Tag Archives: Repentance

Turning in the Opposite Direction

Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Ezra 10:2 (NIV)

The word repentance means to turn and go in an opposite direction. Those who repent of their actions are deciding they are no longer going to do those things, but will turn their lives in an opposite direction.

When I decided to follow Jesus there were a number of things from which I needed to repent. I needed to turn my life, my thoughts, and my actions around and to move in the opposite direction. To do so meant moving in a direction opposite of some people in my life with whom I had been close friends. It was a natural consequence of the repentance process. I couldn’t turn and move in an opposite direction and continue walking down the same old path with those friends at the same time.

There is a lot about this morning’s chapter with which I struggle to understand. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I believe that there are major cultural and historical differences that we scarcely understand today. But I do know this: Ezra and the exiles were experiencing a time of intense corporate confession and repentance. They had just returned, rebuilt the temple, and were trying to be the first of their people for an entire generation to re-establish a good relationship with God.

It was a season of intense repentance, and they recognized that they had allowed themselves to be greatly influenced by the culture and peoples around them. In today’s chapter, they are moving in the opposite direction, and they recognize that moving in the opposite direction necessitates separating themselves from those who have had negative spiritual influence on their lives. It is difficult to realize that this meant separation from their own family members, but I am also reminded that Jesus said sometimes the cost of following is leaving family behind.

Today, I am reminded that along our journey there are times in which, for our own spiritual health, we need to repent, to turn around, and to move in an opposite direction. I’m reminded that there is a cost associated with repentance, and I’m reminded that I can’t move in the opposite direction and keep moving in the same direction at the same time.


Close up of an 17th-century depiction of the 2...
Close up of an 17th-century depiction of the 28 articles of the Augsburg Confession by Wenceslas Hollar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 1 Kings 21:27 (NIV)

For over 20 years I have been training and coaching people in the art of delivering customer service. In that time, I have found that there is no more contentious and divisive service skill than the simple apology. I increasingly find that individuals struggle with saying a simple, “I’m sorry that happened,” even when saying it as a representative of a business and there is no interpersonal relationship between customer and representative. I also find it common for clients to exchange the word “unfortunately” for any form of “sorry” or “apologize.” I find this fascinating.

The root word of “unfortunately” is “fortune” which is synonymous with “luck.” When saying, “Unfortunately, you don’t have a receipt with you,” it’s like saying “It’s bad luck that you don’t have a receipt with you.” It acknowledges the other’s stinky situation, but does nothing to express any kind of personal empathy. It avoids having any personal skin in the game like the statement “I am sorry, but you don’t have a receipt,” or “I apologize, but without a receipt your options are limited.”

We don’t talk much, at least in the protestant circles in which I run, about contrition anymore. Contrition is the act of being sorrowful or remorseful about the ways you’ve blown it and the things you’ve done (or should have done but didn’t). In culture, and in media, it seems to me that we commonly find individuals who stonewall, obfuscate, deny, and deceive in order to escape taking responsibility for their inappropriate or damaging words or actions. As I write this, we are nearing an election day. One need only turn on the television to be bombarded by every politician with the same message: “I’m all good and am going to make your life rosy. My opponent is all bad and is going to ruin your life. Here are some gross misrepresentations of truth to deceive you into believing it.”

It’s interesting to note that when Jesus addressed potential followers, the call to following and believing were regularly predicated by an act of contrition. “Deny yourself,” “Take up your cross,” “Repent,” and “Sell all you have,” were prerequisites Jesus placed to faith and belief. Sincere contrition is a gateway to spiritual reconciliation, as we see in the example of Ahab in today’s chapter. By acknowledging our impotence, God’s power is loosened in our lives. By accepting our need, God’s sufficiency is quickened to provide. With the honest confession of our failures, God successfully showers us with grace through the blood of Jesus which was sacrificially poured out to atone for them.



But with loud shouts [the crowd] insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. Luke 23:23 (NIV)

When I read this verse this morning, two other verses instantly popped into my head. The first was from just a few chapters ago, and from just a few days earlier in Jesus’ own life journey:

As [Jesus] went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

What a difference a week makes. At the beginning of the week crowds were hailing Jesus as the new king coming to Jerusalem. By the end of the week crowds were shouting for his death so insistently that Pilate was forced to go against his better judgement and have Jesus crucified.

Crowds are fickle. Ask any celebrity or politician (is there a difference?) who surfs the waves of popularity. One day the public adores you, but in a moment they will turn. And, it doesn’t even take being guilty of something. It only takes gossip, rumor, and innuendo to quickly turn the tide of public sentiment against you.

Which brings me to another observation John makes in his biography of Jesus:

During the time [Jesus] was in Jerusalem, those days of the Passover Feast, many people noticed the signs he was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them.

Jesus knew not to trust in His trending popularity. He knew that He was ultimately be rejected. He knew the prophecies. He realized from the beginning that the crowds would ultimately turn against Him. More often than not He was trying to escape the crowds get away by Himself or with His inner circle.

I find it fascinating that in all of His teaching Jesus never made any public plea for followers. There were no membership drives. No information cards in the back of the synagogue to fill out, and no mailing lists. The truth is that there is as much, in not more, evidence of Jesus discouraging those who asked to follow Him than the opposite.

What I’ve come to realize in my own experience is that being a follower of Jesus is not about fame, it’s about faith. It’s not about celebrity, it’s about service. It’s never about recognition, but about repentance. It’s never about being lauded, but about loving sacrificially as we’ve been sacrificially loved.

Contrasts in Corruption


A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” Luke 19:2, 45-46 (NIV)

In Jesus’ day corruption was everywhere. I realized as I read this morning that today’s chapter is bookended with a fascinating parallel. It begins with the story of Zacchaeus.

Zac was a “chief tax collector.” In the days of Roman occupation, the empire broke up territory into tax regions. The tax collectors were locals who knew their neighborhoods, local businessmen, and had first hand knowledge of where the local money was. Tax collectors had a base amount of tax that the Roman Empire demanded they raise and send to Rome. There were, no doubt, others in the regional political machine getting their cut, but beyond that the tax collectors could keep whatever they could extort from their own people. The more money they squeezed out of their neighbors the richer they became, and Zac was a very wealthy man. As a “chief tax collector” Zacchaeus would not only have extorted his own share, but he was likely getting a piece of the action from other collectors in his territory. He was a extortionist and racketeer, the first century equivalent of a local mob boss.

Contrast this with the Pharisees and religious leaders who ran the temple. They judged Zacchaeus as a traitor and a sinner and they would look down their ecclesiastical noses at the extortionist. But, the religious leaders were total hypocrites. They had a thriving racket of their own. Good Jews were required to make regular pilgrimages to the temple to make sacrifices and offerings for their sins. Jews regularly came from all over the known world to make their annual sacrifices. To take advantage of this, the Pharisees in charge of the temple minted their own currency and the priests demanded that people buy the supplies for their offerings from the approved temple merchants. Of course, the temple merchants only took temple currency, so people would have to visit the temple “money changers” to exchange their local currency at exorbitant exchange rates. At least with Zac and the money changers there was no pretense about what they did with their money. The high priest and the religious leaders were corrupt extortionists, but they cloaked their racket in pious religiosity. They used God to launder their public image and both social and religious leverage to line their own pockets.

Jesus visits Zacchaeus’ house (creating all sorts of gossip, whispers and condemnation from all the good religious people). By the end of the visit, Zac’s heart and life had changed. He agrees to give away half of his wealth and make amends with all whom he’d cheated (the list was likely to be very long).

Jesus visits the temple. Unlike the sinner, Zac, the Pharisees and religious leaders refuse to repent of their extortion and racketeering. They choose, instead, to plot to have Jesus killed. His teaching, and his driving of the money changers from the temple were a threat to their power and their income. They would have none of it. Jesus needed to be rubbed out.

God’s Message teaches that sin is common to all. Both the tax collectors and the religious leaders were infected with the same appetite for greed and power. There was no difference in their sin, only in their response to Jesus. The traitorous “sinner” Zacchaeus opens his heart to Jesus’ words and turns away from his racketeering ways. The good religious people close their hearts to Jesus’ words and sink to even lower into corruption in order to safeguard their wealth and power.

Today, I’m thinking about the contrast in these two stories. I’m aware some people think of me as a good, religious person like the Pharisees, but I don’t ever want to be like the temple leaders who played a religious game to hide their lust for wealth and power. I’m also aware that some religious people think that I am not being religious enough and I don’t tow the line on their religious standards. I am divorced, I have tats, I don’t hide my love for a pint of good beer and an occasional cigar. And, I hang out with those sketchy artists and theatre types.

I am admittedly not perfect, but I hope that, like Zacchaeus, my heart and soul will always be open to Jesus’ teachings and that my life will always be enthusiastically responsive to Spirit and Truth.


Honestly Flawed

confessionThen David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” 1 Chronicles 21:8 (NIV)

I have spent many years coaching professionals. My job is to help them become a better communicator on the phone. We listen to the employees calls together and then I help coach them on strategies for improving the customer experience in that call.

Coaching has taught me a lot about human nature and behavior. There is a stark contrast between those who are willing to admit that they have a lot to learn and those who refuse to do so. When listening to their own calls, most people are quick to hear things they could have done better and will admit it. There are always a few, however, who will cross their arms and steadfastly hold claim to perfection while blaming me for suggesting otherwise. I have been cussed out, yelled at, given the silent treatment and threatened by individuals who refuse to admit that they might be less than perfect and might have a thing or two to learn about communicating with customers.

One of the things I’ve learned about David, what marks him as a “man after God’s own heart,” is his honesty about himself and his own blind spots. He could be stubborn. He could be foolish. He could make tragic mistakes. Yet every time he was confronted with his mistakes or realized the error of his ways, he immediately confessed his wrong doing to God, asked God’s forgiveness, and sought to change his ways and make it right.

Being honest about your own shortcomings and failures is the first step to rising above them.

The True Spiritual Test


English: Nathan advises King David
English: Nathan advises King David (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
2 Samuel 12:13a (NIV)


When I was five years old, while on a Christmas Eve sleepover at my grandparents’ house,  I stole all of my siblings’ gift envelopes off of the Christmas tree and hid them in my suitcase. I watched in silence on Christmas day as grandma racked her brain to figure out where those envelopes went. Then, I promptly forgot that my mom would be the one unpacking my suitcase when we got home. I was totally busted. My butt cheeks were rosy from the spanking that quickly followed, the cheeks of my face were quickly stained with tears of remorse as I called grandma to confess my heinous crime and to ask her forgiveness.


I learned early that your sins find you out. Having said that, let me readily I admit that it didn’t stop me from sinning. I’ve made plenty of tragic choices since then. I make them on a regular basis, in fact. Along the way, however, I’ve come to realize that hiding, concealing, obfuscating, blaming, and excusing my wrongdoing is both delaying the inevitable and stunting my spiritual growth and development. The further I get in the journey the more readily I’ve embraced my fallibility and shortcomings. I might as well cut to the chase, admit I blew it, and allow everyone to move on.


In this morning’s chapter, David is confronted by the prophet Nathan and his illicit affair with Bathsheba, his conspiracy to murder Bathsheba’s husband, and his attempt to conceal his paternity of Bathsheba’s child is revealed in dramatic fashion. David’s response was to quickly confess his wrongdoing and seek God’s forgiveness. It’s a fascinating contrast to David’s predecessor. When the prophet Samuel confronted King Saul of his wrongdoing, Saul excused his behavior and refused to repent of his actions.


We all make mistakes. We all make selfish choices that hurt others. The true spiritual test is in how we respond to God and others in the ensuing guilty conscience, or when when we are confronted and exposed.


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Corporate Confession

(Photo credit: openg)

When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.”
1 Samuel 7:6 (NIV)

Over the past few weeks I have witnessed and been part of multiple moments of corporate confession in gatherings of fellow Jesus followers. Individual confession is, no doubt, good for the soul and necessary for on-going spiritual health. Nevertheless, I find it an amazing experience when a group of people publicly acknowledge that we’ve all blown it, we regret our failures, and we need both forgiveness and the opportunity of a fresh start. In a culture that seems ever to reward arrogance and bravado, there is something quietly powerful in a group of people together finding strength in humility and reverence.