Archive for March, 2009
There are some words that I consider to be “churchy” words. They are words that religious people use that rarely come up in other settings: sanctification, atonement, grace, evangelism, gospel. Sometimes even Christians don’t have a good grasp on what such words mean.
Repentance is one of those words. When we look at what God wants us to do as we enter His family, one of the key things is repentance. We have to repent of our sins. But if we’re going to repent, we need to know what that is.
I used to think that repentance meant feeling bad about what we had done. While that’s certainly a part of it, that’s not all there is to repentance. Literally, “repent” means to turn around or change direction. It’s the idea of walking in one direction, then turning 180 degrees and walking in the opposite direction. Repentance isn’t merely about feeling bad; it’s about change, a change of life. It is a change in our thinking that causes a change in behavior.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote to a group of new Christians and told them: “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9) That’s repentance. It’s not just about turning away from something; we are also turning to something else. We leave behind one life to begin a new one. We quit going toward one goal and move toward a different one.
Paul wrote this to the church in Rome: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4) Repentance and baptism consistently go together in the Bible, for that very reason: in baptism, we bury our old selves and come out of the water with a new life. We are born again, made new. But what’s the point of a new life if it’s going to be exactly like the old life? Why go through a burial if we’re going to let our old man keep living? The idea is that we come to Jesus in faith, leave behind our old life, burying it in water, and begin again with a fresh start. Only this time, instead of moving away from God, we live a life that brings us closer to God.
So even if it seems a bit churchy, repentance is a good word. It helps us understand what we need to do to come to God. We need to turn away from our old life and begin a new one, through faith in Jesus. If you haven’t done that, if you haven’t buried your old life in baptism to begin a new life in Christ, let me put you in contact with someone who can help you with that.
Grace and peace,
I recently spent three days fishing with my son at a lake famous for its large bass. We had a great time and caught lots of fish. As we visited with the other fisherman, we realized we also caught more big bass than anyone else. However, there was one oddly embarrassing fact we discovered. We lost more plastic worms than anyone else. We hung them on trees, rocks, and logs. Sometimes we had to break them off, sometimes they were simply unreachable.
We cast those worms into places where it was very difficult for us to see. It was not easy or comfortable. It cost us a number of plastic worms to fish where we did. We could have fished the easy places and still caught a number of fish. So why take the hard and difficult way? Because that was where the fish we wanted to catch were located. We followed a simple rule: to catch big fish, you need to be where they are. So we fished in the hard to get to places, the places others did not go.
It occurs to me that is exactly what God did when he wanted to “catch” me. He sent his Son Jesus into the hard place to find me. It was difficult and it was costly. God is holy and perfect. I am not. There are so many things I should have done and did not; so many things I should not have done, and did. So God sent his perfect Son to where I live so he could find me. Jesus left heaven so he could find me. He died so my failures would not be held against me, and I could live forever in the presence of God and his son.
I am so grateful that God took the initiative to come after me. He found me. He caught me. I am so grateful that I will spend the rest of my life “fishing” for others so they can know the good news that God sent his Son… to catch them.
When I was a kid, I hated splinters. Not that I enjoy them now, but I really hated them then. Not just because of the pain splinters caused when they lodged themselves in my fingers, but because of what came after that. I would have to go to my mom, get the prognosis on my condition and hear the recommendations for treatment. The best case scenario was that mere tweezers could remove the tiny invader. The worst case, of course, was when surgery was involved: she would have to take a needle and dig the splinter out. She was amazingly good at doing that without pain, but just the sight of her approaching my finger, needle in hand, caused me great anguish.
One time, one of my friends casually commented that if you left a splinter in place, your body would expel it on its own. When you’re eight years old, you know that children your age are the best source for medical advice, so I tried to follow his approach the next time I got a splinter. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. The area around the splinter grew more and more inflamed, and the extraction process ended up taking more time and causing more pain than if I had dealt with the problem sooner.
Sin is like that. It’s like a splinter in our soul. When we do something wrong, there’s a voice that says, “Just leave it alone. Let it be. It will work itself out.” But it doesn’t. The longer we hide our mistakes and carry the guilt around with us, the more they fester and grow. In the Bible, in the book of Psalms, the writer says:
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” — and you forgave the guilt of my sin (Psalms 32:3-5).
We can’t just hide the things we’ve done wrong. We have to get them out, or they will continue to torment us. If not, our conscience will not let us rest. When we go to God, seeking His forgiveness, He is quick to give it. He wants to forgive. He knows that what we most need is to confess that sin, to get it out of our being, so that healing may take place.
James, in his letter, writes: “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). Go to Him, and show Him the splinter, confess to Him the sin that is weighing you down. He wants to ease your burden.
Grace and peace,
Promotion Sunday is an annual tradition in most of our congregations, usually taking place in the fall but occasionally at another time of the year. Somewhere around middle school you don’t get promoted anymore, you just go to your age appropriate Sunday morning Bible class.
At the Southern Hills church of Christ I have the honor to teach the Primetimers class, those 65 and older. There is an often repeated joke that “when you get promoted out of Brant’s class, you go to heaven”. I laughed because it’s funny and lately for a number of our class members it’s become true.
With the recent passing of a dear sweet member of our class, I began to think what her “promotion to heaven” was like. I envisioned her being met by her husband of 62 years and an embrace that had waited four years. Then hand in hand they began to walk down those transparent streets of gold as he introduced her to friends, for by now he knew everyone. He showed her all of the glories of the City Four Square, because by now he knew where everything was.
And then he took her the throne room where the awe in awesome was impossible to describe what she saw, felt and heard. There in the center was the great God Almighty and Jesus, her Savior, at His right. As she was drawn closer the promise of Revelation 22:4 was hers, for she saw His face. In a whisper that reverberated throughout heaven, He said, “My child, welcome home.”
Someday we all hope to get promoted to heaven where we will see His face and hear the Hosanna of Joy and Welcome.
I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I’ve doubted that I was worthy of being promoted, heaven was too fine a place for me. You ever feel that way?
I know that Jesus died for sins, but I always thought it was for someone else’s wrongs, because I screwed up so much, how could He want me? Been there? Done That?
I had my annual eye exam today, and I had the same thought I have every year. What would happen if I could memorize the eye chart ahead of time? I could “read” even the smallest line and it would not matter whether the chart was far or near. Left eye or right, it would not even matter. No more prescriptions for glasses. No more worry about breaking them, or losing them. All I would have to do would be to memorize the chart.
I could recite the proper letters in the proper order. My Optometrist would pronounce my vision to be 20/20. Learn the chart, recite it correctly, and my worries are over. Except for one problem: I still would not be able to see. Memorizing the chart is not the same as being able to see the chart. An eye chart is not about knowledge, or correct answers. It is about being able to see.
Some people think about the Bible like I think about an eye chart, but the Bible is not simply a set of facts to memorize. It is the story of God’s relationship with man. It is told with God’s own words. It is a blueprint for living. The Bible itself says that it is a “lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God speaks to us so we can see him, know him, and live with him.
So the problem with using the Bible as a series of facts to be learned misses the point. You still will not see. It is one thing to know Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It is quite another to see that God sent a Son from heaven to live among us, to let us know him, and to provide a way to live in his house forever.
The purpose of the eye chart is not just to get the answers right; it is to help me be able to see. The purpose of the Bible is not to just get the answers right; it is to help me see God.