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!

Our Father

old black pewsHelping us understanding who God is and how He relates to humankind, and how we relate to Him, is one of the primary functions of scripture. Using metaphors and anthropomorphism the Spirit, through the mouths of the Prophets and Apostles, teaches us who God is and who we are in relation to him. One of the most common designations we’re given in scripture of God is that of Father.

God is our Father.

He is the Father of the universe. The Father of all creation and all created things. The Prophet Isaiah declares, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; and we all are the work of Your hand.” (Isa. 64:8, MEV) He is the Father of every living thing and person that has ever been graced to enjoy His good creation. God is our Father.

Jesus affirmed this truth when He taught us to address God as, “our Father who is in Heaven” (Matt. 6:9, MEV).

Jesus taught that we can address God as our Father but He also taught that God is not everyone’s Father.

In John 8:42-44 he said, to those who refused to follow him, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God . . . You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” So while it is true, in one sense, that God is our Father, in another very real sense, He is also not the Father of all.

God is the Father of all Creation but He can be called Father, and is the Father, of those who have received His Spirit. In Romans 8:9,14–15 (MEV) the Apostle Paul says, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him … For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of slavery again to fear. But you have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God.”

Not every one can lay claim to the privilege of knowing God as Father. The scriptures are clear that only those who have been born again of the water and of the Spirit have the right of inheritance and the privileges of sonship. Romans 8 maintains that those who have the Spirit of God have the Spirit of adoption, making them sons of God. The Spirit bears witness that God is our Father.

God may be everyone’s Father but not everyone is His son.

While everyone can say, in a very general sense, that God is their Father the Spirit filled believer, in a very specific sense, can additionally confess that they are His sons! This is why Jesus calls the baptism of the Holy Spirit “The Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4-5).

Those who are the Spirit filled sons of God have access to the promises and blessings of a generous and bountiful Heavenly Father! Promises like Matthew 7:11, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

The language of God’s Fatherhood is not merely an ancient cultural construction held to for the sake of nostalgia but it is a revelation of a truth of who God is and who we are in His plan. We are His children and He is our Father!

The privilege of prayer and the promise that God will work all things together for your good (Rom. 8:24) is part of the inheritance of sonship. To know we are called, justified and will be glorified (Rom. 8:30) is part of our inheritance in sonship. Paul concludes his teaching in Romans 8 regarding the believer’s sonship by declaring, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

In Romans 8:38-39 he celebrates the truth of our sonship by saying, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities nor powers, neither things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That is what it means to have God as your Father!

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.

Balance or Yes & No

wooden fenceIt’s not that we don’t know right from wrong. We do. We simply all too often make either emotional or reckless decisions in a moment of weakness, hunger or fatigue.

We know right from wrong, we just don’t know how to prioritize right from wrong.

Most of our selfish and reckless decisions are sourced from the fact that our priorities are fluid. We haven’t decided, before we are presented with a decision, what our values and priorities dictate. Your greatest weapon in achieving your goals is deciding before hand what you say yes to and what you say no to and then being intentional about sticking with those principles.

Even if, however, you are able to do that, there is then the difficulty of choosing between good things and better things. As Jim Collins so aptly presented to us, The enemy of great is good enough.

It is those reasons that make balance one of the most important things necessary for a healthy life spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. We are only one person, and our mind and spirit and intellect must do everything they will do in the only physical body we will ever have. An imbalance in any of those areas will affect who you are as a person.

The state of your body affects your mind and the state of your spirit affects your body. There’s only one way to disconnect your mind, body and spirit from each other. It’s called death.

So as long as you are alive, and as long as you intend to pursue physical, spiritual and emotional health, you’re going to have to learn to find balance. That will require you learning when to say, “Yes” and when to say, “No”.

As much as we would like to convince ourselves otherwise, there is no neutrality in life. We make choices every day. Not making a choice is a choice in itself. Everything you say “yes” to also means a thousand other options you said “no” to. Everywhere you are is a myriad of places you aren’t. Everything you receive defines the things you reject and vice versa.

Learning the power of saying “Yes” and “No” to the right things is key to achieving balance.

The great power of Christianity is that, for most of us, If we get God in His rightful place everything else effortlessly lines up. The truth is, it’s not so much us putting God in His rightful place ( He’s already there) as it is us placing ourselves in our proper place under Him. When we realign our will with His will we find ourselves in the peace that is promised in His Spirit.

Sometimes we’re afraid to say no to some people and things because it often feels harsh and severe. We would like to be seen as nice people, as being kind. But sometimes saying no is the kindest, most important thing you can do for yourself, your family or another person.

Often, we can be very cruel in our intents to be kind. It’s not kindness to continue to enable individuals to self destruct. It’s not kindness to fatigue your own mind and body to such a degree that you rob yourself of rest and your family of your complete presence. Often the kindest thing we could do is learn to say, “No”.

Sadly, it is often the little things that end up being our real problems. It turns out, you really should sweat the small stuff because often the big stuff is simply an aggregate of the small stuff that we didn’t properly sweat. Our priorities were fluid, our values unsettled, and, because of that, we didn’t know when to say yes or when to say no. The little stuff aggregates and then we have a big problem.

John Piper says 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.”

Airplanes need two wings, and both are necessary to stay in the air. People have two legs, one to remain planted while the other one moves, enabling us to walk forward or backward. Roads have two sets of lanes, each going in opposite directions. The truth is, you need Yes and No to achieve balance in life.

Yes to God. Yes to good things. Yes to rest. Yes to faith.

No to the tyranny of the urgent. No to good things that rob from better things. No to exhaustion.

Learning how to use Yes and No is one of the greatest skills you will refine in your pursuit of balance.

When You Fast

Farm House Table.jpgFor all of our failings, if there’s one place Western culture succeeds it’s indulgence. We are, after all, the home of the cafeteria, the smorgasbord and the all-you-can-eat buffet. Where else, but in the USA, would a place like Ryan’s be a commercial success.

We, especially in The United States, have engendered one of the most self-indulgent, gluttonous and consumptive societies in history.

Our forefathers were hunter-gatherers, we’re just gatherers.

As Dave Ramsey says,

“We spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.”

What’s worse is that we all see it yet we continue our self indulgence. We know we’re selfish, we know we’re gluttons, and we just can’t stop.

We’re not alone. Every culture that has ever enjoyed a level of prosperity has eventually been given over to decadence. It was the downfall of Rome, the decline of Greece and the blinders the British wore. We have everything, we need nothing and so we become numb to our ultimate and greatest needs.

Knowing this about humanity, Jesus steps into our story in His Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew chapter 6 He teaches,

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)

He takes it for granted that His disciples will fast. He doesn’t say, IF you fast, but WHEN. Fasting is assumed as a basic Christian activity. Prayer and fasting are fundamental to a victorious life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 17 Jesus and His disciples had an encounter with a family that needed a spiritual victory,

“And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:14-21)

They were reminded that simple faith can accomplish great things. Jesus revealed to them that very small faith could move very large things, even mountains. Indeed, the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man “availeth much” (James 5:16). However, when it comes to winning spiritual victories against spiritual enemies you need the added strength of natural hunger. You need to add fasting to your prayer. Jesus said spiritual victories are won through prayer and fasting!

This was precisely what God was reminding Israel in Isaiah 58.

“Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord ? “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.” (Isaiah 58:2-11 NLT)

God, through His prophet Isaiah, calls out Israel on their hypocrisy. He sees through their actions and highlights  their motive. They pray and fast, making themselves miserable, hoping to pry good gifts from the hands of God. They get it all wrong.

He says they “act pious” and they “pretend to be near me” but they’re only fasting to please themselves. They’re not really fasting to please God. They’re trying to use religious activity to cajole God to take their side and God rebuked them for it. That’s not how God works.

Fasting is not leveraging God for your interests. It is not divine arm twisting to get God to take your side. To the contrary, fasting doesn’t get God on your page, it gets you on His. It’s about you, humbling yourself, letting go of your self-interest and getting your will aligned with His. Fasting takes the most basic and vital physical need we have, food, and willfully denies the physical man in order to put the spiritual man back in control.

We often forget that we are physical and spiritual. We need to nourish and maintain the health of our entire nature. CS Lewis famously said,

“You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

The truth is, we are engaged everyday in the care and feeding of our body. Sleep, showers, breakfast, lunch, dinner, radio, music, books, sports, shopping, clothing, friends, vacation and on and on. We do most of what we do to respond to the needs and maintenance of our physical self, often to the detriment and neglect of our spiritual self.

We’re washing the car but we’re not changing the oil. We’re a house of squalor with a manicured lawn. We monitor the externals but we neglect the internals which are exponentially more important and, consequently eternal. The only thing that can treat the malaise of this natural world is both prayer and fasting.

John Piper powerfully writes 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.”

So, in Matthew 6, Jesus gives us instruction for, “When You Fast”.

The first thing He says is, When You Fast, don’t do it for men to see. If you fast only to procure a reputation as a pious and religious individual Jesus said you’re just a hypocrite and the praise of men will be your only reward. However, if you want to fast the way God intends for believers to fast, do it in private.

Don’t fast so that men compliment your piety or applaud you for religious activity. Fast so that your heart seeks the heart of God. Fast to submit your physical man to your spiritual man. Fast, not just to open the hands of God but rather, to hear the voice of God. Fast for joy, and men can’t give you joy.

He then, almost humorously, goes on to say, “wash your face”. When you fast clean yourself up, brush your teeth, do your hair, and use some product. Why? If you’ve ever fasted for several days you know, because you’ll need to!
Also, because you’ll be tempted not to. That will leave you open for questions as to why your appearance is the way it is.

Make no mistake, fasting is not easy on the physical body. You will likely be, if on an extended fast, (what my wife and I refer to as “hangry”) hungry, irritable and possibly a little weakened. It is, however, restorative. Many medical doctors even encourage fasting for it’s beneficial effects, a sabbath of sorts, for your digestive system. Fasting breaks down the physical man to ensure that the spiritual man remains in control of your life.

So, When You Fast, Jesus says let  your fasting have one focus, not the applause of men, not divine leverage, but aligning your will with your Father’s will that the joy of the Lord would be your strength.

When You Pray

park bench.jpgThe most comprehensive collection of Jesus teaching is contained in The Sermon on the Mount. In what is regarded as some of the most beautiful and challenging teaching in scripture, Jesus addresses the issues of the human condition.

He teaches about envy, lust, anger, murder, adultery, divorce, prayer, fasting, finances, anxiety, hypocrisy, promises, enemies, the poor, war, peace and a myriad other topics.

In Matthew 6 Jesus addresses three specific activities that should be present in the life of every committed disciple. He tackles When You Pray, When You Fast and When You Give.

Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:5-13, KJV)

Prayer is one of the most basic, fundamental activities of the faithful Christians life. Singers sing, writers write, teachers teach and Christians pray. Prayer is how we build a relationship with God. A relationship where there is no communication or worse, only communication when someone has a need or want is dysfunctional at best and essentially no relationship at all. When we only talk to God when we need something we rob ourselves of the depth available in relationship with God.

In Genesis 3 we learn that God had a relationship with Adam and Eve. He walked and talked with them in the Garden of Eden. However, after they sin, God comes looking for them and they try to hide themselves from God (Gen. 3:8-9). Sin has a way of keeping us from the presence of God in prayer.

Thats what prayer is; walking and talking with God. It’s the primary manner by which we build a relationship with Jesus Christ. The amazing truth is that prayer is a shadow of the relationship that God’s redemptive plan aims to restore. What Adam and Eve lost in Eden God wants to restore with you!

So Jesus teaching says, When You Pray. Not IF you pray, WHEN. The implied message is that His disciples will engage themselves in prayer. Believers are praying people. It should be expected and normative that the healthy Christian is a praying Christian. It’s the health of your soul.

Singers sing, writers write, teachers teach and Christians pray!

Jesus goes on to say, in verse 5 of Matthew 6, that, when you pray, be sure to talk to God, not men. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for praying in public places “to be seen of men”. He called that hypocrisy, it’s not genuine prayer. Prayer should be directed towards the ears of God, not the ears of your fellow man.

There is a very real temptation for Christians to only pray when we gather together. We have a strong sense of identity within the Christian community and it’s often important to look like a believer, to look pious and religious. Jesus steps into our hypocrisy and highlights our motive. We don’t really want God to hear us, we just want other people to know we pray.

Jesus said, when you pray, talk to God. Go somewhere private and pray to cultivate a relationship with God, not to procure a reputation with other men. I don’t know any serious Christians who believe the only Biblical location for prayer is in a closet. What Jesus meant was, go somewhere free from the distractions of the day and the ears of other men. Get alone with God and talk to Him.

Jesus then goes on to instruct His listeners to not only talk to God when they pray but to talk to God. Talk to God. Open your heart and mind and try to hear from His heart and mind.

Prayer does not have to be complicated, ritualized and performed in the King James English. The act of prayer itself is not redemptive. God is not interested in getting us to repeat cliches ad nauseam while on our knees. It’s less about the talking and more about what you’re saying. It’s about relationship with God.

The people who think prayer is about what you say and how you say it are missing the point. Jesus said they think they will be heard for their “much speaking” and “vain repetition”. They don’t understand that God’s interested in quality not quantity. Jesus said, “Don’t be like that.”

After all, prayer is not so much about what God needs to hear as it is what we need to say. The truth is, God knows what we have need of before we even ask (verse 8). So praying is not about keeping God up to speed or in the loop. We’re telling God all the things we’ve decided to turn over to His trust.

In the end, prayer is an act of faith. Faith that I can take everything in my life and trust it into His hands. Faith that even when I’m insufficient, He is more than enough. Faith that refuses to let natural evidences out weigh a supernatural promise. Prayer says, there are things that I believe about God that mean more to me than the things I see in my world. You build your relationship with your Heavenly Father and put your faith in Jesus Christ when you pray.

Don’t Judge Me

Jesus teaching 2One of the most often quoted, and frequently abused, passages in scripture is Matthew 7:1. You’ve probably had it declared to you on more than one occasion. It may be you’ve even employed it when you felt attacked by a particularly judgmental individual. In Matthew 7:1 Jesus says this, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

I’m afraid many folks read that and take solace in the fact that Jesus is apparently saying, despite your actions or their implications, no one has the right to criticize or object to your decisions or lifestyle. You can’t judge me. Jesus said so.

The problem is, that’s not what Jesus meant.

When some people say, “Don’t judge me” often what they really mean is, “Don’t point out, or encourage me to correct, my selfish and reckless behavior.” That is not however, what Jesus was endorsing.

It’s ironic to me that when a person declares, “you can’t judge me” they’re making a judgment call with that statement. They’re judging you as being judgmental.

Often, before trying to discern what a passage is saying it is helpful to determine what it is not saying.

In this passage Jesus is clearly not saying that if we simply remain silent, and never make a judgment call on anyone’s behavior or beliefs, then we can escape final judgment ourselves. John 12:48, 1Corinthians 4:1-21 & Romans 20:12 say that Jesus will judge the life of every man one day at His throne. So clearly He is not saying that we will escape judgment altogether.

Furthermore, if Matthew 7:1 is a total prohibition against making judgment calls then that would include both positive and negative critiques. Judging is not always negative but rather a term we use to describe defining or deciding. It simply means we are assigning meaning and motive to a given action. When we judge something we decide on its merits and benefits. It can be positive or negative.

Judges disqualify contestants from events and they also award trophies. To judge simply means to decide or discern. So if we cannot judge we cannot make negative or positive declarations. This of course cannot be what the text means because we are told in other passages to discern between good and evil, to set a difference between the holy and the profane and to judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24, 1Cor.6:2, Ezek. 22:23-28, Heb. 5:14, James 5:19-20). 2 Timothy 4:2 instructs Elders in the church to reprove, rebuke, and correct sin and error in the interest of provoking repentance and Godliness in the life of fellow believers.

So what did Jesus mean when He said, “Judge not”?

When Matthew 7:1-6 is read in its entirety, the meaning of the passage becomes clear:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Jesus was encouraging us to examine our own motives and to avoid hypocrisy before we attempt to deal with sin and errors in the lives of others. He was telling us to use mercy and to be understanding when faced with sin in someone’s life. What Jesus was condemning here was a self-righteous, hypocritical, judgmental attitude that many people take with others. We’re never holier than when we’re confronted with someone who sins differently than we do. Jesus is rebuking that attitude.

I also find it instructive that in the next few verses Jesus encourages the removal of sin from a friends life only after we have been cleansed ourselves and approach the situation with grace and humility.

He also says not to cast your pearls, or those things you value, before dogs or swine, or people who, with animal brutality, cannot understand the value of anything. How else could we determine who was a dog or a swine if we were not to make a judgment call?

David Smitherman sums up Matthew 7:1-6 well here:

Jesus is condeming the attitude that is manifested in trying to straighten out faults in another’s life without first seeking to remove those in mine; such is hypocrisy, vs. 5. Can we “judge” (make a determination) that someone has a “mote” (fault) and then seek to remove it? Certainly; the latter part of verse 5 says so. But to do so thinking “I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican,” Lk. 18:11; or that I am something when I am nothing, Gal. 6:3; or not “in a spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself, let thou also be tempted,” Gal. 6:1, I am in violation of what Jesus is teaching. Let us not judge by appearance (Joshua 22:9-29) or on the basis of our subjective opinions (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8) or inconsistently (Rom. 2:1,21) but let us judge righteous judgement, Jo. 7:24.

In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus gives instruction on how to deal with sin in the life of a fellow believer. He does not say avoid it or ignore it. He gives us a way to address it without being harsh or judgmental.

In the words of Pastor Dan McKillop, We must be careful not to confuse judging with being judgmental. It is the obligation of the Christian to do one without being the other.

That being said, I am not arguing for folks to become proactive and seek out opportunities to judge others. I am simply offering what I believe to be an accurate exegesis of Matthew 7:1-6.

While I may have the Biblical authority to determine whether something is righteous or unrighteous, and declare it as such, I never have the right or power to pronounce final judgment on anyone’s heart or eternal soul. Jesus will be the final judge of every man and woman that has ever lived. He will judge “the small and the great” (Rev. 20:12) and His judgment will be a just and righteous judgment.

I pray we all step in to the forgiveness and grace that He has made available to us now so that we don’t have to be ashamed on that final judgment day.