Category Archives: Repentance

No Can Do

This guy had it all.  He was extremely wealthy.  He had a position of great influence.  Like Donald Trump, except he still had his youth.  But it wasn’t enough; he was missing something.

And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   (Mark 10:17)

He knew he couldn’t buy his way into heaven and, like so many of us, he sensed that he needed to do something.  Some good deed, some act of penance or sacrifice.  Jesus began by telling him a sobering truth.

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  (Mark 10:18)

Translation?  Nobody could do enough to get to heaven except God.  If you want to get to heaven by doing, you’ll have to be perfect.  In order to help the guy understand, Jesus said:

You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”  (Mark 10:19-20)

Really?  He somehow had accumulated great wealth and had never taken something that didn’t rightfully belong to him or told a lie?  Not likely.  Even the last thing he’d said to Jesus wasn’t true!

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Now, take this one step at a time.  First pay careful attention to Jesus’ attitude toward the man.  Because He has the same attitude toward you.  Then, notice that Jesus took him all the way down the road to understanding he could never do enough.  He said, “Ok, you want to do something, go sell everything and give it all to the poor.”  Jesus knew, even if the man had done all that, he still would be in the same, empty, desperate condition.  Because, even doing such an extreme act of personal sacrifice would not earn you a spot in heaven.  What he really needed was to “come and follow” Jesus.

The man was already on his knees before Jesus and yet Jesus still told him to “come.”  “Come” meant stop relying on what he could do and instead, fully trust or surrender to Jesus.  And follow Him.  But even doing that would not be enough.  What is enough to qualify a person for eternal life is what Jesus  has already done and what He does for those who fully trust Him.  He gives them His eternal, Holy Spirit.  Jesus has done everything needed.  Our part is to come and follow.  And receive.

I don’t have words to explain why this is so.  But, I have discovered, to my own amazement and joy that it is.

About Face

Self check-out stands in the grocery store have been designed to make me feel stupid.  It seems I wind up doing something wrong every time.  And then the machine calls the attendant over to help out the stupid guy.  Everybody else looks over to see the dunce, who pushed the wrong button and screwed up the process.  Last time, I got successfully all the way through and then put my card in backwards.  Red lights flashed as I waited for the teenaged clerk to show me what to do. It would be nicer if the machine quietly said, “Turn your card around and try again.”  

If you have been doing wrong thing and are stuck, it feels so good to find out what really works.  Remember that, the next time you pull when the door says push.  Remember this, too:  changing your course of action because you learn what works is basically what the word “repent” means.  Repent is a happy word.  “Repent” is how you find the solution to a puzzle, the correct turn when you are lost and the real way to approach God.  The way that works.

We hear “repent” angrily shouted by some red-faced, judgmental religious guy.  We hear the word, repent, and think we should cower in shame.  Nope.  Repent means to change your understanding and try something that works.  We humans have been stumbling, pell-mell, down the road of religion in the wrong direction.   When Jesus came, He knew that would never work.  The first word in His first message was repent.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”   (Matthew 4:17)
To say it another way, “Hey guys, turn around; come this way!”  

Junkyard Beauty

Next time you are at a craft fair, take a close and thoughtful look at the paintings done on old saw blades and other rusty pieces of junk.  The artist took something shabby and transformed it.  Reminds me of what Jesus did for the blind guy :

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  (John 9:1-3)

God used the canvas of that man’s disability to display His power and grace. As Jesus healed him, in his transformation, he glorified God.  That word, glorified, sounds a bit churchy but simply means demonstrating or calling attention to how wonderful someone else is.  A spotlight operator, shining his light on the star of the show, draws our eyes to that person and glorifies them.  When someone comes to faith in Jesus, the changes produced are evidence of God’s glory.  God uses those changes to attract others to Himself.

He doesn’t limit Himself to people with physical disabilities.  The town drunk becomes known for a complete 180 and becomes known for his works of charity.  The greedy miser becomes generous.  Even your seemingly ordinary circumstances and generally good reputation are a suitable canvases upon which God can paint beautiful images of His grace.  A simple change that allows one to live with joy and hope in the midst of all the sniping and complaining – it shows.  People notice.  They see glimpses of God, reflected on you.  That’s why Peter encouraged his fellow believers to:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  (1 Peter 2:12)

What God did for the man who was physically blind, He does in an more significant and powerful way for those who are spiritually blind.  Like John Newton, whose song you know:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

Now What?

On the day after Resurrection Day, it might be good to reflect on how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus actually changes the way we live.  Do they make a difference or do we simply put the plastic eggs back in the closet and go back to the humdrum of life?  If you are still reading, no doubt you vote for them making a difference.  But what sort of a difference?  Read through what Peter wrote – slowly and thoughtfully – and you’ll have a pretty good answer:

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  (1 Peter 1:17-21)

Why This Friday is Good

“Move that bus!”  The impoverished family gapes to see a newly remodeled home, filled with improvements to make their lives better.  If you’ve seen “Extreme Makeover, Home Edition,” you remember the tears of amazement and joy.  But as the family tours the home, as excited as they may have been, for the breadwinner, in the back of their minds is the gathering fear, “What if I can’t keep this job and we miss a few payments?  I could easily lose this place…”  But occasionally, just before the show signed off, Ty Pennington would say, “Oh, there’s just one more thing…” and some charitable organization would present the family with a check, paying off their mortgage in full.

In a scenario like that, a family that had experienced life as a daily struggle, would then be able to move into their new home and find rest, secure in the realization their greatest obligation of debt had been paid off by someone else.  That is, if they trusted the check was real, accepted it and cashed it.

Today we remember that, on the Cross, Jesus Christ paid our full obligation of debt, with His own blood, forever.  As Isaiah foretold,

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

If we trust Him, and accept His payment on our behalf, we will be received into God’s family (John 1:12-13), enter into His rest (Hebrews 4:3), secure in the realization that our obligation has been fully paid.  Forever.

 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.* 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  (Ephesians 1:5–7). New Living Translation

Strong Offense

In the cartoon, “Cathy,” she says to herself, “I won’t go to the store.”  Then, “Well, I’ll drive by the store but not go in.”  And, “I’ll go in but not near the candy counter.”  Followed by, “Ok, I can walk past the candy counter but I won’t buy anything.”  And then, “I’ll buy but I won’t eat.”  And, finally, “Eat! Eat! Eat!”

It’s never safe to see how close we can get to temptation without giving in to it.  We don’t do that with rattle snakes or grizzly bears; don’t do it with the things that have defeated us in the past.   Instead, we mount a good defense, staying clear-minded and watchful for any danger.  (Scroll down to the previous post for more on that.)  However, it’s not enough to simply steer clear of temptation.  We also need to be ready with a good offense when temptation does not steer clear of us.

Here’s what Peter wrote about that:

Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  (1 Peter 5:8-9)

While we don’t want to go looking for trouble, when it comes, we do not need to run in fear.  Jesus taught:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  (John 8:34-36)

After the Civil War, many of the freed slaves were afraid to leave their masters, because they weren’t sure the news of their freedom was really true.  If we don’t know for sure that Satan no longer enslaves us, we will likely cave in the face of his temptations.  Instead, Peter teaches, Resist him, firm in your faith.”  Call Satan’s bluff:  “I don’t have to obey you any more; I’ve been set free by Jesus.”

It also helps to know that we do not struggle alone.  When Peter writes, “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world,”  he invites us to consider ourselves members of a team, engaged in a mighty struggle together.  If we know we are not alone, that others are wrestling with the same issues as we are, it becomes easier to resist in a courageous way.

There’s more.  We don’t have to fight alone.  Next time, real, practical help is on the way!

The Tough Part

As the flood waters continue to rise, he clings desperately to a rock, panic-stricken at the surging torrent.  It’s not a familiar feeling, as he’d always been an “I can do this myself” kind of guy.  Just before he’s about to be swept away, a rescue helicopter appears.  A cable and harness is dropped.  This scene and many like it play out across the country in countless different ways.  What they all have in common is what has to happen next:  the guy has to stop trying to help himself and submit to the instructions of the rescue team.  Like this:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  (1 Peter 5:6)

Rescue workers can tell you that getting people to stop freaking out and start obeying their instructions is frequently the toughest part of the procedure.  When we are panicked, it becomes very frightening to relinquish control, very hard to trust someone else.  Knowing that, Peter continued with this next verse, currently my favorite:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Four simple words.  Astonishing message.  The Creator of the universe, the Ancient of Days, not only knows you but cares.  He cares for you.  Peter learned this after having abandoned and disowned Jesus.  He was humbled and crushed to discover later, “He (still) cares for me.”  It matters to God what happens to you.  His rescue has already been mounted.  The cable has been dropped.  Jesus is ready to give you the harness, so the Father can lift you up.  Listen to Him.  He cares for you.