Posts tagged ‘repentance’

Blessing Turning Into A Curse

Well the 4th of July celebrations are winding down. It has been a day of fun, fellowship, and reflection about the course our country is on. Generously dotted among the phrases we have heard today is the ever-popular “God bless America”, and with good reason. When it comes to God, you want His blessing headed our way. But my spirit has been troubled and I believe we are either on the brink, or have entered into a season of judgment for our national sins and utter disregard for God. Take a look at what the prophet Malachi had to say to his own people who assumed that because of their national citizenship they had the blessing of God. 

“And now this commandment is for you, O priests. If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name,” says the LORD of hosts, “then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart. Behold, I am going to rebuke your offspring, and I will spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your feasts; and you will be taken away with it. (‭Malachi‬ ‭2‬:‭1-3‬ NASB, emphasis mine).

This nation has been privileged like no other nation before it with freedom of religion and has been a bastion of Christian preaching, education, and missionary zeal. But over the last decades, we have wandered into godless territory. We have the blood of over 55 million babies on our hands. We have, as a society, slipped down the slope of moral relativism into a quagmire of sin that was unimagined 75 years ago. We have set up idols of wealth, fame, and success and worshipped them. It is as if we are bowing in front of mirrors saying “my kingdom come, my will be done, on earth, in spite of Heaven.”And we have reached a point where God in in sovereign justice will have no choice but to judge us for our national crimes.

When any people reach this point in their spiritual lethargy, our spoken blessing of God, and the very blessings we have received from God, are turned into a curse! Every time we presume upon the blessing of God without thought of repentance, our blessing is a slap in the face of Divine Justice. We have gotten beyond the position of just needing to say, “America, bless God”. Without another Great Awakening characterized by true national repentance, our blessings which have turned into cursing will not open the windows of Heaven for a blessing, but rather are storing up wrath for the Day of Wrath. Just as Malachi relayed from God, we will be thrown out like yesterday’s garbage.

Enough of feel good, self help, commercialized, WIIFM (what’s in it for me) Christianity! Be done with playing religious games and marketing the church to the world. Quit using carnal means to attract carnal people so we can get them to say the magic words and sign a card. We must go from being seeker sensitive to being Jesus sensitive! Judgment begins at the house of God, and repentance needs to begin there as well.  

I, for one, am going to stop saying “God bless America” and substitute “God save America” in its place. I don’t know how many birthdays our nation has left, but we as the church must do all we can to allow the Holy Spirit once again to cleanse us and empower us by grace to be a light set on a hill that shows the path back to God. If we shirk this duty, the Sovereign of the Universe and and will hold us responsible! 

For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (‭1 Peter‬ ‭4‬:‭17‬ NASB) 

Two Men Praying

This is a story, aka parable, is based on the story Jesus used that is recorded in Luke chapter 18 of the Pharisee and the tax collector. I wanted to update the characters, without changing the story, but the first obstacle was that some may think I am referring to specific people I know. That could not be further from the truth. Both people are conflations of many hundreds of people I have met in 50 years of living. So if you think I am talking about you, you are wrong. If, however, you are convicted by what the story says, then maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to get your attention regarding some things and attitudes you may be harboring. As before, I still get none of the credit or blame for the results. So here goes.

One day in a church building in a typical city, a lifelong churchgoer stopped during lunch to pray. He had been reading many stories about various ones who were preaching error, as well as articles on apologetics aimed at exposing false doctrines that disagreed with the conclusions from Scripture of the author. With all this going through his mind, he prayed this way:
“Lord, I thank you that I am not like others who go to denominational churches. I don’t listen to worldly music, I attend every church service, I only associate with those who teach correctly and agree with me, I partake of weekly communion, don’t believe any false teachings, have been baptized in water, and worship only with those acts you authorize. Thank you that I am we’ll pleasing in your sight and am doing those things necessary to stay saved.”

Out in next to the curb by the church building is a man who is too ashamed to come inside. His guilt from sin is overwhelming and he is at the end of his rope. He cries out to God and can only say a simple prayer. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

One of these men went home that day justified.

Why? Because whenever we start thinking that our standing with God is based on the quality or quantity of our performance, we are basing our salvation on our works, not on the finished work of Christ on the cross. Our standing with God produces good works, and not the other way around. When we deny salvation to those who have not performed a ceremony, or are not doing some list of required works to maintain their saved status, we have fallen from the gospel of grace.

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2, 3 ESV)

But wait, those men in Luke 18 were under the old law and not under the new system. For one, are you saying that under the New Covenant it is more difficult to be saved? Well not to worry. In Luke 16:16 Jesus said that the law and the prophets were only in force until John the Baptist, but after that people could enter into the Kingdom of God. Yes, people were being saved when they believed on Jesus even during His earthly ministry.

So I would ask you to read the little story again and ask yourself this question in light of Romans 10:9-10 –
In the story above, which one went home justified before God?

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Forgiveness Requires Confession

People come from many different backgrounds. For many, the spiritual environment in which they were raised has a tremendous effect on their view of doctrinal tenets, religious practices, and definitions of religious terms. Such is the case with the word translated as “confession” in the New Testament. So when I say that confession is a necessary precondition for forgiveness I need to clarify some biblical concepts and terminology.

The Apostle John, in the first chapter of his general epistle says this:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NASB)

So is John saying here that we must go before a priest and orally confess our sins in order to receive absolution? No, and here is why. Rather than meaning admitting what we have done, the Greek word used in 1 John 1:9 is “homologeo” which means “to say the same as”. So what is required is that we say the same thing about our sin that God says about it.

Rather than being a “get it of jail free” card, this confession entails changing our minds about our sin, so repentance is included in it since the word translated repent means to change your mind. This change must be deep enough that we begin saying the same thing about our sins that the Bible says. There is nothing biblical about just admitting what we have done, or even asking God to forgive us of our sins if we have not forsaken them. It’s not about saying the magic words. We need to not only forsake our sin, but actually hate it.

And our hatred of our sin, and the realization of our personal culpability of those sins being part of the reason Jesus was murdered, will also lead us to say what God says after we have been forgiven. When God has forgiven us, we have no authority to continue accusing ourselves before Him. To do so is to align ourselves with “the accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10).

Our confession is also one which encourages accountability. James said we are to “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16) Our secret sins are the ones which entangle us like the little wooden chair left out in the living room at night that finds our shin and throws us to the ground. But being open and honest about our struggles with our fellow believers helps us to overcome those habitual sin patterns so that we can walk in the light, not the darkness.

but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7).

As long as we walk in fear of being exposed, we will never know the freedom that could be ours in Christ. Jesus put it this way:

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19, 20)

So let us hit sin with the very weapon that will cause it to shrink back — the light. King David discovered this secret thousands of years ago, and God has preserved it for us today in Psalm 32.

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”;
And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah. (Psalm 32:1-5 NASB)

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The Realization of Condemnation

Have you ever been listening to someone, or just reflecting on a situation and come to the sudden realization that you were wrong? You know, that sinking feeling that you have totally blown it and are helpless to make things right? It is a terrible feeling when it comes from within us, and is even more frightening when it comes from the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. That kind of terrifying reality check is what happened to those gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2.

Peter is bringing his sermon to its end and says this:

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:36, 37 NKJV)

What hit the audience that day was nothing short of cataclysmic. It would be bad enough to find out that the promised Messiah that you have been waiting centuries for had been killed. But Peter brings home the point that THEY had been the ones to have it done by the Romans! Could there be any sin in the universe greater than the murder of the Sin of God?

The word Luke uses here for being cut to the heart is only used once in the New Testament. It connotes being stabbed in the heart suddenly. This was not a slowly building realization of discomfort. This was a divine piercing through of the heart. And it must have been accompanied by the sudden dread of judgment for what they had done, for in verses 34 – 35 Peter had said,

“For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”

This was not a picture of someone using you as an ottoman. The picture that would have come to their minds was that of a heel on the neck. These men had been convicted by the true gravity of their sin, and their utter helplessness before a righteous and holy God. It must have been something akin to what Saul of Tarsus felt on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:1-9. He was breathing threatenings and murder against the believers, and was knocked off of his high horse in a blinding light. Have you ever wondered how doomed he felt when the voice said he was “Jesus whom you are persecuting”? He went from self righteous anger to “getting up trembling and astonished.”

This is what it means to be poor in Spirit. Before we can come to Christ we must come to the realization that we are hopelessly lost and condemned before God and fully deserving of His wrath. As long as we think we can do anything to rescue ourselves, we are not ready to be saved. Only when we come to that place in our hearts can we truly throw ourselves on His mercy and accept the forgiveness that is being offered, just like they did in Acts 2:38. Peter didn’t leave them hanging there. He told them what they must do in order to accept the free gift of the Grace of God.

There is no hint in apostolic preaching of “try this because Jesus will make your life better” or of “just be a good person.” The method of conviction of the sin of rejecting the Messiah must come first because that is part of the mission of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John 16:8-9,

And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; (John 16:8, 9 NKJV)

Salvation that begins at the place of utter inability to save ourselves will also result in disciples who are walking with God for the long haul. They are not coming to Jesus because He is really cool and makes them feel good. They are there because only Jesus can rescue them from the judgment to come. Don’t be afraid to talk about how our sins were part of what sent Jesus to the cross with a lost one. We must not neglect the preaching of judgment in our messages, lest we fail to show sinners the reality of their predicament and they someday find themselves standing before the Messiah they have rejected and are eternally lost.

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Lest You Become Weary

Whenever there is film of a marathon race, they like to show the participants as they get near to the end of the race. I have yet to see anyone stopping to do some shopping, or to play a quick game of basketball during the race. That doesnt happen because the runners are fully focused and what they need to do. I think that maintaining our focus is one of the reasons for our communion at the Lord’s Table every week as well. Hebrews 12 talks about things we can do when we take the bread and the fruit of the vine that will help of run with endurance.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NKJV)

First, we take encouragement from those who have run the race before us. We also build one another up as we partake of the emblems each week together. This is not something we do alone. It is, as Paul described it in 1 Corinthians 10, a communion in the body and blood of Christ.

Second, we should reflect on our lives and determine that because of our love for Christ and our gratitude for the price he paid, we will lay aside every sin that so easily ensnares us. As we remember the brutality of the suffering that He endured, we are reminded of the awfulness of our sin and resolve to turn from it, lest we be ensnared in it again.

Third, we must focus on Jesus, who is our supreme example of endurance. Think about what He went through. Think about his focus stayed on the joy at the end, when he would be able to redeem his bride and spend eternity with us in heaven. And as we consider the hostility He endured for us, it will help us to endure the trials we go through and not become discouraged and weary. He died for me; I will live for him.

Take time today to focus on Jesus and what he has done and resolve anew to never quit, but rather to run with endurance and finish well.

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The Family Seal

There are many seals out there. I don’t mean aquatic mammals or elite Navy commandos. I’m talking about seals like the Great Seal of the United States, or a family crest. They usually have a theme to them with a short phrase or two that succinctly states the organization’s mission or the family’s focus.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he lets us know what is on God’s seal. In a way it is the family crest for His eternal family.

However, God’s solid foundation remains standing, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil.” (2 Timothy 2:19 NET)

One unique feature of our family crest is that with the two statements on it reflect God’s side and man’s side of this covenant relationship. The first one is about God. He knows those who belong to Him. By this, I don’t think it is just saying that God has the master membership list of the saved. In itself, there are two facets of that.
He is very much aware of who we are, with our strengths and weaknesses.

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13, 14 ESV)

In addition, He has a personal relationship with each of His children. He knows us intimately, the way a husband knows his husband. His love for each of us is so deep that He sent His Son to die for us while we were enemies (Romans 5:8)

Next comes our part of this kingdom covenant. It says that everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil. It does not say that we are to be prosperous. It does not say that we are to feel good. It says that the main characteristic of our lives must be that we are going in the opposite direction that was the story of our former lives.

Jesus was very straightforward about this in Matthew 7.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV)

“But I thought we are saved by faith, not by works!” that is true, in context. As I said in a prior post, talking about faith apart from obedience, is to take it out of context. In reality, faith cannot exist alone. Without obedience it is dead. More precisely, a lack of obedience means faith has died. That is why Jesus will appear a second time for those who obey him!

So this family seal shows both sides of the relationship. God intimately knowing and loving us, and our response of repentance and obedience. It is not optional. It is the test with which we can examine ourselves and se if we are in the family of God!

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Consider Your Ways

The nation of Judah had returned from captivity, and it was the time for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. They were to rebuild the walls of the city, and also the Temple. What began with good, even godly, intentions had begun to be neglected. The people had become concerned with their own priorities instead of with God’s priorities. It is into this scene that the Lord sends the prophet Haggai. Twice he warns the people to stop and think, or in other words, “consider your ways”.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. (Haggai 1:2-5 ESV)

It is clear that the people had become more concerned with personal desires than what God required. Indeed, this rebuilding of the temple was one of the two main reasons they had been able to come to their homeland at all! God is reprimanding them for not keeping Him as their first priority. It amounted to self-love.
We do much the same today when we fail to follow the command of Jesus to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 ESV) the problem was not that God was against paneled houses. The problem was that their works showed that their paneled houses were more important than the Temple.
We, individually and corporately, are the temple of the Holy Spirit. When we put on the outward show of having it all together and make sure we look good to others, yet neglect our spiritual walk with Jesus, our temple is in ruins. We, too, must stop and “consider our ways” and rebuild our inner man to be a fitting temple in which He can dwell.
Haggai then gives them a list of things that are going on with them that were supposed to be wake up calls from God but were being ignored.

You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.” (Haggai 1:6-11 ESV)

Because His house is in ruins, God begins to treat their house like they are treating His! The discipline to which He subjects them is an utter futility in everything they do. They have much to eat and drink, but are running around thirsty and hungry. They earn money but it’s as if there are holes in the money bag. Why? Because God will not, ever, take second place in anyone’s life. He will not be the featured guest of a specific section of our lives. We cannot say “Jesus is Lord” while segmenting Him into a corner, and making other things a priority. God will not tolerate the breaking of the First Commandment. What part of “no other gods” did they not understand? If Jesus is not master of everything, then He is master of nothing. He will not accept divided allegiances.

Are you going through anything described in the verse above? Is there a pattern of diminishing returns in your life? A good, biblical, place to look is in your priorities. Is Jesus really number 1 in your life?

During any period of economic challenge, the church needs to rise up and seek first the Kingdom of God instead of our wants and desires. It is a healthy thing to take time out and consider our ways. Let’s put an end to some of the destructive duplicity and build up the temple of God that is in and among us!

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