America's Prayer of Repentance

I have these words framed on my office wall, it is a prayer of repentance for America. As I read these words, my heart is broken over the direction our country has turned. Can God bless America again?

Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and seek your direction and guidance. We know your Word says, “Woe to those who call evil good,” but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values. We confess that…

We have ridiculed the absolute truth of your Word and called it moral pluralism.

We have worshiped other gods and called it multiculturalism.

We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.

We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.

We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.

We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.

We have killed our unborn and called it choice.

We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.

We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building esteem.

We have abused power and called it political savvy.

We have coveted our neighbors’ possessions and called it ambition.

We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us O God and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.

Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, and who have been ordained by you, to govern this great state.

Grant them your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the name of your son, the living savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This is the text of the original prayer delivered January 23, 1996 by Pastor Joe Wright to the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka.

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Christian Spirituality in America

Our church is going through a church-wide campaign called, “r12 – True Spirituality According to Jesus.” This has the potential to transform people who simply profess Christ or attend church into authentic followers of Jesus; true disciples.

I was reading the September 13, 2011 Barna report on American Christians and the lack of spiritual depth and found the information troubling, if not totally accurate. Take a look at this information:

The ceremonies conducted last weekend on the tenth anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 raised important questions for people to ponder: What does it mean to be an American? What are the duties and obligations of people who call themselves citizens of the United States?

Perhaps churches and other ministries throughout the nation would benefit from similar exercises that pose parallel questions for their adherents: What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? What are the duties and obligations of someone who calls himself/herself a Christian or claims to be a citizen of the kingdom of God?

While everyone is on a lifelong journey, the Barna research revealed that a relatively small proportion of individuals stick with the process long enough to become the mature Christ-followers and world changers that they are meant to be. The nationwide studies indicate that there are several barriers to overcome before many people are likely to persevere and maximize their connection with God.

Obstacle 1: Commitment

  • 81% say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today.
  • 78% strongly agree that spirituality is very important to them.
  • 18% claim to be totally committed to investing into their own spiritual development.
  • 22% claim to be “completely dependent upon God.”
  • Those figures help explain why 52% believe that there is much more to the Christian life than what they have experienced. Without a full determination to live like Christ and for Him, the path to complete transformation is blocked.

Obstacle 2: Repentance

  • 64% say that they have confessed their sins to God and asked for His forgiveness.
  • But the evidence is quite clear that relatively few self-identified Christians are serious about abandoning the lure of sin and handing total control of their life to God. Only 12% admitted that recognizing and grasping the significance of their sins had been so personally devastating that it caused them to crash emotionally.
  • Only about 3% of all self-identified Christians in America have come to the final stops on the transformational journey (the places where they have surrendered control of their life to God, submitted to His will for their life, and devoted themselves to loving and serving God and other people).

Obstacle 3: Activity

Mired in a culture that rewards hard work and busyness, it’s not surprising that tens of millions of self-identified Christians have confused religious activity with spiritual significance and depth.

  • 39% have participated in a combination of three “normal” religious activities in the past week (i.e., attending church services, praying, reading the Bible).
  • But far fewer have engaged in another trio of deeper faith expressions: less than 10% have talked about their faith with a non-Christian, fasted for religious purposes, and had an extended time of spiritual reflection during the past week.
  • Various spiritual disciplines (including solitude, sacrifice, acts of service, silence, and scriptural meditation) are also infrequently practiced.

Obstacle 4: Spiritual Community

Most self-identified Christians note that they feel comfortable and connected within their church, however, various measures show that there is not much vulnerability and accountability occurring within the context of those faith-based connections.

  • Many self-identified Christians do not take their faith community seriously, whatever type it may be, as a place to which they should be open and held to biblical principles.
  • 21% believe that spiritual maturity requires a vital connection to a community of faith.
  • 35% claim to have confessed their sins verbally to another believer at some point during the past quarter.

The Big Picture
According to George Barna, there are several church-wide concerns that could be addressed toward helping self-identified Christians experience a more fulfilling and robust relationship with and faith in Christ.

  1. The first challenge has to do with tools and expectations: Barna noted that most churches encourage people to engage in an increasing amount of religious activity, asking them to pour themselves into efforts related to the “core six” spiritual dimensions: worship, evangelism, discipleship, stewardship, service, and community. While growth in those areas is important, Barna expressed two related concerns.
    1. The first was that people often fail to realize that the end game of spiritual development is godly character, not worldly accomplishments.
    2. And, sometimes people get so wrapped up in church programs or producing specific religious results that they lose sight of the purpose of their faith, which is to have a life-changing relationship with Jesus.
      1. It becomes easy to substitute religious activity for intentional and simple engagement with God.
      2. American Christians, in particular, have become known for doing good works and religious exercises rather than simply being friends and imitators of Christ.
  2. A second challenge is to help believers embrace the necessity of sacrifice and suffering in order to surrender and submit themselves fully to God: Unfortunately, in a society that disdains purposeful sacrifice and suffering that leads to growth and depth, brokenness is an unappealing and rare objective. Until such brokenness occurs, people’s transformation is hindered.
  3. A third challenge was the importance of perceiving and experiencing a faith community as a vital support system in the pursuit of a deeper relationship with God: Today, the ultimate product of small groups is a combination of knowledge and comfort more often than it is commitment and application. Knowledge is a crucial step in the growth process, but without transparency and accountability the information rarely gets converted into personal, congregational, or cultural transformation.

Wow. Looks like we need to get back to the mission and get serious about our faith. How do we as church leaders bring up the subject without seeming “holier than thou?” Perhaps it is a matter of investing into one another. Jesus modeled and lived it out in the presence of the Twelve; perhaps we must really grasp the meaning of Christian community and embrace our mission in the world.

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Manifesting God’s Glory

Paul’s next stop in Ephesus (Acts 19:1) seemed to display an extra measure of God’s power. It appears that on this third missionary journey God used special demonstrations of power to authenticate His messages and ministers (Acts 19:11).

The first story is theologically interesting since it appears Paul encounters some disciples that believed yet had not receive the Holy Spirit when they first believed (Acts 19:2, 6). The brief interpretation is that this new faith movement needed authenticity and consistency; basically evidence that the movement of Christ was united in both Jerusalem and Ephesus. But these disciples were not already Christians (since all Christians receive the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion, 1 Corinthians 12:13).

These believers were followers (disciples) of John (Acts 19:3), which means they were Old Testament seekers but did not fully understand the Christian faith. Their answer to Paul’s question about receiving the Holy Spirit revealed they were not yet fully Christians. They had not yet received Christian baptism (having been baptized only “into John’s baptism”) which was further evidenced that they were not Christians.

Acts 19:8-10 summarizes the events in Ephesus, the results being that in over two years all the people who lived in the province of Asia heard the gospel (Acts 19:10, 17).

Let’s look at some of the miraculous stuff that happened:

  1. God worked with such power that pieces of cloth, like a handkerchief that had touch Paul brought healing and deliverance from demons (Acts 19:12).
  2. There is the funny story of the seven sons of a Jewish priest named Sceva (Acts 19:13, 14) who was an exorcist. The demon says that he knows Jesus and knows Paul, but who are you (Acts 19:15). What a slap in the face. The last we see of these sons is flying through the door one by one naked and bleeding (Acts 19:16). Too funny.
  3. People were getting right with God, many believers publicly burning their tools of sorcery (Acts 19:18, 19).

It is almost as if God was showing off! God demonstrated His power in several ways:

God made the Holy Spirit obvious: knowledge of the Old Testament did not help because the Holy Spirit did not take up residence in believers until Pentecost (Acts 2:4). Before that the Spirit did not mark salvation but He did empower people for certain tasks.

God made obvious the blessings of true discipleship: Paul began to disciple people daily (Acts 19:9), and the fruit produced was that the whole region heard the gospel (Acts 19:10). A few well trained soldiers in God’s service is more effective than hundreds of people who have never been discipled.

God made His ambassador obvious: He used the ordinary to do extraordinary things. Attention was brought to Paul because he could be trusted to bring attention to Christ.

God made His power over the occult obvious: with all the magical incantations, witches, wizards and sorcery in Ephesus, God broke through and they began to understand the idea of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18).

God made true repentance obvious: God convicted the city of their error (John 16:8) and the people responded in a practical way (Acts 19:18, 19), producing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).

Application: How do you see God moving through your life? Is there anything that needs to be exposed and eliminated, confessed and repented of? Are you being discipled, daily through your Bible reading and quiet time, or with another man on a regular basis? What prevents you from finding another man to ask if he would like to read and study the Bible each week? The greatest power that God has demonstrated today is the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives. People cannot change on their own, how often do men fall back into the same old rut? Christ walks with us, and put other men in our pathway to help strengthen us along the journey.

A Sudden Change in Plans

Continuing this series in the life of Paul, after the stoning of Stephen, Paul began new threats against the followers of Christ (Acts 9:1-2) so he might jail them of kill them. This is the chapter where Jesus gets to Paul and reaches him with the life-changing message of the gospel.

If you’re like me, you probably have asked at some point in your Christian life, “Why in the world did you choose to save me?” Each of us knows our personal failures and vulnerabilities and have concluded that we are not really worth the price of our salvation. Then we look at Paul and decide that at least we are not like him! He was so anti-Christ (Acts 26:11). Paul was obsessed with destroying the church. The word really means “to act like a maniac” (the Greek term is mainomai).

Paul was a hot-headed rabbi determined to make a name for himself. One day on the road to the city of Damascus, Jesus Christ intervened in his life (Acts 9:3-4). This encounter left him blind and dependent on those around him (Acts 9:8). In a way, Paul is the perfect example of a guy who was totally sincere in his beliefs yet totally wrong. He thought he knew it all but actually knew nothing. In a world of black and white religious dogma, Paul comes face to face with shades of gray. Sincerity means nothing if it is misdirected.

Sometimes we feel that we should get our lives straightened out before we can come to Christ, but a great verse is Romans 5:8, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. No matter how dark or deep, we can begin a journey of faith in Christ. No one is perfect, but we all must press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:12). The phrase “take hold” means to seize with eagerness, like God snatched Paul by the hair. Paul never forget the depth of his sinfulness, out of which Jesus saved his soul (1 Timothy 1:15).

There is no room for pride and nothing can bring us back to reality and humble us like remembering how God saved us from ourselves. No one can teach forgiveness like the forgiven. Paul believed in his cause and it led him down a destructive path. That day on the Damascus Road, Paul not only was snatched from the devil but God snatched Paul from himself; from his misguided zeal and his obsessive behavior.

There is little doubt that Christ can save anybody. No one is too wicked or far from God (Isaiah 59:1). A gray question may be why God chose to save us, but a black and white answer is that “I once was lost but now I’m found.”

The Frat Brothers of Saul

John the Baptist came preaching about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and he did not win many friends among the Pharisees (Mark 1:4, 5, Luke 3:7-8). Luke 7:30 tells us that the Pharisees rejected God’s purpose for themselves; now that’s taking your destiny into your own hands. They were hard-hearted and Jesus still loved them. But people who hide behind masks don’t like to be around those who peel them off, Jesus could see right through the Pharisees phony spirituality.

There was one guy named Nicodemus that needed to know more, and came to Jesus with some questions (John 3:1-2). He was not alone (John 12:42) but they were sort of behind the scenes followers who wanted to keep it quiet for fear of being fired. They loved the praise of men more than praise from God (John 12:43). We should not be too quick to condemn them since all of us at one time or another had remained silent seeking the approval of others.

By the time we get to John 11, we see evil making plans to get rid of the problem preacher since many people were coming to faith in Jesus (John 11:45, 48, 53). Did they fear the loss of the nation or really the loss of their “place” in the temple (John 11:48)? What a prophetic word, that it is better for one man to die for the people than that the whole nation perish (John 11:50).

These were the teachers and classmates of Paul; a glimpse of religion gone wild. Do not underestimate the evil that is deep within our hearts. One prominent tool the enemy uses is self-interest that leads to manipulation of others.

For a time, the Pharisees believed they had won; Jesus was dead, He even declared “it is finished” (John 19:30). They did all they could to make sure it stayed finished, but the resurrection still happened. In our lives, think about what is really finished and what is not. Our salvation is finished, Jesus paid it all, but our sanctification is not finished. We will spend the rest of our lives growing in godliness and into the image of Christ himself (Romans 8:29).

Jesus does not save us to let us live the rest of our lives without him. He wants to be involved in your marriage, your family, your work place, your school. With God’s power we can change into the kind of men that God desires for us to become. He changes us from the inside out. We are to be crucified with Christ and allow Jesus to live through us (Galatians 2:20). We are bought with a price and we are no longer to live without God (1 Corinthians 6:20).

God Making Mistakes?

I was reading a blog recently and the author posed this question, “Have you ever felt like God made a mistake?”

Well, the Bible does record that He was sorry for ever creating mankind in the first place (Genesis 6:6-7, see also Exodus 32:14, 1 Samuel 15:11, Jeremiah 26:3). Sin sorrows God who is holy, blameless and without sin (Ephesians 4:30), so don’t sorrow Him by the way we live. The Lord’s sorrow does not indicate an arbitrary change of mind, though it seems that way to man. Rather, it indicates a different attitude on God’s part in response to some change in man’s behavior. Because He is holy, He must react against sin. The description “was sorry” expresses God’s change of action (Genesis 6:7) in terms understandable to man. God would no longer be longsuffering with such widespread wickedness. Sin impacts the work which the Spirit does (Ephesians 4:30).

Back to the question, “Have you ever felt like God made a mistake?” That is how the Israelites felt with the Egyptian army breathing down their necks and the Red Sea staring them in the face (Exodus 14:2, 3, 9, 10). Here’s the kicker: God led them there. From a military standpoint, they should not have been there. They have no escape route. They couldn’t retreat or advance. It seems like God has made a mistake, and the Israelites let Moses know about it. But God had them right where he wanted them.

Sometimes God leads us to a place where we have nowhere to turn but to Him, and that is often the last place we want to be. But it’s the best place to be. Here is the great irony: all of us want to experience a miracle, we just don’t want to be in a situation where it is needed. Sometimes you need to be between the Pharaoh and the Deep Red Sea so God can reveal more of His glory (Exodus 14:4).

We often know what to do, but we cry out to God anyway. God’s response to Moses was, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the people to get moving.” (Exodus 14:15). Just when you think God has made a mistake, He parts the water (Exodus 14:16).


A Picture of Repentance

These are notes for my Bible study class on Sunday mornings at 9:45, a book called Downpour by James MacDonald. Today we will look at five marks of genuine repentance.

What is repentance?

Repentance is the funnel through which all personal revival flows. After we have seen God’s holiness and been brought to a place of personal brokenness over our sin, repentance is the first step in the personal cleanup of the wreckage that sin brings. Here are a few passages regarding repentance: Matthew 3:2, 6:12, Luke 15:7, Acts 3:19, 17:30.

Repentance is change inside of me, in every way and at every level. Change not on the outside but in me. There’s a three-part definition: recognition of sin for what it is (heartfelt sorrow) culminating in a change of behavior. I see sin for what it is (changing my mind) and experience heartfelt sorrow (changing my heart). Then I determine to change my behavior (changing my will).

Repentance is a work of God; where God grants repentance (2 Timothy 2:25 (NIV)). It is a gift of God to anyone who wholeheartedly seeks Him. It’s not easy, only God can grant to us repentance from all that we have failed to do on our own.

Here are the five marks of repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9, 10, 11). Paul lists eleven fruits but are grouped here into five categories:

Grief over sin:

We must lose the grip we have that life is all together. We need to feel like a worm and recognize sin for what it is. If we desire to go higher, we must go lower. Here are a few responses of people who have made contact with the Lord: Genesis 18:27, Job 42:6, Isaiah 6:5, Luke 5:8, Revelation 1:17. The essence is heartfelt sorrow and regret over sin. This sin is always against God, not just against other people.

The word used is lupeo, meaning “greatly distressed,” like the feeling the disciples had after hearing Jesus’ announcement of His crucifixion (Matthew 17:23). It is used 26 times in the NT; half of those in 2 Corinthians; half of those right here in this passage.

Repulsion over sin:

See what godly grief has produced in you (2 Corinthians 7:11). To see means to behold; repentance brings with it an urgency about my relationship with God and strong negative feelings toward anything that would injure it. Those activities no longer bring happiness.

Restitution toward others:

Repentance does not demand anything, but it does request reconciliation; it is not concerned with what another person’s part may have been but what my own part has been. I am the one who is to do whatever it takes to make it right. Repentance is concerned about the people who are affected by my sin. We should be innocent in matters (2 Corinthians 7:11) meaning free of guilt, blameless in the eyes of others. Many people what to be right with God but will not make it right with others. We are to be bridge-builders for reconciliation. No more blaming. No more excuses.

Revival toward God:

Repentance brings an obvious restoration I our relationship with God. Your heart will become sensitive to sin, hunger for the Word of God, and crave less the things of the world. Fear is an attitude of the heart that seeks a right relationship to the fear source.  Fear of the Lord is a good thing (Proverbs 9:10, Luke 23:40). It is an increased awareness and respect for God.

All of a sudden church is not a chore for the repentant person, there is a longing and zeal (2 Corinthians 7:11). Bible study is not a burden. Joy in the Lord has returned. There is a realization that life is temporary. Revival is renewed interest in God after a period of indifference and decline.

Moving Forward:

We are to move forward and not look back; no “if only’s…” that bring regret (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance without regret! Move beyond self-punishment that is stuck in the past and won’t move toward the future. Worldly grief produces death, separation from God and hell for eternity. Let’s keep these five marks of repentance in the forefront.