BY BISHOP ROBERT HAYES JR.
Among typical life activities that I dread most, you’ll find going to a department store at the very top of my list. Without a doubt, it’s an agonizing experience for me.
A trip to the dentist or the doctor? No problem! What about cutting the yard, washing the car, even painting the house? No problem!
But going shopping? Stepping inside a mall? Major problem!
So you know how I felt when I had to return a Macy’s gift that was not the correct size. My wife was out of town, and the deadline for exchanging the gift meant I had to go that day.
The moment I walked in to the place, I felt my knees wobble, but I persevered and pushed on to the men’s department. I stood helplessly, waiting for someone to assist me.
Standing there, I realized that high-pitched beeping sounds were occurring all around me, and every salesperson within 20 yards seemed preoccupied in an unusual activity.
Each was equipped with a bizarre gadget, like something straight out of "Star Wars." Some were on their knees, and shadows moved between the displays.
After waiting almost 10 minutes, I had enough. I approached the nearest clerk and asked, "Sir, can you help me?"
He looked up from his kneeling position and said, "Sir, you’ll have to go to the cash register down the hallway. Everyone in this area is taking inventory."
"Inventory?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "We’re all seasonal employees that have been brought in to account for every item in the store. There is only one register open, and you’ll have to go there to get waited on."
As I said previously: I hate going to department stores!
I survived but, when I got back to my car, I thought about that experience. I am perplexed that right after the rush of serving the Christmas holiday crowds most stores seem required to quickly take stock of their merchandise.
As I drove home, I thought about Christianity’s designated time for taking inventory. What does the upcoming season of Lent, which begins Feb. 10, mean for us? The 40 days of this holy season call each of us to spend time taking a spiritual inventory of our souls.
Lent is a time to personally account for your waywardness and to identify all those things that have separated you from God despite your best intentions. Lent offers us a great opportunity to reflect, seek forgiveness, and draw closer to God.
The Psalmist knew God does not count our offenses, because no one would be acquitted if God did. "If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can serve you."
The Psalmist declared that no one has sinned beyond forgiveness. That’s the beauty of God’s grace.
Someone made this statement: "God is not interested in an even score; He is interested in a holy life." God’s ultimate desire is that we live in relationship with Him. God hates our sin, not because He is against us, but because He is for us! God judges our sin, not because He wants to get even, but because He wants to correct us.
God created us for fellowship with Him. Sin keeps us from experiencing that fellowship. Therefore God judges our sin in His holiness, and when we confess God forgives our sin by His grace so we can come back into a right relationship with Him.
God was willing to go as far as He could to cover our sins. He did so with the sacrifice of His only son.
Protestant reformer Martin Luther once dreamed that the Day of Judgment had come and he was standing before God.
In the dream, Satan was there, too, accusing Luther of all kinds of sins. When the Book of Life was opened, Satan pointed to transgression after transgression. Luther’s heart sank.
Then Luther remembered the cross of Christ.
Turning to Satan, Luther said, "There is one entry which you have not made."
"And what is that?" Satan asked.
Triumphantly, Luther declared, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son purifies us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)
Alexander McClaren, a great preacher of the 1800s, expressed well the scope of God’s forgiveness. Focusing on the exchange between Jesus and the two thieves crucified with him, Dr. McClaren said, "One thief was forgiven and saved upon the cross, that none might despair; and only one that none might presume."
Don’t presume you don’t need a spiritual inventory during Lent. Go to God now and ask Him to help you change your life. Don’t put it off any longer. God is waiting for you to come home and, when you do, He will have mercy and abundant grace.