“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8, NASB)

Worship is about drawing near to God. There are no rigid formulas that can get you close to God if your heart clings to sin. If you humbly repent of your sins, however, no mere formula can keep God away.

James added, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8). Of course, hand-cleaning is worthless without a contrite heart. Ask Pilate. In calling for purity of heart, James surely knew that Jesus blessed the pure in heart saying, “for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

Encountering God makes it impossible to cherish your sins. It produces repentance. If there’s no repentance, it wasn’t God. No exceptions! Repentance is the painfully honest clarity of heart that forever prevents self-trust and turns our trust toward God for the next step forward… and the next… and so on.

God listens to our repentance but turns away from self-righteous pride. Psalm 66, a call to worship, offers seekers the best advice passible: “Cherish the sin in your heart and God will not listen.” (Psalm 66:18, NIV).


The good news is that you have a choice. The bad news is that seductive and selfish distractions can keep us too double-minded to choose well.

When we repent, God draws near. The closer He gets, the more we see His holiness. This keeps us humble, which keeps God coming. To quote a Texan pastor named Matt Chandler, “When you see God for who He is, sin loses its beauty.” In fact, encountering God transforms our entire notion of beauty.

So how do we choose well? God’s word draws repentant sinners straight to baptism—dying with Jesus in a water grave for the forgiveness of our sins and rising with Him to a new Spirit-filled life in His kingdom.

Let’s hear from three men who saw the risen Jesus:

  • When Peter met Jesus, he fell down at His feet and said, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). He experienced deep repentance and full forgiveness. We can too! Peter affirmed that God is “patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).
  • Paul believed that “the kindness of God leads you to repentance.” (Romans 2:4). He affirmed God’s desire for “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). What truth? Paul continued, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all…” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). So, what does Jesus mediate?
  • Forgiveness! The apostle John said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). John described Jesus’ mission simply: “He appeared in order to take away sins.” (1 John 3:5).

So, there’s your part: “Draw near to God…” and there’s God’s part: “He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). That’s an astounding promise from a responsive God. Every shed of hope in my sinful soul hangs on the conviction that God forgives repentant sinners.

Dear Church Critics, Here’s Why I Love Jesus’ Church

I recently read a blog post by John Pavlovitz titled, “Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are REALLY Leaving You.” Instead of challenging all his negative stereotypes about Jesus’ church (His bride), I will offer seven undeniable truths about her:

    1. Jesus’ church is FLAWED!

    So are you. You’ll fit in fine.

    2. Jesus’ church is FREE!

    Compulsion in giving is forbidden (2 Corinthians 9:7), so if they charge admission, it’s not Jesus’ church. But while church is free, salvation is costly—but not to you and me! Jesus paid the cost in full for her freedom from sin and death. Listen to Paul: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). Jesus’ church is simply the gift-bearer.

    3. Jesus church is FORGIVEN!

    As repentant sinners, Jesus’ church is forgiven through His blood. She practices repentance before preaching it. She preaches conviction of sin because she has suffered it. She offers forgiveness because Jesus offered it to her—and she accepted. But forgiveness is not about turning a blind eye to sin, the deadliest cancer of all. Jesus didn’t. Hidden or harbored sin obstructs any possibility for a relationship with God. Sin blocks prayer, our lifeline to God. The ancient Psalmist sang, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18). Unconfessed sin stifles self-understanding, making honesty impossible. Like Dracula, sin hates sunlight. King David wrote about one who “…flatters himself too much to detect his own sin,” and added, “…he has ceased to be wise and to do good.” (Psalm 36:2-3). Above all, love loses out to ongoing sin. Jesus said, “Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). Covered up, sin has the power to keep us from God, wisdom, joy, and love, while shackling us as its slave. So, Jesus’ church does not ignore or tolerate sin. She repents of it, accepts Jesus’ forgiveness and goes out to forgive others.

    4. Jesus’ church is FAITHFUL!

    Since her beginning seven weeks after Jesus was executed, His church has never left the face of the earth. Even flawed people can turn to God and be faithful to Him and each other. People are free to leave but Jesus bride survives and thrives.

    5. Jesus’ church is FAMILY!

    Who has a flawless family? How about a family life without frustration? No takers? Yet, the family is God’s Plan for our personal well-being. It’s where we first learn to love and how. The church is God family plan for our spiritual well-being. Paul saw Jesus’ church as God’s “household” (Ephesians 2:19 and 1 Timothy 3:15).

    6. Jesus’ church is FOREVER!

    Jesus promised that “the gates of Hades will not overpower [His church].” (Matthew 16:18). The relationships you build at church are meant for eternity.

    7. Jesus’ church is FANTASTIC!

    Paul described “the church in all her glory” as a bride presented to Jesus “having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:27). The New International Version calls her “radiant.” I call that fantastic! Besides, an “r” word breaks up my alliteration.

Should Jesus’ church be immune from criticism? No. Does she need her faults pointed out to her? Yes, to her! But many church critics don’t do that. They broadcast their reproaches on line for all the world to see and sneer. There are ways to criticize constructively. Cite specific examples without trafficking in sweeping stereotypes. Focus the flack where it belongs. Do it privately. Find the log in your own eye first.

Some Christians leave some churches for healthy reasons. Some stay for healthy reasons. Some leave Jesus’ church for the same reason Dracula shuns sunlight. Stereotypes just don’t cut it. Jesus’ church is diverse. But she is also forgiven, free, and enduringly faithful. She is God’s family forever and that’s fantastic. I’m sticking with her.

Compounding Love
(The Pursuit of the Church)

Friendship and family are profound forces for good. They make life well worth living. Combine both of these loves and you have the greatest force for good this side of heaven—Jesus’ church!

And you thought I was going to say, a good marriage.

I could have. The apostle Paul saw the church and marriage on the same page at Ephesians 5:22-33, as vitally connected in character and principle. Sadly, both of these spiritually-rooted institutions are under vicious attack in our current culture.

These days, we are not accustomed to hearing the church spoken of in such noble terms (the greatest force on earth.) Of course, evil things have been done by scoundrels in the “name” of Jesus and His church. They want His good family name to hide behind. The problem is, it’s hard for some to see all the good in the church because their focus is on the flaws. It is often a blinding focus.

Jesus’ church has had an astoundingly good impact on human history since He rose from the dead. Medical science, educational progress, the decline of slavery, the rise in hospital care, improved race-relations, orphan care, family strength, economic health, work ethic, language development, respect for human life, parenting priorities, and many more vital movements for the good owe far more to Jesus’ church than most people can fathom. Plus, she has pointed countless souls to Jesus through whom they found forgiveness and, ultimately, eternal life.

But instead of defending the reputation of Jesus’ church, let me simply clarify her call to pursue a greater love for love God, each other, and the world (hey Ashley, I used the Oxford comma!) We can take on the critics later. Indeed, it is the church’s pursuit of love that makes her such a strong force for good in the world. She has not arrived but she is on the way. In fact, “the Way” is how Christianity was described in its earliest days in the bible (Acts 9:2). And here is the way that those who belong to the Way are supposed to love:

    “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 12:10).

The Greek verb Paul used in the passage above is the only place this compound verb appears in the entire New Testament. It has no perfect counterpart in English. The translation, “be devoted,” will do, but it does not carry Paul’s full meaning. The word is “philastorgos,” a combination of two Greek words for love.

C.S. Lewis wrote a book titled, “The Four Loves” in which he cited the following four Greek words for love:

  • ‘Eros’ – Romantic love.
  • ‘Storge’ – Family love and affection.
  • ‘Phileo’ – Friendship love and affection.
  • ‘Agape’ – Decision love; unselfish and intentional.

“Philastorgos” (Romans 10:12) combines both “stroge” and “phileo” (family and friendship love) all in one word. Paul used it to promote “philadelphia,” another Greek word compound word that means brotherly love. “Philastorgos” is a doubly powerful word for love, involving tender affection as well as loyal commitment, much like a parent for a child. So, “philastorgos” is more than a family devotion because it also conveys a strong friendship bond. Wow!

Paul’s crisp call to love in Romans 12:10 contains two Greek compound words that compound his call for the church to love one another. Like ‘philastorgos’, ‘philadelphia’ combines a friendship word with a family term. In fact, both compound words in Romans 10:12 combine friend and family related meanings. Wow again.

Jesus’ church is a family filled with precious friends who love each other with great devotion and affection–to the death. This love comes from God and it results in greater love for the world. Compounded multi-faceted love is why Jesus’ church is such a profound force for good. While not all her critics are wrong, too many church-bashers are selectively blind. But they are not the ones commanded by God to devote themselves (philastorgos) to brotherly love (philadelphia). Jesus’ church is. So, do it.