Monthly Archives: October 2017

Whatever Happened to Old Fashioned Repentance?

“Repentance is an about face from sin and dead works to the living God.” That’s what theologians say. They also say, “It’s an entire change of mind resulting in a total change in life.” I think they are right, but I would also add:

  • Repentance is the most positive word in the English vocabulary. 
  • Repentance is the most hopeful idea in all of humanity. 
  • Repentance causes some of the most positive feelings anyone can experience.

So why is our culture forgetting the power of repentance and instead embracing punishment, shame, and public embarrassment as the popular responses to wrongdoing—as if those have ever produced anything good?

As we have learned recently from our politicians, enemies will highlight a person’s weaknesses and ignore his or her strengths or the good that also marks their character. And as we have also seen in the media, a person learning from mistakes, changing, and growing are given little expectation or value. The media calls it flip-flopping or being deceitful. But I know people change for the better every day. I watch it constantly. I’m a pastor, and as a Christian, I know the value, power, and hope of repentance.

This is why Paul, when preaching in Athens, as recorded in Acts 17:30b, told the people that God “. . . commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.”. 

Why? Because God wants the best for us, so he, like any good parent, wants us to get rid of the things that hurt us. So as we meet him and get to know him, his goodness motivates us to turn away from the things that are dark and destructive . . . sinful. . . in our lives.

Repentance is a wonderful gift, so when we have opportunity to repent, we need to take advantage of that opportunity. Notice that after Peter saw a group of Gentiles be baptized in the Holy Spirit, he reported, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life” (Acts 11:18, emphasis mine). When Paul was exhorting young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:25, he said, “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth” (emphasis mine). God gives us opportunity for repentance. We choose to respond or not.

This is why we should all embrace repentance with grateful hearts, and why we as a society are making a mistake by not validating repentance.

When David wrote Psalm 51, he modeled God’s gift of repentance for all of us. After he committed destructive and devastating sins, he reveals the hope we all can receive from God if we will embrace repentance. Read this passage slowly and thoughtfully, then consider going back and praying through it:

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
you have broken me—
now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me . . .

17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Sin is not only the negative, inappropriate, or destructive thoughts, words, and behaviors that violate our lives and those around us, and sometimes society as a whole, but it is also a violation against God and his perfect, wonderful, uplifting plan for our lives. No one wants the best for us like God does, so when we know him, we can repent, and live better lives.

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Harvey Weinstein, Stephen Paddock, and Richard Dawkins

Harvey Weinstein, Stephen Paddock, and Richard Dawkins all have something in common; they have all rejected Jesus’ exhortation to love and serve God. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is the most philosophical about it in his books explaining that God does not exist, that only delusional people could believe in God, and that science is a candle in the dark. No doubt, science has given us many blessings, advances, and light. But science is the method we use to learn about his creation, so science is not the light of the world, it’s creator is, who is Jesus.

If we accept the premise that human beings are animals, then what is the problem with eugenics, racism, and sexism? I doubt that film producer and alleged sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein or mass shooter Stephen Paddock thought much about it; but it appears they both decided that other human beings could be used for their pleasure, without much, if any, concern for the value of the others’ lives or well being.

Since many trends in society have a theological basis, I think most of the negative trends we see could be the result of individuals rejecting the reality of God and, instead, living according to animalistic tendencies.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27,

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.

When we choose to establish Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of our lives, the vast majority of the time we experience improvement. With that fundamental choice, we experience an uplift that gives us dignity and a desire to improve ourselves and to serve those around us. That decision alone seems to give us greater internal power.

When we add the teachings of apostles and prophets in the Bible to the cornerstone of Christ and his Word in our understanding, we lay a firm foundation for our lives. These foundational teachings become pillars of strength within us, transforming and empowering us to lead solid lives regardless of the difficulties that may come our way. They consist of the following:

  • Understanding the importance of repentance from dead works, which removes negative thoughts and actions from our lives and enables us to live more constructive lives.
  • Embracing faith, which engenders hope.
  • Identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, which empowers us to overcome addictions, negative tendencies, and random thought patters that consume so many.
  • Acknowledging that a loving touch actually allows virtue to flow to those we love and care about and enables us to become more empathetic, caring people. This foundational truth adds value to relationships and challenges selfish and abusive actions. Understanding the value of other human beings can transform a simple handshake into a welcoming experience.
  • Grasping the reality of our own eternal lives and the reality of the resurrection of the dead rather than cessation of existence gives meaning to our lives as well as others’ lives.
  • Knowing that we were purposefully created and will exist forever—that we are spirits living in bodies, and that someday our bodies will release us and we’ll go into eternity to live forever—and that in eternity we will face judgment by God adds responsibility and accountability to our private and public lives. It helps us understand the importance of living purposeful and meaningful lives.

The tendency we all have after reading a blog like this is to assume it’s a nice, devotional reading that is encouraging. I don’t think so. I think these ideas are vitally important for any human life to work well. It’s a matter of life and death. Last night our local news here in Colorado Springs had three lead stories:

  1. A 19-year-old boy was arrested for the stabbing deaths of his two younger siblings, both young children, and for wounding his father with the same knife. The news said he had hoped to kill his entire family and bury their bodies in the backyard so he could have the house to himself.
  2. An intoxicated man on a bridge, who was threatening others, shot at the police officers attending the situation. He was finally taken into custody, but he was probably so drunk he won’t remember much this morning. Yet after shooting at the police, he may spend the rest of his life in jail.
  3. Authorities are trying to determine which crimes a man accused of threatening people with a hatchet has committed that we don’t know about. He may have killed a popular bicyclist here in Colorado Springs as well as two little girls on a railroad bridge in Delphi, Indiana. Again, he may spend the rest of his life in jail.

Why are all these lives wasted? Perhaps it’s because of a lack of foundational truths.

We human beings need a firm foundation or our lives will crumble. Not only are we facing an opioid epidemic, but also authorities are now reporting that an anxiety epidemic is even more widespread and destructive. It’s time we understand the life Christ offers and secure our stability in him. It’s not just a good idea. It’s critical for our lives and our futures.

Once we establish Jesus as the cornerstone of our lives and lay a strong foundation based on biblical teaching, then we can build strong lives of integrity—lives which are trustworthy and dependable and can withstand any storm.

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Middle School Students Arrested for Guns and “Kill List.”

Earlier this week, parents of Sabin Middle School students here in beautiful Colorado Springs were alarmed to learn that two 13-year old boys were arrested for plotting to kill people in their middle school. The police uncovered guns and kill lists naming the people the students specifically planned to target.

This story is increasingly becoming the norm in our society and points to the fact that we human beings need a foundation in our lives much more powerful than a humanistic plea to be good. We human beings are spirit beings who will live forever, and we were created by God for fellowship with him. Otherwise, our capacity for depravity seems unlimited. I’m now convinced that any society without Christ for just one generation can easily revert to primitive values, and any person without Christ can become animalistic in their behaviors.

All human beings need Christ, and we need to be intentional about knowing him in obedience and fear. Paul said that the love of Christ constrained him, and he also said that it was because of the terror of the Lord that he persuaded men. That balance, love and fear, seems to be a necessary combination for guiding our human behavior.

Jesus said,

Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

This text combines the importance of a personal relationship with Christ with an emphasis on obedience, along with the sobering truth of eternal judgment. Accountability to God, justice, and the finality of heaven or hell—these all have a sobering effect on all who know Christ provides forgiveness, redemption, and eternal judgment. This is why EVERY HUMAN BEING needs to understand and lay a firm foundation in biblical principles. We need to build our lives on solid principles, otherwise our lives are sure to crumble.

Three thousand years ago, Isaiah the prophet stressed the importance of human beings building their lives on a reliable foundation. He says that there is a way we can structure our lives so that we “need never be shaken.” He writes in Isaiah 28:16,

Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.

So with the opioid epidemic infiltrating our entire culture, our police officers and service members being publicly disrespected, and racial tensions dominating our sporting events, the security of our lives, our families, and our society is threatened. Our world is going crazy. Late night comedians have become political annalists; tiny, insignificant nations threaten thermal-nuclear war; and hurricanes, floods, and fires ravage our most prestigious cities. It might be time for us to be more intentional about our purpose in life.

But in this environment, how do we build solid lives?

When Paul was coaching young Timothy he emphasized this principle of laying a strong foundation. In his second letter in 2 Timothy 2:19 he wrote,

But God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his” and “All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil.”

We are all living a new normal that is pressing us to build strong foundations in our lives now.

At St. James Church we are addressing this issue. On Wednesday nights, we have a discussion based men’s Bible study that is a hard knocks, no nonsense, gritty examination of Scripture to extract the nuggets men need to be strong, mature men of God in our confused culture. All men, 13 years old and up, are invited to attend this meeting in order to move from the current trends of endlessly learning and listening and still not knowing to building firm foundations for our lives.

When I read news reports like the ones from Sabin Middle School, I would like to think every grandfather, father, son, and grandson would recognize the benefit of being in that meeting as often as possible. In our current culture, it might need to be a priority for the survival of sanity in your families.

In our current society, how can we take tomorrow for granted?

Too many of our men are still boys, and our boys are going off the rails. They never grow up. If, instead, we choose to build strong foundations, then these words of Hebrews 5:12-13 will not apply to us:

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right.

Middle School kids preparing for a massacre at their middle school?

We must unashamedly place Christ as the cornerstone of our lives, build a foundation consisting of strong stones of faith, and construct lives on that sure foundation that can stand in the midst of societal turmoil. Then, and only then, can our lives be the stable buildings of the Lord our families, cities, and nation need us to be.

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The Las Vegas Shooter

Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured almost 500 last Sunday night after his shooting rampage from the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino overlooking the Route 91 Harvest Festival. So far, no motive has been established. But a few preliminary facts have been reported about the shooter:

  1. He had no religious affiliation or core religious beliefs,
  2. He had no political affiliation or core political beliefs,
  3. He had few, if any, long lasting interpersonal relationships, and
  4. His favorite activity was gambling.

As I’ve read the news about this shooter, it seems to me that he subscribed to the belief that all of life is based on chance. It might be that in the coming weeks we’ll learn that he did possess a belief system that motivated him. But thus far, based on the reports I’ve read, he didn’t believe anything that would have constrained him from shooting people at the festival. It appears that to him shooting people was no different than shooting fish in a barrel, birds in the sky, or animals in the woods just for sport.

Atrocities happen, but at least we can make some sense of these atrocities when they are motivated by political or religious ideologies (however misguided), or because of a mental illness. To have someone reduce all of life to chance, making it no more than a series of random, meaningless events, and viewing people as no more meaningful than ants in a field, is alarming to all of us.

In recent blogs I’ve been describing what the writer of Hebrews lists as six basic experiences we must have with Christ that are fundamental to God’s perfect plan for our lives (Hebrews 6:1-2). I think these six experiences create foundations in our lives that allow us to become healthy participants in society. These experiences are described for us in the Scriptures to ground us, and when embraced by society, ground an entire culture. These ideas establish us, causing us to be firm and unwavering, and give us a solid footing upon which we can build our whole lives. They also cause us to value our lives and respect others’ lives, which promotes safety among all of us.

They are:

  1. Repenting from evil deeds,
  2. Placing our faith in God,
  3. Believing the doctrine of baptisms,
  4. Practicing the laying on of hands,
  5. Understanding the resurrection of the dead, and
  6. Acknowledging eternal judgment.

Each of these encounters with Christ transforms us, relieves us of impulsive living, and brings stability and goodness into our lives. And they build a world-view that empowers us to serve others. These ideas elevate humanity, cause us to value life, and result in us bringing goodness into the world instead of terror.

Our world would be very different today if Stephen Paddock would have repented of his evil deeds just two weeks ago. Think of it. If he had placed his faith in God, gone to a local church and been water baptized, and had the church leaders lay hands on him imparting God’s blessing and life, he would have never been in the news and many of those now in coffins would be alive.

If two weeks ago, Stephen Paddock would have been convinced that there is resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment, he would have become one more baby Christian, a new creation, a brand new man, maybe even attended a men’s Bible study instead of gambling. And, when he would have died, which probably would have been years in the future, he would have experienced the reality of his redemption instead of an eternal sentence of punishment and suffering.

These six foundational experiences and beliefs are key to building a good life. We don’t become instantaneously perfect, but instead we become increasingly like Christ, full of his goodness and life. We are changed for the better, our lives are not given to chance, but become purposeful, and we are able to produce good and not evil in our world.

Let’s all go to church Sunday morning and invest something good in our lives.

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