Repentance is a practice, and other truths

 

Nuggets of truth I learned in a year-long study through several Old Testament books:

 

  • God’s definition of success is to be faithful, and we do that by meditating on His word.
  • We are on God’s team. He is not on our team.
  • Sometimes, we don’t understand God’s directions. But He sees the big picture.
  • The Christian life is a marathon. Jesus has already finished the race, and returned to help us through it.
  • What are my gods? Where do I spend my time? What do I think about during the day, and at night? What do I worry about?
  • God sometimes empties us before He can fill us.
  • Kindness leads people to repentance.
  • Christ redeems us, even if we are foreigners (as Boaz did for Ruth).
  • What do we do with our idols when they don’t work? We often prop them up, and keep using them – to our destruction.
  • Repentance: Turn away from sin, turn to God.
  • We have to ask for deliverance continually. This is sanctification.
  • I need to lead with confidence where God has given me influence.
  • The Psalms are like a waterfall. Singular verses are good, but they aren’t a waterfall.
  • The Psalms have the power to realign our hearts to God. They are cracking the vault of my buried emotions.
  • God used both success and trouble to shape David’s life.
  • Do I want to let God write my story, or do I want to write it for Him?
  • Hopelessness is pervasive today. We look in all the wrong places for hope.
  • Am I looking for relief, or relationship?
  • David inquired of the Lord …
  • I don’t know God’s timing.
  • We are living our lives in the middle of God’s throne room. We get to join God in what He is doing.
  • Win or lose, I should worship God.
  • Do I reflect on how merciful God is in my life? What do I dream about? Probably about me, not God. He rested on the seventh day to reflect on what He’d created.
  • Israel is a great nation because it has a great God.
  • Am I willing to trade my plan for His, even if I don’t see it fulfilled?
  • Many of our battles are internal – lust, greed, pride, self-centeredness. But the victory has already been won.
  • Repentance is a practice. I have to get rid of sin. Otherwise, the pain stays.
  • Obedience brings blessing. Disobedience brings judgment.
  • Church attendance isn’t enough. A personal encounter with God changes lives.
  • Israel trusted in the ark of God, instead of the God of the ark.
  • God will not be mocked. He expects His people to live differently than everyone else does.
  • God intends us to build each other up, even if others hurt us – the way David respected Saul.
  • God rested on the seventh day – not just to rest, but to reflect on what He’d done.
  • When a prophet shows up, usually there’s a reason and it doesn’t go well.
  • We can choose to sin, but we cannot choose the consequences. Stop before it starts. The longer we wait, the harder it gets.
  • God is just. We blow off sin. God does not. (For example, when David took a census of Israel toward the end of his life, he wanted to celebrate Israel’s size, not God’s power. God’s judgment for that cost 70,000 people their lives.)
  • God limited places of worship to keep pagan practices out, but Solomon worshiped at high places of pagan gods.
  • The focus is not what I need, but who I need.
  • God’s gifts do not ensure that we use them wisely.
  • We do not create wisdom. We discover it.
  • Learn from the mistakes of others. We don’t have to experience everything to learn lessons.
  • Even when we are distant from God, we can call out to Him for forgiveness.
  • The central Temple building is no longer needed. Our bodies are God’s temple.
  • Solomon fulfilled the Temple obligation; that was not devotion.
  • Leaders are to execute justice and righteousness.
  • Each day presents new opportunities to trust God or go our own way.
  • Not all adversity is because of sin, but if we face adversity, a heart check is a good idea.
  • Pleasure is only for a moment. God is forever.

 

 

 

Perfect justice will come

Justice and wisdom. They go together.

I found the best explanation of justice in a book on hope by Max Lucado. The best description of wisdom resides in another book, this one a novel.

Let me set the stage with this:

 

For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Corinthians 5:10

 

Justice

Lucado published a book last year (2018) called “Unshakable Hope: building our lives on the promises of God”. One of those promises is titled, “Justice Will Prevail.”

Lucado explains how that 2 Corinthians judgment will work. It makes a whole lot of sense.

You and I, along with each person who ever lived, is living or will live, one day will stand before God’s judgment seat.

Heaven requires that sins be paid. All of them. There will be no sin in heaven.

hope

How will God remove all sin from Heaven? One at a time. As long as it takes.

Here’s the picture Lucado paints of what judgment will look like.

Each of us individually will stand in a courtroom, God’s courtroom, and face our Maker. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:12)

In those books are all of our works, good and evil. Every single one.

In an American courtroom, every defendant is allowed an advocate, someone to defend him or her. It’s not mandatory; we can reject assistance and stand before the judge on our own if we so desire.

On God’s judgment day, those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior will have an advocate as God reads off our sins. For example:

  • Bill made a comment behind someone’s back. Jesus: I died for that.
  • Bill ignored a person he could have helped. Jesus: I know. I have forgiven him.
  • Bill cussed under his breath, but a few people heard him. Jesus: I took care of that.

And on and on. Every single sin I have ever committed, and will commit, in my entire life. God will read them off.

Jesus will accept the punishment for each one of them.

There will be no secrets in Heaven, no wondering, “What did he/she do down there on Earth?” We will be free, completely free, from all sin – and able to worship God and live for Him with our whole hearts.

When the list is ended, anything good I’ve done will also get read aloud by the living God, according to the verse I quoted in 2 Corinthians. God will celebrate all the good that happened (and is happening and will happen) down here on Earth.

This is the judgment of each one whom Jesus knows intimately.

But some people on Earth reject God.

God will honor that. And He will judge accordingly.

These folks will face the same judgment. They will stand before God, and He will read off their sins, one by one, just as He did mine.

But they will have no advocate standing next to them, offering to pay for their sins.

God, therefore, will declare them guilty – the only sentence He can pronounce.

Justice will prevail. For each and every one of us.

Wisdom

Justice plays out in a similar fashion in one of my favorite novels – “The Shack,” by William Paul Young. In a chapter titled “Here Come Da Judge,” we see two main characters: Mack, who is bitter over the kidnapping and death of his young daughter, and the judge, later identified as Sophia, the personification of God’s wisdom.

shack

Mack also has a wife and four living children. In this chapter, we learn that Mack, like many of us, is quick to judge just about everyone he meets – and he blames God for allowing his daughter to die.

How accurate are our judgments? God writes down all of our deeds, good and evil, in books that will be opened one day. But how much do you and I truly know about each other?

Since Mack was quick to condemn the killer of his daughter and God for allowing that scenario to play out, Sophia did something unusual. She got up from her judge’s chair and invited Mack to sit there. Judgment Day had arrived, and he was the judge.

Mack was unnerved. He felt unqualified.

But he judged people all the time, so he had lots of experience at it. He was qualified then, right?

Judge Sophia gave him a challenge: Only two of your five children can go to heaven. You must send the other three to hell. Which of your children would you sentence to hell?

When you put it that way, Judge …

But that’s what we do every day, don’t we?

Mack said he couldn’t do it. No way. Sophia said you must. You want to judge, you think God judges like this, then render your verdict.

Mack pleaded for his children, all of them. He said he’d take the punishment for their sins – send him to hell, let all of his children go to heaven.

Mack finally understood wisdom. Because that’s exactly what Jesus Christ did for His children.

There’s so much more to “The Shack” than this one scene. It’s a great book, and it came out as a movie two years ago.

The advocate

I’m glad I’m not the ultimate judge of anyone, even though I try sometimes. I don’t know your motives, why you do what you do. You don’t know my motives. Shakespeare said all the world’s a stage, and he was right. We’re all actors, and when we play a role, we can hide our true selves.

But we can’t hide from the living God.

That’s why His justice is perfect.

Each of us will get what we deserve.

The question is: Will you have an advocate with you on the Judgment Day? Only one advocate will be allowed in that courtroom, and he paid a very heavy price to claim that role.

A price that no one else can come close to paying.

That day will come. It’s been promised.

Will you be ready?

One day …

A prayer for God to do whatever it takes to convince the world that he is indeed God:

 

O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!

Even now your enemies are in tumult; those who hate you have raised their heads.

They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against those you protect.

They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more.”

They conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant – the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assyria also has joined them; they are the strong arm of the children of Lot.

Do to them as you did to Midian, as to Sisera and Jabin at the Wadi Kishon, who were destroyed at En-dor, who became dung for the ground.

Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, “Let us take the pastures of God for our own possession.”

O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind.

As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane.

Fill their faces with shame, so that they may seek your name, O LORD.

Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace.

Let them know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.

 

Psalm 83

History unfolds before our eyes

Is the Earth billions of years old, as many people believe, or is it just a few thousand years old, as some creationists claim?

We received a good clue to this question 39 years ago, when on May 18, 1980, a relatively small volcano, Mount St. Helens in Washington state, erupted – causing more damage than any volcano in U.S. history, before or since.

Lessons learned

Because of the Mount St. Helens eruption, scientists know that sedimentary rock layers can form in only hours, rather than requiring millions of years.

Rapid outflow from the volcano caused massive amounts of sediment to fill in the entire valley adjacent to the mountain. And a 1982 dam breach of the snow-melt lake that had formed in the mountain’s crater caused a catastrophic flood that gashed those fresh deposits from two years earlier. To this day, the resulting steep-sided canyon walls can be seen, showing that horizontal sediment layers hundreds of feet thick were formed within hours during the eruption.

The eruption also showed that radiometric dating is not necessarily accurate and that God gave animals and plants the ability to rapidly re-colonize barren land, according to the Institute for Creation Research. A new rock cap atop the mountain that formed after the 1980 eruption should have shown it to be on the order of tens of years. But standard analysis gave the totally incorrect date of 350,000 years.

https://www.icr.org/article/a-30-years-later-lessons-mount-st-helens

25-foot layers formed in hours

Ken Ham, founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis – and the visionary behind the Creation Museum and nearby Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati – offered this commentary on Mount St. Helens in May 2000 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the eruption:

The events associated with the volcano’s explosion accomplished in seconds, hours or just a few days geologic work that normally would be interpreted as having taken hundreds or even millions of years. One particular canyon was formed, which has since been named the “Little Grand Canyon.” About 100 feet deep and somewhat wider, it is about 1/40th the scale of the mighty Grand Canyon. This canyon was formed in one day from a mudflow. A newly formed river then flowed through the Canyon formed by the mudflow.

I remember being taught in school that when you saw a canyon with a river running through it, you assumed that the river took a long time to erode the canyon. My teachers — not having known what happened at Mount St. Helens — would have concluded the same thing about the small river cutting through the Little Grand.

The erosion of this canyon enables scientists to see some of the layers that were laid down. What astonished them were features such as the 25-feet-thick deposit that consisted of thousands of thin layers. In school, I was taught that you assume layers like this were laid down at the rate of perhaps one or two a year. Then you could estimate how long it took for such a deposit to form, perhaps even millions of years.

However, this 25-feet-thick series of layers was formed in less than one day — perhaps even just three hours.

People around the world are indoctrinated by evolutionists who believe that layers like those we see at the Grand Canyon took millions of years to be laid down. That belief of “billions of years” is foundational to evolutionary thinking. What happened at Mount St. Helens is a powerful challenge to this belief.

The evidence here shows that one can logically accept that the Flood of Noah’s day — and its after-effects — could have accomplished extraordinary geologic work, carving out canyons and the laying down of sediments in massive quantities all across the globe — just as we see today.

Increasingly, most geologists — evolutionist or creationist — who have been to the Grand Canyon will now acknowledge that the Canyon was carved by a lot of water over a little period of time, not over millions of years.

https://answersingenesis.org/geology/mount-st-helens/mount-st-helens-evidence-for-genesis/

The canyon caused the creek

Ham isn’t the only one to reach those conclusions. Tas Walker of Creation Ministries International offers this commentary from July 2017:

The eruption demonstrated that geologic catastrophe can produce in hours and days geologic features previously believed to have taken millions of years. When we see what the volcano did in such a short time, we can better appreciate how the catastrophe of Noah’s Flood formed the much larger geological features on planet Earth.

For many years, geologist Steven Austin researched the geological effects of the Mount St. Helens’ eruption and its aftermath. He published extensively on how that catastrophe sheds light on the global catastrophe of Noah’s Flood, which is a key to confirming the Bible’s truth.

MOUNT ST HELENS

One of the many surprising results was a 25-foot-thick sedimentary deposit exposed in a cliff alongside the North Fork Toutle River. It is composed of finely-layered sediment. From eyewitness reports, photographs and monitoring equipment, it is known that this whole deposit formed in just three hours, from 9 p.m. to midnight on June 12, 1980.

It was deposited from black clouds of fine, hot ash mixed with gas, blasting at high speed from the volcano. Ash-laden and heavier than air, the flow surged down the side of the volcano and along the river valley at more than 100 mph, hugging the ground and depositing ash.

The big surprise was that the sediment deposited in fine layers called laminae. You would expect a catastrophic, high-speed ash flow to churn the fine particles and form a uniform, well-mixed deposit. Thus, it had been conventionally thought that fine layers had to accumulate very slowly one upon the other over hundreds of years. But Mount St Helens showed that the coarse and fine material automatically separated into thin, distinct bands, demonstrating that such deposits can form very quickly from fast-flowing fluids (liquids and gases).

Since then, laboratory experiments have shown that fine laminae also form quickly from flowing water. This shows how finely-layered sandstone deposits in other situations, such as some of the lower layers in the Grand Canyon, likely formed rapidly, which could have happened within the time-scale of Noah’s Flood.

The Mount St Helens eruption also demonstrated how canyons can be formed much faster and in a different manner than conventionally thought. Ongoing eruptions eroded the thick sediment dumped at the base of the volcano, producing multiple channels and canyons. One such channel was dubbed ‘Little Grand Canyon’, being about 1/40th the size of Grand Canyon … Someone coming across that canyon could easily conclude that it was eroded slowly and gradually by the small creek now running through it, over many hundreds or thousands of years.

However, this canyon was carved by a mudflow caused after a small eruption of Mount St. Helens melted snow within the crater on March 19, 1982. The mud built up behind debris, burst through it, and cut the canyon in a single day.

So, the creek did not cause the canyon. The canyon caused the creek.

Yet, by volcanic standards, even in historic times, the Mount St. Helens blast was relatively small, ejecting some 0.2 cubic miles of ash. The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD was three times larger, Krakatoa in 1883 was 18 times bigger, and Tambora in 1815 was 80 times larger. The volume of lava in the Deccan Traps in India is some 5 million times more. These indicate that volcanic eruptions during Noah’s Flood were millions of times larger.

When we consider the true immensity of the biblical cataclysm, and how it impacted the whole Earth, Mount St. Helens helps us envisage how Noah’s Flood explains the geology of the world, and how it happened so quickly.

https://creation.com/lessons-from-mount-st-helens

Fast destruction

Lifescience.com, a science news website (and not a creationist organization), corroborates details about the eruption:

Mount St. Helens was once a beautiful, symmetrical example of a stratovolcano in the Cascades mountain range in southwestern Washington, rising to 9,600 feet above sea level. Then, on May 18, 1980, the once-quiet volcano erupted and blasted off the upper 1,000 feet of the summit. A horseshoe-shaped crater and a barren wasteland were all that remained.

Since then, the land has healed and recovered much of its natural beauty, but it’s likely Mount St. Helens won’t stay quiet forever …

On the morning of May 18, Keith and Dorothy Stoffel were making an aerial survey of the volcano when they noticed a landslide on the lip of the summit’s crater. Within seconds, the whole north face of the mountain was on the move. Just as they passed around to the east side of the mountain, the north face collapsed, releasing superheated gases and trapped magma in a massive lateral explosion. Keith put the plane into a steep dive to gain the speed to outrun the cloud of incandescent gas; Dorothy continued to photograph the eruption through the rear windows of the plane as they made their escape.

The abrupt release of pressure over the magma chamber created a “nuée ardente,” a glowing cloud of superheated gas and rock debris blown out of the mountain face moving at nearly supersonic speeds. Everything within eight miles of the blast was wiped out almost instantly, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The shockwave rolled over the forest for another 19 miles, leveling century-old trees; all the trunks neatly aligned to the north. Beyond this “tree down zone” the forest remained standing but was seared lifeless. The area devastated by the direct blast force covered an area of nearly 230 square miles.

Shortly after the lateral blast, a second, vertical explosion occurred at the summit of the volcano, sending a mushroom cloud of ash and gases more than 12 miles into the air. Over the next few days, an estimated 540 million tons of ash drifted up to 2,200 square miles, settling over seven states.

The heat of the initial eruption melted and eroded glacial ice and snow around the remaining part of the volcano. The water mixed with dirt and debris to create lahars, or volcanic mudflows. According to U.S.G.S., the lahars reached speeds of 90 mph and demolished everything in their path.

The 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption was the most destructive in U.S. history. Fifty-seven people died and thousands of animals were killed, according to U.S.G.S. More than 200 homes were destroyed, and more than 185 miles of roads and 15 miles of railways were damaged. Ash clogged sewage systems, damaged cars and buildings, and temporarily shut down air traffic over the Northwest. The International Trade Commission estimated damages to timber, civil works and agriculture to be $1.1 billion.

https://www.livescience.com/27553-mount-st-helens-eruption.html

A new view of history

The eruption of Mount St. Helens provides a unique look into the history of Earth. We saw rock formations develop before our eyes – formations that scientists previously thought took thousands or millions of years to grow.

The same science applies to the Grand Canyon, which proves that Noah’s Flood covered the Earth – and quickly.

Is Earth only a few thousand years old? I can’t say, of course. I wasn’t around when Earth was created. But the evidence suggests that it’s not as old as many people think it is.

We have the eruption of Mount St. Helens to thank for a lot of that.

True love changes us

Love people just as they are.

Yes and no.

Yes, all people are created in the image of God and have specific gifts, talents and abilities. Even more than that, each of us has a purpose here on Earth.

I accepted Christ as my savior as a teenager mainly because counselors and other campers at a church camp I attended accepted me for who I was, even though I did nothing to earn their love. I wanted what they had, and it was Jesus.

Love people just as they are.

No. God loves us too much to leave us there. Accepting Jesus as my savior was the starting point, not the final destination. The road of life needs to be re-paved; the old one eventually will wear out.

If we claim to follow Jesus, we must grapple with this:

 

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? On what will they give in return for their life?”

Matthew 16: 24-26

 

And this:

 

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Mark 1:14-15

 

Deny themselves? Take up their cross? Repent?

No wonder Jesus said the way of life is narrow and few will find it (Matthew 7:14).

Deny themselves

I’ve written about this several times recently, and gotten some push-back from it – not surprisingly. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. The world doesn’t revolve around me. Or you.

The church I attend has a term for this: Live surrendered.

It’s not easy, certainly.

I do not have this life (or the next life, for that matter) all figured out. There’s plenty I don’t know. Am I willing to learn?

We all know how difficult justice is to find in our court systems. Lawyers gather as much evidence as they can, for and against, and the jury weighs the evidence and makes a decision. That’s the best we can do.

Yet sometimes innocent people are convicted, and occasionally guilty people go free. It happens. We know this.

Is there a better way? Is there such a thing as true justice?

Yes, there is. But we might not get it until the next life.

At that point, when we see what justice really looks like, we might wish we didn’t have to face it. Because all of us will have to face it.

That’s a column for another day.

The point is: I don’t have all the answers. I know someone who does. That someone is the One who created me. Sometimes God will tell me what the answers to my questions are, sometimes He will not. I follow Him anyway. This is called trust.

I trust that God’s way is better than my way. (Sorry, Frank Sinatra.) That’s what denying ourselves means.

Take up their cross

Yikes. The cross is an instrument of death. We wear it around our necks as jewelry, build them alongside highways and hang beautiful ones inside our churches.

Crucifixion is one of the most horrific forms of death man has ever devised. The purpose – the only purpose – of a cross is to kill someone.

Jesus had a cross. We know that. But he said that followers should take up their cross. Do we have to die too?

In a sense, yes, we do. For the wages of sin is death … (Romans 6:23)

We earn wages. Sin has a price. It’s death.

What is sin? Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)

So, sin is breaking God’s laws.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:10)

If we think this through, we know this is true. If I’m guilty of theft, I’m not necessarily guilty of murder, but I’m still guilty of breaking the law and I have to serve a sentence for the theft I committed. Right?

So, sin is breaking God’s laws.

What are God’s laws?

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

How do we do that?

On one level those words are easy to understand. But it takes a lifetime to fully know how to love God and love people. (Quick note: Do we love God with ALL our heart, soul and mind – or just with the parts of our heart, soul and mind we want to give to God? We aren’t allowed to interpret the Bible the way we’d like. We either follow it, or we don’t.)

Repent

Gotquestions.org has a good explanation of repentance:

In the Bible, the word repent means “to change one’s mind.” The Bible also tells us that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8-14, Acts 3:19). In summarizing his ministry, Paul declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20). The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.

Love them as they are? Yes. But that’s only the starting point.

Why change?

“No slave can serve two masters … You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13)

“They (my followers) do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (Jesus, in John 17:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Denying oneself. Taking up our cross. Repenting. And following Jesus.

This is what true love is.