Saturday, December 11, 2010

Just This One Time in My Life

I'll say something I never thought I would say: Go, Blue! A great story from the school up north and the courageous journey of a young man from Wauseon, Ohio, just a few miles from where my family and I lived for six years. You will not regret watching this feature from the Big Ten Network.

You may also want to read this. (Go, Buckeyes, too!)

By the way, did you notice the passage of Scripture on the back of one of Brock's t-shirts?

Friday, December 10, 2010

"God is Love"

"God is love." God revealed this central truth about Himself in both Old and New Testament times. It's why 1 John 4:8 says, "Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love."

So, would a loving God ever describe His human children with names like wicked, fools, or stupid?

As Dave Branon points out in this piece, the loving God of the universe Who ultimately disclosed Himself in the crucified and risen Jesus, has used these names for some people.

I hope that you'll read Branon's piece, especially if your notions about what the Bible means in saying that "God is love," has created a false image of God as an indulgent grandparent who doesn't care how we defile ourselves, hurt others, or dishonor Him.

Take it from someone who has done lots of wicked, stupid, and foolish things, for which God still calls me out each day, if God didn't love you, He wouldn't call you out for sins or willful ignorance of His will.

It's when God calls us out and we dare to hear what His Word tells us about His will for human beings, that we can exercise the gift of repentance and experience a fuller relationship with Christ.

Two other passages of Scripture come to mind as I think about the tough and tender love of God that loves you just as you are, but loves you too much to leave you there.

One comes from King David, the adulterer and murderer who the Bible describes as a "man after God's own heart." David knew all about having his deeds exposed for being wicked, foolish, and stupid. Remember that David had an affair with another man's wife and then arranged to have that man murdered. For two years, David went on merrily with his life before being confronted for his sins by the prophet Nathan. David repented. Psalm 51 is his song of repentance. But, here's something he wrote for the benefit of his fellow sinners who may be less than inclined to accept God's judgment of them for wickedness, foolishness, or stupidity:
Do not be like a horse or mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
And then there are these words, from the same New Testament book which reminds us that, "God is love." (Some of what's said in 1 John 1:8-10, will be familiar to most Lutherans, who hear words drawn from this section of Scripture regularly in our liturgy):
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
God's enduring will for the human race is laid out clearly for us in what scholars call the Mosaic Law, the Ten Commandments, here. Unlike Old Testament ritual and civil laws, the Ten Commandments are valid for all time.

They're well interpreted for us in 1 Timothy 1:8-10.

It's wicked, foolish, and stupid for us to willfully flout the law of God because doing so separates us from Him and His desire to be with us forever.

But when we confess our sins--when we acknowledge that God is right in calling us out for our sin--and seek and accept the forgiveness God freely offers in Jesus Christ, God not only forgives us, God also gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to resist our inborn inclinations to sin.

God is love!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

That's Why Luther Said Christians Are Saints and Sinners at the Same Time

"In every saint there is something reprehensible." (John Calvin)

Thank God that sinners are saved not by what they do, because we could never do enough to merit forgiveness or new life from God. We're saved only by what God has done for us in Christ and our God-created trust in Christ.

Iranian Pastor Sentenced to Death

The charge, apostasy, is not even a crime under the Iranian penal code. Pray that he will be set free.

For more information, go to the story of Pastor Nadarkhani on the site of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Go here to contact the Iranian delegation to the United Nations in order to ask the Iranian government to encourage confidence in Iranian justice by releasing a man sentenced to death for something that isn't even illegal in Iran.

Concepcion Fails to Get Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame by Veterans Committee

Story here.

This guy, while also giving the reasons why Concepcion should not be a Hall of Famer, presents the most convincing arguments in Concepcion's favor that you'll find:
He was part of the best infield of all-time and one of the best Shortstops of all-time. The guy was money in the playoffs, batting a career .297, batting over .300 in 4 of his 9 series. Let’s look at his career numbers. 2326 hits (good enough for #130 on the all-time list). While that may not look so impressive, here’s some players he has more hits than: Jim Bottomley, Eddie Mathews, Bobby Wallace, Kirby Puckett, Kiki Culyer, Joe Cronin, Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell, Joe DiMaggio and Willie McCovey. These aren’t cupcake, shrub-type names. These are ALL Hall-of-Famers, and some are recognizable household names. He has more hits than Joe DiMaggio, one of the most iconic figures in baseball history. When you compare him to similar players, lists Bobby Wallace, Pee Wee Reese & Luis Aparicio (all Hall-of-Famers), Alan Trammell (still on the ballot and should be a Hall-of-Famer), Edgar Renteria (a man who definitely has a case) & Tony Fernandez (one of the best Shortstops of his era).

9 All-Star Games. That is something only 92 people have ever achieved. He started 5. That’s one of 87. So who else has 9 appearances? Albert Pujols, Bobby Doerr, Don Drysdale, Joe Gordon, Jimmie Foxx, Bob Gibson & Goose Gossage. 5 starts? Roy Campanella, Lou Gehrig, Chipper Jones & Jackie freakin’ Robinson. (All those are Hall-of-Famers or sure future Hall-of-Famers.)

5 Gold Gloves at Shortstop. Only 68 people have won 5 or more Gold Gloves at the same position. People with more Gold Gloves than Concepcion at Short? Ozzie Smith (Hall-of-Famer), Omar Vizquel (hopefully future Hall-of-Famer), Luis Aparicio (Hall-of-Famer), Mark Belanger (offense not really strong enough to make the Hall-of-Fame) & Derek Jeter (future Hall-of-Famer).

And what does it say that a guy played in 2488 games, good enough for #54 on the All-Time list? What about 8723 At Bats (good enough for #85)? A guy showing up and doing his job? A guy like that screams Hall-of-Fame to me.
While it's not a no-brainer decision, I believe that Concepcion, who taught a generation of shortstops how to play their position on artificial turf and was certainly the best shortstop in the 1970s with the greatest National League team of all time, deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Here are Concepcion's lifetime stats.

God Delays for Our Benefit

"If God delays the punishment of sinners, waiting for them to repent, it is not because his character has changed, so that now he loves sin. Rather he is giving them time to repent." (Cyril of Alexandria, 375-444)*

This quote is included in a wonderful book that I'm using both for my devotions and my weekly sermon prep.

*"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" (2 Peter 3:9)


If you're like me, this short piece from Pastor Deb Grant will make you chuckle...then self-recognition.

Religious Leaders Affirm Marriage as "permanent...faithful union of one man and one woman"

Christian leaders, including the Bishop of the newly-formed North American Lutheran Church, the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and leaders of Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Anglican Christians, as well as of evangelical church bodies, have affirmed marriage as "the permanent and faithful union of one man and one woman."

There are also signatories from Mormonism, Judaism, and the Sikhs.

Here's the complete text of the letter, followed by a list of its signatories:

Dear Friends,

Marriage is the permanent and faithful union of one man and one woman. As such, marriage is the natural basis of the family. Marriage is an institution fundamental to the well-being of all of society, not just religious communities.

As religious leaders across different faith communities, we join together and affirm our shared commitment to promote and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We honor the unique love between husbands and wives; the indispensible place of fathers and mothers; and the corresponding rights and dignity of all children.

Marriage thus defined is a great good in itself, and it also serves the good of others and society in innumerable ways. The preservation of the unique meaning of marriage is not a special or limited interest but serves the good of all. Therefore, we invite and encourage all people, both within and beyond our faith communities, to stand with us in promoting and protecting marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Sincerely yours,

Leith Anderson
National Association of Evangelicals

Dr. Thomas E. Armiger
Dr. Jo Anne Lyon
Dr. Jerry G. Pence
The Board of General Superintendents
The Wesleyan Church

Dr. Gary M. Benedict
The Christian and Missionary Alliance

Glenn C. Burris Jr.
The Foursquare Church

Bishop H. David Burton
Presiding Bishop
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Dr. Ronald W. Carpenter, Sr.
Presiding Bishop
International Pentecostal Holiness Church Ministries

Nathan Diament
Director, Institute for Public Affairs
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America

Most Rev. Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Most Rev. Robert Duncan
Archbishop, Anglican Church in North America
Bishop, Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh

Rev. Jim Eschenbrenner
Executive Pastor
Christian Union

Rev. Dr. Stephen A. Gammon
Conference Minister
Conservative Congregational Conference

Rev. Matthew C. Harrison
The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod

John Hopler
Great Commission Churches

Dr. Clyde M. Hughes
International Pentecostal Church of Christ

Ken Hunn
Executive Director
The Brethren Church

Bishop Harry Jackson
Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church
Bishop, Fellowship of International Churches

The Most Blessed Jonah
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada
Orthodox Church in America

Dr. Richard Land
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Rev. Frederick J. Moury Jr.
National Conference Chair
Evangelical Congregational Church

Dr. James Murray
Interim Executive Director
General Association of General Baptists

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Manmohan Singh
Secretary General
World Sikh Council – America Region

The Rev. Paull E. Spring
North American Lutheran Church

Dr. Joseph Tkach
Grace Communion International

Rev. Phil Whipple
Church of the United Brethren in Christ, USA

Dr. George O. Wood
General Superintendent
Assemblies of God

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Facing Life's Uncertainties (Inspired by Wilma, Who Knew How)

[This morning, the funeral and graveside committal services for a member of our Saint Matthew family, Wilma, took place. Wilma was 92 and except for the final two months of her life, was in great physical health. She had some memory loss, but beyond that remained remarkably healthy. 
[The funeral service today had three purposes: to celebrate Wilma's life, to commit her to the hands of God, and most importantly, to proclaim the hope that all who turn from sin and death and turn to Jesus Christ are assured of life forever with God, the good news.]

The Message
This morning, I want to share a few thoughts with you based on what may seem like a strange Biblical text for Wilma’s funeral. But somehow, it seems appropriate to me. It’s Luke 12:16-21, which is Jesus’ famous parable of the rich young fool.
[Jesus says:] “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Except for the past few months, when first, I had some health issues and then, Wilma became ill, I visited with Wilma every month in the past three years.

It took Wilma about a year for her to remember me from visit to visit. Once, she called the church office to say that the appointed time I was to be at her house conflicted with a doctor’s appointment and in talking with my secretary, she referred to me as “that guy.”

A couple of times, though she habitually wrote everything on her calendar, she was caught unaware when I arrived, sitting in her stocking feet, reading, and apologetic for her lack of preparation when I showed up to once more bring her Holy Communion.

Over time, she came to remember me and in fact, on one of our last visits, I was surprised and touched when she threw her arms around me to hug me.

I came to know Wilma as warm and friendly, with a great sense of humor. As I told my wife when I learned of Wilma’s passing, “I really liked her and I always looked forward to our appointments.”

I didn’t know Wilma when she was younger. But like anyone who knew her as an older person, in any given visit, I might have heard the same stories and comments about family and life experiences several times: about her two sons and where they lived; about her extended family in Elyria; about her growing up; about her niece Eloise, who looked after her and provided her with plenty to read; about the difficulty she had in finding people to mow her lawn; about planting her flower beds in the spring and cleaning them out in the fall; about her need to write everything down, including when to take her medicines.

Wilma, in fact, struck me as a disciplined person. I got the impression that even before her memory loss necessitated her taking extra care to keep her life organized, she was always organized. The neatness of her house and its lack of unnecessary furnishings and goo-gobs that most of us acquire in our lifetimes were testimony to this.

But something else struck me about her self-discipline. In Jesus’ parable of the rich young fool, a man thinks that if he disciplines his use of time and saves his money, he will get to a point when he’ll be in control, he will have conquered the world, and he can simply sit back and relax. In a way, this young man deludes himself into believing that he can be his own little god, self-sufficient and invulnerable. No obligations or responsibilities to anyone but himself. We have a term for people like this today: We call them control freaks.

Wilma was no control freak. She laboriously worked out her daily schedule because she didn’t want to be a burden to anyone!

“When I get to where I can’t take care of myself anymore, I’ll go to the Care Center,” she told me many times. And in the hospital little more than a month ago, she said, “I always said when I couldn’t take care of myself, I would go to the Care Center. They might as well send me there now.”

Wilma could be determined when she needed to be; she often talked about how she learned to drive after being widowed. But Wilma was also a realist. Though her willingness to go to the Care Center no doubt had something to do with losing one of her sons, Bob, exactly three months before she suffered a stroke, she also understood, unlike the rich young fool in Jesus’ parable, that we are not in control. We are vulnerable. Life does hit us with unexpected setbacks, even tragedies.

But that doesn’t mean that you stop living! Instead, like Wilma, you live the life that you have been given. You exercise appropriate self-discipline. You take care of the gifts God gives you—whether it’s your health or your house. You live in appreciation for the gifts of brothers and sisters, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and extended family.

Rare people like Wilma, are ones who, I think, can only be described as ordinary people who, in quiet, unassuming ways, lead extraordinary lives.

That’s because Wilma had something that the rich young fool in Jesus’ parable didn’t have. I don’t mean to paint her as some stained glass saint. You all will know her faults more than I do. (Of course, we all have faults and if anyone thinks they don’t, that’s a big fault in itself!) But I got to know Wilma when life—and the God Who lovingly disciplines His children—had worn off her edges. Adversity has a way of showing the real person beneath the veneer. The masks come off the more vulnerable life renders us. And this is what I saw in Wilma: a person of humble faith in Jesus Christ.

She wasn’t the type to go around advertising her faith. (She wasn’t the type to go around advertising anything, as I experienced her.) But she was always anxious to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, always anxious to join in with the Order for Confession and Forgiveness, every word of which she knew by heart and recited with me during our visits. In the sense of vulnerability that I know Wilma felt each day, in spite of the physical vigor she enjoyed until the very end, she knew that she needed the God revealed to all in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Not barns or baubles, just Jesus. She needed Jesus.

And so do you.

Wilma lived a long life. I think of one her life’s lessons is simple: There is nothing to a life like that of the rich young fool. Nothing in this world lasts. But there is everything to a life lived with Jesus Christ, Who has conquered sin and death and gives eternity with God to all who turn from their sin and entrust their lives to Him.

When you know Jesus Christ, you can face this life with all its uncertainties and unfair twists, you can look forward to the future Christ has secured for all who believe in Him, and you can do it all with a smile on your face, with hope in your heart, and with peace.

May you make knowing Jesus Christ the number one priority of your life so that the blessings of being part of Christ’s new creation can be yours here in this imperfect world and in the perfect world awaiting all who follow Jesus Christ. God bless you.
The other Biblical texts shared at Wilma's funeral were: Proverbs 20:29; Isaiah 46:4; and John 11:17-27.
This bit of doggerel, found among Wilma's papers, was read. The fact that she cut it out and kept it shows something of the humor and humility with which she approached life and fit in well with the Proverbs and Isaiah texts above, which in turn, remember the wisdom God grants to those with gray hair, who are attentive to life's lessons, and recall that God promises to save us even in our old age. The author is the ubiquitous, "Anonymous":
Thought I'd let my doctor check 'cause I didn't feel quite right,
All those aches and pains annoyed me, and I couldn't sleep at night.
He could find no real disorder, but he wouldn't let it rest,
What with Medicare and Blue Cross, it couldn't hurt to do some tests.
To the hospital he sent me, though I didn't feel that bad.
He arranged for them to give me every test that could be had.
I was flouroscoped and cystoscoped, my aging frame displayed,
Stripped upon an ice-cold table, while my gizzards were x-rayed.
I was checked for worms and parasites, for fungus and the crud,
While they pierced me with long needles, taking samples of my blood.
Doctors came to check me over, probed, and pushed, and poked around,
And to make sure that I was living, they wired me up for sound.
They have finally concluded (their results have filled a page),
What I have will some day kill me: My affliction is OLD AGE!
That's essentially what took Wilma's life in the end, old age, and we were blessed to have had her with us. As one of the prayers in our funeral liturgy puts it:
O God of grace and glory, we remember before You today, Wilma. We thank You for giving her to us to know and to love as a companion in our pilgrimage on earth. In Your boundless compassion, console those who mourn. Give them Your aid so that they may see in death the gate to eternal life, that they may continue in their course on earth in confidence until, by Your call, they are reunited with all who have gone before us trusting in Christ as God and Savior; through Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Who God Can Use...Not Only Who We Think

From R.T. Kendall's God Gives Second Chances, R.T. Kendall writes:
The best antidote I know for conquering a lust for power is to embrace the implications of John 5:44: "How can you believe if you accept the praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?"...

The problem is that we suppose that our ambition to succeed is a love for God. Because we believe the Bible and the basic truths of the Christian faith, we tell ourselves that our quest for more influence is for God's gory. This is how we deceive ourselves. We justify our drive to be more successful by saying we can "reach more people," "save more souls," "get our message to the world." Such rationales are nothing but a camouflage for the foolish ego trip we are on...

...making an effort to obtain the praise of God means seeking the lower seat (Luke 14:7-11), refusing to vindicate ourselves, choosing total forgivenes, and the sheer waiting on God's timing. In a word, it is the way of the cross, the life of self-denial, and the participation of the sufferings of Christ... 
I don't always agree with R.T. Kendall. I have major issues with the neo-Pentecostal or Chrismatic movement of which he is a part. I take issue with some of the things Kendall writes in this book.

But the observation above is, I believe, right on target! God does give second chances to those who learn to subordinate their egos and themselves to Christ and the Word of God. I've seen it countless times in the Bible, in Christian history, and people I've known. Repent for sin and surrender to Christ and I am sure that "by the power [the power of the Holy Spirit Who comes to every believer in Christ] at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20).

But God can only do great and eternally lasting things in the lives of those who don't care how many great things the world may say about them. Their only concern is for what says about them. Today--and for a long time to come, I'll be asking God to help me ignore the approval of others and seek approval only from God!

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Right Way

Great thoughts from Pastor Deb Grant:
By following Christ, we are given a way to walk that protects us from our own wandering ways, nourishes us consistently and still gives us the freedom to move at our own pace. 
Read the whole thing. (It's not long!)

What Suffering Can Do for Us

"Your suffering doesn't make you clean before God. Yet it drives you to reach for God's Word and hold onto it more tightly and firmly. This is how God exercises your faith." (Martin Luther)

"Pray and Speak Up for Iraqi Christians"

That's the title of this post from John H. Armstrong.

It contains this observation by Joseph Kassab of the Chaldean Federation of America:
Iraqi Christians are being systematically murdered and driven from their homeland. This situation must, repeat must, be addressed by an international security coalition with members from Iraq, the U.S. and the U.N.
Please read John's entire blog post. Then, please pray for the safety of Iraqi Christians. Please also write to the White House and the State Department asking our government to press our Iraqi allies to put a stop to the persecution of Christians in their country.

That's it, three quick and simple action steps:

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Repentance: Orienting Our Lives to Christ

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]

Matthew 3:1-12
As a seven year old who usually found worship less than exciting, young Jim Cymbala nonetheless found himself impressed by a preacher named Howard Goss. As Cymbala explains it, Goss, unlike many of the preachers who came to the Pentecostal church of his childhood, “didn’t rant and rave to make a point. Nor did he use emotional gimmicks as he delivered the Word of God. He simply explained the truths of Scripture in an easy, conversational tone.” Yet, something about Goss’ personal faith impressed the seven-year old Cymbala far more than anything Goss said.

Years later, himself by now a Pentecostal pastor, Cymbala met the son of Howard Goss. The younger man remembered “a big camp meeting” held in Canada when he was a kid. Every prominent preacher of their tradition was there and the event attracted huge numbers of people to the morning, afternoon, and evening preaching services.

As Goss’ son recollected, all the preachers jockeyed to be picked to preach at the evening events, when the crowds were bigger and the prestige greater. “Suddenly,” Howard Goss’ son remembered, “one of the leaders asked where my father was. He was…highly respected by everyone. They wanted to consult him [about the preaching schedule]…They finally heard that he was last seen in the kitchen and dining hall area, so [the son recalled] I went with them to find him. They could scarcely believe their eyes when they got to the kitchen. There was my dad on his hands and knees scrubbing the floor with some of the…workers!”

When told that the prominent preachers wanted to know what his preferences were on the preaching schedule, Goss demurred. “You don’t need to worry about me,” he told them, “But I found out that they’re short of help here in the kitchen so I thought I’d lend a hand.”

Here was a man, the direction of whose life was altogether different from what we see in the lives of most people in the world…maybe even in the Church. Most people allow the directions of their lives to be dictated by the sinful orientations with which each of us is born. As we cave in to these sinful orientations or impulses, we wander farther and farther from God, like the lost sheep that wander from the shepherd in Jesus’ famous parable. In these Advent and Christmas seasons, we remember that God has acted as a good shepherd seeking those who have wandered from Him and Who, through His death and resurrection, has done everything necessary to bring us back under the gracious rule of God, where we can experience life forever with God.

But, as I’ve said before, God does not force His eternal kingdom on anyone! Nor can it be earned by acts of religious piety. Nor can it be claimed simply because we were raised in the church, or held high offices—whether as clergy or laypeople—in the church, or because we were nice, polite people, or because we were in worship every single week. The people who enter God’s kingdom are like Howard Goss: They turn from the sin to which they are naturally oriented and they turn in faith to the God Who came into the world on the first Christmas in Jesus Christ!

Of course, when Jesus was born, few in the world took notice of it. He lived in obscurity until God the Father signaled that it was the right time for Him to begin a ministry that would culminate in His crucifixion and resurrection. Matthew 3:1-12. our Gospel lesson for today, the Second Sunday of Advent, finds John the Baptizer preparing the people of Judea and the world for the disclosure of the long-awaited Messiah. Today, John’s words can prepare us for the return of that Messiah, the crucified and risen Jesus, Who, at a time known only by God the Father, will come back to this world to fully establish His eternal kingdom. John was telling His original hearers and you and me to get ready to meet Jesus.

But how do we get ready? John says—in words similar to those Jesus Himself would later deliver in His own sermons: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” Turn from your sinful orientations and turn to God so that God transforms you from an enemy of God to a friend of God, John is saying.

It’s interesting, too, that the word, “Repent” in the original Greek of Matthew’s Gospel is in the present tense, meaning that repentance isn’t a one-and-done phenomenon. Repentance, constant reorientation to the rule and will of God, is to be part of the daily life style of a Jesus-Follower. This is no doubt why Martin Luther, who taught clearly that we cannot earn our salvation by obeying God’s commandments, nonetheless began The Small Catechism with a discussion of the Ten Commandments. Every grateful follower of Jesus will want to turn each day to God, asking God to show them where they have disobeyed God, so that they don’t, slowly and ignorantly, wander away from the gifts of God’s grace and salvation.

To repent then, is much more than to be sorry for one’s sins. In fact, it’s possible to feel sorry for a sin and not be repentant. Years ago, I met a woman in a nursing home. She was then in her eighties. But she had done something wrong when she was seventeen for which she still felt life-crushing shame. She refused to receive Holy Communion when it was offered to her because she was sure that God could not and would not forgive her. She acknowledged her guilt, but she would not reorient her life to the loving Lordship of Jesus over her life. She would not accept God's offer of forgiveness. It was incredibly sad! Repentance entails both the recognition of one's need of God's forgiveness AND the willingness to receive that forgiveness. For some reason, that woman saw her need of forgiveness, but couldn't accept it. She was like a person dying of thirst on the rim of an unseen oasis.

I sometimes try to explain what it is to repent in this way. In space, when a satellite wanders or gets knocked from its orbital path, the satellite must be re-oriented in order to avoid trouble, things like collisions with other objects or falling into the gravitational pull of the earth, resulting in a crash. But with a simple radio signal from ground control, the satellite can be re-oriented, put back into its orbit around the earth.

Each time we turn to God, asking God to show us our sins, to help us to turn from those sins, and to live differently, we’re responding to a signal from God’s Holy Spirit and, in repenting, God corrects the course of our lives, keeping us in orbit around Jesus Christ, “the way, and the truth, and the life,” the only pathway to God.  

Repentance then, is no small matter. Not to chase anyone away from the centrally important discipline of regular worship attendance, Mark Allan Powell, a professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, points out that repentance is even more important than worship. In a book on the subject of worship, he writes:
…if worship is an appropriate response, it is not the ideal one. [Through Matthew’s gospel, we see that] the ideal response to [all that God has done for us] is repentance…[In fact,] Jesus never upbraids people for failing to worship or give thanks in this gospel…but he does upbraid those who have witnessed his mighty works and not repented…We know from Jesus' teaching in Matthew that people can worship God with their lips even when their deeds demonstrate that their hearts are far from God…
That’s exactly what John the Baptizer seems to accuse the religious leaders, members of the Judean sects of Pharisees and Sadducees, of doing in our lesson as they join the crowds flocking to the Jordan River to undergo John’s baptism of repentance.

“You brood of vipers!” he says to them. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that is worthy of repentance.” When we orient our lives to the Lordship of Jesus and the will of God, rather than our own sinful desires, our lives will bear fruit. There will be something different about us. We’ll swim against the cultural tide. Our values won’t be the same as the surrounding world. We’ll be in Jesus’ orbit.

Sometimes, the world will count us as weird as John the Baptizer must have seemed to the people of his day, foraging for locusts and wild honey, living in the wilderness that ancient Israel once escaped by crossing the very river in which he baptized.

How weird are you willing to be for Jesus? In his wonderful book, Learn to Dance the Soul Salsa: 17 Surprising Steps for Godly Living in the 21st Century, theologian and historian Leonard Sweet writes that driving our cars has, for many, become war by other means. So, why not engage in spiritual warfare when you drive?

“Other people talk on their cell phones…” Sweet says, “I talk to God. I know people think I’m crazy: sometimes I’m crying, sometimes laughing, sometimes talking out loud, sometimes lavishing impassioned outbursts into empty space.”

“In spite of the double takes” we may get from others, Sweet urges, “make drive time devotion time.”

In the end, how high a price is it to be considered strange or undesirable by a world ticketed for destruction, while remaining in the hands of Lord Jesus Who has conquered sin and death for those who trust in Him?

A song many of us were taught as kids tells us, “If you’re happy and you know it, then your life will surely show it.” On the banks of the Jordan, John the Baptizer taught a similar lesson, “If you’re repentant and you know it, then your life will show it. You will bear the fruits of repentance.”

This doesn’t mean that you’ll be some holier-than-thou snob! It means that your humility before God, your surrender to Christ, and your submission to the Word of God and the will of God will show up in how you live.

It might find you on your hands and knees scrubbing the floor of someone else’s kitchen.

It might find you telling fellow sinners where forgiveness and life can be found.

And it most certainly will find you, each and every day, turning to the God we know in Christ, praying with the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart…See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”

It’s those who daily and authentically ask God to orient their lives to Him who are truly prepared for the kingdom of heaven, truly ready to meet Jesus! May we be prepared. May we live in daily repentance!