Why do we Christians confess?

One criticism I’ve heard of Christianity and of religion in general is that it’s simply a way for people to constantly feel bad about themselves.  Granted, it can be overdone.  Throughout history Christians have actually been quite creative in how they can flagellate themselves to relieve some sense of lingering guilt.  But this is not confession.

You don’t have to read a Bible to know that “pride goeth before the fall.”  We see it everywhere in our world; and if we’re honest, we see it in ourselves.

So why do we Christians confess?

We confess, I think, because through our faith we are made aware of our limitations, and therefore our dependence.  As we sing of God’s greatness, we also prayerfully devote ourselves to God with a voice that flows from our hearts –a soul-cry that God is God, and we are not.  It’s taken me a long time to understand that humility is a healing balm for this world, and that it begins with me.

How is confession a part of your life and/or faith?

Message Preview: Are You Stuck in the Shallow End?

The progression of our growth can be traced by where we swim.  As a child, the kiddy pool’s shallow and safe form gives us all we can handle.  Getting bigger we move on to the shallow end, where we can experience the joy of swimming without considerable risk.  And then, if we allow, we move into the deep end marked by increased risk and requiring a deal more skill and effort to navigate.

But some adults prefer to stay in shallow water.

On Sunday I’m beginning a series of messages that seeks to understand what God wants from us, as declared in Micah 6:8.  This Scripture is simple, but in no way is it shallow.  Join us for a meal and worship each Sunday night if you live in the area (6:00pm at 2537 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights), or follow us online.

Are You Happy About Mark Driscoll?

I was in seminary when Ted Haggard, mega-church pastor and evangelical figure leading the charge against the ‘homosexual agenda’, was accused of ongoing visits with a male prostitute.  It was drama that we were particularly interested in at seminary, like a broker office during a shift in the stock market.  And we carried a smugness about it.  We never actually said, “I told you so,” or “I knew this would happen,” but I’m pretty sure we felt it.

It wasn’t so much Haggard’s stance on the issue that rubbed us the wrong way, but more of the way that he went about it.  Nearly all of us, in fact, had grown tired of the Evangelical agenda to save America back to the Christian Nation they all wrongly thought it used to be.

In that year our professors were encouraged to have devotion and prayer before class, and so this became the natural topic in my New Testament class.  I don’t remember the Scripture shared or even the exact words from my professor — all I remember is the indictment against us.  Yes, taking joy in the downfall of Ted Haggard was not the way of Jesus.

This week, Mark Driscoll resigned from his church, inducing cries of the same jubilation and self-satisfaction from his critics.  Driscoll was already in hot water as an author, accused of plagiarism.  But when enough elders in his Mars Hill network of churches spoke out against a culture of fear and intimidation, characterizing “Pastor Mark” as a dictator or cult leader, the momentum could not be stopped.

But there are two reasons why I have learned to withhold my joy in Driscoll’s harm.  First, I can see in myself, to any certain degree, the things that I dislike in him.  Bad theology?  Well, I’ve had that; and some people that I care about hold some of those same beliefs that Driscoll has.  Pride?  Yeah that’s me.  Anger?  Uh-huh.  Last time I checked, the “get the plank out of your own eye first” talk in the Bible didn’t have a footnote explaining that it was actually permissible in some circumstances.

And the second is simple, but extremely powerful.  As different as Driscoll and his people are from me, they’re still my family and I will not disown him or them; nor will I take joy in their pain.

When people tell tales of how the church harmed them, it grieves me and sometimes makes me mad.  The world has the Church under a microscope, ready to pounce on every mistake and failure; but that includes how I respond to my sisters and brothers who lose their way.

What Does Ebola Have to Do With Me?

If you ever doubt how connected we are as people, just consider the Ebola virus.  Kathy L. Gilbert relays how Ebola not only takes lives, it harms communities.

“I think there are going to be a lot of long-term devastating consequences to this even when the medical aspect comes under control,” he said. “For every case there is a family, a community, church members … all of whom are going to experience deep needs.”

Indeed, there is no us vs. them.  We’re all connected…we’re all responsible.

How does this consideration change the way you go about your day?
Also for a wakeup call, check out this educational video for affected areas.

But What About Today?

A co-worker’s childcare falls through and is forced to stay home with her kids.  This seems harmless to you at first, but when you begin to look at times to reschedule you realize that the best time to meet was the time that just passed.  So you compromise and squeeze the meeting into your schedule, which in turn effects your family’s schedule, leaving your spouse to readjust.  And the dominoes keep falling.  Your spouse’s readjustment prevents him/her from carpooling the kids back from soccer practice, and so they beg one of the other parents.  That parent reluctantly agrees, but repines the new adjustments they are forced to make.

This is a normal, every day occurrence for so many of us.  Our lives are entangled, it seems, like a ball of fishing line.  Secretly, resentment builds up when this happens because I constantly feel controlled, with my goals and purposes held hostage by the tyranny of the urgent.  For me, this is a big deal.  So when it happens, there are two important practices to remember:

  1. I am in a season of natural busyness.  If I’m given a cushion of time, I need to grab a pillow and enjoy the very temporary rest.  I can’t trick myself into thinking I have extra time.  Saying yes for tomorrow when you have time today spells disaster.
  2. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” –Matthew 6:34  Yes, today!  What about today?!

For me, taking one day at a time is not simply a self-help tool…it’s an act of faith.  Focusing only on today means that I’m placing tomorrow into God’s hands.  That turns my prayers from “Lord, make time grow” or “Lord, change those people” or “Lord, smite mine schedule” to simply: “Lord, give me faith.”

What’s Better, People or Programs?

I’ve seen some seemingly flawless programs.  Their ability to make money, or reach people, or whatever they’re set out to do can bring in some impressive results.  What makes a good program tick?  Well you may give the Senior Leader or the person out front all the credit, but in my experience every successful program has some pretty amazing people making it happen.

In Mark 3 Jesus appoints a ragtag group of no-names to preach his Good News and cast out demons.  You know, your basic assembly line work.  Jesus seems to care less about the very real potential of these guys messing it all up, and I think I know why.  These apostles would have plenty of time to preach, reach, and heal.  Jesus was growing his leaders.

Programs aren’t bad, but they’re nothing without people.  You might fight like mad to fit your people into a program; but it’s more life-giving to fit a program to your people.

Want to Know How to Grasp Grace?

Sometimes we remember the most random things.  I remember one day on the way to the babysitter’s.  I looked out of the car as we were driving along to see a boy younger than me sitting in the mud.  Just sitting there with mud all over.

Why I remember that, I don’t know.  All I know is that it’s the first thing that came to mind when I began to think of lament and repentance.  For whatever reason, whether it be our condition or society’s impulse, we are so quick to celebrate God’s forgiveness without first practicing repentance and lament.  We demand others’ grace before we admit our fault.  We skip over Good Friday and head right to Resurrection Sunday.

God is a forgiving God, but don’t let that prevent you from sitting in your mud for at least a little bit.  Enough for you to feel the sting, the heaviness of heart.  Enough to feel your guilt.  And I beg you to do this, not so that you can wallow in your mud for eternity, but to fully grasp your cleansing.  We understand God’s grace only within the scope of how far God has brought us to redemption.

So confess, repent, and lament.  Not forever, but enough.

Being Passive Helps, Right?

If you sweep something under the rug, someone else will just have to have to clean up the mess.

At first glance, it seems as though your passivity is doing nothing. But actually it is doing quite a lot. You say a lot when you say nothing. And you do a lot when you do nothing.

So the next time when you choose to be passive, think about who you are dismissing, who you are casting aside. And most importantly, think about what problem you’re leaving for someone else to deal with.

What Is True Unity/Community?

As I get ready for yet another message in church on unity and community, I find myself struck with a question.  There are loads of people that practice unity across the social spectrum.  What’s so different about the church?  Or maybe another way to look at it: does unity/community just come about naturally as we’re being nice and inclusive, or is it a thing that we practice?

I once had an image in my mind as I was an eager fiance preparing for marriage.  Well, actually there were three images.  The first was a husband and wife back-to-back, facing outward.  This was a symbol of dysfunction, with each having little to no focus on one another.  The second image, seemingly the antidote to the dysfunction, was a couple facing one another…each having their focus obviously on the other.  This is all well and good, but my faith compelled me to visualize our marital relationship in a different way.  It was a couple, hand-in-hand, facing forward together.

I’m not so sure that Christian community is simply avoiding harm to one another or even to be kind.  If we are unified only for the sake of ourselves then we’ve missed it.  True community is that we join arms with a common focus on someone bigger than ourselves, a focus on Christ.

Are You Doing Enough?

Christianity is about sacrifice.  Jesus tells a story about rich young man who wanted to know the bare minimum of requirements to get into heaven.  Jesus responds with an astronomical task: to sell all his things, give away all his wealth, and to follow Jesus.

This radical call of Jesus can be as overwhelming as it is thrilling.  When does the giving stop?  Is God never satisfied?  And should I live this Christian life with a cloud of guilt over my head, reminding me that I’ve not measured up?

But this overwhelming feeling is only signifying a truth that I too often ignore: following Jesus is beyond me and my power.  The call of the rich young guy, or the example of the widow’s mite, was not to fool me into thinking that I could actually work my way to heaven.  Jesus’ bar was so high that I should know right away that it can’t be done by my power.

Christianity is about sacrifice…and grace.  Giving up his wealth would have been the most incredible thing the young man would do, the rest would be, and could only be…God.