Yesterday's news had me ready to run for the hills. The impending snowmageddon that was about to bury the Chicago area had the added threat of snow thunder. The doom and gloom were predicting 3-6 inches of heavy wet snow across the area with some areas getting as much as 8 or 9 or 11 inches. It did fall heavier in the far northern suburbs where they received as much as 8 inches. But in my near western suburb we received far less as you can see by the picture taken at about 6 a.m. Accounting for the edge of the ruler that is not marked–according to my very unscientific measuring method–we didn't even get an inch.
Predicting the next storm of the century has become a past-time for news outlets in Chicago. It is a great example of how news reporting has become more of a hype-driven business. I stopped taking any forecast of doom and gloom seriously a few years ago. It came after watching a number of local news channels having reporters "on location" to cover the massive snowstorm just to have the poor person standing out in the very snowless cold. I understand that meteorological prediction is an inexact science at best. But the people deciding to hype these stories should read Aesop's Fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
We can't forget that news outlets are also businesses and if they don't have people watching or reading then they go out of business. So they have to do something that grabs people's attention. Dire warnings of doom fit that bill very well. However, we in the church cannot make the same mistake. There are plenty warnings contained in the Bible such as that given by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1-12:
"In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'' Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
"'I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.'"
But just because there are plenty of dire warnings in the Bible doesn't mean that we should only focus and emphasize them. During the season of Lent we are to focus on our need for repentance but there a danger to it as well. When we focus on our need to change our bad behavior we have the tendency to focus on our bad behavior. If you are trying to give up a bad habit the worst thing you can do is to put yourself in situations that cause you to desire to do that behavior. It is the same way when we are thinking about repentance. We cannot just think about turning away from our sinfulness but we also need to think about turning towards the grace and righteousness of God at the same time.
It is very important for us to call one another to repentance but if that is all we do pretty soon we will start to tune out that call. The beautiful thing about the Lenten season is that it ends with the Resurrection of Christ. Yes he died on the cross for our sins but he was also raised up by God. When we repent and turn towards God we also share in that resurrection. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that scripture is not only good for correction and reproof but also for teaching and training. There needs to be a balance between the two.
During Lent don't just think about repentance and all the bad things that you are not supposed to be doing but also think about the grace that God has given you and all the good things that he has equipped you to do.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.