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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Heaven is Painful

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city-heaven-new-jerusalem-heaven-duplantisFor many of us, we think of heaven in a way that makes it about us. “Everything you love will be there…” “No more tears, no more pain…” “Whatever you love doing, it will be in heaven…” We have turned heaven into some ethereal place where it’s all about us receiving our reward. It is the end that justifies our means of living. This picture perfectly illustrates that.

But looking through the prophets, or the martyrs, or the early disciples, or even Christ, one cannot help but see the painful reality of heaven. The picture we have painted about heaven has led to many jokes (just take a look at The Invention of Lying). We have responded to the nature of evil with “one day, we will be free from it all.”

Heaven is a work in which many of us do not want to participate.

For instance, this past week at CIY:MOVE (a youth conference), we spoke about reconciliation. I hate reconciliation. And most of us do. Jesus talked about disagreements in Matthew 18 and then after talking about it, he told the parable of the unforgiving debtor. Coincidence? Most likely not. It may be easy for us to mutter the words, “I forgive you,” but it is a lot harder for us to live out forgiveness on a day-to-day basis. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 not to let the sun go down on our anger because anger is a foothold for evil. But many of us have slept while we are angry at someone else.

Heaven is painful.

Some of us have a lot of religious head knowledge. We could talk for days on end about the nature of atonement or how transubstantiation is the correct view of communion. We know all the different church movements and can debate with the best of them. We can talk about “the gospel” all day long and walk away feeling like we solved all the problems in the world. But to live out Christ is a completely different task. We are like doctors who have studied but have never cut open a body. We have convinced ourselves that giving money to the church and/or a non-profit is our “spiritual act of worship.” This is us being Christ. But it isn’t.

Heaven is painful.

Mission trips are fun for us because we feel a sense of accomplishment. We built a house for someone, or we put on a fantastic week of VBS for a group of kids, or we fed the homeless. We met a need and it made us feel accomplished. Trips like that are fun and good for the soul. But it is much harder for us to be Christ in our everyday lives. Our friends will make fun of us. People will curse and spit at us. We will be rejected. It’s harder for us to live out mission every day because that requires a daily commitment rather than just a week or a couple of weeks.

Heaven is painful.

We grant grace and forgiveness to the sins around us that meet our criteria. You lied? Here’s grace. You stole? Here’s forgiveness. You slept with someone before marriage? Here’s grace. But it is harder for us to grant grace and forgiveness to the sins that make us uncomfortable. You hit a woman? You molested a child? You raped someone? You’re a terrorist who’s responsible for killing thousands of people?

Heaven is painful.

NT Wright talks about how praying “may your will be done on earth as it is being done in heaven” is one of the most important prayers we could pray. For in that prayer, we are reminding ourselves that we are to usher God’s Kingdom to earth. The evil nature of earth is colliding with good nature of God. It is in birthing pains — and that is painful and dirty and ugly, but something beautiful is coming if we only endure. Heaven might be painful for a little while, but new life will occur.

Unfortunately, the work of heaven will be painful. It is counter-cultural to what we live in today and it will be met with great resistance. But, giving up is never a choice. Refusing to fight is never an option. Accepting that the “world is full of evil” is never a proper worldview. God says that He is reconciling the entire world to Himself. And that has to be painful.

Sometimes I wonder how painful heaven actually will be for some of us. We will see the homeless guy we ignored every day. We will see that person who used to do those things. We will see people we spent our entire lives ignoring because of how they hurt us.

Here’s the point to this: if we truly live out what Christ told us to live out, we will experience pain. It happens. Making heaven (and not the ethereal place) a reality is full of pain. We have to reconcile with the murderer. We have to forgive the child molester. We have to take in those without shelter. We have to give our last piece of bread to the hungry. We have to stand up and get hit for those who can’t take another beating. We have to fight for justice.

I’m not great at this. But the more I think about God’s Kingdom, the more I realize how painful it will be for me because I’m not even doing it right now. I’m not being it right now.

The process of bringing heaven to earth is going to be painful. It’s time we all jump in and get a little bruised up.

The Sin of the Church

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ImageOne of my favorite films of the year has been Philomena. It is a beautiful story about a journalist who tries to find Philomena’s son. Philomena was sent to a convent by her father after becoming pregnant. While in the convent, she gave birth to a son who was then forced illegally into adoption and Philomena was never able to say goodbye to him. 50 years later, Philomena tells this painful secret that she has kept for so many years.

The film is difficult to watch at times. As a person who deeply loves the Bride of Christ, it is painful to see the wrongdoings of the Church. There are an approximate 60,000 women in Ireland that were forced to give up children because they were unwed mothers. Not only that, the Irish government has refused to release the records of these children and the adoptive parents. But Philomena is fighting within the church to see change. She even recently had an audience with Pope Francis.

Philomena Lee has said, “You can’t go through life being so unyielding …so you’ve got to forgive. You’ve got to. You just have to forgive.” This is a seemingly easy concept to live by when the pain the Church causes you is “mild.” Forgiveness is a little more difficult when the Church forces you to give up a child.

But no matter what the pain, “we can’t go through life being so unyielding.” Why? Because we are really being unyielding against ourselves. The Church is a community of people. And each of us make up that community. So when you are angry at the Church, you are, in a way, angry at yourself.

So the church said something with which you disagree? I’m sure no one has ever disagreed with you…

So the church hurt you? I’m sure you have never hurt anyone else…

So the church lied to you? I’m sure you have never lied to anyone…

The sin of the Church is the sin of its people. Our greed, corruption, manipulation, and selfishness is the sin. The Church is not some unknown group of people. It is you. It is me. And we have all made countless mistakes.

This reminds me of the story in John of the woman caught in the act of adultery. As she is brought to receive judgment, Christ makes the simple, yet profound statement, of “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone” (John 8.1-11). I feel like for many of us, we have tied up the Church and are throwing the biggest rocks we can find at it. We are relentless in our pursuit of destroying it for the pain it caused us. And yet Christ is saying, “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” But we can’t hear Him over the sound of stones smashing through the Bride of Christ.

Many of us inside of the Church seem to think that there is some extravagant evil force that is trying to destroy it. This may have some validity but I think it gives far too much credit to that which Christ said, “the gates of hell will not be able to overcome it.” I think we are doing a pretty outstanding job on our own of destroying the church. I’m guilty of this. Sometimes in the pursuit of trying to create something that resembles the Bride of Christ, I find myself trying to destroy the Bride of Christ to create something that resembles Caleb Trimble. I need to learn that balance.

When we throw stones at the Church, we really just hurt ourselves. We cannot go through life being so unyielding. We just need to learn how to forgive. How do you learn to forgive? Remind yourself of what it was like to be on the other end and needing forgiveness. Remember the relief you felt when someone said those three incredible words, “I forgive you.” Remind yourself that you are a part of the thing that you are destroying.

I think we can learn something from Philomena. She was deeply hurt by the Church and yet she kept her faith in God and in the Church. She chose to forgive rather than walk through life being bitter toward it. Perhaps it is because she realized that she would really just be mad at herself. How beautiful would it be if we were quicker to forgive than we were to cast stones from our tower of righteousness? Or see how we have wronged people instead of seeing how the Church has wronged us?

The sin of the Church is me. The sin of the Church is you. But praise God for His grace to each of us. May we exhibit that same grace to the Bride of Christ.

Nebraska & Reconciliation

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Image“Have a drink with your old man. Be somebody!” — Woody Grant (played by Bruce Dern)

I’m a huge fan of Alexander Payne. I could talk for hours on his ability to craft a humorous and yet painful look at serious subject matter. Nebraska wasn’t any different. Although it still isn’t my favorite Payne film (The Descendants definitely stands at number 1, still), it is still highly ranked.

[Some of you may view what follows as spoilers]

The film is shot in black and white and has this sort of faded grittiness to it. It centers around a son and his father going on a road trip from Montana to Nebraska so the father can claim his million dollars that a Publisher’s Clearing House type company told him he won. The father, who is either senile or suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, has not had an ideal relationship with his family. Alcoholism has consumed him for a majority of his life. But family is family. And the sons still love and care for their father no matter how mean he can get. Even though they don’t know much about his life, they empathize with him and stick up for him as a good man who provided for his family. He was a man that was always willing to help out when someone needed help.

But I don’t want to focus on the details of the film. Instead, I want to focus on the beauty of seeing relationships reconciled.

Nebraska pulls on the heart because we all long to see relationships mended. Brokenness was never in God’s plan for humanity. And yet, it rears its ugly head in every single relationship. There are several things we can blame the brokenness on: alcohol, addictions, self-harm, disagreements, finances, etc. But here’s the point: it all comes back to us.

We’ve all been hurt by people. It’s inevitable. Unless you live your life as a hermit and don’t talk to anyone, you will undoubtedly walk around with scars from what someone has done to you. Likewise, someone is probably walking around with scars from what you’ve done to them. We all hurt each other. But how do we move toward reconciliation when the deepest cuts are ones that will never heal?

The easy (and extraordinarily difficult) answer is that we must learn how to forgive even if they will never ask for forgiveness. That’s a difficult process. It’s one that I still am trying to navigate how to do in my own life. As a person who wants justice, I feel like my grudges are forgiven because of how much the person wronged me. That’s not true. I know it isn’t. But most of us walk around our entire lives believing things we know aren’t true but refuse to admit it because of our self-righteous attitudes.

But Nebraska reminded me of the urgency to reconcile relationships. If you asked me right now of a name of a relationship I needed to reconcile, I could probably give you 10 names. If you asked me what I’m doing to reconcile those relationships, I would probably mumble something along the lines of, “but they are the ones who hurt me…” It’s almost like we forget what it is like for someone to come up to us and say, “I forgive you,” and we refuse to allow someone who has wronged us to experience that same grace.

I understand that there needs to be healing. I am not trying to diminish the pain that you are going through. Believe me, I wouldn’t do that. Work through the pain…but work toward reconciliation, as well. The problem with working through pain is that many times we work through something to find ourselves…when we really need to work through things to find Jesus. Christ will always point us toward reconciliation because Christ was all about reconciliation.

And He gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

Are we doing anything to work toward reconciliation? Are we asking ourselves questions each day about what we are doing to reconcile broken relationships? Has the sun gone down on our anger one too many nights?

I think too often we convince ourselves that we are in a healthy place because we only have a few broken relationships. And since we aren’t around those people anymore, we are fine. But do not be deceived: a shred of leftover bitterness is enough to destroy every single relationship you will ever have. We would be naive to think otherwise.

Nebraska looks at a broken relationship between a father and son. It’s humorous as much as it is heartbreaking. The truth is, is that the film will be true of many relationships in our lives. The truth is, is that God never intended it to be that way…nor does He want us to be content with things being that way.

Reconciliation will hurt. But so does most of life. What hurts even worse is seeing, at the end of your life, all of the relationships that you will never be able to reconcile because you waited too long or allowed your heart to become too hard. Let’s begin being the church and seeking reconciliation before we begin justifying our actions because of our scars. We all have scars. And we all cause scars. Let’s move beyond that and to something greater. Something that resembles the Kingdom.

Seeking Forgiveness is Selfish

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Within Christianity, there is a practice called confession. Upon confession, we ask God for forgiveness of sins. I’ve stopped doing this. Here’s why:

I’ve messed up again. I can’t believe I did it again. I told myself I would stop. I’m so angry at myself.

These are things that usually run through our minds when we find ourselves trapped in the same sin we thought we could stop. You know what I’m talking about. Maybe it was a New Year’s Resolution. Maybe you got caught and said you would stop. Maybe you’ve told yourself you are going to stop before someone finds out. Maybe you just came back from a conference and are on an emotional high and are ready to conquer the world. Whatever your motivation, we have all found ourselves in the place where we look at ourselves in the mirror and curse because we gave into “that” sin again.

And thus the cycle begins again. “Lord, I’m sorry.” “You are forgiven.” “Well, maybe just one more time…” “Lord, I’m sorry.” “You are forgiven.” “Well, I’ve gone for a long time without doing it, so just one more time won’t be an issue…” “Lord, I’m sorry.” The only thing that changes is our justification for falling back into the sin.

But what I found, for me at least, is that my seeking forgiveness was more about me than anything else. Sometimes, seeking forgiveness can be the most selfish thing we do. I felt bad because I told myself I would stop. I failed. I thought I had conquered that sin.

Seeking forgiveness stems from a recognition of personal failure. So seeking forgiveness, many times, stems from selfishness. What I am asking is this: Do we seek forgiveness because we recognize what we have done to the Kingdom or our community? Or do we seek forgiveness because we had such a high view of ourselves that we would not mess up again? For a lack of self-discipline?

We seek forgiveness because of personal failure. But failure isn’t personal. Failure affects everyone. So when seeking forgiveness, it cannot be for personal failure. Seeking forgiveness has to be about community. Something larger than yourself. Otherwise, seeking forgiveness is selfish. Who are we to think that we could live life without sin? Who are we to think that we could conquer sin? Who are we to think that we can control the sin in our own life? It is out of our control. It is only through a supernatural power, being the Holy Spirit, that sin can be controlled.

Here’s the point. I’m tired of seeking forgiveness because I’ve messed up. I’m tired of saying the same prayer that I won’t do it again. I’m weary of it all.

What I cannot tire over is recognizing the fact that my sin affects others. My anger hurts others. My cynicism depresses others. My sarcastic language can cut others (it would help if they would stop taking everything personally).

Our sin directly affects others. So seeking forgiveness cannot be personal. It has to be outwardly focused. Otherwise, it is selfish…and wouldn’t that make it a sin?