Why I Must Confess

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Confession is good for the soul. Some people live their lives with a hidden secret that will go to the grave with them. Not only will they live with that secret, but they will also live with shame, regret, and fear.

I love that the Roman Catholic Church has confessionals. It provides an opportunity to confess what is hidden in that darkness. This not only acts as an opportunity to confess that which is hidden, but also the day to day sins of which so many are guilty.

If you are anything like me, you walk through life without paying much attention to sins. Because we live in an age of grace, sometimes we forget to go through the discipline of asking God for forgiveness for things we have done and for things we have left undone. There is something healing in confessing. Sin begins to lose its power in our life when we give words to it.

Grace is a beautiful thing. Without it, we would all be lost. I fear, however, that even with it, we are still somewhat lost. We assume grace. We assume that God will forgive. We assume that our sin will no longer be counted against us.

There is a stark difference between having assurance and assuming. Having assurance is trust. Assuming is not giving much thought to something.

We can have assurance in God’s forgiveness and grace but we cannot assume God’s forgiveness and grace.

One of the things the Book of Common Prayer has in its service is a time of confession. This is not a time for each person to go around saying their sins of the week. It is a time of silent confession before God. Then, they end with this prayer said together:

“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.”

This is one of my favorite prayers to pray. I pray it often. Each time I come back to it, the words become more powerful.

Christ taught us to pray each time for God to forgive us our trespasses. Have we forgotten to keep doing that? Some of us will ask for forgiveness for what we consider to be “bigger” sins…but we don’t confess sins of omission, being greedy with our money, lying, or other things that are considered culturally normal. When we remind ourselves of daily sins, we remind ourselves how much grace we actually need. Then we become all the more grateful for the grace of God.

Knowing that God’s grace covers each and every inch of our lives can easily become an assumption.

Confession makes me all the more grateful for God’s forgiveness and grace. It reminds me just how much I need it. And it helps me not to take it for granted. It helps me not to cheapen it.

Sometimes I wish that the American Evangelical Church had a place in the service for confession. How powerful would it be for us to weekly pray a prayer of forgiveness and corporately remembering how much we need God’s grace? It’s amazing to me that so many things in culture point to people desiring confession. There are numerous websites that people can confess on. There are multiple opportunities to anonymously confess your darkest secrets. People want to speak. People want to say what is weighing them down. Shouldn’t we be providing them with that opportunity?

Confession might scare us. Confession might make us uncomfortable. Confession might frustrate us. But confession also reminds us. And we need to be reminded. Daily. Just how much we need God’s grace. We need to be reminded how much we have cheapened it. We need to be reminded how thankful we should be for it. Confession paves the way for that. It’s a discipline that we neglect…but it’s a discipline that should be a daily practice.

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Vulgar Worship

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It’s been a few years since the whole “sloppy wet kiss” debate began happening. Most churches have safely landed on the phrase “unforeseen kiss” as opposed to the original “sloppy wet kiss.” To them, “unforeseen kiss” seems less vulgar (even though by using the phrase “unforeseen kiss,” I get the image of a surprise and I don’t like surprises). Churches want to sing “How He Loves” without the image of messiness as portrayed in the original version of the song.

This piece is not meant to bring up the whole debate again. There’s no use beating a dead horse. I use it as a reference because it shows a greater truth about modern worship music in the evangelical church: we don’t like vulgar worship.

The word vulgar was originally used to describe the language of common people. Today, it is generally used to describe something lacking good taste or referring to coarse and rude language. When I use the word, I’m talking about the language of common people.

Modern worship seems plagued by “Stepford Wife” theology. We say to people that even in the darkest of moments, they should still praise God. To, basically, put on a mask and sing words to God that you don’t mean. In doing this, we have robbed songs and hearts of authenticity. In the evangelical church, songs are sung each week that deal with God’s love, Christ’s love, God’s power and strength, grace, etc. Anytime we deal with dark themes, the song will inevitably redeem that darkness. It is uncomfortable for us to sing songs that do not resolve. But the Psalms seem to paint a completely different picture. For instance:

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the lord while in a pagan land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy. lord, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. “Destroy it!” they yelled. “Level it to the ground!” O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks! – Psalm 137

I love this psalm. It portrays such depth and anguish. Even when they talk about rejoicing, we shudder at the thought of babies being smashed against rocks.
Psalm 22 is another psalm that is dark and yet still manages to worship God. It aptly describes the feelings of the author:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.
And then is able to worship God in those feelings:
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them. They cried out to you and were saved. They trusted in you and were never disgraced.
I am not advocating that our songs become morbid and depressing. I am advocating, however, that songs begin to echo the feelings of the common people. This is one of the things that I love about the Episcopal church. It is able to capture all of these emotions in one service through liturgy. There is nothing more humbling and beautiful than to say “Lord, have mercy” over and over.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing about God’s grace because I feel like I have abused it and have lost the privilege to sing those words.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing about God’s strength because I do not see it in the atrocities happening around me.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing at all. I just want to sit in silence and repeat, “Lord, have mercy.”
Evangelical services carry with them a component of happiness. We want people leaving feeling energized and ready to take on the world. But as I have been rereading the Psalms, I see something different being sung.
I understand that worship isn’t about me and that it is about God. But you cannot say that all of these forced songs of happiness are about God. They are about us feeling better. They are about us escaping troubles. They are about us trying to assimilate the people into thinking/feeling the same way about God.
If worship is truly about God, then one will understand that there are several different words that need to be said. Not just words that point to happiness and satisfaction. Words that point to discord, words that point to anger, words that point to sin, words that point to abandonment, etc. These words need to be said because they are all part of the human experience with God.
Through these vulgar words, we will discover the greatness of God.

Come Clean, Church

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I go back and forth with Bill Hybels. Sometimes I really like him and am completely engaged in everything he says. And at other times, not so much. However, I think the reason I have so much respect for him is because of his honesty.

Back in 2007-2008, Willow admitted to making some mistakes along the way. They discussed several strategies that they were going to implement to help them become the church they felt God wanted them to be. I remember hearing this and being shocked. Willow admitted to that?! Bill Hybels admitted to that?! But from that shock, came respect.

There is a fear within the church of admitting mistakes. I’m not talking about personal mistakes (although, there is a fear in that as well), but church leadership mistakes. The funny thing about this, though, is that we are taught all throughout life that admitting mistakes shows courage and makes you a bigger person…but not when it comes to the church. We fear that if the church admitted they took a wrong stance, made a wrong decision, implemented a bad practice, etc., then people would have less respect for her. Instead of admitting mistakes, we say something along the lines of, “God is leading us a different direction.” We immediately shift over the blame to God (which is why we need to be careful when we say things like, “God is leading me to do this…” – don’t associate God with how you are feeling and don’t tie His name to everything you feel “led” to do).

The church has made mistakes in the past and will continue to make mistakes in the future. It is inevitable. The church is run by fallible people, who, granted, are trying to do their best with what they have. Many of these people have the purest intentions, but they will still make mistakes. What we need to do as a church, is admit those mistakes.

In “Blue Like Jazz,” Donald Miller writes a powerful chapter on confession. If you haven’t read the chapter, click on the link. It’s a powerful chapter because of what takes place. Instead of students confessing their sins to the Christians on campus, the Christians confess their sins and the sins of the church. It’s a beautiful chapter. And it is exactly what we need to be doing.

I have a feeling that many churches have this idea that they will fail if they admit to mistakes they are making. But people would rather go to a place that admitted mistakes than to a place that seemed too perfect.

It’s time for the church to stop covering things up.

It’s time for us to begin admitting when we are wrong.

It’s time for us to be open about errors.

It’s time for us to embrace the messiness of humans, including the leaders in the church.

This is the kind of church the world needs. It doesn’t need a church that refuses to admit error. How do we expect people in the church to admit when they are wrong when the church can’t? What would it look like if the church said:

We don’t feed the homeless as much as we should.

We spend way too much money on new carpet and not enough money on the community.

We were judgmental.

We’ve never taken care of the widows and orphans.

We have only supported missions within our denominational branch, and we have to stop doing that.

We have taken a wrong stance on a doctrinal issue.

We spend far too much money on marketing and not enough money on things that really matter.

The list can go on and on. It is filled with things that I think many of us would like to see the church admit. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if it did? It would seem like a place where I could admit my errors and not feel judged for it. It would seem like a place where forgiveness really was offered.

The church is filled and led by fallible humans. It’s time we embraced that and admitted our errors.

I’m Terrified of the Resurrection

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“When Christ comes, everyone will know everything that you have kept hidden. It will all be brought to light.”

“When Christ returns, everyone will know your internet browsing history. We will all know how many sexual partners you’ve had. We will all know what you do in the privacy of your own home. We will all know what you would prefer to keep hidden.”

“Christ’s second coming will be filled with people who are ashamed of what they kept secret.”

These are some examples of things I have heard associated with Christ’s Second Coming. In fact, I used to hear these statements so much that I actually prayed that God would never make Jesus return. I used to be terrified of the Resurrection. That was until I realized something significant.

Confession. It does the soul good.
We preach it.
We teach it.
We advocate it.
We push small groups.
AA does it well.
CR does it well.
People who are involved with anything like that will tell you that they started living life whenever they could finally get a heavy burden off their chest.

It does not exist for obvious reasons:

Who would want a minister who has been involved in an affair?
Who would want a children’s volunteer who used to steal from the offering plate?
Who would want to be in a small group with a guy who struggles with porn?
Who would want to leave their children with someone who is a closet alcoholic?
Who would want to sit next to someone in church that doesn’t necessarily agree with all this “God-stuff?”

Most people would say “yes” to these questions. Most of us would say “the grace of God covers everything.” We all believe in second chances. We can talk about it all day long. But when we’re faced with it, now that is a whole different issue. When someone comes to us and confesses something, we begin to act differently around them.

We act like we don’t drink around the struggling alcoholic.
We are careful about what movies we watch with the person who struggles with porn.
We don’t talk about money around the person who used to steal from the offering plate.
We shy away from the issue of divorce with a person who has actually been through divorce.

Whenever someone confesses something, we immediately begin behaving differently. There is something that clicks in our brain. We become more aware of jokes, things we might say, places we might go, things we might do, what we might watch, etc. And when we do all of this, we begin alienating the person who confessed something. The confessor is alienated to a point where he/she wishes he/she had not confessed it at all. So he/she begins to hide it again.

It’s a cycle. I’m sure many of us have been through it. We trusted someone with an intimate detail of our life and that person told everyone. So instead we keep everything secret. Confession may be good for the soul, but it is only good if it does not cause your notoriety.

Then we begin to hear sermons about Christ returning and everything being brought to light. We get scared. Jesus please don’t come back. Please don’t bring to light what I do. But don’t we naturally want things brought to light? When we sin, we become more and more careless about covering up that sin. Suddenly, we are caught. Isn’t it a relief when sin is no longer secret? It is until people begin acting differently around you…

I write about this because I want us to move toward genuine community: community that is nonjudgmental and does not behave differently once it finds out about something. The reason so many of us fear the Resurrection is because we have a wrong view of what community looks like. When what is done in darkness is brought to light, it is a relief. It is a weight off of our shoulders. In a good community, there is no condemnation from anyone. In a good community, they do not behave differently.

Unfortunately, we have many bad communities that scare people into keeping things hidden. Then we preach messages about sin being brought into light (way out of context). Wouldn’t it be easier to convince people that the Resurrection won’t be terrifying if we started living in genuine community today?

I used to be scared of the Resurrection. That is because I never knew what genuine community looked like. I thought that when Christ came and brought my sins into light, people would judge me in Heaven (eternity is a long time to constantly be given the stank eye). When I found genuine community I became excited about the Resurrection.