16 Jun

Positive Repentance

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Last week’s blog post explored the biblical significance of the principle of pivoting even though the Scriptures seldom use the term. Two verses call door hinges “pivots” (1 Kings 6:34, Isaiah 6:4) and two others refer to pivoting as the act of changing direction (Ezekiel 1:17, 10:11).

My situation at the singles retreat epitomized the spiritual application of the word. I functioned as a hinge from a sermon about suffering to an announcement about a square dance. You could say I altered the direction of the retreat!

Hinges work only when they’re joined to two different objects. For a door to swing open or shut, its hinges have to connect to both the door and the frame. I connected myself to the speaker’s message and to the expectations of the audience. I didn’t criticize either; instead, I served as a point of transition, a way to redirect the energy in the room. That’s pivoting.

As I was writing the post, it struck me that this concept pervades the Bible. Pivoting reminds me of repentance.

When you pivot, you change direction to get a benefit. According to the gospel, you turn from your sins and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and new life.

“For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” – Ezekiel 18:32

“‘So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?’ 18When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.’” – Acts 11:17-18

In popular imagination, repentance is something negative and gloomy. You feel remorse for your sins and regret what you’ve done. This has scriptural support.

“Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” – James 4:8-10

But what if that’s not the whole picture?

In basketball, you pivot to find an open space so you can either shoot the ball or pass it to a teammate. In business, you pivot by dropping a product or service that’s floundering so you’re free to pursue another opportunity.

And here’s the key. When you pivot, you don’t abandon the old; you accept it as the basis for your next step. Larry Alton clarifies this positive dimension: “In a pivot, you aren’t totally abandoning your current situation. Instead, you’re looking for new options that may arise out of your current state.”

When Jesus cast thousands of demons out of a hapless victim, the liberated man wanted to tag along with Him. But, Christ had another idea.

“Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” – Mark 5:19-20

The man returned to those who had loved him but feared his tortured and wicked condition. Now, they would see the same person–transformed and redeemed. His pivot shocked them.

Jesus called His first disciples to pivot from one form of fishing to another.

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19’Come, follow Me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 20At once they left their nets and followed Him.” – Matthew 4:18-20

Rather than disparage their occupation, the Lord adapted it to introduce Peter and Andrew to life in the kingdom of God. These apostles didn’t abandon fishing so much as they discovered a new form. They pivoted the focus of their labor from fish to people.

And Paul chose to share the gospel by commending and then correcting the misguided religious zeal of the Greeks.

“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there . . . 22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship–and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.’” – Acts 17:16-17, 22-23

The apostle would have been right to criticize the Athenians for their dedication to idols and statues. Right but ineffective. So he chose to help them pivot. Instead of keeping them in religious ignorance, he would reveal to the them the God they’d missed. These Greeks could repent by retaining the value of worship but finding fulfillment in God’s revelation through Jesus Christ.

Gospel ministry exposes spiritual blindness, selfishness, and demonic oppression. Jesus doesn’t shy away from confrontation and neither should you. Turn from whatever is holding you back from God’s best. Don’t let shame or embarrassment keep you from moving ahead in a new direction.

As Alton observes, “Entrepreneurs often put off a pivot because they feel like it’s a sign of weakness – as if they’re publicly admitting failure for everyone to see. But the reality is that the opposite is true. A pivot shows that you’re aware of your surroundings and willing and able to recognize new opportunities as they arise. Investors, business partners, and customers respect this.”

Repentance isn’t just about feeling guilty and humiliated. It’s an acknowledgment that God loves us in spite of our failures and is calling us to follow Jesus into a new life–one of purpose and fulfillment.

Dare to pivot toward the positive; that’s the purpose of repentance.

 

09 Jun

Pivot

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Back when I worked as an assistant in the singles ministry at The Church on the Way in California, we hosted a retreat at Arrowhead Springs. A combination of rustic and luxurious, the conference center was a beautiful setting for what promised to be a pleasant weekend.

One of my duties was to serve as MC for the service before lunch. Our main speaker began with an uplifting message but got bogged down in a discourse on persecution and suffering. I’m sure he meant well, but you could tell that his words didn’t jibe with the expectations of the audience.

When the preacher concluded, he turned the mic over to me so I could make some announcements. Right after a message about suffering, I had to stand there and tell people that following lunch, we’d host a square dance!

Suffering and square dancing, what a combination!

What do you say in a tough spot like that? If I canceled the event, I’d get in trouble with the ministry leadership. If I corrected the speaker, I’d embarrass him. A no win situation!

So I did the only thing I could do. Pausing to gather my thoughts and stabilize my spirit, I pivoted.

The word “pivot” doesn’t occur much in the Bible. In fact, I can find only six references in four verses.

“And two doors of cypress wood; the two leaves of the one door turned on pivots, and the two leaves of the other door turned on pivots.” – 1 Kings 6:34 (NASB)

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.” – Isaiah 6:4 (NRSV)

“When they moved, they went in any of the four directions, without pivoting as they moved.” – Ezekiel 1:17 (HCSB)

“When they moved, they would go in any of the four directions, without pivoting as they moved. But wherever the head faced, they would go in that direction, without pivoting as they went.” – Ezekiel 10:11 (HCSB)

The first two verses refer to door hinges in the temple; the second two describe the movement of angelic beings observed by the prophet Ezekiel.

Both meanings deal with changing direction.

I began by reinforcing what our speaker had said about suffering. It was an inescapable dimension of discipleship. But I added that the God who calls us to follow Jesus in spite of rejection and pain also provides blessings for our enjoyment. I explained that we’d scheduled a square dance that afternoon, and invited anyone who was interested to join us.

To grasp this principle of pivoting, take sports as an example.

If you watch the NBA, you’ll see basketball players pivot. I used to love seeing Hakeem Olajuwon, the former center of the Houston Rockets, play because his footwork was magical. He could fake people almost out of their shoes!

According to Larry Alton, “a pivot is nothing more than keeping one foot in contact with the ground and using your other foot to move around in order to find a new angle or gain an advantage over your defender.”

You’re stuck, but you have enough freedom to maneuver yourself to shoot or pass the ball.

Alton adds that “in a pivot, you aren’t totally abandoning your current situation. Instead, you’re looking for new options that may arise out of your current state.”

That’s what I attempted at the retreat. Rather than fight the situation, I accepted it but I looked for a way to move in a new direction. By the grace of God, I was ready for two reasons.

Preparation

Basketball players practice. They shoot free throws, rehearse set plays, and plan how they’re going to handle various situations. They isolate aspects of a typical game and run through them in advance so they don’t lose their heads in actual competition.

As a follower of Christ, you’re aware of the many of the joys and trials that await you. Through disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading, you prepare your soul to handle whatever life may bring you.

But you can prepare indirectly, too. Olajuwon grew up in Nigeria playing soccer. He wasn’t thinking about basketball as a child, but soccer trained his footwork which served him well when he switched sports. (It’s helped out other NBA players, as this article points out.)

God uses your experiences to form your character for His purposes. You may not know what you’re going to encounter in the days ahead, but you don’t have to worry about it. The best way to prepare for tomorrow is to walk with Jesus today.

Years before my retreat experience, I’d researched material on the persecuted church. I’d read Tortured for Christ, the autobiography of Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who was persecuted by the Nazis and the Communists for 14 years. (You can get a free copy of the book here.) I’d also worked through Tortured for the Faith by Bulgarian pastor Haralan Popov. He endured Communist oppression for 13 years. (The Kindle version of his book is only 99¢.)

So when I took the mic, I’d already accumulated years of reflection on the subject of suffering. As a result, I had something to fall back on. I pivoted by acknowledging the seriousness of the topic without descending into sullenness. People could count the cost and also enjoy the day.

How do you prepare for surprises? You can anticipate the future, but you can also savor where you’re at with the Lord right now. Playing soccer today might help you win at basketball tomorrow!

Empathy

The other factor was that I put myself in the position of the audience. That wasn’t too hard; they were single adult Christians and so was I!

What were the guests seeking, imagining, and hoping for? Why did they sign up for the retreat and what did they want to get out of it? What did God want for them and how could I express that?

I didn’t have to ponder these questions as I stood on the stage. Since I identified with the singles, I knew where they were coming from. Compassion creates communication.

Do you care about people? Can you put yourself in their shoes? Loving others like Jesus loved you enables you to serve them like Christ served you.

Empathize with others.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15 (NASB).

When you pivot, you recognize the limitations of your position, but you don’t stop there. With your eyes open and your body in motion, you scout out new avenues and undetected resources. And with the Lord’s help, you advance toward victory.

Pivot.

It works in basketball and it works in the spiritual life.