Lent and Repentance

 
 
            The Christian season of Lent encompasses the forty days before Easter.  This year it’s from February 10 (Ash Wednesday) to March 27 (Easter), 2016.  Lent is a season of the Christian Year where believers focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God.  At the baptism of our Lord the sky opened and the Spirit of God, which looked like a dove, descended and landed on Jesus.  A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am pleased.” Jesus was then sent into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasted and prayed for forty days (Matthew 4:1-11). During his time in the desert Jesus was tempted by Satan and found clarity and strength to resist temptation. Afterward, he was ready to begin his ministry.
 
            Lent is the ideal time of year to repent — to return to God and re-focus our lives to be more in line with Jesus. It’s like a forty-day trial run in changing your lifestyle and letting God change your heart.  Repentance is the key that unlocks the soul’s ability to connect with God.  To repent means to turn around, to stop going in one direction and start going in another one.  It is repentance that makes all the difference in the orientation of our souls in this life.
 
            Certainly, no one can really judge the heart of another.  Only God can rightly do that.  Yet, the New Testament lets us in on how to truly measure the sincerity of one’s repentance (2 Corinthians 7:2-12).  Worldly sorrow or grief does not lead to repentance, but only separation and death.  The person with worldly sorrow beats himself up but never really changes direction.  Like Judas Iscariot of old, he just metaphorically hangs himself instead of admitting his guilt to Jesus. 
 
            But godly sorrow leads to repentance, a real change of direction.  And here is the evidence from the Scriptures of the genuineness of the change:  owning up to the problem/sin; an eagerness to make things right; indignation over what has been done or said; seeing that there is more pain in avoiding the problem than there is in confronting it; a desire and energy to do what is best for the person whom we have wronged; and, a willingness to accept whatever consequences that might result from the offense.
 
            Crying and tears might occur and can even be necessary, but they can also be a cheap form of avoiding true repentance and might only be worldly sorrow.  Instead, there must be solid action that changes direction and seeks to rectify offenses, as much as it is within our control to do so.  Deliverance from the power of sin can only come through repentance.  There are no shortcuts or easy routes to the soul’s orientation to practical godliness.  There is nothing romantic about repentance; it is typically messy, usually ugly, and often painful.  Yet, there must be suffering before glory.  Trying to take repentance out of the equation is to eviscerate the Christian life and leave our souls vacuous and empty.
 
            Sometimes we do not even know we need to repent because we get caught up in the drama of school, relationships, family, and work. Our lives are filled with distractions that take us away from living a life with Christ. We might try to fill the emptiness inside us with mindless web-surfing, meaningless chatter, too many activities or other stuff that just keeps us busy without thinking too much. We run away from real life and from God.  But when we intentionally create a plan to connect with God, his Spirit begins to reveal the need for repentance.  That plan during Lent ought to include some form of fasting, prayer, and service.  For example, you could take the Christmas cards you received and pray for one of the people/families each day in the forty days, instead of eating the candy bar or drinking the soda; and, then send them a note of encouragement.  Or, get up ten minutes earlier than usual and spend those minutes in silence and prayer.
 

 

            To choose nothing is to give into worldly sorrow and feel guilty.  To choose something, whatever that something is, is to anticipate that God will work in your soul to thaw it out, warm it up, and form it to better discover Jesus Christ.

Deuteronomy 9:15-24


            God is full of grace, steadfast love, and covenant commitment.  But this does not mean that God is okay with sin.  He does not shrug his divine shoulders in a “meh” kind of attitude.  In fact, grace does not exist apart from sin.  Where there is boundless grace and compassion there will be found bucket loads of sin.  And, oh my, was there a load of sin among the ancient Israelites!  They were characterized as stiff-necked, stubborn, rebellious, and idolatrous.  This is the kind of stuff that evokes the ire of God.
             The truly godly person is the one who shares God’s heart and interests; what upsets God, upsets him/her; what makes God pleased, makes him/her pleased.  Notice Moses’ response to the people’s idolatry and sin:  he was visibly angered; he confronted the people with their sin; and, he engaged in an extended time of fasting and prayer on their behalf. 
             Lackadaisical attitudes and approaches toward God are rife throughout the Western church.  There is little to no sustained, prolonged, and focused times of prayer and fasting among both individuals and groups of people because we are too busy indulging in revelry with our idols of money, sex, power, and perfectionist control.  Until we are cut to the heart with this present darkness of empty souls and vacuous spirits which run to everything and everyone but God, there will be no entering the Promised Land of peace, love, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  The glory of the Lord is almost upon us, and the season of Lent is nearly here.  So, let us make a solid spiritual plan for the forty days leading up to Easter for prayer and fasting on behalf of our own sin, and the sin of the world.
             Holy God, idolatrous sin brings about your wrath because you cannot stand for the lack of love to take root in your world.  I bow before you and bend the knee to your sovereign reign in my life.  Please lead me in your way of righteousness, and have mercy on those trapped in darkness so that we might see you, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

2 Corinthians 7:2-12

            I’m in the soul business.  Not in the Detroit Mo-town Aretha Franklin kind of soul business (although that would be very cool) but in the sense of engaging in the craft of leading human souls to God and building them up in Christ.  Key to the Christian life’s soul is the term “repentance.”  To repent means to turn around, to stop going in one direction and start going in another one.  It is repentance that makes all the difference in the orientation of our souls in life.
 
            Certainly, no one can really judge the heart of another.  Yet, today’s New Testament lesson lets us in on how to truly measure the sincerity of a person’s repentance.  Worldly sorrow or grief does not lead to repentance, but only death.  The person with worldly sorrow beats himself up but never really changes direction.  Like Judas Iscariot of old, he just hangs himself instead of admitting his guilt to Jesus.  But godly sorrow leads to repentance, a change of direction.  And here is the evidence of the real change:  owning up to the problem; an eagerness to make things right; indignation over what has been done or said; seeing that there is more pain in avoiding the problem than there is confronting it; a desire and energy to do what is best for the person whom we have wronged; and, a willingness to accept whatever consequences that might result from the offense.
 
            Crying and tears can be necessary, but they can also be a cheap form of avoiding true repentance.  Instead, there must be solid action that changes direction and seeks to rectify offenses, as much as it is within our control to do so.  Deliverance from the power of sin can only come through repentance.  There are no shortcuts or easy routes to the soul’s orientation to practical godliness.  There is nothing romantic about repentance; it is typically messy, usually ugly, and often painful.  Yet, there must be suffering before there is glory.  Trying to take true repentance out of the equation is to eviscerate the Christian life and leave our souls vacuous and empty.
 

 

            Holy God, I confess to you the things which I have done and the things I have left undone.  And, yet, your mercy is from everlasting to everlasting.  Open my eyes to the ways I have offended others, and help me to step boldly into repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

2 Kings 23:15-25

            To say that King Josiah cleaned house would be a gross understatement.  Having found the Book of the Law, lost for generations deep within the temple, Josiah took its words to heart and set about a campaign of reformation like no king before him.  Indeed, Josiah was determined to restore and implement the Law in the life of the nation of Judah.  His zeal knew no bounds.  Josiah was relentless, radical, and redolent with the smell of transitioning the Jews back to the true worship of Yahweh.
 
            King Josiah did not just re-institute the Passover and other festivals of the Lord; he first upended the pagan worship which had moved in like a death-dealing cancer.  Josiah cut it out with ruthless precision.  He made ashes out of Asherah poles and put pagan priests out of business permanently.  He did away with everything that was contrary to the worship of the One true God, including spiritual mediums, household gods, and sacrificial high places.  In order to turn his heart fully to God, he did away with all competing gods.
 
            If there is to be true repentance, there must be a two-fold process:  turning away from what is false; and, turning toward what is true.  Turning from sin without turning to God is merely a half-repentance.  And turning to God without turning one’s back on sin is both denial and dangerous.  We are to put off the old clothes of injustice, and put on the new clothes of righteousness.  We are to forsake the old in order to embrace the new.  There needs to be a radical gouging out of sin so as to replace it with what is just and right.  It must be born in mind that none of this is pretty or romantic; it is a messy ugly process of dispelling darkness and letting light shine.  It is not for the faint of heart.
 
            Where to begin?  Make a fierce, brutally honest inventory of your life.  You cannot turn from something that you are not really aware of, so create in your schedule some time in the week to connect with God.  After identifying some areas for change, list the things that stand in your way of turning from them, i.e. fear, despair, financial repercussions, etc.  Face the obstacles honestly and forthrightly.  Then, begin to form a rudimentary plan to forsake the old ways and embrace new paths of righteousness.  This is but a beginning.  Let God take that process and direct it in ways he wants to take it….
 

 

            Holy God, you are jealous for your own glory.  I decide today to identify and put away all that is contrary to your righteousness and will for my life.  And I choose to turn to you with all my heart.  In body, soul, and spirit I belong to you.  Amen.

2 Kings 22:11-20


             It is hard to fathom that things had spiritually degenerated so much in the kingdom of Judah that the Book of Law, God’s Word to Israel, was completely lost.  The Law was tucked so far back in the temple, and had gathered so much dust, that everyone simply forgot it existed.  Yet, maybe we in the Western world can relate to this more than we think.  When a plethora of Bibles and translations exist, yet they gather dust on the shelf and we have not cracked it open since….?
             We are approaching the end of the Christian Year which always culminates in Christ the King Sunday.  As we journey with Jesus and ascend his holy hill, we anticipate corporately acknowledging Christ’s lordship.  The best and most biblical way to do so is through penitent humility.  King Josiah’s officials had found the Book of the Law and brought it to him.  After they read the words, the king became completely undone with humble repentance.  He realized that the life of the nation had not revolved around the majesty and kingship of God, and it cut him to the core of his being.  
             The first and most appropriate response to the realization of God’s sovereignty and Christ’s lordship is humility.  Without it there is no going forward; there is only the ghastly state of remaining stuck in one place with ancient dust accumulating on our static hearts.  But with humility there is repentance; and with repentance there opens up the grand vistas of hope, new life, and fresh beginnings.
             Try something quite different from your regular experience today.  Put on some old clothes and read carefully the words of Scripture.  Take the time to acknowledge some sin of omission in your life.  Then, tear your clothes; yes, rip your shirt.  Allow yourself to feel, like Josiah, the realization of missing the mark.  But do not remain in this condition.  Drink in the grace of God in Christ and receive the forgiveness that is yours through Jesus.  The trajectory of our Christian lives will be determined by the depth of humility we experience, and filling the hole with mercy.
             Awesome God, although I might not always perceive your majesty and sovereignty, you stand above all creation as the Lord whom I am to submit to in all things.  I come to you in great humility of heart and vow to obey everything I read in your Holy Word through Jesus Christ, my King.  Amen.

Repentance as Worship

 
 
Repentance is one of those big biblical words sometimes lost in the worship of God.  Yet, without repentance we would not be Christians and we would not be able to live fruitful lives following Jesus.  To repent of something simply means to change our minds and stop doing one thing, and start doing another.  In Holy Scripture, repentance means to stop sinning and start worshiping God.  Since true worship is a conversation with God in which we hear his revelation to us and we respond to him, repentance is a vital part of the Christian worship experience.  The nitty-gritty of repentance is to change our minds about trusting in things and people other than God, and start placing our complete faith in Christ alone.  The prophet Isaiah saw a vision of God in the temple, a self-revealing of the One true God that caused him to be completely unraveled with repentance (Isaiah 6:1-7).
 
Isaiah was reduced to nothing after seeing a vision of a holy God.  Humans cannot see God in his glory without seeing their sinful selves.  Isaiah’s response to God was not praise, but confession.  Show me a proud, self-centered, and arrogant person and I will show you a person who has not seen God (and will not see God unless recognition of personal sin is realized).
 
            Isaiah could not cleanse himself from his sin; he needed God to purge and purify him from his uncleanness.  In the same way, we need God to cleanse us.  The New Testament says that “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7, 9).
 
            In the Bible, when people saw God they were completely undone and saw their own sin and depravity for what it is.  When the Apostle Peter saw the Lord Jesus in his immensity and power through a miraculous catch of fish “he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man’” (Luke 5:8).  When the Apostle John had a vision of Jesus Christ in all his glory, and heard his voice, he fell at the Lord’s feet as though dead (Revelation 1:12-17).  When the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of God and saw the appearance of God’s glory, he fell facedown (Ezekiel 1:25-28).  Even Daniel, perhaps the most righteous prophet of all time, saw a vision of God in all his glory and fell prostrate with his face to the ground, totally overwhelmed with God’s holiness and human sinfulness (Daniel 8:15-18).
 
            There is so much sinfulness in the world and so much indifference in Christ’s Church today because people are not seeing God in his glory and his holiness.  If they did, they would be completely beside themselves and see sin’s foulness and degradation and repent from all the ways in which they have been apathetic and complacent in living their lives.  The world and the church need a fresh view of a holy God that only comes from meeting with God.
 
            We need to put ourselves in a position to see and hear God so that we can turn from all the obstacles that prevents us from experiencing Father, Son, and Spirit.  What hinders us from seeing God’s glory and hearing God’s voice is legion:  inattention to God’s Word and God’s creation that would cause a mindfulness to the Holy Spirit; intense, constant, and prolonged preoccupations and daydreams that prevents availability to the words and ways of Jesus; lack of sleep and good health habits that dulls the spiritual senses and prevents awareness of God; lack of spiritual practices and disciplines that would put us in a position to experience a vision of God.
 
            To put it bluntly:  we must repent of all the ways we do not pay attention to God.  God is calling but we do not hear him.  God is revealing himself but we do not see him. 
 
Ø  What, then, are we doing in our personal lives to put ourselves in a position to see and hear God?
Ø  In what ways are we corporately fostering a sense of the holy God? 
Ø  How does repentance fit into to our personal and corporate worship? 
Ø  Have we identified the things that grieve the heart of God so that we can repent of those things? 
Ø  What one action step will you take in response to this blog post?
 

 

            We serve a blessed holy triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit.  God has gone far out of his way to reach us so that we can participate in the dance of the Trinity.  May we all see a vision of God is his glory this Sunday and allow that scene to slay us so that we will have renewed fellowship with God in Christ through the power of the Spirit.  Amen.

False Guilt versus Godly Sorrow

 
 
            In many ways pastors and church leaders are in the guilt business.  No, I am not talking about ministerial dopes using guilt as a tool to get congregants to serve in the church’s programs.  Instead, I mean that preachers, teachers, and leaders traffic in dealing with people who either feel a false sense of shame, or have godly sorrow.  Knowing the difference between the two is critical to having a church ministry that is truly helping people and is life-giving, or a ministry that just gins-up worldly sorrow and produces spiritual death (2 Corinthians 7:10).
 
            Because we live in a fallen world everyone exhibits tendencies toward false guilt at times in their lives.  We can all identify with these dynamics of worldly sorrow that leads to nowhere:  taking responsibility for others; being so concerned for helping others that there is a failure to take care of oneself; self-hatred; martyr syndrome; hopelessness and a victim mentality; over-emphasizing what you have done wrong.  In other words, there is plenty of true guilt to have in this life without scrambling to create the kind of guilt and sorrow that God himself does not level on us.  Heaping unnecessary guilt on ourselves or others is just plain egregious and goes against Christ’s gospel of grace.
 
            But that does not mean we should never feel guilty; it is just that we need to experience the right kind of guilt.  There are plenty of lists in the New Testament about what sinful behavior and speech really is, and we ought to stick with those things rather than add our separate list of the terrible ten or nasty nine which do not appear in Scripture.  For example, Paul said to the Galatian church that the acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and the like (Galatians 5:19-21).  Let’s be struck to the heart about gossiping about another person, slandering a fellow brother or sister in Christ, or viewing pornography rather than worrying about why someone failed to say “hi” to me in the hallway.
 
            Before mentioning Paul’s description of what godly sorrow is really like, let’s acknowledge that there are people who avoid true guilt at all costs.  When confronted with the truth, an avoider of godly sorrow will be characterized by one or more of the following:  defensiveness; rationalizing the behavior or speech; making excuses; blaming others; feeling threatened and switching the focus on the other.  In short, worldly sorrow does not take responsibility but sticks with the delusion that they caught a bad break or that others pushed them to it.  The avoider of responsibility may go on and on about how unfair life has been to them or even shed tears in order to receive empathy when they really have no intention of changing.  When a person gives you a blank affect when telling you what they have done wrong and exhibits no indication of wanting to face the consequences of their actions, beware!  They want you to agree with them.
 
            According to the Apostle Paul, godly sorrow produces several things (2 Corinthians 7:11).  It creates earnestness to hear the truth about how your actions wounded another with a sincerity to listen and care for those you have hurt.  True guilt is an eagerness to make amends and understands the person(s) they hurt need time to forgive.  Godly sorrow brings indignation – a real sense of understanding how bad the actions or words were that wounded another.  Godly sorrow is alarmed at the reality that you have and still could easily harden your heart and continue to abuse another.  Godly sorrow knows how easy it is to fall back into destructive patterns that damage others, and invites accountability and help.  Godly sorrow has a longing to restore broken relationships and desires proper boundaries so as to not hurt the other again.  Godly sorrow has a deep concern for anyone touched by the abuse.  In short, godly sorrow is the willingness to face any and all consequences that helps others feel safe.
 
            We all need to begin identifying and dealing with our own destructive patterns.  We must actively listen by welcoming confrontation and input from others; taking responsibility to remember what others tell us; telling others the truth about how we use them to help enable us in our sinful patterns; stopping the belief that hiding truth protects others; telling yourself the truth; and, being honest about your feelings even if they expose that you are in a terrible place.
 
            Every one of us has had both false guilt and avoided true guilt.  We will tend, however, to be dominant with one or the other.  It is essential to determine which we tend toward.  Most people who heap false guilt upon themselves constantly want to blame themselves.  Most avoiders of true guilt want to see themselves as struggling with false guilt.  This really cannot be done alone because, the Scripture tells us, the heart is deceitful.  This is why belonging to a church family and getting involved in the church’s ministries is essential for us – because we need one another in order to become the people God wants us to be.  And church leaders must have a solid sense of when they are talking with people who exhibit signs of genuine repentance and when they are trying to be manipulated into feeling empathy for an abuser.
 

 

            By God’s grace the church of Jesus Christ will grow together into maturity as we commit ourselves to helping one another face the truth and consequences about ourselves.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.