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.

Against You Only

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.

These verses are taken from Psalm 51.  The inscription attached to this Psalm tells us that it is a Psalm of David, written after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba.  David knew he had done things that were very wrong.  He had sinned against Bathsheba by leading her into adultery;  he had betrayed the trust of her husband and then had him killed;  he had disgraced his people by abusing his power as King and setting a poor example for others.  He tried to get away with his sin, and he thought he had, but he was wrong. God knew, and ultimately the sin was about his disobedience to God.  That’s what stands out for me in this Psalm.

We can hide our sins from others and sometimes we even hide them from ourselves.  We ignore them, cover them up or deny them.  We tell ourselves that in the great scheme of things, our sins are petty and not worth worrying about.  This is what a Pastor I knew once called “stinkin’ thinkin’.”  ALL sins affect our relationship with God, and we need to repent and make things right with the people we have injured and with Him.  Whenever we sin, we sin against God.

Fortunately for David, and for us, God is forgiving.  1 John 1:9 tell us:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In order to lead a life of repentance, we must first, like David, recognize our sin– we must repent daily.  Then God is His lovingkindness will restore us.  He forgave David, and He will forgive you and me.

Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World–Movie Review

I borrowed this film from our local library and watched it last night with my husband and some friends. I may be going a little off topic for the month with this review, but if you know anything about Martin Luther, you’re aware that he was well acquainted with the concept of repentance!  He spent so much time confessing that he was told to go away and come back when he had something worthwhile to report!  Released in 2017, this  movie depicts the major events in Luther’s life, interspersed with comments by theologians and historians.  Every word spoken by Luther was taken verbatim from his writings.  It was well done and gave a good, basic chronological account of the history of the Protestant Reformation.  Even if you’re well versed in this history, there were any number of interesting facts you may not know.  For example:

  • Luther wrote about 25% of the materials printed during his life
  • He was not paid for any of his writing
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s name was originally Michael King.  His father changed both of their names to Martin Luther out of admiration for the great reformer
  • Luther stated that his reason for marrying his wife Katie, was to please his father and spite the pope

Lutherans and history buffs will enjoy this PBS production, and I would certainly recommend it for confirmands.  I give it five stars!

Have any readers seen this film?  If so, I’d welcome some other comments.

Churches Need to Repent, too

As part of our Fanning the Flame process, my husband, our Pastor, has asked the church council to do the exercise I described earlier:  pray and meditate, making a list of sins and repenting.  There’s a little twist for them as leaders, however.  In addition to their personal sins, they are to consider the sins we have committed as a church.

One of the council members told me she is having a hard time with this. ” I can easily think of things I’ve done wrong”, she said, “but what has the church done wrong over the years?”

If you read Chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation, you will find that Jesus rebukes the churches for things like this:

  • Losing their fervor for good works
  • Listening to false teachers
  • Putting a stumbling block in the way of some who might believe
  • Practicing or allowing sexual immorality among the members
  • Depending upon themselves instead of God
  • Doing good works for the wrong reasons
  • Being “lukewarm” instead of passionate about following Christ

In the same chapters, Christ commends these churches for many things, but he still tells them they need to repent (hmmm…. back to Luther’s first Thesis again.)  Hopefully this exercise will raise our consciousness as a congregation.  Have we been too preoccupied with ourselves?  Have we focused on maintenance instead of spreading the Gospel to those around us?  Have we given sacrificially?  Have we ignored bad behavior instead of lovingly correcting it?  Our church is made up of people, and people are sinful.  There’s no getting around it.  We need to repent and allow God to change us into the church he wants us to be.

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen;  repent, and do the works you did at first.  If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent.”  Revelation 2:5

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Need for Repentance

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

No Limits Attached

In a previous post, I wrote about the talk by Pastor Lynn Downing our Fanning the Flame team listened to together.  In that talk, Pastor Downing stated that true repentance means allowing God to change us in accordance with His will –NO LIMITS ATTACHED.  That reminded me of a quote by Henri Nouwen, who was a Catholic priest, professor and author of many book on spirituality.  Here’s Henri’s confession about that:

“I love Jesus, but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus.  I love Jesus, but want to hold onto my own independence even when it brings me no real freedom.  I love Jesus, but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues even when their respect does not make me grow spiritually.  I love Jesus, but do not want to give up my writing, travel, and speaking plans even when they are often more to my glory than God’s.”

I suspect we all have a list like this;  I know I do.  I love Jesus, but don’t want to give so much of my income to the needy that I can’t buy what I want, go out to dinner or take vacations. I love Jesus, but I don’t want to give up all or even part of my secular reading and tv shows in order to spend more time in prayer and study.  I love Jesus, but I still like to impress others with my accomplishments — and so on.  My point?  I’m still pretty far from that “no limits attached” ideal of repentance.  I guess this is what Luther meant in his first thesis — living a life of repentance is a life-long project.

In later life, Henri Nouwen did grow closer to NO LIMITS ATTACHED.  He went to work at a facility for the disabled, became a chaplain and caregiver, and always took one of the residents with him on speaking engagements.  He repented of his pride and neediness and He did allow God to change him. With God’s help you and I can do the same.

Create in me…

Create in mePsalm 51 is David’s cry to the Lord for forgiveness.  It’s one of my favorite passages in the Psalms.  David has just realized his sins against the Lord, which happen to include adultery and murder.

I don’t see myself as a “bad” person.  I’m basically good.  I work everyday, try to be nice to all I meet.  I pay my bills, go to church, put money in the collection plate.  I’m usually slow to anger, letting others be who they are.  So why would I need to repent?  How sinful can a good person be?

I don’t want to think that I’m sinful.  It’s our culture, it’s in the world.  If I am basically good, I’m OK, I’m a “good” person.  But even with what I described above,  God considers me sinful.  What about those thoughts that I don’t act on?  What about the “self-talk” that goes on in my head?  God knows those thoughts.  Paul says in Romans:

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. Romans 7:18-20

I need to come before the Lord daily and pray this Psalm.  God knows my heart and if I come before Him, with a contrite heart and pray, He can do wonderful things in my life.  Do you want to join me?