Confessional Living: beneath the symptoms

mads 11th bday cake

This has NOTHING to do with this post but is a pic of Maddie blowing out the candles on the birthday cake made for her by her older sister, Emily.

In the last “Confessional Living” post, I wrote about the joy that comes through confession.

I suggested it is possible for this joy to be a constant state if we live in continual recognition/confession of sin–Martin Luther’s “life of repentance.” To do this, though, we must understand the concept of “sin” more deeply–beyond its obvious symptoms to its core, where we always put “self” ahead of God and/or others. A few weeks back I was at a morning retreat run by our church (Church of the Resurrection), and Bishop Stewart Ruch spoke about the chronic disease of sin and the different ways it reveals or presents itself in our lives. I found his list very helpful, particularly in relation to the studying/thinking I’ve done for the Confessional Living series, so I am sharing it here.

1. the disease to meet our own needs–no matter what; ahead of others’ more pressing needs; for being flattered, noticed, taken care of, pampered, etc. Stewart suggested that people struggling with this particular sin disease are often magnetic or subtly manipulative personalities; they have figured out how to get others to want to meet their needs.

2. the disease of self-deception–living as if we have no sin/not seeing our own sin. This is why it is very, very dangerous to live outside any spiritual authority. It is too easy to ignore and become blind to our own sin.

3. the disease of introspection–This is not reflection but is a constant consciousness of ourselves, of how we are presenting ourselves to others, of how others are perceiving us. A continual awareness of SELF.

4. the disease of unbelief–of doubting the truth of God’s Word, of HIM. Of doubting the Gospel. Of ALWAYS questioning/pushing off acceptance.

5. the disease of perfectionism–In this, we have an illusion of the possibility of self-goodness and being completely RIGHT. It leads to brutal self-standards and terrible judgment of both self and others. Perfectionists are exhausted themselves and tiring to be around.

6. the disease of non-acceptance–We do not accept what God has given us to do or be. We don’t embrace it and instead long for something else.

Mad's 11th bday cakeThese were very helpful for me. A friend who also attended the retreat went with me on a long walk, and we discussed the realities of these diseases in our lives. We recognized many of them! They bring theoretical sin into the nitty-gritty and allow me to see the wrong in very subtle attitudes, actions, or thoughts. When I am in a group, and I find myself slightly amending a statement or story just before I say it so that I will appear more likable/knowledgable/competent–I can see that this springs from a sin disease and needs to be brought to the Lord. When I fuss at two of my children for squabbling in a store, it allows me to see that underneath the good desire for these children to care for each other is a sliver of hurt pride at having others’ perceptions of my parenting tainted by my children’s actions.

And when I become conscious of these things, I am more in awe of Christ–who didn’t exalt Himself but instead humbled Himself to the cross, –who loved and died for us while we were still dead and rotten in our sins.

With great gratitude I remember that for our sake “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”

Confessional Living: the joy of humility

The psalmist said, “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.” Psalm 32:3-4 NLT
God went to great lengths to draw the psalmist into confession. The Message paraphrases the above verses like this: “When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up.”
Why was God so hard on him? We learn the answer to this question later in the same psalm (32) when the psalmist can no longer stand his misery. “Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.”
The relief was so great the psalmist said: “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” The Amplified puts the second part this way: “Blessed is he who has forgiveness of his transgression continually exercised upon him, whose sin is covered.”
God knows this kind of joy results when we honestly confess and experience His beautiful forgiveness. He doesn’t want this joy to be something we only experience after committing “big” sins; He wants us to live in this kind of joy all the time. This simply isn’t possible when we think we’re “doing okay.” When we think of our sinfulness merely in terms of “big” sins and only engage in confession when we’ve “really messed up,” we become flat and joy-less. Confessional living requires that we walk daily in the light of God’s truth, allowing it to continually reveal our own selfishness, our hidden sins, and our lack of trust—those ongoing sins that are at our very core. I John 1:9 tells us, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
Confessional living requires humility, and we humans don’t generally like humility. We think it will make us unsure, sad, and weak. But that’s not true. When we walk in humility with the Lord, regularly asking the Holy Spirit to convict us and taking all that is revealed to the Lord, He continually purifies and heals us, and we live strong and free and joyously in Him.
Gideon is a perfect example of this (Judges 6-8). After Gideon turned from his “big” sin of idolatry, he still struggled with doubt and fear. He could have hidden this, but instead he regularly admitted it to God. He told God he simply couldn’t do the task God had called him to. He asked for first one sign, then another, then another.
You’d think God would have gotten tired of Gideon’s lack of faith and progress.
But no.
Not once does God rebuke Gideon for being fearful or for admitting his fear. Not once does God express frustration. Instead He shows his acceptance of Gideon just as he is. He reassures him again and again. He meets him in his fear. After God has answered all Gideon’s requests, He tells him, “If you’re afraid (and I know you are), I’ve arranged yet another sign for you down in the enemy camp. You can sneak down there at night. Just stay outside their tents. You’ll hear all you need to know. Oh, and, by the way, take your servant with you if you need a partner to bolster your courage.” (my paraphrase)
Gideon doesn’t protest. He follows God’s directions–and then he worships!
Gideon’s willingness to acknowledge his own faults makes him more aware of God’s greatness.
Then he is able to accept God’s power and peace and joy and go out to do battle in the Lord’s strength.
If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action]. I John 1:9 Amplified

Odds and Ends: a recording, a verse, a suggestion

A RECORDING: If you didn’t read the last post, a poem by Wheaton Academy student Tyler Jackson, please scroll down below this post to see it (or follow the link above). The more I read her poem, the more I am influenced by it, so I made a recording of it in case any of you would rather hear it (poetry so often has a different effect when it’s listened to) or listen as you read along. Here’s the recording:

A VERSE: In my latest post in the Confessional Living series, it was implied but not actually stated that the Holy Spirit most often uses the very Word of God to make us aware of our hidden (or not so hidden) sins. Hebrews 4:12 is a oft-quoted verse about the power of Scripture. I’m putting it here in the New Living translation because it makes the verse new and fresh even to those who have quoted it since they were children. I am also including verses 13-16 because the Gospel, hallelujah, goes beyond our sin to the Savior who rescued us through His own sacrifice.

Hebrews 4:12-16 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. 14 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

*Here is Hebrews 4:12-16 in several different versions/paraphrases.

A SUGGESTION: Are you wanting to read Scripture more and allow God to use it to change you? Bible Gateway has recently added a section to its website titled “Scripture Engagement.” Here’s the first paragraph on that page: “This section of Bible Gateway, created in partnership with the Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement, outlines a set of practical exercises and activities you can undertake to interact more meaningfully with the Bible.” I would encourage you to check it out by following the link above.

Living Confessionally, Part 4: Inviting the Holy Spirit’s Conviction

I’ve had two recent conversations about confession. In both the other person told me they are often not sure what to confess. They want a specific recognition of sin in their lives beyond the “we have not loved (God) with our whole heart/We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.” The prayer of confession* also refers to sinning against God in “thoughts, words, and deeds” and by “what we have done” and “left undone.” What, in particular, are these—and how do we become more aware of them in our lives?

It’s generally not too difficult to recognize when we commit one of the “big” sins: an outright lie; a lustful thought; an outburst of anger; blatant, hurtful gossip, etc.** But the less obvious ones, the ones that pop up like weeds from our inherent self-focus/self-love, are often overlooked. Our bishop at Church of the Resurrection, Stewart Ruch, calls self-love/focus the “seed of sin.” It’s a very prolific seed, and the “small” sins it sprouts are harmful, no less harmful than the “big” ones. But they are also insidious (I love that word—it actually sounds evil!), working subtly and gradually. Many of them can even disguise themselves as something culture sees as good (like selfish ambition). How can we recognize these in our lives?

A couple of verses from the Psalms have been a great help for me as I’ve thought about this problem. Psalm 139 opens with these lines: “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.” It goes on to show how intimate this knowledge is and the section ends with this statement: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” This “knowledge” is about me—ME! God’s knowledge of me is far, far greater than my own knowledge of myself. He knows me in ways I am completely unable to know myself. That can seem terrifying—but it’s actually very, very helpful. Each of us has major blind spots in our lives; we can point out faults in others but remain unable to see the very same sins in ourselves. Psalm 19:12 says, “…who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” The last two verses in Psalm 139 say, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” In the New Living Translation that last verse reads, “Point out anything in me that offends you”; the Message paraphrases it “Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about;”.

I’ve discovered the Holy Spirit really does answer that prayer and does so in very gracious, gentle ways—in exactly the ways that make me recognize and face my sin without completely crushing me. The Spirit is also incredibly creative in this process: I’ve become aware of insidious sin in my life through a particular word that keeps popping up in my mind, through sermons I’ve listened to, books I’ve read (even fiction), my children’s struggles…

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.***

*The first blog post in this series has the prayer of confession in its entirety.

**It can be helpful to simply read some of the lists of sins in Scripture and ask the Spirit to reveal those in our lives. Here are links to some of them: Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6, Proverbs 6:16-19.

***This is the Collect for Purity from the Book of Common Prayer.

Living Confessionally, Part 3: Stretching my view of God

NOTE: The italicized phrases in this blog post are drawn from the prayer of confession, which follows the post.

In the last blog post in this series, I wrote about how confession has expanded my view of sin: it is not limited to thoughts, words, or actions, for these spring from a self-focus that keeps me from loving God and others. This understanding of sin has also stretched my view of God, for I see that He, unlike me, has NO sin in Him. His Spirit is not bent in self-focus; His every intent and action are for good.

As a child I equated God’s sinlessness (holiness) with a lot of “not” statements. God does not lie, does not steal (kind of impossible for Him to do that!), does not

But the holiness of God is so much greater than that. I turn to my definition of “not-sin” from the last blog post to help me with this idea. “Not sin” (holiness) is loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving my neighbor as myself.

Does God do that?

Yes!

First, He loves Himself with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength.

That’s a strange statement, and one my mind falls far short of comprehending, but when I consider the Trinity (another idea that blows my mind), I see that in the Three-in-One, God keeps this first-and-greatest commandment perfectly. The Father loves and honors the Son and the Spirit; the Son loves and honors the Father and the Spirit; the Spirit loves and exalts the Father and the Son. (For a GREAT and readable article on this, read “The Good News of the Trinity” by Tim Chester. By the way, he uses the term “perichoresis” in that article; click on the word to find the definition–which I had to look up!)

In the Trinity we catch a glimpse of how relationships are supposed to be. No self-centeredness taints the fellowship of the Trinity. Its members are for each other, loving each other with purity and kindness. The members of the Trinity completely act out the love described in I Corinthians 13 and the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5.

Second, God loves His neighbors (all His creation) as Himself. This doesn’t negate justice. God wouldn’t allow sin within Himself; He cannot accept it in us. And this is exactly where God’s love for us, His “neighbors” shines brightest. Rather than leave us in a state of separation from all that is purely good (Himself), He loved us as Himself and GAVE Himself. There is no greater example of the second commandment. For the sake of the Son, Christ, He forgives us and has mercy on us.

And so the prayer of confession takes my eyes UP—away from my self, away even from my sin—and I am amazed at the Goodness of God. In all His thoughts, words, and deeds toward us, in what He does and does not do

He is Good.

Here is the Prayer of confession in its entirety:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us;

That we may delight in your will,

And walk in your ways,

To the glory of your Name.

Amen

 

Almighty God, have mercy on us,

Forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Strengthen us in all goodness,

And by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life.

Amen.

Living Confessionally, Part 2: Expanding our view of sin

Not long ago I listened as a group of women talked about Bible studies they’d recently been involved in. One spoke of studying First John. “What surprised me most was the emphasis on confession,” she said. “We don’t do this in my church service, and I find I don’t do it very often personally either. I mean, I do when I see I’ve lied or been unkind, but most of the time I have a hard time recognizing my sin.”

It was an honest acknowledgement, and I understood her. We can easily fall into the trap of seeing sin as a list of things to avoid. The rich young ruler did this; he checked off the Ten Commandments as complete. And even though I understand this is impossible, I sometimes fool myself into thinking that if I attack the sins listed in the Scriptures, one by one, I can be free from them. This is not sanctification; this is self-improvement, the belief that I am really okay at the core, it’s just that I have these sins stuck to my surface.

The prayer of confession deepens my view of sin far, far beyond this.

“… we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

In this blog entry I want to look at the last two statements, for these define sin: not loving God with the whole heart; not loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

The “whole heart” includes all of our being: mind, soul, and strength (physical self), and the term “neighbor,” as explained by Christ in His parable of the Good Samaritan, does not exclude ANYONE, no matter how unlike me they happen to be.

So for me to NOT sin would mean I would need to wholly/completely love God AND every person I encounter each and every minute of my life

What would that be like?

I have no idea! I don’t even know what it would be like for a single moment because I can’t do it. I am unable to look completely away from myself, unable to focus upward and outward without one eye—at least—always gazing in. Even my “good” works are tainted with this “looking in.” I may do them with partially pure motives, but at some level I am hoping they will make me feel better about myself or exalt me in God’s or others’ sight.

I am incapable of pure love, even when the object is the pure and wonderful God, even when it is a newborn infant, as innocent and beautiful as a human can be.

The prayer of confessions helps me understand that I am not a sinner because I sin. No, I sin because I am broken at my very core.

The prayer of confession leads me to the huge depth of my need.

Note: As I was thinking about this, I listened to a Tim Keller podcast in which he said the phrase “homo curvatus in se,” and explained it was Martin Luther’s definition of sin. In researching this phrase, I discovered an article on theotherjournal.com by Matt Jenson (Associate Professor of Theology in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University) titled “The Shape of Our Sin.” Here’s a summary of part of his article, which is drawn from his book The Gravity of Sin: Augustine, Luther and Barth on ‘homo incurvatus in se’:

Augustine and Martin Luther wrote about sin as “humanity curved in on itself” (homo curvatus in se). Augustine said that because of this “curvatus,” we use everything, even God, for the enjoyment or comfort of ourselves, and Luther said this sin extends throughout our entire person—there is not a single part of us that is not centered on self. Karl Barth builds upon Augustine’s and Luther’s views and says that curvatus is also seen when we believe ourselves rather than God. We exalt our own statements as “truth” and reject God’s truths as lies. And he further makes the point that while we often see our “curvatus” as pride, the opposite is also true: when we debase ourselves and are constantly focused on our shortcomings, this is but another form of the curvatus. We are still focused on ourselves.

Living confessionally

I have been praying the Confession (from the Book of Common Prayer) in church now for a little over a year. More recently, it has become a daily prayer.

The same words, over and over.

I understand that liturgy, through its sheer repetition, can become meaningless. The most wonderful prayers, though filled beginning to end with Truth, can be rote when they are said without thought.

But my experience with this prayer in particular has been quite the opposite: it gains new meaning nearly every time I pray it. Because of this, I have been thinking a great deal about confession, not just the actual prayer but the idea of living “confessionally,” individually and as the Church, the body of Christ. I’ve not given much brainpower to this idea before now, and as I’ve thought about it, it’s grown in its significance for me. I’m planning to write a short series on it. I hope this is not simply a one-way presentation but that it prompts discussion. I feel I still have a great deal to learn about confession (as I do about so very many things), and I would love to learn WITH you.

Today’s post is simply the prayer itself and the prayer/benediction that always follows it.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us;

That we may delight in your will,

And walk in your ways,

To the glory of your Name.

Amen

Almighty God, have mercy on us,

Forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Strengthen us in all goodness,

And by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life.

Amen.