When Repentance Happens

It really bothers me when I see no results after putting a lot of time and effort into something. As an electronics technician, I have to troubleshoot various electronic equipment problems. I enjoy doing this so long as I make some kind of headway. But if I spend weeks working on an especially stubborn problem with little or no progress, I get frustrated as I run out of ideas and energy.

Sometimes I forget that success, in any area of life, belongs to the Lord.

One of the things many pastors desire to see for their communities and congregations is people coming to repentance. Ceasing from sin, and humble submission toward God are great things to see, and very beneficial to the church as a whole. But many pastors get frustrated when they see little or no results after investing much time and effort into preaching repentance. Instead of fruit, the people get hardened to the message, and the pastor gets burned out and depressed.

Lately, I’ve been mulling over some examples of repentance in the Bible, thinking about the events that led to the change of heart. I’ve discovered that sometimes repentance happened seemingly out of the blue. A chief tax-collector repented after Jesus invited Himself over for dinner at his house. A prostitute showed up at a Pharisee’s house ready to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears. And Peter was suddenly convicted of sin in response to an unexpected blessing…

When he {Jesus} had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will lower the nets.”

The fishermen were cleaning their nets after a sleepless and fruitless night. They were fatigued and disappointed, and looked forward to just going home and getting some rest. But Jesus had another idea: “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Exhausted, that was the last thing they wanted to hear.

But even though they had no hope for success, Peter decided to humor his Lord to prove the fish were elsewhere. But when he did, the unexpected happened!

When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets started to tear. So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they were about to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

– Luke 5:4-8 (NET)

Suddenly, it seemed the sea was full of fish! As the nets filled, the men forgot their fatigue. They whooped it up, while straining with all their might to bring the catch into the boats. Jesus didn’t just provide an adequate haul of fish, but an overabundance of fish – to the utter limit of what both boats would carry. All of the fishermen rejoiced… except Simon. He had a different reaction. He fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord!

Now this is not the reaction I would have expected. Of all the times Peter could have been convicted of sin, why did it happen at this time?

As much as preachers and evangelists would like, most people don’t truly repent when called to. It does happen sometimes, but not that often. Job repented (Job 42:6), but not because God told him to. Isaiah repented, even though nobody said, “You are a sinner!” (Isaiah 6:5). Even the prodigal son didn’t have a change of heart due to an encounter with the message of repentance.

Not that preaching repentance is unnecessary. I believe it’s very necessary. The way I see it, preaching the message of repentance is like sowing seed. You scatter the seed everywhere, but you shouldn’t expect a harvest right away. Instead, after scattering the seed, you let it sit for a while. The message needs to remain undisturbed for a time so it can sink in. You can carefully water the seed or even sow more, but after sowing, you don’t plow the soil (i.e. aggressively push for a decision), otherwise you have no reason to expect any harvest!

The important thing to remember is that God is in control of the harvest. He is the One who grants repentance (Acts 5:31, 11:18, 2 Corinthians 7:10, 2 Timothy 2:25, Ezekiel 36:26). It happens when God brings about some circumstance that triggers germination of the seed that was sown earlier. That circumstance is supernaturally engineered to bring the message from the head to the heart. It may not make sense to us, but it doesn’t have to.

In Peter’s case, the seed was sown in his life through the message he heard from John the Baptist and his own Master: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Jesus engineered the miraculous catch of fish as the trigger for the message to cut to Peter’s heart. I can’t explain how this event had such a powerful effect on one disciple, not on the others. But I do know God knows what He is doing. He accomplishes what He sets out to do.

Sow the seed, but rely on God for the harvest. Only He can open the eyes and ears of the lost.

Something To Think About

So when they had eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?” …

– John 21:15-19

Three questions. Three answers.

This encounter between Jesus and Peter is usually paired with Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus. It is seen as Jesus’ restoration of Peter to His service. I have no problem with the idea, but it creates a significant question for me.

At the trial, the servant girl accused Peter of being with Jesus, and Peter crumbled, denying that he knew Him 1. Now at breakfast, Jesus asked Peter a much deeper question: “Do you love me more than these?”

What if the servant girl came to Peter with a different accusation:

“I know you spent a lot of time with this Man. I know that you love Him!”

Peter failed when confronted with a more shallow question. Imagine how much more painful denying this accusation would have been!

Thankfully, Peter was spared having to respond to this question. But this raises the thought in my mind: What about me? What might the girl have accused me of? And what would my answer be?

(Regardless of what would have been, Jesus would still have restored Peter, for He is faithful even when we are not.)

Notes:

  1. Matthew 26:69-75

Visions of Our Future

(First, a little insanity. Bear with me on this one…)

Atheism is a very optimistic belief system. After all, look how far we’ve evolved! As our intelligence and power increase, we are better able to control ourselves and our environment. Many well-known atheists and agnostics have given us exciting glimpses of where mankind is heading. The Star Trek series revealed Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the eradication of poverty and war open to us after man abandons the concept of God 1. Friedrich Nietzsche saw mankind eventually evolving into a race of supermen, again without God. Yes, atheists are very optimistic!

The Bible, on the other hand, is a very depressing book. Its pages are full of negative and offensive words like “sin”, “hell”, “iniquity”, “judgment”, and the like. Man is not described as essentially good, with an occasional slip-up, but as evil, wicked, even from birth (Psalms 51:5, Job 15:14). According to that book, there isn’t one good man on earth (Psalm 14:3, Isaiah 53:6, Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:9-12)! Good thing we’re much more enlightened about ourselves today!

The Bible also talks of man’s future. It says things like, “in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3:1), and then goes on to describe how increasingly wicked man will become. It says eventually man would destroy the earth (Revelation 11:18), and but for God’s intervention, even himself.

Unless the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved; …

– Mark 13:20 (WEB)

Get real!

… No, really. It’s time to end this insanity.

Question: As you watch the news on TV tonight, which world-view seems more true? Is man getting better or worse? Think about it.

In spite of the seemingly negative world-view of the Bible, I hold what it says to be true. What I read in the paper, see on the news, and experience in real life fits strongly with what I read in the pages of scripture. The Bible speaks the truth about the nature of man. Man was at his best when he was created. Today he is a mere shadow of what he was, and contrary to evolutionary theories, he’s not getting any better.

Now, I know I haven’t properly represented the views of all or even most atheists, let alone a lot of Bible believers. There are plenty of pessimistic atheists who recognize the world is in serious trouble and going downhill fast. The problem is that the atheist thinks solutions to these difficulties must lie with man alone, and that man is fully capable of developing an ideal society, whether it happens or not. This frightens me, considering how much evil idealistic, optimistic atheists have generated in the world!

Atheists like to blame much or most of man’s problems on religion. After all, look at how many people have violently died in the name of God. But while they have a point, they conveniently forget those who have been systematically tortured and killed in the name of atheism in Soviet Russia, China, North Korea and other places. Isn’t it ironic how many human rights violations happen in countries where the governments have such high views of humans?

The truth is, religious people do not have a monopoly on heineous forms of evil. If all of the religious people in the world were eliminated, moral evil would still exist and flourish, because the problem is not with religion. The problem is with the heart of man – something the materialist overlooks because it is a spiritual problem.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, atheist, Christian, or whatever. Everyone, including myself, naturally has an evil nature. Any religion or philosophy that ignores this only empowers that nature.

Neither religion nor atheism can solve our problems. Education cannot solve our problems. Money cannot solve our problems. Better laws cannot solve our problems. Technology certainly cannot solve our problems! (Technology isn’t evil, but it has a way of empowering evil.)

Looking to ourselves cannot solve our problems.

Our only hope is to turn to the one good, holy, and righteous God, confess our great sin against Him, and put our trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, to save us. God gave His Son over to death to rescue us from the power and consequences of our sin, and to give us real hope.

The saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; …

– 1 Timothy 1:15 (WEB)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

– John 3:16 (WEB)

To those who believe God and trust in Jesus, the Bible is anything but depressing. It contains the best possible news, a message of comfort and the assured hope of rescue from sin and its consequences.

If you choose not to believe this, you’re welcome to go on believing whatever you want to. But know that eventually everyone will come face to face with the consequences of what they believe. You owe it to yourself to personally investigate the truth.

… As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die, …

– Ezekiel 33:11 (WEB)

(By the way, I do enjoy watching Star Trek. I just don’t agree with the philosophy behind it.)

Church Impossible: Pride-induced Blindness

When Robert Irvine of Restaurant Impossible first shows up at a restaurant in trouble, he talks with the owners. After the introductions, he asks them how they came to own the restaurant, what business was like at the beginning, and what it’s like now. Obviously, the current state of business is dire, otherwise Robert wouldn’t be there. But, for the most part, the owners don’t know the cause, and any blame tends to be placed on external factors, such as increased competition, the economy, etc.

Robert then observes a ‘service’. He sees the restaurant in action: how the waitresses serve the customers, how quickly the food arrives, and what the customers think of the food. He also samples from the menu himself. Most of the time the food Robert tastes is, to use his word, ‘Garbage!‘, and he’s not afraid to say so openly. Problems with the meal range from the food being undercooked to it being overcooked, the use of canned or frozen food, under or over seasoned food, or even dangerously spoiled food. In spite of this being the norm, I don’t recall seeing any episode where the owners admitted from the beginning, “Our food is garbage!” They’re usually convinced the opposite is true.

So when Robert gives his verdict, there is usually disbelief, and sometimes anger. If the chef takes offense, saying, ‘Everyone likes this!’, Robert responds if that’s the case, where are all the customers? That usually silences them. If not, then he brings back a customer or two to back up his ‘garbage’ claim.

Blind pride on the part of the owners and/or employees tends to be a very common problem on the show. The most difficult restaurants Robert has to deal with are the ones who stubbornly cling to their belief that their food is good. Unfortunately, with no humble admission of the problem, there can be no solution.

The pride-blindness problem also exists in many churches today, and it’s the primary stumbling block that gets in the way of solutions to other serious problems.

Church pride typically manifests itself through finger-pointing: one member points at the sins and weaknesses of another, or a whole congregation points at another congregation or denomination. There may be some truth to the accusations. However, those that like to blame others tend to be blind to their own serious issues.

You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

– Romans 2:21-22

It is easy to think and say, “The problem is not with me!” Pride-blindness has very selective vision. We see the sins of others but not our own. But what would happen if someone comes from outside to examine you – a spiritual Robert Irvine, if you will? What would he find after you deny you have a problem?

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

– Revelation 3:17

I’ll venture to predict there isn’t going to be a TV show called Church Impossible. No expert is going to come from outside to fix your church problems in two days with $10,000. A solution is going to have to come from within.

Guess what? God has provided the solution for all of our sin problems within the church! The Holy Spirit is the solution! He is fully capable of opening our eyes to see our problems, and fully capable of correcting those problems within us. But just as with the television restaurant expert, the Holy Spirit can’t do a thing if we refuse to humble ourselves and submit to His most thorough search of our hearts, and submit to His leading. (Actually, the Spirit can do something: If we refuse to humble ourselves, He may do the humbling for us, but it would be much more painful that way.)

The first step toward the solution to problems in our churches today is humilty. We in the church need to abandon our pride. We need to humble ourselves and stop pointing fingers at others (even if they are worse than us), so that the Holy Spirit can reveal our spiritual state. (The Spirit will do a much more thorough job of revealing our problems and correcting them than any TV celebrity ever could! Don’t be surprised if the Spirit shows us a whole lumber yard of two-by-fours in our eyes to be removed before we can see clear to remove the toothpicks in the eyes of others.)

* Only with humility are we enabled, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to see our sin (Psalm 139:23-24) and accept responsibility for it.

* Only with humility are we able to confess our sins and repent.

* Only with humility will we be able to submit ourselves fully to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

* Only with humility can we grow as the body of Christ after our sin problems have been put in the past.

On Restaurant Impossible, virtually all of the chefs who were offended with Robert’s initial assessment of their food “repented” once they tasted food cooked the right way. They swallowed their pride and benefited by it. Likewise, a church that consists of believers who live in humble submission to the Holy Spirit know the benefits of this change of mindset, and will not want to go back to their old ways.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

– Revelation 3:18-19

Church Impossible

I’m not big on reality TV, but I’ve been watching Restaurant Impossible lately on the Food Network (and occasionally Kitchen Nightmares on BCC and Fox). For those unfamiliar with these programs, here’s a short description.

Each Restaurant Impossible episode features a failing restaurant on the verge of going out of business. Celebrity chef Robert Irvine comes to the restaurant, samples the food, observes how it operates, interviews the customers, inspects the kitchen, food storage, management, workers, etc. Then he gives his brutally honest assessment of the problems to the owners and workers. From there it’s a matter of quickly correcting the problems, with the owners and employee’s cooperation, so the restaurant has a new start.

As I watch various episodes, I see many common problems: poor quality food, preparation, and recipes, dirty kitchens, outdated decor, and perhaps most common, lack of humility in the owners, cooks, and other workers that prevent them from seeing the obvious.

Those restaurants that accept chef Robert’s assessment and embrace his recommendations and new menu are more likely to experience a successful turn-around. But some fall back into their old ways when Robert leaves, and end up closing soon after.

The concept of the TV series could be applied to many other kinds of failing businesses. However, I wonder what it would be like to apply it to the church, i.e. Church Impossible. A mature believer comes from outside to a failing congregation, observes how it functions, confronts them with the problems and gives them good biblical solutions, teaching them how to get back to the basics, etc.

(Actually, there is a ministry that does something similar, minus the reality TV cameras. It’s called Metanoia Ministries. If your church is struggling with internal conflict, contact them. They can help.)

Many of the problems in churches today are very similar to those of the struggling restaurants. Perhaps you are part of a congregation that is stagnant or failing apart, and you want to know how to turn it around. While I don’t have all the answers, in the next series of posts I hope to uncover the causes of some common problems and give their biblical solutions.

(By the way, out of curiosity, I googled ‘church impossible’ and found other bloggers and pastors who had the same idea. I didn’t look at anything they wrote because I want to keep to keep my posts as original as possible. It will be interesting afterward to compare to see how we all differed in what we found.)

Presumption or Knowledge?

And Abraham said to his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

-Genesis 22:5 (JND)

God told Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. Obediently, Abraham took Isaac on a three day journey to Mount Moriah where he was to accomplish the unthinkable, horrific task. God did not tell Abraham He would provide a substitute offering for his son. And yet, Abraham confidently told the servants he would return to them with his son alive. He also reassured Isaac that God would provide a lamb for the sacrifice (Genesis 22:8). How did Abraham know God would do this when God had commanded him otherwise?

Sure, God had promised to make a great people of Isaac (Genesis 17:15-21), but He could have allowed Abraham to slaughter his son so He could raise him from the dead at some later time (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham didn’t have to return from the mountain with Isaac. Yet, somehow he knew he would.

His mother says to the servants, Whatever he may say to you, do.

– John 2:5 (JND)

Jesus and Mary were at a wedding when the wine ran out. Mary went to tell Jesus, but He apparently brushed her off, giving no indication He would do anything about it. Yet, somehow Mary knew Jesus would do something about it. How did she know in spite of Jesus’ answer?

These are just two examples of what appears to be presumptuous faith: expecting God to answer in a way nobody should expect. These people had received no word or prophetic vision from God of what He would do. How could they trust God to do something when the situation, even what He said earlier, said ‘No’? After receiving the command from God, Abraham had no right to tell the servants he would return with Isaac… or did he?

When it comes to knowing God, we rely on what God has told us about Himself in the pages of scripture. A whole field of study has arisen out of this which we call ‘theology’ – the study of God. The Bible is the primary textbook for this study, and there is so much in it, that it serves the mature believer just as much as the new believer.

Grade schoolers learn how to do math by example. They learn 1+1=2, 2+2=4, etc. They begin to learn by memorizing these simple formulas. But eventually it ‘clicks’ and they become able to do complex mathematical expressions that they haven’t seen before. Knowing God is similar. We learn about God from our Bibles – who He is, the things He likes and doesn’t like, etc. But mature knowledge comes to know God’s character and nature such that one can tell what God will or won’t do without an expressed statement of that in the Bible. It is similar to the relationship between husband and wife after many years go by. Each knows what (and how) the other thinks without having to hear the words… or even in spite of what is said.

The knowledge of God is not about facts that you have memorized (although those facts are necessary). It is deeper. It is personal and intimate. It is knowledge of His heart. And it comes about by spending time with Him in His word, in prayer, and in simple, submissive and obedient trust in what He has said. The more quality time you spend with your heavenly Father, the more He will reveal Himself to you, and the more you’ll know what He will or will not do in your situation. You will trust Him more.

Make it your life’s ambition to ever seek to know God’s heart.

New Book: Seeing Jesus – A Disciple’s Perspective

Book cover imageFor the past 4 to 5 months I’ve been working on a book to help followers of Jesus get to know Him better. The content of the book is based on things I’ve written on this website and the Fadingman blog. The book is called Seeing Jesus – A Disciple’s Perspective. It’s available for Kindle, and within a week (hopefully) it should be available in paperback through Amazon.com, but you can get the Kindle version right now by clicking on the cover image to the left.

I originally intended, back in August of last year, to put together a book based solely on the contents of the Fadingman blog. But I found I had some other writings that fit into the theme of following Jesus, so I included them also.

Click here to read more about the book.

Hoarders

… But according to your hardness and unrepentant heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath, revelation, and of the righteous judgment of God…

– Romans 2:5

This verse reminds me of the reality TV show Hoarders. The show is about people who have compulsions to collect so many things (boxes of stuff, animals, etc) that their houses become uninhabitable. At best they might have pathways through their homes a few inches wide to get around.

The most shocking part of the series is seeing the blindness of these people to their problems. They are only slightly aware that their compulsion has made life unmanageable, not only for themselves but for their loved ones and neighbors. Their denial makes it difficult to impossible for them to find help.

Isn’t this a perfect picture of our natural selves in relation to sin? Apart from the grace of God, we all have a sin hoarding problem. And we don’t realize that this is also a wrath hoarding problem. Unless we get supernatural help, we will eventually reap what we sow at the final judgment.

Only God has the solution for our problem. Only He can open our eyes for us to see what we have been doing to ourselves. Only Jesus can save us from the otherwise sure wrath that is to fall on us.

What God Doesn’t Do

We worship an all-powerful God. Nothing can stop or hinder Him from doing whatever He wants. Practically speaking (and as far as our situations and circumstances are concerned), nothing is impossible with God.

It is our awareness of this fact, joined with our knowledge of His love for us, that allows us to go to Him with our worries and concerns for the ‘impossible’ situations in our lives, knowing that He can and does deliver us out of these situations. As we become more aware of how unlimited our God is, our faith increases.

And yet, there are some things that God does not do… even that He cannot do. These are not limitations from outside of Himself; they all center on who He is: His character and His nature. God cannot and will not violate who He is. Amazingly, our awareness of God’s ‘limitations’ also helps to increase our faith.

Several years ago, I posted a list of things that God doesn’t do on the Michael Card forum. Here’s a reprint of that list. You’re welcome to add to it.

What God Doesn’t Do

  • Think or act like me (Isaiah 55:8-9, Psalm 50:21)
  • Give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8)
  • Forgive the sin of speaking evil of the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:10)
  • Hear my prayer if I harbor iniquity in my heart (Psalm 66:18, John 9:31)
  • Forgive me if I don’t forgive my brother (Matthew 6:15)
  • Allow His word to return void (Isaiah 55:11)
  • Start something without finishing it (Philippians 1:6).
  • Do things maliciously (purposely create trouble for someone unjustly)
  • Tempt me (James 1:13)
  • Forget His covenant
  • Renege on His promises
  • Keep His anger forever (i.e. hold a grudge)
  • Sleep (Psalm 121:4)
  • Blink (i.e. make mistakes)
  • Fail to come through for me when I trust Him to save me (Romans 10:11)
  • Do things on a whim (randomly)
  • Do things half-way or half-heartedly (Philippians 1:6)
  • Break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick (Matthew 12:20)
  • Think of people in terms of statistics (He’s concerned about individuals, Luke 15)
  • Think in terms of probabilities (…no such thing as chance)
  • Give grudgingly (James 1:5)
  • Treat me as my sins deserve, see or even remember my sins (Hebrews 10:17)
  • Condemn me (Romans 8:1, … thank You, Jesus!!!)
  • Cease loving me
  • Despise the prayer of the needy (Psa. 102:17)
    • …including those in need of wisdom (James 1:5)
    • …or despise the sacrifices of a broken spirit and heart (Psa. 51:17)
  • Abandon me as an orphan (John 14:18 – I’ve always thought of orphans as children without parents, but Jesus, our spiritual big Brother, said this. He doesn’t abandon us either.)

What else does God not do?