Bigger Barn Syndrome – Part Five

Remember what your mother told you when you had two cookies and your sister had none? “Quick, eat them both before she can wrench one out of your greedy little hands!” Probably not. She would say, “Share.” What do you tell your own kids, nieces, and nephews when they have more than they need and a friend or sibling has none? We tell them to share. Watching someone eat two cookies in the presence of someone who has none doesn’t seem right, does it? We feel compelled to say or do something. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42).

Imagine seeing the world from God’s point of view. Imagine being able to see everybody in the world who has two cookies and everyone who has none, all at the same time. You would probably say something. You would tell everyone to share. If God has blessed you with more than you need, it’s so that you can share your abundance with those who have need, Embracing that simple truth is the key to ridding your heart of greed and removing that dreaded Bigger Barn Syndrome.

It is so basic and simple – not easy, but simple… Generous giving (and living) will break the grip of greed on your life. So whether or not you think you have extra, give and give generously. You’ve got to give to the point that it forces you to adjust your lifestyle. If you are not willing to give to the point that it impacts your lifestyle, then according to Jesus you’re greedy. If you’re consuming to the point of having little or nothing left to give, you’re greedy. If you’re consuming and saving to the point that their’s little or nothing to give, you’re greedy.

I know that’s strong. Actually, it’s harsh.

But it’s true. 

Maybe this is a bit hard for you to swallow because you’ve never had a greedy thought in your life. Maybe you feel compassion every time you see someone in need. And in your heart you really do want to help. You want to give, but you can’t. Or you won’t. Why? Because you’re afraid you won’t have enough. But your heart genuinely goes out to those in need. So is it fair to say you’re greedy? Yes. Because greed is not a feeling; it’s a refusal to act.

You can feel compassion toward people in need and be as avaricious as Scrooge. Greed is evident not by how you feel but by what you do. Generous feelings and good intentions don’t compensate for a greedy heart; in fact, good intentions and greed can cohabit in your heart indefinitely. This is what makes this covert enemy such a threat to the heart. You may never feel it the way you do anger or guilt or even jealousy. But it’s there. It’s dangerous. And it can lead to total loss. 

Just as you can’t wait until you’re in shape to start exercising, you dare not wait to start giving until your fear of giving is gone. Don’t wait until God changes your heart to begin giving. Giving is the way God chooses to change our hearts. As your heart changes, your attitude and feelings will follow suit. God loves a cheerful giver, but He’’ll put your money to good use whether you’re cheerful or not. My advice: Give until you get cheerful.

Our giving must impact our lifestyle if it’s going to break the power of greed in our lives. The best way to do this is to become a percentage giver. Percentage giving involves giving away a percentage of everything you receive right off the top, as soon as you get it. Specifically, the first cheque or e-Transfer you would write after depositing your paycheque is a cheque to an organization(s) that supports the work of the Kingdom. That’s how you become rich toward God. In New Testament times there were no such organizations; believers gave to their place of worship and to the poor. We now have multiple options. Choose one or two to start. Now.

Writing this cheque or making this e-Transfer ensures that God’s Kingdom is funded ahead of yours. You’ll have to live on the leftovers for a change. If that scares you, start at a low percentage, say 2 percent. You’ll never miss it. Bump it up a percentage point every 6 months or every year until you’re giving at least 10 or 12 percent of your income. Giving at that level is evidence of a lifestyle adjustment. But percentage giving is just the beginning.

You need to be a spontaneous giver as well. When you see someone in need, give. Isn’t that what you expect God to do for you when you’re in need? Then go ahead and make the first move. If you’ve got extra and somebody is in need, share. That’s who your extra is there for. 

These two habits, percentage giving and spontaneous giving, will protect you from Bigger Barn Syndrome. The day will come when you receive an unexpected windfall and your first thought will be, who can I help? What Kingdom endeavour can I fund? In that moment you’ll know that through the habit of generous giving, you’ve broken the power of greed in your life.

It’s a habit that changes everything. 

Bigger Barn Syndrome – Part Four

We finished yesterday with a thought and a question:

So, when we don’t have enough, we wonder why.

Why not wonder when we have more than enough?

You know where I’m going with this. The parable of the rich fool makes it all too clear why we have more than we need. But before we head down the path of predictability, let’s consider our options.

What are the possibilities? What might God be up to in providing us with more than our daily bread? 

Perhaps you have more than you need in order to ensure that your children have everything they need. Is that why God has provided the way He has? Probably not. In fact, leaving or giving your children a lot of money generally doesn’t set them up for success in life. In all my years of counselling, I’ve never heard anyone say”My problems began when my parents didn’t leave me enough money.” But the world is full of people whose problems began when they received money they didn’t earn. I don’t think God gave you what you have in order to ruin your kids.

Maybe God provided an abundance for you so you won’t worry. Maybe He wants you to lean on your accumulated assets for peace. But I’m guessing that’s not it either. Generally speaking, the more a person accumulates, the more he worries about it. Besides, peace is a fruit of the Spirit, not a by-product of accumulated wealth. The more I have, the more I think about it and the more I worry about it.

There’s a third option. Perhaps God has provided you with extra in order to elevate your standard of living. Maybe it’s all about bumping up your lifestyle a notch or two. Most people today, regardless of the nation they live in, enter adulthood with the assumption that our lifestyle should keep pace with our income. In fact, thanks to the credit card industry, for many of us our lifestyle slightly outpaces our income. Either way, we’re continually urged not to allow one to lag too far behind the other. The result, of course, is artificially induced income pressure.

“Artificial?: you say. “My financial concerns don’t feel very artificial.” They don’t feel artificial because the costs associated with maintaining your lifestyle are very real — you really do have to pay your cable TV bill, your cell phone bill, and your credit card bill. But those bills exist because you’ve chosen to lead a lifestyle that keeps pace with or outpaces your income. You’ve convinced yourself that all those luxuries are necessities – things you can’t live without. Your inflated sense of what’s essential has created financial pressure, but it’s artificial pressure. Maybe all you need to do is throttle back your lifestyle a notch or two and the pressure would subside.

Think about it. Regardless of how much money a person makes, if he leaves himself no margin, there’ll be no peace of mind. Worse, if all your money is spoken for before you deposit your paycheque, greed has an all-access pass to your heart. Why? Because any extra that comes in is already spoken for as well. You’re planning ahead of time to consume it. Where’s there no margin financially, there’s no way to avoid avarice. When the pressure’s on, we have little choice but to think of ourselves first.

That’s the essence of greed. You don’t have to actually have extra to be greedy. As long as you plan to spend whatever comes your way on yourself, you’re a candidate. It you’ve allowed your lifestyle to keep lockstep with or surpass your income, you’ll find it next to impossible to keep greed from taking root in your heart. And, if the surplus is rather large you begin the experience the Bigger Barn Syndrome. 

Bigger Barn Syndrome – Part Three

The real moral of the story we have been looking at is this: Those whose eagerness to store up material goods outpaces their willingness to give will suffer a complete and total loss when their time runs out. The landowner suffered a total reversal of fortune at death: He lost everything in this life and had nothing to show for it in the next. He didn’t just lose his life, he lost everything he considered “life.” He was rich in this world but poor toward God because everything that came his way was used for his private consumption. 

In the words of Jesus, he was a fool. A fool that most of us would have envied had we known him. A fool that many of us have a tendency to emulate, but a fool just the same. The landowner was foolish enough to believe that an abundance of stuff meant an abundance of time. He was a fool to assume that his good fortune was the direct result of his hard work. He was a fool not to give to the less fortunate from his abundance, knowing that the day would come when everything would be taken from him, including any further opportunity to be generous. As Mignon McLaughlin once wrote in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, “‘Your money or your life.’ We know what to do when a burglar makes this demand of us, but not when God does.”

The parable of the rich fool does two important things for us: First, it defines greed from God’s perspective. Second, it offers a simple remedy. The problem with God’s definition is that it’s a bit broader than most of us are comfortable with. The problem with His solution is that it’s unavoidably practical.

The parable leads me the think of the power of generosity. What does it really mean to live life in “seriously generous” mode? 

Here’s a questions we all need to ask ourselves from time to time: Why do I have so much?

Now, I realize you don’t have as much as you want. Few of us do. Again, the desire for stuff is like the rest of our appetites — it can never be fully and finally satisfied. But just for a moment, shift your focus away from your potential possessions and income and consider your actual financial and physical accumulation and flow. Think of all you have. Chances are, it more than your parents had at your age. Perhaps it is considerably more than most people in the world can lay claim to. So why you? Why do you have so much?

We need to slow down occasionally and force ourselves to wrestle with that question. Why? Because a consumer-driven culture keeps us laser-focused on what we don’t have, and focusing on what we don’t have leaves our hearts vulnerable to greed – wanting more for the sake of more. How? Because as long as I’m on a quest for more, then when more does come along, I’ll assume it’s all for me. You know, like the farmer who built bigger barns. As long as I’m living for the next purchase, the next upgrade, the next whatever, I’m consuming mentally what I hope to soon be consuming physically. I’m anticipating future consumption. That kind of attitude leaves us little margin for generosity. And before we know it, we’re building bigger barns or a bigger garage or renting a heated storage space.

So let me ask you again: Why do you have so much? The wealthy landowner believed he deserved it; he didn’t recognize the divine providence behind his bumper crop. Assuming you aren’t as shortsighted as he was, let me ask the question this way: Why has God provided you with more than you need?

If it is an uncomfortable question, consider this: In the past, when you didn’t have enough, were you hesitant to question God about your lack? You probably didn’t hesitate at all. You let Him know immediately that you were in need. And if you’re like me, you let Him know what your expected Him to provide for you. And when He came through, what did you do? You thanked Him. You may have even shared your story with a few folks. So now that you’re on the other side, with more than enough, why don’t you questions God about that?

When we don’t have enough, we wonder why.

Why not wonder when we have more than enough?

Bigger Barn Syndrome – Part Two

So, the farmer has decided to build bigger barns to secure his future and not be a burden on his children in his old age. Sounds good.

If the story ended there, we might even consider this man a role model. But the story doesn’t end there. Nobody’s story ends there. While it’s true that the landowner planned ahead, he didn’t plan far enough ahead. He was right: He did need to consider his future — but not in the way he thought. He was presuming on years he didn’t have coming to him. Just as he overlooked the God-factor when evaluating his good agricultural fortune, the landowner has overlooked the God-factor when counting how many years he had left.

He assumed that his abundance of stuff assured him an abundance of time. But the two don’t have anything to do with each other. The very day the landowner made the decision to keep everything he’d earned (and thus, in his mind, deserved), he lost it. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say, it lost him.

Just after this man gets off his phone with the barn-renovation experts, he receives some shocking news: He’ll die sometime in the night. He’s about to learn the hard way that his life is not equivalent to the amount of his possessions. He will run out of time before he runs out of stuff.

As it turns out, the landowner is more dependent on God than he realized, for he’s entirely reliant on God for his allotment of time. Too bad he didn’t see that he was equally dependent on God for his allotment of stuff. 

When God delivers the bad news, he asks the landowner a question that’s loaded with implications for each of us:

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ (Luke 12:20)

The answer to this question should be obvious: Someone else. Someone else will end up with everything he has “earned” and consequently “deserved” and therefore stored up (saved). Someone else will end up with the very stuff he has hoarded for himself instead of depending on God’s provision. In the end, all of his possessions will be distributed to others. Not because he’s generous, but because he’s dead! More irony.

The parable of the rich fool directed our attention to an obvious but often overlooked reality: Eventually everything we claim to own will be owned by someone else. In the end it will be given away. So to assume that everything that comes our way is for our own consumption is shortsighted and foolish. It’s not a matter of if somebody else will get it; it’s just a matter of when and how. Either we’ll give it away while we still have time, or it will be taken away when our time runs out.

Jesus closes the parable with a stern warning:

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

This is Jesus’ definition of a greedy person: A person who stores up things for himself but isn’t rich towards God. Being “rich toward God” is Jesus-talk for being generous toward those in need. A greedy person is a man or woman who saved carefully but gives sparingly.

But what’s the warning Jesus is trying to convey? What is He saying will happen to you and me if we’re generous savers but not generous givers? Death? I don’t think so. That’s pretty much a given for all of us. Unexpected death? I don’t think that’s it either. I know a few generous people who died unexpectedly. Conversely, there are some very old greedy people; to the chagrin of their greedy relatives, they just keep on living. 

The real moral of the story is …

Bigger Barn Syndrome – Part One

There are a lot of false teachings on salvation in the Church world. Let me list a few …

      • Salvation by sacraments
      • Salvation by good works
      • Salvation by church membership
      • Salvation by traditions

There are several main gospels that circulate that are not biblical …

      • The gospel of salvation
      • The Prosperity gospel

This latter one has spread from North America through most of the Church world in nations around the globe. It is simply a gospel based on greed. Jesus had something blunt to say on the topic of greed: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”

Do you want to guess why Jesus began His discourse on greed in Luke 12:15-21 with a warning? He knew back then what we’re just beginning to discover: Greed can take up residence in the heart and live there for years, undetected. The unguarded heart is highly susceptible to this debilitating disease. It’s difficult to diagnose — especially to self-diagnose.

Jesus goes on to uncover what fuels all greed: “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” But doesn’t everyone know that? Do people really believe that their lives are equivalent to what they own? The answer is no and yes. No, not everyone knows that. And yes, there are people who believe that your life is pretty much the sum total of what you own. And many of us today are more prone to this belief than we might imagine.

From here, Jesus launches into a parable about a wealthy landowner whose property yielded a much larger crop than he expected or needed. His good fortune has left him with a dilemma: he has no place to store this bountiful harvest. He thinks, What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. In other words, What am I going to do with all my stuff that I have as a result of all my hard work? The landowner has no place to “store” his crops — that’s farmer talk for “save.” What he needs is a place to “hoard” his reserves.

In an agricultural society it would be immediately obvious that the abundance of this man’s harvest had little to do with his hard work; farmers are always at the mercy of factors over which they have no control. But the greedy man or woman doesn’t see the world that way — what comes their way does so because they earned it. And since the landowner believes he has earned this abundance, he never considers the notion that God might have had anything to do with it. And even if he’d credited this bounty as God’s blessing, it never crosses the landowner’s mind that the extra he has been blessed with is intended for anyone’s consumption but his own.

Clearly, God had provided this fellow with extra. The question he should be asking is, “Lord, what do you want me to do with the extra?”

But that is not how greedy people think. And to be honest, that’s not how I think either. What about you? When I come into a little extra, I think, Lucky me! Like the landowner in the parable, I can always come up with a plan for the extra. And I generally assume it’s meant for me. After all, I earned it; therefore, I deserve it. So I store it. Which is exactly what the landowner decides to do:

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ (Luke 12:18-19)

Bigger barns! What a great idea! That will solve everything; he’ll be set for life.

The landowner in this parable is suffering from BBS — Bigger Barn Syndrome. BBS is a malady common to those whose hearts are damaged by greed. People today have the same issue. Oh, it might be known by a different name but it is the same problem. 

      • Kids all grow up and move away from home and mom and dad build a new and bigger home (for when the grandchildren visit)
      • It is the end of the year and major discounts are announced on this year’s model of car. And, although there is nothing wrong with your car – the smell of a new car is enticing.
      • Your favourite j
      • Jeans are on sale. Never mind your closet is full and you already have 8 pairs most of which you don’t wear – they are on sale!
      • You can add your “but I need it” focus right here _________________________!

After declaring his intentions to build bigger barns, the landowner offers an explanation as to why he has chosen to pursue this course of action, Keep in mind: greed is always looking for something “good” to hide behind. For instance, this man has decided to build bigger barns to secure his future. Now he’ll have all he needs for ‘many years’ to come. Nothing wrong with that. Thanks to disciplined planning and opportunistic saving, his kids won’t have to take care of him in his old age.

If the story ended there … But it doesn’t. 

More tomorrow

Confessing Your Sins Over and Over Again – Part Three

As we have been discovering, in the Bible confession is never offered as a substitute for repentance. It’s but a first step toward repentance and then restitution. James, the half-brother of Jesus, had this to say about the role of confession in the life of a believer:

“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:15-16).

James calls for confession to one another as part of our repentance and restoration. James seems to indicate here that illness is sometimes caused by hidden sin. Regardless of where you land on that one, don’t miss the implication in James’s words: Because hidden sin may be the cause of visible illness, the smartest thing you can do is confess. Not only to God, but to the people. In other words, bring out your secrets into the light.

According to this passage, confession precedes physical and spiritual restoration. Again, there’s nothing here about relieving your conscience or feeling better about yourself or wiping the slate clean with God. Confession is the first step towards change. And change is the goal of confession.

No doubt this is what Jesus had in mind when He shocked His listener with this bit of instruction:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

I can imagine someone in Jesus’ audience thinking, Now wait a minute. You’re telling me I’ve walked all the way to the temple, stood in line for half the day, and brought an acceptable sacrifice. And I’m supposed to up and leave? You want me to tie up my lamb or hand my pigeon off to someone else, just to make peace with someone who’s mad at me?

This was certainly a new wrinkle on the Law. Worse than new, it was terribly inconvenient. And besides, isn’t our relationship with God supposed to be our ultimate priority? Isn’t God more interested in our getting right with Him than is getting things right with our next-door neighbour? Aren’t we suppose to put God first? Certainly, we should be concerned about a strained relationship — but surely it could wait until after church!

But Jesus comes along in His characteristic fashion and reverses everything. In effect He says our relationship with God hinges on our relationship with other people — the two are inseparable. He seems to imply that our ability to worship God sincerely and fellowship with Him unashamedly is contingent upon the status of our relationship with others, including those we’ve offended in some way. 

Part of walking with God is making that call you dread making; setting up that appointment you know will be incredibly awkward; writing that letter that you should have written long ago. It means humbling yourself, owning up to your part of the problem, and doing everything within your power to make those relationships right. And when you swallow your pride and take that extra step, something remarkable happens. Guilt loses it foothold in your heart, and the power of sin is broken in your life. 

Open confession has the power to break the cycle of sin. Actually, that’s the purpose of confession. And like most medicinal remedies, it works when applied properly.

If you start confessing your sins to the people you’ve sinned against, odds are that you’re not going to go back and commit those same sins again. Maybe that’s the reason we would rather just confess our sins silently to God — it gives us an out. We can be repeat offenders without embarrassing ourselves. I say “maybe.” In fact, that’s exactly why we confess secretly: In many cases we know we’re going to repeat the offence.

But if you force yourself to confess to your sales manager that you inflated your numbers last quarter, assuming you keep your job, you probably aren’t going to inflate them again. Not if it means having to confess the same infraction a second time.

If you muster the courage to confess to a friend that you revealed to someone something she’d told you in confidence, chances are you’ll never do it again. Not if it means having to confess it again.

If you confess to a teacher that you cheated on an exam, that will probably be the last exam you ever cheat on. 

Guilty people are usually repeat offenders. And as long as you’re carrying a secret, as long as you’re trying to ease your conscience by telling God how sorry you are, you’re setting yourself up to repeat the past (and keep on sinning). However, biblical confession — the way God designed confession to be applied — breaks the cycle of sin and guilt.

So the major carry away: Public confession has the power to purge our hearts of the guilt that keeps us from living out in the open with integrity; secret confession does not. 

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.