Reporting on Repentance

given on Sunday, February 28, 2010

During high school, I really thought the only way to save the world was to become a journalist.  Of course, my high school years were 1968-1972.  Some of you know those years, some do not, but it was a time of change—civil rights marches, Vietnam, hippies, space exploration.

I was taking journalism classes under Uncle Norm, as we lovingly called him.  In those two years learning reporting, editing, and layout, I came to believe that a career in journalism would be an effective way to make a difference in our world.  Everything I did was to achieve a journalism degree so I could reveal the truth.

Throughout my high school and college training in journalism, I was taught to analyze the story with the 5 Ws and an H:  who, what, when, where, why and how.  Reporters could not leave out any one of those questions in order to provide a complete, comprehensive, and accurate story.  We were trained to have three different sources, which could be quoted, to substantiate the story.

In preparing for today’s sermon, I realized that understanding repentance was just as important as any news-breaking report could be, but getting the answers is not easy, especially since eyewitness accounts might not be available.

First, who is in the story?  Naturally, there has to be someone who needs to repent and there has to be someone who hears and accepts that repentance.  Anybody can repent.  Anybody can tell God that they repent.  There is no age requirement, there is no gender identification, and there are no educational requirements, no language requirement, in fact, no requirements can be found in the Bible other than a person decides to repent.

But what is repentance?  One source, askquestions.org, clarifies one popular answer that repentance means “turning away from sin.”  The website explains that Biblical repentance really means, “to change one’s direction.”  One presumes that only those who are sinful and recognize that they have been sinful must repent of those sins in order to be in God’s favor.  Yet, the Biblical meaning of changing direction opens up repentance to be an action anybody can do.

The journalist reporting on repentance must continue to gather the facts before writing the story so let’s go on:

When does one repent?  The simple answer is anytime an individual decides to make a change in one’s life.  Repentance can be done repeatedly.  One of the purposes of Lent is to refocus lives.  Christians are asked to use these days to review their life and see what needs a change. Repenting is like dieting.  We suddenly notice a few extra pounds or we simply do not feel perky, and we realize we need a change in diet. The need for redirection comes any time in the year or any time in our lives.  When one decides that there is a need to change the direction of their lives, they can repent.

Where does one repent?  Location, location, location.  The answer can be important when making a major decision like buying a house or finding a job, but making a personal decision to change one’s direction can be made absolutely anywhere.  There is no requirement to be sitting in a church pew or kneeling at an alter rail.  Making such a decision is completely personal and it can come at any time, doing anything, at any place one is.  There are no boundaries assigned to where one repents.

The big questions about repenting remain:  “Why?” and “How?”  Answers to these questions are highly subjective, especially if one compares the different denominations.  As a reporter, a decision must be made based on the audience, the community in which the article is published.  During the 1960s, that community was a lot smaller than it is now.  The community simply was the region in which the newspaper circulated.  Today the community is global.  What is said right here in this space can easily be broadcast around the globe, just like it is when I post it on the web.

With that note of caution, let’s continue to ask why does one repent.  Going straight to the authority in our church, John Wesley states his reasoning in his Sermon 14, “The Repentance of Believers:”

It is generally supposed, that repentance and faith are only the gate of religion; that they are necessary only at the beginning of our Christian course, when we are setting out in the way to the kingdom.  And this may seem to be confirmed by the great Apostle, where, exhorting the Hebrew Christians to “go on to perfection,” he teaches them to leave these first “principles of the doctrine of Christ;” “not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God;” which must at least mean, that they should comparatively leave these, that at first took up all their thoughts, in order to “press forward toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

The answer is confusing because the language is from the 1800s.  Still the answer for why people repent is a need to change direction in their lives.

Wesley continues:

. . . this is undoubtedly true, that there is a repentance and a faith, which are, more especially, necessary at the beginning: a repentance, which is a conviction of our utter sinfulness, and guiltiness, and helplessness; and which precedes our receiving that kingdom of God, which, our Lord observes, is “within us;” and a faith, whereby we receive that kingdom, even “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

Hearing that answer sounds like sin is a requirement before repentance.  Is it?  Man is not perfect; we make mistakes.  If making mistakes is sin, then it does comes before repentance.  Typically I believe you can make mistakes that are not sins; sin is knowingly going against God’s laws.  Sin and simple mistakes places our lives in turmoil and if we believe in Christ, we know that we are forgiven when we change the direction of our lives and ask God for his understanding, his love, his grace, his forgiveness.

Why we have repentance is so we can clearly define what we are doing wrong in our lives and then chart a new direction.  Repentance is making a change in our direction.  Repentance does not require a huge sin, but we do know that when we are not following that one commandment, our lives do not go in God’s direction.  We become separated from God.

How do we repent?  How do we get back to God?  Lent is just one tool Christians use to get back to the basics of Christian life.  During these 40 days (plus seven Sundays), stop and evaluate just how your life is going.  Ask yourself what you have been doing?  Is it working?  Are you feeling good about what you do?  Is something broken in your life?  Are you struggling to be happy?

Maybe things seem okay, but you just feel a bit zapped.  Sure, the weather has been awful and you certainly need more sunshine and warmer temperatures.  Maybe the economy is getting you down and the budget looks lean.  What can you do?  Have you talked to God?  Have you searched for an answer?

The answer is simple:  God.  The farther we get from God, the more distressed our lives become.  Failing to talk to God shuts us off from him.  The fewer Sundays we go to church, the farther we get away from God.  The farther away we are from our Christian family we get, the harder it is to return.

How we repent is simply to make a decision that our direction needs to change.  We need God.  We need Christian fellowship.  We need to keep our focus.  We need to accept God’s grace and follow his direction that will lead us to “heaven on earth” and “to life eternal.”  Redirecting our lives each year through Lent will result in a life filled with joy, with love, with peace, with contentment, and with God.

Oops, I guess I have lost a reporter’s objectivity.  That is a danger in journalism.  When reporting on the story, the reporter can learn a truth.  My reporting and my life experiences keep taking me back to God.  My direction can get lost; but using the right tools, I can change that direction.  During Lent, use the tools to repent.  Read the Bible.  Pray.  Go to church.  Pray.  Join in Christian fellowship.  Pray.  Seek understanding through study.  Pray.  Serve one another.  Pray.  Love one another, and pray:

Dear Father,

The clouds are dark, the jobs are tiring, the money is tight, the roads are pitted, and the spirits are low.  We need these days of Lent to review our lives and to find what needs changing.  We need these Sundays for help in refocusing our lives.  We need You.  We need to change our direction so we may help others repent and know Your grace.  –Amen

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