Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An open invitation to the Church

Dear Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace to you, one and all, who are baptized in the name of the Triune God and who are called by "the name that is above all names." 

Far too many times we hear a call to repentance as though it were an insinuation that we ourselves are about to embark on a guilt trip that none of us wants to take; but only rarely—far too rarely—do we hear it and welcome it as a call to intercede in the priestly ministry of Christ, the ongoing ministry of reconciliation on behalf of a world that is, frankly, ignorant of spiritual things, biblically illiterate, and thoroughly deluded by any number of forces that are hostile to faith: sin, the flesh, the principalities of this present darkness, etc.

In light of the many daunting challenges facing the church and the nation at present, challenges arising on so many different fronts, but especially the fact that the nation and the world stand on the cusp of a major epidemic—Ebola—that has for decades been isolated to a remarkably small part of the world, I hope you will consider, whether you are overly familiar with or not at all acquainted with it, putting into practice this important and vital text from the Old Testament book of 2Chronicles:

"if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (7:14). 
No doubt, if the Church were to do this and if the Lord were to relent and, with the breath of his mouth, instantaneously eradicate this virus from the entire world—may it be so!—the world would almost certainly disregard our efforts as silly, unnecessary, and superstitious; while if for some reason this plague were to continue to spread, the world would likely ridicule our prayers as ineffective. Either way, we have nothing to gain in the eyes of the world. But, in the eyes of the Lord, what we do now is an altogether different matter.

... if my people who are called by my name ...
As you know, this is a word not for unbelievers, who will not give a thought to any of this; rather, it is a word for the Church of both testaments: Jews and Christians alike.

... humble themselves ...
Let me encourage you to kneel if you are able, or at least bow your head, and perhaps lie down face first on the ground. Show the Lord, show heaven, that you mean it.
... pray ...
In many ways, any prayer will do that is reverent and directed to the Holy One whom we meet in the pages of the Bible, for it is faith and fellowship with us that God desires above all; but let me suggest general prayers of confession—lots of them—that apply not only to you, but to the whole church [see the Book of Common Prayer, The Book of Common Worship, Feasting on the Word: Worship Companion; and/or any volume of Liturgical Elements for Reformed Worship]; add your specific confessions to express remorse not only for sins that offend you and your politics, but everything, including the sins that perhaps don't bother you so much, but which may cause others to stumble. Remember Bilbo's confession to Frodo: "I'm sorry for everything!" Let us speak thus to God! Grab a worship resource, one that offers multiple confessional prayers, and read as many as you can, and if possible, read them aloud.
... seek my face ...
Let God know that you desire the joy of his presence, the peace of restored fellowship, and the blessedness of his radiant glory. He will not refuse, for that is precisely what he desires with us.
... turn from their wicked ways ...
Commit to letting go those empty, vain, profane, offensive, self-destructive, selfish, hurtful habits that you have protected and reserved up to now. Remind yourself that God desires better for you, a better state of spiritual health, stronger faith, a purer heart, and a richer life—richer in the treasurers of the kingdom, not in the fleeting riches of this world. Remember that life is short, far too short to waste on ... waste.

The rest of this vital verse consists in a series of three promises: 
... then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Let those promises sink in. Let their goodness and our immeasurable need for them move you to your knees, to prayer, to confession, and to an earnest seeking of the Lord's face. 

Dismiss this open letter, if you must, as the ramblings of a pious old fool. I will gladly bear the caricature if it will move others to pray earnestly in faith and beseech the Lord for mercy. By all means, pray for those infected and exposed to this virus; and absolutely, pray for the CDC, NIH, WHO, etc., that their efforts to contain and stop Ebola altogether would be successful, and, mind you, in a way that does not create other (and perhaps worse) collateral consequences. But, as you well know, "unless the Lord (does it), those who (labor for it do so) in vain" (Psalm 127).

God be with you all, for "our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth." Let us delight the saints of heaven with a demonstration of the confessional intercession of the saints on earth. Yes, we saints too have sins to confess. But we are uniquely the ones who know we are to confess them, and we are the ones who have been given the Spirit as the Lord of the conscience so that we may respond to such a call as this, at such a time as this.

Yours in Christ,


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