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

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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.

Barbara G.’s Story on Repentance, part 2

We first started with learning how Jesus commanded us to go out into the world and spread the gospel to all parts of the world, but I wasn’t even ready to do it in my own little town. We need to know the scriptures so that we can explain things to people who want to know more of Jesus’ words and how they can help them.

We studied prayer and its overwhelming power and ability to help you and others who need help with their lives. We all realized how important it is to include prayer in your everyday life and to live by its power. Prayer is a very important part of my daily life and I can’t imagine going without praying.

We learned about the history of our church and why that’s so important to know our heritage. Our forefathers of this church sacrificed everything to build this building that we worship in every week. Sometimes I wonder what they would think of us now and our failed efforts to spread the word around the world.

We’re learning how to be good teachers of the word, to be good leaders for the church, to keep the right priorities focused on God at all times. We discuss so many facets of how we should dedicate our lives to Christ and his church. It’s not that Pastor hasn’t talked with us about some of these subjects in bible study or church but it’s just more intense with Mr. Weatherly from F.T.F.

He has walked us through some very important ways in which we can learn to begin a whole new way of dedicating our lives to Jesus Christ and our church.

In the world we live in now, it’s very different than our founders experienced. People were eager to come to church then but now we have to go out and find the lonely, the hurting, the hungry and those people who think that they don’t need any change like I did.

If you have a big splinter and it hurts, just tell God, because I promise you, He has the answer.

Fanning the Flame Barbara G.’s story about Repentance

This post is taken from an article one of our Fanning the Flame Team Members wrote for the church newsletter.  It is shared with her permission and was written after the team listened to “A Call to Repentance.”

When you were a child did you ever get a big splinter in your hand or foot and then kept it a secret from your parents because you knew what they would do about it? The extraction came complete with a big needle to dig it out and then came the merthiolate that burned so bad. I had a younger brother who got a piece of hard straw inside his knee and he left it in there for several years because he wouldn’t allow my parents to take it out. One day he bumped his knee real hard and that piece of straw popped right out. It was a pain of another sort but it did the trick.

That’s how some of us are when we don’t want to make a change in our lives. Our lives aren’t really great….it’s just O.K. but we don’t like change because change is painful sometimes.

That’s how I was when I started F.T.F I thought I was a good Christian and I didn’t need anyone to fix it…I was O.K.  I’ll admit I was what I call a surface Christian. I didn’t want to fix anything or make it better because change hurts sometimes. Although I wanted us to have a chance to see how F.T.F. could help our church, I didn’t realize until after I started the program

Then I had my eyes opened to how much I really needed this program to help me grow as a Christian, like Jesus would want me to do.

To be continued…..

A Call to Repentance — Fanning the Flame #14

The Fanning the Flame team gathered recently to listen to a talk by Presbyterian pastor Lynn  Downing, entitled, “A Call to Repentance.”  He defines repentance as turning away from sin by God’s grace in order to be reconciled with Him.  For those who are already Christians, repentance is not a conversion experience — rather,we repent as God’s children desiring a more intimate relationship with Him.  Our repentance indicates a willingness to let God change us as He chooses —no limits attached.

Church repentance begins with individual repentance.  The team was asked to pray and meditate on these verses from Psalm 139:

Search me, God, and know my heart;d

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

During the time of prayer we were to ask God to bring our sins to our mind and compile a list.  I must admit that mine was pretty long, although practically everything boils down to selfishness of one sort or another.  After making our list, we were to tear it up, knowing God has already forgiven all of those sins and more.

After individual repentance, the leaders of our congregation will be asked to go through the same exercise, seeking to repent of our corporate sins.  Eventually we will be holding a special service, a Repentance Sunday, when individual members will be asked to pray on behalf of St. Paul’s.

As an interesting aside, neither I, nor any of the Lutheran Ladies of St. Paul’s suggested this month’s theme.  It was Sarah’s idea, but I think God inspired it.  It can’t be an accident that we will be studying, meditating and praying about repentance this month.  Please pray along with us and send us your comments.  God may be speaking to us through you!  He loves you and so do I!

 

The World, The Flesh and … oh yes, THE DEVIL

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

1 Peter 5:8

In our environment, we are constantly barraged with sinful desires promoted by our culture, and our own unholy thoughts and deeds.  However, these aren’t the only enemies — the verse above from 1 Peter tells us that we are under spiritual attack from another source–the devil.  It’s unfashionable to believe in Satan these days;  admit it in a group and you may find yourself the but of jokes and snide remarks.  Unfortunately ignoring an unpleasant reality doesn’t make it go away. In fact, the devil is quite happy to have you disbelieve in his existence — it makes you an easier target because your guard is down!

Right now I’m convinced that our Fanning the Flame team is under demonic attack.  The roof of my life has (almost literally fallen in)!  Others are under stress due to relationships, financial problems, work issues, and grief.  Of course, these sorts of things happen every day, but why are so many happening to members of the same small group all at once?  Probably not a coincidence.

It’s simple.  The devil wants to distract us from the good work we are trying to do for St. Paul’s.  As my husband is fond of saying, he doesn’t need to bother with unbelievers — he already has them in his clutches.  The kind of pressure many of us are undergoing makes us irritable and quick to anger.  It disrupts our unity. It makes us anxious.  It causes us to feel disappointed, doubting and even depressed.  It encourages us to dwell on the negative.

There is, of course a Scriptural defense which is detailed in Ephesians 6:10-18:

Finally, be strong in the LORD and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the LORD’s people.

The team is preparing for an event called “Armourbearer Sunday.”  I’m not sure what it’s about, but I have a suspicion it may help us deal with the powers of darkness around us.  Stay tuned for more in September …..

 

 

Fanning the Flame #13 — Like a Kid in a Candy Store

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,  but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.  Ephesians 4:11-16

My assignment as part of the Fanning the Flame team is to be the spiritual gifts coordinator for our church.  This means giving as many members as possible a spiritual gifts assessment, and then having a conversation with them about their gifts and how they could be used to build up our congregation and community. This will start with the team, and this month two ladies have completed the assessment.  As I reviewed their gifts and their passions, one lady told me she loved gardening.  ‘When I go into a landscaping store in the spring, I’m like a kid in a candy store”, she said, “I get so excited, and I want to choose everything.”

Well, I’m like that kid when it comes to spiritual gifts.  I get the biggest kick out of seeing how God created us: the amazing talents, interests and passions He gave.  We’re like different flowers in the same garden, learning to bloom and grow together in beautiful patterns. I’m looking forward to helping people discover and put their gifts to work.  Great things happen when God mixes with us, and we mix with others.  Pray that at St. Paul’s we learn to appreciate all the gifts — our own and those around us. We can spread the sweet aroma of Christ to the environment around us.