Thursday, June 30, 2016

Wrecking Wrepentance

I am a huge fan of the late George Carlin. I realize that some may take issue with this revelation. "How can a 'pastor' like such a foul-mouth?"

How can I not?

It's true, Carlin made profanity an art form all its own. Yet underneath the profane, counter-cultural, social commentator, was an extremely brilliant mind. He had a knack for questioning the things of our culture that no one really stopped to consider or had the courage to ask. His remarks on "Time," in 1978, for example, were quite astute, in my opinion. Remarks like, "I have been standing here 'forever'," were scrutinized. Was it really forever? Exactly how long is forever? "Look, Bill, this guy has been standing here forever!" Carlin made us think about stuff that we needed to think about and didn't.

We have a lot of words and concepts in Christianity that need to be re-examined and scrutinized. Religious fluff that we need to think about. The one that stands out for me today is the very first word Jesus used in the New Testament, "Repent." In the modern church context, the word repent is often delivered with pointed fingers at various democratic, socialist, homosexual, anti-gun and progressive Christianity groups. Rather unfairly, I might add. Like they're so perfect because they vote Republican, carry guns, and watch Joel Osteen. Puh-LEASE!

I was once on a mission trip in the beautiful state of New Hampshire. We went door to door in teams of three conducting surveys and when given the opportunity, sharing the gospel (another word that needs to be scrutinized...next time). The other fellow in my group was from rural North Carolina, accent and all. He proceeded to harang a local resident with the word repent. Over and over, he said, "Ma'am, you need to repent. You need to repent of your sins and be born again (another phrase deserving of a revisit...we'll get there)." I vividly recall the look this poor woman was giving him. Between his southern drawl and christianese, he was clearly, "not from around here," in her eyes. I couldn't help but laugh. Well, I tried hard not to. Envision Jeff Foxworthy speaking to Hillary Clinton. It was a comical moment.

You see, most people don't speak christianese. I would also add that most Christians who do speak christianese have no idea what they are saying. Which brings me to why we're here today.

Repent does NOT mean, "Be sorry for your sins (another word that...well you know)." When people scream "repent" to an un-believing, post-Christian culture, they seem to expect people to begin wretching and crying, telling God, "I am so sorry!" This is not repentance...not at all. In fact, emotion, while not evil in and of itself, is not a requirement for genuine repentance.

In the Hebrew language, the word "shoove" is translated as repent or relent in the Old Testament. It is used 1,058 times. It literally means to turn, as in turning AWAY from something and simultaneously turning TO something else. In application, Old Testament repentance consisted of turning away from ones sinful behavior and turning to God and His ways. Repentance that involves tears but no change of behavior is not pure repentance. Feeling bad for having that affair, but not stopping it immediately is not repentance. It is guilt or shame, neither of which come from God. Once again, it is simply a course correction in regards to behavior and habits.

Stop doing _____, and start doing _____. That is repentance in a sentence. God Himself even repents. Joel 2:13 translates it as "relent," but it is the same word. God chooses not to (relents, repents from) doing harm. God, who frankly, could level this planet with a mere thought, doesn't. He turns from harm and turns to pure love that begins and ends with Him.

The New Testament, which was written in Koine Greek hundreds of years after the Old Testament days, uses a different word for repentance, metanoie. Metanoie breaks down to mean a literal changing of the mind. Think about it, Hebrew culture was, and still is, all about behavior.  The Greek culture, on the other hand, was a thinking culture. So much of our Western philosophies and even our politics find their inspiration embedded in the teachings of Socrates, Plato, Sophocles, and so many others. Paul even quotes two philosophers, Aratus & Epimenides, and the comic poet Menader in Acts, 1 Corinthians, and Titus. To change one's mind in this culture was a powerful act indeed.

In summary, the Bible demonstrates genuine repentance as a change of behavior as well as a change of one's mind that leads to a change in behavior. Shouting it at groups of people may not compel them as powerfully as simply modeling what real repentance is. In Joel 2:12-13, there are three statements that can be made about genuine, real, or true, repentance:

1) Repentance involves the whole heart. God appeals to the people of Judah to, "Return to me with all  of your heart." 99% repentant is the same as non-repentant. All in. Whole heart. Later, God says, "rend your heart and not your garments." Early believers would tear (rend) their clothes as an outward demonstration of inward repentance. We still do this today by wearing crosses, bracelets, bumper stickers, and t-shirts with a Christian tone. God is saying, "This does not impress me. I don't want your advertisement. I want your heart. All of it.

2) Repentance involves a humble heart. "With fasting, weeping, and mourning." There may be some emotion involved here. But like in the previous statement, God is not as impressed with outward displays. Fasting, weeping, and mourning all represent humility. It takes a great deal of courage to say to God, "You're right and I'm wrong." It is quite humbling indeed.

3) Repentance reveals God's heart. God then reveals that He is "Slow to anger, abounding in great kindness, and relents (repents) from doing harm.

Many years ago, my family and I lived on campus housing while I attended Bible College. We shared a nice apartment community with other students and their families. We shared yard toys, books, recipes, everything. It was not uncommon for my children to wander within the complex to play. They were always visible and we all sort of watched out for each others' kids.

One day I came home from classes to change for my evening job. I was going to tell the kids goodbye, and I couldn't see my girls, who were barely 2 at the time. My son, the oldest, was 4. He rode up on his bicycle and I asked, "Where are your sisters?" He didn't know. He was 4! Within seconds, I exploded into a panic and began thinking of all the things that may have happened and began yelling for the girls while frantically searching for them. Neighbors heard me and saw the panic on my face and began helping me look. In a few minutes that seemed like, ahem...forever, I heard, "Todd, we found them." They were safe. They had just wandered out of sight.

My first thought was, "I am going to spank them both!" After all, they had scared the daylights out of me AND made me late for work. They were gonna get it, and I was going to see to it that this never happened again.

As I approached my beautiful twin daughters, all I could do was cry and hug them. So what happened to the spanking? Easy. My love for them had far overwhelmed my need to punish them. It was a profound moment of truth for me. I chose not to spank them, and they never wandered off like that again.

That's how God is. He could wipe us out, sure. I would even argue that we have it coming. But He doesn't see it that way. Not at all! His love for us far overwhelms the justice of our punishment.

This universal truth completely befuddles our idea of real repentance.

Thank you for reading!