The word penance is not found in most versions of the Bible, but when it is used, it refers to a voluntary act of self-mortification or devotion to show sorrow for sin or to seek God’s attention.
The phrase “the Kingdom of God” is synonymous with “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Some writers in the Bible simply prefer one over the other; it is not meant to designate two different concepts. These two phrases could perhaps be best understood by considering that Jesus desires to bring heaven’s rule to earth. Under his rule, there are benefits and responsibilities to his subjects, the church. Jesus explains about the Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven through parables:
The parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30)
The parable of Scattering Seed (Mark 4:26-27)
The parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44)
The parable of the Pearl (Matthew 13:45)
The parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-48)
The parable of Settling Accounts (Matthew 18:23-35)
The parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)
The parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:2-14)
The parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)
This three-fold nature of God can be better understood by comparing it to water, which occurs in three forms or states: solid (ice), liquid (also called water), and gas (steam or vapor). Each is still water but exists in a different form. The same holds true for God.
An alternate analogy is to consider an egg: there is the shell, the white, and the yolk. Each part is different, yet each is still part of the egg. So it is with the three forms of God.
The Bible says to “put on the full armor of God.” Though this might seem like a call for military action, it’s merely a memory aid to help people remember key items needed to prevail in spiritual conflict, namely: truth, righteousness, sharing the gospel, faith, salvation, and the word of God (the only offensive tool of the group).
Paul, in Ephesians 6:11-17, paints a word picture using the soldier of the day (with which readers would have been most familiar) connecting his essential gear with these key spiritual elements. To recall Paul’s list, readers needed only to envision a soldier in uniform, associating each spiritual element with its physical counterpart:
- Belt: truth
- Breastplate: righteousness (that is, right living)
- Shoes: a readiness to share the gospel of peace
- Shield: faith
- Helmet: salvation
- Sword: the word of God (depending on interpretation, this can be the written word or the spoken word of God)
It’s not about a physical fight (which many have missed throughout the ages) but instead a spiritual conflict for which followers of Jesus must be prepared to engage in using truth, righteousness, sharing the gospel, faith, salvation, and the word of God.
The prophet Amos had some condemning words for the people of Israel. Through Amos, God unleashed a lament against his chosen people. He says he despises their religious festivals, and their assemblies are a stench to him. Yeah, I get that. Those people sure rebelled against God; they deserved his stern rebuke. They went through the motions of worship but forgot to focus on why; to their shame they didn’t really understand who God is.
Yet, I wonder if those words also apply to us today. Does God also despise our efforts at church? Are our gatherings a stench to him?
God continues his stinging reproach. He calls their songs noise and refuses to listen to their music. Does God think the same way about our worship music today? Does our preoccupation with music style, instrument selection, volume level, worship team, and pursuit of excellence repeal God? I hope not, but I fear it might be so.
A couple chapters later God says what he will do. He will turn their religious celebrations into mourning; he will change their singing into tears.
Sometimes (too often) I sit in church and want to cry, at least on the inside. I thought this was because I was bored and disconnected, but now I wonder if maybe God isn’t revealing a bit of his heart to me.
I fear there is more to worshiping God, so much more, but we largely miss it.
Some of the Psalms are a lament, while others are a rant. (Too many, for my taste.) However, there are also Psalms that celebrate God and affirm the Almighty. (I like those.)
Psalm 144:2 proclaims God is our fortress, stronghold, deliverer, and shield. In short, he keeps us safe from harm and our enemies.
But to realize this, we need to be at the right place. A shield only protects when we stand behind it; a citadel only keeps us safe once we’re inside; and a liberator can only free those who will follow him.
If we’re not in the right place, we may be foolish to assume no harm will befall us. Yes, I believe God wants the best for us, but I also realize I need to cooperate with him to fully realize it.
May we strive to remain where we need to be, so we can fully receive all God has to offer.
As I read the Psalms in the Amplified Bible this week, a curious phrase jumped out. The writer says to God, “Make me understand the way of your precepts.”
Notice, he didn’t ask for assistance by saying, “Help me.” He was direct; he implored God to “Make me.”
The NIV reads, “Cause me to understand the way of your precepts.” That’s not as strong as “make me,” but it’s still much different than “help me.”
I’m dismayed to admit that while I often ask God to “help me,” I’ve never once implored the Almighty to “make me” do anything.
Saying, “help me” suggests I’m in charge and merely want God’s assistance. Saying, “make me” acknowledges his power and relinquishes control to him, letting him be in charge instead of me.
I think I’ll reform my prayers. Instead of asking God to help me, I’ll allow him to make me. What a profound difference.