The Forgotten Word

Consider the following handful of verses (all from the New King James Version, with emphasis added on my part):

“I listened and heard, but they do not speak aright. No man repented of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned to his own course, as the horse rushes into the battle.” (Jeremiah 8:6)

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:1-2)

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)

“I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3,5)

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5)

The word “repent” is a forgotten one in our culture. This holds true even in Christian circles. We hear much about mercy, grace, love, forgiveness, longsuffering, patience, tolerance, and acceptance but not much about repentance. This has turned our preaching and teaching into a vanilla batch of mush and gush wherein everybody is okay and no one needs to make any real changes in conduct.

The Greek word that gets translated as “repent” is metanoeo. Greek scholars tell us this word literally means “a change of mind.” Consequently, we might say that true repentance is a changing of the mind that leads to a changing of the conduct. Getting the conduct right begins with getting the thinking right.

In the matter of sinners, the Bible uses “repent” in two ways. First, it inseparably links repentance with saving faith in Christ. The idea is that genuine faith in Christ MUST be laced with genuine repentance. You don’t repent, place your faith in Jesus, and then get saved. Instead, the faith that saves oozes repentance. A wonderful passage that shows how repentance and saving faith walk hand in hand is Acts 20:20-21, where Paul says to the Ephesian elders:

…I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (N.K.J.V.)

Second, the Bible uses “repent” in a general way that calls Christians and non-Christians alike to turn from their sins and go in an opposite direction, a direction of holiness. A good verse here would be Luke 3:8, the first part of which quotes Jesus as saying:

“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance…” (N.K.J.V.)

And so, in light of all this, I want to close by asking you a very simple question: Have you thoroughly repented of your personal “pet sin”? If you haven’t then consider this God’s way of looking at you right now and saying, “It’s time that you DID!” As someone has pointed out, repentance can never come too soon but it may come too late. Therefore, my advice to you is: Don’t let yours come too late!

Posted in Backsliding, Belief, Faith, Personal Holiness, Preaching, Repentance, Salvation, Sin | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Native American Chief & Jesus

A Christian missionary preached to a tribe of Native Americans, telling them that Jesus Christ, who was God in human flesh, had voluntarily died for their sins. The tribe’s elderly Chief was very moved by Christ’s sacrifice and decided to do something for the Lord Jesus. He rose to his feet, walked up to the missionary, laid his tomahawk at the missionary’s feet, and said in broken English, “Chief give his tomahawk to Jesus.” Then he went and sat back down.

The missionary, sensing that the Holy Spirit was working on the Chief, started preaching again. This time he told the tribe that God, in giving us Jesus, had given us His absolute best. The Chief listened carefully, considered the matter, and then walked forward again, this time carrying his blanket. He laid the blanket at the missionary’s feet and said, “Chief give his blanket to Jesus.”

Still, however, that wasn’t the response the missionary was seeking, and so he started preaching again. He told the tribe how Jesus, even though He was rich in heaven, had become poor for us by being born in a manger, living a humble life, and dying by way of a cruel, humiliating cross. This compelled the Chief to leave the meeting, go get his horse, bring the animal to the missionary, and say, “Chief give his horse to Jesus.”

At this point, the Chief thought to himself, “Now I have given everything I have to Jesus, who gave Himself for me.” But the missionary just started up yet another round of preaching. This time he explained that Jesus had arisen from the dead, appeared to many in His post-resurrection body, ascended back to heaven forty days later, and was now seated at the right hand of His heavenly father, calling men and women to Himself. And it was then that the Chief finally understood why the missionary had never seemed satisfied with the fine gifts. The Chief stood up again, walked forward, bowed himself, and said, “Chief give himself to Jesus.”

Ah, friend, there it is! That is the decision that Jesus wants from each of us, and it is a far cry from merely attending church, putting some money in the offering plate, owning a Bible, praying prayers, trying to live a moral life, etc. Certainly, each of those things is proper when understood in its rightful place, but when it comes to salvation, they are all just tomahawks, blankets, and horses. What Jesus truly wants is you (lock, stock, and barrel). And, just to be honest about it, when He has you like that, He’ll have you keep all your tomahawks, blankets, and horses and use them in service to Him.

Posted in Belief, Brokenness, Commitment, Discipleship, Dying To Self, Evangelism, Faith, Man's Freewill, Missions, Preaching, Sacrifice, Salvation, Submission | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Power Shortage

“Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3, N.K.J.V.)

The organist was trying to play the call-to-worship song to begin the church service, but no sound was coming from the organ. Everyone in the congregation could tell there was a problem, but no one knew what to do about it. Thinking fast, the pastor went to the pulpit and began praying a very lengthy prayer in order to provide the necessary time for someone to fix the organ.

As the pastor prayed, the church custodian hurriedly made his way to the organ and went to work diagnosing the problem. Looking at the power outlet that was located in the nearby wall, he noticed that the organ’s power chord had come unplugged from the outlet. So, he reached down and plugged the chord back into the outlet.

With the pastor still praying, the custodian then quickly scribbled something onto a little piece of paper and handed it to the frantic organist. The note said: “After the prayer, the power will be on.” Well, you know where I’m going with that, don’t you? Obviously, those words are good advice for us, as Christians, because until we make prayer a regular part of our day, we’ll never have much spiritual power upon our lives.

I used to play a lot of slow-pitch softball. Sometimes, when one of my teammates would miss out on hitting a homerun because the ball got caught just a few feet in front of the fence, we would jokingly say to him, “Pay your power bill.” That was a funny line, but there’s certainly nothing funny about the fact that many Christians are seeing their efforts fall short because they’ve not paid their spiritual power bills. And how does a Christian pay his or her spiritual power bill? There is only one way to do it. That Christian must spend quality time in prayer.

Be honest, Christian, how’s your prayer life these days? If it is lacking, let me encourage you to get alone by yourself somewhere and just start talking to God. Praise Him for everything good that is happening in your life. Thank Him for the numerous blessings He has bestowed upon you through the years. Confess your sins to Him. Dedicate yourself to repenting of those sins. Tell Him about your troubles. Lastly, make your requests to Him, being sure to tell Him that if a request isn’t His will, you don’t actually want it even though you think you do.

God doesn’t want you to come up short in your efforts for Him. Much to the contrary, He wants His inexhaustible power flowing into you, through you, and out from you. But that won’t happen until you plug in your power chord by getting down to the business of doing some personal, prolific praying. Remember, praying isn’t a chore you have to perform; it’s a privilege you get to enjoy.

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Feeling Kind of Small?

You’ve probably heard of Solomon’s temple, that beautiful, majestic house of worship that served as the centerpiece of worship in Israel. That temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonians in 587 B.C. To make that destruction even worse, Nebuchadnezzar deported the defeated Jews to Babylon, where they would spend decades in exile from their homeland.

At the end of those years, however, God raised up the Medo-Persian empire to defeat the Babylonians. Medo-Persia was led by a man named Cyrus the Great. One of his first official acts as the new ruler of the Jews was to allow the willing to return to their homeland and reestablish their culture and religious observances. Ultimately, a group of over 40,000 Jews returned to Jerusalem and began building what is now known as “the second temple.”

Since a Jewish leader named Zerubbabel was the man most prominently associated with the building of that temple, the structure is often referred to as “Zerubbabel’s temple.” It was built on the same site as Solomon’s temple and was completed in 516/515 B.C. And would you believe that Zerubbabel’s temple would actually stand longer than Solomon’s temple? Whereas Solomon’s temple stood for approximately 400 years, Zerubbabel’s temple would stand for approximately 500 years.

But that second temple wasn’t nearly as grand and ornate as the first one had been. In Zerubbabel’s day, the incredibly prosperity that Israel had known under King David and King Solomon was long gone, and the riches it would have taken to duplicate Solomon’s temple simply weren’t to be found. Unfortunately, the inferior appearance of Zerubbabel’s temple greatly disappointed all the elderly Jews who remembered the glory of Solomon’s temple. Ezra 3:12-13 sums up their response to the new temple:

But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off. (N.K.J.V.)

But, of course, the real question that needed to be answered was, “Did God approve of this new temple?” And we find His answer in Zechariah 4:10 as He asks the piercing question:

“For who has despised the day of small things?” (N.K.J.V.)

So, tell me, are you trying to get some new work of the Lord off the ground? Well, hang in there with it. Did you start the work from scratch and thought it would be much more impressive by now? Stick with it anyway. Do you feel a tinge of shame when you compare the work to larger, more established works? Just stop doing that. Don’t be guilty of despising the day of small things. Never forget that if God says what you are doing is good and should continue, that settles it. He sees value in small things, and He is always on the lookout for some Zerubbabels who will start and complete new works for Him. And He really isn’t interested in what the naysayers think about those works.

Posted in Adversity, Attitude, Church, Contentment, Criticism, Disappointment, Doing Good, Encouragement, Faith, Faithfulness, God's Will, God's Work, Impatience, Leadership, Ministry, Obedience, Patience, Perseverance, Service, Trials, Trusting In God, Worship | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bear Hunting

A big man and a little man were talking as they sat on a porch. The little man leaned over, felt the big man’s biceps, and said, “If I was as big as you and had muscles like that, I’d go up into the mountain, find the biggest bear I could find, and tear him from limb to limb.” To that, the big man replied, “Well, there’s plenty of little bears up there, too. Why don’t you go find one of them?”

We tend to hold others to higher standards than we impose upon ourselves, don’t we? Yes, we’re experts at knowing what others ought to do, but we aren’t not nearly so adept at doing what we should do. As someone has said, “We should all change problems because everybody knows how to solve everybody else’s problems.”

While there are numerous Bible passages (Proverbs 27:5; Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:20; etc.) that speak of the necessity of providing rebuke when it is needed, we must show wisdom in regards to who to rebuke, when to rebuke, and how to rebuke. Likewise, while there are numerous passages (Proverbs 11:14; Proverbs 12:15; Proverbs 27:9, etc.) that speak of the value of offering wise counsel when it is needed, we must show wisdom in regards to whom we give counsel, when we give that counsel, and how we go about giving it. What we don’t want to do is come off as pushy know-it-alls whose words never get a hearing because we show no discernment, timing, or tact in how we offer them.

Oh, and there is one more thing you must consider anytime you find yourself about to tell someone else what they should or shouldn’t be doing. If your own life is marked by hypocrisy, your attempts at rebuking and offering counsel aren’t going to resonate much with people who can spot the hypocrisy. Like the little man in my opening illustration, you needn’t expect others to do any bear hunting at your suggestion if you don’t hunt bears yourself.

Posted in Communication, Complaining, Counsel, Discernment, Hypocrisy, Influence, Ministry, Personal Holiness, Seeking Advice, The Tongue, Witnessing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Delays Are Not His Denials

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, And in His word I do hope. (Psalm 130:5, N.K.J.V.)

A little boy asked his father to buy him a gold watch. When the father didn’t seem to acknowledge the request, the boy took it as a cold denial and dropped the matter. Ten years later, however, the father called the son to him and said, “Son, here is that gold watch you asked me for.” The son was dumbfounded but managed to get out the words, “But father, I thought you turned down that request all those years ago.” The father replied, “No, I didn’t turn it down. I just knew better than to grant it until you were old enough to properly take care of a gold watch.”

God responds to a prayer request in one of three ways. #1: He says a flat-out, “No” to the request. #2: He says, “Yes” and soon grants the request. #3: He says, “Yes, but you have to wait for My perfect timing.” You see, God’s delays are not the same thing as His denials. Sometimes you just have to be patient until He sees that you are truly ready for your request to be granted.

So, I ask you this simple question: Is there a specific request that you have asked God to grant, one to which He hasn’t said a flat-out “No”? Then keep looking to Him in faith and expect Him to one day, in His wise timing, grant that request. Don’t stop expecting just because it’s been a while since you made the request. God never forgets, and it could just be that your “gold watch” is on its way right now.

Posted in Children, Faith, God's Timing, God's Omniscience, God's Provision, God's Will, Needs, Patience, Perseverance, Prayer, Prayer Requests, Problems, Trusting In God, Waiting | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is God Judging America?

The question is often asked, “Is God judging America?” My answer is an emphatic, “YES.” You say, “I haven’t seen any fire and brimstone raining from the sky.” Well, neither have I, but fire and brimstone are not how God is judging America.

Romans 1:18-32 is one of the most terrifying passages in the Bible. The passage explains what God will eventually do to people who persistently, consistently, and steadfastly refuse to come under His lordship. He will “give them up” (or “give them over”) to uncleanness, immorality, and wickedness so that they can fully indulge in the lusts of their hearts. This “giving up” allows them to dishonor their bodies by letting their debased minds and vile passions run absolutely amuck.

I used to drive a school bus, one that had a governor on its motor. A governor is a device that kicks in when a bus reaches a certain speed. Its purpose is to slow the motor down to keep the bus from going any faster. In the case of the bus I drove, the governor kicked in at 50 m.p.h.

Just as that governor served as a restraint, the Romans passage teaches that God reaches a point with hardened sinners where He takes His governors off their lives and says, “Go as fast as you can and live as dangerously as you want. I’ve tried to help you, but your heart is so set against Me that you won’t heed Me. So have it.”

I once heard a baseball coach say to his players, “Boys, if I yell at you, it’s because I care about you. The day I stop yelling at you, that’s when you need to worry because it means that I’ve given up on you.” The Romans passage explains that God works the same way in the lives of individuals. It’s when He stops yelling that the situation gets scary.

You see, God is right now pouring out His wrath (1:18) upon America by allowing sinful men and women, people who are dead set in their rebellion against Him, to do whatever they want. Do they want to engage in homosexuality and lesbianism (1:26-27)? God has disabled their governors. Do they want to live lives marked by “sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, strife, deceit, and evil-mindedness” (1:28-29)? God isn’t yelling at them. Do they want to be “whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, and unmerciful?” God is sitting up in heaven and watching it happen without lifting a finger to stop it.

But how can God’s lack of action be classified as Him pouring out His wrath? It earns that classification because God understands something that hardened, calloused rebels don’t: He understands that the rebel lifestyle, when carried out to its desired extreme, is a fire that ultimately gets so big and so hot that it consumes the rebel himself. Even as the rebel genuinely believes that he is living the high life, in reality he is only destroying himself. In this way, he virtually judges himself and pours out God’s wrath upon himself.

Furthermore, it seems clear to me that God is also employing this “hands off” approach in regards to our nation as a whole. He’s letting us have the corrupt, greedy politicians so many Americans favor. He’s letting us have the perverse, immoral national laws so many Americans will take to the streets to get enacted. To sum up, He’s letting a bunch of ungodly, undiscerning, and unbroken sinners have their way. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why our nation stands on the brink of ruination.

Posted in Abortion, Addiction, Adultery, Choices, Coming Judgment, Current Events, Depravity, Desires, Disobedience, Drugs, Gambling, God's Wrath, God's Judgment, Government, Homosexuality, Idolatry, Lesbianism, Lust, Lying, Man's Freewill, Obedience, Politics, Racism, Rebellion, Sex, Sin, Sowing and Reaping, Sports, Submission | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Putting Out a Fire

Proverbs 26:20 has rung true since the days of Solomon, the man who wrote it under the inspiration of God. As a matter of fact, it has rung true since the days of Adam and Eve. It says:

Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. (New King James Version)

The New Living Translation puts the verse in even simpler terms:

“Fire goes out for lack of fuel, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops.”

We’ve all done it, allowed ourselves to at least temporarily become gossips and talebearers. One fairly reliable way to tell that you are about to gossip is if you lower your voice when speaking. When you catch yourself doing that, be careful, you might be about to cross a line into territory the Bible condemns.

Where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. And quarrels disappear when gossip stops. Do you want to be a peacemaker? Then stop spreading tales about others. After all, our world is incendiary enough without you adding more wood to fires that are already burning.

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The Unpardonable Sin

Will God forgive any sin or is there one sin that He considers unpardonable? That’s a good question. In Matthew 12:22-32, the Bible gives us the record of an incident in which a group of Jewish Pharisees attributed Christ’s miracle-working power to the power of the devil. In the context of this story, Jesus gave the following warning:

“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” (N.K.J.V.)

I should point out that there are reputable commentators who contend that the sin of which Christ spoke (the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) cannot be committed today because it specifically involved attributing an obvious miracle of Jesus to the power of Satan. According to this view, since Jesus is no longer personally on the earth working miracles, the “unpardonable sin” no longer comes into play. Speaking for myself, however, I agree with those who believe this sin can be committed today.

To rightly understand this whole subject, it is vital that we understand the role that God the Holy Spirit plays in salvation. First, the Spirit convicts the lost sinner concerning the sinner’s sin (John 16:8). Second, He (the Spirit is not an “it”) strives with the sinner over the sinner’s need for forgiveness/salvation (Genesis 6:3). Third, He works to convince the sinner to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and thereby receive that forgiveness/salvation (John 15:26, 16:14). Fourth, at the moment the sinner chooses to believe in Christ as Savior, the Spirit comes to indwell the sinner’s body (Romans 8:9-11, 1 Corinthians 6:19, Titus 3:5). It is the Spirit’s entrance that creates the “born again” experience inside the person (John 3:1-8).

But what if a lost sinner time and time again refuses the Holy Spirit’s convicting, striving, and convincing? Well, that is where the issue of blaspheming the Holy Spirit comes into play because, at some point, the Holy Spirit will simply stop working on that lost sinner. You see, when the Spirit stops striving with the lost sinner, that sinner has committed the unpardonable sin. Why? It’s because no one will ever come to Jesus who isn’t first drawn to Him by the ministry of the Spirit.

Let me use an illustration that I trust will help. Let’s say that you have a life-threatening disease, but your doctor knows about a cure and tries repeatedly to tell you about it. For whatever reason, though, you refuse to hear his words. When he walks in to see you, you get up and leave. When he calls on the phone, you hang up. When he sends you a letter, you throw it away without opening it. When he sends you an email or a text, you immediately delete it. Finally, after his best efforts have been rebuffed repeatedly, the doctor says, “Alright, if you want to die, go ahead. I’m through trying to help you.” And so you die. Okay, what killed you? Was it the disease? Yes, in a sense. But in another sense it was your refusal to heed the doctor who was trying to point you to the cure. That is, of course, to say nothing of your lack of the cure.

So now let’s apply this illustration to the committing of the unpardonable sin. The individual’s fatal disease is sin. The doctor who is trying to help the individual is God the Holy Spirit. And the cure the Spirit is trying to get the individual to put to use is Jesus Christ. Therefore, when the individual rejects the Spirit’s conviction to the point where the Spirit says, “I’m done trying to help you,” that is how an individual commits the unpardonable sin today. 

Posted in Belief, Forgiveness, Salvation, The Holy Spirit, The Unpardonable Sin | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Could You Pass Review?

One night a British soldier was caught creeping back into his quarters from some nearby woods. Under suspicion of being a spy, he was immediately brought before his commanding officer and ordered to explain his actions. The soldier answered that he had gone into the woods to pray.

His commanding officer, who was highly skeptical of that answer, sarcastically scoffed, “And have you been in the habit of spending such time in private prayer?” “Yes, sir,” answered the soldier. “Well then,” said the officer, “get down on your knees right now and pray, because I assure you that you never needed it more than you do at this moment.”

Expecting a death sentence for treason, the soldier knelt down on the spot and poured out his soul in prayer. He prayed with such eloquence, emotion, and obvious experience that it was undeniable that he truly was a genuine man of prayer. Consequently, when his prayer was finished, the commanding officer rendered his verdict in terms a military man would use. He said, “You may go. I believe your story. If you hadn’t drilled often, you couldn’t have done so well at review.”

The application of this story is easy to grasp. How much do you pray each day? Is it enough to give you the experience and expertise to pass review? If it isn’t, then you need to find your own “woods” somewhere and start drilling. Remember that even Jesus, God the Son in human flesh, was a man of prayer. And if He needed to pray, so do you.

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