Archive for January, 2010

What Happens When We Don’t Repent?

We wish this question were not necessary, but due to the stubborn streak that resides in all our hearts there are times when we resist repentance.  What happens on those occasions?

I would propose there is a progression that emerges until we repent.

  1. We pridefully chose to believe we know better than God.
  2. We begin to brainstorm support for this false belief.
  3. We grow increasingly convinced that God should think/rule as we believe.
  4. We daydream of a world that follows our beliefs/values.
  5. We begin to make God in our own image.

There may be other paths from point one to point five, but point five should startle us.  Yet making God in our image has become increasingly fashionable in our day.  It is common for people to view God as needy, changing with the times, a risk taker, playing favorites, moody, or having a “personal arrangement” with them that differs from the Gospel found in the Bible.

Consider one of the basic definitions of repentance – “agreeing with God.”  When we do not repent we necessarily believe God should agree with us or our actions.  It only takes a little bit of imagination to begin making God in our own image – and completely reversing the foundational teaching of the relationship between God and man in Genesis 1.

All of this means, that if we are going to be biblical Christians (and that is the only kind of Christians there are) we must be regularly repentant.  If not, we are either attacking or distorting the very character of God.

More than this we will teach (or try to teach) others (especially our spouse, children, and close friends) to believe the same distorted beliefs about God.  Unless we repent we will either teach (passively) or argue (aggressively) that our beliefs are accurate.  They will be forced to agree with us, confront us, or live with an irreconcilable tension.  This is particularly hard for children, teens, and those young in their faith.

This brings us to a profound summary point – the failure to repent is to believe and proclaim heresy.  If you defensively think, “I’m a Christian and I know it.  You can’t judge me,” then you are still too self-centered and completely missing the point.  Repentance is worship and evangelism.  It proclaims God as more wise, just, and worthy than our beliefs and actions.  It also proclaims God’s willingness to restore those who acknowledge His right character.

When we fail to repent we miss an opportunity to reveal the majesty of God’s character and redemption to ourselves and those around us.  We may do some bad things when we fail to repent (and experience the hardening heart consequences), but more than that we miss the opportunity to participate in the greatest thing – God’s love and redemption.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Character” post which address other facets of this subject.

Taxes and Love — Mark 12

Church and State (v. 17)

Jesus was (and is) a master of catching deceitful people in their own traps (Galatians 6:7).  But this answer does much more than reveal Jesus’ clever use of rhetoric.  It is a foundational statement regarding the role of the sacred and civil (see also Romans 13:-17; I Timothy 2:1-6; Titus 3:1-2; and 2 Peter 2:13-17).

Civil authority plays (or at least should play) a role of common grace in society.  Government should punish those who violate others and create a setting where those who honor others have opportunity to succeed.

Caesar was doing this quite imperfectly.  The Jews longed for a political/military Messiah to undo this oppression.  However, even in this context, Jesus responds, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

Reflection One: How does government (marked by the fall and human greed/error) still serve as a conduit of God’s common grace?  Do you regularly thank God for the structures of society that allow for relative order, peace, predictability, and planning?

Reflection Two: We tend to closely align our lives to government expectations (i.e., laws, taxes, holidays, etc…).   This is “giving Caesar what is Caesar’s.”  Do you also manage your life equally in keeping with God’s expectations (i.e., values regarding morals, relationships, money, rest, etc…)?  This contrast can also be understood in terms of the “Fear/Trust of Man” versus the “Fear/Trust of the Lord.”   See Jeremiah 17:5-10 for more on this contrast.

Two Commands or Three?

A big question in our day is whether you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else, or whether we all naturally do what we believe will make us happy and should treat others the same way.  As you look at Mark 12:29-31 (and the corresponding Matthew 22:37-40), consider the following question – How many commands does Jesus say there are?  Two

But what do we do to make of “as yourself”?  If we flip the commands to mean we have to love self before we can love neighbor (command three before two), we would also have to say we must love neighbor before we can love God (command two before our added third command).  This does not seem right.

We begin with a recognition that we can only love (at all; anyone) because God first loved us (I John 4:19).  Love is naturally focused outside itself (Philippians 2:1-11) and we are naturally self-centered.  You have to teach a child to say “please” and “thank you” not “no” and “mine.”

Then we look at another use of a similar phrase in Ephesians 5:28, “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.”  It is not very romantic to love your wife after loving yourself.  That hardly seems in keeping with the sacrificial tone of Ephesians 5.

Finally, we look at a passage like 2 Timothy 3:2 where Paul says that the first mark of people in the last days will be that they “will be lovers of themselves.”  As the first item on the list this defines all the other items in the same way that love marks all of the fruit of the Spirit.

From this we can conclude, Jesus assumes we naturally do what we think will make us happy.  The problem then is that we are more likely foolish or deceived rather than lacking self-love.  Our actions may in fact be to our detriment.  This may emerge from what we believe about ourselves, others, and God.  The solution, however, is to seek wisdom and clarity so that our actions (which we believe to be in our best interest) will actually bless us.  Without this wisdom and clarity our ability to love God and neighbor will be severely hampered.

A Sincere Man in Hostile Times (v. 34)

Jesus’ words here are quite remarkable.  The content of His words were simple enough.  He could tell from a brief conversation with this questioner that he was “not far from the kingdom of God.”  It is not the content but the context that is amazing.

Jesus was in the midst of being assaulted by a series of verbal traps.  The Pharisees tried (v. 13-17).  Then the Sadducees tried (v. 18-27).  In the same dialogue this teacher walks up and asks “another” question.  However, Jesus responded to the question and the questioner independent from the context.

Reflection Questions:  When have you recently lumped one question/circumstance in with its neighboring questions/circumstances?  When are you most prone to do this?  With whom are you most prone to do this?  Pray that you will be more Christ-like in your ability to treat each moment, circumstance, and person on its own merit.

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

Guest Post: Bob Kellemen on & The Prayer of Jesus

The Prayer of Jesus: How to Talk to God
(Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4)

Your Daily Prayer Guide: “CHRIST”

How to Talk to God: CHRIST

There’s no more important question in life than, “How do I talk to God?”

There’s no better Person to turn to to answer that question than Jesus. In the Lord’s Prayer, or “The Prayer of Jesus,” we learn how to pray in Christ’s school of prayer. The acrostic CHRIST provides a helpful, relevant, practical, biblical outline for learning how to talk to God.

Prepare to Pray: Meditation—“Our Father Which Art in Heaven”

C: Commune with God: Adoration—“Hallowed Be Thy Name”

H: Honor the King: Intercession—“Thy Kingdom Come”

R: Radically Commit: Submission/Direction—“Thy Will Be Done”

I: Invite God-Rescue: Supplication—“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”

S: Savor the Savior’s Grace: Confession—“Forgive Us Our Sins”

T: Triumph Over Temptation: Petition—“Lead Us Not Into Temptation”

Confidently Trust God: Glorification—“For Thine Is the Kingdom”

Learning How to Pray in Christ’s School of Prayer

Prepare to Pray: Meditation—“Our Father Which Art in Heaven”

1. Meditate on the perfect fatherly character of God: Our Father in heaven.

2. Contemplate the nature of God’s fatherhood: Our Father of holy love.

3. Reflect on the Body of Christ: Our Father, not only my Father.

4. Enjoy God the Father’s full attention and acceptance: Bask in His fatherly grace.

Commune with God: Adoration—“Hallowed Be Thy Name”

1. Praise God for Who He is: Worship, magnify, exalt, and glorify your heavenly Father.

2. Thank God for what He does: Express your gratitude for all His grace-gifts, for His works.

3. Pray that the whole world would be in awe of God: All the earth grasping, enjoying, and exalting the character (name) of God.

4. Set apart God as the supreme desire of your heart: Let your daily mission statement be to exalt God by enjoying God.

Honor the King: Intercession—“Thy Kingdom Come”

1. Pray for a deepening of God’s rule in your heart: Surrender to God’s governance.

2. Pray for a widening of God’s rule in all people’s hearts: Salvation.

3. Pray for a deepening of God’s rule on planet Earth: Christian living (make a difference).

4. Pray for the soon return of Christ: Second Coming.

5. Pray that you will live for God’s kingdom and not for your own: Total allegiance.

Radically Commit: Submission/Direction—“Thy Will Be Done”

1. Pray for the right pleasure: That everything you do is motivated by the desire to bring God pleasure.

2. Pray for calm assurance: The understanding that God’s glory and your good are inseparable, that the Father’s will is always good and best.

3. Pray for clear discernment: That you will know God’s will for your personal life, family, church, work, community, country, and world.

4. Pray for radical obedience: That God would grant you the courage to do His will.

5. Pray for supernatural power: That God would empower you to obey His will.

6. Pray with brutal honesty: Share the desires of your heart, any confusion, doubts, and perplexity with your heavenly Father.

7. Pray with other-centered focus: That family, church, community, national, and world leaders would know and do God’s will.

Invite God-Rescue: Supplication—“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”

1. Confess humbly (Give): Acknowledge your spiritual poverty, admitting that without God you are and have nothing. Pray for the faith to believe that all you need is God and what He chooses to provide.

2. Asks unselfishly (Us, Our): Pray for others and for yourself.

3. Request wisely (This Day, Daily): Pray for today’s needs. Trust God for today’s supply. Ask God to give you nothing more and nothing less than exactly what you need and can handle.

4. Entreat practically (Bread): Pray for physical, material, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual needs. Pray for freedom from worry as you trust God to supply your every need.

Savor the Savior’s Grace: Confession—“Forgive Us Our Sins As We Forgive Those Who Have Sinned Against Us”

1. Seek enlightenment: Specifically confess known sins and ask God to reveal hidden sins.

2. Repent humbly: Your debt is immeasurable; His grace is infinite.

3. Enjoy forgiveness: Claim Christ’s forgiveness and acceptance. Your slate is wiped clean!

4. Grant forgiveness: Forgive all those who have hurt you/sinned against you physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, and spiritually.

5. Seek reconciliation: Go to anyone who you have sinned against to restore the relationship.

Triumph Over Temptation: Petition—“Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil”

1. Seek protection: Ask God not to allow Satan even to tempt you to sin.

2. Seek boundaries: Ask God to keep you from situations where you are most prone to sin— your besetting sins, areas of vulnerability, temptations, etc.

3. Seek victory: Ask God to defeat sin, the world, the flesh, and the devil in your life.

4. Seek faith: Ask God to help you to trust His awesome power as your only hope for triumph.

Confidently Trust God: Glorification—“For Thine Is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory Forever, Amen”

1. Trust God (For): Believe that since God is the Almighty, Eternal King that He can answer.

2. Glorify God (Thine): Pray that God will be glorified by your prayers.

First, Last, Last, First — Mark 10

Children as Model (v. 13-15)

The next several sections of Mark 10 build from this story of Jesus and the children.  Jesus interacts with the Rich Young Man and the request of James and John from the principle, “For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these [children]. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Reflection: Are you willing to come to God empty handed and with an open heart?  That is the nature of a child.  The children did not have anything to offer Jesus and asked nothing from Him other than love.  Our insecurity and anxiety are rooted in thinking we must have something to offer.  Our pride and anger are rooted in thinking we can demand particular blessings (of our choosing) from God.

Christian maturity is not relating to God as an adult, but continually relating to God as a child while our adult understanding of God’s character grows.  Adults use knowledge as power – trying to figure God out (control).  Children trust and revel in the relationship.

Disciples Called “Children” (v. 24)

It is very easy to listen to this remark from Jesus and think he is being harsh and condescending.  When we address adults as “children” we are usually insulting them.  However, Jesus is drawing their attention away from the hard command given to the Rich Young Man and back to his statement that the kingdom of God belongs to those with child-like faith.

The Rich Young Man was seeking to please God (“What must I do?”).  The dialogue that followed overwhelmed the disciples. They were desperately thinking “Who then can be saved!”  Jesus says, “Children.”  Those who come to God empty handed and with an open heart.  In order for the Rich Young Man to achieve this empty-handedness he would have had to sell everything.  The focus was not on giving (huge sacrifice), but on humility (not thinking I can offer God something other than my life).

It may be most helpful to think of your service to God as Christmas presents your young children buy you.  They buy the presents with your money, so they really are not giving you anything.  But you love to receive it and see the joy it brings them to give it to you.  The reward it not in their gift but in their giving.

May We Be Great?

After seeing Jesus receive the little children and hearing what he said (Mark 10:14-15); after hearing the culmination of Jesus’ interaction with the Rich Young Man (Mark 10:31); after hearing Jesus predict his torture and death (Mark 10:33-34) – James and John still ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left in glory (Mark 10:37).

What do we learn from this?  Jesus is patient and we don’t get it.  Jesus returns to the over-arching lessons of this chapter (Mark 10:42-25) – the first will be last, the last will be first, child-likeness is out goal, wealth easily distracts us, and leaders are servants.  Jesus knew this concept was so counter to our (sinful) nature that we would need to hear it many times in many ways.

Do you truly believe that greatness is found in service?  Do not answer the question quickly.  Consider these questions to help you discern you heart.

  • How well do you handle having to repeat instructions?
  • Are you easily embarrassed?
  • Do you passively leave unpleasant responsibilities for others?
  • How do you treat others when you are tired?
  • Do you notice the burdens of others?
  • Are you able to empathize with the struggles of others?
  • How do you respond to those who are weak in your area of strength?
  • What have you done without recently for the benefit of another?
  • Do you notice and praise those who serve in front of your kids?
  • Are you still content if your service goes unnoticed?

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

Living in a “Love Me First” World — Mark 9

Neither High nor Low Self-Esteem (v. 35)

You can only see what your questions allow to be revealed.  If you ask bad questions, then you will never even consider good answers.  In our day and age there is a strong tendency to read this passage and debate self-esteem.  However, I believe this would miss the point entirely.  To borrow from the opening line of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about us.”

Jesus asks, “If anyone wants to be first,” implying this is not a bad desire.  Greatness is not a sinful pursuit.  It is the definition of greatness that makes it holy or evil; a blessing or a curse.  Jesus says the blessed definition of greatness is servanthood.  The less self-preoccupied we become, the more free we are to experience/express the love, joy, and peace that God has for us because our focus has returned to what it was always meant to be.

Reflection: When you hear the concept of self-forgetfulness as the door to true, lasting happiness, what fears or cautions come to mind?  How is this concept different from many notions of self-esteem (pride, vanity, competition) and forced humility (negative, self-critical, unable to receive complements)?

Whoever Is Not Against Us (v. 40)

After Jesus spoke of welcoming others in his name, the disciples asked about a “competing” teacher, “Do you want us to welcome him too (v. 38 paraphrased)?”  Jesus answer (again paraphrased), “There should be no competition between messengers but only between messages (see also Philippians 1:15-18).”

Reflection:  What are the key beliefs that comprise true Christianity?  In our day of denominations and non-denominations what would be the essential beliefs and practices that Jesus would consider “in my name (v. 41)”?  Is it your tendency to be too combative or uninformed on these types of questions?

Practice:  When you are studying Scripture and forming beliefs divide your beliefs not only by topic (salvation, Jesus, church, etc…) but also by importance.  I would advise the following four categories of importance:

  1. Highest: Those beliefs essential to being a Christian and inheriting eternal
  2. Second: Those beliefs which should be agreed upon in order to have harmonious fellowship in the same church.
  3. Third:  Those beliefs which one should seek to have personal convictions on, but should not divide  What are those matters which are a matter of heaven and hell if one is right or wrong?
  4. Fourth:  Those beliefs which are unclear and can only be considered using inference or implication.

A Radical Refocusing

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus approaches the discussion of the “radical amputation of sin (9:43-47) flowing from a discussion of unity amongst believers.  The transition thought is, “Who is our true enemy?”

A.  Those with whom we disagree (9:38)
B.  Those whose ministry rivals our own (9:33)
C.  Those who receive privileged status (9:2)
D.  The sin that interferes with God’s kingdom in us (9:47)

Jesus refocuses the disciples’ attention to answer D.  Jesus is harnessing the competitive energies the disciples were unleashing on one another and strangers to the “enemy within.”  Hence he concludes, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other (v. 50).”

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I approach most passionately or aggressively?
  • What does the intensity of this pursuit reveal about me?
  • What methods of preparation do I use in this pursuit?
  • How did those methods of preparation develop?
  • What skills have I learned and mastered in this pursuit?
  • How long did this process take?
  • What made the effort worth it to me?

Take those answers and now apply them to the areas of sin that you most commonly struggle with.  Allow God to redirect your natural passions and interests (not to imply they are wrong) to inform, illuminate, and motivate your battle with sin.

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

Fear as Entertainment and the Fear of the Lord

Have you noticed our culture’s infatuation with entertaining itself with fear?  There are countless books, movies, thrill rides, bungee jumps, and for some people their regular driving habits.  This post is not going to condemn those with an appetite for fear as violating Philippians 4:6’s command to be anxious for nothing.  Rather, instead of seeking to reduce fear this post will seek to increase fear.

There is a general axiom in Christian circles that the more spiritually mature one becomes the more sinful one will realize they are.  Or stated differently, the more you get to know God the more you realize how far your character is from His.  When Isaiah saw God he responded, “Woe is me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty (Isa 6:6).”

I would advocate that those who seek a thrill, seek the biggest thrill of all – getting to know God for who He really is.  This would beat tightrope walking the Grand Canyon without a net.  It is living life in light of this fear that is the very beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7).  When you view all of life in light of the majesty of God, foolishness does not just seem dumb; it also seems tame (boring).

Consider one other passage in light of this reflection:  Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  What an amazing contrast between the words “throne of grace” and “approach with confidence.”

At a throne of grace from which we hope (with certainty) to receive mercy, we have no right to be there.  If we are wrong about our invitation as children of the King, we would be killed immediately for our audacity to enter such a regal (holy) place.  It is this realization (fear) that makes the grace we receive all the sweeter and prevents it from becoming a matter of pride, entitlement, or boredom.

It is this eternal peaceful thrill that will stimulate, satisfy, and calm our hearts for all eternity.  Therefore, let us seek the greatest of thrills. Let us rightly entertain ourselves with the most intense of fears, but not for the sake of self-indulgence or trivial story-telling but to honor the Lord Almighty and to more accurately share his glory with a world longing to be thrilled!

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Anxiety” post which address other facets of this subject.

Somebody’s, Nobody’s, But the Same Jesus — Mark 5

Reverse Uncontamination (v. 29)

The entire mindset of the Jewish culture was to avoid contamination.  You had to know what was clean versus unclean so that the unclean things could be avoided.  Life was much more like dodge ball than freeze tag (the variety I played as a child everyone who was not it could “unfreeze” the frozen by touching them – I acknowledge the legitimacy of the dozens of other varieties of freeze tag).

Recognizing the world-view of those surrounding Jesus makes this event all the more amazing.  It is not “just” that Jesus healed her.  Jesus made her clean rather than her making him unclean.  That is the equivalent of dropping an apple up.

Jesus has this tendency of breaking the rules – not the moral ones; but the rules of expectation, nature, social structure, and sin.  This is the incarnation.  Jesus enters the “rules” of our world and frees us from them.  No longer are we bound to food regulations, ceremonial cleanness, racial divides, superstition, rituals, or sacred occasions.

Reflection Question:  What fears or cautions immediately come to mind as you read these thoughts?  What appropriate limitations need to be put on these statements?  How have statements like these been abused?  Transition:  How would your life be different if you properly applied these statements?  What non-moral laws do you live by that limit your ability to serve God?  What traditions (your personal history) were those non-moral laws built on?  How does the life and teaching of Christ “reverse uncontaminated” those non-moral laws?

Amazing Honesty

I believe we often miss something about this unnamed woman – she was honest.  She had broken several major social rules.  She was being called out in the midst of an overwhelming crowd.  She had suffered long and was just tasting relief.  And Jesus shocks everyone by saying “Who touched me (v. 31)?”

In the midst of this, although she was trembling with fear, she “told him the whole truth (v. 33).”  Wow!  Amazing faith!  In the face of a guilty conscience, public pressure/embarrassment, and justifiable reasons for her actions, she chose honesty over silence and complete truth over selective-revised history.  Let us all be humbled.

Consider the following statements as you seek to be a person of total truth.

  • It is wrong to say you can protect someone from the truth.
  • Lying is playing God, because you are trying to write (or rewrite) history.
  • Lies cast shadows upon your true statements so all communication is defiled.
  • Lying means that we believe something is more valuable than Christ-likeness.
  • We are only free (emotionally and relationally) when we are honest.
  • Redemption cannot occur where sin is not confessed.
  • To lie is to live in fear and become addicted to the power of lying.
  • When we lie we know we are false and have a hard time receiving the love of others.
  • Secrets perpetuate our sinful patterns.
  • Secrets create a climate in which vulnerability seems foolish.
  • Hiding sin is a violation of James 5:16.

Closing Thought: “God is not limited by our weakness and failure. God is limited by our dishonesty.”  May we glorify God with our honesty like this unnamed woman in Mark 5.

Don’t Be Afraid; Just Believe (v. 36)

Can we all agree that Jesus is not telling this father who just received the news that his daughter was dead to be unmoved?  This is not Jesus advocating that faith in God will make any unpleasant emotion unnecessary or wrong.

I do believe we can find an important distinction between sinful and sacred fear in this passage.  The difference is not the emotional sensation (i.e., increased heart rate, rapid paced thinking, tears, sporadic questioning pattern, intense desire to find refuge, etc…).  The distinction is the presence or absence of hope.

Jesus is not saying be calm, chill out, or relax.  Jesus is saying maintain hope, don’t lose sight of me, and remember I am still active in your life.

As we weigh our emotions, this criterion of hope is one of the primary measures we should use to determine the virtue of sinfulness of an emotion (pleasant or unpleasant).  If an emotion actively hopes in God it is good and plays a significant role in our sanctification.  If an emotions ignores, attacks, or flees from God, then it is to be taken captive (2 Cor 9:3-6).

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.