Mar 12, 2010

Repentance, Restoration

As Published in the Chanhassen Villager and Chaska Herald Newspapers Faith Columns

By Rev. Sammy Wanyonyi

For centuries, many in the Christian tradition have observed the season of lent on their religious calendar. Starting with Ash Wednesday, they prepare for Easter by practicing a forty-day period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. They engage in candid self-evaluation and recognition of one’s own mortality, sin, moral failure and shame. Surrounded by other sinners, they come to church to kneel, to pray, and to ask God’s forgiveness. They hear Scripture readings that are urgent and vivid. They have black ashes rubbed into their foreheads. They recite a Litany of Penitence that takes one’s breath away.

Whereas I do not come from a Christian tradition that observes the season of lent, the lessons of lent are not unique to such traditions. Indeed, repentance is at the core of Christianity’s teaching on sin and salvation. It is universal within Christian teaching and understanding of human relationship with God. Jesus started His preaching and teaching ministry in the Gospels with a call to His listeners to repent; “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17).

Fundamental to the process of repentance is the acknowledgement of our human failure, sin and separation from God. The Bible teaches that all humanity has fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Humanity is sinful. We have missed the mark of perfection that is essential to divine-human relationship.

Moreover, our human to human relationships are hindered by our sin nature. We cheat, engage in shoddy business deals, are sexually immoral, are dishonest and exploitative of others, and specialize in facades and window-dressing. In and of ourselves, we are morally incompetent and lack integrity.

Simply put, sin hurts our relationship both in vertical terms (with God) as well as in horizontal terms (with fellow humanity.) Sin kills.

While contemplating this article, I happened to take part in a global media event. Tiger Woods, one of the world’s most famous and admired athletes was giving a statement of apology for his “irresponsible and shameful” actions. For years I have been an admirer of Woods. As his contemporary, I grew up in a Kenyan village where there are no golf courses. But hearing of Tiger Woods golfing accomplishments and later in life watching him play the sport with such a sense of perfection and commitment made me want to learn the game of golf. Most importantly, I wanted to be excellent and succeed well at what I did. As an athlete, he is indeed a global phenomenon.

However, far from the carefully cultivated media image of perfection, Wood’s recent adulterous and immoral actions showed his failures as a human being. In spite his enormous talent, wealth, and fame, Woods, like all of us, is a sinner. Deep inside he experienced an emptiness that he sought to fill with sex and other temporal things. Deep inside and carefully wrapped up with a killer smile was a man in rebellion. In his own words, “I thought the rules didn’t apply to me.”

My prayer for him is that he will experience the grace of God that brings healing and restoration to his personal life, family and career. To the rest of us, however much we may want to throw the first stone, Woods epitomizes what is our human condition. I cannot tell you how many times I have prayed and counseled with people all over the world as they wept and cried over their failures. Five months ago while ministering in the country of Burundi, a man walked up to me after the service and said, “I am a church elder. But I am also an adulterer. Will you pray for me to change right now?”

Not long afterwards while ministering here in the Twin Cities another man walked up to me with tears in his eyes on a Sunday morning with a very similar plea, “I have been unfaithful to my wife and last night she caught me red-handed committing adultery. I am ashamed and embarrassed at what I have done to my family and to my teenage daughter. Will you please pray with me to change?” Sin and human failure are universal, cross-cultural and intergenerational.

For many of us, our pride, humanistic tendency and rebellious nature collude within us to deceptively declare our moral independence from God. But the truth of the matter is that we are morally bankrupt. In and of ourselves we have no control over our sinfulness. It contaminates our lives from birth, and dominates our lives thereafter. We are sinners in need of a Savior.

This season of lent is a good time to take an honest look at ourselves and to come to terms with the reality of our moral bankruptcy, transience, and need of a Savior. The Bible reveals to us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). God did not sent His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17).

Regardless of our moral and spiritual failures, God’s invitation stands. He offers grace and salvation to all those who seek Him through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the restitutionary Lamb of God that is necessary for our restoration to fellowship with God and healing of our relationships with fellow humanity. To experience His forgiveness, we must repent. We must acknowledge our sin and turn away from it toward God in total submission. We must accept His free gift of Salvation.

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So how are we doing on Accelerate and Evening of Hope budget?  Well, a lot of progress.  We are down to $ 7,750 to go with seven days left.  God is able!

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