Searched and Known #3

 As sinners our natural response to biblical instructions is to say “no”.  It is our default position if you will.  God tells us how to behave, and we say no.  God says that our thoughts are to be about Him and our goal is to be His glory.  And we say no.  God says we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  And we say no.  We must repent of that behavior.  We must repent of those thoughts.  We must repent of those emotional responses.  And we must repent of those times when we say “yes” but live no.

 Repentance is a necessary part of the Christian life.  When Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the town church in Wittenberg he wrote this, “When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said ‘Repent’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  And true repentance has to be more than simply saying some words on Sunday morning.  It must be heartfelt and life changing.

 True repentance is a willingness to let God change us in any way He so chooses—no limits and no exceptions.  And maybe that’s why we resist so hard.  It’s scary, isn’t it?  It’s scary to think that God would take me and make me something other than I am when I’m perfectly comfortable this way.  Most of you know the difficulties Joan and I have been going through with our home.  It is not easy to be constantly moving about from one place to another—sleeping here, eating there.  Wondering when we’ll be able to return to our place and get back that sense of normal life.  Believe me, we’re so looking forward to that day.

 That day will come fairly soon and things Joan and Terry will return to normal.  But when you and I repent of our sins, truly and completely, when we let God change us, there will be no going back.  There will be a new normal and a new level of comfort.  Things which we have long clutched to our chests will no longer be there for us.   Instead we will be Kingdom people—which is what we are meant to be.  Mark tells us that when Jesus began His earthly ministry He went into Galilee preaching Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.  And citizens of the Kingdom are different.

 But friends, what a great day that will be for us because we do indeed bear a burden when we sin.  We know what our sin is and it weighs us down, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves.  But that burden will be lifted when you truly repent and allow God to do as He wills with you.  Instead of the yoke of sin we will bear the yoke of Christ, and it is light and easy.  Instead of the dimness of our natural vision we will see with a new light, the light of Christ Himself.  Instead of the confusion which so often rules our lives, we will have complete clarity, because it is God’s clarity, His gracious giving of His wisdom to the people of His calling. 

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Fanning the Flame — Barbara R.’s Story

We all know that Fanning the Flame presents a new way of living, which, like any life-changing protocol takes time.  I believe that we, as team members, are already beginning to feel this change stirring within our lives as we seek God’s will through steady and heartfelt prayer.

We and God are in this together.  As team members we are opening up and becoming more honest and vulnerable as we share our prayer visions and seek to understand our God-given gifts.  A sense of trust has sprung up among us, as well as a sense of unity of purpose.  Individually we are growing and striving to be the people God wants us to be.

People make comments such as, “Sounds like a lot of work!” and “we’re not even sure what you are doing.”  Well, yes, it is a lot of work!  We’re committed to work for the Kingdom of God…an immeasurable response to the work He has done for us.  We’re learning to put our trust in Him as we evaluate the needs of the church and understand how He wants to see St. Paul’s grow.  Though we are a small group, we are in the process of figuring out how all members of the congregation can join into this effort to become one in Him.  We see a future where small groups like ours will also want to come together–to trust each other as their trust grows in Him.  I know in my heart that every member of our congregation desires a personal relationship with the Lord–why else would we bother to attend church?  Nothing in our life is as important, and if it takes the work of praying, reading the Word and sharing His love with others, then it is really not work at all…it is a gift and an opportunity from which no one should be excluded.

Please be unified with us in this opportunity and realize that the growth we see at St. Paul’s may not necessarily be in numbers, but in spirit.  I know you’ve heard this phrase:  “the family that prays together, stays together.”  Well, St. Paul’s is a family and we all want to stay together and grow together.  Please pray that the Flame of the Spirit will become contagious and that each and every member will be on fire in a new and life-changing way.

Searched and Known #2

Don’t we often behave as if God doesn’t know what we’re doing, hear what we’re saying, know what we’re thinking?  We go right along in our lives sinning away thinking that God isn’t paying attention.  We think we’re going to get away with something with God because the guy who lives next door or the spouse who sleeps next to you doesn’t know about it.  Yet the psalmist here tells us that God has searched us and known us—and that means in every single moment of our lives, from conception to death.

 God knows us more intimately than we know ourselves.  And that means we who are His chosen people must examine ourselves and repent of our sins before Him.  Christ has paid the price for our sins, He has borne our punishment, He has done all that is necessary for our salvation, but I’m not talking about salvation, I’m talking about being in a right relationship with God during this life.  Sin separates us from God even when we are saved.  It puts a barrier up between Him and us that keeps us from fully enjoying the grace He shows to us.  Repentance is about restoring a proper relationship with God after we have come to faith in Christ and believed in His atoning work.

 I suspect most of us have had difficulties with relationships in our lives.  We want to have a close relationship with someone, but there is always something that stands in the way.  Quite often that something has to do with a refusal to address differences and what seems an inability on someone’s part to repent of that feeling.  Central to all sin is the ego of man.  We want to be first and best, or at least we want people to think we are first and best.  It’s hard to go to someone and admit that you’re a failure or that you’ve not been the person that you should have been.  That failure builds walls that separate and isolate us.

 Surprisingly, we often have exactly the same problem in our relationship with God as we do in our relationships with other people.  We don’t like admitting we are what we are—failures.  Certainly we make a confession in all of our worship services, but even then we can hold back a bit, we can’t not bring all of our sins to mind, we can even hope God will be completely satisfied by that once a week statement.  But that isn’t really true.  God wants you to be honest with yourself about what you have done and to truly repent of that so that you can experience true freedom in your life.

Mi Casa Uptown – a review

Mi Casa Uptown: Learning to Love Again by Rich Pérez is a good read if you are thinking, or are in, a urban setting or if you are thinking about doing missions work in the city.

Rich Pérez is from New York City; Washington Heights to be exact.  He left there to go to college and seminary and then returned to his neighborhood because he feels deeply about connecting with neighbors.  In this book he explains how we’ve become disconnected to our neighbors and how, with God’s help, we can become connected again.

One point that Rich makes that hit with me was that to engage in any community, humility is needed:

“Humility is a posture that demands intentionality and sacrifice; it demands a compelling example.  It’s sacrifice and not entitlement that inspires authentic relationship.  In the end, thriving communities are not monolithic communities, where one group or culture runs the show.  Instead, the kind of humility I’m referring to is revolutionary – quite literally helping to shift the way neighborhoods exist.  Humility inspires people to live differently toward on another and, more important, honors the stories that have existed before your own by dignifying them rather disregarding them.”

Even though I enjoyed this book, I had a hard time relating to it.  I come from a rural background and have never really engaged the Hispanic community.  Even so, I found quite a few “take-aways” about how to live in community.  I give this book a solid three stars.

Searched and Known

This is from a sermon on repentance delivered by my husband and reprinted with his permission.

You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.  Psalm 139:1

 The 139th psalm is one of the best known parts of the Psalter.  It is a psalm of thanks and praise to God and it contains memorable passages that lots of us carry around in our heads.  The psalmist says, for example, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  And indeed that is, as Luther would have put it, most certainly true.  Our bodies are composed of billions of cells and trillions of molecules, they function so very perfectly that they must have been designed by One who is greater than any man or any creation of man.  Our eyes blink so they can stay moist.  Our brains take electricity and turn it into thoughts.  Our teeth are designed for biting and chewing a wide variety of foods, unlike most animals.  We are without any doubt fearfully and wonderfully made by One who saw us when we were intricately woven in our mother’s wombs.

 But the phrase I want to focus on this morning is in the very first verse, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.”  Searched me and known me.

 God has searched you out.  He has not only made you, but He has paid attention to every detail of your life.  He knows not only who you are, but He knows what you are.  Jesus tells us God knows even the number of hairs on our heads.  The psalmist goes through the many ways we might try to avoid the God who knows everything about us: if you go to sleep He knows not only that but what your dreams are; He knows all the words you will say when you speak next; His presence surrounds you.  Not even in death can we escape Him—He is in heaven and, He is also in hell.  There is nowhere that we can go that God is not present.  He knows our movements and He knows our motives  Death can’t hide us from God, distance can’t hide us from God, darkness cannot hide us from God.  He is ever present and ever vigilant in the ways of His creation.

I rather think this is one of the reasons so many people want nothing to do with God—they can’t hide anything from Him so they think if they ignore Him, if they deny His existence, if they pretend they are without divine constraint, they can do whatever they want without impunity.  I’ve told this story before so bear with me if you remember it.  But I knew a fellow who was a member of the Frederick City police department.  He told me that he noticed some teenagers sitting in front of a closed warehouse one day and went over to see what they were doing.  They saw him coming and then wouldn’t look at him, as if their refusal to recognize him meant that he wasn’t really there.  That is what unbelievers do with respect to God.  As R. C. Sproul says, atheists aren’t people who don’t believe in God, they’re people who just don’t like Him.

 But don’t we often behave as if God doesn’t see what we’re doing, hear what we’re saying, know what we’re thinking?  We go right along in our lives sinning away thinking that God isn’t paying attention.  We think we’re going to get away with something with God because the guy who lives next door or the spouse who sleeps next to you doesn’t know about it.  Yet the psalmist here tells us that God has searched us and known us—and that means in every single moment of our lives, from conception to death.

to be continued ….

 

Fanning the Flame — Debbie’s Story

I’ve asked some of the Fanning the Flame team members to let me know what they have been learning as part of the process.  This is Debbie’s story which she has allowed me to share with our readers.

When I first heard about Fanning the Flame I was anxious to find out what this could mean for our Church.

I have not been disappointed. I am excited with what we have been doing so far and am looking forward to all that is coming next.

One of the first things was looking at our prayer life individually and as a Church.  I have a much better understanding of the importance and necessity of my prayer life.  I really took an in depth look at my prayer life as it is today and what I want it to look like in one year from now. Just taking the time and really focusing on my prayer life for the first time was really an eye opener. I found my prayer life a was not what it should be and this has helped me change it and has made a huge difference.

I am working on my spiritual gifts survey now and I know this will help me find out what my true spiritual gifts are and will help guide me to do what God wants me to do.

We have been talking about repentance and how necessary that is as individuals and as a Church.  The Pastor just talked about repentance in his sermon.  True repentance for all of our sins is absolutely necessary in Christian life and restores our relationship with God.  I have come to realize that just asking God to forgive all my sins is not enough.  For true repentance I really need to think about all my sins when I repent and this has helped me focus on all my sins when I am asking God for forgiveness.

There are many strategies we have identified to best help our Church and fulfill God’s purpose for us.  I was asked to be on the FTF Strategy Task Force for Small Group Discipleship and we just had our first meeting.  We are looking at small groups ministry and the leadership of these groups and how these groups should look and what important aspects they should contain.  We are off to a good start and I am excited with what we are going to be doing.

FTF is definitely changing me and I am looking forward to what we will be doing as a group and as a congregation.  There are so many good and positive things in store for us.

More on Psalm 51

Many hymn writers have picked up on the themes expressed in Psalm 51.   One of those was James L. Nicholson, a native of Ireland. He came to America around the age of 25 and lived in Philadelphia for almost two decades. Around 1871 he moved to Washington DC and worked there as a clerk in the Post Office Department.  He wrote the hymn “Whiter than Snow.”  Listen and remember that God is the only one who can not only forgive our sins, but completely erase them through the sacrifice of His son, Jesus.