Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Reformation: Tearing to Heal

Of greatest importance is what God desires to do in our hearts today and how we respond to His urgings and convictions by the Spirit and through the Word. Eugene Peterson said, “the Bible is interested not so much in whether we believe in God (it is assumed most people do) but in our response to Him.”

I’ve been urged by God through a series of events going back several months now, to look more closely at the concept of repentance. The Bible’s story is of a God so passionate about creating that He made the heavens and the earth. He is so passionate about community, having experienced its perfection in the Fellowship of Three from the unbeginning-forever-eternity-past, that He created people in His image. And He is so passionate about holiness that He sent Jesus Christ to bring to Himself a people of faith that have been made holy in order to be included in that eternal fellowship.

To begin and finalize this relationship, God spoke in the language of Jesus (Heb 1:2a) and initiated the supreme sacrifice. Therefore, every story, sign, wonder, miracle, battle, sacrifice, symbol and prophecy in the Scripture culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our Savior, who is the exact representation of God Himself – God in the Flesh, come to rescue sinners by providing forgiveness of sin.

To receive this gift of salvation and enter that eternal fellowship, we must repent: change our mind about God – go from unbelief to belief about His Son and receive Him as Savior and Lord. That initial repentance is of supreme importance and gains the repentant entrance into God’s Forever-Family.

As Peter preached to the crowds at Pentecost, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before,...” (Acts 3:19-21)

And it doesn’t stop there. We are urged to a life of repentance throughout Scripture. As the red arrow of redemption runs through every book of the Bible, so the concept of repentance is sewn into all of God’s urgings to His people in both covenants. In fact, putting the biblical material together we find that a life of repentance and confession defines authentic faith in God through Jesus Christ His Son.

Before I go any further, as one of our pastors said recently, “The atonement of Christ and the forgiveness that act provided gave entrance into the Kingdom of God for all who believe and take Jesus as Master and Savior. If you never confessed one more sin as long as you lived, you’d still go to heaven.” That’s really how complete the work of Christ is for His followers! BUT . . . (there are some really big but’s in the Bible and this is one of the biggies!) the issue at risk without a life of repentance and confession is the awesome fellowship with Jesus that results in maturity, service, obedience, and reward making our lives purposeful, and our eventual and literal wedding in heaven so exciting to anticipate!

Repentance is a change of mind towards God and a turning away from disobedience.

Repentance is not a popular term, and has been subtly morphed, as one author put it, to penance. However, the Bible presents Jesus as Propitiator of sin (the turning away of God’s wrath by a perfect offering; Romans 3:24-25; I John 4:10) and the once-for-all sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12:10:10) needed to provide once-for-all access to God the Father. No amount of human sacrifice could ever make up for one drop of the Savior’s blood shed to procure this final necessity.

Instead, we shy away from this concept of true repentance relegating it to the category of past irrelevant rituals that have no bearing on us in the 21st century. We include it in the same grouping as “turn or burn sermons” and “Hell-fire-and-brimstone” preachers whom we’re supposed to believe were intending to literally scare the Hell out of sinners. (Have you ever really had the Hell scared out of you?)

So why, the hell, is repentance so hard? Exactly! The world, the flesh, and the Devil (Hell) make it hard to repent – but also prove the necessity of living a life of repentance. Repentance is serious and important business to God. We’ll talk it through the next few blog entries. I’ll discuss what I’m learning about the incredible act of mercy along my journey, demonstrated again and again as God urges his people towards repentance.

Soundness of Heart

As I wrote to my oldest son this week, on training assignment with the U.S. Air Force, I began thinking about the importance of the heart and encouraging him to guard that important "organ." Of course, I was not referring to the blood-pumping organ that feeds the body with blood so necessary, but the center of the person – the core of being for the human-being. I’ve already confessed to being a certified, though imperfect, Jesus freak, so though you may disagree with my Source for this discussion, at least I want to remain consistent with the Authority I attempt to follow. 


My son is facing some adversity, which one might imagine is easily found in an organization like any branch of the military. Not that it’s a bad organization, but because of its purpose and its complexity – and because it includes other human beings who are familiar with neither the dangers of an untamed heart, nor the power of a sound one. It takes wisdom to navigate life even when you do have a few right answers! And wisdom works in the human heart. So, I encouraged my son to "do your work heartily as to the Lord." (Col. 3:17) I explained that outwardly he must demonstrate respect to his superiors and obey them. But in doing so, it is really God to whom he defers and whom he obeys. This is a matter of the heart, not luck, nor mere self-discipline. The Bible teaches that life is lived for good or for ill, from the condition of the heart. So, I said, "This is my encouragement for you in this season Son, 'Guard your heart . . .'"


I have nothing to say about this on my own, but the Bible speaks of the heart literally hundreds of times. So I’m just going to skip a stone over the vastness of its instruction in order to true my own compass again and invite you to eavesdrop. Though we live in the body, we live from the heart. For example, Proverbs 3:5 says not to trust our own heart, but to trust the Lord with all our heart: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding." That's a fine bucket of fish now that I've been raised in an age where I'm deluged with tripe like "follow your heart" which has the sound of spirituality but has no power to make me avoid foolishness. Instead, the Bible teaches that my heart by itself, leads me to selfishness and self-centeredness. No, it's not because I'm a necessarily bad person (though left to my own desires I am) but because I'm spiritually dead without Jesus! By the way, Jesus didn't come to make us good! He came to give us life by believing on His Name! 


The Bible teaches that the heart is the source of the things that come out of us. This is why the wiseman of Proverbs tells us to store up wisdom in the heart: "Let your heart retain my words; Keep my commands, and live . . ." (Prov. 4:4). This is also why we're exhorted to soundness of heart, because the heart is the source of all that flows from my motives, lips and actions. "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." (Prov 4:23). So it really isn't what we drink, eat or wear; where we go, where we've been, or where we're going, that makes us good or bad. What matters is the condition of our heart. What comes out of us is the overflow of the heart. To test this theory, just measure what comes into your mind or out of your mouth the next time someone runs a red light and crosses your right-of way! If only my windshield could talk . . .


In light of the human condition, God's word exhorts us to soundness of heart. "A sound heart is life to the body . . ." says Proverbs14:30. Men and women grow in wisdom and understanding by cultivating a sound heart before the Lord. "Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, but what is in the heart of fools is made known." (Prov 14:33)


Jesus condenses the Old Testament wisdom when He says, "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man." (Matt 15:18-20) Later, Paul the Apostle taught that a heart restored to God by Christ Jesus would begin to live from sincerity of heart in submission to God, even in the face of harsh treatment (Ephesians 6:6-8).


Here's how I finished my letter:


So, my loving encouragement to you is to guard your heart these days my son. There are many enemies arrayed against a young man with your potential. And thank God that though we sin, we walk in the grace that is in Christ Jesus and He is our Advocate: "...if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins..." (1 John 2:1-2). (To propitiate means to make right with by payment, to appease and conciliate by payment of a debt.) Remember: Jesus became our sacrifice, and He IS our righteousness. If this were not the case I'd have given up long ago. And the way to soundness of heart is to spend loads of time with Jesus:  


"If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (John 7:37-39)


Stay the course. Work hard. Live one day at a time. And enjoy the rewards of integrity, the satisfaction of the adventure, and the blessing of being in the center of God's will.