eyes of others, we end up trapped by the sin of pride, which only serves to lower our reputation because of arrogance. Let God exalt you.

The Bible says God “resists the proud” but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). I’m confident I don’t want God resisting me. I want His grace. Therefore, knowing that God responds to humility, it is entirely necessary that I humble myself to receive His grace.

Into The Light

IMG_4698

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (‭1 John‬ ‭1‬:‭7‬ KJV)

When my daughter was younger she often wanted to play hide and go seek. The only problem was, she played it backwards. She would put a blanket over her head and declare, “you can’t see me!”

She assumed that because she couldn’t see us we couldn’t see her.

I fear that sometimes we play hide and seek with God. We ignore His voice, disregard His laws, hide from His face, put a blanket over our heads and convince ourselves that because we can’t see Him means He can’t see us. But He can.

Hebrews 4:13 (MEV) tells us that “There is no creature that is not revealed in His sight, for all things are bare and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

No one and no thing is hidden from God. No matter how long you refuse to look at Him He is still able to see you.

We often hide from God because we either don’t want to submit to His Word or, like Adam and Eve did, because we’re ashamed of our sin. Adam and Eve created aprons of leaves to cover themselves but it was insufficient in God’s eyes. There’s nothing we can do to right ourselves in God’s eyes. The only way is to answer God’s call to step into the light and be honest before Him.

The promise of 1John 1:7 is that if we walk in the light, in honesty, confession, and integrity, we’ll not only enjoy fellowship with other believers but the blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse us from all sin.

The Problem of Pleasure

pews stained glassIf there is one absolute truth it is that life isn’t fair. I was raised on the South side of Chicago and though I cannot recall a specific moment when it occurred to me that the world was not fair it was something of which I was acutely aware.

My older brother and I were raised by a single mother. She worked hard to give us everything we needed but sometimes it was still not enough. My father left our young family months before I was born. My brother is six years older than me and we have different fathers. Neither of us knew our own father though, ironically, he knew mine.

In our extended family we can find drug abuse, addictions, suicide, bankruptcy, disease, sudden deaths, poverty, homelessness, imprisonment, as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Members of my family tree were drunkards, liars, drug abusers, whoremongers, thieves, murders and adulterers. A large percentage of the marriages in our extended family have been visited by divorce.

While my family tree may shock some the reality is that such an inventory is no longer uncommon. The world is an ugly place. It is full of heartbreak, pain and suffering. Life is simply not fair. To be clear, most of us do not mind an imbal- ance in the grand scheme of things as long as that imbalance weighs in our favor. It is when inequities appear that do not favor us that we begin to cry foul.

When we get a large sweet tea at the drive- thru window, though we only paid for a small, we don’t refuse it because it would be unfair, even though it is. We welcome it! If we get more that what we paid for we smile and enjoy our good fortune, but if we get less than what we paid for we demand immediate rectitude, even though both circumstances are, by definition, unfair. We’re not upset when life isn’t fair, as long as it’s not fair in our favor. It’s when life is unfair and it effects us negatively that we object.

So let us dispel with the idea that it is a cosmic imbalance in justice which disturbs us. That’s not it. It is not inequity that we are troubled with but rather inequities that bring us pain and suffering. What makes the suffering of such pain and evil in our lives so troubling is, not so much the pain itself but rather the indiscriminate manner in which it visits us. There is a maddening capriciousness to the pain and suffering that exist in the world. It seems that pain visits the good with the same random abandon that fortune visits the wicked.

We examine all of this while looking through the lens of our families and friends and conclude that life simply is not fair. The fates are not judicious in the dispensing of pain. We judge, in our finite knowledge, that our family and friends are made up of “good people” and they do not deserve this evil treatment from the cosmos. It’s simply not fair.

The problem of evil in the world has plagued thinkers for centuries. They’ve pointed to it as evidence that God must not exist, or at least not in the way many have believed Him to exist. The Epicurean philosophy is that either there is no God or He must be powerless or careless to deal with the evil that plagues what we believe to be His creation. He assuredly cannot be a good God, both of love and of power, else what keeps Him from stopping all the pain and suffering that plague the world?

Philip Yancey describes the problem of pain as “the question mark turned like a fish hook in the human heart.” Life is not fair, but if He indeed exists, it is ultimately God who is not fair and not good.

Yet I cannot help but consider that amidst all the pain and suffering that really does exist in the world there is also much pleasure in life. How else could we know pain, and furthermore learn to despise suffering, if we did not know great joys and pleasures? Could we fully appreciate the sweetness of sugar if we had not tasted the bitterness of the tea?

While I can recall sleepless nights in my childhood of fear and hunger, when we had no home, food or money, I am also able to recall days of great joy, safety and fullness. How can the two exist along side one another?

How does the skeptic, shouting about pain in the human condition, make equity of the fact that humans alone enjoy the great joys and pleasures of this natural world? Some species grow by merely absorbing what is in their environment. Many protozoans, certain algae, bacteria and amoeba all grow by simply assimilating proteins from their environment. How do we account for the fact that humankind gains pleasure from nourishment? Food tastes good! Many species of animals survive on other, smaller animals, dead carcass meat, plant life and water yet we enjoy the likes of Cherry Garcia, Cinnabon’s, and, if you’re lucky enough, an Italian Beef sandwich from Portillo’s in Chicago!

Most of the great beasts on land enjoy a steady diet of hay and grasses yet we, unique in nature, have created great monuments to food and the pleasure we derive from it. We enjoy a rainbow of color and zest in our diets, able to create and enjoy a myriad of pleasant and appetizing flavors and sensations while we are nourishing ourselves.

Our ability to enjoy food has reached such proportions that we will often place the enjoyment of the taste even above it’s ability to nourish us. This can be evidenced quite simply by the popularity of the Hostess and Little Debbie line of products. Mankind takes such pleasure in what we eat that we have become imbalanced in it on a scale represented in no other species.

What purpose is there that humankind should enjoy what nourishes him when we see this reflected nowhere else in nature? The question here is not one of pain but of pleasure.

Some species reproduce by simply splitting into two. Some creatures even kill or are killed following copulation. Other species copulate in a mere function and the two mating partners never engage with one another again in any kind of meaningful or responsible relationship. In the least, when we see fidelity in the act of reproduction in the animal kingdom it is without the profound meaning that human reproduction carries.

Yet, a man and a woman share arguably the greatest physical delight in the human experience in the act of reproduction. So much so that rarely is sex viewed by most moderns as a reproductive act. It is considered foremost to be an act of pleasure between a man and a woman and most would agree it to be the greatest of creational gifts mankind enjoys.

Once again, we enjoy the goodness of this pleasure to such a degree that we have become imbalanced in regard to sex. We have almost entirely divorced its purpose from the act and have pursued sex for the simple end of sex itself.

C.S. Lewis asked the question, “suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?”

How is it that we can, not only enjoy our reproductive act but, enjoy it to such a degree that we can actually become imbalanced in it?

Our other senses, beyond our appetite for food and sex, are equally as unique among the earth’s creatures in their ability to absorb pleasure from their function.

We can view the spectrum of the rainbow and the hues of the color wheel while canines live in a monochrome world. We can stand at the base of the Rocky Mountains in the western United States, drink the heights of the Sierra Nevada’s, or camp at the foot of the Alps in France, and appreciate their beauty and greatness. Yet snakes, birds and scorpions scurry in, over and around Arizona’s Grand Canyon every day without a hint of understanding as to it’s size, significance, and wonder on the planet they share with humans beings.

Allow me to understate the case by saying we enjoy sounds. We are daily inundated with music, singing and instruments. We have radios in our car, our home, our work place and enjoy it as an outlet in our recreation and entertainment. While there are certain species of birds and whales that seem to sing for pleasure there are certainly none that enjoy a song to the degree and extent that we humans have created and enjoy. While the dolphins may enjoy their sonar song they have nothing that compares to Handel’s “Messiah”.

We’ve been able to drink in breathtaking photographs and views from space as well as the depths of the seas. We’ve explored our world and begun to explore worlds beyond and yet amidst all this pleasure, goodness and wonder we still find ourselves shaking our fist at the heavens and demanding, “What doest thou?”

For all of our pain and sufferings, all the injustices and challenges, for all that’s ugly and unwelcome, for all the things in life that we would petition for God to change, we have so very much more to be thankful for.

Like Adam and Eve in the garden we’ve listened to the tempters offer to focus on the one thing we don’t have rather than see all themany pleasures we have been granted access to. We are quite literally missing the forest for the trees.

We’ve found it within us to ignore all the wonderful pleasures we enjoy every day and focus on the things that bring us the most discomfort, calling it proof that an omnipotent God could not and indeed does not exist.

Is not our logic failing us in this regard? If pain and evil, according to Epicurius and his adherents, point to a random, meaningless universe, void of a designer, or at best a handicapped deity, then to what does pleasure point? Where does all this goodness and pleasure in the human condition come from?

How is it that mankind stands alone on this great planet as the sole recipients of its pleasures and joys? Why does mankind deserve to experience the myriad of pleasure that plant and animal will never know? Furthermore, how is it that Earth stands alone in our Solar System, perfectly positioned and chemically balanced to be inhabited with life in such a robust manner?

Stuart Clark, writer for New Scientist magazine, asks the very same question when he says,

“We know that [Earth’s] distance from the sun provides the right amount of heat and light to make the planet habitable, but that alone is not enough. Without the unique mix of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur that makes up living things, and without liquid water on the planet’s surface, life as we know it could not have evolved. Chemically speaking, Earth is simply better set up for life than its neighbors. So how come we got all the good stuff?”

In his view, all the planets in our solar system “formed from the same cloud of gas and dust that surrounded the sun more than 4.5 billion years ago” yet Earth alone is perfectly suited for plant, animal and human life. Are we simply the winners of a cosmic, even galactic lottery, or are we living on a planet, positioned and crafted by a designer for the purpose of life?

If the skeptic believes pain is evidence to God’s non-existence then, following the same logic, doesn’t pleasure and great privilege indicate the existence of a loving and benevolent giver of life?

At the very least the pleasures we enjoy, the gravy of life, the sweet tea, maintain an existential balance of the bitter mixed with the sweet. There is pain and suffering in the world. There is also joy, gladness and great pleasures.

Life is not fair. Sometimes that works in our favor and other times it does not. Neither are reasons to reject God. They are the balanced result of the human condition in a fallen world.

The pleasures in life that we are free to enjoy are one of the many reasons I continue to believe.

Neglecting The Familar

emptychair I won. I’ve finally won something on e-bay!

I won a cd for $1.49.

The cd was released in 1991. It was around the time that cd players became more affordable and more artists released their music on cd’s. I was 10 and remember getting our first CD player. It was the size of a small coffee table but it was magic.

Digital audio was still a relatively new technology and so production companies often printed instructions for how to care for the cd on the cd case insert.

I was amazed at the instructions that were given.

Always hold the cd by the edges.

When not in the cd payer always return the cd to its case.

If a fingerprint should get on the underside of the disc only wipe it off with a soft, dust/lint free cloth and always wipe in a straight line away from the center of the disc.

The instructions for care were followed by the promise, “If you care for your compact disc in this manner it should provide you with a lifetime of listening pleasure.”

As I read those instructions I mentally balanced them with the way an average person actually handles a cd.

I’ve got about three just laying loose in the floor of my minivan at this moment!

When we are not using them as a coaster for our drink we throw them around, pile them on top of each other (not in their cases), and wipe the pizza sauce off the underside with the back of our shirt (well, at least I do).

As our familiarity grows our care lessens.

This seems to be true of most things.

Consider the first year of marriage versus the 10th. If she gets a cold in the 1st year you’re rushing to the emergency room. If she gets a cold in the 10th year you’re buying a box of Kleenex so she doesn’t get anything in the casserole.

When I bought my first new car I babied it. No fast food. Wipe your feet. Routine maintenance, wash and wax. No driving fast or hitting bumps. Park at the back of the parking lot so some junker won’t scratch the paint.

After about 3 months that all starts to fade.

Before 1 year is up there’s fries under the floormats, pop stains in the cup holder and cd’s lodged in the seats.

When I first got my laptop I kept a lint free cloth between the keyboard and screen whenever I closed it. I always set it on a laptop fan base to keep the internal hardware cool and prevent damage.

Not anymore.

As our familiarity grows our care and attention lessens.

We become so familiar with things that we cease to genuinely care for them and appreciate their value. We take them for granted and neglect the care they properly deserve.

I sure hope this hasn’t also become true of my walk with God.

We must pray that, as we learn more about Him and walk daily with Him, that we don’t begin to neglect the simple disciplines that led us to Him in the beginning. Prayer, fasting, the reading of Scripture, corporate worship and giving. Simple disciplines that not only create but maintain an appropriate reverence and appreciation for who He is and all He is worthy to receive of us.

What an ironic tragedy it would be for God to be so near to us for so long that He would become familiar and we neglect His presence.