personal relationship

Did God Really Say That?

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Opinions abound... everyone has one! Here's one I liked by a former American president, "I have opinions of my own—strong opinions—but I don't always agree with them."

This brings up a couple good questions. Can all opinions be right? Can any of them be right?

"If you convinced me—And I convinced you, Would there not still be—Two points of view?" [Richard Amour]

Many people claim God told them certain things. But is this their opinion, or was it really God? How can we know one way or the other?

Figure it out

A multitude of authors and speakers claim they can teach people to know the will of God. But I wonder, is it really that hard to know?

Preschool-age children already know how to figure out their parents. As they get older, they know who to go to for a favorable response to what they want.

We learn how to discern this at an early age, and likewise, learn how to use this discernment to manipulate others.

Is it really that hard to know the will of God?

You can't manipulate God, but you can know His will. It's really not that difficult. The hard part is giving up on trying to manipulate Him to agree with what we want (our self-will).

A tell-tale sign of not hearing God's voice is when we think we have it all figured out. Then we attempt to coerce others to believe it.

When we deceive ourselves that something is true because we are banking on it, we then work on others so they will accept it. This is either an effort to deceive or leads to deception.

You can't manipulate God, but you can know His will

The value of listening

Don't get me wrong. I'm as opinionated as the next person. Sometimes, more than most. When I begin to hear my own voice sound shrill and uncompromising, I know it's time to listen, not talk.

You've heard the old expression, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." [Epictetus]

When my voice sounds shrill and uncompromising—I need to listen not talk

Over the centuries, or should I say, millennia, people have taken the truth, twisted it to their own design, and presented it as God's truth. This happens in all areas of philosophy and religion, among individuals and within churches.

Cultural swings can influence this. It could be the current flow of a culture or opposition to it. Think hundreds of years, not decades for perspective.

The earliest example of misrepresenting what God says is found in the encounter of the crafty serpent with the first woman and man (Gen 3:1-5)

People have long taken the truth, twisted it, and presented it as God's truth

Unadulterated truth

Jesus dealt with this in His time. Experts in the Law had tweaked and twisted God's truth into their own version of it. The foremost ones were called Pharisees.

It's no different today. We have our own Pharisees. Of course, we think it's the other guys, not ourselves. We brand them with libelous labels and separate ourselves as more righteous.

But when we do this, we hide behind the shadow of Jesus—our version of Him—as if He's on our side. When we do this are we any different than the Pharisees of the Lord's time?

Pharisees exist today but we think it's the other guys, not us

How Jesus made the truth clear

How did Jesus deal with this twisting and tweaking of truth? He often restated truth in its original form, its intended meaning.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Never break your oath, but give to the Lord what you swore in an oath to give him.’

But I tell you don’t swear an oath at all. Don’t swear an oath by heaven, which is God’s throne, or by the earth, which is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, which is the city of the great King. And don’t swear an oath by your head. After all, you cannot make one hair black or white.

Simply say yes or no. Anything more than that comes from the evil one." (Matt 5:33-37 GW)

So, it's imperative that we know and understand the truth of God well. Not our view of the truth or the dogmatic views of spiritual leaders.

It's imperative that we know and understand the truth of God well

How to know the truth yourself?

Last week, I shared of the value and importance of reading and listening to God's Word. But the first priority is knowing God. Knowing Him, in a personal way.

The first priority is knowing God—knowing Him in a personal way

Reflecting Jesus

How? A simple path is looking at all the invitations Jesus gives in the gospels. Hear them. Take them to heart. Let them become life in you. 

Here are two important invitiations—

“Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest... learn from me, because I am gentle and humble." (Matt 11:28-29 GW)

“Those who want to come with me must say no to the things they want, pick up their crosses every day, and follow me." (Luke 9:23 GW)

But how will you know His will? How will you know if you're following Him in the right way?

Simple. When your life reflects the nature of Jesus, you're on the right path.

When your life reflects the nature of Jesus, you're on the right path

Repentance—Not Just for Unconverted Sinners

The word repent and the idea of repentance conjures stereotypical images. Perhaps you imagine someone with a half-crazed look wearing a signboard with the word emblazoned on it— REPENT!

People familiar with the Bible might imagine one of the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah or John the Baptizer, whose ministry directly preceded and announced the public ministry of Jesus.

John was not a mainstream kind of person. He wore rough clothing, ate locusts and honey, and lived outside the city limits. If you wanted to hear him, you went to him. He didn't do house calls, and his message was direct and impartial (Matt 3:1-12).

It's time to ditch the stereotypes and misconceptions about repentance.

Strong reactions

Last week I posted Repentance—the Heart of the Matter. I wanted to reframe the concept of repentance in a more biblical sense than what is typically thought or expressed by others.

The word repent stirs all sorts of responses. Not all are helpful. Why do the words repent and repentance stir strong reactions? Perhaps the word itself is misunderstood.

This is a follow-up to my previous post but more directed at the value of repentance for Christian believers. The topic of repentance is more typically considered in light of those who are nonbelievers or unconverted—those who are not Christians.

And yet, much of the biblical focus on repentance is directed towards those who believe in God and claim to be His people. The Old Testament is full of examples.

The word repent stirs all sorts of responses—not all are helpful

The meaning of words

Most of the time, we get our understanding of words by how they're used. The words, "Oh, I love you," are understood based on how they're said. It depends on the intent of the speaker—is it spoken with romantic passion or sarcasm? Different intent and tone result in different reactions.

So, it's good to find the original meaning of a word, then understand it within its context. I'll give some biblical examples of this later. But first, some definitions from their Greek origins.

  • Vines Expository Dictionary defines repent (the verb)—to perceive afterwords, and repentance (the noun)—afterthought or change of mind.
  • MR Vincent sheds more light on the subject saying, repentance is the "result of perceiving or observing," or "to think differently after." After what? He points us to what the apostle Paul says in 2 Cor 7:10—Godly sorrow brings repentance....

Repentance is the outcome and action of godly sorrow.

Another perspective

Most often, the idea of repentance is understood as turning away from sin. Yes, but why? If repentance is to "think differently after" as MR Vincent puts it, then we ought to consider what precedes this change in thought and behavior.

This understanding, coupled with biblical examples, helps me see repentance as turning to God, which causes us to turn away from sin and our former way of life. I pointed this out last week.

Most often, the idea of repentance is understood as turning away from sin

If you look at the three parables in Luke 15, each focuses on what was lost and found—a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son (Luke 15:7, 10, 24, 33). The simple truth of each parable reminds us of the rejoicing in heaven "over one sinner who repents."

In the longer (third) parable, the lost son realizes his situation would be better if he were accepted as a mere servant in his father's household (Luke 15:17-24). The father gives him a very different reception than expected or warranted (see Luke 15:28-32).

God's perspective or our own?

Someone might ask, "Does it really matter? Isn't the idea to change your ways?" This is where our problem lies. We often see repentance as something we need to do.

I've heard many preach and teach this perspective, but is this what we read in the Scriptures? Again, I addressed this in my previous post.

Is repentance based on our own effort to change or a response to God's mercy and grace after experiencing God's kindness?

Is repentance our effort to change or a response to God's mercy and grace?

The message of Jesus—Repent!

When Jesus began His public ministry, His message was one of repentance (Matt 4:17). This also was the message John the Baptizer (Matt 3:2, 8). John spoke to the religious and non-religious in a tone that carried a sense of judgment.

Repentance takes place when our mind and actions change after an initial hardness of heart

But when Jesus was confronted with a situation that demanded justice, He showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11). The woman's accusers wanted Jesus to condemn her.

But after Jesus wrote on the ground in front of the men accusing her, they quietly left one by one. Then Jesus said to her— 

“Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 NKJV)

More examples

Another example of this change of mind after is seen in the parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-32). This parable illustrates the same mindset of changing the mind and action after the initial response of these two sons to their father.

It also gives insight into how the message of repentance Jesus declared was received by various people—tax collectors, prostitutes, and the Jewish leaders. Those who knew their life was not right with God received it well but the religious leaders rejected His message.

Again, in one of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus tells the church at Ephesus they had abandoned their first love and needed to repent.

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-5 ESV)
The idea of repentance is a turning back to God as our first love.

A final thought

Repentance is something we all need to practice. It's not just the act of turning away from sin, but turning to God so we may turn from sin. None of us are without sin, no matter how long we've had a personal relationship with God through His grace.

Repentance is something we all need to practice—believers and nonbelievers

In fact, once we have a relationship with Jesus because we experience His forgiveness and the renewal of His Spirit in us (Titus 3:4-7) as we turn to Him in repentance. But believers are to put sin to death, not just turn away from it (Col 3:5). But that's another topic for another time.

Repentance is our response to God's kindness and goodness, not our own effort at goodness. Our own efforts at producing righteousness will meet with repeated failure (Rom 7:15-25). 

But when we turn to God first, He will guide us out of our battle with sin—our selfish nature—(Gal 5:16) and bring transformation from the inside out (2 Cor 3:18).

Repentance is our response to God's kindness and goodness not our effort to be good

I find the need to practice repentance on a daily basis—how about you?

Repentance—the Heart of the Matter

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"You've turned your backs, not your faces, to me" (Jeremiah 2:27 GW). This is what God says to His people through Jeremiah. It's a recurring theme in God's messages through Jeremiah to Judah—the southern kingdom of Israel.

Judah had abandoned the living God for lifeless idols. It wasn't just misplaced worship or foolish religion, it was accompanied with gross immorality and perversion of justice. The behavior of the leaders and people was atrocious. But this wasn't God's main issue.

Although God held His people responsible for their bad behavior, His great lament was how they shunned Him. God spoke through Jeremiah to tell the people they committed two evils. Number one was that they forsook God—the fountain of life-giving water.

My people have done two things wrong. They have abandoned me, the fountain of life-giving water. They have also dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that can’t hold water. (Jer 2:123 GW)

Repentance isn't about behavior

Repentance is not about behavior, but a renewed relationship. It's a matter of reconciliation. It's a matter of the heart.

It's not that bad behavior should be ignored or overlooked, but it is secondary. It should change as a result of a changed relationship, not the other way around. When changed behavior is the focus of repentance, God's intent for it is misplaced.

Relationship has always been primary to God. When Adam and Eve gave in to the serpent's temptation, God looked for them because He knew something was wrong. The entire story of redemption began there.

Repentance is a matter of reconciliation. It's a matter of the heart.

A classic picture of repentance is given in the third of three parables in Luke 15—the Lost Son. The climax is when the lost son returns to his father.

The son's focus is on his own sin, the father looks past the son's sin and filthiness to embrace him and celebrate (Luke 15:11-32).

Forgiveness and restoration

However, we still tend to focus on sin—our own or that of others, and it's lingering effect. That's the picture of the brooding elder son in the parable of Luke 15. We want forgiveness and justice, but often have difficulty accepting forgiveness, or as it's often put, forgiving ourselves

Sadly, when we focus on our own sin or how others have sinned, and the ripple effect of sin—we lose sight of the purpose of forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is granted by God to restore our relationship. It's not a means of satisfying His divine justice or wrath against us. Jesus absorbed the penalty of sin upon Himself.

Forgiveness is granted by God to restore relationship not to satisfy divine justice

Righteousness is relational

Of course, things must be made right, but righteousness itself is relational. It's not a theological concept to be understood. Why did the father celebrate the return of his son? Because— 

"My son was dead and has come back to life. He was lost but has been found" (Luke 15:24 GW).

Repentance isn't our effort to be good but the restoration of our relationship with God. As King David requested in his own prayer of repentance, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation" (Psalm 51:12).

Repentance is not about "turning over a new leaf," as if making a New Year's resolution. It's about returning to God. There are countless examples of this throughout the Bible.

Repentance isn't our effort to be good but the restoration of our relationship with God.

Unfortunately, much well-intentioned teaching and preaching focus on changed behavior as the mark of true repentance.

How about John the Baptist's rebuke at the Jordan River (Matt 3:1-12 GW), you might ask? John spoke of true repentance, not a religious or emotional expression.

Changed behavior is the fruit of genuine repentance, not its essence.

Reconciliation

Redemption is not just forgiveness, it is about reconciliation between God and people. Repentance is returning to God. As God said, "you've turned your backs, not your faces, to me" (Jer 2:27 GW)

God wants people to turn their faces to Him, not their backs. He's not interested in what we can do to make things right because He knows it will fall short and be short-lived.

What repentance is not

Repentance is not remorse, nor emotion, or promises of better behavior. It's a change of heart. A changed heart that leads us back to God, as shown by the lost son in the parable.

Repentance is not behavior modification—"changing our ways" or "making a 180º turn"—on our own, but returning to God—the Father—and receiving His mercy and grace.

Once our relationship is restored—yes, through forgiveness on God's behalf—then true repentance results in a changed life.

Repentance needs to start from the inside—our heart—first. External change—changed behavior—follows our heart change.

When our face is turned to God, our back is turned on sin.

Repentance and redemption

There is no true redemption without genuine repentance. But the essence of repentance is returning to God regardless of any personal cost.

The good news is this—God has covered the cost of failure and sin on the Cross. Our work is to turn our face and trust back to God. Trying to change your behavior on your own is a futile effort and doomed for failure.

There is no true redemption without genuine repentance.

True repentance brings freedom

If you're trying to be a good Christian—stop it! But if you want to turn towards God—go for it!

My wife and I saw the power of repentance and reconciliation in the process of disciplining our young children. First, they needed to realize they did something wrong.

Once it was made clear what they did was wrong, our children's heads dropped and their faces turned sad. They were at a point of repentance.

When a form of correction was applied and a new path of behavior and change of heart was discussed, things were settled and the result was freedom. They were reconciled.

True repentance ought to bring freedom, not brooding or depression.

Going back to the parable in Luke, the father celebrated with the restored son, while the elder son brooded. The elder brother couldn't look past his own expectation of justice and his self-righteousness (Luke 15:28-30).

It's your choice to brood or to rejoice. I prefer joy over whining any day of the week and so does God. How about you?

Need Help on How to Share Your Faith?

Evangelism. What does this word bring to mind? Typically, most people think of street preachers, revival tents or mass crusades, and handing out gospel tracts.

But the most effective means of evangelism, since the time of Jesus till now, is personal evangelism. Person to person, relational, intentional sharing of God’s Story—the gospel—in a personal way.

Some people are called to be preachers, whether on a street corner or in an auditorium. Others are quite bold and confident in approaching people in any circumstance for the sole purpose of sharing their faith.

But not everyone is like this. I’m not.

My personal experience

Even though I’ve preached in church pulpits, public outreaches, on the radio, and handed out tracts on the street, evangelism is not what I'm inclined to do. I'm not an evangelist.

Many people are not equipped, nor called to traditional public evangelism, but we are all called to be ready to share the hope we have within us—Jesus—and our relationship with Him (1 Peter 3:15).

The hindrance for many of us sharing our faith is timidity and lack of confidence, but the key is focusing on building a relationship.

A more typical focus is on the mechanics of how it should be done or the content of what needs to be said. But when we look at the example of Jesus in the Gospels, we see a very tailored, personal approach. 

Jesus showed more interest in the person than a methodology in reaching people with the gospel

When I share on evangelism, I encourage people to consider how each of their life stories connects with God's Story. I also encourage people to use biblical storying to share their faith with others.

Our prime example—Jesus

Compare Jesus' example to the more common approach of monopolizing a conversation with a prepared spiel, in an attempt to convince people they are sinners.

We see Jesus' example early on when He was in the temple among the Jewish leaders and rabbis (Luke 2:41-50). Jesus is found “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” He isn’t preaching to them, but listening and asking questions.

Further along in the gospel narrative, we find Jesus engaging people with stories and wise sayings called parables.

Jesus engaged people with stories and wise sayings called parables

He often used questions when challenged by the Jewish leaders, asked questions of the crowds of people when He taught them and used questions when He explained things and to exhort His disciples in private.

The Jesus-way of evangelism

Jesus engaged people from all backgrounds and stations of life. He seemed to tailor His interaction with people to their level and state in life.

He treated those with questionable backgrounds and character with unexpected dignity. He rubbed shoulders and ate with prostitutes, drunks, unethical business people, political agitators, and the like.

And His band of followers included uneducated fisherman and tax collectors (renegade IRS-agent types) to mention a few.

His tactics were different than anyone expected, which included His followers and the Jewish spiritual leaders.

Jesus' tactics were different than anyone expected

His tactics were different from what is customarily seen today. Jesus' way is different than what is found in most evangelism training programs and books on evangelism, let alone stereotypical evangelists, whether well-known or not.

Learning from Jesus' example

How can we learn from Jesus' example? It just might make sharing our faith with others easier, and more fruitful.

People, worldwide, know they are sinners in some way or another, or at least that they are less than perfect. Most people, throughout the world, are lonely and often feel less than important.

When someone shows interest in them and is willing to listen to their story, they take notice. I have found this true traveling nationally and internationally on planes, and in airports, and other situations.

People want to tell their story to someone

One reason people seek out a counselor or therapist, even in social networking, is to find someone who will listen to their story.

A simple starting point

Here's a simple starting point for personal evangelism. Simply ask a person about himself or herself. Who are they? What do they do in life? Just show interest in them. Genuine interest.

This builds rapport, the beginning of a relationship. It establishes interest and even a sense of trust. It builds a bridge that makes it possible to share your own story and the greatest story—God’s story.

This requires genuineness above all. Most people are perceptive enough to know when you are listening to them, or just listening for an opportunity to break in and say something.

Once you hear a person’s story, you've built a bridge of respect and trust. This will often give you an opportunity to share your own story, your life story of faith.

Once you hear a person’s story, you've built a bridge of respect and trust

This isn’t a complicated or new approach. In fact, it takes place many times a day, often without any intention. It just happens.

Wouldn't it be nice if sharing your faith just happened in a natural way?

It can. I'll post a follow-up to this next week... so stay tuned!

Think about what I've shared so far.

Take some time to look at how Jesus engaged people with the truth of His story—God's story.

Are You Ready?

Photo credit: youinsport.com

Photo credit: youinsport.com

Readiness is important when an important task is at hand. In the book of Second Samuel, a messenger named Ahimaaz (A-hee-ma-oz) wanted to bring a message to King David. His father was an important priest named Zadok whom the King trusted.

However, the news to be sent was not good, so King David’s general, Joab, chose to send a different messenger.

In those days, certain messengers were sent based on the content of the message; one was sent when it was good news, another with bad news, and another who could bring either good or bad news. Ahimaaz was a messenger for good news.

An incomplete message

The story unfolds in the eighteenth chapter of 2nd Samuel after King Absalom died in battle. He was David’s rebellious son who stole the hearts of Israel and staged a coup that sent King David running for his life.

Though Absalom had become his enemy, he was King David’s favored son. Joab knew the news of his son’s death would devastate David, so he wanted to send a more neutral messenger, a Cushite. (1)

However, Ahimaaz, because of his devotion to King David, wanted to bring the message. Joab’s response was, ”Why will you run, my son, since you have no news ready?" (2 Sam 18:22 NKJV) Since Ahimaaz insisted on running, Joab gave him permission.

Ahimaaz out runs the Cushite and arrives first, but is told to stand aside because his message is incomplete—it lacked the news most important to David—news about the life of his son, Absalom.

In many ways, Christian believers are more like Ahimaaz than the Cushite. When delivering the message of God’s story of reconciliation (the gospel), it is often incomplete. The part left out of the gospel is the Lord Jesus’ resurrection.

The resurrection

The resurrection is what guarantees forgiveness from sin, and the believer’s hope in eternal life. It also gives insight into the mystery of this earthly, physical body being changed into a new, indestructible body, which enables a person to enter and live in the presence of God.

Paul reminded the believers in Corinth about the foundation of all he taught them. He exhorted them to continue to believe in the full truth of this gospel and not listen to teaching contrary to it. If they allowed false teaching to influence them, it would jeopardize the work of God’s grace in their lives.

God's story

Additionally, Paul delivered the gospel they heard and received in person. This may seem incidental but is very relevant. The gospel is not just truth about God passed on by any means available, it is God’s story—the personal testimony of God. It relates how God rescued humanity through His Son, Jesus. God's story is most effective when it’s told person to person.

The believers in Corinth heard the gospel preached to them with apostolic authority. God gave this authority to Paul, His apostle, and messenger, to preach the gospel to the Corinthians. It was God’s story relayed by God’s messenger.

Once they received the gospel as true, they began to live their lives in a different way. The foundation of their lives was a new destiny, one of eternal life in the presence of God. Paul exhorted them to continue, not only to believe but to live according to what they believe, “unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1, 2).

3 Important truths

Paul reminded them of three things about the resurrection and the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-3)—

  1. It is the most important truth
  2. He personally received the gospel from God
  3. It agreed with the OT Scriptures

First of all, the gospel is the essential foundation for all Christian believers. All other teachings must be considered in light of the gospel. Secondly, Paul passed on what was revealed to him by God. This is what all believers are to do—share with others what God reveals to them.

Lastly, the truth of the gospel is found in the Scriptures given to the chosen people of God, the Jews. The history of God’s first relationships with people is linked with the gospel.

Adam, the first man, had a face-to-face relationship with God prior to sin’s interference. God’s relationship with Abraham was significant because Abraham was considered righteous on the basis of his personal trust in God. Both men and their relationships with God are found in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Experiencing God's grace

Many of our national staff at Rainbow Village Ministries were staunch Roman Catholic, but they lacked the assurance of eternal life. Entrenched in their religious beliefs and traditions, they refused to consider a personal relationship with God by grace.

Anya (her nickname) was a faithful Roman Catholic who would argue dogmatically against the “Born Again” gospel of grace. (2) But during a women’s retreat hosted by another ministry, Anya came to believe in Jesus in a more personal way—based not on religious conviction, but on God’s grace—His unearned favor. Her testimony for days and weeks later was, “I feel so different inside.”

She experienced a spiritual transformation in her heart that changed her entire life. She continues to live as a born again believer because she experienced God’s favor, acceptance, and resurrection power in her life.

Are you ready?

There are various versions of an urban legend about the vanishing hitchhiker. One of those stories tells of a hitchhiker who announces "the Lord is coming soon!" Then asks, "Are you ready?" When the driver looks to answer him, he's disappeared!

Indeed, we do need to be ready for the Lord's return, whether you're a believer or not.  But there's another readiness all believers need—a readiness to share God's story with others.

This is a major point in my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling God's Story. Sadly, many believers are like Ahimaaz, their version of the gospel story is incomplete and they're not ready to share God's story of redemption with others.

The resurrection of Christ is essential to understand and include when sharing God's redemptive story with others. But first, you need to be familiar with it yourself so you can communicate it to others in a simple, clear way.

How about you? Are you ready?

Are you ready to share God's Story with others?

Here are some Bible references to help you—

  • The resurrection story— Luke 24:1-12
  • Why the resurrection is important— 1 Corinthians 15:1-24

(1) Reference— 2 Sam 18:19-33– The context of this story makes this distinction more clear. The Cushite (a foreigner) could bring either good or bad news, whereas Ahimaaz was more known for good news (note verse 27).

(2) “Born again” is the common tag for evangelical believers or those of the Protestant faith within the Philippines, as a distinction from Roman Catholicism. This is a reference to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3 and what many evangelicals tell Catholics they need.