The Right First Steps
First Baptist Church Laurens
July 17, 2016
Most every family has a good story or two about getting lost. Whether it is on the road as a part of a family vacation, getting separated from one another in a theme park, loosing one’s way out in the woods or coming out of a sporting event and forgetting where we parked, losing sight of which way we should be going is simply a part of the human experience.
When I think about this several moments immediately come to my mind. I remember a family trip from my childhood when we left very early in the morning for an overnight trip to Atlanta. Everyone else in the car fell asleep on the way except for my dad who was driving. Even though there were basically only two turns to make from our home in Alabama to the big city and though we had made the trip a hundred times, Dad lost his way and took us a couple of hours in the wrong direction.
Fast forward to when Ann Marie and I lived in the suburbs of Atlanta. I remember another moment of being lost when we came back from a trip and landed at the airport. Tired and ready to go home, I remember spending over an hour looking for our car in the parking lot because we had forgotten to take good notes of the location where we had left our car before departing.
I am sure that my memories have brought back some of your own. So, as you reminisce, I want to invite you to think about something. Imagine your family being on the road and suddenly realizing that this path that you are traveling down is the wrong one. No question about it, you are headed the wrong way. As you continue to drive, you begin to express your frustration, your disappointment and even your sadness that you are going the wrong way. Now, imagine that as you share all of these heart felt emotions with your family, you continue, just as before, to travel in the same direction with out ever altering your course. Without question, before long, you can be sure that someone is going to say, “if we are truly going the wrong way, when are we going to turn around”.
This silly scenario, I think, is a good way for us to get our mind around a basic idea of the book of Hosea and of the life of faith – this idea is called repentance which simply means to be grieved to the point of changing our way or to reach the point of sadness with our life where we choose to turn and go a different direction.
You see, our three verses for today from Hosea 6 are centered on this prophet calling the people to do this very thing. Rather than simply being sad about where they find themselves in the midst of the destruction of their land or captivity at the hands of the Assyrians or Babylonians, Hosea invites the people to do something about it. He challenges them to allow their sadness and dissatisfaction with their lives to lead them “to return to God, that God might heal them”. Rather than just crying about where they find themselves he challenges them through renewing their relationship with God to begin to make changes.
Like the Israelites, we are very good at lamenting. That is to say, we are very good at expressing our grief over the state of our lives, over the issues that exist in our community or over struggles in our families. And, without question, being upset about something is a critical emotion to develop. It is far, far better to be bothered and troubled by something than to be indifferent.
But, the idea of repentance is about being grieved or bothered to the point of making a change. It isn’t enough to be bothered or upset. Not, we must be willing to say that this path that I am on is the wrong one and thus it is time to go in a different direction. Just like the fact that the obvious thing to do when we realize we are heading down the wrong road is to turn around or take a different route, repentance is realizing that it is silly to simply be sad about something while making no changes or adjustments. After all, who would cry about being on the wrong road while continuing to drive in that same wrong direction.
The questions for us from Hosea, I think, are very simple. What is it that I am bothered by in my personal life? Where is it that I know that I am on the wrong path? Where am I pursuing self-destructive behavior? If this is what I am grieved by, what am I doing to change? For, until I am willing to change, I am not truly repentant I am only disappointed.
And, further, what is it in this community or in the world, that keeps me up at night or that makes my heart break? What is it that causes me to grieve? What am I doing about it? For until it leads to change, I am not repentant as it relates to my indifference to the situation of the world around me, I am only sad about it.
I read a story recently about a professional athlete who along with his wife decided that they didn’t like the path that their life was on. Their lives didn’t provide the environment that they wanted to create for their children. But, they didn’t just grieve the place where they found themselves, they decided to begin to make changes. They changed where they lived, they changed how they lived in terms of simplifying their possessions and they even changed how they approached their day and their week. In the article, this athlete remembered a specific day when he was back in public again with other athletes after all of these changes had come about. In fact, he happened to be in the same room with an old friend that he hadn’t seen in quite sometime and whom he definitely had not seen at all since these radical changes had occurred. At some point later in that same day, this old friend texted him and asked, “was that really you?”
His point was that the change was so great that his friend assumed that it was him but he wasn’t 100% sure because of the profound difference. (Home In the Mountains, Melanie Hauser, July 12, 2016, pgatour.com)
I am not necessarily suggesting that we need to change to that degree. And, I am not saying that repentance means that we need to so alter our lives that we are no longer recognizable to those who know us. But, I am reminding us that changes that real repentance brings should be obvious and clear to us and to others which means that the question at times, “is that really you?” maybe the perfect thing for someone to one day say to us. That question may be confirmation of what God has done in our lives.
Let me take this one step further. When we think of repentance as it is used in our passage from Hosea and as I have spoke of it today, it relates to specific obvious things where our grief over our failures should lead us to seek God’s forgiveness and change. But, I also think it is fair to say that the idea of repentance is also a lifelong, daily battle that we also face holistically as we seek to adopt the mind and spirit of Christ. Every day, in specific ways, but also in very general ways, we should be in the process of moving in a different direction mentally, physically and spiritually as we change for the human approach to life to the God-centered approach. To use our text from Hosea which invites a return to God, as we return or renew our devotion to God each day, we must ask where change needs to occur.
When he began the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther introduced this idea with one of the sentences that he nailed to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. That sentence said, “the entire life of believers…(should be one)…of repentance”. This is not meant as a way of our lives being miserable as we never measure up. Rather, it is meant to remind us to seek lives that are freed from the human dilemmas that prevent us from being who God really created us to be. (All of Life is Repentance, Tim Keller, cru.org)
When I think about this, my mind immediately goes to the subject of dieting which to me is one of those easy examples of just what we are talking about today. When it comes to our weight, we are often disappointed in our selves and grieve where we find ourselves health wise but we rarely take any concrete steps in the other direction.
Over fifteen years ago now, Ann Marie participated in a Weight Watchers class at work. She would come home and tell me what to do and what not to do. Thus, she went to all of the classes alone but we used the Weight Watchers method together. Honestly, it became a great turning point in my life physically. I haven’t kept all of the weight off that I initially lost but I am not where once I was before that experience and there remain some very basic principles of Weight Watchers that I use till this day.
If you look at their website where they describe themselves, Weight Watchers is very clear that they are not about just a diet, they are about a lifestyle change. (weightwatchers.org)
That’s the point I am driving at – repentance isn’t simply about changing our trajectory as it relates to isolated or specific items – although that is a huge, huge part of it. It is also about changing our attitude about how we think in general and being willing every day to not only grieve and lament our failure to be who God wants us to be but to take it a step further and ask the hard question of how I will change. It is about seeking daily a different life than the one that we live. It is a lifestyle change.
These I think are the first two critical questions or steps that we as people of faith must constantly ask. What am I grief stricken about in my specific life, my family’s life or the world? And, what am I going to do in order to change in order that I might move in a better direction?
Why on earth would we simply be sad while continuing to do the same old things? Amen.