What Is Repentance?


One of the things that saddens me most about where we are in America at this stage in history is our inability to repent. And one of the reasons Americans are such strangers to repentance is that I don’t think we know what it is anymore.

I could quote a lot of Bible verses here, but if you want to find out more about repentance, do the due diligence and study it yourself. I’m just going to share what I know and keep it all simple.

And the simplest truth about repentance is that it’s turning back to God.

Notice that there’s nothing really added to that. I didn’t even mention sin.

The reason I didn’t mention bad things that you do is because sin isn’t really bad things that you do. Sin is what you are. Sin exists on the level of atoms, and DNA, and all those tiny bits that make up you, even bits that abide in the world of the spiritual. And for that reason, it’s why all the silly things religious people do to try to get rid of bad things inside themselves are such a fool’s errand.

OK, so I lied a little about Bible verses here. I’m going to reference Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. Most people know the story, but if you don’t, it will be at the end of this post. I paraphrase below to get us thinking the same way…

A son came to his father and said, “I wish you were dead.” Because that was how he now viewed his father, the son demanded his father act as if he were dead, which meant the son demanded the still-living father hand over inheritance money. The father complied. And because the son was driven by the stupidity of sin down to the atomic level, he stayed true to that nature and did stupid, sinful things that took him to stupid, sinful places inhabited by stupid, sinful people. In short order, the money ran out, and the son took a lousy job in a lousy place and generally felt lousy.

In time, he missed his father. So the son left that place of stupidity and stumbled home, where his father was waiting for him with open arms. No lecture from the father, no recap of bad choices, just love.

I leave some of the details of that story to the theologians and preachers, but the key point of the story is not all the hooker-boinking and booze-hounding the son did on his inheritance spending spree. All the son was doing was being true to his nature, to that atomic level of sin that no one can deal with on his own because it’s always at work and permeates everything. The point of the story is that the son went back home to a father who loved him.

Detail from Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son"The history of God throughout the Bible is of a father waiting at home for prodigals to come back to Him. The Bible starts with man wandering off and ends with man being at home with God forever.

In the prodigal’s story, the son didn’t try to mask his stupidity or somehow make amends for it. He just went back home. The father can deal with the stupidity and the filth. In reality, God does that through Jesus, who became sin on our behalf and dealt it a deathblow on the cross. The point is that the father knows the sin is there. He deals with it. All he wants is the wanderer to be home with him.

God throughout the Bible waits at home and calls stupid people, those infested with sin down to their cores—in short, everyone—to come back to Him. And when they do turn around and head back, it’s not to a household where the father has kept track of every stupid thing the prodigal has done, because the father isn’t interested in keeping a record of stupidity. No, the father is simply glad the wanderer is home.

And chances are, because prodigality is ingrained in humanity to the atomic level, that wanderer will likely go wandering again. But the father is steadfast, and he’ll be there at home with open arms. Because sometimes the truth about the father must be learned again and again. Fact is, in time, the wanderings do lessen. Maybe not to the point of going away entirely, but learning that the best is with the father begins to sink in over the course of a lifetime.

The sad reality about the story of the prodigal son is that a lot of prodigals out there prefer feeling lousy doing the lousy job in the lousy place to being at home with the father. They haven’t woken up yet and may never do so. They tend to be people whose point of reference doesn’t extend beyond their nose. For them, home and the father are two concepts that are a long way off in a faraway land, and they stay that way.

Hell isn’t filled with every person tainted by sin at the atomic level. It’s filled with people who don’t want to be where the Father is. They said to Him, “I wish you were dead,” and they left it at that. In a way, they found their hellaciously alien “home” away from home and made it permanent. They never came back to their real home from their place in that far-off land. They never came back to the father awaiting them with open arms.

I could go into all sorts of theological depth here, but in truth, we can bury this story under heaps of analysis and miss the main point that all repentance is is going back home to where God abides. All God wants is an intimate relationship with people, people who will retain that taint of sin on them this side of eternity. All He wants is to be with you. His arms are wide open.

Come home.


And [Jesus] said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
— Luke 15:11-32

100 Truths in 30 Years with Christ


'The Thinker' by Auguste RodinThis year (2007) marks my 30-year anniversary of coming to Christ. I met Him at a Lutheran camp on a confirmation retreat weekend. Even to this day, I can remember much of that evening.

I’ve kept my eyes, ears, and spirit open over that time, storing away what I’ve learned. Obviously, what I share here isn’t the sum total of all I’ve learned, just some basic truths God taught me that inform my every day.

I hope these observation get you thinking and praying. Most of all, I pray that they are a blessing that brings lasting fruit for the Kingdom. Thanks for being a reader.

In no particular order…

  1. Love God. Love people. It’s that simple.
  2. Anytime we interact with another person, we should ask the Lord, In what ways can I help this person grow closer to You?
  3. Christians who take time to observe the world around them see God and gain wisdom.
  4. The most worthy lessons of the Kingdom take the entirety of one’s life to fully learn.
  5. You are never more alone than in an unfriendly church.
  6. God could directly feed the widows and the orphans with manna from heaven, but He instead chose us in the Church to bake the bread through the resources He’s already given us and then distribute it.
  7. The world is tired of hearing Christians talk about the Gospel; they want to see it actually lived.
  8. In the end, nothing in life satisfies but Jesus.
  9. It’s a terrible indictment against men and young people in the American Church that old women are praying most of the intercessory prayers.
  10. Always lead with love. Love should precede every act we perform in the name of Christ and love should be the finale.
  11. Small home groups are fantastic for relationship-building, prayer, and sharing, but usually not the best venue for serious Bible study (especially if they’re co-ed).
  12. Admonish an adult once, perhaps twice, then turn the issue over to the Lord in prayer. Never hound people.
  13. We won’t find ourselves transformed, much less change the world, if we pray less than an hour a day.
  14. Most Evangelicals have little or no understanding of the Holy Spirit.
  15. The American Church needs to learn a truth Ben Franklin uttered at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “We must all hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.”
  16. Too many Evangelicals long to see Jesus thrash those they view as heretics rather than help them come to a better understanding of truth.
  17. One of the most easily seen fruits in mature Christians is that they pray for people who oppose them rather than complain about them.
  18. A simple truth we constantly forget: Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
  19. If all other aspects of Sunday meetings were removed, prayer would be the one untouchable, yet we spend less time doing it in our meetings than anything else.
  20. The mature Christian is more concerned with being loving all the time than being correct all the time.
  21. Each of use should know our neighbors’ names and the names of their children. We should also know their birthdays, if possible, because the card we send might be the only one they receive. And that’s a powerful witness.
  22. It is a sign of our trustworthiness as Christians that other people seek us out when they need help. If that’s not the case, then something is wrong with our witness.
  23. There is no shame in confessing a need, especially before fellow believers. That’s one reason why the Church exists.
  24. Many of Evangelicalism’s most intractable problems would vanish if we adopted the confessional booth.
  25. We must start seeing discipleship in terms of an entire lifespan and not what we can accomplish in the moment.
  26. Preaching is most effective when it’s lived by the preacher.
  27. We do a great disservice to families in our churches when we split them up the second they hit the lobby.
  28. If we wish to see the American Church be all She can be, then let’s welcome persecution.
  29. A youth minister’s primary responsibility isn’t to teens directly but to their parents. A good youth minister teaches parents how to teach their own teens, leaving the bulk of the responsibility to them.
  30. The way we so easily judge people offends the One who said, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”
  31. We are too obsessed with heretics and not concerned enough with understanding what their heresy says about our own shortcomings and failures.
  32. It costs us nothing to judge others, but an enormous amount to walk beside them and help them grow.
  33. Bible study works best when led by highly-trained, Scripturally-knowledgeable people who have lived what they believe.
  34. Busyness is crippling the effectiveness of the American Church, but no one wants to fix the root causes because doing so would call into question the very nature of our modern society.
  35. True love is laying down our plans and schedules to help a person in need.
  36. One of the worst things a Christian can be is unteachable.
  37. God never rescinded His first command to Man: Steward the Earth.
  38. The man who recognizes the goodness of God in nature and sees Christ in the stranger has the more complete theology.
  39. A man is only as deep as his prayer life.
  40. A message every church in America should learn: You never have to advertise a fire.
  41. The more we restrict God in what He can and will do, the more He’ll honor that restriction.
  42. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman; He only shows up where He’s gratefully invited.
  43. Our neighbors should know that our houses are always open to them.
  44. Love truly does cover a multitude of sins.
  45. If we haven’t died at the cross, we’re worthless to the Kingdom.
  46. Who we are in secret is a better gauge of our spiritual maturity than who we are in public.
  47. Not seeng results in prayer? Better check how grateful we are to God for the little things He gives us.
  48. We never know enough of someone else’s story to judge them perfectly. Better to listen carefully, then admonish…carefully.
  49. No great, wise saint of God started out that way. We never know at what stage we meet one of those future saints, so we must always be gracious when interacting with others.
  50. The perfect recipe for helping someone grow in Christ: Six parts love to every one part admonition.
  51. God makes all things beautiful in His time, not ours.
  52. If there were no people, there would be no reason for the Gospel.
  53. If we are unwilling to help others work through the admonitions we give them, we should instead remain silent.
  54. On Judgment Day, God will be far less concerned with how well we knew the Scriptures than how we practiced what we knew.
  55. Too much of what we supposedly do for the Kingdom comes from the arm of flesh, not from the power of the Spirit.
  56. There’s no reason each of us can’t lead at least one person a year to Christ.
  57. Most churches never once consider what it feels like to be an outsider, which is why so few visitors take root.
  58. Most of the West has heard about Jesus (even if they’ve heard incorrectly), which is why our practice of our message is as vital as our pronouncement of it.
  59. A person may have perfect doctrine and a form of religion, but if he doesn’t care about his neighbor, it’s all for naught.
  60. The reason we learn the Scriptures is to be equipped for every good work.
  61. The more tender my heart is toward the least of these, the more tender it is toward God—and vice versa.
  62. We minister best from the overflow of our Spirit-filled hearts, not from being poured out until empty.
  63. For some reason, we stopped making heaven the ultimate destination.
  64. Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain.
  65. We make an idol of the nuclear family if we raise it above the needs of the household of Faith.
  66. If a fellow Christian has a financial need, forget about buying that plasma TV. And remember this: someone is always in need.
  67. The first thing the new Church did after being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was to see that no one among them lacked for anything.
  68. Fear drives almost all human failings. The opposite of fear is love.
  69. You can tell the effectiveness of a church’s discipling program by noting how many of the leadership staff came from within.
  70. A king’s ambassador, when sojourning in a foreign land, is the full representative of the king and wields his complete power and authority. Never forget that we are Christ’s ambassadors.
  71. We perpetually underestimate Satan’s wiles; at the same time, we underestimate our authority over him in Christ.
  72. Most lost people aren’t consciously looking for ways to sin; they’re only trying to get by.
  73. You and I have benefitted greatly from the prayers of others, but most people have never had someone pray for them.
  74. Because our God is a God of beauty and truth, we Christians need to honor our artists and intellectuals as much as our pastors and preachers.
  75. Most of the Lord’s finest servants labor in obscurity.
  76. We Christians should spend every day working to depopulate hell.
  77. We may know what it means to be a sinner, but few of us have appropriated what it means to be a saint.
  78. Our communion meals should be feasts as big as we eat on Thanksgiving Day.
  79. Wine is the drink of celebration, not Welch’s.
  80. A church-hopper is a carrier of dissension.
  81. We need to treat our pastors as imperfect fellow laborers, not as Grand Exalted Poobahs.
  82. Without the Lord, we can do nothing.
  83. If we Christians stopped worrying about what others think of us, the Church would be transformed and the world along with us.
  84. We spend too much time trying to keep our youth from sleeping with each other and not enough time teaching them to be husbands and wives.
  85. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
  86. We were all born to serve.
  87. American Christians are more concerned about what’s in their bank accounts than in their treasure chests in heaven.
  88. Joy can only well up in a grateful heart.
  89. Gossip destroys anyone it touches.
  90. In Christ, there is no shame or guilt.
  91. Christians who pray prayers with enormous faith get enormous results.
  92. If we don’t reach people with the Gospel before they are 21, most will never come to Christ.
  93. We have not because we ask not.
  94. It is best to think of the Scriptures not as what we can read through in a year, but as what we can read through in an entire lifetime.
  95. We come to Christ full of holes. Whatever hole we forbid Christ to fill will instead be filled by the world.
  96. If we’re discipling correctly, no Christian in a church should be irreplaceable.
  97. A community of Christians is only as strong as its weakest members.
  98. If our lives are filled with everything but Christ, then we are impoverished indeed.
  99. We are all dust.
  100. God is always nearer to us than we believe Him to be.

Blessings! Have a great day.



Yesterday, my pastor preached on believing God for the impossible.

For most of my life, I’ve been the kind of person who has believed God for the impossible. I believe that God can do anything. I put no limits on His ability to do anything.

Where I stumble is when I find that fellow Christians around me don’t believe as I do. Then I question whether I’m the nut and they’re the ones making sense.

And I look at the waves.

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
—Matthew 14:25-31

In Hebrews it says that bad company ruins good morals. But what about faithless company ruining good faith?

We’re in a tough situation right now that calls for the impossible. As much as many Christians around me will nod their heads and say that God can do the impossible, the second I start laying out our situation here, out come the naysayers.

What happened to God doing the impossible?

I’m not sure I understand that phenomenon. Evangelicalism seems rife with supposedly faithful people who backpedal the second they hear of a really tough case.

Most times, the advice starts flying. Forget faith, here’s what’s got to be done to address the situation. You better roll up the sleeve on that arm of flesh, son! It’s as if God got the boot because you and I are better equipped to deal with the intractable.

That makes no sense to me, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’m wrong on my position of believing for the impossible when everyone starts giving me advice—and none of it is “Believe God for the impossible. And we’ll join with you in believing for it!”

That betrays something about us: We really don’t believe God.

It goes back to last week’s post about prosperity. We don’t want to believe that God can prosper someone materially because then we have to face the truth of those folks who don’t prosper materially. What then? So we spiritualize the promises of God. Better that we put those promises outside our physical plane of existence where no one can spot the results. A wave-looker and his oppositeThat way if there are no immediate results, we can make excuses about them being “invisible.”

Isn’t that the fallback position in most of the American Church?

Is that faith?

Our super-rationalism has gotten the better of us, hasn’t it? As bad as it was for fisherman Peter when he tried to walk on those waves, it’s a million times worse for us post-Enlightenment Americans. We run screaming into the arms of whatever earthly answer comes our way, but the last thing we’ll do is stand on God’s promise to do the impossible.

Several years ago, I was walking through a mall when a shoe salesman corralled me. I knew right away where his insistence would take us: nowhere.

I wear a ridiculously hard-to-find shoe size. Over in Europe, I can find my size easily, but here in the States, fat-footed people reign and I’m lucky to find anything, especially non-dress shoes.

Politely, I said, “You won’t have anything in my size.”

He grinned, stared at my feet, and said, “We’ve got every size they make. Come inside and I’ll set you up.”

Waving him off, I countered, “No, you don’t have my size.”

“Try me.” He folded his arms and leaned back, pummeling the ether with waves of confidence.

“Okay,” I said, ready to deliver the blow, “how about 13AA?”

“Sheesh,” the guy said, laughing and turning aside to arrange a pile of shoes on a table, “we don’t have that!”

We reek of the same sort of confidence as the cocky salesman. We tend to place our faith in what we have in stock, and that stock, in America at least, isn’t quite as deep as we think it is. We encounter someone with a real problem and we end up sheepishly arranging shoes.

But that “far-off country” has a solution. And the fact that few of us get there means we never discover what it has in stock. We’ll exhaust our local reserves, but we won’t go to that far country to get what we need.

Even in the Church, we put too much faith in man-made answers. We’ll push those answers without a thought because we’ve been indoctrinated to believe they can solve problems. But they don’t. In fact, they fail more often than not. That’s when we start getting serious about prayer, isn’t it? As the last resort. Even then, we’re afflicted by the nagging doubt that our man-made answers didn’t work, so how can God’s?

Is God a fairy tale? Then why do we treat Him like one? Knowing adults wink at each other when surrounded by children who believe in Santa Claus, and sadly, it seems we do the same to people who believe that God is the resolver of the impossible. We’ve made the Lord of All into just another figment of the imagination.

Is it pride? It seems like it to me. We don’t want to have to explain why our involving God in a situation didn’t work for some untold reason. It might make us look stupid. And we all know the worst thing that can befall a self-respecting American, Christian or not, is to look stupid.

Me? I’d rather look stupid than be faithless. Still, even that’s tough to do when everyone else is looking at the waves.

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
—Matthew 19:26