The Long Road Of Repentance

Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.

That’s the little ditty that you’ve heard if you have a background in church, particularly VBS or Sunday School. I grew up singing that song or at least hearing it often. This weekend, I was led to give it a lot more thought than I typically do.

You see, growing up, my knowledge of Zacchaeus was that he was a man who abruptly changed his life in response to the welcoming and receptive love of Jesus. If anything he was the epitome of rapid repentance, of going from being a tax collector who stole to a man who wanted to restore funds to all the people who he stole from. You can read all about his story in Luke 19.

But if I’m being honest, I don’t see that type of repentance happening very often in the ministries I’m a part of. I don’t see 180 degree turns from vice to virtue. Now, obviously, when it comes to salvation itself, we know that that truly is an instantaneous change from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light.

I’m thinking more along the lines of habits being changed from sinful to sanctified. Gossips and slanderers becoming kind and encouraging. Cheaters and liars becoming men and women of integrity. The sexually immoral changing their ways.

I don’t see those in a moment changes.

I don’t see those changes in me. Oh how I wish I could be sanctified in certain areas of my life with the snap of my fingers. It would certainly be a lot easier that way.

But life with Christ is generally not like that.

It’s a journey.

A process.

So let me propose (my words, but the ideas of Marlena Graves in her book The Way Up Is Down) another angle to the Zacchaeus story. This angle is just an interpretation. It is by no means the right one. Just something to consider.

What if the process of repentance with Zacchaeus was a lot longer than we think?

You see, in the Gospel of Luke’s account of the teachings of John the Baptist, we see him address tax collectors in this way:

Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than you are authorized to do." - Luke 3:12-13

These were Kingdom ethics. And the reality is, where John the Baptist was preaching was likely only six miles from Jericho. Zacchaeus may have been in the crowd that listened to John the Baptist preach. If he wasn’t there personally, his tax collector buddies may have shared that teaching.

Take no more than you are supposed to.

Maybe that was something he mulled over when he went to bed at night. What kind of teaching is that?

John also spoke of one to come, one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, one who would come as the Christ.

As time passed, the city of Jericho was abuzz with knowledge of Jesus, son of Joseph.

Zacchaeus may have remembered what he saw with his own eyes or heard with his own ears. He may have come with that in mind, trying to push through the crowd to see this one that was to come.

Upon his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus proclaimed that he would pay back fourfold what he had taken.

Repentance.

Life change.

A new way of living in the world.

Maybe it wasn’t instantaneous (although God has the power to bring that about). Maybe it was a long journey of submissive listening and learning, leading to Jesus.

I see that to be the case more often in my life.

I didn’t wake up one day and say “I don’t want an impatient and frustrated disposition” and then boom it came about. God has in the past year refined me, pained me, challenged me, convicted me. And I can now look back to where I was a year ago and see the change. Do I still get impatient and frustrated? You betcha. But I’ve seen change in my life. Painful, slow, hard change.

Brother or sister in Christ, if you’re praying for change in your life or in the life of someone you love, it’s a journey. You may not be seeing it. But it’s happening. Slowly. Oh so slowly.

You don’t know how many seeds will be planted via conversations, Scriptures, moments, and experiences before the life-altering encounter with Jesus takes place. I am prone to think that Zacchaeus had been worked on for a long time. Your loved one, or yourself for that matter, have been worked on for a long time too.

Repentance is slow.

But when we can look back and see the journey we’ve taken, it’s oh so beautiful.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Pump And Dump

This week has been Vacation Bible School week at the church I serve at. I am utterly exhausted, but my heart is full. I have desperately tried to keep up with the motions that accompany our theme songs for the week, I’ve played some mad games of Four Corners with the younger kids, and squabbled about the rules of Capture the Flag (or in this case, sponge) with the older kids.

I am saddened by how many men or women become crusty and somber due to studying theology, and Vacation Bible School is a refreshing way to break out of this in my own heart. I leave my office and my studies and interact with kids whose faith is encouraging and worthy of praise (all while eating plenty of cheese puffs and nachos along the way).

Last night I was able to be a part of a conversation in which a young child put their faith in Jesus for the first time. It was encouraging and exciting to be in the room when this happened, but it was also convicting. You see, I think it’s easy to come into discipleship with the exact same mentality as I came into my Psychology exams back in college.

What I mean is the ol’ pump and dump routine.

Generally my routine of studying for Psychology consisted of quizzing myself repeatedly with note cards the day before the exam, followed by regurgitating all of that on my test. If you asked me the following week about a definition, I would have no idea, it would likely already be forgotten. While this got me through Psychology, this is a horrendous way to do discipleship. Yet, if we’re being honest, if I’m being honest, we do discipleship like this sometimes in our churches.

We host a VBS, we host an Evangelism Sunday, we take students to Summer Camp or D-Now. We see God move in the lives of people in our community, then we pat them on the back, more or less saying good luck walking out your faith now. As long as we can post on Facebook or Instagram about the number of salvations, we’re not concerned about follow up and discipleship. I see no example of this type of pump and dump discipleship in Scripture. It’s painfully convicting to acknowledge in my own heart that I’ve been prone to be this way at times as well.

May we be churches that don’t settle for students coming to the altar and giving their lives to Jesus or kids having a conversation about the gospel with their counselor leading to the same. This is a wonderful, praise-worthy thing, the salvation of souls! However, we must not pump them up and then dump them out once the week is over and we’re back into our normal routine. There are many reasons for people departing from the faith, and every individual is individually responsible, but dumping kids and students and even adults off after they make a salvation decision is immensely detrimental to their spiritual growth.

Yes, the Spirit of God is what is ultimately responsible for the growth of the Christian through prayer and time in His Word. However, we are designed for community, created in such a way where we are able to flourish spiritually when someone is guiding us and leading us. We are woefully bad at times as the church at not doing this part of discipleship. We get them in the door and get them saved but we don’t walk through them how to think, feel, and act as a Christian. No wonder we have men and women in our churches who have come to programs and services for decades yet are still infants spiritually.

We must avoid pump and dump salvations. We must strive for discipleship.

The question of what discipleship is has been coming up a lot recently in my discussions with friends and fellow ministers. I look at a room full of people and I wonder how to get them from pews to God-honoring discipleship relationships. We have men and women in our churches who love the Lord and serve Him faithfully, but a vast majority of them are not in discipleship relationships.

Discipleship is pretty simple in my mind, at least at its core.

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 11:1

That’s discipleship at its core for me. It’s me walking alongside someone, imitating their faith as they imitate Christ. It can look like a myriad of different things based on the relationship and situation, but it should always be life on life. Some of the most influential men in my life have been men who shared their faith while also sharing their home, family, struggles, and habits. Sometimes it looked like meeting weekly, sometimes it looked like tagging along while he went to pay utility bills for his home. Discipleship is not something that is for only the most experienced believers. It is for all who profess faith in Jesus.

My prayer for my community and my church is that older men will disciple, invest in, pray for, and commune with younger men, and same with the women. I don’t see a whole lot of that. We’ve mystified discipleship and it doesn’t need to be that way. We’ve made it for the elite saints instead of the everyday followers of Jesus.

My prayer is that myself and other members of our church will continue to walk with the young boy that professed faith in Jesus last night. My prayer is that we avoid pump and dump events.

If you’re reading this and you’ve never been discipled, I apologize on behalf of the church. My prayer is that you would encounter and partake in a relationship with another believer that grows you in your faith. A good step for you may be to step out of your comfort zone and ask an older believer if you can imitate them in their faith.

Let’s be disciples who make disciples.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach