Turning Towards: Series Introduction (Lent #1)
March 5, 2006
All of life has a rhythm. There is birth, growth, and strength, and then weakness, decline, and death. There is work, and then there is rest. There is waking, then sleeping, then waking again. Day, and night. There is activity and energy and noise during the day, and then silence at night. There is planting, nurturing, harvesting, and then dying back. Spring, summer, fall, winter, and then spring again.
But in 2006, in North America, we have largely obliterated that rhythm. We only want new life and growth and strength, and abhor weakness and decline. We greatly value work but not rest. We attempt to function on as little sleep as possible, we extend the activity and energy and noise of the day as far into the night as possible. We import fresh vegetables all year round and so have at best a vague recollection of the annual cycle of planting and harvesting. We see the rhythm of the seasons and respond with an eagerness to escape our winter by traveling to somewhere else’s summer.
Now, I am not complaining about fresh vegetables year round, or about electric lights, or about the idea of a mid-winter escape to a tropical climate… I value those things and see many positive consequences. But I do contend that we have lost the rhythm of life. The natural, God-ordained rhythm, which grounds us in God’s goodness and provision, which accepts night and day, noise and silence, growing and dying back, summer’s warmth and winter’s cold.
Instead, we expect constant growth. Consistent progress. Ever increasing productivity. If last month we sold 100 units, this month we should sell 110. If last year we earned $40 000, this year we should earn $45 000. If we harvested 25 pounds of tomatoes yesterday, we should harvest 30 tomorrow. We view the world through a linear lens, expecting life to be a straight line up and to the right. Anything else is cause for alarm – there must be a huge problem.
The amount of stress from that expectation of constant growth is immense, and incredibly destructive.
Observing the seasons of the church year is one attempt to ground us in the rhythm of God and of salvation. We spend four weeks walking towards Christmas, preparing and then reaching the climax of Jesus’ birth as God and man into our world. And that is good – it brings us back every year to the incredible humility and kindness of God to us.
And we spend 6 weeks walking towards Easter, preparing and then reaching the climax of Jesus’ resurrection and victory over sin, death, and the devil. That too is good – it brings us back every year to the cross and the empty tomb – to the power and freedom and forgiveness and new life that God offers to us in Christ.
That six week journey is a season called “Lent”, and this is the first Sunday. In many ways, it is not as “fun” as season as Advent, because it is harder and it calls us to deeper discipleship. It calls us to prepare again to stand underneath the cross of Jesus, aware of His love that overpowers our sin, we count the cost, and then we choose again to love God and love one another with that same love.
But it also calls us to stand again at the empty tomb. To live in the victory, to rejoice and celebrate like we have never done before because we see that life conquers death, hope conquers despair, forgiveness conquers guilt, freedom conquers slavery. And then choose to live in life.
A Season of Repentance:
The season of Lent is a season of repentance. And repentance is one of the major themes of the Bible, in fact it was the message that everyone in the NT preached: let me show you:
• John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt 3:1-2).
• From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt 4:17).
• (the disciples) went out and preached that people should repent. (Mark 6:12).
• When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38).
• (Paul said) I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (Acts 20:21).
What Actually IS Repentance?
So it is pretty clear that repentance is an important thing… but what actually is it? Let me give you a definition: “to change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness.” (Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT Based on Semantic Domains, entry 41.52 for metanoia, p. 510). In the particular dictionary I used for that definition, there is a footnote which says, “the focal (semantic) feature… is clearly behavioral rather than intellectual”.
There is another word, closely related, that interjects the emotional component – that of sorrow and remorse over sin, and so we see that repentance includes all areas: it means a “complete change of thought and attitude”, it means sorrow, but most importantly, it means “to change one’s way of life.” Repentance means that we live differently. That we are changed, transformed, liberated from actions that bring difficulty and hurt and ultimately death.
Now, because Lent is a season of repentance, our task is to examine ourselves under the light of the Holy Spirit and Scripture, and then to repent of the sins that we discover and “change our way of life” in those areas. Our motivation comes from the event to which we look forward – namely the cross and empty tomb. We prepare to celebrate our Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection by seeking to conform our lives to the forgiveness and new life that we find. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit in being conformed to the image of Jesus.
Often, because of the nature of Lent, we end up focusing on sin, and on the sin in us, so that we might repent. However, as I’ve thought and prayed about what is the best way for us to observe Lent as a church this year, I’ve decided that we need to shift that focus just a little. Instead of focusing on the sin, or what we are turning from, we are going to focus on what we are turning towards – which in the big picture is God. For example, turning towards truth and away from lies, turning towards hope and away from despair, towards freedom and away from slavery, towards love and away from apathy.
OK, but how?
So, the next question I asked is this: what would keep us from this changed life? What might prevent us from this season, this rhythm, of self-examination and repentance in preparation for Easter? Simple answer: time. It takes time. Of course, it takes other things too, like courage and an honest look at ourselves and a willingness to let our hearts be broken by the things in us that break the heart of God. But we will never get there unless we give God the time and the space.
So here is my challenge to each of us. De-clutter your life from now until Easter. Commit to giving God 30 minutes of your day. Some of you are ready to tune me out right there – 30 minutes?? Every day??? He must be joking! Where would I find that kind of time?? Let me give you a rather blunt reply: Jesus died on the cross for your sins. Don’t you think that is worth half an hour of your day for the next 40 days?
Turning Towards: the voice of God
To be really practical, I want to challenge you to turn towards silence. Get rid of the noise, the external stimuli, so that you can hear the voice of God calling to you. Offering you love and life and freedom. Unplug, turn off, and listen for God. Use that time of silence in whatever way your spiritual pathway leads you – to walk in nature, to read your Bible, to sit in contemplative prayer, to gaze on the beauty of some art, to prepare a card or a meal for someone in need, to write that letter to the editor that you’ve been meaning to write.
Give up noise for Lent, and see what God might be trying to call you towards.
(Nooma DVD – Noise)