ME, REPENT?

The answer to my short question in the title of this post is “yes.” The truth is that I need to repent more often than I wish I did. Since I read an article last week by David Smith entitled REPENTANCE I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the subject: both the verb and the noun.

I think the thing that has impacted me the most in terms of my thinking and reading is that to repent means much more than simply saying you are sorry. Most of the time it is not at all hard to say, “I’m sorry.” Too often we say we are sorry but don’t do anything to make needed changes. One common definition or repent is “to turn around.”

The word repent is used a total of 78 times in the Bible: 24 in the Old Testament and 54 in the New Testament. Given that it is used that often suggests that it is important.

In Matthew 3:1 and 4:17 both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And in Matthew 3:8 John the Baptist sheds some light on the meaning of repentance: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Clearly John is saying that when a person repents it results in some changes in his or her life.

In Luke 3:3 John the Baptist tells us more about the outcome of repentance, “He went into all the country around the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In the book of Acts repent and repentance are used 10 times often referring to becoming a Christian and receiving forgiveness.

Repentance is a vital element in coming to Christ for salvation; but it is not limited to becoming a Christian. A call to repent is given 10 times in the book of Revelation addressed to Christians about changes they need to make.

In a Google search I came across a definition I think hits the nail on the head: “Repentance is the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to and actual actions that show and prove a change for the better.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty good about feeling contrition and regret when I mess up. The challenge for me is not just to say I’m going to do better, but to put into practice actual actions that show a change for the better. Not to bring anyone else down, but I don’t think I’m the only one who needs to do more.

(Those who are interested may find Thomas Watson’s book The Doctrine of Repentance informative, instructional, and challenging.)

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WHAT IS FAMILY?

A combination of things this past weekend spurred my thinking about family as I was driving home from church this past Sunday. I realize there are no perfect families, and that families can be hurtful, but I am a fan of family. One of the reasons I am such a fan of family is because I have greatly benefitted from many families.

As I revisited my thinking about family later Sunday evening I typed in family on my computer and came across a broad definition that reinforced part of what I had been thinking on my drive home. Here it is: “To some, the true meaning of family means a group of people related by blood or ancestry. To others, it has nothing to do with genes and everything to do with love, compassion, and support. The definition of the word family can mean many things.”

Friday and Saturday I had been thinking about the first part of the definition: “a group of people related by blood.” Thursday night our son and daughter-in-law (there’s another aspect of family) drove into town and Rob and I played golf on Friday. It was great to spend time with him on the golf course and the rest of the weekend with the two of them.

Jan and I moved to Amarillo to be close to our daughter and two grandsons. Saturday morning I went to our six year old’s indoor soccer game and in the evening I went to our ten year old’s indoor soccer game – spending quality time with both grandsons and our daughter. Saturday evening all of us had dinner together and had a great time playing some silly game at the dinner table after we had eaten.

The last sentence of the definition of family I inserted at the end of the second paragraph above rings true: “The definition of the word family can mean many things.” Of course family consists of people related by blood, but family is also found among people that have nothing to do with genes. Both family related by blood, as well as family having nothing to do with genes, is about love, compassion, and support.

Sunday morning following worship I taught my Bible class consisting of participants all in our general age group. At the end of the Bible discussion we gave some prayer updates and concluded with prayer. In my prayer I thanked God for the privilege to be a part of his family, for the privilege to be a part of our church family, and for the privilege to be a part of our Bible class family.

I have been and am blessed by many members of a variety of families from the neighborhood in which I grew up through the churches I have been privileged to serve as an intern, youth minister, pastor, founding pastor, and pastor of senior adult ministry.

However, I do have some regrets. I wish I had engaged more with family members related by blood as a young adult. To his credit, my older brother did stay engaged. I also regret that I did not engage more often with him.  Although we do not live close geographically, I phoned him on his birthday yesterday.

Join me in thanking God for the many things family can be and the blessings they are to us and hopefully we are to them.

Image of our grandsons courtesy of our daughter.

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THE DAY AFTER THE DAY AFTER

My original idea for this week’s blog was to write Wednesday following Tuesday’s vote and call it The Day After. Since no final result has yet been confirmed in terms of the presidential vote I’m preceding with some thoughts on this day after the day after.

For one thing, it seems obvious that every voter has some results in which they are disappointed, as well as some results in which they are pleased.

Certainly the presidential vote, but also many other votes on candidates and issues, led to deep divisions among friends, neighbors, family members, and Christians. If possible, I wish following all the acrimony and disrespect everyone would come together without necessarily agreeing on everything.

I think those who saw this election as a battle between good and evil were off the mark. And I was especially unsettled reading the harsh back and forth on Facebook between committed Christians who disagreed on candidates and issues.

As sad as I am about the divide and polarization among families, friends, and Christians due to this election, I am hopeful the rhetoric will be softened and mutual respect restored. We may or may not understand why some took the positions they took, but it is not our responsibility to question their reasoning for their choices.

Christians do not have to agree on everything political (or lots of other areas) to maintain unity in Christ. I like Pastor Chris Rea’s observation, “I think a church ought to be solidly purple.” He is saying there should be room for both blue and red voters in the Church. Just because we are Christians does not mean we all walk in lock step uniformity.

I read that one faith advisor made the case that “Christians should vote to reelect the president” and another faith advisor spoke on “why Christians should vote for Joe Biden.” I was shocked to read that one prominent pastor told President Trump, “Any real, true believer is going to be on your side in this election.”

I cannot help but wonder where we go as a nation and as Christians from here. It seems obvious that we have to accept the results of the election when everything is finalized. It also makes sense to me to challenge ourselves to “get over” the results we had hoped would come out differently.

We need in general to restore civility, but Christians should go beyond just civility. We are called to love one another and to love our enemies as well. It seems totally out of place to me, however, to view a fellow believer as an enemy because we don’t agree on everything political.

I’m reminding myself of one of the best known instructions in the Bible for God’s people: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight(Proverbs 3:5 and 6).

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THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IN A NUTSHELL

I’m currently leading a Bible study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians and in coming to chapter two was reminded of one of the briefest statements about the Christian life in the Bible. In Colossians 2:6 and 7 Paul instructs his readers then and us now, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him [or walk with him], rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

It is indeed a short statement, but it is also a packed and pithy one. I don’t know of anyone having done it, but in reading the two verses I can imagine someone writing an entire book explaining and expanding on this nutshell. I’m not going to write a lengthy essay on the passage, but I do want to make some observations about it.

Paul begins with the reminder that the beginning of the Christian life takes place when someone receives or accepts Jesus as Lord. Receiving Christ as Lord is crucial, and even though Paul doesn’t mention it here, it also includes accepting him as Savior. Both mark the beginning of living in and walking with Christ consistent with one’s confession.

Paul then moves to challenge those who have received Christ Jesus as Lord to live in him [or walk with him]. That includes, of course, not doing things that followers of Jesus are not to do, but also, and equally as important, doing what Jesus calls his followers to do.

Paul assumes that those who received Christ Jesus as Lord are “rooted and built up in him.” These two metaphors use the examples of a tree with deep roots and a house built on a strong foundation for Christians who have received Christ. In the next phrase, “strengthened in the faith,” Paul reminds them that they have been taught about these things.

I’m thinking Paul’s reminder to these believers about their becoming Christians, and his encouragement to them to live the life, is something needed in churches today. And my sense is that it is happening in many ways in most churches through preaching, Bible studies, classes, small groups, and more.

Before I conclude these thoughts I want us to note the last instruction Paul gives in this nutshell to those who have received Christ as Lord in verse 8: “overflowing with thanksgiving.” Of all people, those of us who are Christians should be filled with gratitude. And if we are filled with gratitude, then we should be overflowing with thanksgiving. Grateful first I would think to God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; but also to those who enrich our lives in so many ways by their words and actions.

Perhaps those of us who have received Christ Jesus as Lord and walk with him can get a head start on Thanksgiving this year as we ramp up our overflowing with thanksgiving during the entire month of November.

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DO YOU HAVE A TENDER CONSCIENCE?

In July I saw a book advertised in an email entitled The Duty and Blessing of a Tender Conscience that got my attention. As I read about it my interest increased when I saw that it was originally published in London in 1691. That’s an old book! Intrigued, I ordered the 2019 reprint in which spelling, formatting, and grammar changes have been made. It has been a relatively easy read with a lot of challenge and conviction.

Author Timothy Cruso (1656-1697) begins his discussion about the subject with a partial verse in II Kings 22. The account is about good King Josiah and his response to God’s message to him through the prophet Huldah. Cruso cites part of her message from God to the king “Because thine heart was tender . . .” (II Kings 22:19).

Those five words from the King James Version provide the starting point for The Duty and Blessing of a Tender Conscience. A broader statement about Josiah’s tender conscience is given in the full verse from the New International Version: “Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord” (II Kings 22:19, NIV).

Chapter four in the book has the title “The Proper Ingredients of This Tenderness of Heart.” First is the hatred of sin. That certainly makes sense as long as we keep the oft quoted saying in mind: “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Second is love of holiness. Without this ingredient no one will be truly tender in conscience. Third is a fear of God. My sense is that our love of holiness and hatred of sin are the automatic outcomes of what is the real meaning of a fear of God (which is often misunderstood).

I can’t repeat everything in the book in this post, but I do want to relay Cruso’s “The Evidences and Tokens of a Tender Conscience” (chapter six):

            1. The first evidence is a zealous concern for the honor of God, when it interferes and stands in competition with our own, both in matters of faith and practice.

            2. A second evidence is a strict endeavor that both the ends that we propose, and the means which we employ upon all occasions, may be equally good.”

            3. A third evidence is a vigorous resistance of the most plausible and powerful temptations.

            4. A fourth evidence is an impartial shunning of the smallest sins.

            5. A fifth evidence is a particular care in bridling the tongue, and setting a watch against those common unobserved evils that are especially incident thereunto.

At the risk of including too much, I want to also share six things Caruso suggests we need to monitor to have a tender conscience: much speaking, passionate raging, foolish jesting, rash vowing, unregarded promises, and needles protestations.

With these selections I’m confident you see why I said the book is challenging and convicting. I won’t bore you or set myself up by telling you on which of these I most need to work. But I do encourage you to review what I have borrowed from the book and do some self-examination. Do you have a tender conscience?

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WHAT HAPPENED TO MATURITY, RESPECT, CLASS, AND GRAVITAS?

Before reading this post, please note that it is different from my description of what my blogs are about. My site says in these posts I am “Considering the Christian life, the Bible, and the Church.” Clearly that is not true about this one. Yet it is something I have been thinking about and I wanted to share.

Like many who are paying attention to the current political climate as we move closer and closer to Election Day, I am disappointed and embarrassed. It seems to me that grown women and men who are politicians and leaders should be showing more maturity, class, and gravitas, as well as respect to their fellow candidates, politicians, and the public.

I’ve been following presidential elections since 1960 when I was nine years old and cannot remember any political season lacking these qualities as much as we are witnessing now.

And I have in mind not just the two presidential candidates, but their running mates also, as well as the senate majority and minority leaders and the speaker of the house. To me the only one of this group who exhibits these qualities very much at all is the Republican VP candidate.

When it comes to gravitas, where is the seriousness, sobriety, and solemnity in demeanor in campaigning and giving speeches? You would think we would especially see more gravitas when the candidates are interacting with one another or being asked hard questions.

To have class “means to be a gentleman or a lady the old-fashioned way: a respectful, considerate, elegant, discreet, well-mannered, cultured, civilized, witty, funny, faithful, and kind gentleman or lady” (copied from a definition on the internet). That’s a high standard for sure, but I think most of us think our current leaders could and should do far better than they are.

I watch speeches, rallies, and interviews with our candidates now and wonder where the respect politicians showed one another years ago is? It seems like every four years respect between candidates on different sides disappears more and more.

And it’s not just the candidates and leaders who are failing in these crucial qualities. As disappointed as I am with the candidates and political leaders, I am even more disappointed in and by the political commentators and news reporters. So many on their cable shows are lacking in gravitas, class, respect and maturity.

But it is not just people who are involved full time with politics that we see and hear a lot that lacks these important qualities. Many in the entertainment business are as bad if not worse than the candidates, the politicians, the news reporters, and the political commentators.

In the title of this post I listed four qualities I think we are missing from our candidates, political leaders, political news reporters, and many celebrities. The one of the four I have not mentioned is maturity. My challenge to everyone who tries to stay informed about this political season and discuss it with others is simple. Don’t you think it’s time we grow up and show some maturity? I think with some intentionality we all could do better.

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Thank you for reading; in my next post I will be returning to “Considering the Christian life, the Bible, and the Church.”

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE BLESSED?

While not original with Chick-fil-A, their network of restaurants made the phrase “Have a Blessed Day” a common expression. When we first moved to Amarillo a few years ago I was surprised that almost everywhere I went to shop or be served employees told me “Have a Blessed Day.”

What does it mean to be blessed or to “Have a Blessed Day?” I’m reminded of a song we sang in grade school that declared what “Happiness is.” The refrain of the song reminded us that happiness is “different things to different people.” My sense is that today “being blessed” and “having a blessed day” means different things to different people.

The Bible uses the word blessed many times in both the New and the Old Testaments. And when the Bible uses this word the writer or speaker is declaring that those who have and practice certain characteristics are blessed. Blessed suggests God’s favor, approval, pat on the back, or congratulations. We call these descriptions of those who are blessed beatitudes.

One of the best known uses in the Old Testament is Psalm 1:1 and 2, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” To get the full explanation look up Psalm 1 and review verses 3-6.

Probably surprising to some readers, the last book of the Bible – the book of Revelation – has seven declarations about those who are blessed. One of my favorites is Revelation 14:13, Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

The best known beatitudes in the Bible are the eight pronouncements Jesus made in Matthew 5:3-10 in the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount. He underscores eight qualities or attitudes of people who are blessed. And after each pronouncement Jesus specifies the special blessing that goes with the quality or attitude.

My sense is that the first of Jesus’ beatitudes is the most misunderstood, and at the same time the most important. In Matthew 5:3 Jesus declares, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (NIV).

The quality “poor in spirit” means more than simply being poor. One misunderstanding of the phrase is to shorten it to say “poor-spirited.” But to be poor in spirit does not mean a person has no value, or that he or she is unimportant or insignificant. It isn’t to be like Eeyore who is pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, and no fun.

A couple of different translations of the quality helps us better understand what it means to be “poor in spirit.” The Good News Translation renders the first beatitude “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!” The New Century Version reads “They are blessed who realize their spiritual poverty, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

To be “poor in spirit” is to be aware that on our own we are not worthy of God’s love.  It is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty and therefore humbly depend on God’s mercy and grace. I hope it is obvious why I suggest this first beatitude is so important.

The specific blessing (in addition to the general blessing) of being “poor in spirit” is to be a member of the kingdom of heaven. Christians acknowledge their need for God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. The kingdom belongs to us because we belong to the kingdom.

Have a blessed day!

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WHAT OR WHO IS A SAINT?

Do you know any saints? Do you know what a saint is? The second question reminds me of a song we sang as kids defining happiness. You may remember the refrain that proclaimed happiness is “different things to different people.” I think the same could be said about the meaning of saint.

In everyday conversation most people use the word saint to describe someone who is an exceptionally kind, caring, giving, unselfish, and loving person. Not only that, what leads someone to be that kind of person is their holiness that comes from their closeness to God.

In Roman Catholicism a saint is a Christian who has died following a life of exceptional commitment, holiness, and service. In Catholicism a person can only become a saint following their death and going through steps to be officially recognized and honored as such by the church. Mother Teresa is a recent example who most of us would agree was a saint.

The word saint or saints is used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe God’s people and followers of Jesus. The basic meaning of the word saint is “to set apart” and suggests holiness as a quality of those who are members of God’s people. Set apart, however, does not mean that saints should not, or cannot, have contact or involvement with those who are not saints.

Here are a two usages of the word in the Old Testament that underscore what it means to be called a saint. In Psalm 16:3 the NIV renders the word (saints) “holy ones,” and in Psalm 50:5 the NIV renders the word (saints) “consecrated people.” 

The New Testament uses the words saint and saints 67 times, always referring to believers in Jesus. Six of Paul’s letters to churches are addressed to saints: Romans, I and II Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. In these salutations, as elsewhere in the New Testament, the word is never used of a special group of Christians who are more dedicated and holy than other believers. The New Testament is clear that all Christians are saints.

While all Christians are saints, all believers are not at the same place in terms of their growth as followers of Jesus. A new believer cannot be expected to be as mature in living the Christian life as a long time believer. The challenge for every Christian is to continue to grow as a saint.

Two suggestions about the usage of the word saint in the New Testament give us more insight about the meaning. One writer notes, “the Bible views every Christian as someone set apart for God’s work” and cites Ephesians 4:12 to make the point. Every Christian is a saint, and every saint is to be engaged in some way and at some level doing God’s work. Obviously not every saint is serving in the same way, but every saint is called to serve.

Another writer makes a second suggestion: “Christians are called saints because they are called to live set apart from the corruption of the world. Followers of Christ are called to be holy” (see I Corinthians 1:2 and I Peter 15 and 16). Simple stated, the point is that saints (Christians) are different from those who are not Christians. But there is no place for arrogance and an attitude that “I’m better than you are” toward those who are not Christians.

The Oxford Companion to the Bible says in the Old Testament “saints are ‘holy people’—holy, however, not primarily in the moral sense, but in the sense of being specially marked out as God’s people.” And “in the New Testament those who comprise the church are also called holy, ‘saints’, because they too are set apart to God” (p. 668).

My favorite quote from my reading about this subject is from William Barclay. He writes, “a person who is hagios [a saint] in the Christian sense of the term is a person who has separated himself [sic] from the world in order to consecrate himself to God. Sainthood, in the NT sense of the term, is concerned, not so much where a man [sic] is, but with the direction in which he is facing” (New Testament Words, p. 150).

I think I know what a saint is and am pleased to accept the Bible’s term. Barclay’s words encourage and challenge me; I’m not where I want to be, but I am facing in the right direction. How about you?

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DISCIPLES AND DISCIPLESHIP

Yesterday I bought a book in the BARGAIN BOOKS section at our local Christian bookstore; and having read the introduction and first chapter last night I’m pretty sure it was a good buy. (Mere Discipleship by Alister McGrath, Baker Books, 2018)

Usually when we use or hear the word disciple we think of those who are followers of Jesus. While the term most often does refer to a follower of Jesus, disciple is not limited to such usage. One definition of disciple is “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.”

Surprising to me, the word disciple is found in the New Testament only in the Gospels and the book of Acts. And it is the usage of the word in the Gospels that gives us the basic definition of a disciple as a follower. In the Gospels Jesus’ first disciples literally followed him.

Today a Christian is a disciple of Jesus, but obviously is not someone who physically follows him as his first disciples did. Nevertheless, even though we as Christians do not and cannot literally follow him, we are still his followers. To be a disciple of Jesus today means to follow him in ways that go beyond walking with and behind him.

Our following Jesus today as his disciples is where the word discipleship comes in. And I learned last night that the word discipleship is not used in the Bible. However, the way we use the word discipleship today is clearly a biblical concept.

My own definition of discipleship is that it is the process of becoming more and more the person Jesus has called us to be as his followers. It’s about growing as a Christian and it is a process that is never complete in this life. The teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, and the teachings in the letters in the New Testament, are about walking on the path of discipleship as a follower of Jesus.

I find that to be both challenging and exciting. And if you are like me, sometimes it’s three steps forward and two steps back – but the result is that we are making progress. Discipleship is about learning from the Bible how we are to live and putting what we learn into practice.

I conclude with a quote from McGrath’s opening paragraph about discipleship, “It is about a conscious and committed decision to be followers of Jesus Christ in every way possible, including the way we think, love, and act. It is about growing in our faith, as we quest for wisdom rather than the mere accumulation of information about Christianity” (p. iv).

It’s a journey worth taking.

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A FEW CHALLENGES, REMINDERS, AND PROMISES

The Bible instructs us with so many challenges, reminders, and promises that in all honesty I often forget and fail to put them into practice. This past Sunday I was privileged to preach in our church’s current study of I Peter, and as always when I preach, I got more out of it than anyone who heard the sermon.

The passage begins with instructions to church elders, but then moves to address everyone. The verses in the passage that speak to everyone are I Peter 5:5b-7, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

The challenges in this passage are “clothe yourselves with humility” and “humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand.” The Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is filled with calls to be humble. Peter suggests “humility is to be worn like clothing.” One commentator suggests, “When we begin the day and dress, we must also be careful to include an attitude of humility.”

Peter reminds us how important it is by quoting Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” God opposes and resists the proud, but he promises his special favor on those who are humble. Peter tells us if we humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand he will lift us up in due time. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want God opposing me – but I would like his favor on me. Don’t you?

This passage concludes in verse 7 with a much needed suggestion and vital reminder for all of us: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Peter is borrowing from Psalm 55:22 when he tells us to cast our anxiety on the Lord. Some of us struggle with anxiety more than others, but all of us experience it at times. Looking back over the last few months, and looking ahead to the coming months, these are times of anxiety for many of us. Peter reminds us that we need to take our anxieties to God.

Why does the Psalmist and Peter both urge us to cast our anxieties on the Lord? The answer is so comforting and encouraging: “because he cares for you.” I think it would be helpful and appropriate for us to remind ourselves from time to time that God cares for us. No matter what we are going through, one thing we can always be sure of is that God cares for us.

Challenges: Clothe yourselves with humility and humble yourselves under God.

Reminders: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Promises: God will lift us up and he cares for us.

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