Bring Back the “R” Word

R-repent copyIt’s time we bring back the “R” word.

I know it’s controversial.

I know it’s hard to hear.

I know it’s offensive.

But it’s time we talk about it in openness and boldness. It’s about time we stop allowing ourselves to be offended by it. It’s long past time we stop applying it when talking about our own lives. But the word stirs up so much controversy that it’s almost impossible to avoid. It makes people angry. It breaks relationship. The word I’m talking about, of course, is “Repent”.

The first and greatest commandment.

We live in a world where people want to quote Jesus’ statement of the “first and greatest command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” [emphasis mine] The way our culture talks, it seems “Loving your neighbor as yourself” comes first. Everyone wants people to be all lovey-dovey to one another. This makes for a world where no one can tell anyone that anything they do is wrong. In fact, it has created a world where nothing can be known to be right OR wrong.

This is bologna.

The first commandment is to LOVE GOD. And not just have nice feelings toward him, but to LOVE him, to LOVE his commands, to LOVE his plan for us and to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that he has put a plan in place to redeem us.

Jesus’ First Message

Focusing on our love for God requires submission. And it requires admitting that I have a heart that wants so badly to resist him. It requires an admission that “I want to be my own god, and my default mode is denying you (the God of the Bible) that role.” That is why Jesus’ very first message was for his listeners to:

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is Near.

That’s right, Jesus, the orchestrator of Love and Acceptance, said that we are to REPENT! We are to turn away from the fact that we think we know better than God. It is to turn from the fact that we think we have evolved past needing him. It means to actually trust him with our lives, and not just go to church, while trusting our own instincts to take care of us.

Why this makes us squirm

This is a tough message because we don’t like to be told we are wrong. We also don’t like to think that we are not the one best-suited to guide our own lives. We all think that the truth is the best policy, until someone tells us the truth about how we are. We don’t want to hear that we are wrong, but that is the story of the Christian life.

Jesus said “Come as you are.” He never said, “Stay as you are.”

A life devoted to Christ says, “this is where I am, now shape me into what you’d like me to be.” In order to take that approach, we have to REPENT and turn from our old ways. We must turn from our pattern of thinking that says we know better than God. A life devoted to Christ gives him KINGship, not just SAVIORship.

And those who lose their [own] lives will find them [in Christ].

Why is it so hard for us to hear the word, “repent?”

Sinking your boat is not catching fish!

Sunken Row Boat

I’m not a fisherman. But I don’t think that scuttling the boat you’re in counts as a legitimate fish-catching strategy.

Jesus calls his disciples “Fishers of Men.” One of the most important ideas in fishing is that of bringing the fish up out of their world and into one distinctly different. The last century has been defined by Christians sitting in their metaphorical boat pouring water into it, trying to “make it attractive” for all the “fish” they’re hoping to catch.

But here’s the thing: If you scuttle the boat, you didn’t catch the fish — they caught you!

CHANGING TIMES

The Church at large is facing challenges. These aren’t new challenges, they just look new. As we move forward, we must figure out how to be relational and relevant to the world around us, without sinking the boat. I think the key here is the difference between modifying practice and modifying theology.

To change the instrumentation we use in worship is to modify practice. Changing the look and feel of our worship service is changing practice. Changing the methods by which you communicate, or collect offering, or dress for church are all cultural. WHY? Because musical style, communication media and fashion norms are all culturally bound and change with culture.

To change what we believe the Bible to be (i.e. to renounce it as God’s word) is theological. To deny the deity of Christ and make him simply a great moral (read: only human) teacher is to change our theology. These types of changes give more “wiggle room” to those we hope to reach, but it ceases to pull anyone up out of their worldview and into new life. It fails to fish. Softening our theology to reach unbelievers is essentially scuttling our boat and calling the presence of more “fish” around us a successful fishing endeavor.

SHORT DOES NOT MEAN CONCISE

We live in a culture of soundbites. You have 140 Characters to get your point across. Therefore, we must be careful about the message we are sending out. Just because it is short doesn’t make it concise. Concise implies brevity with a successful communication of ideas.

Christian communicators in this century have to take more care to use Lexical Finesse. We must give thought to exactly what it is we mean to say, and then say it well.

The church is facing many, many challenges in its future; we must rise to the occasion to fish for men, rather than scuttling the ship and coming to rest where the fish already are.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the church?

The truth always comes out.

Lance Armstrong finally comes clean about doping to Oprah after years of defending his innocence in the public eye

For seven years, Lance Armstrong was an American icon. A cancer survivor, seven (!) consecutive Tour de France titles, a foundation that became iconic and gave hope to cancer survivors all over. He was the embodiment of American resolve.

But then the accusations started. Slowly, at first, stories of Lance’s doping and using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s) started emerging and then began to gain steam. Teammates, friends, trainers and the like started leaking that this man rose to the top by dishonest means.

Years of testimonies, years of interviews and headlines, years of denials have brought us to this point, where Armstrong finally admitted to his doping to Oprah on Monday (according to the Associated Press). Finally, the drama, the suspicion and speculation have come to an end. We will see Thursday night the extent to which Armstrong comes clean, but one lesson is sitting in the rubble of all of this, begging to be learned by people everywhere:

Cover-ups always hurt worse than confession.

The first accusations of doping came toward the end of Armstrong’s 7-year run atop the Tour de France. Imagine the change in headlines if that happened. He would have been ousted from his titles, but the media firestorm that has persisted the last 7-8 years would have been avoided, the court trials, the lawsuits, the denials. To say, “this sport is running rampant with PED’s and I am sorry to say I fell to that very prevalent temptation.” Would have certainly been big news, but it would have ended there. Perhaps Armstrong could have become the poster boy for cleaning up cycling and helping the USADA perfect their testing methods (the same ones which Armstrong duped over 600 times). The situation would have been painful, but certainly much more easily redeemable than it ended up being.

Now Armstong has had a hard fall from grace, being stripped of his seven titles by the USADA, losing almost all of his sponsors, being ousted from his own LIVESTRONG foundation. Most importantly, dozens and dozens of relationships have been broken. This is the reality of dishonesty.

That very first denial starts an avalanche. It starts us down a path of self-preservation at all costs. With each cascading lie, what could have been a simple lapse of judgment became a growing act of deceit for the sake of reputation. The denials had to get louder and stronger. People were taken to court, threatened and cast aside if they even suggested that Lance had ever seen doping in cycling. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports chronicles just a few of the more deplorable intimidation tactics Armstrong and his team used to keep the truth from emerging.

This is a truth that we all tell our kids and those young people over whom we have influence, but to have this boldness in our own lives — to face consequences because it is the right thing — is much harder than it sounds. We all want to point at Armstrong and say, “I would have done the right thing. I would have told the truth.” But the fact of the matter is, most of us are under much less pressure than Armstrong was, and even still honesty is hard to maintain. 

Every day, there are folks that want to live a moral life but have fallen to temptation, only to deny allegations and make things appear on the surface as if everything is OK. People steal money from their jobs, are unfaithful in marriages, cheat on tests, falsify tax information, or just lie to a friend about why they don’t want to hang out. We are all dishonest in some regard, and lies almost always start with a “the truth would hurt too much mentality.” But by dragging out our cover-up schemes, we end up hurting people more than we would have originally.

The truth might have hurt. But now there’s the truth and the reality of all the broken relationships and broken trust. Notice the truth still came out.

Solomon said it this way, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” (Proverbs 11:3) It is so much easier to live a life guided by integrity than under the oppression of duplicity. My hope and prayer is that we would learn from this and boldly live in repentance and confession with one another, that we would humble ourselves and live by integrity.

What do you think about Lance Armstrong and his Confession?