Rethinking Advent – Joy

This week marks the lighting of the joy (pink) candle. This is the third candle lit, going from expectation of the coming Messiah to longing for His presence now to joy at His appearing. In this world, marked by conflict and division, anger and turmoil, disappointment and despair, we light this candle to proclaim “Jesus came to give us joy unspeakable and full of glory!” Like Mary, we can sing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Each day this week we need to contemplate on what a great gift of grace has been given to us. The Holy Son of God came to take our sin guilt, came to pay the penalty we owed to the Heavenly Father, came to give us a new birth, a new life, a life to be lived in Him. It is for that reason we rejoice. Our salvation has come. We who believe have been given a new spirit and are being fitted for our new home with Christ.

Yes, life remains difficult. Yes, we mess up day by day. We are still on our journey after all; we haven’t arrived yet. But, we are confident that as we confess our sins and repent of them that we will be forgiven and the grace we ask for will be given to us. We will still encounter sin. We will encounter it in this evil ,fallen world and we will encounter it hiding in our own lives. When we encounter it we can bring back to mind the words of the angel, “You are to name him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21”

If you can’t rejoice over that thought this week, then you have nothing to be joyous about. He came to seek and to save those who were lost. He found me. Has He found you?

Excerpt from The 180 Project

The following is an excerpt (unedited) from the second chapter of our work in progress, The 180° Project. Please be in prayer as work continues and the final chapters are being written: 

Riding on a carousel is great fun for thousands of children. Brightly painted horses, enchanting music and shining lights all add to the experience. One can climb on a gaily decorated pony and go up and down while revolving around and around or sit upon a horse transfixed on a pole, forgoing the vertical movement. No matter which one you ride upon, when the carousel stops its spinning you are back where you started. It is a pleasant ride, but one that takes you nowhere.

For many people, a carousel ride is an apt description of their spiritual life. If you have attended the same church regularly for a long time, you have probably observed such people. As a pastor, I have lost track of the number of people caught up on a spiritual carousel, a merry-go-round of misery that they cannot stop.

Week after week, the same individuals are at the altar pouring out the same confessions. “God, I’m sorry I got drunk again Friday night. I won’t do it anymore.” “Lord, I am ashamed of looking at pornography. I promise to never watch it again.” “God, I’m going to clean up my language this week.” “Lord, I’m sorry for…”

There they kneel, pouring out tears Sunday after Sunday, and yet their lifestyle never changes. At the altar they seem so sincere, so broken-hearted but there is no different in their life after they walk out the doors of the church. For many people, coming to the altar only has a placebo effect, the spiritual equivalent to a sugar pill. Their sincerity is short lived because it is emotion based and emotions change mercurially.

They have confessed, but not repented. The difference between the two is enormous, as we shall see in more detail in chapter three, when we break down the elements of biblical repentance. Confession is the first step; it is necessary but it is not biblical repentance.

They are sorry, to an extent. They are sorry that their sin has been exposed, sorry for the repercussions that are following them, the consequences they must now face. They may even want to reform, to stop their destructive habits, but not so much that any real effort is expended. Should God take away their desires for their sinful habits they would be well pleased. For them to exercise self discipline and take responsibility for their actions – well, why should they do that?

If God really cared, they reason, He could heal them, cleanse them, make them strong enough to conquer their demons. God is entreated as a magic genie or cosmic vending machine instead of a holy, righteous, jealous God who expects His followers to grow and mature in faith.

While God can pick you up off the spinning horse and throw you off the carousel the simple reality is that He rarely does. Never in Scripture is complete victory over every temptation instantly granted to anyone. Instead, we are required to submit daily to His Lordship, learning how His grace is sufficient, how His power is more than adequate for any battle we face. One is more likely to hear God say, “Go, and sin no more,” putting the responsibility back on us.

Mankind is called upon to endure as a soldier of the cross, not to ask for wings to fly over the troubles of the world. We are to pick up our cross and follow Jesus daily, not to ask for the cross’ removal.

What we desire is instant sanctification, not on-going reformation. God is at work transforming us day by day into the likeness of His Son. What we want is a short cut devoid of any hard work on our part. Scripture teaches us that God works in us and through us, as well as for us. Until we decide to come aboard the process His way, we will remain frustrated by our lack of spiritual progress.

For far too long, churches have taught a false definition of repentance. As a result, whole generations have grown up without the slightest clue as to what biblical repentance truly is.

Richard Blackaby once made this astute observation:

The problem with (an altar call for rededication) is that it is not biblical. The crux of the gospel message is not a call to rededication, but a call to repentance. John the Baptist preached repentance (Matt. 3:2). Jesus preached repentance, both in His earthly ministry and as the resurrected Lord (Matt. 4:17; Rev. 3:19). If one’s previous commitment did not keep him walking in obedience, a re-commitment is no more likely to make him faithful. The proper response to disobedience is not a commitment to try harder, but brokenness and repentance for rejecting the will of Almighty God. God looks for surrender to His will, not commitment to carry it out. Rather than asking church members to repeatedly promise to try harder, churches must call their people to repent before Holy God.”

The concept of repentance gets muddled up with sorrow, regret, remorse and penance. While elements of each of these things can be present in biblical repentance, there is much more to this concept.

Saying one is sorry (showing remorse) and promising to never do an action again is commendable, but it falls 90̊ short of biblical repentance. Feeling sorrow or regret over the pain or loss one has caused by their actions is a necessary component of biblical repentance, but by themselves they fall completely short of the biblical idea. Doing penance, or making restitution for a wrong is commendable but it doesn’t necessarily include the elements of sorrow or regret. By the same token, one may be sorry they were caught or sorry for the consequences of an action and yet make no attempt to give restitution to the one injured or stolen from. They may also have no remorse over the action itself.

Biblical repentance is a 180̊ change. Not only is one regretful over causing the grievance and ceased the offensive action, but they will replace that action with doing good in its place. Even beyond that, this good will have at its core the desire to serve God through that action.

For example, Scripture tells us not to have coarse or vulgar language coming out of our lips but to speak those things which are edifying or that build one another up in the Lord.

  Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 NASB

Merely cleaning up one’s language isn’t enough, that is only a 90̊ change. A change for the better, to be sure, but far from the 180̊ change which includes uplifting and encouraging words that the Bible commands us to do.

Another example would be the command to refrain from stealing. Not only are we told not to do this in Ephesians 4:28, but we are told to go to work and provide for others so that others will not be tempted to steal.

 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. NASB

In our two examples, then, biblical repentance looks like this:

Old Habit: Replaced By: For this Purpose:
Vulgar Language Edifying Language Building up others
Stealing Work Helping others

Thoughts on Repentance

Many times repentance is illustrated by having a person walk in one direction and then turn around and walk in the opposite direction. The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines “repent” as “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life”. Repentance is a change of mind and attitude that involves a conscious turning away from wrong actions, attitudes, thoughts and habits that conflict with a Godly lifestyle and biblical commands, and an intentional turning toward doing that which the Bible says pleases God.
As I reflect upon this, I find that many people do not do a 180 degree turn-around so much as they stop at 90 degrees. By this I mean that they stop doing what is wrong but do not replace it with what is right. One only needs to read the words of John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul to see how incomplete that is. The one who steals is to steal no longer but also to work and earn what he needs. Even more, he is to earn enough so that he has excess in order that he can give to those without so that they no longer are tempted to steal. One is to stop talking with a filthy mouth and bless and edify people instead. We are commanded to not only forgive our enemies but to pray that God blesses them, while blessing them ourselves.
In order to tell is a person is truly repentant, John the Baptist gives the definitive proof – do good works (produce fruit) in keeping with that repentance. Talk is cheap. One can pray seeking forgiveness for one’s wrongdoing but never obtain it because they have no intention of repenting. Repentance is often the forgotten aspect of salvation, in that we are not forgiven by God unless we come to Him with a repentant heart.
I.C. Herendeen says is well, when he states, ” For salvation, “repentance unto life” is just as necessary as is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. No sinner was ever pardoned while he remained impenitent, while he remained in rebellion against God and His authority, and without submitting himself whole-heartedly to His Lordship. This involves the realization in his heart, wrought therein by the Holy Spirit, of “the sinfulness of sin” (Rom 7:13), of the awfulness of ignoring the claims of God and of defying His authority. Repentance is a “holy horror and hatred of sin, a deep sorrow for it, a contrite acknowledgment of it before God, and a complete hear forsaking of it.To exhort sinners to be saved by “Accepting Christ as their Saviour” without pressing upon them the imperative necessity of repentance is dishonest, and is to falsify God’s terms of salvation, for “Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 17:3) is the Divine dictum. The sinner must either repent or perish, there is no other alternative. And since “All have sinned” (Rom. 3:23) all therefore need to “repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15) else they will be “punished with everlasting destruction” (2Thess. 1:9). To delay repentance then is most perilous.”
I end these thoughts with the words of Charles Hodge, a great man of God. He says, “The sure test of the quality of any supposed change of heart will be found in its permanent effects. Whatever, therefore, may have been our inward experience, whatever joy or sorrow we may have felt, unless we bring forth fruits meet for repentance, our experience will profit us nothing. Repentance is incomplete unless it leads to confession and restitution in cases of injury; unless it causes us to forsake not merely outward sins, which others notice, but those which lie concealed in the heart; unless it makes us choose the service of God and live not for ourselves but for Him. There is no duty, which is either more obvious in itself, or more frequently asserted in the Word of God, than that of repentance.”
Let us take heed of the words of John the Baptist and truly repent of sin in our life.

Hymn Devotions Day 36 – Just As I Am

 DAY 36 – JUST AS I AM

            What a wonderful joy to know that we can come to Jesus just as we are. Indeed, we have to come as we are because only He can cleanse us. We cannot clean ourselves up. We cannot make ourselves righteous. We don’t wait until we have “made things right.” We go to Him to be made right.

Not only do we come to Him just as we are, but we are assured that He doesn’t leave us as we are. We come to Him and leave changed. He does indeed rid our souls of the dark stain of sin. He makes us spiritually alive, opens our eyes to spiritual truth, puts us into the correct frame of mind as He heals us.

It is amazing that He is willing to pardon us. Even greater still is His willingness to cleanse us, transform us, call us one of His own. He has promised and His promises never fail. “Come to Me,” Jesus invites and we run to Him, knowing He alone has the answers we need.

I love the very first verse. We come to Christ with no excuses, only an admission of our guilt. We throw ourselves on the mercy of God’s court, and find His grace operative there. Our admission of guilt, our contrition and repentance, is all we need. He bids us to come to Him to find forgiveness and healing. Why should we linger, and heed not His mercies? He is tenderly calling to us, urging us to come to Him. “Let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet they will be white as snow.”[1] O Lamb of God, I come, seeking Your forgiveness and grace.

Thank You Lord for being willing to take me as I am. Thank You for not leaving me that way, but cleansing me and making me holy. You are a great and wonderful God.

 

JUST AS I AM  by Charlotte Elliott

 

Just as I am without one plea

But that Thy blood was shed for me

And that Thou bidst me come to Thee

O Lamb of God I come, I come

 

Just as I am and waiting not

To rid my soul of one dark blot

To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot

O Lamb of God I come, I come

 

Just as I am though tossed about

With many a conflict, many a doubt

Fightings and fears within, without

O Lamb of God I come, I come

 

Just as I am poor, wretched, blind

Sight, riches, healing of the mind

Yea all I need in Thee to find

O Lamb of God I come, I come

 

Just as I am, Thou wily receive

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve

Because Thy promise I believe

O Lamb of God I come, I come

 

Just as I am, Thy love unknown

Hath broken every barrier down

Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone

O Lamb of God I come, I come

 

Just as I am, of that free love

The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove

Here for a season, then above

O Lam of God, I come, I come

 

 


[1] Isaiah 1:18

Hymn Devotions Day 31 – Kneel At The Cross

DAY 31 – KNEEL AT THE CROSS

What a joy to know that when we come in repentance to Him, Jesus is faithful to meet us. How great it is, to know that He is there when we need Him. How marvelous to know that He offers us a new life, in exchange for our old one. Do you hear Him calling to you, telling you that His yoke is easy and His burden is light? Do you hear Him calling upon you to repent of your sins and to turn your life over to Him?

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, your race, creed, color or economic status, there is only one way to eternal life – through Jesus Christ. There is room for all who believe. The ground is equal at the foot of the cross, all must enter the same way, through the only Mediator between God and man,  Jesus Christ.

Amazingly, He offers to share His glory with us. To all who believe on Him, God offers not only new life, but to make us co-heirs with Jesus. This is unbelievable. Not only are we pardoned, cleansed and offered a new life forever, but also we are made to share in the blessings and the glory of His Son. What a great God!

What has this life to offer that could possibly compare to sharing in the inheritance of Jesus? Look not to things of this world, look to Jesus alone and find joy unspeakable and full of glory. Find Jesus and find everything.

Lord, help us look only to You. We pray, also, for our friends and family who do not yet know You. Call to them, show them Your glory, draw them to You so they may kneel at the cross in repentance and find remission for their sin.

KNEEL AT THE CROSS – Charles Moody

Kneel at the cross

Christ will meet you there

Come while He waits for you

List to His voice

Leave with Him your care

And begin life anew

Kneel at the cross

There is room for all

Who would His glory share?

Bliss there awaits

Harm can ne’er befall

Those who are anchored there

Kneel at the cross

Give your idols up

Look unto realms above

Turn not away

To life’s sparkling cup

Trust only in His love

REFRAIN

Kneel at the cross

Leave every care

Kneel at the cross

Jesus will meet you there

Hymn Devotions Day 25 – O For A Thousands Tongues

 

DAY 25 – O FOR A THOUSAND TONGUES

               For this day, I have chosen to include all the verses that Charles Wesley wrote. This song was his celebration of the one year anniversary of his salvation, and what a great tribute to the Lord it is.

I know that not all of us remember the date of our salvation, but why not make it a practice to designate one day a year (if you do remember the date, use it) to write a poem of thanks to the Lord for His great salvation?

If  you cannot write a poem, maybe a prayer or a song or draw a picture of thanks would be possible. Take some time studying Wesley’s poem for inspiration.

Since we don’t have a thousand tongues to sing with, why not use the one we have in a thousand ways? Join with brothers and sisters and together we can raise hundreds of thousands of tongues in harmony to praise the King of Kings.

I particularly love the verse that talks about how Jesus’ blood makes even the foulest sinner clean, even me. When I reflect on my numerous sins, I am amazed that God would want to save me. I am so grateful that His mercy and grace was given to me, the most undeserving person I know. Wesley puts it so well toward the end of his poem – harlots, publicans, thieves – saved is the sinner that believes from crimes as great as mine. Their sins are no worse than mine, their punishment is the same, eternal damnation unless they, just like I, repent and throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus. How wonderful to know He forgives sins and pardons the sinner.

 

Lord, help me to use the tongue I have to always praise Your name. Help me use it to witness for You, witness of You, and testify of Your great mercy and forgiveness. Help me to proclaim Your salvation to all.

O FOR A THOUSAND TONGUES – Charles Wesley

 

O for a thousand tongues to sing My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King, The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God, Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad The honors of Thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears, That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears, ’Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me.

He speaks, and, listening to His voice, New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice, The humble poor believe.

Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb, Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come, And leap, ye lame, for joy.

In Christ your Head, you then shall know, Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below, And own that love is heaven.

Glory to God, and praise and love Be ever, ever given,
By saints below and saints above, The church in earth and heaven.

On this glad day the glorious Sun Of Righteousness arose;
On my benighted soul He shone And filled it with repose.

Sudden expired the legal strife, ’Twas then I ceased to grieve;
My second, real, living life I then began to live.

Then with my heart I first believed, Believed with faith divine,
Power with the Holy Ghost received To call the Savior mine.

I felt my Lord’s atoning blood Close to my soul applied;
Me, me He loved, the Son of God, For me, for me He died!

I found and owned His promise true, Ascertained of my part,
My pardon passed in heaven I knew  When written on my heart.

Look unto Him, ye nations, own Your God, ye fallen race;
Look, and be saved through faith alone, Be justified by grace.

See all your sins on Jesus laid: The Lamb of God was slain,
His soul was once an offering made For every soul of man.

Awake from guilty nature’s sleep, And Christ shall give you light,
Cast all your sins into the deep, And wash the Æthiop white.

Harlots and publicans and thieves In holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes From crimes as great as mine.

Murderers and all ye hellish crew In holy triumph join!
Believe the Savior died for you; For me the Savior died.

With me, your chief, ye then shall know, Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below, And own that love is heaven.