Thursday, June 26, 2008

Repent (ye vile and filthy sinners!)

It's a warm fuzzy word, isn't it? It just makes you want to pour a hot cup of coffee and pull up to a roaring fire.....or not. It's now freighted meaning usually conjurs up such crowd-pleasing images as judgement, condemnation, eternal hellfire and an occasional dash of brimstone just for effect.

And if it is one of Jesus' basic messages: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." then, uh-oh for Jesus, right?

Well, we need to rescue the word in word, practice and deed because it's absolutely crucial to human flourishing. The word in the original Greek is metanoia, which literally means "with mind" or "with new mind."

In today's language we might say it this way, "he had a paradigm shift." When we say that, we mean he was inside a way of seeing things that caused him to act, feel and live a certain way. Then a window opened and he shifted his position to an entirely new way of seeing things. Everything became clear and subsequently made sense in a whole new way. It was like he was seeing things again for the first time, with an entirely new set of eyes.

So if two people are comitting adultery (I've walked several people through this as a pastor), they are inside a system that has them seeing, feeling and acting as though this foreign object to their marriage will somehow make them happy/give them the thing they think they've always wanted/make them feel a certain way about themselves. If they do not repent, that is, have a paradigm shift, everything they know will be destroyed and the resulting relational shrapnel will literally scatter for years. They will not flourish.

This is just one example, use your imagination and extrapolate it out to any situation. It always holds true. Repentance, properly understood and done, is a fundamental key to human flourishing.

That's why preaching, when it's done well, always invites people to repent--to shift their paradigm. Mark Beeson, leader of a great church, took some notes on preaching for repentance here.

Too often that call for repentance is done in shrill religious-ese. We fail to show people the new paradigm (Jesus' new paradigm was always the Kingdom of God) and so they never give up on their old paradigm. They hear it as "you should stop being like you and be more like me, because I've got it all figured out." That almost never works. I'm not suggesting we can make people repent (we can't), just saying it needs to be given serious and careful consideration (note made to self) every time someone stands up to preach.

One of the best ways I know to do that is through story. A story easily gets past my defenses and gives me a picture of either what I am, or what I can be. I'll post a repentance story tomorrow.

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