Repentance or Death?

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

There is considerable significance in the choice of a word. For many years I have used a short hand for the gospel message of, repent and believe-

The time has come he said, the Kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news.

Mark 1:15

These two words are stacked with significance. To repent is to change allegiance from my self with all its desires to Christ. To believe is to entrust myself to Christ. I am willing to do all he asks of me.

Then I was studying the gospel message and discovered that, the word repent occurs only eight times in the New Testament letters. So, how do the New Testament writers handle this key concept? The dominant word seems to be die or death (about 100 times in New Testament letters), for example-

if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

Romans 8:13

While repent is a change of heart or direction in my choices in life, putting to death the misdeeds of the body brings to an end my life force of rebellion against Jesus and creates the space in my life for him to occupy by his Spirit. Suddenly it is no longer me controlling the direction of my life, but Jesus.

Obstacles to freedom

Obstacles

Who are obstacles God clears away?

God says, “Rebuild the road! Clear away the rocks and stones so my people can return from captivity.”

Isaiah 57:14

Stones in the Bible often symbolise people, in this case obstacles to true freedom.

The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: “I live … with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I … revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.

Isaiah 57:15

We all become obstacles both to our own freedom and that of others. When we respond to God’s voice in humility and repentance, we are cleared as obstacles, and freed to live.

I was angry, so I punished these greedy people. I withdrew from them, but they kept going on their own stubborn way.

Isaiah 57:17

In greed we demand from others and take that earmarked for others, disrespecting God’s boundaries. The Lord quietly introduces griefs to give us a new perspective.

I will heal them anyway…. I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips.

Isaiah 57:18-19

We, the greedy are brought to mourning so that the Lord can comfort and bring us to a place of praise!

 May they have abundant peace …

Isaiah 57:19

Resting in God’s peace frees us from the drivenness of greed.

“But those who still reject me are like the restless sea, which is never still …,”

Isaiah 57:20-21

Those who resist have no peace. Their restlessness drives people into captivity. These are the rocks still to be removed.

Prayer going nowhere

Blocked Doorway

It feels pointless when prayer is getting nowhere, and yet I sense the Lord asking me to pray. It is just going through the motions, so why persist? Then I read –

Have mercy on me, O God, …  wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

Psalm 51:1-2

Being unaware of any specific sin, there must be something God sees that I don’t.

What I acknowledge completely, is that the blockage itself has built up my resistance to spending time with God. And in this is sin, so,

Against you, you only, have I sinned … so you are …  justified when you judge.

Psalm 51:4

Jesus is drawing me back to himself.

 you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Psalm 51:6

I long for these times when he teaches me wisdom.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51:7

For this, I ask him to cleanse me. I am unaware of what I did to break the relationship, and isn’t that true with our most intimate relationships? However, I am aware of how I have backed away from him, and for that I need forgiveness.

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

Psalm 51:9

Thankfully, he is willing to hide his face from ALL my iniquity, not just the bits I am aware of and indeed, following this time of prayer, the blockage went.

Let go of the past

We seem to be an unwilling to let go of past times of abundance

I think of the good old days, long since ended, … Is his unfailing love gone forever? … Has God forgotten to be gracious? [Psalm 77:5-9NLT]

One reason we resist letting go is that the abundance represented God’s love and grace to us.

And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” [Psalm 77:10NLT]

There are times when, for a while, the Lord hides himself from us. We need to unlearn habits, reinforced by success, that block us from moving into a deeper relationship with him.

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. [Psalm 77:11NLT]

I focus on the past because I think I can fix it and return. I need to look at who the Lord was, is and will be and live in that reality. He is the one who transforms us.

O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you?

I see God patiently working with me, unwilling to move on until together we have dealt with the issues, then moves me on to the promised land.

You are the God of great wonders! … By your strong arm, you redeemed your people, [Psalm 77:14-15NLT]

Let us be led into his redemption and our transformation to be his holy people, ready for the next chapter of his power.

Worship in trials

When life is challenging, we have a hard time worshipping God. We focus on challenging circumstances and miss the purpose.

Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant. For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel to be his treasured possession. [Psalm 135:3-4]

When we worship we lift our eyes to the one who treasures us and cares enough to draw out even greater beauty.

The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. [Psalm 135:6]

Our experience of those who do as they please is not often good. The Lord is motivated by love. His love is so radical he gave up Jesus to buy us back from death, so radical he risks our anger as he works to develop us.

He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. He struck down the firstborn of Egypt, the firstborn of people and animals. [Psalm 135:7-8]

His power ranges from controlling earth’s weather to revoking his gift of life.
Do I trust that this is love when what I am experiencing is the suffering of training?

the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants. [Psalm 135:14]

When times are tough, I find it helpful to remember the gifts of love he sends to keep me going, insignificant incidents that bring cheer. Then in worship I focus on the compassionate one who gives hope.

Suppressing Truth

Fake news has an agenda.

God is … against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, [Romans1:18]

People re-write reality to further their personal desires.

… God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made … [Romans1:20]

The Lord has demonstrated his eternal power and divine nature through his visible world. The wicked suppress this inconvenient truth by negating the existence of anything they cannot sense.

… they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him [Romans1:21]

When I glorify God, I acknowledge that he can do all things. When I give thanks, I acknowledge that what he does is for my best. I cannot glorify or give thanks until I have surrendered my will, my hurts, my passions …

but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Until I surrender I limit myself to futile human understanding and my heart shrivels in darkness.

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images … [Romans1:22-23]

Until I surrender I am left with human understanding and experience which, excluding God’s perspective, will prove futile.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity … [Romans1:24]

My failure to glorify God as creator and give thanks to him, leads to rejecting his leadership and taking for myself the destructive pleasures our society claims to be the high point of life.

The blessing of “NOT”

Curious that there is blessing in being apart and not having!

Blessed is the one who does not…

Blessing comes because we stand with God in integrity, and because we need that blessing to counter life’s temptations.

walk in step with the wicked

The wicked are those convinced they are right, and willing to manipulate their will. They take the moral high ground, but their fruit is not love.
We need God’s grace to walk with him in love, leaving wicked’s forceful arguments.

or stand in the way that sinners take

Sinners deny no desire and refuse no pleasure. This contrasts with God’s faithfulness. Am I willing to wait for God’s fulfilment or driven to satisfy my needs?
We need faith to rest in God content with what he has given and leave the road of temptation.

or sit in the company of mockers,

Mockers laugh at anyone who takes God seriously, so sitting with mockers dulls us to intimacy with Jesus.
We need hope in God to distance ourselves emotionally from those who mock in order to sit humbly and expectantly at Jesus’ feet.

The next verses tells how the Lord establishes and empowers this love, faith and hope in our lives.

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers. [Psalm 1:1-3]

Is Jesus welcome?

After a long day, with the next day promising to be longer, I retired early. Then boisterous voices awakened me. It was going to be a long night! I was more frustrated for lack of sleep than the opportunity to meet God. Then I read this-

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Ephesians 3:16

I wanted rest before a long day but the Lord was pointing to his resources, not limited by sleep. A great thought, now I needed to welcome him for it to be meaningful.

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Ephesians 3:17

It’s a wonderful idea that Christ makes his home in our hearts. But what does it feel like to for him to be at home in my life?

How at home am I in someone else’s home? The less places I can go, the fewer objects I can move or touch, the less I feel at home. The host may say, “Make yourself at home.” But if they become uptight when I touch anything, the words lack meaning.

How at home does Jesus feel in my life?  I invite him in but what happens when he rearranges my furniture? What happens when he wakes me up to spend a night of prayer before a day of meetings, because his presence is more important than sleep?

Do I trust Jesus enough to welcome his untimely appearances? Is he really at home?

Regain peace

When I lose peace, Psalm 73 helps…

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. (Psalm 73:21-22)

I find I can’t settle my heart, let alone pray. I fight imaginary battles over what grieved and embittered me. Recognising this isn’t enough. I need to come to a place of surrender.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. (Psalm 73:23)

The realisation that God is with me and willing to hold me helps.  This is my foothold out of the swamp.

If I allow him to hold my right hand, I surrender my drive to act. It helps to recognise I am in a bad place and more likely to provoke harm than good.

You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory. (Psalm 73:24)

Only after I have surrendered can I be still enough to listen to his counsel, to be guided by him down a path that heads to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25)

If I believe that there is nothing besides him, then this road is much easier because trust needs to be wholehearted.

 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. (Psalm 73:26)

Through this rocky road his strength and rescue will be proven and I will discover the Lord’s portion that lasts forever!

Finding God when spiritually empty

When I am thirsty for God I don’t want to be with him.  Spiritual thirst drives out love so I reject its source. Practically, I struggle to read the Bible or pray, while being tempted by my cravings.

… God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, … in a dry and parched land where there is no water. [Psalm 63:1]

So, why is this spiritually thirsty writer longing for God? The psalm gives some clues about finding God out of spiritual emptiness.

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. [Psalm 63:2]

Past experiences of God’s glory seen amongst his people remind me of what could be.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. [Psalm 63:3]

Reflecting on past experiences of God’s love and the impact that had can remind me that his love is the essence of life, so I can choose to glorify him, no matter how I feel.

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. [Psalm 63:4]

When I thirst, praise is a choice reflecting a relationship that perseveres with God despite his apparent absence.

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. [Psalm 63:5]

So, I worship God even in the most barren times, confident that in time God will satisfy me with rich spiritual food. Barren times ask the question – How much do I value God?