Confessing Your Sins Over and Over Again – Part Two

So, let’s continue our look at the religious practice of “confessing our sins over and over again.”

The English definition of confession is to admit to or acknowledge something. But in the Scriptures, confession is associated with change. Confession is just one step in a sequence of steps that leads the guilty out of the darkness and into the light; it’s simply the beginning of a process that ultimately leads to a change in lifestyle or behaviour.

The early Catholic literature on penance and confession support this broadened definition. In the early days of Catholicism, you weren’t allowed to confess the same sins over and over. Only once. Because after you did your penance, change was expected. Penance comes from the word repentance. Repentance is often pictured as a person walking one way, realizing the error of that way, and changing direction to walk in the opposite direction. 

In the Scriptures, confession is clearly connected with restitution, repentance, and restoration. In the Old Testament, confessions was always public and was associated with restitution. Consider this edict from God to Moses: “Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged” (Numbers 5:6-7 NIV).

For the Jew, this wasn’t about feeling better about yourself; it was about making things right with the one you’d sinned against — with interest. It wasn’t enough to be sorry. God was interested in change. And having to go public with your sin and make restitution certainly motivated people to change.

When John the Baptist waded onto the scene, he called people to repentance as well as the confession of sins: “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:4-5 NASV).

This wasn’t private confession. This was public confession made in connection with public repentance. Joh’s audience was going public with their intentions to live a different kind of life. They weren’t confessing just to silence their conscience; they were really to leave their sin behind and head in a different direction. Confession wasn’t simply a means to feeling better about their sin; it was a public step toward abandoning sin.

A bit further into the New Testament we find the infamous tax collector Zacchaeus following this Old Testament model of confession. But instead of the required one-fifth that God instituted in the law, Zacchaeus gave back four times what he’s taken illegally.

Zacchaeus wasn’t the cute little man depicted in our childhood songs and Sunday school classes. He was a wicked man considered a traitor to his nation. He’d wronged many of his fellow Jews, leaving a trail of relational wreckage in his wake. But when Jesus invited Himself over to Zacchaeus’s house that fateful day, the little tax collector was changed. He found in Jesus the hope and forgiveness he has long since given up on. But Zacchaeus knew instinctively that it wasn’t enough to confess his sins to Jesus. That was a first step, but only a first step.

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).

How did Jesus respond? He didn’t say, “Oh no, no, no, Zacchaeus! You’re forgiven! It was enough that you confessed your sins to Me. There’s no need to make a public spectacle of yourself.” Instead, Jesus said in effect, “Now I know for sure that salvation has come to this house. Your public admission is evidence of a changed heart.”

Zacchaeus didn’t just admit to his sins of the past, he took public responsibility for them. He confessed in the truest sense of the biblical term.

Over and over the Bible speaks of confession, not in terms of conscience relief, but in terms of life change. Never is confession offered as a substitute for repentance. It’s but a first step toward repentance.

More next time…

Confessing Your Sins Over and Over Again – Part One

Here is something to think about. We confess our sins to God telling Him what it is we believe we have done or thought or said that might have been offensive to Him. Then, we ask for forgiveness and believe the slate is clean. There are many versions of this game. And, it is a game. 

We confess to God, to a priest, to a minister, a rabbi, a friend, or … Then we go about life and continue to live the same way, committing the same sins, and needing to be forgiven again and again, over and over again. So you find yourself – if you are religious – confessing your sins (often the same sins) over and over again and again. Nothing changes but for a few short hours (or minutes) we feel good about ourselves as we have relieved the guilt and done what we believe is right and good. 

Confession then is about guilt relief or, worse still, fulfilling a weekly or monthly religious requirement to remain in good standing with the Church. We know, even while we are confessing our sins, that we will be back the next day (week, month) confessing the same sins again. Our routine has nothing to so with change. We just want to feel better or fill some religious obligation passed on to us by our parents. 

Chances are, you play your own version of the confession game. Some confess to a priest, some confess directly to God, but none of us is really interested in changing anything. But we sure feel better about ourselves. The cloud lifts. The slate’s clean. And now that we’ve gotten God off our case, we think perhaps He’ll be on our side. But would you side up with someone who treated you that way? Who used you that way?

Imagine you had a brother who continually stole from you, embarrassed you publicly, and talked badly about you behind your back — but once a week he came to you and said, in very general terms, he was sorry (which you already knew). But no sooner did you turn around than he was right back at it again. To make matters worse, he has the nerve to ask for your help whenever he gets in a bind. How would you characterize that relationship? Even if you were able to genuinely forgive him each time, what would eventually happen to the relationship? There would be no relationship. At best, you would feel used; more than likely, you would feel insulted. What kind of idiot does he take me for? Does he really think that I believe his apology is sincere when he turns around and does the same things again and again? 

Need I make the application?

Let’s face it; our approach to confession is an insult to our heavenly Father. We certainly wouldn’t dream of staying in a relationship with anyone who treated us that way. It’s a good thing His love is unconditional — otherwise, we would all be in trouble.

So where did we go wrong? Why this endless cycle? How is it that we’ve allowed confession to become a tool to facilitate our sin rather than ending it? Well, I’m glad you asked. Or I’m glad I asked. Anyway, that’s a great question and one that deserves consideration.

We Play the confession game because somewhere along the way we were taught that the purpose of confession was conscience relief. That is, we confess in order to make ourselves feel better about what we’ve done. And if you want to put a theological spin on it, we confess because we think it will somehow help God feel better about what we’ve done. According to our twisted way of thinking, confession puts everything back just the way it was before we did whatever it was we did that made us feel like we needed to confess.

But come on, that doesn’t even make any sense. How can confessing to God what you did to another person make everything right? How does that restore anything? What about the person you’ve wronged?

Not only does it not make sense, it doesn’t work. This pseudo-confession doesn’t remove our guilt. Like Tylenol, our quick confession prayers take the edge off our pain, but they don’t heal the wound caused by our sin. It does not heal the relationship (with God and others) caused by your sinful actions – thoughts, words, deeds. This is why you find yourself repeating and confession the sins of your past (and present) over and over again. The guilt is still there. The issues have not been resolved. Restoration has not been accomplished. In reality, nothing has changed.

More next time…

Cultivate the Value of Gratitude – Part Three

Like the apostle Paul. I too had to learn gratitude in all things. Truthfully, I’m not naturally grateful. That is true of many of us. I’, not embarrassed to say it, but I am bent more towards the negative, critical, discontented, and ungrateful side. Because I minister a lot, people give me way more credit than I deserve. 

Years ago I heard a teaching from one of my mentors that totally changed my life. If you know me you would know what I am about to share. He did a teaching called “Content or Discontent, Which Tent Do You Live In?” It changed my life and taught me that I  needed a different perspective. He taught me that I have to choose to be grateful for all the good that I see and not just focus on the issues, faults, and the places I and others could do better. 

I am naturally an early riser. I love the quiet and freshness of early morning before the world wakes up and interrupts my solitude, stillness, and silence. Most morning I wake up on my own long before the alarm goes off. It is simply a backup in case I oversleep. The mornings I don’t naturally wake up and the alarm goes off I can be heard to say “That stupid alarm” as I reach for the snooze button. I have had to train myself to say “Good morning Lord” instead of my natural response to being rudely awakened. 

I often wonder why we call it an “alarm clock.” It is like waking up to an emergency that is causing us alarm. When really we are just getting up to enjoy the gift of another day of life. 

One verse that has helped me build a spirit of gratitude is found in Ecclesiastes 6:9 which states, “Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite.” Think about it. Wanting what you have is better than trying to have what you want. It’s better to embrace what God has given us than to whine about what He hasn’t. When you take every good thing and acknowledge it, giving praise to God, it radically changes your perspective.

Turn your blessings into praise as we saw yesterday. Instead of complaining about your older car, you can thank God every day that you have transportation. If your house is always a wreck (and I remember when), you can thank God that you have a family, kids, and toys. If you feel like you’re always busy running from one place to another, you can thank God that you are healthy, needed, and have the ability to live an active, productive life. (I need to remind myself daily of this one). If your house is small, you can thank God that you have a refrigerator, a bed, and running water. Not everyone can take that for granted as we do. If you don’t like your job, wake up every day and remember all of the people who would kill for your job. Then thank God He has provided you with employment. 

Perspective is everything. The right perspective changes everything. When all you can think of is what you want to complain about, you can be pretty miserable and ungrateful. But when you shift your focus, your heart changes. Instead of being poisoned by ingratitude, you’re transformed by gratitude and contentment. 

Content or discontent – which tent are you living in?

Unlike any other virtue, living with gratitude can change the way you experience your life. Let go of longing for what you don’t have, chasing after things that never satisfy you longer than a few minutes. Give God thanks for all that you have. Know that you have everything you need right now. Perhaps no one reminds us of this truth more powerfully than the prophet Isaiah:

Come, all you who are thirsty,

come to the waters;

and you who have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

and you will delight in the richest of fare.

(Isaiah 55:1-2)

Cultivate the Value of Gratitude – Part Two

How do you overcome the seeds of ungratefulness that culture has planted in your soul? How do you learn to be grateful in a world that excels at its opposite? How do you overcome the prevailing ethos of entitlement?

I’d like to borrow a line from a Matt Redman song called “Blessed Be Your Name.” In it, he sings to God, “Every blessing you pour out, I’ll turn back to praise.” To cultivate an attitude of gratitude, we should turn everything good in our lives into an opportunity to worship and give God thanks and praise. When we do, we acknowledge the Giver of the gifts. The Bible says in James, “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Since anything good we have comes from God, why not give God the credit? 

Remember, the entitled person feels he or she deserves everything good that they receive, ignoring God’s goodness in the blessings (see yesterday’s blog – Part One). But when they don’t get what they want in life, God then to get the blame. On the other hand, when we turn blessings to praise, we cultivate gratitude. We’re training our hearts to become constantly aware of God’s goodness.

Any blessing we don’t turn back to praise turns into pride. We think we earned it, deserved it, or are worthy of it. That’s pride. And pride breaks God’s heart. Among other things, pride is a God-repellent. He opposes the proud. The good news is that God gives grace to the humble. Just as pride disgusts God, praise delights Him.

The apostle Paul modeled the right attitude better than anyone I know. Paul easily could have fallen victim to material, relational, or circumstantial ungratefulness. He had reason to gripe about all that he’d given up for Christ. He’d surrendered the normal life of marriage and being a dad to spread the Gospel. He’d been beaten, flogged, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead, and imprisoned.

While in house arrest, instead of blaming God, crying about the injustices, or losing his faith, Paul chose to focus on what he had. In his gratitude, Paul discovered the secret of contentment. This wasn’t a natural response for him, just as it won’t be natural for us. Paul had to learn contentment, gratitude, and praise. He said, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

No matter what life threw his way, Paul learned to be grateful and content. Not on his own but through Christ who gave him strength. 

Once you take inventory of all your blessings, it’s easy to be thankful for what God has given you. But it’s also helpful to think not just of the good things you have but also the bad things that you haven’t experienced. 

In her poem “Otherwise” poet Jane Kenyon reflects on her blessings with gratitude, embracing each moment of life.

I got out of bed

On two strong legs.

It might have been

otherwise. I ate

cereal, sweet

milk, ripe flawless

peach. It might

have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill

to the birch wood.

All morning I did

the work I love.

At noon I lay down

with my mate. It might

have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together

at a table with silver

candlesticks. It might

have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed

in a room with paintings

on the walls, and 

planned another day

just like this day.

But one day, I know,

it will be otherwise.

Kenyon wrote that poem in 1993, upon learning that her husband, Donald Hall, had cancer. Ironically, it was Kenyon, not Hall, who died a year later after a fierce and swift battle with leukaemia. “Otherwise” came unexpectedly. But Jane Kenyon didn’t miss the blessings of God in each day. She learned the art of gratitude.  

Cultivate the Value of Gratitude – Part One

Have you ever gone to a lot of trouble to do something special for someone, but they barely acknowledge your effort? You planned. You saved. You prepared. You thought of every detail. You made everything just right. You worked like crazy to surprise someone, bless someone, honour someone. And they didn’t say thank you. Of course you didn’t do it to be rewarded, but an acknowledgement would have been nice.

Imagine how God feels when He gives us life, His love, His presence, His blessings, His Son. And we ignore Him, continuing to do our own thing. Or perhaps we’re a bit more gracious and give a polite, token “thanks, God.” We show up for church once or twice a month, if we’re not too tired or don’t have the chance to take a weekend trip out of town. We halfheartedly sing a few songs, listen to the sermon, nodding to acknowledge God before rushing to our favourite restaurant or coffee shop to enjoy our normal life.

I believe that as believers we need to learn and live, embrace and cultivate the life-changing value of gratitude. Difficult at the best of times and especially so in our “entitlement” culture of today. But, as disciples we must focus on and make an effort to cultivate a lifestyle that is consistently grateful for all we have been given by the Lord. Living life with an attitude of gratitude is life-changing.

Gratitude kills pride. Gratitude slays self-sufficiency. Gratitude crushes the spirit of entitlement. When we replace our daily discontentment with whatever in life is bothering us – and simply focus on how much we have to be grateful for, our hearts will slowly change and we will live a life of thanksgiving.

Learning to be grateful to God puts us in a constant awareness of the source of all good things in our lives, always reminding us of our need, which God met through Christ. Rather than demanding that God serve our wishes, gratitude puts us in our rightful place – eternally indebted to the One who gave us life in the first place.

When you dig up the roots of entitlement, gratitude will grow in the good soil of a fertile heart. Gratitude will change how you see your past, acknowledging God’s sovereignty in all things. Gratitude positions you to experience God moment by moment in the present, depending on Him daily. Gratitude places you in a posture of worship, ready to give praise to God for every good thing He will do in your future.

What has God done in your life? What has He given you? What blessings do you take for granted? Your life? Your health? Your friendships? Your job? Your home or apartment? When you pause to really think, I promise you can see God in all things, even in the things you wish had never happened.

I’ve always found it interesting that people ask why bad things happen to them, but they rarely ask why good things happen to them. These attitudes reflect the false belief that we don’t deserve bad but we do deserve good. Remember, all we really deserve is hell. If you’re a Christian, Christ has saved you from the pit of your sin. You’ve been filled with the Spirit of God. You’re adopted into God’s eternal family. Your life is not your own. You were bought with a price – the blood of Jesus shed for you on the cross.

Just like the lepers who came to Jesus, you’ve been cleansed. Healed. Transformed. (see: Luke 17: 11-19)  Will you be like most in our society — like the nine who were too busy to say “thank you”? Or will you be different, live gratefully, and return to say thank you to the God who gave you everything that matters?  

Forbidden Fruit

Our culture and society has trained us that if something is worth having, it is worth having now. If you are going to do it, you should never be forced to wait. In order to feel important, our entitled egos tell us we should get what we want when we want it. After all, we are the “entitled generation.” We want it our way; and we want it now. 

You have heard the mantras: “If it feels good, do it.” “It’s my life; I can do whatever I want.” “Why should I wait when I can have it now?” Thus we often think that we actually deserve whatever we want and should never be forced to wait, plan, prepare, or put something off. Thus the reason for the massive personal debt many have accumulated by using their credit cards to indulge themselves. We tend to forget that short-term decisions can lead to long-term consequences.

While I believe this problem has become progressively worse, it’s certainly not new. The Bible is loaded with stories of people who failed to realize the consequences of their short-term, ego-driven decisions. In the very first story in God’s Word, Eve craves the forbidden fruit. When you think about it, she has it all — everything any woman could ever desire. An intimate relationship with the God of the universe. A husband who adored her. Paradise as her home.

She also doesn’t have some of the things that make us crazy. Eve doesn’t have another woman in the world to compare herself with. She never has to wonder, “Do you think she’s prettier than me?” She never fears that someone else is a better mom, a better cook, or a better employee, or that someone else has a better body. Eve can’t compare kitchens, closets, or husbands; she never has to sink into the trap of comparison envy. The first woman who has ever lived has everything — really everything — except the fruit of the one tree that God said is off limits. 

Even though this woman has it all, the serpent still managed to tempt her by asking, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). In our world the question might be, “Did God really say you need to wait until marriage until you get to have sex?” “Did God really say that you should love your enemies when you’d rather kill them?” “Did God really say that you should stay married when you’d prefer to be married to someone else?”

Even though Eve has everything but a piece of fruit, the one thing she is denied becomes the all-consuming, gotta-have-it thing. All of us have reached out to grab some forbidden fruit (or at least a slice of apple pie) and taken a bite that costs more than we ever imagined. Moses did it when he was angry and killed a man. David did it when he was lonely and committed adultery. Judas did it when he became greedy and betrayed Jesus. And we do it when we lose our temper, have sex before marriage, buy something we can’t afford, or stuff our faces until we’re fat.

We see this common problem described clearly in Scripture: “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever” (1 John 2:16-17).

It seems that people commonly trade the long-term greater blessings that come later for the quick-fix lower things they can have right now.

How about you? Most of us, I am afraid, are following the example of society and our culture. We are being ego-driven to want what we want when we want. And, as a result we are making quick decisions giving us short-term pleasure and gain but costing us long-term consequences that are often very damaging. 

And it is only after the fact, when we realize what we could have had if we had waited, that we understand the cost of our decision. We understand that we settled for far less than what God wanted us to have.

It is so easy to live reacting to our impulses, making decisions as if this moment is the only thing that matters., Sadly, so many people remain dangerously shortsighted when it comes to judging what’s important and when it is important. While it’s good to “be in the moment,” many people find it hard to see even two minutes into the future, recognizing the problems their decisions might create. 

Again, this isn’t totally the fault of those who live with this mindset. Strategic marketing, improved technology, and selfish living have trained us well. You grew up on commercials and advertisements that said, “You deserve the best. Have it your way. Live in luxury.” Some people believe the microwave triggered a universal lust for now. Zap my problem, and it will be fixed in sixty seconds or less. If their iPhone takes more than five seconds to download a site, they get impatient and complain about how pathetic their phone is, or they just go to another site instead, or they upgrade to a newer version of the phone. 

If you look around, you see it everywhere. A grown man throwing a tirade because his fast food burger took three minutes to make. A mom coming unglued because the high school guy at the cash register slows her down. A young couple becoming furious because they were denied the loan to buy their dream home (which was way over their budget) and they have to do something that’ve never done before — wait. Our society has trained us that if it is worth having, it is worth having now. If you are going to do it, you should never be forced to wait. In order to feel important – and feed that ego – our entitled egos tell us we should get what we want when we want it. And, we seldom think of the long-term consequences of the decisions we make on impulse today.

So, take a look at your life as it is right now and see if you are making some decisions today that will have long-term consequences that will hinder your walk with the Lord one day. Don’t skip over this little assignment. It’s important. Are you following the “must have it now” culture or the biblical principle of ‘delayed gratification. 

Following along on this theme – see tomorrow’s blog “Deal Or No Meal”