Category Archives: Repentance

Preparing the Way

I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Malachi 3:1a

Who is the messenger Malachi is talking about here?  It’s John the Baptist.  As Jesus said about him, “This is the one about whom it is written: ”I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'”  Matt 3:10

And what does it mean to prepare the way?  Isaiah also prophesied about this:

  • A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  40:3
  • And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”  57:14
  • Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations.  62:10

God was saying was that there needed to be someone who would get things ready for his son to come to earth.  And that makes me wonder — why not just send Jesus right off?  Why have John the Baptist precede him?

Because, the verses say, there was a need to “remove the obstacles.”

What are the obstacles that John the Baptist removed?

Sin.  His message to people was simply to repent:

  • In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
  • And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Mark 1:4

Sins are like big stones that block the way of truly following Jesus.

I first started seeking God when I was a teenager.  I went all by myself to an Episcopal church, because I loved the way it felt holy.  But I didn’t change my life. I still partied and lived for myself.

Then Ken (my hubby) studied the Bible with me and I was baptized in the traditional church of Christ.  I did change.  I began to live the Christian life.  But I never made the commitment to give my whole self to God for the rest of my life.  I was still serving self.

Over time, I started noticing that I felt empty and unhappy.  I would go to bed at night and say, “What was it all for?”

Until finally God brought me to the point where I decided to get baptized again, and this time, commit myself totally to God and his mission on earth.  Now, as I look back over my life, I can clearly see that point as the time when I began to be happy deep down to the bone.

It wasn’t until I completely repented that I experienced the fullness of following Christ.

It’s like we read in Luke 9:  “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”    We have to lose our lives.  We have to get rid of the sin.  It’s as true now as it was then.  The more we surrender to God, the greater the blessings.

But the thing is, we don’t surrender.

For years, I told people, “I’m good.  I can serve God just the way I am.”  I didn’t see the need to give myself more completely.  I blithely went about my life, immersed in the busyness of my job, raising my children, doing church activities, and thought that was good.  I had a sort of “cruise control” Christianity.  I set my speed, and went through the motions.

And cruise control never got me where I needed to go.  I missed it, somehow, just as in Malachi, the Jews missed it.

You see, if you look at the verse in Malachi, it’s written to religious people, not to the heathens.  The Jews had gone through a powerful time of God bringing them back to Jerusalem, and helping them rebuilt the city and the temple.  They should have been eternally grateful, but over time, their commitment to God began to fade.  They didn’t see that they were getting wishy-washy, they kept asking God why he wouldn’t accept their offerings.  (2:13-14)  Like me, they were lost in religiosity.

That’s a scary thing, that we can get to a point where we’re blind to our need to repent.

The Jews would need a John the Baptist to come to them.

People need a John the Baptist today.

Yesterday one of the sisters was telling me about a young woman she’s been studying the Bible with, and how they read the verse, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything they have cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) The young woman’s face fell as her eyes opened to what the verse meant.  “I can’t do that,” she said.  She was very sad.

And that was hard for the sister.  She so badly wanted to tell her friend, “It’s okay.”  But she knew that lie wouldn’t help her.

Are we being John the Baptist for our friends, showing them the truth that will help them?  I can’t stress enough that this message of complete repentance is what people need, that they’re not getting from anyone else.  Everyone else is telling them it’s okay. Everyone else is perpetuating the blindness.  And then they miss the full relationship with God that could be theirs.

We have to effectively prepare the way for people to follow Jesus.  We need to help them get rid of ALL the obstacles. We need to open their eyes to what it means to give up everything.

It’s true, they won’t follow Jesus perfectly.  None of us do.  We’ll never dot all the “i”s and cross all the “t’s.”  But they CAN pledge to give their whole heart to God for all time, and do their best to live this out!

And if they get sad, if it seems too hard, encourage them that they CAN do it, just as we did, and it’s so worth it!!

Because the thing is, God said in Malachi that he wasn’t going to leave his people hopelessly stuck in their religiosity.  Even though they were stubborn and blind, he would provide a way for them to have the greatest blessings.

We are that way today.  Not the WAY, but the way to get to the WAY.

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A Friend A Day #7 — Really Caring

Jonah cares more about the vine than the people.

Jonah cares more about the vine than the people.

I am at the stage of this challenge of sharing with a friend a day where I don’t just want to change my behavior, I want to change the heart behind the behavior.

It could be relatively easy to be carried along in the momentum of the new year and open my mouth more often for a few weeks.  But then life will happen.  I’ll get busy.  I’ll get distracted.  And my good intentions will go by the wayside.

I have to truly change from the inside out.

Our assignment at church this week, as we study out repentance, is to figure out, “What warning would the rich man of Luke 16 issue to your family/household?”

The story that’s referred to here is the rich man and Lazarus.  The rich man lives a life of wealth and comfort, while Lazarus is poor and hungry. After death, the rich man goes to a place of punishment, while Lazarus is comforted.  The rich man wants to go back and warn his family so the same fate will not happen to them.

I couldn’t think of what warning the rich man would give to me.  My first thought was that we need to care for the poor more.  That certainly convicted my heart right off.

But now it hits me that the real sin of the rich man was that he didn’t care.  He was all caught up in his life, and he didn’t even see the needs that were around him.

I, too, am all caught up in my life. I’m even caught up in doing things for God, so much so that I don’t have room in my heart to notice or care about the people all around me who are starved spiritually.

What did Jesus see?

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Matt 9:36

People are harassed and helpless.  As other translations word it, they’re “fainting on the ground,” “distressed,” “cast aside,” and “scattered.”  They might look like they have it all together, but they feel isolated, unloved, lost, discouraged and hopeless.  They’re beset by troubles on every side.

I am preparing to start an emotional healing support group, with the premise that many people have unresolved inner pain.  The irony is that I’m promoting this support group, without fully seeing the reality that this pain IS THERE.  It’s rife.  It’s everywhere.  It’s crippling people’s lives.

I need to care more.

I love this passage from Jonah, in which the prophet is outed for being more concerned about the loss of the vine that shaded him than the souls of thousands of miserable people:

Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. “Should I not have compassion on the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left–and also many animals?” Jonah 4:10-11

I have more in common with Jonah than I think. Do I REALLY have compassion for others, that they don’t know their right hand from their left, that they’re floundering around in life with faulty compasses?

It’s so easy to think that status quo is okay.  In reading “REPENTANCE a Cosmic Shift of Mind and Heart” by Ed Anton, he reminds us of verses that show that complacency is a sin that the prophets railed against:

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion. . . You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches . . . You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Amos 6

 God wants me to grieve over others.  He wants me to SEE.  He wants my heart to be moved.

So I have still been sharing.  I had a great experience on Tuesday.  The bubbly server at a restaurant my choral group friends and I go to every week asked how my weekend was.  I shared about the two baptisms we had.  She got really excited and wanted to know more about our church.  She wants to come visit!  It was a conversation I stumbled upon,  I wasn’t even looking to share.  I just spoke about what was bubbling up out of me – the joy of what God is doing.

I talked on the phone yesterday with a woman yesterday whose number a sister had given me.  This woman has gotten herself into a horrible mess.  She is despondent.  It’s easy to see she needs help.

How much will my life be about these people?  It will depend on how much I see the need to help, and that it is up to ME.  Here is another convicting verse from a prophet:

They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.  Jer. 8:11

 I need to be serious about this. People are wounded. There IS NO PEACE! No peace for me to get caught up in my life. No peace for others in their pain and self- made muddle.

When I really get this, when I live it, change will happen from the inside out.

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Who would have thought? Repentance is a blessing!

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We cut down a couple of trees in our back yard today, and do you know what happened? I saw the sun shining on a barren part of our yard that had been in the shade for years. It was an amazing feeling to see warm rays streaming on the sparsely covered earth.

Cutting trees down doesn’t make the grass grow, but it does get rid of the obstacles that keep it from thriving. In the same way, repentance doesn’t save us, but it does get rid of the obstacles that keep us from living the life we’re meant to live.

I was astounded to discover a great verse on repentance this week:

And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’  When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”  Acts 3:25-26

Peter said in the verse that repentance is a BLESSING.  More than that, it is the way that ALL people on earth can be blessed!   And even more, it is the fulfillment of one of the greatest promises in the Bible.

Wow.  I always thought repentance was sort of a grungy chore, like cleaning the sink.  It’s not fun to do, but the finished product feels great.

But now I am realizing that repentance is a SUPER TREASURE of a gift from God, a long-awaited manifestation of His grace.

And it is a gift.  Sure, we put in the effort of denying ourselves.  But the Bible says that God grants repentance.  (II Tim 2:25,  Acts 5:31)  When people are saved it is seen as the evidence of God’s grace.  (Acts 11:23)

Repentance is a gift that keeps me from ruining my life with grumpiness, bitterness, lust, selfishness, and so on.

It’s a gift that allows God to bless me.  If I obey God I will be like the wise man who built his house on the rock.  (Matt 7:24)  If I seek the kingdom first God will take care of me.  (Matt 6:33)

You know, Jesus didn’t just come into the world.   John the Baptist came first, to call people to repent, to remove the obstacles. “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

But while John the Baptist called people to repentance, Jesus came to facilitate repentance.  “God exalted (Christ) to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.”  Acts 5:31

Right now I have these big lumps of grumpiness in my heart.  I’m not sure where they come from, I wake up with them.  I try to work on them but they are unwieldy.  They’re with me all day like a canker sore.  And it’s so hard to keep them from affecting my behavior.

It is helpful to see the resulting sin as obstacles standing in the way of the life I should have, trees blocking out the light God wants to shine in my life.  God wants there to be more blessings in my life!  I have to remove the obstacles.

So I have to struggle and strive for repentance.  More importantly, I have to pray that God will grant me repentance, show me the way, because right now I’m not sure exactly how to do this.

And then the light will shine in.  I’ve been working on opening up the closed fist of my heart.  Repentance is the blessing that opens up my heart, exposing new vistas of inner soil that can thrive through God.

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