Tag: confession

In the ongoing effort of growing and reforming as a church, we’ve decided that we should change the confession part of our liturgy. It turns out, that with all of you praying silently, we don’t know what all your problems are, which means that we can’t tell you how to fix your problems, or fix how you talk to God about your sins, since He is very demanding. It obviously will take a little longer, but if we set up four chairs up front, one for each pastor, we should be able to get through everyone’s confession in a timely fashion.

Now, I am being quite serious, and I needed to make the description long enough to increase your appropriate response of revulsion to such a proposal. Of course we are not going to do confession that way. That would be deformation, not reformation. It would be wrong. James speaks of confessing our sins to one another, but that’s when we’ve sinned against one another. We do not confess our sins through another person to God, priest or pastor. Through Christ each one of us, whatever gender or age or occupation or level of doctrinal learning, come directly to God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

Isn’t this amazing? Who are we, in our lack of certification, our lack of seriousness, our lack of holiness, to address Him without a mediator? We do have a Mediator, an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:2). But He is the only Mediator we need.

Isn’t this humbling? If you had to confess to a priest, he might presume you weren’t lying, but he couldn’t prove your intentions. It’s true that a pastor can’t help what he doesn’t know is wrong, but God doesn’t demand the information of your confession, just your honesty.

And so, what are you waiting for? He’s here, you’re here. He is the one with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13). With Him there is forgiveness. Pray to Him.

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I am still thinking about some of the implications of what I’m about to say, and I understand that two things can correlate without meaning that one causes the other, but is there a connection between pastors devouring their own flocks and mothers aborting their own children?

Last week, on January 22, was 46 years since the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. There have been almost 62 million abortions and counting in the United States since then. How could this be in a nation with more Christian values than pagan ones? Don’t Christian problems start with Christian leaders?

I do not mean mostly that preachers have been quiet about abortion or soft and weak if they do speak about it, though those are failures. I’m mostly asking if society has learned how to treat others by watching how shepherds walk their fields.

Certainly some of the motives are the same. It is selfishness, pride, and especially insecurity that cause pastors to preach against the sheep, that cause pastors to demean and demand sacrifice from their sheep rather than give and sacrifice for them.

Husbands and fathers ought to find examples for sacrificial and leading love in their elders. Wives and mothers ought to do likewise, in addition to watching how their own husbands nurture them. We should learn from our parents, and the wise will learn from good and bad examples, wherever the examples come from.

But pastors/preachers/elders/overseers have been guilty of direct abuse of kids, direct neglect of the abortion issue, and too much ego. Preachers lie for their own benefit, and little wonder that our politicians can claim with a straight face that “Abortion is health care.”

God judges us with His abandoning wrath in the legal murder of 62 million babies, and in His judgment of unloving shepherds for His sheep. Who will fight off the wolves when we are they? Even if disobedient Christian leaders are not the cause of a cultural mindset that accepts abortion, it is a reason for confessing our sin.

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Worship is not therapy, at least not as moderns define therapy. Worship includes treatment to relieve or heal a disorder, the dictionary definition of therapy, but worship heals us so that we can die.

I don’t remember the last time I heard someone talk about it, but I’ve read about what some preachers lament as our modern religious predilection for “therapeutic moralistic deism.” Deism means that people believe in a God, moralistic means that there is some sense of right and wrong, and therapeutic means that there is some sort of topical remedy or way to deal with the bad feelings that we have because we probably haven’t done everything right according to this God.

The weekly exhortation to confession, and prayer of confession, and reminder of forgiveness from a different Scripture text, is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lamb slain in order to pay for our sins, in order that we might come and die with Him as living sacrifices.

God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three Persons, one God and Lord. Sin is personal. God is holy, holy, holy. He has given His Word, His law, and every mouth is shut before it (Romans 3:19). We have all sinned and fallen short of His glory. And again, He heals us, by His wounds. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24), “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

And this makes us sacrifices of worship. Remember the work of His living and active Word, sharper than any two-edged sort, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We are “naked and exposed” before Him, we are “laid bear,” which is from the Greek word trachelizo, to twist and expose the neck of a sacrifice.

Being cut by the Word so that we can offer ourselves before the throne of grace is a kind of therapy, and it starts with confessing our sins.

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Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He works on a much smaller scale as well.

In John 13, Jesus began to wash the disciples feet as a demonstration of His love for them. When He came to Peter’s side of the table, Peter objected and, in a sense, we understand his objection because Jesus was the Master and the Master should be the one having his feet washed; He should not be the one washing. Jesus, of course, overcame Peter’s initial refusal, and then Peter bounced to the opposite side and told Jesus to give him a full-body bath. Jesus again corrected Peter’s misunderstanding by explaining that dirty feet didn’t necessarily mean his face was filthy.

The first lesson of John 13 is about service and Jesus taught His disciples to follow His pattern of humility. But there is another issue as well, the issue of cleanliness.

We are Christians, and one of the things that means is that we are clean; our sins have been forgiven. Our body of sin has been washed in Christ. But our belief of this and our having confessed our sins for sake of salvation does not mean that it was one confession and done. We, as Christians, get our feet dirty with sin. John teaches Christians in 1 John 1 that, for the sake of our ongoing fellowship with God and with each other, we must keep on confessing our sins.

We ought to confess our sins each time we sin. And as a congregation, when we gather for sake of fellowship with God and each other, we do well to wipe our dirty feet at the door rather than track mud all over the place.

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I assume that if you are a Christian, then you want to be wise, and that if you could, you want to be more wise at the end of this year than you are now. This wouldn’t become a competition because wisdom is not a zero-sum pursuit; everyone could get wiser.

You should pray for wisdom. Paul regularly asked God to give wisdom (e.g., Colossians 1:9), and that shouldn’t surprise us because Solomon, who had more wisdom than any other human-only man, explicitly said that God gives wisdom.

For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
(Proverbs 2:6)

But that was at the end of a lot of effort. “Receive my words,” “treasure up my commandments,” “[make] your ear attentive,” “[incline] your heart,” “call out for insight,” “raise your voice for understanding,” “if you seek it like silver,” “search for it as for hidden treasures” (Proverbs 2:1-4), then you will be in position to receive it from the LORD.

I hadn’t noticed the following until a few days ago. After all those verbs of effort and focus, Solomon says, “then you will understand the fear of the LORD” (Proverbs 2:5). And, of course, the fear of the LORD is where wisdom starts (Proverbs 1:7).

The fear of the LORD is a response that we have to Him, but that awe, that reverence, that lens through which we see what is wise, comes from the fear of the LORD that is His revelation. That’s part of the reasion that Scripture is called “the fear of the LORD” in Psalm 19:9.

So in order to be more wise you must read the fear of the LORD and worship in the fear of the LORD. Get wiser.

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The end of the year is not magical for life change, but it is as good of time as any for evaluating your life and examining your heart. This flip (or swipe) of the calendar brings a close and opening of a decade. We are just days away from the 20’s, the TWENTY-Twenties. As usual when there are more than two people, one exhortation will have to work for many applications.

Some of you, for sake of increasing growth in Christ this next year, need to take on more. This past year we studied Paul’s exhortation to run to win with full self-control (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We heard him say to quit like men, be strong, always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58; 16:13). We were reminded that every believer is part of the body, and gifted for sake of building up the body (1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:12). Watching others work is not a gift, and I mean that in multiple ways. Do you need to add Bible reading and prayer to your disciplines? Do you need to add faithfulness to your participation at small group? Do you need to stop making your husband to all the work at home, or visa versa?

Others of you, for sake of increasing growth in Christ, need to take more off. Hebrews 12 also uses the race metaphor, and running is a lot easier when you lose some weight. I once calculated my weight per step in a marathon, and losing just a few pounds would make a huge different over the entire course. It’s never good to carry sin around, and there are other things, not sinful per se, that we also carry that help no one.

“Lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1b-2a)

This is the end of a lap but not the end of your race. How are you running to win?

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A common Christian abuse of Christmas poses itself as spiritual behavior. The abuse occurs when Christians reluctantly, or plainly refuse to, love others who don’t rise to the level of understanding that we think they should have about Christmas. In other words, since they don’t get Christmas like we do, they’re not worthy to share our Christmas joy. I might be a relative, it could even be how parents treat their kids. If only they would just grow up, then we wouldn’t have to teach them a lesson by being so condescending.

This behavior reverses the gospel. It abuses Christmas.

Jesus didn’t wait for people to get it before He came. He didn’t take on flesh because that’s where the glory was. Flesh is precisely not where the glory was. He came to redeem and restore fallen men, the very ones who didn’t get it. That’s the point of Christmas.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

In some ways, Christmas is the anti-holiday, at least as the Hallmark channel portrays it. The birth of Christ in Bethlehem was the anti- “everything is just right” moment that brings people together. We’re stressing to arrange all the details to be perfect. Jesus came because nothing was perfect, and He came in an inconvenient and unacknowledged way. And, of course, 2000 years or so later, we’re still talking about it.

We want to be with people when they get it. Jesus went to people because they didn’t. May your joy in Emmanuel come first, like a gift to your people, rather than held back like a wage that they must earn.

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I recently finished rereading Dante’s Paradiso, the third part of his poetic journey that starts with a tour through hell and ends up in the highest heaven. The whole epic is called The Divine Comedy because it has a happy ending, at least for those in heaven.

One part that stood out to me again is an explanation given by an occupant of the lowest part of heaven that Dante encountered, and, according to his celestial geography, the part furthest away from God’s throne. Dante asks if those in this circle are disappointed that they are not and cannot move closer. Here is the answer:

“If we desired to be higher up,
then our desires would not be
in accord with His will Who as-
signs us to this sphere;

Indeed, the essence of this
blessed state is to dwell here
within His holy will, so that
there is no will but one with His;

While I don’t think the distance imagery is accurate, this description of heavenly desire is gold. What is heaven? To have our wills match God’s will perfectly. Heaven is where we desire exactly what He desires, perfect contentment with the blessings of His will.

I enjoyed reading Dante’s imaginative effort about heaven while reading the apostle John’s inspired vision in Revelation 4 and 5. At the center of John’s sight is the throne, the place where the Lord God Almighty sits. The throne communicates His glory, and His authority. It is the place where He wills what happens.

Isn’t this exactly how we get into trouble? At best we are ignorant of His will, or we forget it, or we reject it. Of course that is misery, not joy. It is rebellion, not worship. It is hellish, not divine.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God

(Colossians 1:9–10)

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Recognizing our identity requires faith.

Many of the ladies in our church have been reading and discussing a book about identity. Being a woman is part of one’s identity (if you are a woman), as is being a man. Recognizing that difference does not require wisdom, though in our day it does require honesty and courage. Some are young, some are old, and God speaks to the different glories of each kind. We are not all the same part of the body, we do not all have the same spiritual gifts. These categories, and others, belong with who we believe ourselves to be as image-bearers of God and as disciples of Christ.

I mentioned a few months ago the difference between optimists and pessimists, not regarding world history per se, but regarding personal sanctification. I want to cover that ground again from a different angle because identifying ourselves correctly affects our hope.

Christian, are you a sinner or are you saint? Are you guilty before God or justified in Christ’s righteousness? Are you a conquerer, or are you a coward, a compromiser, a loser?

Here’s the giveaway: if you are asking those questions, the answer is obvious. If you are not asking those questions, there is an obvious problem.

If you struggle to identify as a saint, knowing that you sin and that you have to repent from sin and that you hate sin, then the Bible commands you to identify as “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 5:11). This is not telling yourself a lie, it is the way you reckon with having died with Christ to sin. If you see that you are wretched, and long for full deliverance from sin (Romans 7:24), then you must acknowledge that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Are you weak, are you groaning, then you should know that in all these things you are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37).

This is not trying to convince yourself of something to make it true, this is the life of believing what Christ said is true.

It’s those who say that they don’t have sin who God identifies as liars (1 John 1:10). So speak the truth, confess your sin, as overcomers of the world by faith that Jesus is the Son of God.

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The wise Preacher once observed a heavy and hideous scene.

“There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.”

Ecclesiastes 6:1–2, ESV

Here is an illustration I’ve always appreciated. “God is the One who gives things, and God is the one who gives the power to enjoy things. These are distinct gifts…just as a can of peaches and a can-opener are distinct gifts” (Wilson, Joy at the End of the Tether). God could give a man a warehouse full of canned peaches, and get that man on the talk show circuit about his terrific warehouse management techniques, and it wouldn’t be enough.

Who knows how many things he has to be thankful for? Sounds, Scripture, salvation; food, family, friendship; life, liturgy, literature; ice cream, the Internet, ibuprofen; butter, bread, beauty; kids, congratulations, compassion; potatoes, promises, pies. These are all wondrous gifts, with whip cream on top, to mankind.

But there is one more gift that puts all of those gifts in place. One other gift that keeps us from serving the gifts as gods or from fearing that we will. The great gift is the power to give thanks. Gratitude itself is a grace. Not letting us think that we have gotten all these things by our own power (see Deuteronomy 8:17), but turning us to the God of generosity and abundant blessings is His own work in our hearts.

Give thanks to God who works and wills thankfulness in your hearts.

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