5.10.2008

Repentance

They said to me, "The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire."  When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.  I said, "I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father's house have sinned.  We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses." - Nehemiah 1:3-7

I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, "Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances.  Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.  Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to usopen shame, as it is this day--to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You.  Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You." - Daniel 9:4-8


In the Bible, I can hardly think of two more righteous people than Nehemiah and Daniel.  Both did great things for God, and not only so but lived lives of the utmost integrity.  And yet, in the passages above, both come reverently and repentantly before their God.  They take full ownership of the sin of the people on whose behalf they are coming before God.  They appeal not to their own righteousness but to God's, and accept that that righteousness means that they require great mercy from God, in light of the sins of His people. 

I believe it is time for our church to come before God in a similar way.  If you don't know, our church has sinned greatly and been sinned against greatly in the recent past.  And, as diverse as we are as a congregation in many ways, so are we diverse in how we have responded to all of that sin.  But officially and as a church leadership team, I do not believe we have adequately made our peace with God; I do not believe we have yet acknowledged before God and man that we have been wrong and that we have been wronged, that He alone is righteousness, that we fall vastly short, and that we cry out to Him for mercy.

Poignantly, as I have shared our church's travails with pastor friends of mine, they express a sort of envy.  In their minds, our church has sinned and has been sinned against; it needs to forgive and it needs to be forgiven.  And that makes us incredibly relevant to a culture and a world that is in the same situation and that needs the same healing and the same God. 

Instead, we have at times tried to paper over our messiness, wishing instead that we were further along or wondering if all it takes is just a change here or a change there and we'll be on our way.  But I submit that we need not be ashamed - at least before man, and in one sense before God either - of our messiness.  For if there is one place that acknowledges the depravity and vulnerability of humankind, it would be the church.  And if there is one religion that acknowledges that God's power is made perfect through - not in spite of, but through - man's weakness, it is the Christianity of the Bible. 

So maybe we're not far from being the church God would want us to be.  For in a few weeks, we will host a repentance service.  And we will repent of specific sins we have been guilty of, either directly or implicitly through our inaction or indirectly through our forefathers: sexual immorality, deception, racism, and materialism being some key ones we'll need to lay before our God.  And we will invite others who need to forgive or be forgiven to also get right with God and with their fellow brother or sister.  But whether or not anyone else steps up, we as a church, through the action of us leaders, needs to step up and say what it needs to say before God, to confess and repent and mourn and grieve and lament and "man up."

In short, we will do and be exactly what church ought to do or be: not a country club or a civic group or even a service organization, but one that deals with the real problem in this world, which is that we all have sinned and fall desperately and irreparably short of God's standard of righteousness.  And, in our case, we as a church consist solely of sinners, and we as a church have corporately sinned, and we need to get right with God.  And that makes us exactly what God can and does use in the midst of a dying world: a place where we need no longer put up the facade that "I'm OK, you're OK," and we can unravel ourselves and come before God in our "I'm not OK"-ness, and receive the forgiveness our souls ache for as well as the strength to forgive that will lift that bitterness from our shoulders. 
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