Wednesday

Why "I'm Sorry" Isn't Enough - What True Repentance Looks LIke

“You two stop arguing and tell each other you’re sorry,” Mom would yell to my sister and me. Crossing my arms and glaring at her, I’d squeeze out the required apology. 

“Sorry.” 

“Sorry,” my sister would mumble back. 

But as soon as Mom’s attention was elsewhere, we’d stick out our tongues and stomp off. Anyone watching would agree that although my sister and I had spoken the right words, our actions didn’t back them up. The sin that caused the conflict continued to dwell safely in our unrepentant hearts. And without repentance, we had no real change. 

The books of First and Second Corinthians paint a much different picture, albeit of a more serious sin than the childhood spats between my sister and me. First Corinthians 5 tells us that members of the church were engaging in sexual immorality. And not just your garden variety of immorality, but “such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles.”

The MacArthur Study Bible adds this commentary: “This sin was so vile that even the church’s pagan neighbors were doubtless scandalized by it.” Now if the pagans are scandalized by it, you know it’s bad. Sadly, neither the sinning members nor the church took the sin seriously. 

With apostolic authority, Paul challenged the offending members and the church. The book of Second Corinthians describes the happy ending – all involved repented and were restored. Unlike my sister and me, however, the offending members of the Corinthian church displayed characteristics of true repentance. 

Let’s look at them in Second Corinthians 7:9-11. 

Godly sorrow – Because repentance, as MacArthur defines it, “refers to the desire to turn from one’s sin and restore one’s relationship with God,” godly sorrow is a necessary component. Different from regret, which often focuses on wishing we hadn’t sinned because we got in trouble, godly sorrow springs from the conviction of the Holy Spirit that our sin has offended God himself. 

Diligence – This is the immediate desire to eagerly pursue righteous living. 

A Desire to Clear Oneself – Not to be confused with trying to avoid punishment, this refers to the repentant sinner’s yearning to regain his godly reputation, earn back the spiritual trust they’ve lost, and no longer bring shame to the name of Christ. 

Indignation – In contrast to loving the sin they’ve committed, those who genuinely repent feel anger at the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil that enticed them to sin. 

Fear – Fear is appropriate when one has sinned grievously against God. As Isaiah experienced when he saw God in all his glory, we should be frightened to stand before God with sin in our lives. Those who haven’t called upon Christ for salvation are one breath away from spending eternity in Hell. Those who have a relationship with Christ are in danger of God’s discipline. Either prospect should invoke fear. 

Vehement Desire – Once we’ve restored our relationship with God through confession and repentance, we must then work to restore the relationships with others that we’ve damaged by our sin. Vehement desire describes a passion to do whatever it takes to make things right. 

Zeal – Zeal is the dynamic energy that commits itself to maintaining purity and warning others about sin’s effects. As a testimony of God’s ability to bring beauty from ashes, sometimes those most wounded by a particular sin become the greatest champions against it. 

Vindication – No longer committed to protecting themselves from the penalty of their actions, repentant sinners desire vindication against the effects of their sin, no matter what it costs them. The dishonest tax collector, Zacchaeus, in Luke 19, is a beautiful example of this. When he placed his faith in Christ, he confessed his sin and expressed his desire to “restore three-fold” whatever he had wrongfully taken. 

Many people experience sorrow and regret over their wrong actions, but those who genuinely repent always demonstrate some of these biblical characteristics. Saying “I’m sorry,” whether we say it to God or to one another, just isn’t enough. To be true and life-changing, repentance requires that we confess and forsake our sin and call upon God to help us banish it from our lives forever.



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Sunday

Check Your Blind Spot -- Seeing Sin Before It Wrecks Your Life

The guy in the SUV never saw it coming. But I did. 

Stopped in traffic in the far right lane on a busy 4-lane highway, I did what my driving instructor had taught me – put your left turn signal on, watch in your side mirror for traffic in the next lane to clear, check your blind spot, then prepare to pull out. 

The guy behind me did the same – minus one very important step – he failed to check his blind spot. The bright green porta-potty truck (complete with a sloshing tank and a porta-potty strapped to the back) had almost passed him when he pulled into its path. I watched it happen in my mirror like a slow-motion crash scene in a low budget Hollywood movie. There was nothing I could do to stop it. 

“No. No. NO!” 

CRASH! 

The forward motion of the truck knocked the SUV back into its lane and into the rear of my Toyota. In three long seconds it was over. Two cars totaled and nary a scratch on the porta-potty truck. We were all thankful it didn’t lose its load. 

Later the driver of the SUV told the police officer, “I guess it was in my blind spot. I never saw it coming.” Two weeks later, the driver’s words still ring in my ears. Instead of thinking about wrecked cars, however, I’m thinking about wrecked lives, because we all have blind spots. 

By definition a blind spot is an area where a person's view is obstructed. Collins dictionary gets more specific. “If you say that someone has a blind spot about something, you mean that they seem to be unable to understand it or to see how important it is.” 

Not limited to the scene in a rear-view mirror, our blind spots pop up in different areas of our lives. They limit our ability to make right choices and endanger our physical, financial, relational, and spiritual lives. 

Some of us have blind spots concerning our physical health. We fail to see (or choose to ignore) our increasing weight, decrease in stamina, or rising blood sugar or cholesterol numbers. We slip into poor eating habits or turn a blind eye to the value of exercise. Short-term medication to get us through a bad spot becomes long-term therapy with no exit plan. 

Others suffer because of financial blind spots. We ignore mounting debt and pay only the minimum while continuing to borrow money. Or turn our backs on the wise principles of saving and charitable giving. Or continue to “loan” money to people who never pay it back. 

Sometimes we struggle with relational blind spots. We fail to see the needs of others and find ourselves in a crisis we never saw coming. Or continue to do the same thing the same way and wonder why we don’t get different results. We lose our ability to distinguish between helping and enabling, or we give others too much power, allowing them to make us feel inadequate, inferior, and insecure. 

Finally, our spiritual life is one of the greatest areas for blind spots. Relationships become idolatrous when they take first place over our relationship with God. Complacency and laziness dull our desire to pray, serve, and worship, leaving our spiritual lives lukewarm and ineffective. Society’s siren song of love apart from truth causes us to compromise on foundational biblical principles. 

It’s not enough just to be aware of blind spots, we have to take action against them.

Here are three ways we can protect ourselves: 

1. Remain vigilant. Never think you’re too healthy, financially smart, relationally sound, or spiritually mature to be blinded. 

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!” (1 Cor. 10:12). 

2. Put safeguards in place. Alone or with your spouse, establish ground rules for the important areas of your life. Decide in advance how you’re going to act in different scenarios. God always promises to make a way to escape temptation, but even better than escaping is is avoiding it all together. 

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14). 

3. Maintain good habits. What we do regularly charts the course of our lives, good or bad. Here are some of mine: Physical – I exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Financial – we pay off our credit card every month. Relational – we've agreed divorce is not an option. We do what it takes to work it out. Spiritual – I make church attendance and daily Bible reading a priority. 

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). 

If the driver who hit me had been watching his blind spot, he wouldn’t have wrecked his car or mine. If we stay alert for physical, financial, relational, and spiritual blind spots, we can avoid wrecking our lives and the lives of those around us. Even better, we can honor and glorify God and point others to him. 

Now it’s your turn. Which blind spots to you struggle with the most? How do you guard against them? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.



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Wednesday

Conformed or Transformed? Which Are You?

“Squish it in like this,” I instructed Lauren, my 3-year-old granddaughter, “and then press the lever hard. See how it comes out the other end in a big, long tube.” 


I was showing Lauren how to use a play dough extruder – the toy that allows you to stuff a wad of play dough in one end and squeeze it out into a variety of shapes. Following my instructions, she pressed out a long, star-shaped log that she sliced into ten identical pieces.

At the other end of the table, my husband was rolling dough with his hands to form more unique creations. So far he’d made a snowman with a hat and scarf, a man’s face, and a family of rabbits.

The contrast between Lauren’s identical stars and my husband’s one-of-a-kind creations reminded me of Romans 12:2, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

So often the world, like the play dough extruder, tries to conform us. It attempts to stuff us into its mold, apply the pressure of societal and political correctness, and squeeze out someone that looks, acts, and thinks exactly like everyone else.


In contrast, God seeks to transform us. With loving care he applies the truth of his Word to gently shape us into the best possible version of ourselves – one that looks and acts a lot like his son, Jesus. 

Which would you rather be? An identical replica conformed to this world or a unique creation transformed into God’s image?

Renewing our minds daily with God’s Word helps us position ourselves to be transformed instead of conformed. If you're feeling the press of the world today, why not spend some time in the Bible? 

Father, I invite you to lovingly transform me into the image of your Son, Jesus. Mold me, shape me, and use me for your glory.



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Saturday

Living in the Cone of Uncertainty

For five days now I’ve been living in “the cone of uncertainty.” In the path of Hurricane Irma, my fellow South Carolinians and I have been glued to the National Weather Service updates. We want to know whether this monster storm is going to smash our homes and drown our state. 

As Irma charges across the Atlantic like a fat kid on a diving board, her first cannonball has swamped the tiny islands of Barbuda and Puerto Rico. The Florida Keys are next. Then Miami? Palm Beach? Tampa? It’s the cone of uncertainty. 

Spaghetti models wiggle their way from Cuba, to Miami, to Tennessee and all parts in between. The wide path of possibilities have half the South queuing up in long lines at gas stations and grocery stores. The other half has hit the road searching for safety. 
We stock our kitchens with enough food to feed the evacuees who have arrived on our doorsteps, while wondering if we’ll have the electricity to refrigerate and cook it. Again, the cone of uncertainty. 

We tie down lawn furniture, top off the grill’s propane tank, and eye the stately oaks we normally adore with a wary eye and a fearful glance. Will the roof hold? Will the trees topple? Will the streets flood? Curse that cone of uncertainty. 

The irony strikes us – while we prepare for possibly the worst weather of our lives, we enjoy the best weather of the season. Cool nights, low humidity, and clear skies. A breeze whispers in our ears, and we wonder, has it begun? Dogging our steps is the cone of uncertainty.

You might not live in the path of Hurricane Irma, but you may still be experiencing the cone of uncertainty. You might be asking questions like: 

Will my marriage survive? 

Will my prodigal come home? 

Will I find a job? Will my cancer return? 

Will I ever get married, have a baby, finish school? 

The cone of our uncertainty is as wide and varied as the squiggly spaghetti models. We’re sure God knows the path our lives will take, but wish he’d unfold the map and give us a peek. 

How do we cope with life’s cone of uncertainty? The only way is to set our anchor on the bedrock of God’s promises. Here are five of my favorites: 



1. Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 

2. Romans 8:38-39: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

3. Psalm 138:7-8: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever . . .” 

4. Philippians 4:19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” 

5. Revelation 21:3-5: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.’ And he that sat upon the throne said,’ Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, ‘Write: for these words are true and faithful.’” 

Whether your cone of uncertainty involves a hurricane, a husband, or a heartache, God wants to meet you there. He is your anchor. He is your deliverer. He is the rescue boat in the storm. Run to him and find safety. 

And if you’re in the path of Hurricane Irma, please know I am praying for you. If you'll leave your name in the comment box, I can pray for you by name.



To remind you that God is in control, here's Ray Stevenson's "Eye of the Storm." 


 

If you're reading by email, click here to see Ray's "Eye of the Storm" music video.


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Wednesday

Who's Listening to Your HeartSong? The Insanity of God

Dmitri was a Russian pastor leading a house church. As townspeople heard of the powerful manifestations of God taking place among the worshipers, more and more crowded into Dimitri’s home to hear about Jesus. One night, more than 150 people gathered. 

The authorities couldn’t let this continue, so they sent Dmitri a thousand kilometers away from his family and locked him in prison. He was the only believer among 1,500 hardened criminals. His captors tortured him to force him to renounce his faith, but Dmitri held firm. 


Nik Ripken’s book, The Insanity of God, A True Story of Faith Resurrected, describes what happened next. 

“For seventeen years in prison, every morning at daybreak, Dmitri would stand at attention by his bed. As was his custom, he would face the east, raise his arms in praise to God, and then he would sing a HeartSong™ to Jesus.” 

The other prisoners would laugh, curse, and jeer. “They’d bang metal cups against the iron bars in angry protest. They threw food and sometimes human waste to try to shut him up and extinguish the only true light shining in that dark place every morning at dawn” (p. 156). 

One day, Dmitri found a full sheet of paper and a pencil in the prison yard. “I rushed back to my jail cell, and I wrote every Scripture reference, every Bible verse, every story, and every song I could recall.” He posted it on a damp pipe in his cell as an offering to the Lord. His jailor saw it, beat and punished him, and threatened him with execution. 

As jailors dragged him from his cell and down the corridor, “the strangest thing happened. Before they reached the door leading to the courtyard—before stepping out into the place of execution—fifteen hundred hardened criminals stood at attention by their beds. They faced the east and they began to sing . . . the HeartSong™ that they had heard Dmitri sing to Jesus every morning for all those years.” 

Shocked, his jailors released their hold and backed away from him. 

“Who are you?” one demanded. Dimitri straightened his back and stood as tall and as proud as he could. 

“I am a son of the Living God, and Jesus is His name!” The guards returned him to his cell and shortly afterward, he was released and returned to his family. 

Every morning, for 17 years, Dmitri sang his HeartSong™. In the face of intense opposition and persecution, he offered praise to God. In the darkest and most hopeless of circumstances, he clung to the Lord Jesus and proclaimed his faith. 

By all outward appearances, Dmitri’s prison “ministry” was fruitless. He was one man, surrounded by evil, clinging to a God who seemed to have forgotten him. But because Dmitri lived to tell his story, we know better. Through his testimony, God cracks the curtain on the mystery of stubborn faith in the face of suffering.

Most of us will never suffer for our faith as Dmitri has, but we are suffering. Health crises, job loss, wayward children, broken marriages, financial ruin, infertility, loneliness, and depression lock us in prison and torture us until we think we might break. 

Yet every day, sometimes with voices that others must strain to hear, we lift our HeartSongs™ to God. We may not sing aloud, although sometimes we do. Most days those around us hear our songs through our actions and our words. 

We continue to pray. We refuse to lose hope. We serve God despite our heartache, and proclaim his goodness to anyone who will listen. We place our hand in the nail-scarred hand of Jesus and declare with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). Our lives of faith and service are our offerings of praise for all the world to hear. 

Dear suffering friend, like the prisoners in Dmitri's story, someone near you is listening to your HeartSong™. 

Don’t stop singing. 

Now it’s your turn. Has God ever revealed to you, perhaps years later, that someone was watching how you walked through a trial? Leave a comment below and share your story. 

Would you like to hear Dmitri's HeartSong? Here's a haunting clip from the movie. 




If you’re reading by email, CLICK HERE to watch the clip.

If you’d like to read or watch more stories of those who follow Jesus when it doesn’t make sense, click HERE for The Insanity of God book and HERE for the Insanity of God DVD.



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