The beauty of communal confession

I touched recently on the beauty of individual confession, the spiritual discipline of searching our hearts and confessing the sins that lie deep within the recesses of our souls, the ones we generally like to keep hidden and often deny even to ourselves.

I believe that honest soul-searching, combined with confession to God and others, is absolutely vital to our spiritual health and growth as we open ourselves to the heart of God and lay our guilt, shame, and inadequacies at His feet.

I am reminded regularly that confession within a communal and liturgical context can be, and often is, just as glorious.

As part of the liturgy of our communion service, our United Methodist congregation prays a prayer of confession in unison. To me, and hopefully to all involved, this isn’t simply a recitation of empty words. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, these words speak truth for all of us, as there is not one who can honestly say we have followed the Lord’s commandments without flaw. Reflection on these words and true repentance draws our hearts back to Christ and neighbor, invigorating our desire to share and live the gospel.

Here is the prayer, which can also be modified for individual confession:

Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.

We have failed to be an obedient church.

We have not done your will,we have broken your law,we have rebelled against your love,we have not loved our neighbors,and we have not heard the cry of the needy.

Forgive us, we pray.

Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

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The trinity, explained

If you’ve ever racked your brain trying to understand or explain the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, you’re in good company with about 2,000 years of saints who have struggled to do the same.

Fortunately, these guys came along to help us out.

Enjoy!

Confession: The forgotten discipline

The practice of confession has become one of my favorite of the spiritual disciplines. Though the discipline is prevalent throughout Scripture, I don’t recall it ever being taught to me during my Southern Baptist upbringing, and I have no memory of hearing a sermon, lesson, or teaching on the subject in the local Church since devoting my life to Christ nearly four years ago.

It wasn’t through the Church that I gained such an appreciation for confession. I was exposed to it first through the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Step Five of A.A. states, “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” This step follows a rigorous effort of discerning our own moral, ethical, and spiritual shortcomings through taking a personal inventory of ourselves. For alcoholics (and addicts), this is where the rubber meets the road, where we come face-to-face with our sins, our behavior, and every bad decision and act we have ever committed. We search diligently to admit where we have been selfish and self-centered – prime motivators for the sins of alcoholics (and most people, if we were to be honest).

After facing ourselves, however, Step Five challenges us to bring our confessions before God and another human being. Most of us wouldn’t dare to honestly disclose the innermost sins of our hearts with another person, but this is a hallmark of A.A. practice. As challenging and gut-wrenching as this step is, however, most people who have taken it will tell you that it is one of the most liberating practices of the A.A. program. This is where we throw our guilt and shame into the welcoming arms of a forgiving God and, through sharing our sins with another human being, we learn that we are not all that different from one another.

Confession doesn’t end in Step Five, though. Step 10, referred to sometimes as one of the “maintenance steps,” states, “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” In other words, the practice of taking a moral and spiritual inventory, combined with openly confessing our sins to God and others, is a lifelong, continuous journey if we are to remain spiritually healthy and submissive to God’s will for our lives.

It’s no wonder that confession is a major tenet of A.A. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous initially sobered up through their participation in the Oxford Groups, an evangelical Christian organization that emphasized the practices of confession and restitution to those its participants had harmed. Rev. Sam Shoemaker (1893-1963), an Episcopal priest noted for being one of the best preachers of his time, was intricate in the development of the Oxford Groups in the early 1900s and was a major influence for early A.A.’s.

Today’s Church could learn a lot from A.A., despite the organization’s obvious theological differences (or indifference, as the case may be) with the Church. The discipline of confession, long emphasized and practiced by our Catholic brothers and sisters, is a tremendous tool to open ourselves to the heart of God and our Christian communities, freeing us from the hidden sins that seek only to destroy.

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16

(Interesting fact: Alcoholics Anonymous was nearly named “The James Group” due to the tendency of early members to read and stress spiritual application from the Book of James)

On voting

One of my goals when I began this blog was to steer clear from overt, partisan politics, an area that, in my opinion, has done more to divide the body of Christ and harm our witness to the world over the last several decades than any other.

However, it continues to occur to me that outside of two or three hot button issues, a good majority of my tribe in America give very little theological or scriptural considerations when deciding how to vote.

My approach to politics is relatively simple yet, I believe, fairly theologically grounded.

My assessment of candidates and issues is always done with an eye on the Scriptures and Jesus.

Particularly:

– Mary’s Song – Luke 1:46-55

– Jesus’s Nazareth Sermon – Luke 4:16-30

– Sodom’s Destruction – Ezekiel 16:49-50

Lord, have mercy.

For my mom, a true servant

One of the greatest gifts I’ve received in my life thus far was the privilege of spending nearly every moment of the last days of my mom’s life at her side. She left this earth around 10 p.m. on the eve of Valentine’s Day one year ago.

Mom slipped into unconsciousness after developing sepsis as the result of a kidney infection. She had suffered immensely in the previous years from various complications mostly related to diabetes and two strokes. She was partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair for mobility.

When the decision was made to stop mom’s dialysis and infection treatments, doctors expected she would pass away within around 24 hours; she held on for about 10 days. That was my mom, tough and resilient to the end.

I was probably a little stubborn in my insistence that I remain by her side during those last days in the hospital, thankfully I had a wife and employer who each supported me. Few people are provided this chance, and my mom deserved the undivided attention, presence, care, and love of her child at the end of her life.

Choosing to set aside these days and forsake everything else that was going on in my life was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It became a time of healing for both of us. I talked to her throughout the days and nights, prayed with her, held her hand, read scripture, listened to some of her favorite music, and reminded her how much she was loved and adored – not just by me, but also the countless number of people she had positively impacted and influenced through her compassionate and unselfish spirit.

Nighttime during these days were particularly meaningful. Visitors would pour in and out of mom’s room throughout the daytime hours and, though I fully appreciated their friendship and concern, it could get exhausting after several hours. Nighttime was just me and mom, and it was when I felt closest to her.

This was also a time of confession and repentance for me, and I believe this was God’s work – allowing me to have this time with her to make all things right. Though we were very close in her final years, it hadn’t always been that way – mostly due to my own selfishness. I carried a lot of guilt for some of my poor decisions and actions over the years, which I knew hurt her deeply, and I knew this was God’s way of helping to clear that guilt. I knew mom had forgiven me a long time ago, but now it was time to forgive myself.

Even though mom was unconscious during the days and nights of our time together, I like to believe that she heard every word that was spoken and felt the presence of God and the people that surrounded her with love.

I was honored and privileged to be by her bedside when my mom drew her last breath. I experienced a mixture of sorrow, relief, and joy as I watched her leave this world and her poor, beaten up body to be with Jesus.

I have never known another human being who exemplified and embodied the life and teachings of Jesus like my mom. She was the most perfect example of love, grace, mercy, kindness, and unselfishness I have witnessed in my 40-plus years. She was a person of simple faith who was able to live out Jesus’ greatest commandments to love God and love others with ease and genuineness. I rarely saw her get angry, and concepts like greed, bitterness, hostility, pride, and envy were foreign to her.

If anyone ever had a right to slighted about their condition in life, it was my mom. No person should ever have to experience the things she endured. Throughout the entirety of her sickness, however, I never heard my mom complain – not once. She was always more concerned about how her sickness might be impacting her family and friends. That was who she was – completely selfless.

Mom’s favorite scripture during the last months of her life was Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” She relied on it heavily and took it to heart, often quoting it to other family members and friends who were struggling with their own issues.

I also had the honor of delivering a short message at mom’s funeral, where I used a portion of the Gospel of Mark to encapsulate my mother’s faith, life, and spirit.

“(W)hoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:43-45

You see, by the world’s standards, my mom was nothing great. She wasn’t excessively wealthy, she wasn’t “showy” or part of the “in-crowd”, she wasn’t highly educated, and she wasn’t driven to attain any material or personal desires. My mom was a servant – and she loved it. She lived for it. Her greatest fulfillment in life revolved around worshipping God and seeing and making others happy.

This is how Jesus works, using those the world may perceive as lowly, unassuming, and frail to accomplish His purpose and glorify His Kingdom.

Mom’s funeral was attended by dozens of people, dozens of lives she had touched over the decades through her compassion, love, faith, servanthood, and selfless approach to life.

Today is the first anniversary of her death, and I have missed her immensely every day since. I cannot thank God enough for allowing me over 40 years to know and learn from this true servant of His, and I continue to pray I can become more like her.