1362) How to Repent (part two of two)

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     (continued…)   The next day one of the nurses saw her pastor who was visiting one of his parishioners in the same hospital.  She asked if he would stop in to see the woman, and he agreed to do so.  He went into her room and introduced himself and asked if she wanted to talk.  “It’s no use,” she said, “It is too late.  I have been a terrible sinner and I am going to hell and I deserve it.  But I am afraid.”

     “Well,” said the pastor, “the Bible says we are all terrible sinners, and you are right, you do deserve to go to hell, and so do I.  But Jesus died to save us from our sins.  Can I tell you about Jesus?”  The woman nodded, and the pastor continued.  He said, “The Apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans, ‘While we were yet sinners, and enemies of God, Christ Jesus died for us.’  And do you know what Paul did before he became an apostle?  He hunted down and persecuted the early believers in Jesus, even standing by and approving as one named Stephen was executed by a mob.  But then Paul was saved.  And the Bible says that if you confess your sins and believe on the Lord Jesus, you too can be saved.  Do you want to confess your sins?”

     The woman listened attentively, but was confused.  “Confess?” she asked, “Now? To you?”

     “No,” said the pastor, “Not to me, but to Jesus.  But I will stay here to help you.  Are you sorry for your sins, and do you truly repent of them?”

    “Sorry, yes, I am sorry, nothing but sorry,” she said, “I am filled with regret; fear and regret and dread– I am feeling all of that right now.”

     “Well, that’s a good start,” the pastor said.  “The Bible says that fear is the beginning of wisdom, and that if are sorry for your sins you can be forgiven.  You are fearing God’s judgment and you have deep sorrow for your sins, and so you are ready to repent.  Shall we begin in prayer?”

     The woman bowed her head, and the pastor began.  He invited Jesus into the room, he told Jesus that this woman was a terrible sinner, and that she now wanted to confess her sins.  He asked her to pray a simple prayer from the Bible: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Sobbing, she repeated the words.  The pastor then encouraged her to begin to confess, and begin she did.  She started with how even as a child she was so mean to her parents, and then how, as a teenager she ran away from home.  She let them worry about her for months, not letting them know where she was or even if she was alive.  To support herself, she had gotten into a life of prostitution, which she was involved in on and off for years.  It was the only steady work she ever had.  Along with that she lied, cheated, betrayed her friends, and stole, doing whatever she could to stay alive and support her drug habit.  She had settled down a bit for a couple years, got married, and even had a child.  But the marriage ended and the child had long ago been taken away from her, and she made no effort to keep in touch.  Her parents were dead, her siblings had quit trying to contact her, and her few friends were all either dead or too full of their own troubles to come and see her.  She was alone with her regrets.  Her confession was filled with such crying that the nurses came in a couple times to make sure everything was all right.  Finally, she laid her head back on the pillow, exhausted and silent.

     The pastor said nothing for a long time, and then finally said, “You have indeed been a terrible sinner, and God hates sin.  But having confessed your sin, and being truly sorry for them, I can say to you, that in the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for you, and for his sake, God forgives you all your sins.  The Bible says, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, and that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’  Do you believe in Jesus and are you willing to invite him into your heart?”, the pastor asked.

      She replied, “I am not even sure what that all means, but yes, I want to believe.  I want to be forgiven and I want to go to heaven and not to hell.”

     “Just look to Jesus,” the pastor said, “just keep telling him that you want to believe, and he will take care of the rest.  When Jesus was on earth people came to him with even the smallest seed of faith, and he received them and blessed them.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, a thief was dying on a cross next to him.  And that thief came to Jesus then, just like you now, in the last hours of a miserable life.  And all that thief said was, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus said some wonderful words to him.  Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  Let that be your simple prayer now and for whatever is left of your life; “Jesus, remember me.”  And then, when you fall asleep here, you will wake up not in hell, but in heaven with Jesus.  You have God’s word on it.  ‘Today,’ Jesus said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’”

     The nurse who invited that pastor in told him later that the woman died peacefully a few days after that visit.  And instead of hearing her constant crying, the nurses would hear her praying over and over again, “Jesus, remember me.”  It was the only prayer she knew, but she had heard the story of how Jesus received and honored even such a simple plea for mercy as that.

     The love of God isn’t just an idea or a principal, like the first chaplain presented it, but it is to be found in a Person.  And the love of God isn’t just an ointment that you can smear over everything that moves, like the first chaplain did, without any reference to that woman’s sinful life or her complete absence of faith.  The love of God is received by faith and confession and repentance and prayer.  That woman knew her sin needed to be taken seriously and dealt with; and that is what the second pastor helped her do, along with calling her to faith in Christ Jesus.  We know the love of God by knowing Jesus, and we come to faith in God through Jesus, who forgives our sins.

     Faith isn’t just whatever you want it to be.  Faith has a specific object and content, it is faith in something solid, in Someone who was here, and who had some specific things to say, both promises and commands.  That Someone is Jesus Christ, the way and the truth and the life.  Confess your sins, repent, and believe in Jesus, and you will be saved.

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Proverbs 9:10  —  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

I John 1:8-9  —  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John 3:16  —  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

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God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  —  Luke 18:13b

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  –Luke 23:42

1361) How to Repent (part one of two)

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 I heard this story from another Lutheran pastor.  I will tell it as I remember it, filling in the conversation a bit as I go– but this was the gist of it.

     A middle-aged woman was dying of cancer in a big city hospital.  She received no visitors, and she was not accepting her fate very well.  She wept day and night, and sometimes her loud cries could be heard down the hall at the nurses station.  The nurses tried to help by offering her a sedative, but she did not want that.  The nurses offered to call the hospital chaplain, and the woman did agree to that.

     The chaplain came in and asked the woman if he could help her.  She said, “I will soon be dead, and then what is next for me pastor?  I am a terrible person, and I am afraid of going to hell.”  Being careful not to offend her religious beliefs, he asked about her church background.  She said, “I have no church background.  I was baptized, and my parents dragged me to church for a few years, but that was it.  I never believed in much of anything, but I have heard about hell, and I know that is where I am going.”

     “Well,” said the pastor, “I can assure you, God is a God of love, and God loves you and accepts you, just the way you are.  You have nothing to fear.”  She stopped crying, listened quietly, and said no more.  Finally, the pastor said a brief prayer and left the room.  He told the nurses that he thought the woman would all right now, and they thanked him for his visit.

     But the woman was not all right, and was soon crying as much as before.  She made no complaints to the nurses, and was not asking anyone for anything; but it saddened the nurses to see her so distraught.  They asked the dying woman if they should call the chaplain in for another visit.  She said, “No, don’t call him back.”  (continued…)

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Psalm 51:3  —  For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Lamentations 3:19-20  —  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

Hebrews 9:27  —  …It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that to face judgment.

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Ah Lord, my prayers are dead, my affections dead, and my heart is dead:  but you are a living God and I commit myself to you.  Amen.  –William Bridge

1359) Why Do I Need to Repent?

From The Word for Every Day, by Alvin Rogness, page 63, © 1981 Augsburg Publishing House

     Let me say at the outset that I don’t always feel the need to repent and be forgiven.  I believe I need to be; I know I do, because the Scriptures say very clearly that I do.  But what do I need to be forgiven for?  Like the rich young ruler, I have obeyed the commandments.  I have not murdered or committed adultery.  I’m not a thief, not even a minor shoplifter.  I’ve tried to be honest with IRS.  I may have stretched or withheld the truth at times, usually to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.  What’s so terrible about a little lie?  Certainly not terrible enough to drive Jesus to a cross for my sins.

     If I want to understand myself, and if I want to understand Christ’s love for me, I am told that I must find myself in the corner of bad people who need, more than anything else, the forgiveness of sins.  The question haunts me.  Is there in me, and in all people, some evil so subtle and pervasive and destructive (like a hidden cancer) that unless it is dealt with, any progress toward spiritual health (honesty, joy, love, hope) will be an illusion?  And does it take a therapy so radical that only the death of Jesus will do?  Our Christian faith says that it cost him a cross.

    You may be initially drawn to Jesus by his miracles of mercy, by his penetrating parables, by his indignation against sham and oppression.  Before long, as Jesus grows upon you, and you stand watching him die, you will know a strange uneasiness.  You don’t belong in the same company with him.  Like Peter, you’ll feel like crying out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Somehow the yawning gap between you and Jesus will have to be bridged.  Your most noble efforts won’t do it.  The only bridge is repentance and confession, and being caught in the tide of his forgiving love which sweeps all your sins away.

    Forgiveness has tended to slip out of the vocabulary of secular man.  If we believe that there is no God at the center to be accountable to and that the universe is but a vast machine, forgiveness is meaningless.  If man is but a cog in the machine, driven by his appetite and his chemistry, forgiveness is nonsense.  If we are but helpless pieces of some cosmic game, why ask us to repent and be forgiven?  You don’t forgive a dog for stealing a bone, nor a tornado for leveling a village, nor a river for overflowing its banks.  But we are created children of God, with holiness the expectation and demand, and as utter failures to meet the demand, there is no door but forgiveness for our return to God.

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“The recognition of sin is the beginning of salvation.”

–Martin Luther

“Repentance is not moaning and remorse, but turning and change.”

–J. I. Packer

“Chronic remorse is a most undesirable sentiment.  If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time.  On no account brood over your wrongdoing.  Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”

 –Aldous Huxley

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I John 1:8-10 — If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Matthew 4:17  —  From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Acts 2:37-38a  —  Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”  Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.”

II Corinthians 7:8a…9-10a  —  For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it…  Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us.  For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret.

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CONFESSION OF SIN from the LUTHERAN LITURGY OF WURTTEMBERG, 1536

    I, poor sinner, confess before thee, my God and Creator, that I, alas, have sinned against thee grievously and in many ways: not alone by gross, outward sins, but much more by inward and inborn blindness, unbelief and doubt, despondence and impatience, pride and evil covetousness, secret envy, hatred and malice, and other wicked devices– as Thou, my Lord and God, dost perceive in me, and I, alas, cannot sufficiently perceive.  I repent of these things and grieve over them, and from the heart I implore grace through thy dear Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.
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“People are destined to die once, and after that, to face judgment.”  –Hebrews 9:27

“Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will disappear with a roar, and the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be laid bare.”   –II Peter 3:8-10

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“You cannot repent too soon, because you do not know how soon it may be too late.”
–Thomas Fuller
“God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination”
–Augustine
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God, be merciful to me, a sinner.  –Luke 18:13b

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442) “I Have Sinned”

By John Stonestreet, June 24, 2014, at:  www.breakpoint.org

Adriaan Vlok (1937- )

       Between 1986 and 1991, Adriaan Vlok served as South Africa’s Apartheid-era Minister of Law & Order and also sat on South Africa’s State Security Council.

     Vlok was behind many of the regime’s most repressive and drastic measures:  hit squads, bombings and assassinations of anti-apartheid activists.  The regime was desperate to stay in power in the wake of growing unrest at home and near-universal condemnation abroad.

      All of which makes Vlok’s post-apartheid story all the more remarkable.

      On August 1, 2006, he entered his old workplace in Pretoria and asked to see Frank Chikane, a minister and former anti-apartheid activist who was now serving in the government.  As Eve Fairbanks tells readers in the New Republic, Vlok and Chikane had some history:  Vlok tried to assassinate Chikane by lacing his underwear with “paraoxon, a potent insecticide.”  As comical as that sounds, the effects were no joke:  Chikane survived only after “advanced medical treatment” in the U.S.

     Why did Vlok want to see Chikane that day? Well, to ask forgiveness. Quaking as he stood before the man he tried to kill, he read from something he’d written on the front of his Bible:  “I have sinned against the Lord and against you.  Will you forgive me?”

     He then pulled a bowl out of his briefcase and asked if he could wash Chikane’s feet.

     A startled Chikane said “yes” and Vlok proceeded to wash his feet.  And, as Fairbanks put it, “both men dissolved into tears.”

     It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Vlok has had a powerful conversion experience.

     Reading Jesus’ words about leaving your gift on the altar and being reconciled to your brother prompted Vlok’s seeking forgiveness from his victims.  As he told Fairbanks, “I had to start making peace with my brother whom I had hurt.”

     And sadly, it also shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Vlok’s gestures have not been universally applauded.  His fellow white Afrikaners have labeled him “ridiculous,” a “quivering dog,” and a “traitor.”

     Still others insist he hasn’t gone far enough, even though he is rare among former government officials in suggesting that the white minority has something to apologize for.

     His change of heart even extends to his living arrangements:  When Fairbanks visited his home, she found two recovering alcoholics and a just-released prisoner living with him.

     Reading his story, what comes to mind is that it’s the kind of turnaround that only Christianity can produce.  It’s a story about repentance, forgiveness, humbling oneself, and, ultimately, restoration of what was broken.  Yes, forgiveness figures in other religions too, but Christianity uniquely marries forgiveness to restoration and newness of life.  As Fairbanks noted, Vlok’s conversion broke “his deep-seated sense of inner superiority.”

     This brash self-confidence, Fairbanks tells us, figures prominently in Afrikaner culture.  But in kneeling before Chikane, Vlok saw “the fundamental error of those beliefs.”  In their place was a willingness to serve those he once thought to be inferior, those he thought should be serving him.

     A black pastor whose feet Vlok washed called the experience “explosive,” one “that actually changed the whole church.”

     Fairbanks writes that Vlok’s “transformation has been so complete, it seems almost too good to be true,” something I remember hearing about my mentor Chuck Colson.

     But for those who know Jesus, it’s not too good to be true.  It’s what His Gospel is all about.  And we don’t all have to fly to South Africa to see it in action.  We should see it all around us, wherever we find Christ’s church.

Frank Chikane (1951- )

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Exodus 10:16  —  Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you.”

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Matthew 5:23-24  —  (Jesus said), “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

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John 13:1-5 … 12-17  —  It was just before the Passover Festival.  Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

     The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…

     When he had finished washing their feet, Jesus put on his clothes and returned to his place.  “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.  (NOTE:  Ever since this example set by Jesus at the Last Supper, the washing of another’s feet has become symbolic of Christian humility.)

Christ Washing Peter’s Feet, Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893)

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Adriaan Vlok washing the feet of a man at a South African Reconciliation event

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Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

–Jesus, Matthew 6:12

269) The Repentant Sinner

By Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), written in 1886

And he said unto Jesus, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom.“ And Jesus said unto him, “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” –Luke 23:42, 43

     There was once a man who lived for seventy years in the world, and lived in sin all that time.  He fell ill but even then did not repent.  Only at the last moment, as he was dying, he wept and said, ‘Lord! forgive me, as Thou forgave the thief upon the cross.’

     And as he said these words, his soul left his body.  And the soul of the sinner, feeling love towards God and faith in His mercy, went to the gates of heaven and knocked, praying to be let into the heavenly kingdom.  Then a voice spoke from within the gate, ‘What man is it that knocks at the gates of paradise and what deeds did he do during his life?’

     And the voice of the Accuser, the Devil, replied, recounting all the man’s evil deeds, and not a single good one.

     And the voice from within the gates answered, ‘Sinners cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Go hence!’

     Then the man said, ‘Lord, I hear your voice, but cannot see your face, nor do I know your name.’

     The voice answered, ‘I am Peter, the Apostle.’

     And the sinner replied, ‘Have pity on me, Apostle Peter!  Remember man’s weakness, and God’s mercy.  Were you not a disciple of Christ?  Did you not hear his teaching from his own lips, and did you not have his example before you?  Remember then how, when he sorrowed and was grieved in spirit, and three times asked you to keep awake and pray, you slept, because your eyes were heavy, and three times he found you sleeping.  So it was with me.  Remember, also, how you promised to be faithful unto death, and yet three times you denied him, when he was taken before Caiaphas.  So it was with me.  And remember, too, how when the cock crowed you went out and wept bitterly.  So it is with me.  You cannot refuse to let me in.’

     And the voice behind the gates was silent.

     Then the sinner stood a little while, and again began to knock, and to ask to be let into the kingdom of heaven.  And he heard another voice behind the gates, which said, ‘Who is this man, and how did he live on earth?’

     And the voice of the Accuser again repeated all the sinner’s evil deeds, and not a single good one.

     And the voice from behind the gates replied, ‘Go hence!  Such sinners cannot live with us in paradise.’

     Then the sinner said, ‘Lord, I hear your voice, but I see you not, nor do I know your name.’

     And the voice answered, ‘I am David; king and prophet.’

     The sinner did not despair, nor did he leave the gates of paradise, but said, ‘Have pity on me, King David!  Remember man’s weakness, and God’s mercy.  God loved you and exalted you among men.  You had it all:  a kingdom, and honor, and riches, and wives, and children; but you saw from your house-top the wife of a poor man, and sin entered into you, and you took the wife of Uriah, and slayed him with the sword of the Ammonites.  You, a rich man, took from the poor man his one ewe lamb, and killed him.  I have done likewise.  Remember, then, how you repented, and how you said, “I acknowledge my transgressions: my sin is ever before me?”  I have done the same.  You cannot refuse to let me in.’

     And the voice from within the gates was silent.

     The sinner having stood a little while, began knocking again, and asking to be let into the kingdom of heaven.  And a third voice was heard within the gates, saying, ‘Who is this man, and how has he spent his life on earth?’

     And the voice of the Accuser replied for the third time, recounting the sinner’s evil deeds, and not mentioning one good deed.

     And the voice within the gates said, ‘Depart hence!  Sinners cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.’

     And the sinner said, ‘Your voice I hear, but your face I see not, neither do I know your name.’

     Then the voice replied, ‘I am John the Divine, the beloved disciple of Christ.’

     And the sinner rejoiced and said, ‘Now surely I shall be allowed to enter.  Peter and David must let me in, because they know man’s weakness and God’s mercy; and you will let me in, because you love much.  Was it not you, John the Divine, who wrote that God is Love, and that he who loves not, knows not God?  And in your old age, did you not say to men:  “Brethren, love one another.”  How, then, can you look on me with hatred, and drive me away?  Either you must renounce what you have said, or loving me, must let me enter the kingdom of heaven.’

     And the gates of paradise opened, and John embraced the repentant sinner and took him into the kingdom of heaven.

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Psalm 116:7  —  Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

Luke 6:31  —  (Jesus said), “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

I Timothy 1:15-16  —  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 

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Lord Jesus, remember me.

114) Phony vs. Real Repentance

From “No Road to Respectability” by Eric Metaxas at <www.Breakpoint.org>   July 31, 2013

      How is it that disgraced politicians keep popping back into public life without much trouble?

     As I record this, former congressman Anthony Weiner is staying in the race for mayor of New York.  In case you forgot, he’s the one who resigned in 2011 after sexually suggestive tweets he sent to virtual strangers became public.  He’s staying in the race, despite reports of continued sexting.  He joins disgraced former governor Eliot Spitzer, who is running for comptroller, on the ballot.  It isn’t only New York: recently, South Carolina voters returned Mark Sanford, who ruined the phrase “hiking the Appalachian Trail” for the rest of us, to Congress.  (Sanford was governor of South Carolina when he went missing for several days.  He explained he was ‘hiking the Appalachian Trail’ when he was actually in South America with his mistress.)

     These and other instances of politicians “falling from grace” and then being restored to a measure of respectability, are usually explained by the statement “Americans are a forgiving lot.”  As a Christian, I am all for forgiveness, as I’m sure you are.  But what’s on display in these instances isn’t so much an example of forgiveness as it is of “cheap grace.”

     That’s how David French put it at National Review.  The expression “cheap grace” comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship.”  “Cheap grace,” Bonhoeffer wrote, “is the grace we bestow on ourselves; the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.”

     As French pointed out, “the pattern is familiar and depressing:  Public stumble, public apology, public rebirth– and then the next public stumble follows with depressing frequency.”  Some politicians “opt out of scandal” by “marrying their mistresses and prancing in front of cameras with their latest adoring spouse,” but the end result is the same: a parody of forgiveness, and grace that makes the real thing increasingly unrecognizable.

     I agree with French that the allure of “cheap grace” is easy to understand.  “We want to close the worst chapters of our lives as quickly as possible and just get on with living on the same trajectory as before, minus the embarrassment.”

     But grace and true forgiveness are supposed to change the course of our lives, not preserve it.  They are supposed to make us better as well as wiser.

     How this might happen is illustrated in the story of John Profumo, the British Secretary of State for War.  In 1963, Profumo was at the center of a huge sex-and-spies scandal that eventually brought down Britain’s conservative government.  Profumo resigned “disgraced and stripped of all public dignities.”  Yet when he died in 2006, the Telegraph wrote “few ended their lives as loved and revered by those who knew him.”

John Profumo

     John Profumo (1915-2006)

     That’s because, as Peggy Noonan recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, Profumo “did the hardest thing for a political figure.  He really went away.”  “He didn’t give interviews, never wrote a book, didn’t go on TV.”  Instead, he spent the next forty years working at “a rundown settlement house called Toynbee Hall in the East End of London.”  Really working.  He washed dishes and cleaned toilets.  In a 2003 interview, in response to the question “what have you learnt from this place?” he replied, “Humility.”

     And that’s precisely what is missing in our culture of public confession and cheap grace.  Profumo “got it;” he demonstrated remorse and died “loved and revered.”  You might remember another famous, disgraced public figure who got it:  Chuck Colson.  After his fall from power during Watergate and a stint in prison, Colson spent the rest of his life ministering in prisons around the world to “the least, the last, and the lost.”

     By embracing repentance and humility, Profumo and Colson experienced true grace:  A grace that God makes available to each and every one of us.

(To view the full Peggy Noonan article on John Profumo go to:

http://www.peggynoonan.com/how-to-find-grace-after-disgrace/ )

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Acts 26:20  —  First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.

Isaiah 30:15  —  This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:  “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”

II Corinthians 7:10-11a  —  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this godly sorrow has produced in you:  what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern,what readiness to see justice done.

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Most great and mighty God, you are the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator and Preserver of all things.  Look down, we beg you, on us your unworthy creatures.  We humbly thank you for your daily care of us.  We beg your pardon for whatsoever you have seen amiss in us this day, in our thoughts, words, or actions.  Strengthen us in every good purpose and resolution.  Reform whatsoever you see amiss in the temper and disposition of our minds or in any of the habits of our lives; that we may love you more and serve you better, and do your will with greater care and diligence than we have yet done.  In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

–Warren Hastings (1732-1818) English colonial administrator

29) Jesus, Remember Me

     I heard this story from Lutheran pastor and seminary professor James Nestingen.  I will tell it as I remember it, filling in the conversation a bit as I go– but this was the gist of it.

     A middle-aged woman was dying of cancer in a big city hospital.  She received no visitors, and she was not accepting her fate very well.  She wept day and night, and sometimes her loud cries could be heard down the hall at the nurses station.  The nurses tried to help by offering her a sedative, but she did not want that.  The nurses offered to call the hospital chaplain, and the woman did agree to that.

     The chaplain came in and asked the woman if he could help her.  She said, “I will soon be dead, and then what is next for me pastor?  I am a terrible person, and I am afraid of going to hell.”  Being careful not to offend her religious beliefs, he asked about her church background.  She said, “I have no church background.  I was baptized, and my parents dragged me to church for a few years, but that was it.  I never believed in much of anything, but I have heard about hell, and I know that is where I am going.”

      “Well,” said the pastor, “I can assure you, God is a God of love, and God loves you and accepts you, just the way you are. You have nothing to fear.”  She stopped crying, listened quietly, and said no more.  Finally, the pastor said a brief prayer and left the room.  He told the nurses that he thought the woman would all right now, and they thanked him for his visit.

     But the woman was not all right, and was soon crying as much as before.  She made no complaints to the nurses, and was not asking anyone for anything; but it saddened the nurses to see her so distraught.  They asked the dying woman if they should call the chaplain in for another visit.  She said, “No, don’t call him back.”

     The next day one of the nurses saw her pastor who was visiting one of his parishioners in the same hospital.  She asked if he would stop in to see the woman, and he agreed to do so.

     He went into her room and introduced himself and asked if she wanted to talk.  “It’s no use,” she said, “It is too late.  I have been a terrible sinner and I am going to hell and I deserve it.  But I am afraid.”

      “Well,” said the pastor, “the Bible says we are all terrible sinners, and you are right, you do deserve to go to hell, and so do I.  But Jesus died to save us from our sins.  Can I tell you about Jesus?”  The woman nodded, and the pastor continued.  He said, “The Apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans, ‘While we were yet sinners, and enemies of God, Christ Jesus died for us.’  And do you know what Paul did before he became an apostle?  He hunted down and persecuted the early believers in Jesus, even standing by and approving as one named Stephen was executed by a mob.  But then Paul was saved.  And the Bible says that if you confess your sins and believe on the Lord Jesus, you too can be saved.  Do you want to confess your sins?”

     The woman listened attentively, but was confused.  “Confess?” she asked, “Now?  To you?”

     “No,” said the pastor, “Not to me, but to Jesus.  But I will stay here to help you.  Are you sorry for your sins, and do you truly repent of them?”

     “Sorry, yes, I am sorry, nothing but sorry,” she said, “I am filled with regret; fear and regret and dread– I am feeling all of that right now.”

     “Well, that’s a good start,” the pastor said.  “The Bible says that fear is the beginning of wisdom, and that if are sorry for your sins you can be forgiven.  You are fearing God’s judgment and you have deep sorrow for your sins, and so you are ready to repent.  Shall we begin in prayer?”  The woman bowed her head, and the pastor began.  He invited Jesus into the room, and told Jesus that this woman was a terrible sinner, but that now she wanted to confess her sins.  And then he encouraged her to begin, and begin she did.  She started with how even as a child she was so mean to her parents, and then how as a teenager she ran away from home.  She let them worry about her for months, not letting them know where she was or even if she was alive.  To support herself, she had gotten into a life of prostitution, which she was involved in on and off for years.  It was the only steady work she ever had.  Along with that she lied, cheated, betrayed her friends, and stole, doing whatever she could to stay alive and support her drug habit.  She had settled down a bit for a couple years, and even had a child.  But the marriage ended and the child had long ago been taken away from her, and she made no effort to keep in touch.  Her parents were dead, her siblings had quit trying to contact her, and her few friends were all either dead or too full of their own troubles to come and see her.  She was alone with her regrets.  Her confession was filled with such crying that the nurses came in a couple times to make sure everything was all right.  Finally, she laid her head back on the pillow, exhausted and silent.

     The pastor said nothing for a long time, and then finally said, “You have indeed been a terrible sinner, and God hates sin.  But having confessed your sins, and being truly sorry for them, I can say to you, that in the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for you, and for his sake, God forgives you all your sins.  The Bible says, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, and that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’  Do you believe in Jesus and are you willing to invite him into your heart?”, the pastor asked.

     She replied, “I am not even sure what that all means, but yes, I want to believe. I want to be forgiven and I want to go to heaven and not to hell.”

     “Just look to Jesus,” the pastor said, “just keep telling Jesus that you want to believe, and he will take care of the rest.  When Jesus was on earth people came to him with even the smallest seed of faith, and he received them and blessed them.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, a thief was dying on a cross next to him.  And that thief came to Jesus then, just like you now, in the last hours of a miserable life.  And all that thief said was, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus said some wonderful words to him.  Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  Let that be your simple prayer now and for whatever is left of your life; “Jesus, remember me.”  And then, when you fall asleep in death you will wake up not in hell, but in heaven with Jesus.  You have God’s word on it.  ‘Today,’ Jesus said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’  That promise is for you too.”

     The nurse who invited that pastor in told him later that the woman died peacefully a few days after that visit.  And instead of hearing her constant crying, the nurses would hear her praying over and over again, “Jesus, remember me.”  It was the only prayer she knew, but she had heard the story of how Jesus received and honored even such a simple plea for mercy as that, first prayed by another very bad person.

     The love of God isn’t just an idea or a principal, like the first chaplain presented it, but it is to be found in a Person.  And the love of God isn’t just an ointment that you can smear over everything that moves, like that first chaplain did, without any reference to that woman’s sinful life or her complete absence of faith.  The love of God is received by faith and confession and repentance and prayer.  That woman knew her sin needed to be taken seriously and dealt with, and that is what the second pastor did, along with calling her to faith in Christ Jesus.  We know the love of God by knowing Jesus, and we come to faith in God through Jesus, who forgives our sins.

     Faith isn’t just whatever you want it to be.  Faith has a specific object and content, it is faith in something solid, in Someone who was here, and who had some specific things to say, both promises and commands.  That Someone is Jesus Christ, the way and the truth and the life.  Believe in Him and you will be saved.

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1 John 1:8-9  —  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John 3:16-17  —  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Luke 23:39-43  —  One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”  But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

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Jesus, remember me.