Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19; Luke 18) – Part III (Continued from Tuesday)

God doesn’t expect us to commit (surrender) to him, or promise anything, or for us to abandon our ways, in order for him to first receive and forgive us (See John 1:12). (Now, many do make this commitment and do turn from their sins at the moment of salvation; this is called repentance. We may repent, turn direction, at the point of salvation, but repentance is not a condition for salvation, only faith is; See John 5:24; 20:30-31; Book of Galatians, especially 2:16). However, our forgiveness and adoption as sons of God is not a matter of giving up things first because if we don’t do so God won’t accept us. As difficult as it may seem for many to understand, salvation is totally free without any strings attached. Initial salvation (or justification) is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).

Those who place their trust in Christ alone for eternal life can begin to experience the fullness of God and the abundant life that are found in knowing Jesus (See John 10:10). Jesus was ready to give the rich young ruler much more than mere entrance into heaven. He tells him that he can enjoy the fullness of life in God or the kingdom, and the abundance of eternal life, including future rewards (See 19:27-29), if he is willing to surrender and follow Christ as his disciple. Sadly, the ruler chose neither.

What then is the teaching behind the rich young ruler? First, the command to go sell his possessions and follow Jesus was a way for Christ to confront the young man with what enslaved him. He ought to have recognized his bondage to possessions as a source of trust and have turned his attention upon Jesus who was probing him to consider who it was that was speaking to him. Only Jesus can save, and provide eternal life (=abundant life or inheritance of the kingdom).

Each of us must be confronted with our sinfulness and need of Christ. The rich young man was first in his own estimation because he had many riches, but he would be last (unless he later came to faith in Christ) because he had not trusted in Christ alone for eternal life (19:30). Second, selling our possessions or sacrificing whatever stands between us and the Lord Jesus, is necessary for us to obtain the fullness of eternal life. That is, fullness of life in God’s coming Kingdom, including the promise of reigning with him and eternal rewards, are prepared for those who will sacrifice and live lives of commitment to the Lord (See 19:29; Luke 14:25-33). Those who follow and serve Jesus faithfully in this life will have riches in the kingdom.

What, then, must we do to have eternal life? How can we inherit the kingdom? We must first recognize our sins and need for forgiveness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Why would we believe in Jesus as Savior unless we are first convicted about sin in our lives and our need to be forgiven. The rich young ruler trusted his wealth and didn't see a need for Christ. Second, to experience the fullness of life with God now and in the coming Kingdom, we must we willing to surrender our lives to Jesus and keep the commandments (=the Law of Love in Christ and the two Greatest Commandments given by Jesus in Gal. 5:6; 6:2 and Matthew 22:37-40), something which can only be done through the enabling work of God’s Spirit in our lives.

Those who not only believe in Jesus, but also surrender and follow him, will have riches in heaven. The rich young ruler was blinded by his great riches. He failed to remove his eyes from his empty righteousness and place them on Christ for salvation. In failing to believe in Christ, he also failed to receive the Spirit of God which alone would have helped him to follow Jesus faithfully, and to enjoy the riches of eternal life and God's kingdom.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19; Luke 18) – Part II (Continued from yesterday)

Jesus confronted the rich young ruler from the start with this truth: only God is good (19:16-17). This means that no man is good in the absolute sense in which God is good (See Rom. 3:12). Man is totally bound by his sin and he can’t obey the law completely because he’s a slave to his evil desires and inclinations. He is utterly in need of God for salvation. To present oneself as righteous before God is to be deceived. The rich young ruler was deceived about his standing before God.

One of the points of the passage is that man is not good enough to be saved, or to inherit the kingdom or have eternal life, because we all sin by breaking God’s laws. For some, the enslavement is riches, for others, popularity, or pride. But, each of us before faith comes to our hearts is under bondage to sin. Only the life of Jesus was good enough to become the perfect sin payment for our sins and make a way for our forgiveness (John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:16-21).

Do we inherit the kingdom when we sacrifice and follow Jesus while on earth? This is what Jesus tells the ruler. Jesus is not saying that abandonment and commitment is expected from us in order for us to enter the kingdom. Initial salvation is received by faith, and not works. It is important to understand, however, that many do teach that because the young ruler was unwilling to surrender his riches he could not be saved or be forgiven by God. The problem, they say, is that God demands complete surrender and commitment to his Lordship before God can save an individual, something the young man was unwilling to do. However, Christ’s words, in part, were rhetorical, intended for reflection. In leading the rich young ruler to reflect on his love of possessions Jesus was hoping to lead him to confront his sinfulness and need for God. He trusted in his own goodness and righteousness, not in God (See Luke 18:9-14).

Yet, Jesus did tell the young man that by keeping the commandments he could “enter life” (19:17). What did he mean? Who can really follow the ways of God? The Apostle Paul later in his letters taught that the ability to keep the commandments and experience the life of God would come through the enablement that God's Spirit would give those who came to faith in Christ (See Romans 8; Galatians 5:16-18). However, are keeping the commandements the basis for us to have eternal life? What did Jesus mean by telling the rich young ruler that in order to "enter life" he had to keep the commandments? How, then, do we inherit the kingdom? How do we get eternal life? (Conclusion tomorrow)

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19; Luke 18) – Part I

Does the story of the rich young ruler teach that one must surrender all to God in order to be saved? Is the teaching about what we must do in order to be forgiven? What does Jesus mean when he says that we will have riches in the kingdom if we follow him? A rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). Often times we hear that eternal life is only about going to heaven, being forgiven, or the like. Eternal life, according to Jesus, is about knowing God and experiencing his fullness in our lives (Jn. 17:3; 14:6). Life for the Jews was about experiencing the fullness of life in God as described in the Old Testament. The rich young ruler wanted to experience abundance of life in the Kingdom, or eternal life. In his dialogue with the ruler Jesus tells him three things. First, eternal life is possible to achieve. Second, you can’t obtain it on your own. And third, you must sell all your possessions and follow me if you want to experience the fullness of heaven.

Keeping the commandments or the ways of God according to the O.T. brings true life. This echoes the teachings from Deuteronomy 28-30 where choosing life or the ways of God would bring earthly blessings and true prosperity. That is why Jesus tells the young man, “. . . if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (19:17). That is, if the young ruler wanted to inherit eternal life (=experience the richness of God’s promises), he had to keep the commandments. But, there was a problem. The young man valued his riches above all else. He was enslaved to his love for wealth. Although he said that he had kept all the commandments, Jesus tells him that in fact he was still lacking: “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (19:21). In other words, Jesus tells the young man, "Fulfill both sides of the Ten Commandments, those that touch on your relationship with me, and those that deal with your relationship with others."

Jesus here confronted the ruler on two issues. First, the young man was unwilling to let go of his riches because he found his comfort and security in his possessions. His possessions had enslaved him. In order for him to experience or inherit eternal life (=fullness of God; abundant life) he would first need to respond to the conviction of God’s Spirit about his need for a Savior. No one keeps God’s commandments perfectly; we all fall short (See Rom. 3:23). His love for riches, however, had blinded him to his real need.

Second, to experience the fullness of life in the kingdom we must be willing to forsake all. Faith in Christ demanded that the rich young ruler recognize his lack of righteousness and need for a savior. Entry into the kingdom demands that we first come to faith in Christ. But, just entering the kingdom without the full experience of the kingdom is to be short changed. It is like the illustration shared with me by my good friend, René A. López, Ph.D. Who comes to this country (U.S.A.) expecting only to sit down satisfied to live in a free society and not enjoy the abundance of living here? In order for us to enjoy all that God has prepared for us in the coming kingdom (not just entering it) we must be willing to sacrifice and follow Jesus now.

Both the entry into the kingdom and the full experience of the kingdom are received by grace (the point of the parable in Matt 20:1-16), but whereas the first is received by faith alone in Christ, the second is dependent on our decision to give up whatever stands in the way of following the Lord Jesus. (To be continued tomorrow)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

". . . This Generation Will Not Pass. . ." (Luke 21:32)

Some liberal scholars today say that Jesus made a mistake when his prediction of end times events didn't take place within the generation that heard his prophecies. Luke 21:32 reads, "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." Three things should be considered. First, the meaning of the term "generation". Second, the context of this verse, and third, the significance of the phrase "these things".

The term "generation" (Grk., genea) can refer to the persons in a family, or to a specific race. It can also refer to a particular time, period or age. In the O.T. generations represented forty-year periods. In the Dead Sea Scrolls there is the mention of a forty-year period of suffering which the final generation alive will undergo (C. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, N.T., 248). Many believe that a generation is limited to this length of years. Since Jesus spoke these words near A.D. 30, some believe this "generation" refers to the events of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. However, one of the problems with this interpretation is that some of the predictions made by Jesus do in fact center on events related to the end times (beyond A.D. 70), predictions which did not come to pass within a generation of his death and resurrection (see vv. 25-27). If this distinction of content matter in the teachings of Christ is not made then the accusation of a mistake made by Jesus becomes sharper. Is there a solution to this?

I believe the immediate context of Luke 21:32 starts in Luke 21:25. This is the section that points to a time period beyond the time of the destruction of the Temple which Jesus spoke to his disciples about earlier (21:5-9). Notice that although Jesus predicts events surrounding the destruction of the Temple he also alerts his disciples to the fact that ". . . the end does not follow immediately" (Luke 21:9c). This means that other events would follow chronologically the demise of the Temple. The events of Luke 21:25ff. with its supernatural and cataclysmic characteristics take place sometime after Jerusalem is taken "captive into all the nations" (Luke 21:24). We know that Israel as a nation was dispersed throughout the world until 1948 when she again was recognized as a State. Her captivity, writes Luke, will be limited to a certain period of time. Jerusalem will be "trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24; See Zechariah 12:2-3). The "times of the Gentiles" began with the Babylonian Captivity of 586 B.C., and will last until the fulfillment of these prophecies, when Israel again will come under the leadership of God her King.

The final aspect to consider is the phrase "these things" in Luke 21:32. Some believe that the phrase refers to all that Jesus had been teaching his disciples, including events surrounding the Temple's destruction and the end time predictions. A clue to help us understand the time frame of this phrase is found in the previous verse. After using the illustration of a budding fig tree as a reference point for believers to discern when future events happening in the world mark the end, Jesus says these words: "So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near" (Luke 21:31; emphasis mine). So that, the "generation" spoken of by Jesus in verse 32 will be the one alive right before the final establishment of the Kingdom.

What, then is Luke 21:32 teaching? This verse teaches that the generation who will witness the cosmic signs detailed by Jesus starting in Luke 21:25-27, and will see the "Son of Man coming in a cloud," will not pass. That is, the generation alive when the end time signs or events begin to take place will surely see the coming of the glorious Kingdom of God, in its fullness, promised to Israel.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ping-Pong & Life: Following the Rule Book

Table Tennis might not be the most favorite sport for viewers of the Olympics, but the speed and accuracy of the players is mindboggling. Table Tennis is actually another name for ping-pong. Someone recently gave me a ping-pong table and after many years of not playing I'm again having fun at home with family. My brother-in-law, David, and I, our highly competitive, so we decided to look up the rules of ping-pong to see if we were playing according to the rules of the game. We quickly found out that we were not.

Ping-pong, like any other sport, has rules by which you must play. For example, you play sets of 3 out of 5 games, each player serves only two points and then switches server, you must toss the ball behind the base line and 6 inches in the air before hitting it, the player who reaches 11 points wins, etc. One of the surprising rules of the game that I learned is that when playing singles you can serve on any area of the opposite side. I thought that as in regular tennis you must serve to the opposite side (this is the way I played the game years ago). I also learned that when playing doubles you must serve to the player's side directly in front of you. Also, once you reach a 10-10 score, each server only serves for one point and then switches until someone wins by two points.

Following the rules of ping-pong ensures that everyone is following a uniform standard of play wherever the game is played. The rules are also set up in such a way to allow servers to switch instead of having a dominating server continue to pile up points. The reality is that whether playing ping-pong, chess, soccer, baseball, or any other sport, rules must be followed in order to have uniform play and orderly flow of the game.

How about God's Word? Often times we sin when we try to play the game of life while ignoring God's word. God's words are not suggestions for us to decide whether or not they might apply in my life according to how I feel like playing life. His words are not suggestions but a revelation of God's character and his ways which are always best for his people. The Bible says, "Turn my eyes away from what is worthless! Revive me with your word!" (Psalm 119:37). Perhaps we need to stop and look up the rule book for life to see if we are following the intended instructions for right living.

Of course, the Bible is much more than a rule book since it contains God's promises and much about living the Christian life, God's purposes for his Creation, the future, etc. Some people don't like to think of God's Word as a rule book. God's rules are not intended to shield us from the good things of life but rather to provide us with the ways of life that will provide for optimal freedom and enjoyment during our years on earth. To follow the ways of God is to experience the power of a clean conscience and a sense of living life as a winner. Actually, our rule book is summarized by the following: Love God and love others (See Matthew 22:35-40.). Our lives should be filtered through the lens of the Great Commandment of love.

Ping-pong is a lot of fun and it makes sense to follow the rules of the game for maximum fun and enjoyment. I guess I could invent my own way of playing which is contrary to the official rules of ping-pong, but I would never be able to play in a tournament, where my playing really counts. However, I don't have the luxury of putting aside God's instructions because I will always loose. Read the Bible regularly and find out what pleases the Lord for playing strong in the game of life.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shades of Meanings Behind Words of Prayer

Someone recently asked me to define "prayer". That's not easy to do because I know that our English word for prayer has various shades of meaning depending upon what Hebrew or Greek word is being translated. Does the word "prayer" when used in the Bible have God alone as the object and subject of the prayer? In other words, is prayer about God and our wonder of who he is, or does the very word when used in the Bible also have man as the subject of the prayer?

Our prayers should include praise and worship for Who God is (See Psalms 8, 19, 23, 46, 95, 100, 148). Yet, the word "prayer" in the Bible often has others as the subject of the prayer. For example, upon hearing of the affliction of the Jews back in Jerusalem, Nehemiah responded as follows: "Now it came about when I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven" (1:4). The Hebrew word here for prayer is palal (see below), which emphasizes the humility and the specific request of the individual who is praying. The content of Nehemiah's prayer was for the afflicted people back in Jerusalem (See 1:6). The prayer was directed to God, but it concerned the well being of others. So the word "prayer" itself is often (See again the Book of Pslams) associated with prayer to God about man.

Having said this, what are some of the meanings of the words associated with prayer? For example, the Hebrew word palal places the emphasis on the humility of the person praying. Palal is also the appeal placed before God to act on a specific need. Atar places the emphasis on the intensity of the one praying. Sa'al means "to ask" or "to inquire" and it is used of those seeking God's guidance for their lives. Paga' is used of intercessory prayer, that is, the prayer of individuals on behalf of others. Hanan is the heart's cry to God for mercy (L. Richards, Bible Teacher's Commentary, 638).

Each of these words express the importance of a personal and intimate relationship with God. They emphasise the humility and the dependence we should have on God as Reedemer, Deliverer and Provider. Our prayers are answered not so much because of how we pray but because our Creator is gracious, kind and merciful. He longs to hear our voice and respond to our cry. The emphasis ultimately in prayer is on God who answers.

The Greek language also has various words that help us grasp the colorful aspects of prayer. Paul uses multiple words when writing about prayer. "With all prayer (proseuche) and petition (deesis) pray (proseuchomai) at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition (deesis) for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:18, NASB). Then in Philippians 4:9 Paul writes, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer (proseuche) and supplication (deesis) with thanksgiving (eucharistia) let your requests (aitema) be made known to God." Proseuchomai is the term of indearment for prayer in the New Testament, which is contrary to the cold "calling on a deity" which characterized classical Greek Culture. Deesis is translated as "petition" and "supplication". Its use encourages us to pray for specific needs. James writes, ". . . The effective prayer" (or supplication) "of a righteous man can accomplish much" (James 5:16). Eucharistia denotes a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Paul uses other words as well in 1 Timothy 2:1 (Richards, 638).

As in the O.T., the New Testament's use of words on prayer convey an intimate relationship with God through prayer. Jesus reminds us to "ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you" (John 15:7; See also Matthew 7:7-8). Of course, this passage is in the context of abiding or remaining in Christ and his word. This intimate relationship with the Lord should guide the content of what we ask and seek. We should always seek God's will as we pray.

In his book on prayer, Bill Hybels gives four questions that we should answer as we place our requests before the Lord. He writes, "If God granted this request,
* would it bring glory to him?
* would it advance his kingdom?
* would it help people?
* would it help me to grow spiritually?
(Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be with God, 78).

So does the word "prayer" have to do more with our focus on God or on man? Both. Of course our prayers are always directed to God, but when the biblical authors use the actual word "prayer" they do not always have God as the subject or content of the prayer (that is, his praise). Although it can be argued that some verses in the Old Testament do have God as both the object and subject of those who "pray," the word most of the time (if not all of the time) must be understood to speak of the petitions, requests and intercessions made to God about others and ourselves, as well as prayers of thanksgiving for God's kindness and mercies.
What, then, is prayer? In the words of an old commentary writer, W. Barclay, "Prayer is nothing less than entering into the presence of the Almighty and receiving the resources of the Eternal" (quoted in G. Cowen, Sermon Starters from the Greek New Testament, 16). And I would only add, ". . . on behalf of others and ourselves to the glory of his Name."
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Monday, August 11, 2008

If God is Sovereign, then Evil?

Ah, yes. The doctrine (or teaching) of God's Sovereignty. Basically, this teaching says that God is in control of your life and mine, as well as all of history. In the words of theologian Millard J. Erickson, the sovereignty of God says that "He is the Creator and Lord of all things, and consequently he is free to do whatever he wills. He is not subject to or answerable to anyone. Man is in no position to judge God for what he does" (Christian Theology, 915). (In the area of salvation, Calvinists teach that God is sovereign in electing some to eternal life, according to his purposes, instead of basing his election on an individual's own choosing of God. But, that's a subject for another day).

But, how does God's sovereignty play out in terms of the reality of daily suffering and calamity? What about God's sovereignty and the problem of evil? Consider these two examples. I know of an older couple whose daughter left Cuba and went to Italy with a tourist Visa. She gave birth in Italy, and her child was born with serious allergies. She wants to remain in that country but has to either find someone to sponsor her, find a job, or face having to go back to Cuba. She may be thinking, "This shouldn't be. Why now?" She has no one in that country, and the child's allergies demands a special kind of milk which is rather expensive. She's a believer in Christ and prays that she doesn't have to return to Cuba. What do we tell her? She knows the predicament her child will be in if she has to move back. What do we tell her about God's sovereignty? How does this truth reassure her?

Here's a harder one. Put yourself in this situation. You serve the Lord. You preach his word and you are faithful to share his message with others around the world. Then, your thirty-three-year-old son who serves with you on staff at the same church you pastor gets killed in an automobile accident. Is God still sovereign? This is what Evangelist and Pastor Greg Laurie is going through since the passing of his son, Christopher, on July 24. (You can read more at In his message to his congregation he told them that the day of his son's death was "the worst day of my life." Yet, later on in his message he went on to say, "We have hope . . . In Christ, in the Resurrection." For some people, this doesn't make sense. If God is in control, why does he allow so much suffering and evil to exist?

You can fill in your own personal stories, because I know that you have them. What does God's sovereignty mean? And, if God is sovereign, why doesn't he do something about all the senseless suffering? First, God's sovereignty doesn't mean that he will prevent bad things from happening to his children (at least now; he will in the future). God never guarantees that sickness, hardships, diseases, divorce, accidents, wayward children, and many other ills will never be part of the lives of believers, nor of all human beings. We are in this world, and our lives will have a hefty dosage of trouble (so Jesus, John 16:33). Evil, sin and the consequences of fallen man (=sinful men and women) are a reality. What we can take away from this biblical teaching of God's sovereignty is the confidence that the Lord God is really above all things. Period. This includes the good, the bad and the evil that fills our world. It means that at times God allows bad things, while at others he restricts and even prevents certain evils, according to his purposes (See C.S. Lewis' the Problem of Pain).

For many this explanation of evil's existence is not easy to swallow. For some, limiting God's knowledge of future events, or making him less than all-powerful, is the solution. They can't get themselves to believe in a God who is sovereign (and could we add, loving?) and yet allows for so much suffering. We must remember that in the face of evil, many have chosen not to believe in the God of the Bible, although some like Bart D. Ehrman, from the University of North Carolina, believes that the Bible fails to answer the question, "Why we suffer" (see his book God's Problem). At best one of the things we can say about suffering, says Ehrman, is that, we can say nothing. The "answer" for suffering "is that there is no answer" (157). Yet, I believe that although we can't understand exhaustively how God in his sovereignty allows evil, pain and suffering, some light can be thrust upon why God does allow pain in the world (in part some of the answers given would be explanations for God's existence from evil; that is, how the reality and recognition of evil actually point to a God). Having said this, we do agree with Ehrman that in a real sense, there is simply no answer (which completely makes sense) for so much brokenness endured by humanity around the world. Some answers may come, but the pain remains. These are complex issues.

However, for those of us who believe in the sacredness of the Bible and the God who has revealed himself in its pages we must continue to hold to the biblical teaching of God's sovereignty over creation and people. Why he allows suffering is a troubling question, one for which we don't have a completely satisfying answer. But, that's o.k. I don't need to have all the answers in order to believe in a God who does move the hearts of man and who steers history, even allowing for the existence of evil, toward his sovereign end.

What do you think?
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Mystery of Prayer

I don't really understand prayer. Maybe one day I will. However, I know that God wants us to pray, and to persist in our petitions. Some have said that God answers in one of three ways: Yes, no, and not now. Someone once shared that there's a fourth way which God often answers our prayers: "Wrong subject prayed for." That is, we concentrate on asking for a particular thing, and God says, I'm going to give you something completely different, and better. Something that's not even in your radar.

This morning I read from Jeremiah 29 where God says that his plans for our future is to bless us. Actually, Jeremiah is talking to Israel who is living in captivity around 600 B.C. Many may have thought that there was no longer any hope of returning to Jerusalem from Babylon. But, although Judah had committed sins worthy of her exile, God says that he would be merciful. He says that he hasn't forgotten her. In the midst of her sin, Judah is promised God's grace. God tells her, "You will seek Me, and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). And then God says, ". . . 'and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations from where I have driven you. . . and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile" (29:14; See Jer. 30:3).

Part of why God has established prayer as the means of granting us things is because he wants us to seek him with all our heart. Isn't it easy to fall into a state of complacency when things are going well? Why is it that the fire has to be turned up in our lives in order for us to seek the Lord with zeal? Could there have been another way to get our attention? Apparently not. Our Creator wants us to depend on him and to long for him, and to wait upon him. He desires our heart, our attention, our passion.

Maybe you're not getting what you're asking for. Keep asking. But, remember that God can exchange the subject and surprise you with something you never imagined. It's about his glory, and his Kingdom, but also about conforming you to the image of his Son.

I don't understand prayer, but I know God delights when his children talk to him. I hope that you have taken time this day to stop and talk to him and give him your heart.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Favelas (Slums) of Rio de Janeiro: A Story of Faithfulness

Every once in while a story of courage and faithfullness comes our way. Recently I viewed a short video on the work of missionary Eric Reese from Albany, Georgia. The Favelas or slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, may be one of the poorest and most dangerous areas in all the world. What really hit home after watching this video is the dedication, commitment, and unrelenting spirit of Eric who risks his life as he ministers amist a slum of 100,000 folks who desparately need Jesus.

Eric's story challenges each of us to count the cost of Christ's calling, and to look deep in our hearts to reach out in sacrifice to others who need Christ. It also calls us to trust God when he calls us to do that which is beyond our own strength. To watch the video follow the link and scroll down to "Into the Favelas".
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Friday, August 1, 2008

Is Repentance an Ugly Word? Part II

Many people are confused about the meaning and intent of repentance. For some, repentance places demands on their lives that they are not willling to accept. For others, repentance is only about having a change of mind. But, what is repentance? Is it an ugly word? First, I want to pick up where I left off in yesterday's blog. Then, I want to share how repentance is really a good thing.

Luke 3 talks about John the Baptist and how he called Israel to repentance. Some in the crowd were saying, “We have Abraham for our father” (v. 8). What does this phrase mean? What does it have to do with the call to repentance given by John? Is John referring to the apparent lack of repentance among some as evidence that they were trusting that simply being a physical descendant of Abraham was sufficient? Or, are the words of John a way for him to chastise some for their lack of fruit although they were in fact children of Abraham? I think that although both interpretations can make sense of verse 8, the former is more the thinking of John. Some actually believed that their right to be in covenant with God was theirs simply by being connected to Abraham by natural birth (See John 8:34-45; Galatians 3:26, 29). Those who were truly children of Abraham needed to respond to John's message by repenting for their sin, and not hold to the false assumption that their covenant relationship with God was guaranteed by virtue of birth.

The call to repentance by John prepared the nation of Israel for the appearing of Jesus the Messiah. We read in vs. 15 that “the people were in a state of expectation” for the coming of the Messiah. John explains that the Christ would come to “baptize . . . with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v. 16). Again the imagery of “fire” is mentioned. This time, however, the fire does refer to eternal judgment, not temporal judgment as in verse nine. Why? The baptism of the Holy Spirit refers to the presence of God in the lives of those who would believe in Jesus as Savior after his resurrection. The opposite of eternal life – eternal condemnation - is presented by means of a contrast with the Holy Spirit, “fire”. This contrast is depicted by the use of two items which the winnowing fork separates: “wheat” (=those who believed in Messiah) with “chaff” (=those who reject or don’t believe in the Messiah), and says of the latter that “He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (3:17). Here then, the “fire” is not God’s temporal judgment upon unrepentant sinners, but the fires of condemnation which rests upon those who do not believe in the Son (see John 3:18).

Repentance over sin begins when we acknowledge the things which are out of place in our lives. It is a response to the ways of God which are better than our sinful patterns of self-rule and self-sufficiency. It is a re-aligning of our lives according to the teachings of the Lord. So, then? Is "repentance" an ugly word? I hope that by now you can see that the word repentance is a good word.

What lessons can we derive from this passage in Luke 3? First, it is important to recognize that those who refuse to repent (whether believers or not) can expect the temporal judgment of God upon their lives (v. 9). This is because God is Holy and he responds to sin, especially ongoing, unrepented sin. God’s blessings are experienced by everyone who does what is right before his eyes, because following the Creator's plan for life always brings good (See Psalm 34:8). However, those who persist in sin will sooner or later receive the temporal (=in life) consequences of breaking God’s laws.

Second, being connected to God is not a matter of physical birth, or social status, or human relationship. It is based on the knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior (See Ephesians 2:8-9). He is the One sent by God to redeem not only Israel but all of humanity. Through faith in Christ alone you and I can receive the promise of eternal life (See 1 John 5:13).

Third, repentance must be followed up with concrete demonstrations of God’s renewing work in our lives. As some in the crowd did, we must also turn to God and his word and ask, “What shall we do?” The call to repentance touches each of us to the core because it calls us to submit our will to that of God's. For those of us who have trusted in Christ, we must never think that because our relationship with God is secure through Jesus, we can then live and do as we want. God calls us to die each day to our desires and to follow him as Lord over our lives. Not to do so invites God’s discipline upon our lives now and limits the rewards we will get in Heaven one day. More importantly, it taints the image of God in the world, since followers of Christ are to bear the image of God in this world and be a light in the darkness (Matthew 5:13-16).

John the Baptist’s call to repentance was historically extended to Israel in order to prepare her for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Each of us today are also called to repent in order to avert God’s temporal judgment upon our lives (=consequences of sin), but more importantly, to live lives which pleases our Heavenly Father and brings glory and honor to his name.

No, repentance is not an ugly word. It is rather a God honoring idea, and a cool and safe concept for all of us to practice.

Por Su Gracia y Fidelidad