True Repentant Prayer

 Photo by  Angello Lopez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Angello Lopez on Unsplash

What does true repentance look like?

As I've written before, the idea of repentance gets turned around from what God desires. Too often it's seen as a person's responsibility to change the direction of their life 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

Although there's truth to that, it puts the cart before the horse. It's backward to think a person needs to straighten out his or her life before they turn to God.

The first step of true repentance is turning towards God. This is the change of direction that's needed! When a person turns toward God they turn their back on what they need to repent of and turn to the one Person who can bring real change— God.

The first step of true repentance is turning towards God

This is the essence of the first three steps of the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA and similar 12-step programs are geared towards the restoration of a person's life through freedom from addiction.

The goal of biblical repentance is restoration. It should not be an attempt at restitution. It's not about doing good or making good karma. It's about a restored relationship between a person and God.

The goal of biblical repentance is restoration

A story of lust gone wrong

The pursuit of a restored relationship with God is seen in King David's prayer in Psalm 51—a true repentant prayer. The life context of this prayer is found in chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Samuel.

The story of David and Bathsheba is a classic story of lust gone wrong—very wrong. The gist of the story is King David taking advantage of his role as king of Israel, committing adultery, then trying to cover it up.

David and Bathsheba is a classic story of lust gone wrong—very wrong

But God doesn't let David get away with it all, at all. God sends a prophet to David who tells him a parable with a foil—a trap David sets for himself (2 Sam 12:1-7).

The story goes downhill from this point with a tragic turn and later consequences in David's life—but that's, as they say, another story for another time.

A man after God’s heart?

King David was a great leader as a warrior-king but the example of his personal life wasn’t so good. He was an adulterer and murderer. 

He lied and deceived others—even a priest of God. His actions at various points in life brought grave consequences upon the whole nation of Israel—the people who loved him.

And yet, God saw David as a man after His own heart (1 Sam 13:14). What is it about David that God saw as good?

David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51—after his grievous sin with Bathsheba and confrontation by Nathan the prophet—reveals David’s heart and gives insight into true repentance.

What is it about David that God saw as good?

A perfect prayer of repentance

A look at David's prayer of repentance in Psalm 51

  • David's plea for mercy—Psalm 51:1-2
    • see how David appeals to God’s merciful compassion, authority, and power in his life to forgive and “wash” him on the inside—his heart.
  • David's confession of sin—Psalm 51:3-6—
    • David expresses his guilt and acknowledges his sin is ultimately against God—even though it effects many other people.
    • He also acknowledges God’s righteous judgment of his own sinfulness and wrong—that it’s the opposite of what David knew to be right.
  • David begins to request restoration—Psalm 51:7-9—
    • David seeks what is necessary for restoration to take place and acknowledges that only God can forgive and restore him.
  • 6 elements of true repentance and restoration—Psalm 51:10-12—
    • David asks God for a pure heart—a heart free from sin
    • David asks God to renew his spirit—to move from brokenness to wholeness
    • David wants to maintain access into God’s presence
    • David also asks for God’s Spirit to remain with him
    • David asks for a restoration of God’s salvation—God’s assurance of His forgiveness and acceptance in David’s life because of God’s mercy and grace
    • David asks for a willing spirit—he knows God’s restoration requires a willingness on his part to submit his life to God first
  • A glimpse of the benefit of restoration—Psalm 51:13-15—
    • David understands that his own life needs to be in right order before he can tell others of God’s forgiveness and faithfulness.
  • What God doesn't and does desire from us—Psalm 51:16-17—
    • David knows God isn’t interested in what we have to offer Him (sacrifices or offerings) for God desires a brokenness and repentant spirit and heart in us.
  • The resulting benefit of things made right with God—Psalm 51:18-19—
    • David knows that when things are right with God—blessings will follow and a person’s devotion and service to God are acceptable.

Step by step

What true repentance looks like—

David's prayer in Psalm 51 is what true repentance looks like.

First—to turn to God for His forgiveness and restoration—always the first most important step. Then, accept His forgiveness by faith and allow God to work His restoration into your life.

Can you relate to David's struggle and need?

Are you willing to follow his example of repentance?

Got Integrity?

 Photo by  Chris Lawton  on  Unsplash

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

The news media feed off scandals and scares. So do we who watch it. Good news doesn't sell. It's nice to hear but gossip, rumor, and scandal win out over heart-warming stories.

Ever notice how the feel-good stories come at the end of a broadcast? It's not an afterthought, it's about priorities.

Virtues like honesty and integrity are nice but boring, at least our American pop culture values seem to declare this. It causes me to ask myself, "Got integrity?"

Scandals galore

I use to enjoy watching those year-in-review programs as one year ended and a new one began. But not anymore. I'm tired of hearing a review of the disasters, expose's, and alleged scandals, as viewed through the bias of whichever media presents it.

This past year alone (2017) we saw sex abuse scandals rock the entertainment industry, Olympic sports, political figures, and businesses. How about the Equifax data breach covered up for two months while affecting millions of people?

Our nation has become more and more polarized with hate and intolerance over the years and it doesn't seem it will subside anytime soon. And the world around us seems to get more corrupt and dangerous each day.

Last year I heard the sad story of the pastor of a large church who plagiarized another man's sermons and passed them off as his. It happens too often. Of course, there are also plenty of sex and money scandals involving pastors and church leaders.

I see it as a lack of integrity—a lack of character. It has a corruptive effect beyond the individual because of the influence and impact each of our lives has on others.

Lack of integrity and character corrupts us and others around us

A change is needed

Something needs to change but how can it happen? Who will take the lead? How do we mobilize change for good instead of the current mobilizing of one faction in opposition to another?

It's easy to generalize and demonize people we don't agree with but this accomplishes nothing, other than increase hate and polarization. At the center of it all is us—people.

Each one of us has our own will—a self-will that is fiercely protective of whatever we consider most important for our self-preservation.

You can appeal to the intrinsic goodness of man but this is a deception at best. In truth, it's hypocrisy. Humankind is not evolving into a better, nicer homogenous race. The evil and injustice in the world are human-caused. There's no self-less or external cause.

It's not the result of a few bad choices but the ongoing, cyclical effect of selfish human nature. If we want to escape hypocrisy and hyperbole, we need to pursue integrity. Integrity for ourselves and choose to be with others who seek and value integrity.

If you want to escape hypocrisy and hyperbole—pursue integrity

From the inside out

The change needed must begin on the inside and work its way outward. This doesn't happen through psychological reorientation, a new philosophical mindset, or increased religious zeal. It requires a genuine change of heart and a continued commitment to integrity.

We can settle for blaming others, even God, but that's a bitter way and a dead end. It doesn't resolve or change anything for the better. We are neither locked into some fatalistic destiny nor should we hope humanity will eventually evolve into a higher moral consciousness.

William Shakespeare is often credited for saying there's "nothing new under the sun," but this was written long ago by King Solomon of Israel in the book of Ecclesiastes (Eccl 1:9). This book appears to mirror the current cynical outlook of many but it has a deeper message and a better perspective (Eccl 3:11-14).

The change we need must begin on the inside and work its way outward


The expression—"garbage in, garbage out" or GIGO—was coined by computer programmers to explain why a computer would not process information correctly. If it wasn't programmed with good input, then it couldn't generate good output.

It's pretty much the same for the human mind and heart. If we take in faulty reasoning or untrue or inaccurate information, it directly impacts our life—our thoughts and actions, our attitude and behavior.

The book of Proverbs, also written by Solomon, is filled with sayings, metaphors, parables, and couplets of wisdom for daily life. The opportunity and choice to pursue foolishness and evil are always present but a wise person chooses differently and pursues a life that is right, just, and fair (Prov 2:9 GW).

Pursuing integrity

Back to the question—How can things change in our world? It begins with us. Each one of us.

Caught up in a student protest over the Vietnam war, I was stopped short by a simple statement from one of the school staff. She simply pointed out, "Until change comes in your heart, nothing will change in the world."

Looking back, I believe she was a humble, genuine Christian believer. At that time, I was wandering in the chaos of the culture around me. But what she said went straight to my heart and remained.

What does integrity look like? The dictionary gives us descriptions such as—soundness, completeness, incorruptibility, character, uprightness, decency, honesty—in other words, people of character who are considerate and respectful of others and are worthy of respect.

What does integrity look like?

Getting started

I'd like to share three things that can help with the pursuit of integrity—3 things to keep in mind. They're not the end-all-be-all but a start in the right direction.

  1. We are not in control of the world around us or others, nor should we be. But we can and do have influence in other people's lives. Remember the lives of Rosa Parks and MLK Jr in the US, and Mother Theresa in India and beyond. Consider people who have a good influence in your own life, they're probably people of character and integrity
  2. We are responsible for our own life choices, attitudes, and actions. Blaming others and holding on to unrealistic expectations is useless. We need to accept accountability for ourselves and realize the impact of our life example—for good or bad. As Jesus wisely said, "Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?" (Matthew 7:3 NLT)
  3. Our life on earth is not forever. It's short and valuable and will come to an end. Whether you think the end of life on earth is a "fade to black" end or you hope in life or something else beyond this life, accountability for our lives is a reality we all face sooner or later. Often times, we are and should be held accountable in life along the way.

Just start the pursuit

As said before, change needs to start on the inside and work its way out. Once we start pursuing integrity for our own life, we need to continue in a commitment towards integrity and a rejection of hypocrisy and hyperbole. This will likely include a change in other life pursuits.

Change takes time. Real change requires an investment—a continuing commitment on our part. Think of it as a seed that grows into a tree. It starts out with the seed dying, then sprouting and taking root. It grows into a tree over a period of time.

Real change requires an investment and a continuing commitment on our part

Got integrity? None of us have it all together or have a corner on it all but we can all start the pursuit. The words of an ancient prophet ring true in this regard—

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NIV)

Got integrity?

Faith—the Simplicity of Trust

 Photo by  Jon Flobrant  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

"In God we trust" is emblazoned in green ink on our American currency. This phrase became our national motto in 1956. After 9-11, it became popular to sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch at baseball games.

The idea of trusting in God is woven into the fabric of American history, despite the continuing efforts of atheists to remove all mention of God associated with anything government related. But is historical revision really necessary? I mean, does America really trust in God?

I'm not talking about atheists or agnostics or the more current category of the nones. I'm wondering about those who confess a belief in God and say they trust in God.

Belief isn't trust

Trust in God isn't a matter of belief—what a person believes about God. It's a confidence in God and His nature (Heb 11:6). Many people say they believe in God, in Jesus, in the Bible, have faith, and so on. But that belief doesn't always translate into trust.

In the book of James, we're told that demons believe in God. They know He exists but they don't trust in Him, they fear Him (James 2:19)!

Belief doesn't always translate into trust

The Bible is full of examples of people who have a belief in God but don't trust in Him. One book of the Bible illustrates this well—the book of Judges. Thankfully, many examples of people who believe and genuinely trust in God are found throughout the Bible.

The obvious examples

Noah built an ark—a huge ship—because he heeded God's warning and trusted His guidance (Gen 6:11-22). God warned Noah of a cataclysmic flood. He believed God even though Noah had never experienced either rain or flooding.

Noah's obedience to God demonstrated his trust in God—a personal and complete trust.

Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, became the father of many nations—people groups—because he trusted in God. His trust in God transcends mere belief as seen by his willingness to slay the son God promised to give him (Heb 11:8-12, 17-19).

God considered Abraham to be righteous and a friend, not because of a mere belief but his complete and personal trust in God (James 2:23).

Genuine faith is a simple, personal, confident trust in God

King David trusted God in a very personal way as expressed through the many Psalms he wrote (Psalm 23). He trusted God through many difficulties, betrayals, and even when he utterly failed God (2 Samuel 12:7-13; Psalm 51).

These three men led extraordinary lives and appear to have extraordinary faith. They did. They do. But this is the very type of faith—a simple, personal, confident trust in God—any person can have that exemplifies true faith in God.

Faith, trust, and risk

Faith, believe, and trust are common words in the Bible and may be used interchangeably. But their true biblical meanings are best understood and illustrated through the lives of people such as Noah, Abraham, and David.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews gives many examples of these people. The genuine faith of all of them is described in Hebrews 11:6—

No one can please God without faith. Whoever goes to God must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Genuine faith involves an element of trust and trust is always a risk. It requires a commitment to move beyond the fear of failure.

Genuine faith involves an element of trust and trust is always a risk

Faith in the face of failure

Real faith—a commitment of trust—is often clarified and confirmed by what appears as a failure at first. Consider Abraham who was known as a father of those who live by faith (Rom 4:10-12 GW).

Abraham was promised a son but he and his wife tried to make this happen through Sarah's servant Hagar and it was a colossal failure (Gen 16:1-6). Abraham waited 25 years for the son God promised to give him through his wife Sarah (Gen 12:1-4; 17:15-19).

Even after Isaac, the promised son was born, Abraham's faith was tested beyond belief. God told him to sacrifice him! As God saw Abraham's childlike trust in his willingness to slay his son, God honored Abraham and promised even greater blessing (Gen 22:1-18).

The story of Abraham, Isaac, and God's command to sacrifice this promised son is a story all its own—a story of redemption.

Genuine faith is often clarified and confirmed by what appears as a failure at first

Faith is impractical

For more than 45 years, my wife and I have lived by faith in a simple way. At times we've been questioned and even mocked for the simplicity of our faith. Yet, God has proved faithful and blessed us with many opportunities to serve Him and blessings beyond.

Our faith was tested in many ways over the years. It still is tested as we move into different phases of our life. This is to be expected.

Faith is not a practical pursuit, it's a matter of trust in God and His faithfulness to honor our trust in Him (Heb 11:6). Faith is more than what we believe about God.

True, genuine faith is a complete and personal trust in God—a childlike trust. What kind of faith is needed to please God? This is what Jesus instructed His first followers—

I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives it will never enter it. (Luke 18:17 GW—context– Luke 17:15-17)

True, genuine faith is a complete and personal trust in God—a childlike trust

What kind of faith do you have?

Is your faith more than beliefs about God?

A Mess or a Mosaic?

 Photo by  Alfred Leung  on  Unsplash

Photo by Alfred Leung on Unsplash

As I reflect on my faith journey, I see a beautiful mosaic. The beauty of the Artist's design is evident. Yet, if I zoom in and investigate piece by piece, I tend to notice my mess, my screwups, and my ugly failures.

"I never imagined my life would turn out like this." Depending on your perspective this could be a statement of excitement and joy or pain and loss. Life is unpredictable. Life is full of choices. Life is dynamic.

Life is a dance between two lovers. We don't live according to a static plan but an ever-evolving and creative partnership.

My faith journey is like a beautiful mosaic where the Artist's design is evident

Why life is scary

What guarantee do we actually have? Basically, none. We hope. We trust. We live in the tension of possiblities—the in-between. We face the present and glance at the future. We tend to freak out, stress out, and sometimes even give up.

Truth is, God is creating mosaics. We don't always see this big picture. We just need to trust the Artist. We relinquish control and simply BE His craftsmanship, His poiema.

For we are his workmanship [Grk– poiema], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10)
We hope. We trust. We live in the tension of possiblities—the in-between

The freedom of a mosaic

I'm encouraged when I study the apostle Paul's life. He didn't speak about freedom, he demonstrated it.

As Paul wraps up his first letter to the Corinthian church, he shares his plan to visit them during his travels through Macedonia (1 Cor 16:5-9). I love how the ESV translates Paul's words. He uses terms such as—I will... I intend... perhaps....

This is freedom. Paul follows the leadership of the Holy Spirit not by physical or logical sight but by faith with spiritual discernment. He feels no pressure to perform for God or for people.

Paul's life is a mosaic of personal freedom under the lordship of Christ!

Embracing the journey

Following God's Spirit is only possible when we embrace the journey of God's creative plan. The beginning of 2nd Corinthians reveals this (2 Cor 1:15-24). Paul's plan wasn't static but dynamic.

Sometimes the leading of the Holy Spirit changes direction—our direction. That is okay. It's normal when walking by faith.

Afraid of wandering

We are afraid of wandering. Why? Because it seems pointless. A sense of wandering makes us feel unsuccessful or not good enough. This kind of thinking stems from our lack of trust in Jesus.

His way isn't pointless even when it appears like we're walking in circles.

For those of us with a western worldview, we expect to see the Holy Spirit lead in a linear way. We desire an outline of our life as if it's all planned out.

If we aren't on the paved, tidy, no-mistake, straight and narrow, we tend to think we are wanderers with no destination.

God's way isn't pointless even when it appears like we're walking in circles

Seek life rather than direction

Many times we seek direction for our life when we should seek Life itself—Jesus (John 14:6). The Artist is busy crafting His mosaic—our life. He knows the final outcome. 

He takes our offering and arranges it. Even when we bring the ugly pieces of our fear, our brokenness, our disobedience. We can trust God to work all things according to our true good in every area of our life.

The Artist is busy crafting His mosaic—our life—He knows the final outcome

The divine dance

If the Spirit wants to pause and sit with us then so be it. Let's enjoy His presence over any destination.

If you can't imagine what your life will be next year that's okay. The present is where you are at and the future is what you get to create in relationship with God.

Life is a divine dance, so dance with the Lover of the universe. Let Him lead.

Step back and admire God's mosaic and submit to the Craftsman's creative work in your life. What is your role? Simply trust and submit to His leading.

Admire God's mosaic and submit to the Craftsman's creative work in your life

This is a guest post by my friend Sergei Kutrovski. You can find more about him here—My Trending Stories/Sergei Kutrovski

One Throne—One Gospel

 Christ before Pilate-Mihaly_Munkacsy-public domain

Christ before Pilate-Mihaly_Munkacsy-public domain

It's easy to oversimplify and generalize truth. Doing so can make it seem shallow or trivial. But my observation is that teachers who teach well take difficult to understand truth and make it simple. This enables people to gain a good understanding of what's taught and internalize it.

My basic philosophy of learning is that unless a person (myself included!) struggles to think something through, they won't fully understand it or internalize it. Simple questions and challenges to see truth from different perspectives are useful in stirring up productive thought.

I've been writing on a certain track of thought with previous posts (see links below) and want to bring it to a conclusion—there is only one throne and one King of Kings believers need to submit their life to and this is based on the simplicity and depth of the gospel of Jesus.

Believers need to submit their life to only one throne and one King of Kings

A short review

The presentation of gospel truth—the good news of God's redemption for all humanity—is most often given in bits and pieces within a western cultural context. I wrote about this earlier.

A cursory reading of the New Testament (NT) reveals the gospel is presented in five narratives—4 Gospels and a history of the early church (Acts).

The remainder of the NT books explain this gospel narrative and give an understanding of how the truth of the gospel and its theology impact daily life within the church and among people outside the church. 

The larger narrative of God's Story, as it unfolds throughout the Bible, is important for those unfamiliar with the theology of redemption. Even Revelation, the last book of the Bible, is a heavenly narrative of how God's Story will conclude at the end of the Age.

The larger narrative of God's Story is important for those unfamiliar with the theology of redemption

Worldviews and the gospel

Consider again how truth is processed by different people with different world-views. Generally speaking, western thought presents bits and pieces of information strung together until the whole picture is seen.

In MOTROW, information and truth are understood as a whole, while bits and pieces are only seen as part of the whole. When the truth is presented in bits and pieces a disconnect between what is believed and how one lives often happens.

The post-modern mindset is similar to MOTROW when it comes to understanding truth. This mindset may still approach things in a linear fashion, but there's a freedom to associate other truth or information to a belief. This leads to a belief system like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism mentioned in a previous post.

Are you performing well?

A common emphasis in American Christianity is on what is termed a performance-based Christian faith. This is the idea that I need to do something as proof of believing in God or being a Christian. I need to give something to show my commitment to God.

This is often spurred on by well-intentioned calls to the altar—to accept Christ, to recommit your life to Christ, to serve Christ, and so on.

As mentioned in an earlier post, altars are for offering sacrifices and gifts. I see this as an expression of self-focused performance, especially when repeated many times in different services.

Are these responses or calls to some altar of self-sacrifice genuine? Yes, often they are. But the question ought to be, are they necessary?

A common emphasis in American Christianity is termed performance-based Christian faith

Only 2 vows necessary

I realized long ago that there were only two vows a person ever needs to make—one to follow Jesus and the other being joined in marriage. Both are all-inclusive and exclusive. Neither requires any additional commitments because they are all-inclusive commitments.

The call to follow Jesus is simple and requires no further clarification—Matt 16:24; Luke 14:26-27, 33. God's view of marriage, repeated four separate times in the Bible, is just as simple—Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5; Mark 10:7, Eph 5:31.

Some may argue, "But there's more to it than that!" But I ask, does God see it that way?

Reading through the book of Hebrews, I'm reminded of the great access provided for believers in the New Covenant established by God's grace—direct access to God's presence.

This access requires nothing of ourselves as believers—no giving, no doing, just coming into His presence—

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16)

There are no minimum requirements for entering and remaining in the Kingdom of God. The only thing God asks is that we come to Him—Matt 11:28-30.

Access to God requires nothing of ourselves as believers—no giving, no doing, just coming into His presence—His throne of grace

What compels you to seek God?

So, back to the question—altar or throne? How are you compelled to come to God? Are you offering Him something rather than yourself? Or, are you coming to Him in all circumstances, good or bad?

When my children were young and I was a young pastor, I had an open door policy for my children and wife when I studied for messages. I can become so absorbed in studying that I block everything and everyone out.

My wife would remind me of my need to make myself accessible to my children and her., so I didn't elevate my work or my interests over them.

This is how I see a believer's access to God's presence. I can come at any time, in any condition, in any situation and His door is open. I don't need to offer anything or ask special permission.

The Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit are our promised intercessors (Rom 8:26-27, 34) ready at all times to hear us and be our advocates. Nothing and no one stands between believers and God.

How are you compelled to come to God? Are you offering Him something rather than yourself?

Guilt or grace?

Even as a young believer, I felt manipulated to respond to altar calls. I don't like being manipulated with emotion, nor do I want to just do something because it's expected or because I feel guilty about something. 

I'm not against altar calls per se, just the manipulative way they can be used and the assumptions made based on responses to these calls. I'm especially concerned about the self-effort I see people exerting to get into God's good graces. It's just not necessary.

God didn't ask Abraham to offer his son Isaac more than once. God accepted it and declared Abraham as righteous by faith (Gen 15:6; 22:1-18). Jesus only died once to justify those who trust in Him (Heb 9:12-14), this is made clear in several places in Hebrews.

Is there any need for doing something additional? If you think so, you don't understand God's grace. God doesn't manipulate us nor does He use guilt or shame to bring us to Him.

God doesn't manipulate us nor does He use guilt or shame to bring us to Him

Confidence in God and His grace

I laid my life at God's altar and I made a vow to my wife over 45 years ago. I don't need to make any more vows or make any sacrifices to gain the Lord's acceptance.

I approach God's throne with confidence when I am in need, though I still fall far short of perfection. My perfection—my sense of completeness—is only found in my Lord and Savior Jesus. I had nothing to offer long ago and still don't, but He has all I am.

What about you?

Are you going to God's altar and waiting for Him to accept you? Or, are you going boldly before His throne of grace at any time whatever your need? (Heb 4:14-16)

Jesus calls each of us to deny our self and take up the Cross, and then follow Him in faith. He doesn't ask us to make more vows at an altar of self-sacrifice. He invites us to come to Him because of His grace, and as the traditional hymn declares—Just as I am.

God doesn't ask us to come to an altar of self-sacrifice but invites us to come to Him because of His grace

Links of previous related posts—

Many Altars but One Gospel

Altar or Throne?