Have We (the Church) Truly Repented?

Some years ago, I did a word-study of the Greek word that is translated as “repent” in our English Bibles. As I result of this study, I came to a shocking conclusion: Most of us who call ourselves Christians, have NOT truly repented at all! This is mostly in part because of a mis-interpretation which has led to a misunderstanding, and therefore a misapplication the biblical concept of repentance.

Let me show you what I am talking about. When I was first introduced to the concept of repentance as a young Christian, I was taught that to repent means to be ‘godly sorrow for your sins.’ However, I would discover later on, that this definition is based on a faulty interpretation and misunderstanding of what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10. The apostle wrote: “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (KJV) Here are the same verses in one of the more recent versions; the ESV: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Now, here’s the thing that most people have missed about what Paul said. Paul DID NOT SAY godly sorrow or godly grief ‘was’ repentance. He said godly sorrow or godly grief ‘works’ or ‘produces’ repentance! Godly sorrow/grief and repentance are two different concepts; they are not synonymous! They are not the same!

So, to feel sorry for your sins is not the same as repenting, it’s just feeling sorry for your sins! But, feeling sorry for your sins ought to produce repentance! Feeling sorry for your sins ought to lead you to the act of repenting. So, that brings us to the question: If being godly sorrow for your sins is not the same as repentance, then, what does it actually mean to repent? Well, the Greek word that is translated as ‘repent’ has as its primary meaning; to change one’s mind or the way one thinks. Therefore, to repent is to change your mind or to change your thought process; repentance is a change of mind! True repentance is a change in ‘what’ and ‘how’ one thinks! This change of mind will invariably lead to a change in action, behavior and life.

Jesus’ first recorded public declaration is found in Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV) The Jewish people at that time were anxiously waiting for and anticipating the coming of the Kingdom of God (the rule, reign, and authority of God among his people on earth). What Jesus was essentially saying was this: “Quit thinking about the Kingdom of God in the future-tense and understand and live in view of the fact that the Kingdom of God has now arrived!” The message of Jesus for us today is for us to quit thinking of the Kingdom of God only as a place called Heaven in the future and start thinking of the Kingdom of God as a present reality!

Therefore, in view of what Jesus said, even most people who call themselves Christians still need to repent! Why? Because most Christians think of the Kingdom of God only as a place called Heaven, in the sweet by and by! But the message of Jesus is that the Kingdom of God is also a present reality on earth in the sour here and now! The message is: Repent! Quit thinking religion and start thinking Kingdom! We’ve got our hearts set on ‘going to Heaven,’ but Jesus told us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come!” We’re want to leave here and go there, but Jesus wants us to stay here, working and praying that the ‘there’ will come here! He prayed to his Father in the garden on the eve of his passion, concerning his disciples and us: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (Jn. 17:15 NIV) We need to repent, because we’ve been praying to the Father to get us out, while Jesus prayed to the Father to keep us in! We need to repent! We need to change our minds; we need to change our thought process! We’ve been thinking religion; but Jesus wasn’t about religion, Jesus was about the Kingdom! Jesus never told us to seek first religion; he told us to seek first the Kingdom! Religion is always about the past and the future ‘over there,’ but the Kingdom is primarily about in the present here! Religion allows evil to win in the present because of a faith in a future victory, but the Kingdom defeats the power of the enemy in the present and will ultimately destroy the enemy in the future! That’s why the enemy doesn’t mind us ‘having religion,’ because religion blinds us to the present reality of the Kingdom! The message to the church today is the same as the message Jesus proclaimed centuries ago: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” The Kingdom of God is not just pie-in-the-shy-when-you-die-by-and-by; the Kingdom is the present power and reality of God in the world right now! The Kingdom of God is not just later; the Kingdom of God is NOW AND LATER!

Preachers, Pimps, Pastors and Prostitutes

rev-pimpOne of the most noted sayings from the Bible is: “My people perish (or ‘are destroyed’) for the lack of knowledge.” That saying comes from Hosea 4:6. But have you ever wondered why God said His people perished because of the lack of knowledge? Well, the answer is right there in the rest of the verse! Let’s read the verse completely. The English Standard Version (ESV) says: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” The New American Standard Bible (NASB) says: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” Notice the punctuation of the ESV could suggest the people were destroyed for the lack of knowledge because the priest rejected knowledge. The way the NASB is punctuated suggests that because the priest had rejected knowledge, God; the LORD reject him from being His priest. The interpretation is a bit ambiguous because there were no punctuation marks; no commas or periods in the original Hebrew text. But as we look at the whole of the biblical text, I believe both interpretations are equally valid. People are destroyed for the lack of knowledge whenever the priests, the ones appointed to teach the people knowledge, reject the knowledge they are supposed to be teaching the people! Also, whenever the priests reject the knowledge of God, they reject God and are thereby rejected by God and disqualified from the office of priest. So both interpretations are equally valid and applicable. But for the purpose of this post, I want to adopt and use the idea that God’s people are destroyed for the lack of knowledge because the priests, the ones who are supposed to be teaching them the knowledge of God, rejected the knowledge of God! In other words, I am saying that in most cases, the ignorance and misbehavior in the pew can be traced to ignorance and misbehavior in the pulpit!

We are living in a time wherein the conduct, attitudes, behaviors, conduct and even preaching of many who called themselves preachers, pastors, bishops, evangelists, apostles, right-reverends, or whatever, are absolutely appalling! Everybody and their Momma claims to be anointed or have the anointing today! Yet in many cases, these so-called prophets are really just after the profits! Some of the preachers have more women (in some cases men) than the local pimps! Whenever a pastor is more concerned about the condition of the offerings than the condition of the souls of the people, that pastor is pimping the people of God for profit! Oh! What a shame it is! The Bible refers to the church as the Bride of Christ. But whenever, any church is subjected to the authority and rule of those who seek to manipulate and use her for their own profit and prosperity; that church ceases to be a bride and becomes a prostitute! In that situation, that church is not a local manifestation of the Bride of Christ, but rather a prostitute for a pimp who calls him or herself the pastor!

Now, this is not just solely on the preacher-pimp, the prostitute-church must bear some of the responsibility also! In Jeremiah 5:30-31, the Lord spoke a word through the Prophet Jeremiah concerning Israel that is equally applicable to some of the churches today. He said: “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in this land–the prophets give false prophecies, and the priests rule with an iron hand. Worse yet, my people like it that way!” (NLT) With many churches today, it is just like an old blues song I heard about a lady who responded to her lover whenever he told the lie that he loved her. She said: “I know you are lying, but I love to hear you say it anyway!” There are many in the church today who tolerate foolishness in the pulpit because they don’t want to be challenged or confronted about their own short-comings!

Now before I conclude, I don’t want to give the impression that what I have previously described is the prevailing state of affairs in all churches. This month (October) is Pastor Appreciation Month. If you have a pastor, a leader, a preacher who is indeed a true man or woman of God, thank God for them and let them know in a tangible way that you really appreciate them! There are some pastors, preachers, prophets, bishops, apostles, or whatever, who are indeed true men and women of God! There are some churches who are indeed true to Christ and are seeking to be salt and light. There are some pastors and preachers who are leading churches and ministries that are indeed preaching the true Gospel, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and making disciples as Christ commanded. No! Don’t reject the whole barrel because of some bad apples! Don’t get swept away by the flood just because there’s some mess in the ark! I just simply saying that you need to use discernment!

While the Bible describes the church as the Bride of Christ, it also describes the people of God as sheep. It uses that analogy because sheep need a shepherd. Sheep need the care, protection and leadership of a shepherd to survive. So it is with the church. Be a sheep, but don’t be a dumb sheep! The Apostle John gave warning: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 Jn. 4:1 ESV) No! Don’t just accept the bishop’s word that it’s God’s word just because the bishop said it was! You need to be like the Berean Jews in Acts 17:10, where the Bible says: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”(ESV) Take notes during the sermons and then go home and study that word for yourself!

My friend, your standing with God and your eternal destiny is too important to leave solely in the hands of any preacher, pastor, bishop or priest! The Apostle John said that many false prophets have gone out into the world! Many prophets who are actually just “profits!” Many preachers who are just pimps! Many pastors who just want to shear the sheep instead of being a shepherd for the sheep! Many pastors who would seek to turn the Bride of Christ into their own personal prostitute for profit! And so, as I conclude, I leave you with a warning from Jesus found in Matthew 24:24-25: “For false christs (anointed ones; those who say they are anointed) and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.” Beware of preachers, pimps, pastors and prostitutes!

“There Is No C-H-U-R-C-H Without U”

Church congregation singing hymns in church

(Disclaimer: The truths and concepts in this article is directed toward those who have professed a belief in Jesus because, biblically speaking, there are no “real” Christians who are not a part of the church.) 

I think that one of the major faults of “American Christianity” is the fact that most American Christians are more “American” than they are “Christian!” Let me show you what I’m talking about:

 

First of all, in the American spirit, there is a strong sense of individualism. Inbreeded in all Americans is a strong independent bent that favors the individual over the group. However, in the Bible, the emphasis is not on the individual, but rather the group. In ancient biblical cultures, the individual’s identity was found in his or her relationship to the group, the family, the clan, the tribe, the nation!

 

When Jesus called individuals to follow him, he always called them to be in community with one another. In Matthew 16:18, we read of Jesus saying: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (NKJ) The word that is translated as “church” in that verse, is a Greek word that carries the meaning of; a gathering of citizens, called out of their homes into some public place, an assembly, a congregation. I’ve heard people say that they have the “church in their hearts” but according to the Lord’s definition of church, that’s an impossibility! The church is never just one person; the church is always a group of people! There must always be more than one to have a church!

 

Now, I understand that there are many people who are just fed up with the politics and hypocrisy of the institutionalized church. Well, they are not alone, so was and so is Jesus! In many churches, Jesus is on the outside looking in! By the way, that Bible verse that is often used in an evangelistic effort to get sinners to come to Christ is really a misapplication. Revelation 3:14, says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (ESV) In the context of the passage, this is not a picture of Jesus; knocking on the door of a sinner’s heart. No! This is a picture of Jesus; knocking on the door of His church!

 

But, to leave or quit the church because of the imperfections of the people within it is like trying to travel without going anywhere! It’s like trying to leave yourself because you don’t like yourself! The bottom line is this: You need the church and the church needs you! The church is a community of believers and disciples of Christ! And it is within the context of community that God reveals Himself to the world! In his prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed to the Father: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (Jn. 17:20-23 ESV) Jesus prayed that all believers (the church) might be one in unity! Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 5:16 to let their light so shine that men might see their good works and glorify the Father in Heaven. It is interesting to note that in the Greek text, the “your” is plural (he wasn’t addressing them as individuals, but as a group) while the “light” is singular! It is a picture of the group (the church) working together to let one light shine!

 

The Apostle Paul likened the church to the human body, with each separate member as a part with a distinct role that fits and works together for the benefit of the whole body. (1 Corinthians 12:11-27) The church needs you and you need the church because none of us are complete by ourselves! You have something I need and I have something you need! In fact, not only is that true for the church, it is also true with life in general! That’s why when people are killed or die prematurely, it is such a tragedy! It’s tragic because they will never get the chance to contribute the gift they came to give and because of that; we all suffer! That is also another reason why it is so important that people really know or come into a right-relationship with God! Because when people are “lost” it’s not just a matter of them going to Hell when they die! When people are lost, they are also lost from their destiny and purpose, which ultimately were designed to glorify God and benefit humanity! When people are lost, they cannot make the contribution they were born to make! And when they don’t make that contribution, the rest of humanity suffers!

 

That’s another reason there is no church without you! The mission of the church is to “make disciples” of all ethnic groups. (Matthew 28:18-20) Why? Not just so that they might be saved, but also that they might collectively demonstrate the glory and love of God to the world! The task is too big for individuals! It can only be done with people who are committed to God and each other!

 

You also need the church to keep you in check! No matter how much you read the Bible and how much “alone time” you have with God, it is also important that you have communion and fellowship with people who share your aspirations, beliefs, dreams, ideals, goals, and convictions! You were not designed to function alone! According to the Bible, there is no such thing as a “Lone Ranger” or “Solo-Christian.” It is God’s will that we all live out our Christian faith in a community setting! In fact, you need that setting to authenticate your faith!

 

I could go on and on, but let me just conclude by saying that without “u” even the word; “church” doesn’t make sense! There is no “c-h-u-r-c-h” with you because “u-r” right in the middle of it!

The Walmart Church

Walmart ChurchThere is a growing church in America today, the name of which, most people have never heard of; it is the Walmart Church! Now, you will not see the name “The Walmart Church” on the marquee outside, but there are locations all around!

What is “The Walmart Church?” It is the church of convenience! The Walmart stores specialize in making shopping convenient for their customers, with many locations having retail and groceries under the same roof. Convenience is a big thing with the Walmart Church, with services at different times for the convenience of its attenders.

The Walmart Church is also the church of discount prices! At the Walmart Church, God’s approval and blessings are offered at a great discount! One can lay claim to Christianity with little or no cost to one’s previous lifestyle. At the Walmart Church, one can be a “Christian” and yet be spared the embarrassment of being fundamentally different from one’s “non-Christian” neighbors. All one has to do to remain a member in good standing is consistently donate an offering and attend a mass meeting on Sunday.

Now of course, I am being sarcastic and there really is no such thing as “The Walmart Church!” But I wonder, is that really the state of the church in many places in America. When many people consider becoming a part of a church today, they actually go “church-shopping!” They visit congregation after congregation, looking for the one that fits their list of specific characteristics: The preacher must be a dynamic and engaging speaker. The music ministry must be lively and entertaining and it would be a plus if there is a drama and fine arts ministry! And of course, there must be a Teen, Youth, or Children’s Ministry to engage the kids while the adults go to the big church to “get their praise on!”

But whatever happened to the idea of being a part of a church because one felt led of God to be there? Whatever happened to the idea of the church being a place to nurturing relationships and fostering spiritual growth? Whatever happened to the idea of finding a church where one was led of God to join so that one might express and utilize their own spiritual gifts in ministerial service?

The church, as Jesus formed it, was not designed to serve its membership. Its membership was designed to be an extension of the ministry of her Lord in serving others! In other words, the real question today that one should be asking is not what this church can do for me and my family, but rather how can my family and I help this church fulfill the Great Commission that the Lord has given!

Well, I don’t know about you! Keep looking for “The Walmart Church” if you want to! As for me, I am looking and I am working to transform the church where I serve into a place where people feel led of God to be a part of! A place where we don’t just “have church” and be entertained, but a place where people are taught, inspired, and challenged to be all that God has called them to be!

Who Is The Church For?

I think the church today is making the same fundamental mistake that Israel made back in the Bible days! God’s purpose for choosing Israel to be His peculiar people was so that Israel might introduce and show God to the world! But instead of fulfilling that task, Israel became introverted and tried to keep God as her own peculiar treasure. Instead of being a conduit to share God with the world, Israel became a pool and tried to isolate God and herself from the world! Not understanding that God wanted to use her to reach the world, Israel concluded that her selection by God meant that she was better than the rest of the world and that God’s favor was for her exclusively.

churchliquorIsn’t that exactly what has happened to the church today, especially in America? Visit any urban city in America and you will observe an interesting phenomenon. In most locations, you will find a church building on many city blocks. However, within those same city blocks, you will also find buildings that provide housing for illegal drugs, prostitution, and liquor stores! In some locations, the church house and the house of ill repute are even situated next door to one another! You would think that one would offset the other! How in the world can they seemingly peacefully co-exist?

I think there are several reasons for this happening. First, just like Israel in the days of old, the church today has misunderstood her calling. Instead of being “for the world,” most churches today are mainly for themselves! And many of the ones who are evangelistic are making the fundamental mistake of trying to be like and liked by the world in a futile effort to win the world!

The Bible is clear on this subject and we should use the Carpenter from Galilee as our model. Jesus said; “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 ESV) Jesus did nothing for himself, but rather his whole life was for others! He was born for others! He ministered for others! He performed miracles and healings for others! He was crucified for others! He died for others! Early that 3rd-day Sunday morning, he was raised from the dead for others! And one day, he’s coming back again for others! Yes! Jesus, the Head of the church, was for others! And just as Jesus was for others, the church should be for others!

The church will be what God called her to be, have the power and influence God ordained for her to have when she comes to the realization that she does not exist for herself but rather for others! Real power will return to the church when church members repent of their selfishness and come to the realization that the church does not exist primarily to serve them. Real power will return to the church when church members come to the understanding that they are members of the church so that their talents, time, treasure, gifts, and abilities might be used to fulfill the church’s mandate to reach, save and serve others for sake of Jesus and the Kingdom of God!