Personal Repentance

I know this isn’t our new theme, but it seems God isn’t done with the old one yet, at least where I am concerned.  During last month’s reflections on repentance, some of the posts mentioned that true repentance means turning around, doing something different, returning to God.  It’s not enough to just say “I’m sorry” and then keep behaving in the same way.

At St. Paul’s our leaders have been praying about how we need to repent, individually and corporately.  Here’s one thing God has impressed upon my mind:  a pastor in India, Pastor Duiggi, and his ministries.  We’ve met this man.  He actually visited our church, twice I believe, years ago.  Since then my husband and I have received periodic emails from him, telling us about the things he is doing and asking for our prayers and support.  He runs an orphanage, supports a Women’s Ministry and is now associated with the Lutheran School of Theology in India. Sad to say, I have done nothing.

Why?  Well, I could come up with any number of excuses.  I’ve been busy with many things (like Martha), things that seemed closer to home and more pressing;  he’s not affiliated with our particular Lutheran denomination (the AFLC);  our church is small, not wealthy, and truth to tell I’ve been more worried about whether the church can afford to pay its Pastor (my husband) then suggesting we support a mission in India.  All of these reasons are wrong and just plain sinful.  This is not easy for me to even think, much less say out loud.

So I’m going to repent.  I’m going to start talking to our church about Pastor Duiggi, beginning with our Sunday School class.  I’m going to model the behavior I’d like to see in others.  I’m going to be the change I want to see in the world.

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Fanning the Flame #15 –Getting Good

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already obtained. Philippians 3:12-16

A book I read recently stated  that “getting good” at any complicated task takes about 10,000 hours of practice.  Now this author wasn’t speaking about the living the Christian life, but I imagine it still applies.  So if you want to “get good” at being a Christian, simply sitting in the pew won’t cut it.  At the rate of one hour per week, “getting good” will take approximately 192 years!  In case you haven’t noticed, none of us have that long!  To really mature as a Christian, we need to put in the hours –hours of prayer, Bible study, service and more.

This is exactly what the Fanning the Flame process is teaching us.  As a team, we are learning to be more disciplined in our prayer life;  to discover and use our spiritual gifts;  to repent of our sins;  to remember God’s promises;  to study His Word;  to fellowship with one another, and so on.  Hopefully, as we mature in our faith, we will influence others within the congregation to do the same.  We’ll be stronger, better witnesses.

Will we ever achieve complete sanctification?  Lutherans don’t think so.  However, like Paul, we need to press on and do what is in our power to become worthy followers of the gift we have already been given.  Christ died for our sins so that we could be reconciled with God and live with Him in eternity.  Is it enough to plunk ourselves down in the sanctuary once a week, sing a few hymns and drop a few dollars in the offering plate?  Is this a show of true gratitude, or is it just a pious habit we’ve developed over the years?  We can’t stand still in the life of faith, we have to practice.  We have to get good.

 

 

R.C. Sproul on Repentance

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R. C. Sproul was not a Lutheran, but this sounds quite a bit like Martin Luther’s First Thesis, doesn’t it?
Confession should be a daily activity for the Christian, whose entire pilgrimage is characterized by the spirit of repentance. —R.C. Sproul

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. 

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.

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.