Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

Having a friend that never acknowledges hurts and wrongs is a great challenge. I think that would quite possibly be the hardest friendship to maintain. You could handle a friend who is prone to errors of judgment, who hurts you with careless words or who even forgets about you for periods of time, but to have a friend who doesn't know how to apologize would be hard. These are the people who never deal with anything, who never talk through situations and problems, who find it tortuous to pronounce the words "I am sorry". I imagine you would not mind at all if they shortened it to "I'm sorry", as long as it was being acknowledge and something was being done about it. Without this acknowledgment and "working it out" it feels like there are tons of dead bodies buried throughout the relationship, and each is like a land mind you are afraid to step on. After a while the friendship becomes too much and one of you walks away.

This is similar to our friendship with Jesus; it can't exist unless we maintain a heart of repentance. It does not mean we keep apologizing over and over again for the things we have done that have offended God. For one thing, repenting is more than apologizing or regretting what you have done. To repent means to turn away from the offense and go in the opposite direction in the relationship. If you were a thief it means that you would turn away from this action, seeking forgiveness for it and becoming someone who gives away instead of taking for yourself. If you were a liar you would ask for forgiveness and turn away from your need to protect and preserve yourself with these self-serving words and instead become a person who is open and honest about who you are, what you think, and what you are doing. Honesty is not as easy as some people think. So repentance is seeking forgiveness and turning away from the offending action, thought, or attitude.

Repentance is the first step to entering a proper relationship with our Father and it was the message Jesus preached:

From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matthew 4:17)

That comes as a surprise to many people because they incorrectly believe that Jesus' message was one of love. Well, I cannot use the word "incorrect" because repentance is a result and an act of love but somehow we drop off the need to repent and hold on to the ideal of love. This is why some people have the mistaken notion that a God of love would never condemn people to hell. Unfortunately, without repenting, we have tied God's hands because sin cannot be in his presence. He is willing to forgive and remove any sin from us that we confess to him but he cannot tolerate the sins we are not willing to deal with and either ignore or bury. Our Father will not tolerate a relationship with "land minds". Tell him they exist (which he already knows) and where they are buried (which he already knows), repent of them and he will gladly remove them so you can have a great relationship with him. It is also important to understand this: you only ever need to deal with each "land mind" once. As soon as he removes them they no longer exist. He does not want us to spend our time repenting for the same thing over and over because there is too much beauty to discover in this incredible relationship. Our God wants a healthy, vibrant and growing relationship with us which includes the healthy action of dealing with our wrongs against him.

It is for this reason that Jesus preached repentance and he did so with his actions and his stories. He clearly demonstrated the Father's willingness to forgive anything we confess and turn away from. That is what Jesus showed the adulterous woman, the woman at the well and Peter on the beach. It is the message behind the prodigal son and the forgiving king. It was the underlying message everything with Jesus because it is the very first step to entering the Kingdom. Do not think you can pull a fast one on our Father because he has made us a promise concerning unconfessed offenses against him:

He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5)

We cannot afford to hold on to the "buried bodies" in our relationship with God. Honestly, like any good friend, he just wants to deal with the issues, find closure for them and move on with the relationship. It is true that everything we do against him hurts him deeply but that's the incredible thing about his love, he is willing to forget it all when we talk it over with him and turn away from it in our hearts. His love is so great that it forgives ever offense that we confess and turn away from, no matter if we consider them big or small. For the sake of this great relationship we have with God, stop burying the bodies, deal with the issues, then get on with living and loving our God and our neighbours. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."