I Confess; Now Leave Me Alone!

The way politicians confess is instructive for how to get away with whatever you want to do and not be held accountable.  For some time, it has been in vogue for men and women, when caught in a lie or unacceptable behavior to say, “I take full responsibility,” after which they expected to be completely free from consequences of the action for which they claimed to be taking responsibility!

Full ResponisbilityHillary Clinton in 2013 claimed to “take full responsibility” for security failures that resulted in the deaths of several people in Benghazi.  And she promptly resigned in disgrace?   Hardly, now she’s running for president!  Anthony Weiner, in 2014, “sexted” several young women.  When caught in the media glare, he “took full responsibility,” resigned from Congress (to which he would not be reelected anyway) and promptly ran for mayor of New York!  When the government website for ObamaCare turned into an internet joke due its unresponsiveness and security lapses, the acting president said he would take “full responsibility.”  And what did he do?  Tell his computer geeks to fix it.

“Full responsibility” and “consequences” somehow became unhinged in these minds, as though saying the words absolved them of actually dealing with any of the consequences.  To politicians it seems “confession” only comes on the heels of a media spotlight that uncovers what they have done wrong, followed by obscuring any real sense of being responsible; certainly by avoiding any consequences as though anything really bad had happened.

We have heard it said,  “Confession is good for the soul.”  Yet Lewis noted that “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a great idea . . . until they have something to forgive.”  And there is the problem with confession.  What if the one to whom I confess is unforgiving?  What if he/she uses my confession against me?  What if I get fired or lose out on some benefit?  What if he/she will never trust me again?  What if I have to deal with consequences of my confession!?

These are legitimate concerns when we consider confessing.  Who is the audience to whom we will confess?  What will be done with the information of our confession?  What will be the consequences?  If you are a politician, apparently nothing.  Only confess when caught!  Take “full responsibility” and then act as though nothing happened!

Daniel PrayedBut that is not the way confession is supposed to work.  Daniel gave a good picture of what confession should look like.  He was in a comfortable political position, enjoyed the king’s favor in Babylon, yet he went before God and offered confession of his own and his nation’s sins (Daniel 9:1-19).  Not because he was caught in the media glare or because his sin was discovered, but simply because he wanted a closer relationship to The God Who Is There.

He had learned this from the Law of Moses in Leviticus 5:5, “that when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed” he was to pay a penalty.  Notice, it did not say, “when his sin is discovered by CNN.”  Confession was not required to come on the heels of public shame, but on the self-discovery that a man had sinned in any way; an inward recognition that he needed a closer walk with God.

So to whom was he supposed to confess?  Though this was part of public worship in ancient Israel, there is no indication the confession was a matter of public discussion.  In fact, there was no instruction to even confess to the priest.  He went to the priest with a prescribed sacrifice.  The priest then offered the sacrifice for the man’s sin which the man confessed to God, because God was the offended party.

James gives us New Testament instruction to confess your sins to one another and pray for one another” (James 5:16) for personal and community health, but the first four chapters of his book clearly expect such confession to be first to God, who is the one most offended, then to ones in the church who can most help in the healing of the sinner, that is healing from his sins, not only physical healing.  The expectation was that the sinner could be forgiven by God as well as his close brothers or sisters in the church, and that this would “cover a multitude of sins.”   In other words, there was no expectation to publicly humiliate or punish the sinner. (James 5:19-20)

Paul understood this principle when he explained to the Ephesians that it is shameful even to speak of the things done in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12).  Not as though we should continue acting in ways of shamefulness, but because we are walking in “the light” and being “filled with the Spirit,” there is no further need to discuss the shameful way in which we once lived, if we have left that way of life behind us. (Ephesians 5:3-21)

There was a tribe of cannibals about which a missionary told a group regarding their confessions.  First one man spoke up, and said, “I am so thankful to God who has forgiven me for planning to kill and eat my enemy.”  A second stood and said, “I am thankful to God has forgiven me even though I killed and ate three men before He saved me.”  A third took the floor and said, “I thank God He forgave me even though I killed seven men and ate five of them!”  A fourth spoke up . . . get the picture?  What began as a testimony of God’s grace became a competition in confessing worse and worse sins.

This becomes an area in which we must be careful.  My confession may benefit another, because he will realize just how far into the pit of hell God had to reach to find and save me.  But if I “glory in my sin,” and brag about how far from God I had run, He is not glorified, but I become a braggart and a false follower of Jesus who taught humility in Matthew 18:3-4 and 23:2-12.  And if my confession gives room for another to sin because he says in his heart, “Well, c.a. did this and he got away with it, even if there were consequences . . . ” then I become a stumbling block to someone, and encourage him to sin.

So what do I confess of my sin?  How much detail is needed to be a true confession?  To whom should I confess?  How public should confession be?  I will discuss these with some of my own confession, as appropriate on the internet, next week.  In the meantime, if you think of me during the week, pray for me, because I often need it, more often than I care to confess.

The Hardest Thing To Give Away

Americans are creatures of possessions.  “He who dies with the most toys WINS!”  Now we are in the season of The Yard Sale (or alternatively, The Garage Sale).  There is no need to throw anything away; just put it in your garage or yard; mark the price down to a ridiculous percentage of its original cost; put up a sign at the corner of your street, and fulfill the adage: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Whether it is a carefully orchestrated event with boxes and clear labels or a haphazard dump of all your junk on the lawn; whether it is a cooperative block or subdivision hosting a weekend of demoralizing bacchanalia or if you are the only house for miles around selling select family heirlooms; everyone is looking for that item that they never knew they desperately needed . . .  until they saw it on your lawn at a huge discount!

After the event is over, it is kind of sad to drive by the now-empty-circus yard and see the pieces that were passed over that nobody bought.  The $50.00 lamp that could not sell for $3.00; a $240.00 chair for which no one would pay $10.00; the $90.00 dress that would not go away even though marked down to $5.00.  So the leftovers either go back into storage for next year’s event, or get left on the curb for the garbage man to pick up.

In the story of the “rich young man” of Matthew 19:16-23, the young man left Jesus very sorrowful because “he had many possessions.”  Once I was told that the phrasing in the original Greek could just as well be translated “many possessions had him.”  Certainly, ideologically this is the case.

The young man had come to Jesus with some apparent sincerity: he realized there was more to life than just the 60-80 years he was expecting to live here on earth; he wanted to gain eternal life and blessings he expected would come with it; he was a “nice guy.”  He did not mistreat those who worked for him; he cared for his wife and family; he was honest in his business and had earned his wealth with hard work and integrity.

Rich Young RulerBut Jesus could see past the apparent material success to a larger issue: what did the man truly value?  Though good, he expected to get to Heaven on his own goodness.  Though honest, he expected that by obeying the Law given to Moses he would “earn” his way into the Kingdom of God.  What he was missing, and what Jesus was clearly seeing, was that he was owned by his possessions instead of owning them.  He loved his wealth more than the poor to whom Jesus instructed him to give that wealth.  He relied on his money for happiness instead of using it to create happiness in others.  You have heard it said, “love people, use things.”  This was why he found it so hard to give his money away; he loved things and used people.

But there is something even more difficult for most of us to give away, even though it is completely free: Forgiveness. 

The reason forgiveness is so difficult for most of us is simple: though it is free to give, it is not without cost!  You see, giving away money does not “earn” your way into Heaven any more than all the other good works the rich young man claimed.  Jesus made it very simple in Matthew 6:14-15:  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  He made it simple, but that does not mean He made it easy!

Matthew West recognized this when he wrote the words to his beautiful song, Forgiveness:

It’s the hardest thing to give away,
And the last thing on your mind today;
It always goes to those that don’t deserve.
It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real.
It takes everything you have just to say the word . . .
Forgiveness.

It flies in the face of all your pride.
It moves away the mad inside.
It’s always anger’s own worst enemy.
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free.’
Forgiveness, Forgiveness.

Show me how to love the unlovable.
Show me how to reach the unreachable.
Help me now to do the impossible: Forgiveness!

It’ll clear the bitterness away.
It can even set a prisoner free.
There is no end to what it’s power can do.
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace;
The prisoner that it really frees is you.

I want to finally set it free
So show me how to see what Your mercy sees.
Help me now to give what You gave to me:
Forgiveness.

Show me how to love the unlovable.
Show me how to reach the unreachable.
Help me now to do the impossible:
Forgiveness, Forgiveness.

So if you go about the neighborhoods in America these days and see what “toys” people are willing to sell or even give away, think about what you need to give away.  Who do you need to forgive?  Not because they deserve it, but because you have it and they need it.

Give away that which is the hardest to give away: Forgiveness.

 

 

Everyone Wants To Go To Heaven, But Nobody Wants To Die To Get There!

Med TechsWorking as a Medical Technologist in a hospital brings one within touching distance of death.  Being in a laboratory most of the job, you do not have to face it close up like doctors and nurses, and you will rarely be at the side of a dying patient.  But you do deal with samples that are sent STAT (meaning urgent), when you know some doctor is working feverishly over that patient to keep him or her alive.  Then there are the Emergency Room calls for blood collection or tests that you know will make a difference in the life or death of an accident victim.  And there are posthumous samples pathologists order to determine causes of deaths.

I recall working in a local hospital with a retired minister of a small Christian church.  He had taken a Med Tech degree before pastoring and had stepped back into the lab to give room to younger ministers coming behind him.  One lunch I asked, “What do you think it is like to die?”  His response surprised me and somewhat discouraged me, “Well, it’s not something I’ve ever thought much about, and I certainly don’t go around wondering about it.”

??? From a pastor??  Plus he had to be older than I am even now; I would have thought death would be a frequent subject of consideration for one whose living was made telling others how to prepare for eternity.  Add to that the touching-distance to death we Med Techs faced and his own approaching mortality, and it seemed to me it should have been on his mind a little more than it appeared it was!

Most of us in our teenage and young adult years rarely address the end of life issues that force themselves on us with aching joints and more doctors’ care as we age.  There is a tendency to ignore things that do not hit us in the face the way the latest news about our favorite actor does. Next President UgghIf you are involved in politics, even as a sideline, you may be more attentive to what idiot or crook is running for office than considering how much longer you will live.  Or you may be trapped in the “live for today” mentality that avoids any ideas of pain or discomfort, living only for momentary pleasure.

There is also an unwillingness to face eternity, even among those who believe they are ready for it, when they are young.  I spoke to high school student once about this.  He firmly believed that Jesus had died on the cross for his sin; that he had accepted Jesus into his heart by faith, and was committed to living out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  But he did not really hope for a soon return of Jesus to this earth.  Oh, he was all right with it if it happened, but he kind of wanted to get married, have sex, have a kid or two.  He was interested in going to college and experiencing life as he saw it in his slightly older friends.  His laughable comment to me was, “Well, c.a., you’ve done all this stuff already; it’s okay for you to want to get it over with!”  Ahhh, the exuberant frankness of youth!

But when I think of my older friends (and now they have to be really old to be my older friends), most of them are averse to the idea of dying also.  We do not really want to “get it over with.”  It is like the title of this blog, everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die to get there.

Several of my recent blogs have dealt with death (February 7, 2016), but I assure you suicide is not a consideration (any more) for me.  Like everyone else, I want to go to Heaven, but I do not want to die to get there; one of the reasons (a small one) I hope for the soon return of Jesus.  I no longer view my body as indestructible as I did in my teens; I recognize my fragile mortality from several strokes; my parents and more friends are preceding me into Heaven these days so there is a gathering of souls I would like to see again; just look at our presidential choices and it is enough to make you want an end to come soon!

Yet I do not want to just “get it over with.”  I have houses to build, friends I wish to see again here (well, in Korea, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Brazil, and Turkey, to name a few, but here on earth), Bucket listthere are grandsons to lend some experience to, grand nieces and grand nephews that I would prefer to not leave behind, graduations and weddings to attend, adventures yet to be lived!  My “bucket list” is quite long!!

But the bottom line is I do not fear death.  The idea of a slow painful one is certainly not attractive, but there is an amazing peace with knowing where you are going when you die, when you do finally “get it over with.”  And with my health history, it is doubtful I could survive a very long and painful passage into the next life, anyway.

And there is the anticipation!  There IS a next life.  He has put eternity in our hearts and if you know Him, you can trust Him. It is not a blind leap of faith, but one with clear and indisputable history associated to it.  “Faith is a choice we make based on Divine evidences.  And it is by faith the we see what disbelief will never see. And faith experiences what disbelief will never know.”  (Steve Elliott)  And that eternity will be so amazing and magnificent, that if you happen to be among the young when you go there, you will not feel you missed anything just because you did not get an opportunity to marry or have sex or give birth or do any of the things on your bucket list.

Heaven by AlcornSeeing Jesus, entering into His kingdom, living more adventures than this life can even imagine, will be so satisfying . . . hmmm, we will probably wonder why we were so averse to dying.  Try to get your hands on a copy of Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, and you might get a clearer understanding of this.  “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)

Fast Way Nowhere

Driving Nicholasville Road between 7 and 9 am in the morning is like entering a racetrack, especially if you are headed north into Lexington, Kentucky.  The same can be said about heading south between 4 and 6 pm.  Our job site is within ear-range of the road and we hear ambulance or police sirens almost daily.  This is such a common occurrence that my working partner usually comments, “Sounds like another accident on the Nicholasville Speedway.”

Where are people going in such a hurry that it is worth risking their $40,000 BMWs and Lexuses (or is the plural Lexi?), or more importantly, their health and lives?  It seems that when good sense gets an override from expedience, the result is a Fast Way Nowhere.

Fast Way NowhereThis was the title of a 63 minute color film produced by a small movie company in 1966.  Its themes were about the materialism and short-circuited morality of affluent young people with equally disengaged parents, looking for satisfaction in things instead of purpose.  Now the nihilism of that generation is coming home to roost in a culture that advocates speed as the epitome of success.

We feel constant pressure to be “the first to know.”  Twenty-four hour news feeds keep us informed of everything from the sublime to the ridiculous: which candidate is winning national elections; what Kim somebody wore to some shindig at the White House; or who lost the most weight on some television show about obesity.  Weather is constantly updated via Wunderground.com or the Weather Channel.  How far away from the internet do you have to live to avoid pirated songs from The Late Artist Formerly Known As Prince?

From drive-through fast food that started with MacDonalds in the 1950s, you now can “drive-through” just about anything in the US!  Bank drive-up tellers are ubiquitous; pharmacies dispense drugs through the drive-up window.  Even restaurants and services that do not usually offer “fast-food” service have “carry-out” parking spaces.  A local grocery store just removed a dozen parking spaces to allow “drive-thru” grocery shopping; just place your order online from your computer or smart phone, pay for it online, and pick it up through the new Click List parking spaces.  And if you do not want to wait at the drive-through you can order almost anything online to simply be delivered to your home or place of business . . . and for a few extra dollars, have it delivered overnight!

We are more inter-connected across vast distances than ever before in human history, yet we have smaller circles of friends than our ancestors of 100 years ago.  In 1916 you were likely to know the names of up to 150 people who lived on or near your street; you knew whose kids were graduating, whose were getting married, the jobs of most of those people, and how long they had lived in your neighborhood.

Now you may know the names of 10 neighbors if you are particularly gregarious or nosy, but you probably know more about the people on People.com’s celebrity list, even though you have never met, nor will ever meet, any of them.  We have sacrificed personal friendship, intimacy and neighborliness for a more accelerated and impersonal way of living.  And we do this faster than our 100 year old ancestors could have imagined.

“In the virtual world, ‘friends’ possibly half the world away are made and ‘defriended’ at the click of an icon. Likes and dislikes are but passing fads. In the ‘real’ world, where ‘clicking’ just doesn’t cut it, how to physically move from A to B as quickly as possible dominates the modern mindset – how to get to work, the airport, to your kids’ schools, the hospital or the shopping mall. Many now appear to spend half their lives in transit in order to do what was once achievable by foot or by bicycle.

“It’s all become a case of how to eat fast, live fast, consume fast, text message fast, Facebook fast and purchase fast. Speed is of the essence. And it seems that the faster we live, the greater our appetites have become. The mantra seems to be faster, quicker, better, more. In a quick-paced, use-and-throw world, speed is addictive.”  Colin Todhunter

Treebeard is aliveSo where are we going in such a hurry?  Is it really worth the risk of our lives, our friends, our family to arrive at our destinations three minutes earlier?  Given the traffic lights, the local distances, and other autos in the way, that is about the advantage of trying to drive over the 55 mph (90km) speed limit on Nich Road.  Could we not just leave four minutes earlier and save all the fuss of fighting to get under the yellow traffic light?

Now, why would I spend a blog complaining (again!) about rude drivers and speeders in my community?  To be honest, I am trying to preach to myself, to be a more patient driver and let the “other crazies” pass me on the road, me being the “first crazy.”  And why do I have such a difficult time remembering the other driver is a person, not just an automaton in another car?  Face to face, would I be so rude if we were walking instead of driving?

My own driving habits have improved significantly in recent years, no longer speeding and running red lights or sliding through stop signs.  But now I find myself terribly judgmental over other drivers who drive as I did a very few years ago.  Instead of going “nowhere fast” I want to get somewhere; somewhere where the grace of God patiently gets me to my destination; somewhere where His mercy flows through me.  As Steve Elliott prayed just this morning at First Alliance Church, “Call us by Your grace to be a people of mercy.”

And maybe I can release some of those driving madly up or down Nicholasville Road to figure out for themselves how to stop taking the Fast Way Nowhere.

Throwing Pearls At Pigs?

Most people know very little about what the Bible says just as most people know little about what Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Richard Dawkins wrote.  Though the names of these two great thinkers bring honor and/or disgust from most who hear them mentioned, Christ-followers who think highly of Bonhoeffer have rarely read Dawkins, and evolutionists who worship Dawkins mostly have never heard of Bonhoeffer.  We react to their names based mostly on a snippet here or there of some quote we have heard, without realizing it may have been taken out of context.

“Judge not, that you be not judged,” is probably one of the most well known verses of the Bible, even though most of those quoting it have no idea this was written by a Jewish man quoting a rabbi, nor would they be able to direct you to where it is located.  It is used most often as a bludgeoning tool against any statement viewed by the listener as narrow-minded religious bigotry, whether that categorization is correct or not.

Pig with PearlsYou see, just four sentences later the rabbi identified the “judgemental person” as a hypocrite, and in the fifth sentence following, instructs his listeners, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs.”

But which is the hypocrite?  The one being accused of “judging” or his “judge” who is accusing him?  And how can you avoid giving holy things to dogs or cease from throwing pearls at pigs unless you use some kind of “judgment?”  (For readers from British education this is not a spelling error; Americans drop the “e” between the “g” and “m.”)  In a later blog, we will explore the levels of “judgment” that range from assessment to execution, but for today, let’s just consider these two contrasting concepts of judgment: one which we appear to be warned against, and the other in which we are encouraged to engage.

The full context is Matthew 7, the last third of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount: 1“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. 6 Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you . . .  12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. 13 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Hmmm, I wonder how many people yelling, “Judge NOT,” at someone have considered the possibility that he/she may be the pig attacking one who inadvertently tossed out a pearl where it should not have been thrown.

The command, “Judge not,” comes with a qualifier; not that we should never judge, but we must be careful in doing so, because the measure we use will be used on us.  For example, suppose driving down Nicholasville Road, Corvettea yellow Corvette comes flying out of an intersection, ignoring his stop sign, guns his engine to fly between cars, never uses his blinker changing lanes, tailgates the cars he keeps chasing, and finally turns onto Brannon Road to head east, missing the yellow light that just turned red before he entered the intersection.  Back in the line of cars waiting at the red light, I watch as the cars from each direction go in turn until my light is green again, and I and the cars in front of me easily pass the intersection to head east on Brannon Road.  When I turn in to MacDonald’s to get a cup of coffee-to-go at the drive-through, there in front of me is the yellow Corvette, all of 12 feet (4m) further than if he had driven reasonably the last two miles.

The “natural man” in me wants to gloat!  Maybe crawl up on the Corvette’s bumper with my massive Dodge Ram 2500 Longbed?  Maybe turn on my brights to blind his eyes in his rear-view mirror?  Maybe to honk my horn at him for his inconsiderate way of driving, give him an “Italian salute” if he looks in his mirror at me?

But there is a “super-natural Man” in me,  Jesus, living in my heart!    And this “super-natural Man” tells me, “Judge not, C.A.”  So I wait and let the Corvette go, order my coffee, and head to my job.  Now, honestly, far too often I do not listen to the Lord’s voice at times like these, but He is teaching me to be more obedient to His Spirit’s voice than to my own.

The judgment that this pitiable fellow was driving like an idiot; that he was risking his and others’ lives and safety by his inconsideration; that he gained no advantage for all his rudeness – this judgment is simply recognizing the reality of what he did and its results.  Jesus’ warning to me was not to go into his motives and not to take revenge.

I knew nothing about where he was coming from, what pressure he was under, what conflicts he was dealing with, who had trained him in his arrogance, why he was in such a hurry.  If I were to “judge” him based on how little I knew of him, Jesus warned me that He would judge me, ignoring what He knew about me. “With the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

So my “pearl” of wisdom, of how to drive reasonably and not like a “road-hog”, stayed in my truck with me, and the Corvette driver was treated the way I hope someone treats me when I do something dumb behind the steering wheel.  “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  I am so glad to not be alone, to have Jesus living inside me, to belong to One who knows when not to throw pearls at pigs.