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By Jim Hatch
Contributing Writer 

Rethinking Some Things

 

Last updated 5/20/2020 at 10:50am

Each week, this segment will offer a word of encouragement from pastors who lead churches in Bartow. This week's message is from the Rev. Jim Hatch, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bartow.

I grew up in east central Mississippi on the border with Alabama. U.S. Highway 82 was the two lane highway through town.

I remember there were hand-lettered signs nailed to some trees along the road outside of town. One read, "Prepare to meet thy God!" Down the road apiece was another sign reading simply, "Repent!" The two obviously were meant to be connected, to form a cohesive message.

I'm not sure why, but as a kid I somehow got the impression from the signs that meeting my God was not something to look forward to, and repenting was something that most people wouldn't do unless they had to. It was odd to me for an advertisement for God to be nailed to trees and power poles right along with signs advertising Beechnut Chewing Tobacco, RC Cola and George Wallace.

The thing that puzzled me was that there seemed to one sign missing. If being ready to meet God involved repenting then shouldn't there be another sign to tell me how to do that? Maybe a number to call?

Well I didn't concern myself too much with those signs because I'd never known a time when I didn't know and believe in a God who was real and loving and knew me personally. "And he walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own" were more than just words to a song. To me they were real. Meeting this God didn't seem like a thing to be feared at all.

Today I know that my understanding of what it means to repent was incomplete back then. I always thought it meant to turn away from sin. If fact, turning away from sin is what true repentance leads to, but repentance simply means to rethink things and change your mind. If you change your mind about what you're doing then you probably will change what you're doing.

According to the Hebrew Scriptures, before Messiah came, a prophet would come preparing the way for him. The Christian Scriptures tell us that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of that Hebrew prophecy. John the Baptist called people to reconsider their ways and their hearts toward God, to repent. And many did.

According to the Gospel writers of the Bible, Jesus of Nazareth came with a message of repentance too. Though Jesus certainly wanted people to turn from sin, what Jesus was asking them to rethink was a little different. According to the writer, Mark: "Jesus came proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

After hundreds of years waiting for Messiah and not seeing any evidence of God's activity among them, the Jews had been lulled into complacency and disbelief. They'd lost hope that YAHWEH would do anything in their day and time. And they had been taught by their religious leaders that when Messiah did come that it would be a day of great and terrible judgment. Not exactly good news.

Jesus challenged them to reconsider all that. The time has finally come, he said. The kingdom isn't just a far off dream and it isn't gloom, doom and judgment. It is here, now and it is good news because God is love. Because God is love, God sent his only Son, your Messiah!

Roadside sign

Sadly, today many still think that, if there is a God, God is totally distant from the affairs of human beings. And far from being a loving God, he must be terribly unjust to allow things to get to the state where they are today. Jews and Gentiles alike are still awaiting a Savior who fits the mold they have created of what Messiah must be like. Even more sadly, many have given up and are no longer open to the promise of a Savior.

Perhaps you are among the many who would benefit from rethinking the evidence of Jesus. Think Jesus is simply a historic figure from the past? Think again. Reconsider Jesus and his claims. The time has come! God's kingdom is at hand and that is great news! Rethink things and believe the good news! Feel free to contact me at jbhatch@fpcbartowfl.org if you'd like someone to think it over with.

 

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