Thought for the Month (June 2011)

A Call to Repent

On 12th March I (Bob) was shaken because I believe God spoke to me and gave me a prophecy to pass on to the churches where I was preaching on 13th March. This letter describes the unfolding - and as yet incomplete - story of that prophecy.

Earlier that week I had decided to preach from Joel chapter 2 as this was one of the lectionary readings for Ash Wednesday (9th March). Joel chapter 2 is about God's judgement on sinful people expressed as a plague of locusts destroying everything in their path. In the passage God called His people to repentance, 'Rend your heart,' He said, 'Return to the Lord your God.'

On Friday of that week the Japanese tsunami occurred and the imagery we experienced on our television screens was very similar to the plague of locusts in Joel chapter 2, although I am certainly not suggesting that the Japanese are any more deserving of judgement than the rest of us.

On Saturday as I was preparing my sermon for Rusthall and for a joint service with Vale Royal Methodist Church at Tunbridge Wells URC, I asked God whether we had any disasters in Tunbridge Wells (and surrounding area). He very quickly responded that there is a disaster in Tunbridge Wells.

He is angry at the half empty state of our churches because we have simply accepted this state of affairs and have not brought the matter to God in prayer. The word 'overwhelmed' came to me, presumably related to the locusts and tsunami, and He seemed to be saying that we had been overwhelmed by the social trends which are telling us that people are not going to church nowadays, and consequently we have showed little concern at this miserable situation.

He therefore called us to repentance, to say sorry for our lack of concern for the state of our churches, and to ask for guidance for the future.

We have started that process. The elders at Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall have considered the prophecy and accepted that it is from God. Rusthall elders put aside one hour of their May meeting for repentance, using Joel chapter 2 to lead us into repentance. As I repented, a particular issue that came to me was that we had spent a lot of money on putting in a balcony at Rusthall, and yet we had shown no concern that it had not been used.

Rusthall are planning to build a Sunday service around the prophecy and call to repentance to enable the whole congregation to be involved.

Tunbridge Wells URC has also brought the prophecy to its May church meeting and the meeting accepted that it is from God.

As I have already mentioned, the Tunbridge Wells service was a joint one with Vale Royal and they, therefore, have had to grapple with the prophecy. Revd Steve Mann and his wife, Karen, were quick to recognise its validity, and the stewards have agreed to meet with the elders of Tunbridge Wells URC on Wednesday 8th June for a time of worship and repentance, again based on Joel chapter 2.

On Wednesday 29th June we are calling both churches (Tunbridge Wells URC and Vale Royal) to a day of prayer and fasting at Tunbridge Wells URC. There will be an opportunity for individual prayer from 9 am to 8 pm and Steve Mann or Karen or myself will be there all day to offer guidance if needed. We will then finish with an act of worship where we can come together in repentance and in asking our Lord to show us His future for us.

We do not know where this will lead but we believe that this is a wake-up call from God, and that genuine repentance will lead to blessing as seen in Joel chapter 2.

We believe that God is calling us to recognise our responsibility for the half empty state of our churches. His charge against us is that we have been complacent and we have not told people the good news about Jesus, but above all that we have accepted the half empty state of our churches without seriously bringing the issue to God in prayer.

So let's put this right (all of us) by coming to God in repentance and claiming His promise of blessing - 'I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten' (Joel 2 v25).

If the gift of prophecy and the need for repentance are causing you concern or confusion please speak to us and we will be very happy to help you. Also we recognise that Hawkenbury was not directly involved in this prophecy but we would appreciate any reactions from Hawkenbury elders and members.

With love, Bob and Karen

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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church