A Repentant Prayer or a Faithless Fake? What Jonah 2 Teaches Us About Our Hearts

kristine-weilert-88989-unsplash.jpgEarlier this week, I observed the way Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving cited or alluded to many Psalms. Today, I want to consider what this may mean for Jonah and for us who read his book.

To get a handle on the meaning of Jonah’s prayer, we must answer this question: Is Jonah’s prayer a genuine word of repentant thanksgiving, one that faithfully cites many Psalms? Or is his prayer a faithless fake that masquerades under a smokescreen of Scripture? To answer that big question lets look at four smaller questions.

  1. What do we know about the historical Jonah?
  2. What do the Minor Prophets indicate about Jonah?
  3. What does the book of Jonah say about Jonah?
  4. What does the prayer itself reveal about Jonah?

By answering these questions, we should have good chance of rendering a verdict on Jonah’s prayer and what it is intended to communicate to us. Continue reading

An Evidence of Repentance or Hypocrisy: Why Does Jonah 2 Cite So Many Psalms?

aaron-burden-534684-unsplashIt is striking the way Jonah 2 employs language from the Psalms. For those familiar with the Hebrew Psalter, it would be difficult to hear Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving without reflecting on other inspired Psalms. Just as songs which recycle older lyrics or melodies remind us of previous songs, so Jonah’s prayer should bring to our memory many lines in the Psalter.

Here is a verse by verse comparison. Clearly, the use of the Psalter is intentional, but I wonder why. Is the use of the Psalms an evidence of Jonah’s return to righteousness? Or is it something else? Could it be an instance where the Jonah’s lips draw near to God, but his heart remains far away? Should we automatically assume his use of Scripture is a sign of repentance? Or could it be that his prayer of thanksgiving without any stated repentance, as in Psalms 32 and 51, is actually an indicator of Jonah’s unrepentance.

Tomorrow, I’ll circle back to answer that question. But today, let me know what you think. Why does Jonah’s prayer recycle so many Psalms? Check on the comparison below and let me know what you think.
Continue reading

Six Marks of True Repentance

repent

For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 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.
— 2 Corinthians 7:8–9 —

Repentance is a eminently biblical word and a necessary (if graciously-given) prerequisite for salvation (see Acts 5:31; 11:18). But often when some sheds tears over sin, it is difficult to know if this repentance in its biblical form, or a counterfeit sorrow for the bitterness of sin. Indeed, as Paul indicates in 2 Corinthians 7:8–9, there is a sorrow that leads to godliness, but as Pharaoh (Exodus 9:27; 10:16) and other false professors reveal, there is a sorrow for sin devoid of any spiritual grace.

For that matter, wise counselors, pastors, parents, and Christian encourager need to know the signs of genuine repentance. In short, because repentance means turning from sin; genuine repentance is seen in the abiding desire and effort to continually flee from sin by the power of the Spirit. As John the Baptist puts it, true believers “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

In this way, a simple principle for repentance is that time not tears is the mark of genuine repentance. But beyond time, what marks genuine, God-given repentance?

In answer to that question, Thomas Watson in his classic little book, The Doctrine of Repentance, suggests six things that accompany true repentance. In these six marks, which I summarize and expand below, Watson helps us see how sorrow for sin leads to abiding repentance. Continue reading

A Prayer for America

thanksYesterday, I suggested we take time in our church services to pray for our country as Daniel and Nehemiah did for theirs. Last year, with those model prayers in mind, I offered this prayer at church. A year later it is just as appropriate, just as needed.

Holy God. You are right to demand holiness. Your will for all those made in your image is holiness. We confess that this is right and good.

And with that in mind, we confess we are not. In our city streets and in the corridors of our mind, we are unholy. Our nation and many in your church are drunk on impurity.

We are consumers of lewd entertainment.

We are led by an insatiable desire for more—more money, more sex, more fun, more stuff.

We legalize that which is a stench in your nostrils, and we outlaw that which pleases you.

Worse, our churches follow the ways of this world. We import the practices of our culture.

Instead of celebrating purity, we applaud celebrity.

Following the world, we mix your Word with a cocktail of psychology, leadership principles, and positive thinking.

Forgive us!

We thank you for the Christians who have gone before us, and been salt and light to preserve our nation.

We thank you for the legacy of Christian faithfulness that we have in this country. No country on earth has more churches, Bible schools, Christian publishers, and free access to you.

What a gift! What grace! Thank you for sharing your light with such undeserving and unthankful people.

But, oh how, we tremble at the way such blessings are trampled under foot.

Churches that were once committed to your Word are compromising.

Schools founded to glorify Jesus have exchanged light for darkness.

Leaders who once upheld truth, justice, and goodness are now controlled by moral relativism and whatever is popularity.

And what is popular is not holy. We deserve your judgment. If we learn anything from your words to Israel, we deserve to lose the lease on our land. We deserve to be vomited out. God forgive us!

Send your Holy Spirit. Revive your churches.

May the pulpits of America once again unashamedly declare Christ.

May the Christians in our country strive after holiness.

May we show the world a kind of love that makes God-haters thirst for Jesus.

Oh, be merciful to us! We are sinners. In your holiness, remember your Son’s atoning death. Be patient with us, and help us to be a light in this dark country.

Grant us sober hearts. Hearts that grieve not for the loss of Americana, but for the loss of your holiness.

Father in heaven, hallow your name in our country!

May God grant us, our churches, our nation a heart of repentance and renewed thirst for him and his righteousness.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Trading in Our Patriotic Hymns for Songs of Lament

crossWith the Obergefell decision weighing heavy on our minds, I have been wondering how churches in America will worship this Sunday. Will they go on as usual singing patriotic hymns? Or will they, in light of recent days, reconsider their song selection?

For those involved in music ministry and church leadership, this is not a new question. And honestly, the Obergefell decision should not be the deciding factor. However, that ruling has solidified concerns Christians have with America, and thus raises the question again—Should a church incorporate patriotic hymns in a service of worship?

Thinking on that subject, I believe a church has 1 of 3 options—no incorporation (option #1), selective incorporation (option #2), and unqualified incorporation (option #3). I think the first two options are valid with #1 outweighing #2, while option #3 is troubling and in need of revamping—something that could be done as soon as tomorrow. Let’s consider together. Continue reading

‘My Inheritance’: A Necessary Approach to the Scriptures

goldThere is a dangerous tendency in the life of any Christian, and especially among those who labor to teach the Word, to read the Bible for the sake of someone else. I experienced this recently as I was teaching on the glories of the cross of Christ. Admittedly, my spirit was not exulting in the doctrines I was teaching as much as I was encouraging others to exult in them. Like a dutiful usher, I was leading others to find room at the table, but I was too busy to sit down myself.

It is a scary thing when we lead others to see the glories of God, all the while failing to enjoy them ourselves. Continue reading

Beholding the Beauty of Christ in Wal-Mart: The Backstory

Christmas is a beautiful time of year, one that prompts giving, singing, family gatherings, and worship of our Savior born in Bethlehem.  Contemplating these things, I wrote an article for our church newsletter that The Gospel Coalition also ran on God’s hidden beauty revealed at Christmas.

To give a little backstory, I wrote it on a day when I had walked through the aisles of Wal-Mart and sadly had a bah-humbug spirit.  Surrounded by God’s image-bearers my sinful heart was not loving my neighbor.  It was simply wanting to get in, get out, and get done with what I had to do.  Such an attitude is sinful and selfish, and it stems from a vision problem–I was not seeing the people around the way Christ sees them.

Accordingly, I wrote the piece “Beholding the Beauty of Christ in Wal-Mart” as a means of preaching the gospel to myself.  I need the gospel everyday to remind me of my ugliness before the Lord, and how in Christ he has showered his beautiful grace on me.  If there is anything good in me, it is from the Lord (John 15:5; 1 Cor 4:7). Prayerfully, such amazing love and forgiveness will result in greater love for others.

As I walked out of Wal-Mart that day, I was confronted with the ugliness of my un-love.  I still groan over the fact that I am drawn to worldly beauty more than heavenly beauty, and that this causes me to slight people and make much of me.  Ugh! I praying that God would continue to renew my mind and change my heart, and I to do so, I keep looking to the person and work of Christ.  He alone is beautiful, and in his light we see light.  As we behold him, we become like him.  I wrote this article for that reason, and I share it with you that you might benefit too.

Here is how it begins,

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so the old saying goes. Just the same, we choose to behold (read: pursue and acquire) what we think is beautiful. Unfortunately, for so many of us, we have given little attention to what the Bible says about beauty. While Christians may have read the Bible for years, I wonder, when it comes to beauty, how many of us have been shaped by magazine covers, movies, and prom nights more than God’s inspired Word?  Christmas may be one exception.

You can read the whole thing at The Gospel Coalition website.

Repentant and Repenting, dss

True Confession: When “I’m Sorry, I Messed Up” Isn’t Enough

How often have you heard or said, “Yeah, I know I messed up. I’m sorry.  I don’t know how it happened. I’ve got issues.”

This language is typical in our day, when as a culture we have abdicated responsibility, absorbed psychology as a means of explaining sin issues, and abandoned God’s perspective on guilt and forgiveness. Sadly, this kind of thinking is just as rampant in the church as in the world.

Confession, which is an integral part of the Christian life, has become less of a transaction of offense confessed and offense forgiven.  It has instead become, or it at least it appears often, as an excuse-laiden, cross-less, appeal for acceptance.  But is this new?  Not really.  In Exodus 32, we find in Aaron the age old problem of a false confession.

Exodus 32:22-24

After the golden calf is destroyed, Moses turns his attention to Aaron and the people. Like a lawyer before the judge, Moses questions the accused. In v. 21, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” Aaron’s answer echoes that of Adam and Eve in the Garden.

Verse 22.  Aaron blames Israel for their evil. Which is true.  But it seems that he uses their wickedness as a shield from his own law-breaking.

Verse 23.  Then he recites the demands of the Israelites.  Further adding to their guilt.  Now, notice for a moment who is saying this—it isn’t a commoner in Israel; it is the priest.  The one who is supposed to remove guilt, not add to it.  Moreover, one wonders if Aaron uses the people’s words about Moses absence from camp to insinuate his own guilt in the episode.  For, if Moses had been there, none of this would happened.

Verse 24. Then finally he gets to his part. Instead of admitting the active role he had in “making” the calf, he shows surprise in how this beast was fashioned.  Paraphrased, it sounds like this “I threw the gold into the fire, and out popped this calf.”

It is easy to point at Aaron, or even to laugh at the ridiculousness of his excuse, but we should be quick to notice how similar we are to Aaron.  Paul says we are to learn from the counter-example of Israel (1 Cor 10:1-11), and thus God uses Aaron’s ridiculous confession to show us what confession is not.

Five Attributes of False Confession and True Confession

(1) Confession does not name others first; it takes the first step to admit wrong. There is no place in confession for pointing to the faults of others as contributing factors.  It is satisfied to single our self, and to deal with the Lord and others, without pulling others into the mix.  Though Scripture models corporate confessions–one thinks of Nehemiah or Daniel–personal confession has no business finding comfort in the sins of others.

(2) Confession does not blame-shift; pointing out the sins of others.  It points to self. It is not looking for a scape-goat or an external reason for the moral failure or relational offense.  There is no need to load our sins on anyone else, because for Christians, Christ has already taken that sin on the cross.  Thus confession gives us another reason to rejoice in sin pardoned.

(3) Confession does not simply claim that wrong was done; it is admitting your part. Unlike Aaron, who passively recounts the events of the golden calf, true confession steps up and says, “I am the man. Forgive me.”

(4) Confession does not aim to save face; it is looking to see the face of Christ again. With Christ and his cross in view, it always sees the penalty of sin as a bloody cross; but it also remembers that the greatest sin has been covered by the greater grace of God in Christ (Rom 5:20).  Thus, it frees us to confess even the most miserable and atrocious sins, because in Christ they have been fully forgiven.

(5) Confession is not a lame ‘yeah, I’m sorry,’ It demands a spirit of contrition & brokenness, and willingness to do anything to bring about reconciliation. It abandons personal rights, and is willing to suffer hardship to make-peace.

(6) Confession does not simply retell the shame, it agrees with God that the act, thought, speech, motive, pattern, etc was a sin, and then it boldly claims the blood of Christ as the once for all atonement for that hell-deserving sin.  

Confession that is true reiterates our belief that we are more sinful than we ever knew, and that Christ as our mediating high priest is more sufficient than we ever imagined. It is prompted by the Spirit and leads to forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9).  It comes from a heart that has seen sin the way God sees sin; it cannot be manufactured, it is a gift from God.

In short, it is part and parcel of the Christian life, one that is illumined by God’s word and directed by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.  For truly born again Christians, it should not be an irregular activity or something initiated by a pastoral reminder.  It should be a daily, even moment-by-moment offering to the Lord.

Still, with all that said, I wonder how many Christians do confession much like Aaron. I am concerned that many “Christians” play church–that confession, repentance, and reconciliation are not part of their daily lives.  And thus, their professed Christianity is nothing like the real thing.  Instead of a genuine relationship with Jesus, programs and platitudes have sufficed.

Ask yourself: How often do I make confession to the Lord, and to others?  Is it a regular practice of my life, one stimulated by the Spirit?

Jesus is clear. Those who are forgiven will forgive; and those who are convicted will confess. This is not optional; this is the normal Christian life.  God’s love confronts us and calls us to regularly confess sin and seek restoration with God and others, and Aaron’s errant confession teaches us that “I’m sorry, I’ve got issues,” just doesn’t cut it.

Lord pour out a Spirit of grace and pleas for mercy on your church and on me.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

Repentance as a Gift in the Old Testament

Testamentum Imperium, an online international journal, just published a copy of a paper I wrote called “Repentance as a Gift in the Old Testament.” It traces the idea of repentance throughout the Old Testament and argues that God’s grace precedes and enables repentance, as it explicitly does in the New Testament (cf Acts 3:26; 2 Tim 2:25).

Researching this subject affirmed in my thinking how important it is to rightly understand the covenant structure of the Bible, how much greater the New Covenant is than the Old, and how humanity is absolutely dead without God’s gracious intervention.  Faith and repentance, in the Old and New Testaments depend on God’s regenerating work.

Moreover, the paper reiterated to me how many systematic disputes (e.g. Credobaptism vs. Paedobaptism, Covenant Theology vs. Dispensationalism) are tied to a misreading of the covenants in Scripture.  Differences of (scholarly) opinion on the continuity and discontinuity of the Bible lead to differing views of many doctrines.

In my paper, I argue that genuine acts of repentance under the Old Covenant anticipate the greater reality of the New Covenant.  In this way, repentance is always a gift from God that not only offers but effects contrition and corresponding faith in the life of his saints.  While there are many instances of insincere repentance–one thinks of Pharaoh–all genuine repentance is initiated by God’s sin-conquering grace.  Repentance is therefore one of God’s great gifts, as it is instrumental for the sinner’s salvation.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the paper: “Repentance as a Gift in the Old Testament

Still learning how to read the Bible, dss