A friend at church loaned me a book I’ve been using recently for my morning devotional time. It’s called “Lessons I Learned in the Light” by Jennifer Rothschild. This morning’s chapter was titled “Carry No Baggage” and it got me thinking about how as good stewards, we need to travel light. We can’t take care of God’s stuff if we’re too worried about our own stuff. Maybe you’re thinking about now, didn’t the Lutheran Ladies say it’s all God’s stuff? Well, here’s the thing …all the good things are God’s, but there are still plenty of bad things that belong to us alone. They start with that little word SIN. Do you notice what’s in the middle of the word sin? The letter “I.” Sin happens when we’re turned into ourselves, when life becomes all about me, me, me.
What baggage are you carrying around? It might be selfishness (that’s a big one for me), failure to forgive, anger, destructive habits you don’t want to give up, pride, lack of trust and more. All these things weigh us down and keep us from focusing on God, the good gifts He gives, and the people He wants us to serve.
Thankfully there’s a simple way to get rid of that excess cargo. Confess. Let God take care of your stuff, and then you’ll be free to take care of His. We get to do this every Sunday in our worship service, not as a work of our own, but as a reminder that God has already forgiven all our sins for the sake of His son, Jesus.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
Confess so you can focus on the good things of God. Travel light.
“Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7
I hate to admit it, but I’m not a cheerful giver. I always want to hang on to things and people tightly. Now this can be good — it makes me loyal and persevering in relationships, for example; but when it comes to being generous, it’s a bad thing. I could make excuses and tell you I have an anxious personality, so I get worried that I may not be able to take care of myself if I give away too much. Or I could explain that my grandparents grew up during the depression and they taught me to be excessively frugal and worried about money. None of this gets me off the hook, however. God wants me to give cheerfully to others, and often I don’t.
What do I do about this? Well, as with other spiritual disciplines (and giving is a spiritual discipline), I start where I am, and try to grow. When I’m asked to give financially, I give an amount I am comfortable with, and then I give some more. When I’m asked to give of my time ( and I find my problems with this often come about because I don’t want to disrupt my plans or routine), I remind myself that I’m retired now, and my plans can usually be postponed or changed without causing a problem. I also have the advantage of having a generous, godly husband and two daughters with the gift of mercy. When it comes to matters of giving, I try to let one of them take the lead and I follow their example.
Has it worked? Well, I still don’t always give cheerfully. I’m seldom spontaneously generous. It will never be my gift. But I have grown. I’m not where I ought to be, but I’m not where I used to be, either. As our author, Michele says, I’m a work in progress, both saint and sinner.
I’m open to other suggestions. Readers and authors, how do you practice generosity? Have you grown in this discipline?
I’ve mentioned before that although I am not in a 12 step program, I greatly admire and think everyone could learn from them. Recently I was looking at the steps, and I realized that like the Ten Commandments, they are all about having a right relationship with God and with others. Here they are:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable. (Note: substitute here sin in general and we all have this problem)
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (In other words, God is God, and we’re not.)
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. (Giving God His rightful place in our lives, being in right relationship with Him)
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (Christians call this an examination of conscience)
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. (This would be confession)
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. (Now we are getting to our relationships with others)
- Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God (keeping our relationship strong) praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message(read Good News) to alcoholics (read sinners) and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The 12 step programs succeed because they teach the importance of putting our relationships in order. First must come our relationship with God. We must accept that God and His will must take first place in our lives. Then we must confess our sins against Him and against our fellow humans and take responsibility to correct things. Finally, we must acknowledge that this is no quick or one-time fix … we must be constantly vigilant and work at our relationships continually AND we must help others by passing along what we have learned.
It’s humbling and also enlightening to read through these steps. As Christians, we all admit we’re sinners, but are we willing to admit that we are POWERLESS over sin without God? (We really don’t like to think of ourselves this way) Are we ready and willing to ask God to REMOVE our shortcomings? (I think there are lots of sins we like to hold on to). We may confess every week in church, but do we honestly make efforts to MAKE AMENDS to the people we’ve injured? (Personally, I’d rather try to ignore my bad behavior and hope everyone will eventually forget it) Do we really try to CHANGE AND IMPROVE our relationships with God and others? (Or are we too lazy to make that effort). Do we CARE enough about other people to pass the gospel on to them? (If we really believe in it, we should).
This gives me a lot to think about. How about you?
What is sin? In today’s culture, we often trivialize it. We don’t even like to talk about it. Rather than admitting to sin, we say we “made a mistake”, “used poor judgement,” or “messed up.” We blame it on factors we can’t control–our difficult upbringing, our desperate situation, our friends or our DNA! Adam and Eve tried that, too. Eve told God,
“The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Genesis 3″13
and Adam goes even further, seeming to blame God Himself:
“The woman whom you gave to me, she gave me the fruit of the tree and I ate.” Genesis 3:12
The apostle doesn’t mince words when he describes sin:
“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” 1 John:3:4
A lawbreaker is a criminal; a person who deserves punishment. Someone who is lawless is a rebel — unwilling to obey authority. I don’t like to think of myself this way, and you probably don’t either. However, admitting what I really am (a lawless rebel) is the first step toward true reconciliation with God.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10
Calling sin what it is isn’t easy; but it is necessary.
When you attend a Via De Cristo retreat weekend, you receive a little book called the Pilgrim’s Guide in Christianity which includes a variety and prayers and “helps” for your devotional life. One of those “helps” is called Examination of Conscience. In case you’re wondering what that is, here’s a definition:
Examination of conscience is a review of one’s past thoughts, words, actions, and omissions for the purpose of ascertaining their conformity with, or deviation from, the moral law.
Recently going over it, I realized that one of the categories listed has to do with the church, so I thought I would share it on the blog this month. The idea is to think about whether you have done, or neglected to do these things in regard to the church:
Have I, By Thought
- Thought of the church as a sect or party rather than as the mystical body of Christ
- Neglected to read or reflect on the Holy Scriptures
- Not held myself responsible for my part in the in adequacy of Christians
Have I, By Words
- Spoken of the clergy as “them” instead of “us”
- Criticized irresponsibly the leadership of the church, both clerical and lay
- Ignored the teaching authority of the church, replacing it with my own authority
Have I, By Acts
- Used church organizations to justify my own personal hang-ups
- Run away from trying to solve the church’s internal problems
- Acted to support the church only when it met my approval
Have I, By Omission
- Not tried to make the church more vital
- Failed to contribute sacrificially for the material needs of the church
- Neglected to pray for those in authority
This list isn’t even exhaustive, but it helps me realize that my support and appreciation of the church isn’t all it could be. It’s a good reminder to help me strive to be a better member of Christ’s body. Do you find this exercise helpful or not? Please let us know.
This is another prayer from The Pilgrim’s Guide which participants receive during their Via de Cristo weekend. Every time I read through it I am humbled to see my own sin and God’s gracious forgiveness.
It is hard for me, O God to confess my sins and not merely repeat well-worn phrases with which I try to cover my real guilt.
I am a sinner. Why is it so difficult for me to see this, Lord? Why am I so bothered with a few things I do wrong while I think nothing of my lack of trust in you? Why do I feel guilty when I do not live up to my own standards but hardly blush when I fail you? Why do I imitate those who are unholy instead of following the Christ? I must confess it is because I am weak in the face of temptations, and without you I am nothing.
All I can do is plead mercy, O God. I cannot even hold up the honesty and fullness of my confession. All I can do is trust your love in Jesus Christ. I surely cannot trust my love for you or Him. Hear me for the sake of Jesus Christ, who lived for me and died that in Him I might live.
Forgive me, Father! Forgive me even this, my poor confession. I need your forgiveness for Christ’s sake. Amen
When we talk about forgiveness you think about all the people in your life that have hurt you in the past and how you should forgive them. Then there is forgiving the people in your life, as you walk through, that will need forgiveness immediately. This is just a way of life, and a way of life that we are called to walk by our Lord Jesus.
But I think that there are many of us that are walking around in Unforgiveness, even if we try to work out the pain of the past and in the day-to-day. The Unforgiveness I’m speaking of is forgiving ourselves for past sins.
We’re taught that if we bring our sins to the Lord Jesus and confess them to Him, He will forgive us all of our sins. No argument there. This is basic Christianity 101. But how many of us hide our past? How many of us keep sins and strife in our heart and we don’t share it with the Lord or a counselor or pastor at our church. How many of us don’t want these sins to see the light ever, ever again? We think we are hiding them in our heart so no one will see what we were or where we have come from. The Lord Jesus sees them and in the meantime these sins still effect every aspect of our lives, bleeding out at the most horrible times. We’ll mask these effects by saying, “Oh, that’s just the way I am” and try to brush off the horrible-ness of the action.
We’ll take these things to the Lord, ask for forgiveness and then turn around and take them back! We think this is something the Lord could never forgive, or that we aren’t worthy and we walk away while the Lord is there, waiting and loving us. It’s so hard to learn that the Lord Jesus loves us and will forgive ALL of our sins. We need to learn to take it ALL to Him and lay it at His feet and LEAVE it there.
I’m writing about this because this is one thing that I struggle with. Bringing the really, really secret parts of myself to the Lord and LEAVING it there. Being free of the garbage that has built up over all these years. Yes, I read the confession every Sunday at church. Yes, I hear the pastor saying that I’m now forgiven of all my sins. Wow, is it so hard to make it a reality. My head knowledge about forgiveness is all there. I truly need to learn to leave it at my Saviour’s feet and walk away feeling lighter.
I’ve been thinking about how this month we’ve spent a lot of time blogging about forgiving, but not so much about accepting forgiveness. Michele said forgiving isn’t easy –well, accepting forgiveness isn’t easy either. Why? Here are some of the reasons I think cause us to have trouble.
- First of all we have to humble ourselves. We have to admit we’re wrong and we need forgiveness. I don’t know about you, but I like to pretend I don’t need anything, that I’ve got things together, that I’m in control. That’s just plain denial. Romans 3:23 tells us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
- Sometimes we’re convinced that we don’t deserve to be forgiven. We think that thing we did is so awful nobody, certainly not a perfect God can forgive it. Well, (see point #1) we don’t deserve it. It’s a gift. Wow! Get this –“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
- We think we have to earn forgiveness, and we feel hopeless to do that. Again, remember forgiveness is a gift and it’s free. We don’t deserve it, and we can’t earn it. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us…”Romans 8:3-4
- We’re afraid we might have to change, and really, deep down, we don’t want to. Remember when Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, he also told her, “Go and sin no more.” John 8:11
Think of the difference between the two disciples, Peter and Judas. Judas betrayed Jesus, but so did Peter. He denied Him three times. The difference between these two men was not in what they did, but how they responded to it. Peter trusted Jesus. He confessed his sin and accepted forgiveness. Judas felt guilty, but tried to take care of the problem himself by committing suicide. How sad. He denied himself the opportunity to be forgiven. In so doing, he separated himself from God.
So, if you are feeling you can’t be forgiven, remember this promise:
“For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart.” 1 John 3:20
Be a Peter! Accept God’s forgiveness and let Him use you in a mighty way!
Maybe if you’re my age you remember a film called Love Story. It popularized the phrase, love means you never have to say you’re sorry. It sounds good, I guess. Romantic somehow. I think it’s meant to convey the idea that if we love someone enough, if we understand them completely, we won’t need an apology to feel their remorse. Unfortunately it’s not true. Most of us know from personal experience that failure to apologize for hurting someone leads to further hurt and maybe even a relationship that is completely broken.
The greatest love story of all time is the story of God’s love for His people as recorded in the Bible. All human love is a reflection of that first love. Listen to what God says to us about saying you’re sorry:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9
Some may take this legalistically, turning it into a rule that says we must search and search our life, notice and remember every sin we’ve ever committed and list them out and confess them, in order to appease God’s wrath. But this isn’t true. He knows we can’t confess every wrong doing because there are so many we commit without even realizing it. Sin is our default setting. God doesn’t tell us to confess to punish us, or make us feel bad. He wants us to realize we are sinners and confess, so that we can experience His forgiveness and feel better. Listen to what David says in Psalm 51 after his confession of adultery with Bathsheba:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
Not confessing our sins leads to separation from God and others. Confessing heals and restores. It’s good for the soul.