Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
Guided by the best intentions—bringing others into the knowledge and grace of Christ—the fire-and-brimstone crowd has inadvertently created a dilemma. Its vitriolic attacks on wrongdoing and prophecies of doom have turned sin and judgment into taboo topics. This is particularly true for believers whose witness glories in God’s love and acceptance. Due to concerns about alienating those around us, our message and portrayal of Christ verge toward the Pollyanna: “Happy! Happy! Happy!” (My partner calls this “cheerleading for God.”) And, honestly, one approach can be just as tough to stomach as its alternative, because both are too much of a good thing.
Both should calibrate their messages for better balance. A condemning gospel diminishes the love that compelled God to sacrifice Himself for our eternal life. On the other hand, an inclusive gospel shouldn’t be misrepresented as “anything goes;” its essence is “everyone can.” Sin and repentance are central to both, as are mercy and forgiveness. In Acts 3.19, Peter strikes a perfect balance, one all believers should embrace and express. “Repent and turn to God,” he says, “so your sins will be erased and refreshment [or renewal] will come from the Lord.” He beautifully weaves condemning and inclusive gospels into one thread by trimming their excess. There’s no threat of punishment, neither is there a blindly enthusiastic “join-the-club” sentiment. Potential judgment and unconditional pardon are subtly balanced to present a gospel of refreshment. That’s good news for all, because no one is immune to the weariness of life. More than ever, it's a gospel we need.
Lost in the Stacks
Marvels of technology quickly lose their luster, turning into liabilities by burdening our lives with inconvenient conveniences. Nearly every gizmo touted to improve efficiency bogs us down. Connectivity via speed-dial, mouse-click, and send-button steals private time for rest and contemplation—the two components of renewal. And in the rare moments we do find to shut everything down, it’s close to impossible to shut everything out. Clearing our hearts and replenishing our spirits have become major projects. We’ve crammed them with more freight than they can bear and have no time to sort through what we think and feel.
Our overstuffed lives have desensitized us to sinful tendencies lost in the stacks of what we’re doing, should be doing, haven’t finished, haven’t started, prefer doing, can’t avoid, and won't do. If only we could sacrifice some doing time to sifting time, we’d uncover a wide variety of faults that weigh us down: anxieties, resentments, compromises, prejudices, neglect, etc. It’s an ugly list that goes on for days. Repentance—forsaking sin to accept forgiveness—efficiently thins the piles. It gives us room to breathe and time to reflect. It refreshes us.
The Urge to Purge
Although technology now piles on clutter at unprecedented rates, accumulation has always been a problem for us. Our troubles started in the Garden, trying to fill our heads with more knowledge than we could manage. It’s been that way ever since. Thankfully, along with our pack-rat traits, God also endowed us with the urge to purge. Sin and folderol can only pile so high before we say, “Enough! Something’s got to go.” We find David, a cluttered life if there ever was one, at this place in Psalm 51, where he prays, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me… Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing a spirit, to sustain me.” (v10, 12) How wise of him to ask for a willing spirit! Without willingness, the urge to purge passes swiftly, pushed aside by the delusion lugging around unnecessary guilt and distraction is easier than thinning the piles. Willingness to repent is the first step to restoration of joy.
Should it surprise us purging unhealthy ideas and harmful impulses retrieves lost time? No gadget we’ll ever own or invent will match efficiencies gained by wiping out sin. Hours wasted on futile activities and vain pursuits we now spend taking Jesus up on His offer: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11.28-30) This is Christ’s gospel of refreshment. He gives us rest. We trade our heavy burdens for the lightness of His. We extract ourselves from conveniences that complicate our lives and take on the easy yoke of His discipline. There’s more to the gospel than escaping wrath, more to it than accessing grace. The gospel restores. It renews. It refreshes.
More than ever, we need the gospel of refreshment.
(Tomorrow: They Think We’re Strange)