Three Ps of Creation

 

do all thingswith love
graphic made at https://www.canva.com/ 🙂

As I considered the idea of creativity and what it means to have been created by a creative God, I began to realize that making things, that working to produce things, is probably tied up more in who we are as humans than we realize. As I mentioned in the post last week introducing the study, we’ve lost a lot…most?…of the making that for year, humans had to do for their survival.

If wheat wasn’t planted, cultivated, harvested, separated from the chaff, ground, mixed with other ingredients, and cooked…there was no bread. If the sheep weren’t sheered, the wool cleaned and spun, then woven and made into a garment…there was nothing to wear. I’m sure you get the picture, so I won’t go on.

It suffices to say that our generation has seen a rapid increase in conveniences that might make life easier, but perhaps doesn’t make it fuller.

I believe that in losing the labor of making things, we’ve lost a large portion of how we were wired to be. Before we can explore this further, though, let’s turn our eyes to God. It’s where they should be pretty regularly, anyway, and we can learn a great deal about our creativity by observing His. We were made in His image, after all. In a moment, we’ll be reading of the first display of creativity; it bursts forth gloriously in unimaginable splendor.

As we read, let’s pay special attention to the Three Ps (the process, the product, and the purpose) in God’s creativity. Each day, He is building on what He did in previous days. I’d say “from the ground up”, but He began without ground. He began with a void and spoke things into existence.

Process…

When we want to make something, we must first gather our supplies. Want to make a meal? Get out the ingredients, the cookware, and turn on the stove or oven. Want to paint a picture? Find a surface to paint, set up your colors, and choose your brushes. Want to sew a dress? Choose a pattern (or, if you’re really talented, draft one!), choose fabric, get your needle and thread or sewing machine ready, and scissors. We’ll stop there, but the gist is that when we want to make something, we have to prepare, we have to start with something already there.

God, when He created the earth, started with Himself. His Words. His creativity. And He spoke all things into existence from nothing. Incredible. Amazing. Incomprehensible. Now read Genesis 1. The whole chapter. After, let it sit in your brain, in your heart, for a moment. It’s worth sitting with, silently, isn’t it? He is the Creator of creativity. And He provides all we need to get creative with His creation.

Product…

Look back through the passage and take a look at what is being made. Each day has something (and sometimes “somethings”!) happening. What is produced each day?

Here’s a fun place to explore for those of us that consider ourselves to be “creative” types. What colors do you see as you imagine Creation unfolding from the Word of the Creator? What shapes and textures might you feel? When we read about it, sometimes the whole thing can feel very flat and text-book-ish. To help understand, creatively, what’s happening, think about what each of your senses would take in.

sight — colors and light and movement of a burgeoning creation…

hearing — the rush of waters being separated and newly-formed animals testing out their new vocal chords…

smell — freshly-turned earth and sprouting plants and animals…

touch — warmth from the new-burning sun and soft grasses and leaves and rough bark on trees and fluffy hair or scaly skin or hard shells…

taste — fresh fruits and tangy salt air of the seas and green plants and earthy flavors of nuts and seeds…

There is such a huge variety in all that He made, and He calls it good! The things of creation have inspired so much creativity in people, from landscape paintings to scarves in colors of the sea to foods prepared to gardens planted.

What creative endeavors do you know of or have you made yourself that you can see the influence of Creation?

Purpose…

Something worth noting is the purposefulness of God’s creative activity. Creation isn’t the end-point, but serves a purpose beyond itself. From nothing at all to a world teeming with life, what does God do last in His Creation? (see Genesis 1:26-278 for a hint!)

When God creates man, in His image and to have dominion over the earth, He not only forms him and gives him life, but breathes His breath in to him (Genesis 2:7) and blesses him.

Creation was made for man, for humanity, for each of us. Now, of course, we have responsibility to care for it, but it was made for our enjoyment and sustenance. It wasn’t made “just because” or without purpose.

Spring Sale
graphic made at https://www.canva.com/ 🙂

When we get to talking about our own creativity later this week, we’ll look again at these Three Ps, so tuck them into the back of your mind. Tomorrow, though, we’ll be exploring how our creativity is connected in a vital way to God’s creativity. And for those of you who don’t consider yourselves “creative types”, don’t worry; we’ll be exploring some of the different ways that creativity can manifest itself. Chances are, you just haven’t discovered yours yet!

In the meantime, I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on how our own creativity reflects God’s. What projects are your working on that show you bits of Creation? What projects has a friend made that really showcases some part of Creation?

Advertisements

Crafting

I’ve long had an image in my mind when it comes to the word “craft” and it involves pompoms, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, glitter, and lots and lots of tacky glue. It’s the “Craft” that follows “Gradeschool” or “Vacation Bible School” or “Daycamp”.

In the last few years, though, I’ve been challenged to expand my ideas surrounding that word. It first began with my publication journey. I’ve been writing since shortly after I could do “crafts”, but it wasn’t until I wanted to try to get a novel published that I started to think of writing as a craft: a skill to be honed through practice and even a semi-apprenticeship as I read other author’s books not just as an avid reader, but as a fellow writer asking questions:

What works well about this storyline? How does this character seem so real? I felt like I was there in that scene; how’d that happen?

Coupled with learning to see writing as a craft was also this recent resurgence of craftsmen and craftswomen. Artists in their field of making and using a skill to either eke out a living, supplement income, or simply do something with their hands that they really enjoy (which is no simple thing at all!).

I’ve long dabbled in a plethora of various “crafts” and crafts…I’m an amateur in many and an expert in none. I’ve developed a theory, though, that there’s an innate need in each of us to create, to make, to craft. Working with our hands not only can lower stress and boost brain function, but when we find something we enjoy making or doing, it can be fun, too!

You may ask, “Why are you telling us all this?” That’s a good question!

twitter
graphic created at canva.com

Next week, I’m starting a new study, called Masterfully Crafted. We are not only made by the Creator, but inspired by Him to create! There are so many possibilities that we could explore, but here’s how I broke it down: We’ll look at a different area of creativity, of making, of crafting each week. I’ll post four mini-studies Monday through Thursday, and every Friday will be a guest-post by an expert in the field we’re looking at for the week. And their guest-posts will be a tutorial, explaining how to get into that particular craft if you’re interested. Don’t worry–each of them are at a beginner’s level and won’t take a huge commitment of finances. And if you aren’t interested, that’s ok, too!

The purpose here isn’t to turn everyone into a “creative type”, because some are more comfortable with numbers or nonfiction than with paint or novels. God gives us each different gifts and interests for a reason–we all fit together, supporting and complementing and encouraging one another. But creativity surpasses the arts. It’s about tapping into a part of ourselves that is suppressed in this technically-advanced world. We don’t have to make our clothes in order to have something to wear, so many of us don’t. We don’t have to cook if we don’t feel like it, because there are restaurants all over the place! We don’t have to even write with a pen, because we have computers for emails, reports, and stories and phones for the same, plus notes and text-messages.

We’re missing out friends.

Now, I did mention “study” and we will be digging into the Word. Not only to see where some of these “crafts” appear in Scripture, but also to see what we can learn about how to use them in a vocational manner in light of what God says in His Word. In short: we’ll see how to use our craftiness in the service of God and one another, and look at how these crafts can remind us of deeper truths taught in Scripture.

We’re starting next week, so I hope you’ll join me! Download the outline here and subscribe to the blog to receive emails in your inbox every day!

Moving Forward

Hello.

It’s been a while. Not as long as other hiatuses that I’ve taken on this blog, but still…longer than I’d wanted or planned.

I’m sorry for not finishing the Lenten series, I had some other deadlines that fell in the same time-frame, and I couldn’t keep up. Ever feel like you’re drowning in your favorite beverage? That’s where I was this past month. I love to write — and in a way, I need to write — but I had too much going on. So I met my other deadlines and this one lapsed. I needed to step back, evaluate and reevaluate, and am now ready to move forward again.

Isn’t so much of life like that? Pause. Breathe. Take stock. Move forward.

New, exciting things are on the horizon, and approaching at what seems a break-neck speed. Because of this, my plan for The Gift of Repentance series has changed. I plan on coming back to it next Lent, finishing it, and then having a PDF available after that on a “resources” page.

Now on to the new.

I’ve recently made the decision to pull my two self-published novels for editing. I had them edited, but since putting them out, I’ve grown a lot as a writer and want them to reflect my best writing. I know of enough places that I’d change that I’m not happy with them as I was when I first published them.

Now, those of you who grew to care for and love Penelope, Violet, and everyone else: don’t worry too much. I don’t plan on changing anything intrinsic to the characters or plot. But I believe I can execute it better now than I could two or three years ago. The plan is to edit over the next year, re-work the covers with my designer, and re-release in about two years, in six-month increments. Book Three will be released on the tail of those two.

And now…the big news. Much of my growth as a writer has come as a result of an amazing opportunity I’ve had to write a novel that will be published in June by Concordia Publishing House. For those of you not familiar with CPH, they’re a small but long-standing publisher that typically does more with Bible studies, school and Sunday school curriculum, and church resources. But they’ve been expanding their fiction, and were willing to take a risk on an idea I had for a novel set in Reformation-era Wittenberg, Germany. Over the past year, the amazing team at CPH has been working with me to get my novel ready for publication. And when I say “working with me” I mean that I wrote it, but the excellent editors and doctrinal (and historic) reviewer helped tighten up the manuscript, and I’ve just given a few thoughts as to the cover. They’ve done the rest.

Flame in the Dark

Here’s the cover. Isn’t it gorgeous? Warm and inviting and so much a reflection of the feeling I want the story to convey that I may have cried a little when I saw this final version. The novel is available for preorder on Amazon now, and will be soon on CPH’s website (I’ll post when that happens–right now, the product page isn’t quite ready).

The story follows Heinrich, a student of Dr. Martin Luther’s at the University of Wittenberg, in the wake of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses. This bold action changed the course of history, leaving its impact felt in so many ways. But the reality is that there would also have been repercussions in the lives of regular people at the time. Wherever the Word of God is taught, He is active and moving. His Word impacted people history as personally as it does us now.

I’ll be sharing more about the novel in the weeks to come, leading up to its release on June 12. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Comment below on what you’d be sad to see go from the Regency novels (Penelope’s Hope and Violet’s Daybreak), or what you’re hoping to see in A Flame in the Dark or in Book Three of the Regency Silhouettes series!

Testifying to Repentance

Paul’s life is a study in repentance and faith.

He eventually becomes God’s instrument for reaching the Gentiles, but his beginning is rocky. Saul is his Jewish name, and Paul is the Greek-ized version of it. We learn later that he is a Roman citizen and very learned in Jewish culture and Scripture; his family most likely had a good deal of wealth at their disposal.

We first hear of him in the account of Stephen’s stoning. Stephen was one of the very early martyrs in the life of the Church. Read Acts 7:54-60.

Did you notice the “young man named Saul” in the second part of Acts 7:58? He’s easily overlooked, especially with the heart-wrenching events taking place in the foreground. But this is definitely foreshadowing something to come.

Acts 8 begins with “And Saul approved of his execution” before going on to detail Saul’s role in the persecution of the Body of Christ. Read Acts 8:1-3. Consider how zealously Saul pursued what he believed to be God’s will. If Jesus had not been the Messiah, Saul would have been a great champion of God’s truth and justice.

But he missed something very important. And in His time, God placed before Saul exactly what he had missed.

Acts 9:1-19 starts by showcasing Saul’s zealous persecution and ends with his being baptized into the faith. Only God could affect such an extreme turn-around. Light, blindness, scales, water, and most of all – the Word. You can read more about Saul, who starts going more by Paul when he begins his ministry to the Gentiles, beginning in Acts 10.

Right now, though, we’re going to explore a moment in his life, recorded by St. Luke in Acts 20:17-27. At this point, he had already traveled extensively, declaring everywhere he went the good news of Jesus Christ. He is headed toward Jerusalem with such urgency that rather than stop at Ephesus on the way, he sends word to the elders in Ephesus to meet him at Miletus, a city south of Ephesus. When they arrive, he addresses them.

Paul starts by reminding them of his service in their community with his words of exhortation and encouragement, sharing the Gospel message of Jesus Christ both in public and in their house-churches. He says that he was “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul knew that both repentance and faith were blessings given him by God. He’d never have had either if Christ had not intervened and come to him on that road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). Because of the repentance given him and the faith given him, he was emboldened and enabled to share that message he heard with so many souls.

Repentance is indeed a turning away from sin, and when God enables us to do that, He urges us to turn to Him. In Him, we are given faith that gives birth to so many wonderful blessings – hope and love, peace that surpasses anything we can understand, strength and boldness and courage that carries us through the trails that this broken world throws at us as it rages again the perfect and holy light of God’s love.

Repentance (7)
Graphic made at https://www.canva.com/.

Paul continues his address to these elders, these shepherds he himself had shepherded, in Acts 20:22-27. He tells them that the Spirit has been urging him to Jerusalem, so he goes, not knowing what awaits him there. He anticipates trial and persecution but also knows that God’s grace will carry him through whatever difficulty he will face. He tells the elders, though, that whatever awaits him, he knows he won’t see them again. Facing the knowledge that this is his last opportunity to encourage and exhort these elders and shepherds of the flock of God’s people, Paul continues to do so in the verses that follow.

When facing the end of our lives, there is a stripping down of the excess that really allows us to identify the core of what matters. For Paul, as for many Christians, this is the Message of the Gospel and the ability of the Christians to continue sharing it at the moving of the Holy Spirit.

There is an interesting juxtaposition with Paul’s words in Acts 20:20-21 and his BC life. Before Christ came to him, he was going from house to house, hunting down followers of the Way.

Acts 8:3 tells us, “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”

In Acts 20:20, Paul describes himself as again going from house to house, but for a different reason. Same action. Different intent, purpose, and outcome.

It’s amazing what a shift in perspective will accomplish. When eyes are turned in repentance from following after sin and death, and brought to focus in faith on the only source of full forgiveness and redemption.

It is vital that we keep in the forefront of our minds that repentance isn’t the goal. The goal is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. That’s why we keep our eyes fixed where they need to be: on the cross.

Read Hebrews 12:1-2. Let’s unpack these verses a bit; they’re so full of good things for us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,

The word “therefore” is a clue to check out what precedes this passage. Hebrews 11 is a long list and description of so many faithful people from the Old Testament. The writer points to the faith given to them, and what God did through their lives. These people and so many others make up the “cloud of witnesses”.

let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,

None of us will be free of the struggle with sin this side of heaven. This is where repentance comes in the life of a Christian. As we remember our Baptism, where in the water and the Word of God we were washed of our sin, we come back to that font in daily repentance. When we are allowing room in our lives, in our hearts, for sins, we aren’t allowing room for the working of God’s Word.

and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Christian life is here compared with a race. Just as a runner must train and condition his or her body for the task, as well as watch what feeds the body, so as Christians, we train and condition our souls and hearts and watch what we feed our hearts and souls.

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,

And here is the heart of the verses. The Answer to repentance, the Creator of faith, and the Hope that allows us to keep running the race.

who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame,

Here’s the why of Christ’s actions on our behalf. He endured the shame of the cross, the utter desolation of paying that price. But not for the sake of paying it – He didn’t owe it. We did. And He paid it for us, because we couldn’t. He passed through the shame of the cross for the joy of bringing salvation to the world.

and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Having passed through His suffering and having made atonement for the sins of the world, He was raised from the dead and is now glorified!

It is in our focus on Christ that we are able to testify to repentance and faith, and all of the other blessings that are poured out so graciously on us by our Lord Jesus Christ.

For quiet devotional time, I invite you to pray Psalm 57.

For further contemplation or journaling: Consider what you would say to someone dear to you if you knew you’d never see them again, as Paul did with the elders at Ephesus. What words would you use?

Called to Repentance

Today’s study ties into our study on Repentance Proclaimed. Not only is Repentance proclaimed by John the Baptizer, by Jesus (and His Word), by the apostles, and by all Christians, but in that proclamation is a beckoning, a calling.

Read Luke 5:27-32.

Levi was also known as “Matthew” – the same Matthew who wrote the gospel account. We learn from this package that in his BC (before Christ) life, Matthew was a tax collector. In Jewish society at that time, tax collectors were seen as being on the same level as prostitutes. They were contractors who worked for the Roman government to collect taxations from their people.

If the governor needed to collect a given amount, tax collectors would bid for the collection, sometimes adding to them sum as an enticement for him to choose their bid. Let’s say in our scenario here that Matthew is awarded the collection. From his own resources, he gives the amount in full to the governor, then set about collecting the taxes from the people, plus a little extra for himself.

Because he’s already invested a substantial sum into this collection, he isn’t going to be patient, kind, and gentle in collecting. He will use threats and force when necessary. So not only is he supporting the occupying Romans whom the Jews don’t like, but he’s being terrible to his fellow Jews.

Matthew must have known that his life wasn’t right. He knew God’s Law. He knew the prophecies concerning the Messiah (Matthew’s gospel account sites more Old Testament prophecy than any of the others). He even had two Jewish names, maybe in some small attempt to atone for his life. But he still wasn’t on the good side of any of the religious leaders, which becomes evident in the passage. Before we get to that, though, let’s explore Matthew’s reaction to Jesus’ invitation.

Did you notice in Luke 5:28 what the Holy Spirit leads Matthew to do? He leaves everything. Now, if I’d invested a large amount that I knew I could never get back, I’m not sure I’d be able to leave it all behind. But at the Holy Spirit’s urging, Matthew does.

When big things happen in life, we tend to celebrate. Birthday parties, graduation parties, wedding showers and receptions, baby showers…Matthew celebrates this pivotal moment in his life by holding a feast, a party, and invites the people he knows.

Which, as it happens, includes tax collectors.

The Pharisees are not happy about this. More than most of the other religious leaders, the Pharisees despise the Roman occupation of the land that God had promised to their forefathers. And anyof of their own who collaborates with those occupiers? They are the lowest of the low. We can imagine how impossible it would have been for them to keep quiet when Jesus, this powerful miracle-performer and popular, compassionate teacher is happy to spend quality time with people of low quality.

Jesus answers their question of why He eats with them in a way that speaks peace to a sin-weary heart like Matthew’s. Like mine. Like yours.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Let that sit a moment. Breathe it in.

Here in Texas, it isn’t uncommon for our children to come inside with a fire-ant bite. They sting and burn, and in come cases, swell up with a painful reaction. My six-year-old came home from school the other day with one such bite. I slathered some ointment on it and told him to let it sit a bit, then wipe away the extra later.

Read Jesus’s words again. Let that balm permeate your heart.

Repentance (6)
graphic made at https://www.canva.com/.

We don’t have to make ourselves good enough for the Righteous King of all creation. Because we can’t.

We don’t need to cleanse ourselves of our sins by taking on a super-Christian identity like Matthew/Levi tried to do. Because we can’t.

Our sin is always more than we can handle.

But our sin is never too great for Christ’s blood to make atonement.

He calls us, as we are. His Spirit leads us to Him and works in His Word. He works on our sin-sick hearts with the healing balm of God’s abundant and lavish love.

Of course, the Pharisees don’t suddenly “get it” with the words of Jesus. They’re silenced for the time being, but ten chapters later, in Luke 15:1-2, we see them once again grumbling about the same thing. “Why is He surrounding Himself with these unsavory characters?” Ultimately, that grumbling turns to scheming for the death of this upstart teacher Jesus.

But it is that death, when His holy blood was spilled, that full atonement was made. For your sins. For my sins. For the sins of all.

For quiet devotional time, I invite you to pray Psalm 42.

For you journaling sorts: Consider what in your life needs healing, what needs the balm of God’s Word. Pray to your loving Savior for the healing only He can bring.

NOTE: Again, I’m sorry for the delay in posting…I’m working on catching up and getting us to finish before Easter! Thank you for your patience with me. 😉

Repentance Produced

There is a clear link between repentance and the comfort of forgiveness. Please read 2 Corinthians 7:8-13a. There are a lot of repeated words here, but if you allow those to inform the path Paul’s taking the reader on this discussion, you’ll see where he’s leading the Corinthians and us.

Answering a Letter…

He knew that the previous letter he wrote (a letter of chastisement because there were some problems in the church at Corinth) had opened their eyes to the need for repentance. As 2 Corinthians 7:8-9 indicates, they took his words – God’s words – to heart. So much so that they were grieved at what he said.

Repentance produced…

Have you ever been struck with the realization that something in your life was no what it should be? That it was, in fact, sinful and needed repenting from and change? It can be that sinking-in-your-gut feeling, that washed-over-with-icy-water feeling, or maybe simply a vague discomfort that grows and grows until you can’t live with it any longer. The Holy Spirit works in the lives of people to move them to repentance.

Repentance (5)
graphic made at canva.com

Repentance in action, in the knowledge of Christ’s atoning sacrifice…

Paul goes on, in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11, to describe what repentance produced does in the life of a Christian. The earnestness and eagerness, the indignation, the fear and longing and zeal and even punishment that he mentions are all stirred in the heart of a believer who knows what follows repentance for a believer.

For a greater purpose…

Repentance is not a comfortable thing. It isn’t meant to be; it’s admission of wrong, and regret over it. My wrong, and no one else’s. I can’t push my blame onto another. I can’t pretend that what I’ve done isn’t as bad as someone else’s wrongdoing, because Christ died for it all. But repentance, and godly grief, isn’t meant to leave you in the bad-feeling. It’s meant to break down the pride that can’t coexist with the Holy Spirit’s work. 2 Corinthians 12-13a looks at it as a growing-tool in the life of a Christian. Paul doesn’t say that the Corinthians, in their grief and repentance, proved to God that they were in earnest. Nor did they prove it to Paul. It was for their benefit, and revealed to them. God already knew their hearts, just as He knows yours.

For comfort…

This is a pivotal component in repentance. Without knowledge of Christ, repentance leads to heartache, despair, even death. Paul knew he was speaking to Christians, to people who knew and believed that Christ was their Redeemer. When repentance does its work, though, we must speak the forgiveness that is poured out from the cross. In that Gospel is the only lasting comfort, the only sufficient answer to a repentant plea.

Let’s look briefly at the example of Joseph and his brothers. If you aren’t familiar with the story, I encourage you to take time to read Genesis 29-49 for a full detailing of what happened (or start with chapter 37 and Joseph’s dreams for a shorter read).

Here is the abbreviated version. 😉 Jacob had two wives and a lot of sons. Joseph was the firstborn of his favorite wife, so Joseph was his favorite son…and he let everyone know he loved Joseph more. His brothers were jealous, so jealous that they wanted to kill him. Rather than have his blood on their hands, they sold him to some people traveling to Egypt. Joseph was bought by someone, falsely accused by the man’s wife, imprisoned for several years, and eventually brought before Pharaoh to interpret a difficult dream. God had been with Joseph throughout, and before Pharaoh, God enabled Joseph to not only interpret the dream correctly, but to propose a plan to deal with the coming famine. Pharaoh was pleased with what Joseph had to say, and put him in charge of everything, under Pharaoh only. Eventually, the famine strikes Jacob’s family, and he sends his sons to buy grain from Egypt…from Joseph. After some back-and-forth, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and brings them and their families to live in Egypt.

When he first revealed himself to them in Genesis 45:1-15, he told them with tears not to be fearful or angry with themselves, because God had a greater purpose for Joseph: to preserve life. It seemed at that time that the brothers were reconciled to Joseph. But several chapters later, we see in Genesis 50:15 that Joseph’s brothers are terrified of him.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”

It would seem that their remorse was, to borrow Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 7:10, more worldly than godly. Joseph had assured them of forgiveness, but they didn’t hear it.

Why might someone not hear forgiveness when it is offered?

This, my dear friends, demonstrates how important it is to listen to one another. Yes, it is God alone who can reach a person’s heart. But as He chooses to use us as His instruments, we strive to meet the tasks He gives us with as much humility and earnestness as possible. Sometimes, people need to be reassured more than once. Satan whispers lies into each of our ears.

“How can you think you’re really forgiven? What you did was terrible.”

“There is no way that God really wants you for His own. You’re so broken!”

“You’ll just mess it up again, you sinner!”

We could go on, but we won’t.

To further illustrate how important it is to speak grace to one another, let me share a little of the inner-workings of Sarah’s mind and heart.

Today, amid more tasks than I could possibly complete and several things not going as I’d planned, I was texting my husband between his classes (he is a history professor) about everything on my plate and how I can’t possible do it all; I ended with a dramatic “I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to write any novel ever again.” He replied that he would pray for me, and reminded me that this season of life is busy because a lot of things came together at the same time, and it wouldn’t always be like that. A little while later, I texted him that one of the things I was stressed about had been solved. Our conversation went something like this:

Karl:       See? God provides.

Sarah:    Yes He does. I’m just worried my sinner-self will miss it all up.

Karl:       I don’t think your sin is stronger than God’s love.

Actually, I’m sure of that.

Your sin is not stronger than God’s love.

It stopped me in my tracks and was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. I hadn’t even realized it was a repentance-matter, but I was imagining that somehow, my sin was bigger than God could redeem. My husband’s words hit me hard, in exactly the right place. And here’s the thing about repentance: When not met with or followed by forgiveness, it can lead to dangerous places.

Just look at Joseph’s brothers. They didn’t hear his proclamation of forgiveness – or maybe weren’t ready to hear it? – and they had an invisible fear that eventually came to the fore in the absence of the protection afforded by their father Jacob’s presence.

We can regret, bemoan, and lament our sin as deeply or as sincerely as we will. But that in itself isn’t able to remove the stain from our hearts. Only the redemption won on the cross by Christ can cleanse us. His blood alone atones for our sins.

Let’s share that with one another, dear friends.

For quiet devotional time, I invite you to pray Psalm 139.

For further contemplation or journaling: Where might it be difficult to hear God’s redemptive love and forgiveness in Christ? Are there any places in your life that you would ask Him to shine the light of His atonement?

Repentance Given

Have you ever been given a gift that you just weren’t all that thrilled about? Or downright disliked? Maybe the giver didn’t know you all that well, or maybe they thought that you would like something that you just didn’t see as desirable.

Look up or click Romans 5:6-8. This passage tells us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. His action doesn’t happen because of some action on our part, some realization or repenting in which we realize we’re sinful. We can’t even know that without His help.

Think back to our first study, where we explored the passage from Ephesians 2:1-7. (Or click here to review that post.) We were dead, but God made us alive in Christ. This begins with the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Repentance is what opens our hands to receive the gift of grace that God has paid so dearly to give.

Repentance itself is a gift!

Sometimes the gift of repentance might seem like one of those unappreciated gifts.

“What I’m doing isn’t that bad. Others need to repent more than I do.”

This is a problem for some people in who hear the apostles speak about Jesus; let’s read about it in the Book of Acts.

The Book of Acts is filled with the work of the Holy Spirit. Some people contend that the book that is called “The Acts of the Apostles” should really be called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”, because what the apostles are doing is all by the power of the Holy Spirit. As you’ll see, they’re not off-base at all. The passage we’re going to examine is fairly early in the life of the Church, before much time has passed and before strong opposition has begun. The apostles were in Solomon’s Portico, an outer court of the Temple, teaching in the name of Jesus. Now, the Sadducees were the group of people who maintained the Temple, and the High Priest was chosen from among them. They worked with Herod and, by extension, the Romans; many of them liked the power and prestige that came with their position, and when the apostles were teaching in the name of Someone they hadn’t endorsed or approved, and converting many people, they became jealous and wanted to stop the apostles. So they arrested them. During the night, an angel came to release the apostles, and told them to go to the temple and speak to the people about Christ Jesus. Of course, when the Sadducees found that the apostles weren’t in the prison, but back teaching in the name of Jesus…well, let’s read to see: Acts 5:27-32 (click the reference for a link to read it online).

Right away, we see that the Sadducees aren’t happy to hear the message that the apostles are sharing. It’s like a parent who told his child yesterday, “Don’t stand on the couch,” and comes into the room today, only to find the child standing on the couch. “I told you not to stand on the couch, and here you are, standing on the couch!”

Imperfect analogy, yes, but for the Sadducees, it fits. They oversaw the temple, and they didn’t like for anyone to impinge on their influence. That’s exactly what the apostles were doing; at Pentecost, just three chapters previous, three thousand people joined with the apostles in believing in the name of Jesus. Since then, the number had been steadily growing. Repentance and forgiveness of sins had been proclaimed and was being given – at an alarming rate, if you’re a Sadducee. They did not care for this new teaching that was drawing away their followers.

How did the apostles respond? “We must obey God rather than men.” They understand that their calling is not one of timidity, of repenting their own sins just to keep the message hidden among themselves. They have been called to spread this message as far as the Holy Spirit will carry them with it. It might be that, had they stopped there, things would not have escalated as they did. Had they ended with, “We must obey God rather than men,” the Sadducees might have at this point simply rolled their collective eyes and let it be.

But the apostles continued, in Acts 5:30-31. Just in case the Sadducees were in doubt as to the part they played in this whole drama, the apostles remind them. And remind them that not only did they ensure the death of a popular teacher, but God raised Him from the dead! This was the thing they wanted to avoid by having Him killed – that is, His popularity and influence growing – was now continuing in unprecedented ways.

The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

And we come to the heart of it, of why this Jesus came. To give repentance…and forgiveness of sins.

Repentance (4)
graphic made at canva.com

Repentance is a gift. Not the gift that we should be skeptical about (though we sometimes are). Not the gift that should be shoved into the back of the closet and pulled out only when the giver comes to visit (though sometimes we do). This is a gift that we can treasure because of who gives it. Because of where it leads. Because of the astounding grace attached to such a gift.

For quiet devotional time, I invite you to pray Psalm 143.

For further contemplation or journaling, consider what other gifts accompany the gift of repentance. We already mentioned God’s expansive grace and the forgiveness of sins, as the apostles spoke in the passage for today. What other gifts follow these? How do these gifts equip you for the task of sharing the Good News of Jesus?

+ + +

Note: Dear readers, I apologize for missing the posting-date for this study. I’ll be posting three times this week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), to catch us up with our outline. Thank you for your patience with me!

Repentance Proclaimed

Have you ever watched a movie or seen a play in which a proclamation is made by a king or other important individual? I can picture in my mind’s eye a certain Cinderella production; the king proclaims that all of the young maidens in the kingdom are invited to the ball. He sends out his fancily-dressed servant, accompanied by trumpeters in equally fine clothing, and he reads the words of the king in the town centers for everyone to hear.

The gospel of Luke gives us a very different kind of proclamation, through a man named John. Read Luke 3:1-6 in your Bible or by following this link.

This is quite a different picture from the one that popular stories (like Cinderella) would like to tell. First of all, there are no trumpeters, just a lone proclaimer: John in camel skins. And where does he do his proclaiming? In the wilderness! Not in the center of Jerusalem, not in the middle of the villages scattered along the Judean countryside, but by the Jordan River. And his message?

“Repent!”

Proclaiming repentance is nothing new. The Old Testament proclaims the same message. Let’s look at one such instance, in the Book of the prophet Jeremiah. Before we read, let’s recall that Jeremiah was a prophet called by God to speak to an unrepentant people who should have been following God as His chosen people, but had instead chosen to turn aside to their own way and to follow their own desires. Jeremiah is feeling that he’s facing an impossible task and in his frustration with Judah, rails at God to ask why He has asked so much of him. Read Jeremiah 15:15-21 in your Bible or following this link.

There is a movement here, from Jeremiah describing his anguish and frustration to God, escalating to verse 18.

Why is my pain unceasing,

my wound incurable,

refusing to be healed?

Will you be to me like a deceitful brook,

like waters that fail?

Have you ever prayed such a prayer? God, why are You failing me?

There are times in life when hope seems such a distant dream and healing feels too far off to be real. There are times in life when we wonder what God could possibly be doing, if in fact the words of Romans 8:28 are true: that for those who love God, all things work together for good. Jeremiah here is wondering, “Where is the good?”

After asking God for vengeance (Jeremiah 15:15), he points out his faithfulness in following God’s direction (Jeremiah 15:16-17) and then comes the question. The problem with his question isn’t that God can’t handle the hard questions. He can. Do you hear the barely-concealed contempt in the prophet’s words, asking if God is going to be like a deceitful brook, that He will fail? This isn’t a request for strength, it’s an accusation.

When we read on, we see that God can handle even accusation, as He handles all sin: with a call to repentance. Read in verses 19-20:

Therefore thus says the LORD:

“If you return, I will restore you,

and you shall stand before me.

Who can stand before God but one who has been strengthened by God Himself for that very task?

If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,

you shall be as my mouth.

What words do we use when we’re sitting in the hard times of life?

They shall turn to you,

but you shall not turn to them.

And I will make you to this people

a fortified wall of bronze;

they will fight against you,

but they shall not prevail over you,

for I am with you to save you and deliver you,

declares the LORD.

God promises Jeremiah the strength he needs to continue in his task of speaking God’s message to unrepentant Judah. God promises that He will make Jeremiah like a strong, metal wall.

I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,

and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”

I love that here we see how well God knows Jeremiah’s heart. Even if Jeremiah’s accusations are subtle, they’re still there. God could really have taken him to task for those words. But I imagine that Jeremiah’s heart is already battered, that his strength is already feeling the pressing of God’s Law telling him that he isn’t enough for this task. God applies His Law, rightly so, but He does it gently. He knows Jeremiah so deeply and knows exactly what Jeremiah’s heart needs.

Repentance (3)
graphic made at canva.com

God knows your heart equally well as He knows Jeremiah’s heart. Read Psalm 139 in your Bible, or follow this link to read it in a web browser. As a child of God, what does this psalm say to you?

 

He calls you not only to repent of your own sin, but to rest in the knowledge of His care for you. Read Ephesians 3:20-21 in your Bible or with this link. God may not always give as we would expect or even think the way we want Him to give. But know that He is always working for good – your good, and the good of those who are being saved. When in your life did God answer prayer in an unexpected way? How did you feel about that at the time? And now?

 

When God promises to be with us, strengthen us, and give us all that we need, not only does He provide for our bodily needs (food and water, shelter and companions), but He provides all that we need to accomplish what He asks of us: to carry out the mission that Jesus had when He was living on this earth and that He gave to His disciples before His ascension.

Read Luke 24:45-48 in your Bible or using this link. What does He say should be proclaimed in His name? Repentance and forgiveness of sins. Because without forgiveness, repentance is only going to leave someone feeling bad about their sin, unable to do a single thing about it. But because of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, forgiveness can be proclaimed, too.

He proclaims it to us. We proclaim it to one another and to a world that desperately needs to hear.

For quiet devotional time, I invite you to pray Psalm 32.

For further contemplation or journaling, think back to our juxtaposing images of a king’s proclamation and the King’s proclamation. What similarities can you find? (hint: think about the invitations extended in each) What does this mean in your life, today?

What is Repentance?

Repentance has always been a slightly problematic concept for me. I don’t think I have a lack of it in my life—I remember even as a child feeling moved by the pricking of conscience when I did wrong, and still feel that. But I’d never felt that my grasp on what it is and what it means was strong.

I remember being a child and hearing my pastor, in a sermon, describe repentance as having a sense of turning from a path, a way of walking. I can’t quite recall if he was talking about a Hebrew or Greek root word that was translated as repent, but I really liked that imagery and how active it was. It’s more than just feelings of sorrow and contrition.

But actually doing the action of repentance – making changes and working to walk, to live differently – it isn’t easy to do. And so despite how the imagery resonated (and still resonates!) with me, the idea tripped me up. In fact, as sinful human beings, we can’t even make a start at repentance.

Read Ephesians 2:1-3.

If you are dead, can you move? Are you capable of doing anything about your state of “deadness”?

Silly questions, yes, but let’s apply it to being “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” and ask again: Can dead people change their course?

Of course not.

When we look at the whole of those three verses, there’s a lot of description to say that someone is sinful. Paul almost seems to be harping on it. (Those of us who are parents or who have parents: Does this seem familiar? Child does something wrong, parent maybe goes a little overboard with correction? I’m guilty, on both sides of this.) Consider, though, how the volume of the description illustrates the significance of what he is writing. Not only were you sinful, Paul says, but you were dead and lost! You were beyond saving…by any earthly force. More on that later. 😉

Notice how in Ephesians 2:3, Paul identifies himself also as one who was once dead – “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh…”

Who in your life has identified or related himself with you? Who has sat down with you in the muck of life, saying “I’ve been in similar places, too. I’ll sit with you here, in yours.”? What did that do in the midst of your struggle? If no one has ever sat with you in this way, consider how it would have impacted you. To whom might you offer that relationship?

Let’s continue reading in Ephesians 2: 4-7.

“But God…”

Did you feel the coming contrast in the words? This is a stop-and-take-notice moment. Paul has, for lack of a better term, lambasted his readers with the severity of sin’s former hold on them. But God.

But God wasn’t content to leave us in our misery, because He is love.

But God had a plan from the beginning, because He is rich in mercy.

But God knew that even the most faithful of Christians would struggle, so He helps us in our weakness.

Think for a moment about the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. We see amazing miracles, heart-touching scenes of mercy, strong words spoken with authority…now look in the background and observe the disciples. Do they have it all together? Sometimes, yes, it seems like they do. Look up the following passages. What do the disciples “do right” here?

Matthew 4:18-22; Matthew 9:9-13

Luke 10:1-20

Mark 8:27-30

But we all know that the disciples weren’t always on point when it came to their faith in Jesus. Look up these verses; how did they “fail”?

Mark 8:31-33

Matthew 26:56

But God didn’t act based on the disciples’ ability to get it together and do what they should. And neither does He act now based on our ability to do what is right, to repent sufficiently, to follow Him as we ought. Because we can’t do it, except with His gifts of repentance and faith through grace.

Repentance is about so much more than Merriam-Webster’s definition of turning from sin or feeling regret or contrition. Repentance is about God coming to be with us in our messes, in our struggle, in our heartache.

Read again the blessed words of His mercy:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

Sin is no small thing. It’s serious enough that God can’t simply ignore it, we can’t sweep it under the rug or hide it behind the couch. It needed to be addressed and further, atoned for. It’s bigger than we can handle. Period. No “handle on our own” or “handle without help”, just “handle.” As the verses at the beginning of Ephesians 2 describe, someone who is dead can’t handle anything.

“But God…”

Repentance (2)
graphic made with canva.com

During these weeks leading up to the time that we remember and even rejoice in Christ’s Passion – His suffering and death – and celebrate His Resurrection, I pray that this time of reflection upon and studying of repentance will be a time that God immerses you in His love, poured out on the cross and living in our hearts.

For quiet devotional time, I invite you to pray Psalm 51.

If you are a journaling type of person, consider writing about this today: What “But God…” moments have you experienced in your life? Maybe you’re in the midst of one now, maybe you have too many to count. Even in the middle of muck and heartache, remember that God is faithful, and that He is rich in mercy for you.