Confession — It’s Good for the Soul

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. ” 1 John 1:8-10

Recently an elderly member of our congregation died.  The “funeral” was not held at the church because the woman’s daughter did not want the Pastor to say her mother was a sinner.  Instead, she wanted a “celebration of life” where her mother’s virtues and accomplishments were lauded.

Don’t get me wrong.  This woman was smart, funny and creative.  She had done many good things for her community, and yes, this deserved to be remembered with rejoicing.  However, as my husband puts it, “if we’re not sinners, the gospel isn’t good news.”  If we’re not sinners, we don’t need Jesus.  If we’re not sinners, we can make it on our own.  The fact that we’re sinners is the starting point for a faithful life.

The verses above tell us that when we deny our sinfulness, we’re living a lie.  Only when we confess and turn to God in true humility, will we begin to experience the freedom of forgiveness.  If you’re a Lutheran, you probably have a point, very early in the worship service, called “Confession of Sin.”  That’s so we come before God acknowledging our unworthiness.  Here’s how the one at St. Paul’s reads:

“Holy and righteous God, merciful Father, we confess to You that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against You by thought, word and deed.  We have not loved You above all things, nor our neighbor as ourselves, and are worth therefore to be cast away from Your presence if You should judge us according to our sins.”

I don’t know about you, but I know if my heart that I haven’t loved God above all things –in my inner heart what I love best is myself!  And my neighbors?  Well, they’re pretty far down on my list.  I’m much more likely to criticize and complain than love them.  So guess what, that makes me a sinner.  No matter how many good works I do, no matter how many hours I pray, or worship services I attend.

Here’s the good news (also from the liturgy).

“But you have promised, O heavenly Father, to receive with tender mercy all repentant sinners who turn to You and with a living faith seek refuge in Your Fatherly compassion and in the merits of the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Our transgressions You will not regard, nor count them against us.”

Confession is good for the soul.  I need to do it not just weekly, but daily.  It puts me in the right place — depending on God.

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Good Stewards Travel Light

Lessons I Learned in the Light: All You Need to Thrive in a Dark WorldA 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.

 

Time to Confess

“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?

Image result for saint and sinner image and ok with it

 

Twelve Steps for Relationships

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:

  1. 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)
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (In other words, God is God, and we’re not.)
  3. 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)
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (Christians call this an examination of conscience)
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. (This would be confession)
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. 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)
  9. Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. 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.
  12. 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?

Remember the Gospel

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.”  1 Corinthians 15:1-2

My husband says every good Lutheran sermon must contain both law and gospel:  law so we recognize that we are sinners and the gospel message that through Christ’s atonement we are saved.

In our daily world, it’s easy to forget both of those things.  Sin has become a bad word.  We’re told it’s not healthy to feel guilt.  We simply “made a mistake” or “used poor judgement.”  It’s easy to make excuses for our behavior that lessen our responsibility.  It’s easy to deny our faults and blame somebody else.  That goes as far back as Adam, remember?  He told God, “the woman you gave me, caused me to sin.”

But we’re made for God and without Him we feel incomplete, so no matter how hard we try, guilt creeps in.  We doubt and despair.  We try to feel good about ourselves, but the devil continually whispers to us that we’ll never be acceptable.

There’s only one cure:  go to church, confess your sins really are sins and really are yours and then hear the gospel.  My husband says that’s simple, too:  Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for me.

Did you confess your sins today?  Did you hear the gospel?  If so, you may be a Lutheran.

What is Sin?

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.

Do I help or hurt the Church?

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.