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A Spiritual Autobiography
How God fulfilled the faith-based hopes
of an ordinary guy from Jersey City
Lent – A Time to Confess and Repent
This week most Christian churches begin the season of Lent. When I was growing up in Jersey City, the church my family attended didn’t celebrate Lent, or any other special religious days, except Christmas and Easter. The only thing I knew about Lent was that on a day called Ash Wednesday (1st day of Lent) the Catholic kids came to school with these smudges (ashes) on their foreheads. It wasn’t until I was 25 years old (1965), after serving in the U.S.Navy and then a few years of having no church relationship, that I began to attend and became a member of a Methodist church. That’s where I finally came to understand what Lent was about. I came to realize that it was about good news in the midst of bad news. It was about hope when things seemed hopeless.
Lent is a season during which we confess to God and repent of our sins. Of course, we should do this all year long, just as we should give thanks to God all year long, but most of us don’t always do that. So we have a special Thanksgiving Day on the calendar. And we have this six week season of Lent on the calendar to remind us that we need to confess and repent of our sins.
When I started going to church again, I decided to participate fully in the life of the church. This included attending the Ash Wednesday worship service. Where I got to have those ashes imposed on my forehead, as did some of my childhood classmates. During the season of Lent and at other times in the church, I heard the message that all human beings are sinners, and therefore needed to confess and repent for their sins. At first I wasn’t sure that I needed to do that. My response was along the lines of “Right God, look at all those sinners out there, but I don’t see myself as a sinner”. It was then brought to my attention that I was in fact one of those sinners, as was every other human being. My response to that idea was “Maybe so, God, but my part in the sinful nature of all humanity is so small that it really can’t matter to you.”
God still wouldn’t leave me alone. He reminded me that there is no such thing as big sin and little sin. Sin was going my self-centered way instead of the way taught and lived by Christ. It sounded to me like God was going to somehow punish me if I didn’t confess and repent about every little thing I had done in my life that was not pleasing to God. I might suffer some severe consequences during the rest of my life in this world, and maybe I’d be sent to Hell for eternity. That was bad news to me. It all sounded so hopeless. Where was the good news? Where was the hope?
The message that God was always watching for people to punish and send to Hell was what I retained from my early childhood years in the church I grew up in. However, as time went by, I eventually came to know through the Methodist Church that God wasn’t in the business of looking for ways to punish people. Instead, he was in the business of saving people for joyful life (the way of Jesus) in this world and in the life to come in heaven. I came to understand that God had already forgiven me and everyone else for past, present, and future sins, and given me the grace to go and sin no more (become a new person). God reminded me that this is what Good Friday and Easter are about – Christ suffering and dying for me, then overcoming sin and death through his resurrection, so I can be a totally new and sin-free person. That was the good news and the hope I had not heard before. All I had to do was accept it and apply it by confessing to God that I am a sinner, and repenting (sincerely desiring to turn away from my way to the way of Christ).
I don’t know how you see yourself in this picture. I can only speak for myself. I find myself, like the Apostle Paul, saying “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (I Timothy:15).
For me, Lent is a time to be especially mindful that while I am a basically good person, who does not intentionally commit sinful acts, I am still a sinner. Lent is a time I am especially open to hearing God convict me as a sinner and identify exactly how I have been and am now engaged in sin. Lent is a time for me to make a special effort to sincerely confess, repent, and change my ways. It’s not always easy for me to do that. However, over the past 50 years as a Methodist lay person and pastor (now retired) my experience has been that I can do what what God requires of me by staying focused on the vision of the risen, living Jesus, and the promise that because he lives, so shall we live. That’s the good news and the message of hope that God gives me during this season of Lent and every day.
As I said, I don’t know how you see yourself fitting into this picture, but I can honestly say that this message of good news and hope is not just for me, but for you and everyone (past, present, and future),during this season of Lent and all the time.
Grace and peace, Ray
Thanks for your attention. We look forward to hearing your comments about our web-site. We also invite you to send us stories of your experiences and observations of present hopes and hope fulfilled, so we can spread them around the world via this web-site. This is one way we can all join together to help keep hope alive.