Thinking Out Loud

December 7, 2014

I Am Mess

Filed under: prayer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:43 pm

There is a Roman Catholic tradition that one does not partake of The Lord’s Supper without having been to confession. The confessional booth was created for this particular purpose, and is often looked down at by non-Catholics as ‘one more thing the Roman church has added to the Christian faith.’ But while it institutionalizes something the Early Church would have seen take place more organically, it is part of the our mandate as we approach the Eucharist or Communion table.

In the instructions for instituting The Lord’s Supper, the King James version translated I Cor. 11:28 with the familiar words, “But let a man examine himself.” Here’s how The Message deals with it through to verse 34:

27-28 Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.

29-32 If you give no thought (or worse, don’t care) about the broken body of the Master when you eat and drink, you’re running the risk of serious consequences. That’s why so many of you even now are listless and sick, and others have gone to an early grave. If we get this straight now, we won’t have to be straightened out later on. Better to be confronted by the Master now than to face a fiery confrontation later.

The posture with which we come to Communion is a posture of confession.

Unfortunately, this is not always emphasized in all of our churches, and while a few do provide a time of silence for such, many places of worship do not, and many who have more recently become part of our congregations don’t know this teaching.

Having been raised with this, I have no problem remembering this. Sometimes my prayer begins, “Lord, I’m a mess.” I know my heart, and I know God knows my heart. Yes, the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9) and yes, we’re very good at rationalizing our own righteousness (Prov. 16:2) as in, ‘Hey, I’m not as bad as my friend.’ But the moments preceding the communion elements are no time for pretense, at that moment, transparency and honesty is the order of the day. My thoughts might be drawn to:

  • the anger I may feel toward someone who has wronged me, even things that happened years ago;
  • obsessing over regrets concerning past choices;
  • lustful thoughts and more lustful thoughts;
  • terrible stewardship over the use of time;
  • a climate of fear and anxiety which slows lack of trust in God;
  • neglecting Bible reading and study to the degree that would be expected of me;
  • wishes that certain proud or arrogant people would fail, or just people with whom I don’t see eye-to-eye.

Those are just a few that I thought of immediately. I’m sure there are more. You might be reading this and identifying, or maybe you’re further along in spiritual formation and now think I’m a terrible person! Either way, I come to God with some very small inkling of what my life must appear like before a capital ‘H’ Holy God.

But today, instead of just saying, ‘I’m a mess,’ I found myself saying, ‘I am mess.’ (Take a minute to reflect on the difference.) I don’t just sin, but I am sin personified. Without God’s help, I am a picture of the human condition. I know some will read this and say, ‘Well that’s just the accuser of the brethren talking to you, don’t listen to it.’ But David said, ‘My sin is always present before me (Ps. 51:3).

Both scripture and church liturgy are full of prayers of confession.

But — and here the writers of scripture would add, ‘Thanks be to God’ — we don’t have to stay defined by and defining what it means to sinful and separated from God. We also have the assurance of pardon.

I John 1:9 reminds us:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)

From the link above, here is the assurance of pardon as found in the Book of Common Prayer:

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has no pleasure in the death of sinners,
but would rather they should turn from their wickedness and live.
He has given authority to his ministers to declare to his people when they repent
the forgiveness of their sins.
God pardons and absolves all who truly repent and believe his holy gospel.
So we ask him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit,
that what we do now may please him
and that the rest of our life may be pure and holy,
so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

If your life is a mess, or if you just feel like you are mess, the Father wants us to come to him. But this is not something we do once upon a time and then write the date in the front cover of our Bible and that’s it, we’re done. No God wants us to come to Him regularly and confess that we do wander from His best, and that we are a people in need of a Savior. True repentance is a sincere acknowledgement of sin, but yes, we will mess up again. Maybe in another area. But his assurance of pardon is always there, even as we come to him over and over and over and over again.

Posted jointly with Christianity 201

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February 26, 2013

C201 Crossover Post: Accusation vs. Conviction

I’ve been trying to write more of the C201 posts myself lately. But it ain’t easy. Anybody can blog. You have to work a little harder to write a Bible study or devotional article, especially if people are depending on it as one of their key reads for that day.

As it turns out, you’re reading this first, since C201 posts appear in the afternoon. Enjoy.


NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.

KJV Ps. 51:3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

ESV Revelation 12:10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

NIV I Thess. 1:4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.

NIV I Tim. 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…

Sometimes you just know when you’ve messed up. You need neither the devil’s accusation nor the Holy Spirit’s conviction. It’s black and white. You missed the mark. You weren’t even aiming for the target. You recognize that the border between the righteousness and holiness that people in your church think you live out, and the propensity to sin of weaker brothers is a border only micro-millimeters thick.

How did I think that? What made me say that? Why did I look at her/him the way I did? Why did I charge that customer for two hours’ labor when I did the job in one? Why did I click on that website? Where did that anger come from when they mentioned that person’s name? Why did I say I’d be there when I have no intention of attending?

Yikes! I’m no different than anyone else! Here I thought — and everybody else thought — that I was super spiritual, when in fact I’m … human.

That’s the moment to confess.

This is often referred to as “keeping short accounts with God.” The blog Amazing Grace Bible Studies explains:

…let’s consider the phrase as it is used in accounting acumen. To keep your accounts payable on a “short basis” simply means to keep them “paid up”, or rather, not to let them become extended. An example of this would be to pay off your credit card balance every month.

In the spiritual sense, when looking at the theology that prescribes this practice, it always refers to confession of sin(s) (the equivalent of a liability or debt in accounting terms), and requesting to be forgiven of sins on a daily basis.1 When you hear believers say that they are “prayed up” this invariably means that they’ve got all their sins “confessed up.”

Rick Warren adds,

“Clean hands” simply means a clear conscious. Does that mean we’re perfect? No. None of us is perfect. But we can keep short accounts with God. 1 John 1:9 (TLB) says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” So when we sin, we just say, “God, I was wrong. I confess it.” There is no power without a clear conscience.

Classic writer A. B. Simpson wrote:

…I was very much struck some years ago with an interpretation of the verse: So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:12). The thought it conveys is that of accounting to God daily. For us judgment is passed as we lay down on our pillows each night. This is surely the true way to live. It is the secret of great peace. It will be a delightful comfort when life is closing or at the Master’s coming, to know that our account is settled and our judgment over. For us, then, there is only the waiting to hear the glad Well done, good and faithful servant; . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord (Matthew 25:21).

But sometimes we feel a sense of a nagging in our heads and hearts either because (a) we haven’t confessed yet, or (b) we have but something about our sin is such that our brain won’t let go of it — or at least that would be a superficial explanation to what is going on.

But what’s really going one? In either case above, it has to be either:

  • the conviction of the Holy Spirit (or you might read the I Thess. passage above as ‘the conviction of the gospel’ or in I Tim., the rebuke of God’s Word); or,
  • the accusation of Satan who is described (in the Rev. passage above) as the accuser of the brethren (and, as some translations add, the sistren.) (Yes, I know that’s not a word.)

Conviction or accusation?

So when you find yourself in the situation of unconfessed sin, or of sin you feel you did indeed confess, then is what you are experiencing conviction or accusation?

Does it really matter?

No, I mean that question. We looked at a tough passage a few days ago where David took the census, and the two Old Testaments account differed in terms of whether the idea for David to do this came from Satan or from God. Theologians aren’t sure; the jury is still out on how to interpret this passage.

So here’s what I think. And remember this is just one guy’s opinion.

Devil Accusation Holy Spirit Conviction

I believe that, to use a train analogy, sometimes conviction and accusation arrive on parallel tracks. Both will lead you in the same direction. One is very negative: “So I guess we’re not so spiritual after all, are we?” But the other comes from a heart of love, “Let’s get that confessed, so that we can spend the rest of the day walking in grace and forgiveness.”

One will beat you over the head. Actually, you don’t need to be a Christ-follower to have that experience. All humans have some degree of guilt-reflex.

But the other will free you, provided you act on that conviction, confess and move on.

Visit Christianity 201 for more daily devotional / Bible study material

February 2, 2012

My Letter to Andrew

Andrew is the central character in a story about church discipline at Mars Hill Seattle which has blown up in the Christian blogosphere since Matthew Paul Turner posted part one on January 23rd.  (Covered on this blog, here.)

Or at least he was the central character. More of the recent conversation concerns ecclesiology, and church discipline in general and opportunity for ad hominum remarks concerning Mark Driscoll.

So I’m wondering if anyone is really reaching out to Andrew in all this…

Dear Andrew,

It’s never a good idea to offer advice where it wasn’t asked for, nor is it a good practice to listen to unsolicited advice from people you don’t know.  I’m admittedly half a continent away, and equally separated by age; and there are those close to you who more suited to speak into your life.

I just wanted you to know that besides re-blogging what Matthew Paul Turner wrote, I also prayed for you. James 3:2 says, “We all stumble in many ways…” Welcome to the community of the broken.

In hindsight, you probably weren’t ready to get married. You know that now, and I know there is much remorse attached to your story. You are no doubt much wiser today than you were just a few months ago. Of all the fruit of the Spirit, self-control is the most needed when facing temptation that is being constantly fed by a 21st century worldview of sexuality.

One of the things about your story struck me very early on in MPT’s version of it: “Andrew was born and raised Independent Fundamental Baptist, so not only was Andrew accustomed to Mark’s anger-laced fiery style of sermon, he had a deep appreciation for it.”  It never really occurred to me that people could be attracted by an authoritarian leadership style, but if that’s what you grew up with, I can see that it might have been a comfortable fit, once you got past a few of the doctrinal differences.

But then — and at this point someone would normally write, ‘through no fault of your own,’ except that it was, after all through a fault of your own’ — you saw the other side of how this authority plays out when someone apparently crosses the line from “in” to “out.”  To be labeled a “wolf,” or called a “predator.”  That’s strong language. There are some who would say you had suffered enough at this point; you were repentant, remorseful and humbled (if not humiliated) and that it was time for restoration; time to move on to the next phase, of living and walking in the fullness of all God created you for, because if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We can know the feeling of being ‘washed clean’ of our sin and get back up on our feet standing in the righteousness of Christ.

Galatians 6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…

I don’t get the spirit of that verse playing out in the email you received when you felt changing churches was the option you wanted to pursue, and I certainly don’t get it from the letter that was sent to the membership.

But you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter what men do or even what church leaders do.  Your ultimate judge is God himself.  He is the one you answer to. Yes, under his sovereignty pastors and leaders are appointed, and we’re told to honor that office and pray for them, but they are fallible.

In the meantime, Andrew; hang on to God.  Keep praying.  Continue to read and study your Bible.  Find a place where you can engage in corporate worship with other believers who don’t know you or know this story.  Maybe find a Christian counselor or mentor who can continue to help you work all this out over time.  But don’t allow discouragement or disillusionment to take over your life.

And pray for the people at Mars Hill.  Not a prayer that comes from a smugness nor from bitterness, but simply pray that God will lead them to be both forthright in their application of the gospel, but agents of grace in how they allow that to play out. Pray for them to get better at it, to improve in their understanding of the mystery of grace.

Pray because there are going to be other Andrews.  There’s going to be a ‘next time’ involving someone else, and the next Andrew may not be able to handle it in the manner that you did.

And don’t write that church off, either.  Church congregations are like small cities, with as many stories taking place as there are people.  There are, to be sure, countless people there who are doing good, growing in faith, and deepening their understanding of the ways of God; because of the leadership there, and sometimes in spite of the leadership there. 

Nor should you be in distress when someone you meet follows the instructions given to them in the membership letter and shuns you.  It’s far easier for humans to believe something bad about someone, and people subject to authoritarian church leadership will, after all, do what they are told. 

In the meantime, church history is filled with people who experienced rejection for a variety of reasons, including rejection from the religious establishment so you’re actually in good company.

As you choose a permanent place of worship, and enter into future relationships, I know you’ll do both with a wisdom you have gained from this process.

Your brother in Christ,

Paul Wilkinson.

September 17, 2010

Suppose I Were To Tell You…

I hesitated to write this.   Just three short weeks ago, I wrote about confession in general, and the website PostSecret in particular.    While it would have been more simple to devote that space to a discussion about why it is that we have this need to vent or get something off our chests, I wrote instead about the fact that this type of confession doesn’t really go anywhere beyond confession itself.   It lacks what we experience in a liturgical church service following the confession of sin:  The assurance of pardon.

Why am I returning to this subject?

Because this week blogger Mandy Thompson (who just this week, in the link list, we referred to as not that Mandy Thompson) offered her readers an opportunity to comment (in this case, confess)  anonymously beginning with the phrase, “What if I Told You…”

While this sort of thing may not be your preferred brand of reading — perhaps you consider it prurient or voyeuristic — I think that every once in awhile something of this nature bears reading; in this case for two very particular reasons.

First of all, these were Christian readers responding to the opportunity, not readers from among the general population.   In fact, a very noticeable percentage of them were pastors’ wives or pastors; something very reminiscent of Anne Jackson’s books, and her current Permission to Speak Freely book tie-in website.   Apparently, clergy families are in desperate need for an Ann Landers or Dear Abby page on which to bare their deepest hurts.

As we are all from time to time.

Secondly however, and this is why I’m linking to this today; at what I’m sure was  great personal emotional exhaustion, Mandy took the time to answer each and every response.   That’s with the number of comments closing in on 200.

What if I told you I’m impressed?

This is the blogosphere at its best.   When someone tells you that blogs are a waste of time, let them see what’s happening at MandyThompson.com, and then don’t miss some of her post-mail-avalanche comments that follow more recently.

If you’re a blogger, do you see what you do as a ministry?  Are there times someone left a comment that resulted in you taking on the role of counselor?  If you’re a reader, have you ever had a blog writer that you really connected with and received help from?    For either category, have you ever continued the dialog off-the-blog?

April 2, 2010

God Help Me

Or should I perhaps say, “God, Help me.”  (What a difference a comma makes!)

The following is from John Cassian (365-435)

There is something which has been handed on to us by some of the oldest of the Fathers and which we hand on to only a very small number of the souls eager to know it: To keep the thought of God  always in your mind you must cling totally to this formula for piety:  “Come to my help, O God; Lord hurry to my rescue.”  (Psalm 70:1)

It is not without good reason that this verse has been chosen from the whole of scripture as a device.   It carries within it all the feelings of which human nature is capable.  It can be adapted to every condition and can be usefully deployed against every temptation.  It carries within it a cry of help to God in the face of every danger.   It expresses the humility of a pious confession.   It conveys the watchfulness born of unending worry and fear.   It covers a sense of our frailty, the assurance of being heard, the confidence in help that is always and everywhere present.   Someone forever calling out to his protector is indeed very sure of having him close by.   This is the voice filled with ardor of love and of charity.   This is the terrified cry of someone who sees the snares of the enemy, the cry of someone besieged day and night and, exclaiming that he cannot escape unless his protector comes to the rescue…

This little verse, I am saying, proves to be necessary and useful to each one of us and in all circumstances.   For someone who needs help in all things is making clear that he requires the help of God not simply in hard and sad situations but equally and amid fortunate and joyful conditions.   He knows that God saves us from adversity and makes our joys linger and that in neither situation can human frailty survive without His help.

~as quoted in Devotions for Lent adapted from the NLT Mosaic Bible (Tyndale Publishing)

June 17, 2009

Born Again But Not Evangelical?

laftovers - converted soupI frequently hear people speak of Evangelicals as “Born Again-ers,” so I was intrigued to learn last night that Barna Research make a distinction when surveying people.     They use “born again” to reflect some point at which we confess our sin and seek forgiveness, making Jesus Christ lord of our lives.

But they use a series of questions to determine if a person has what they consider a true Evangelical worldview.    The two are not automatically synonymous.

All this is in my continued reading of unChristian by David Kinnaman, the book that has for some reason become my end-of-the-day reading, which means some days I don’t get very far.   But spending 15 minutes stuck on page 159 last night didn’t help, as I pondered the worldview issues they use to clarify the distinction.

The criteria are laid out at Barna.org along with poll results.   I’ve paraphrased here in question form:

Born Again

  • Have you made a confession of sin?
  • Have you made a profession of faith in Christ?

evangometerEvangelical

  • Do you believe the Bible is accurate in the principles that it teaches?*
  • Do you view God as all-powerful?
  • Do you view God as perfect?
  • Do you view God as active in the world today?**
  • Do you contend that Jesus did not sin?
  • Do you assert that Satan is a real spiritual being?***
  • Would you disagree with those who say that heaven can be earned through good works?
  • Do you believe Christians have a responsibility to share their faith with others?
  • Would say your religious faith is very important in your life?

*This refers to principles the Bible teaches.   You can believe this and still also hold that there’s a problem in the dates of some kings in your KJV or in the naming of a city in your NRSV

**Barna combines these three into one question.   I broke them up because I think we can rush to quickly to answer a question like this.  We need to constantly have our perspective on God in full view.   The linked article refers to 9-point Evangelicals, which I believe to include the two ‘born again’ questions.

***Real being as opposed to idea or concept.   Among those who said they were Evangelical, rather than those who adopted the stringent Barna criteria, this area had the greatest potential for variance.  60% were less likely to agree on this one.

So Kinnaman, again on page 159, defines the U.S. voting population as consisting of

  • 9% Evangelicals
  • 38% Non-Evangelical, born-again Christians
  • 29% Other, self-confessed Christians
  • 24% Those outside Christianity

On page 162, he says to pastors, “In your church on any given Sunday, chances are you have all four of the faith slices represented in the audience.  How are you communicating so that everyone in the  congregation can understand, think about and respond to social, political and spiritual issues in appropriate ways?  In your sermons as well as in the environments and conversations your church facilitates, are you helping to develop people’s capacity to think, act, and pray in terms of a biblical worldview?”

That’s a good question for anyone in Church leadership; or anyone who is part of the Body of Christ for that matter.

born-again-cartoon

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