” . . . and goes out like a lamb.” Remember that? The people in southern Illinois probably do. Disaster teams and relief efforts are still trying to bring peace down there. On March 1, March had indeed come in like a lion.
I love lions, but wouldn’t want to be in front of their open jaws. Jesus displayed boldness like a lion, only in a positive way. Jesus’ example shows great boldness and sense of mission when He started preaching the good news. He did not back down when persecuted. What if He did? I’m glad He “endured the cross, despising the shame,” (Hebrews 12).
Do you want to follow Jesus? He commanded us to “teach them to obey all that I have commanded,” and what was His first command? Let’s see what Scripture says.
In Mark 1:15, What did Jesus teach? Go to church. No? Pray. No? Read the Bible. No? Get involved in a ministry. No? Read it. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Keep your finger there. Next, Jesus gave His one and only mission to his only small community of followers right before His ascension. What does Luke 24:46 tell us were His last words before flying? “thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
So at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, what action was a fundamental, necessary rhythm of His followers? If you said “repent” you guessed it. Pass Go, collect $200.
Did Jesus’ followers in the early church also teach this? Look at the first sermon ever preached in the new church at Pentecost, where the people felt convicted and asked, “What should we do?” and Peter said, “Repent.”
Does Acts close with repentance? Acts closes with Paul speaking to Jewish Romans who came to see him in prison, and what was he trying to get them to do? Repent of Judaism and trust in Jesus by faith.
So what does it mean to repent? It means to turn around, change course, go north instead of south, right instead of left, and up instead of down (nowadays check your easiest online dictionary or app). In our life of following Jesus we have cycles, not just a linear line on which we exist. One cycle is the cycle of repentance, where we feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit in us to change something in our lifestyle that does not glorify God. If we respond to that grace, we must step out in faith that if we change course, God will take care of us. The comforting thing is that God always does, even if first we have to endure “dangers, toils, and snares.”
One recent example in my own life has to do with starting this new church, The Stand. I have never wrestled with worry like I’ve wrestled with it the last four months. There, I’m human too (just ask my wife). For lent I fasted perfection. Just kidding. I’m actually trying to fast worry this year. Why? Jesus said in Matthew 6 and Luke 12 “don’t worry.” Command. You’re sinning if you worry.
To stop here would be premature. We need to hold up worry in the light of the Gospel, as if you held an old projector foil made of plastic in front of the light to see it clearly. In repentance you have to ask “why” until you get to the root sin. So I asked the question “why do I worry?” For me, it was control. I worried “what if ___ happens? What will I do? Or what if _____ doesn’t work out? Or what will we do if we don’t have enough people?” I even found myself thinking “What will people think God if our attendance or financial support is not where they expected it to be?” which is something I never wrestled with! All because of planning and control. It’s embarrassing to admit it, so I hope someone is benefitting from this. But we’re not done yet. Stay with me.
Then keep digging. You have to find the root sin if you are going to repent of it, remember? Don’t treat the symptoms, don’t quit even if it is painful. Ask “why?” again. So I asked, “Why do I want control?” There she stood, a temptress in her sultry pose, back for a regular visit, trying to seduce me.
The awful sin of pride.
Did you follow the rhythm of repentance for worry? Why worry? Because I desired control. Why control? Control makes us feel like we did something, like it worked because of us, or like our reputation is secure, or like we accomplished God’s will. That is massaging our pride, in my case. In reality, when planting a church, it is Jesus accomplishing the Father’s will (remember, Jesus said, “I will build My Church,” Matthew 16). It all leads to pride for me. Not for everyone, which is why you need to pray and listen to the Spirit, search Scripture, and “be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46). Almost done. Stay with me.
Then I compared my worry-control-pride with the Gospel. You absolutely must do that or you’re not home yet. Why? Jesus followers are Gospel-centered, because the story of Jesus and Jesus Himself are inseparable (a discussion for another time). The Spirit spoke to me. If God in His great grace sent His Son Jesus to live the perfect, sinless life, die in the worst way cooked up by mankind, for mankind’s sin, and Jesus rose again, and my sin is paid for because of the awesome work Jesus my God did, then I can trust Him to take care of this day. He will take care of my marriage, family, the money we need, the people we are trying to recruit for the new church, my part-time tentmaking job, and everything. We still do our best, but trust Him.
So I repented of worrying, and have been everyday since then. Just last week we had an event and no one showed up (I’m learning that happens to every church planter. If you are a church planter and have never had a “no show,” you might be selling something besides the Gospel). I felt so much peace. I said to God, “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do with this one. I’m glad you’re in charge.” I put away all the materials for that event, shut her down, and spent the night with my wife and children. We had a blast. I went prayer walking through our neighborhood before bed, and if we had people show up I never would have been able to do that. It wasn’t easy. I had to keep giving God worry, going back to the Gospel, as some say preach the Gospel to myself, and allow the peace that passes understanding (doesn’t make sense) to fill me. But God was faithful and honored the effort of repentance.
So what should you do? I strongly encourage you to spend some time praying about what you need to repent of, and asking the why question to God until you discover a root sin, so that you can be freed from its hold and experience the awesome joy of the grace of God.
Let me encourage you to pray this prayer: “Lord, is there anything in my life I need to repent of?” Wait five minutes for Him to speak to your heart. If you are a believer there will probably be something. Start asking “why?” until you arrive at the root sin, then compare it to the Gospel. Trust God. You do what you can, with what you have, then smile, wink, dance, cheer, and let the rest go into God’s gracious hands.
Final encouraging thought. In the same chapter in Luke 12, where Jesus commands “don’t worry,” He said, “Fear not little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Yes! God wants us to succeed in accomplishing His kingdom more than we do. Awesome! So for worry worts, get out of His way! For the rest, adopt the lifelong rhythm of repentance. Don’t put it off, start now.