Read Luke 3:87-18
I repented. I accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. I have decided to follow Jesus—no turning back, no turning back.
So why do we always have to talk about repentance during Advent?
Have I not already repented?
We have turned away from the ways of the world and accepted the way of the Lord. This whole turning away thing is repentance plain and simple, and yes we have accomplished this. Then again, life gets in the way.
The world is constantly tugging at us. The old self wants his old job back. The world is pulling at us to do things its way as if it were using gravity itself to bring us back to old ways.
There are a variety of studies that indicate that our tendency is to walk in circles. Your legs don’t even have to be of significantly different sizes. Absent a compass or GPS or other significant landmark, we have a tendency to walk in circles.
Dead reckoning is hard. Staying the course is tough stuff.
While we are out calling to the lost and disconnected to come home, the world is beckoning us with the same words. Something always seems to be pulling us off course.
There is always something tugging at us to pull us off course.
We might say, “Well, I would never go back to the way I was. I will never turn away from following Jesus.”
We might not make a 180 degree turn around back to our old ways, but what if we just veered a little?
A degree of variance at a hundred yards is only a few feet and just short of a hundred feet after a mile. That’s noticeable, but not too bad. If I was going from Burns Flat, Oklahoma to Dallas, Texas and was off by only a degree, I would miss the target by about 5 miles. Of course, Dallas is still so big, you might not know.
If I was flying coast to coast and was off by a degree, I would miss my target by about 40 miles. If I am in an airplane, I would like to be closer than 40 miles from my runway.
Staying the course is just plain tough.
For land navigation and even orienteering, I often teach individuals and teams to veer a little one way or the other.
Either plan to miss your target a little to the left or to the right so when you get in the target area, you will know that it is to your right or left.
If I veer a little to my left, I know when I have gone the distance required, my target should be to my right.
All of this sounds interesting but what does it have to do with repentance?
Try as we may, we do get off course. The longer we go before making a correction, the farther from the intended path we are.
Sometimes, we need to make a very deliberate effort to get back on course. We may not be 180 degrees out of whack, but we need to get back to this course that we know as following Jesus.
Businesses, programs, and projects often have to re-baseline if they continue long enough. Modifications, changes, setbacks, rebounds, restarts, and the memorandum of the day often leave people wondering, “Now what is it that we are trying to accomplish?”
It is a healthy thing to set aside a deliberate time for repentance. We need to turn away from the world, even if the world has only taken us off course a degree or two or ten. We sing, I have decided to follow Jesus; perhaps making sure we are on the right path is not a bad thing.
The Pharisees were certain that they were doing exactly what God wanted them to be doing. Many Jews felt that because Abraham was their father, they were automatically on the right track. They did not realize how far off course they had come. They were specialists on rules and procedures, manners and mannerisms, times and timing. They were doing everything right but hardly doing the right things.
They had missed the mark by a long shot and it would hurt a whole bunch to repent. We don’t get to see what happened in this encounter with the Pharisees, but the people were eager to know what they should do.
John admonished the Pharisees to produce fruit worthy of repentance and the people wanted to know what that meant.
What do we need to do?
There was no complicated formula. There was no book of doctrine. There were no procedures or hoops through which to jump.
It was simple stuff. If you are well off and somebody else is hurting, then help them.
If your job gives you the ability to gouge people on fees or prices, don’t do it. Take what is fair for yourself and no more.
If you have authority and can compel others to comply with what you want, don’t abuse your authority, and surely don’t use your authority to extort others.
What was the result?
People were wondering if John might be the long promised Messiah. Are you kidding me? What had he said or done to garner such esteem?
He is preaching a baptism of repentance and when people asked what they need to do, he says, “Do what you already know to do. Play fair. Be honest. Help those who are hurting.”
These are not profound revelations! Do the right things.
Remember, these people were not worshiping Baal or some other man-made god. They were trying to play by the rules. Sometimes the rule makers had made the rules tougher than they needed to be, but the people were trying to live good lives.
John said turn away from the things that you know not to do. He was nowhere near the revolutionary thinking of Jesus—this whole love your enemy stuff.
John was just saying do the right things.
Two or three times a year, we need a little John the Baptist counsel in our lives. Let’s check ourselves against the baseline. Are we on the right path?
Have you ever made a budget? For those who have budgeted all of their lives, this may sound strange. Many people have never made a budget. Many more have made a budget and then put it in a drawer and never looked at it again, hoping it would take care of itself.
Others may obsess over their budget and check it every 10 minutes. Netiher obsessing nor ignoring makes a budget functional, but what the family does with its finances must be checked periodically against the budget to make sure the plan is on track.
When that monthly or quarterly audit reveals that we are spending too much on dining out, then corrective action needs to be taken. Could be time to buy another case of Ramen. We get back on course. Likewise, if at the end of the month there is always a couple thousand extra just sitting in the checking account, that money needs to be told where to go—savings, college fund, gifts beyond the tithe. Corrections need to be made.
We have set upon a course to follow Jesus. Are we staying the course? Are we on track?
We need to honestly look at our own lives and see if we need to make any course corrections. Where to start? Is there a model for this audit?
How about we consider the things that we confessed the most. We are not pagans. We are not starting from ground zero, so it’s not like we are talking orgies and axe murders or other ill advised but alliterative deeds.
During the past several months what have I been confessing to God. If there is a pattern, then maybe we need to repent until we produce the fruit—the change that God desires.
Maybe you have a case of Foam Finger. What? You know those big foam fingers that everyone takes to the football games that say we’re #1. Sometimes we wear them home thinking that we are first in everything. Sometimes, we take them to work or school or just keep them in our cars in case we need to point them at someone in judgment.
Have we been judgmental?
Maybe we just need to talk less in class and study more.
Maybe we need to set aside our fear and live fully for Christ.
Maybe we need to get serious about retiring from the gossip world.
Maybe we husbands need to get serious about loving our wives unconditionally.
Maybe the wives need to get serious about respecting their husbands unconditionally.
Maybe we have some course corrections to make and we need to show some real progress—some fruit—in making them.
Maybe we have some course corrections to make. I doubt that any are real 180 degree turn arounds, but most of us have some adjusting to do.
But unlike the people two millennia ago, we are not looking to avoid wrath. Punishment and wrath are not our motivating factors.
We want to hold true to the course out of love for our Master. We want to follow Jesus as closely as possible because we want to respond to his great love that he showed us with love of our own.
Where might we be off course the most?
Sharing the gospel.
Well if it comes up in conversation, then I will share Jesus.
We will bring up the game between OU and Clemson, but we will wait until the time is right to share the gospel.
We will barge into the conversation shouting he Cowboys are headed to the Sugar Bowl, but not be nearly as bold with the gospel.
We don’t want to infringe on anyone’s personal space with gospel unless we know that they are ready, but bringing Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton into the conversation doesn’t come with the same safeguards.
If you find yourself saying, I’m not ashamed of the gospel, but…
If the word but shows up anywhere in the sentence: repent. Stop whatever you are doing and repent.
We talk about political correctness and how we don’t play that game. If you hesitate to share the gospel, then you play that game.
Do we really want to follow Jesus or just be within a degree or two of the path he has set?
This repentance stuff upsets comfort zones, and it is supposed to . If we are comfortable with the standards of the world, then we are likely off the course set by Jesus by a degree or two or ten.
The question is comfort or Christ? Which comes first in our lives: Comfort or Christ?
Comfort or Christ?
If he says that next Sunday we are wearing sackcloth and covering ourselves with ashes, then he might be preaching to an empty sanctuary, and he can vacuum up his own ashes.
There will be no sackcloth and ashes Sunday on the schedule for the rest of the year, but if you want to really follow Jesus, consider the things that you have confessed over the past months, and see if something needs to be done.
Then consider those things that we have not been ready to confess because we don’t feel ready to produce fruit worthy of repentance. We don’t seem ready to fix these things.
At the end of Psalm 39, David concluded by asking God to look away from him so he could enjoy life again. David had some things that he was not ready to confess. He knew that his sin was messing up his life but he wasn’t ready to deal with it.
This is pre-Bathsheba. This is still a man after God’s own heart; yet he has issues that he isn’t ready to put before God.
We are people who are supposed to be free from shame and guilt and sin and death; yet, some things may still be keeping us off course.
Some things may be keeping us from the abundance that God wants us to know in Christ Jesus.
We may have some areas in our lives where we don’t seem ready to trust God.
Do you know why airplanes that fly cross country don’t miss their runways by 40 miles? They have computers that make hundreds if not thousands of corrections a second. The flight computer is always recomputing.
We would go crazy if we tried to do this. But we do need some time to just stop and make sure that we are on course.
Don’t stop for too long. We are running a race of faith, but do take time at least twice a year—Advent and Lent work just fine—to see if we need to produce fruit worthy of repentance.
We need to take time to make real changes in our lives. This is fruit worth of repentance.