Come out of hiding and confess your brokenness

My church studied 1 John in a sermon series called “Living Deep.” My pastor then gave us a list of practical steps to help us go deeper in our faith. I am slowly making my way through the list and am now on step six, “Come out of hiding and confess the reality of being broken.”

I am not a Catholic so I have never “been to confession.” I have no idea what it is like to confess my wrongs to a priest. When I became a Christian, I learned that “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I confess my sins to God directly because Jesus intercedes for me.

Come out of hiding. Many of us want to hide our sins because we feel guilty and are ashamed. But there is no point in trying to hide from God. He is all-seeing and all-knowing. In one of my favorite psalms (Psalm 139), David wrote that God knows everything I do. He knows my every thought. He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. God created my inmost being and knows everything about me. God is everywhere. It is impossible to hide or flee from his presence.

You, God, know my folly; my guilt is not hidden from you (Psalm 69:5).

For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (Eccl. 12:14).

He who conceals his sins does not prosper but whoever confesses and renounces finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

Sometimes we sin willfully and sometimes we don’t even know that we are sinning. For example, we may not be aware of our own pride. We often excuse the same selfish behavior in ourselves that offends us when we see it in others. God knows ever corner of our hearts. We can ask him to show us our hidden faults and to reveal the ways we offend him.

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. (Psalm 19:12)

See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:24)

Be honest. Just as there is no point in trying to hide from God, there is no point in lying about our sins and our struggles. There is no point in pretending to be better than we really are with anyone, but especially with God. He sees right through the kind of hypocrisy that Jesus called out. We can be real with God because he can’t be shocked by what he already knows.

In Psalm 139, David admits that he hates those that hate God. He counts the enemies of God as his personal enemies. I don’t find permission to hate anyone in David’s confession; I find the freedom to be completely honest with God about my feelings about wicked people. I am ashamed of myself when I catch myself hating God’s enemy, a man who opposes and exalts himself above all that is good, a man who sows deception, hatred and division. My heart convicts me because Jesus holds me to a higher standard – love your enemies. Getting real with God, I can say, God please help me not to feel this way.

Confess your brokenness. Confession starts with recognizing our brokenness before God. Many people don’t confess their sins because they think, I am not as bad as other people. They don’t understand that we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Too often, the sin of pride gets in the way of admitting out failure to live up to God’s perfect ways. People avoid facing the reality that they are broken because it’s painful and messy.

Confessing our brokenness is good for the soul. Confession breaks the spirit so that it is open to being transformed by God. It puts us in the right posture before God – humble and contrite. God is pleased when we come to him with a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).

We Are All Broken. That’s How the Light Gets In.

It is only when we confess our sins and renounce them that we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is only when we confess our sins and repent that God can give us a new heart and a new spirit.

Reading List

Psalm 139:16-24
Proverbs 28:13
Ezekiel 36:26-28
Matthew 11:28
Galatians 3:4-7
1 John 1:9,4:16-18

Look Beyond What You Can See

My church recently studied the First Epistle of John in a sermon series on “Living Deep.” At the end of the series, my pastor handed out a list of fourteen steps to help us go deeper in our faith. Step four on his list is “Pray and look beyond what you can see to the deeper realities of God’s work.”

Look beyond what you can see

I have presbyopia. My old eyes need help seeing things that are far away. It is much easier for me to focus on close objects. My mind’s eye also has trouble imagining the future. When my mind is not occupied with work or ordinary daily activities, I tend to worry about the crisis or scandal of the moment. I get discouraged because it feels like evil is winning.

I am limited by what my eyes can see and by what my mind can conceive. How can I look beyond the chaos I see to the deeper reality of God’s work? My pastor said, pray and look beyond. Pray for insight. Pray for wisdom. Pray for understanding. Pray for hope.

According to 1 Corinthians 2, God’s wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit reveals deeper spiritual realities to those who love him. The Spirit explains spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. Not everyone can accept these words. Not everyone can understand these words. But the person who has the Spirit understands spiritual truths because he has been shown the mind of Christ.

However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
    the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

The deeper reality of God’s work

The prophet Jeremiah wrote that the Lord has plans for us – plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future. But even though God promises to make all things work out for the good of those who love him, he doesn’t promise that there will be no trials and tribulations along the way. Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance builds character, and character produces hope.

Now I see things imperfectly. Someday I will see everything with perfect clarity.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:11-13

Mahatma Ghandi had the right perspective: “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it – always.”

Ghandi looked beyond what he could see to the invincibility of truth and love. This is the deeper reality of God’s work. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

When I despair, Lord help me to remember that love never fails. Love always prevails.  Always.

Reading List:
Jeremiah 29:11
John 8:32; 10:10
Romans 5:1-21; 9:16
1 Corinthians 3:19
2 Corinthians 5:15
Ephesians 2:8-10; 4:24
Philippians 4:13
1 John 3:19-24

Love Foreigners as Yourself

The current immigration crisis has really exposed people for the heartless hypocrites they are. What a hypocrite Jeff Sessions was to use Romans 13 to excuse this administration’s immoral and inhumane immigration policies. Sessions completely misses the heart of the gospel. For those who claim to worship God, there is no greater authority than God who said, love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Keep my decrees.

When one of the pages I follow listed Bible verses that specifically address how immigrants should be treated, a guy who can’t spell said this:

“I think no one who written that had expected this super-massive inmigration crysis. This applies for a normal inmigration status, but not for an invasion, because that’s not one or two inmigrants, that’s just a non declared invasion. Wake up.”

What made this guy think he can interpret God’s word better than Moses? Did he go back in time and take a head count of the number of immigrants?

Wake up yourself, you fool.

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:34

I woke up in the middle of the night last night thinking about the children separated from their parents at the border. I cried and I prayed that God would protect them.

I thought about a comment I heard yesterday on K-Love radio about a child being the greatest gift God gives us. How inhumane it is that our government thinks it is just to take a child from the parents God entrusted with caring for them. How heartbreaking it is for the caregivers who cannot comfort them.

I thought about the business trip I took to New York when I saw the Statue of Liberty from a distance. It stands as an enduring symbol of this nation’s history of welcoming immigrants. “Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The New Colossus (Emma Lazarus, 1883)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I just heard King Trump say that we’re going to move to a system of merit not luck or happenstance. I wish that he could walk even one mile in the shoes of the mothers and fathers who came to the border of this country seeking asylum. The luck belongs to those of us who were born here. I wish that Trump knew what God’s grace is. None of us merits God’s mercy.

I will end with this verse from Romans 14. It brings me comfort to know that God is watching. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Shadowboxing My Way to Maturity

Sometimes we feel so validated by our inner voice of conscience, so sure of our internal convictions, that we confuse our own voice with the very voice of God. In rereading Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, a passage about the deeper voice of God brought tears to my eyes. I hear a voice that sounds a lot like risk, trust, and surrender but I keep pushing it away because there is too much safety and security in my protective shell.

There is a deeper voice of God, which you must learn to hear and obey in the second half of life. It will sound an awful lot like the voices of risk, of trust, of surrender, of soul, of “common sense,” of destiny, of love, of an intimate stranger, of your deepest self, of soulful “Beatrice.” – Richard Rohr

Discharging my loyal soldier

Rohr wrote about how Japanese communities helped soldiers return to civilian life after World War II. Faithful soldiers were first thanked for their service and then were told, the war is now over. We need you to return as something other than a soldier. The communal ritual gave the returning soldiers the closure they needed to move on to the next phase of life. Rohr called this transition process “discharging your loyal soldier.”

Similarly, to grow spiritually in the second half of life, we must transition from an egocentric to a “soul-centric” worldview. We have to let go of or “discharge” the ego-driven “loyal soldier” that served us well in the first half of life. While the loyal soldier plays an important role in early life, giving our lives shape and purpose and stability, at some point, he starts holding us back from the life we were meant to live.

Who is my loyal soldier? What persona has served me so well in the first part of life? I would describe my loyal soldier as a dutiful Guardian, the name David Kiersey calls the Sensing Judging personality type. “Guardians are the cornerstone of society, for they are the temperament given to serving and preserving our most important social institutions.” Guardians are concerned with rules and procedures and right versus wrong, with making sure that people do what they are supposed to do. Guardians police social behavior by laying out the should’s and should not’s.

In his book, Please Understand Me II, Kiersey used the phrase “preoccupied with morality” to describe the Guardian personality type. I am not flattered by that description. I see the sinfulness in myself and I see how much I have struggled to do what I know to be right. I see that when I try to attack evil, I produce an ugliness in myself – anger, impatience, condescension, hypocrisy. And most importantly, I see the beauty of forgiveness and grace.

I have learned to let go of my innate compulsion to control or dictate what other people do and to let God do the work of changing people.  I am free to be something other than a finger-pointing Guardian of morality. I am free to be the grace dispenser I was meant to be.

Shadowboxing with myself

Rohr said that your persona represents how you choose to identify yourself and what other people expect from you. But we also have a shadow self – the parts we don’t want other people to see and that we don’t want to see in ourselves. He said that we never get to the second half of spiritual life without engaging in the inner work of shadowboxing with this false self.

Growing spiritually means letting go of the false self. For me, the self that filters and censors herself is a false self. The self that protects people from hearing anything critical, even when it is for their own good, is a false self. The self that avoids offending fellow Christians when she knows that God is on the side of justice and mercy – this is my false self.

Unfortunately, the work of confronting our own faults never ends. I am learning to face my faults, my contradictions, my fears. Just as David did long ago, I’ve invited God to shine a light on my faults.

Search me God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24).

Getting out of my foxhole

Early in life, I learned to go into self-protection mode when I felt threatened by too much attention or too much social stimulation. I was socially awkward and easily embarrassed so I withdrew into my protective shell, my foxhole. If I kept quiet, I wouldn’t say the wrong thing or the right thing at the wrong time. If I didn’t approach other people, they wouldn’t reject me.

In contrast to the analytical, thinking me, my Protector is the sensitive, feeling part of me. My Protector is considerate of other people. She has empathy. She doesn’t want other people to feel bad. She doesn’t like to criticize. She respects the fact that other people have a right to their own opinions so she avoids controversy and conflict.

Now, I find that the self-protective mode that served me well in the first part of life keeps me from being obedient to the deeper voice of God. No one can hurt me. I don’t have to prove that I am worthy because I know that God loves me just as I am. I have experienced the power of God’s grace. My protector has outlived her usefulness.

I no longer want to be silent about my faith because I am afraid of offending someone, whether it is atheists or other Christians. When I hear Christians complaining about welfare recipients, I want to speak out on behalf of the poor. When I hear Christians say that we should live in fear of gays or Muslims, I want to talk about God’s love for all people. When Christians say that we should turn our backs on refugees, I want to ask them, what would Jesus do? But instead of speaking up, I hide in my foxhole and avoid confrontation.

I hear the voice of God calling me to be a voice for justice and mercy, to be a voice for genuine Christian discipleship. He has shown me that my purpose in life is not accounting; it is loving other people as I love myself. My purpose in life is not making sure that everyone follows my rules. It is seeing to it that no one misses out on the grace of God. I hear the voice of mercy with tear-filled eyes.

I hear the deeper voice of God telling me to bravely, courageously, and gently speak up. He did not give me a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). The thought of obeying this call is frightening. It means going against what feels comfortable and safe. It means stepping out of my foxhole and possibly into the line of fire, even from fellow Christians.

I will be honest, fear has held me back all too often. Rohr wrote, “once you have faced your own hidden or denied self, there is not much to be anxious about anymore, because there is no fear of exposure – to yourself or to others.”

I’ve said goodbye to my loyal soldier. Now it is time for me to get out of my foxhole, to say hello to the voice of risk, to surrender to the voice of mercy and love.

 

 

 

 

 

What does the Lord require of me?

November 8, 2016 was a spiritual turning point for me – the date that my country, a nation founded on the principle that we are all created equal, elected as its president a man who promotes bigotry. The election outcome was the catalyst for some deep soul-searching on my part. I am one of the 19% of white evangelicals who voted against Trump because his self-centered and meanspirited message is antithetical to the gospel. That voting statistic alone makes me question the purpose of American evangelism. But the election also shed light on my own purpose and need for spiritual growth in a way that only something really dark can do.

When I think about how soul-changing this election is for me, I am reminded of another important date in my spiritual journey – April 20, 1999. That was the day that two high school seniors massacred twelve students and a teacher at Columbine High School. It shook me to the core. Safe and secure in my suburban oasis, I had not attended church in years. Columbine reminded me how much darkness and evil there is in the world and reawakened my desire to “walk in the light, as he is in the light.” An unimaginable tragedy renewed my faith in God and reaffirmed whose side I am on.

The presidential election also shook me to the core. My prayers were not answered, but my faith was strengthened. The election showed me how significantly politics and propaganda have corrupted American evangelism over the past few decades, but also confirmed my purpose as a wholehearted disciple of Jesus:  to love my neighbor as myself. I sought and found comfort and courage from others who share my sorrow and my desire to make the world a kinder, more loving place to those who don’t know Jesus.

In trying to figure out where to go from here, reflecting on my desire for social justice, I find myself drawn to the words of the prophet Micah:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, NIV)

Empathy

My sorrow at Trump’s election stems from empathy for my neighbors – not just the ones in my mostly white, upwardly mobile neighborhood. To love your neighbor as you love yourself requires the ability to see with the eyes of another, hear with the ears of another and feel with the heart of another. Empathy is the ability to step outside of your own emotions, out of your own self-centered point of view, and to see things from the perspective of another.

For me, the seeds of empathy were sown when I was a child living in poverty in a small town in the Midwest. I was ashamed when people in our community looked down on me and my family because we were poor, especially when we lived on public assistance after my parents’ divorce. My shyness made me feel even more socially inadequate. I felt like there was something wrong with me because I didn’t open up to people or make friends easily. I understood what it feels like to be marginalized because people don’t think you are good enough.

By loving me for who I am, by forgiving my sins, by providing everything I need, God showed me what is good – love and mercy. He showed me my inherent worth and the worth of all human beings. He planted a seed of empathy in my heart.

Justice

I did not realize how deeply the seed of empathy had been planted in me and how well God had watered it until I started thinking about the social issues that face our country today. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe that we should be judged based on the content of our character and not the color of our skin. I believe in the American Dream, that we should all have the opportunity to reach our God-given potential regardless of the circumstances of our birth. I am concerned about income inequality because I have seen how corporate America takes care of those at the top, even if they don’t perform. I feel for Muslims and others who might face religious discrimination because I believe in the freedom to choose what to believe. The LGBT community deserves to be treated with compassion because we are all human beings, regardless of sexual orientation or marital status.

The founding fathers of my country recognized that we are all created equal. They wrote that our Creator gave us certain unalienable rights, rights that should not be restrained by human laws – rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, our founders were fallible human beings who did not extend these rights to everyone. Others had to fight for social justice.

Mercy

To be merciful is to be forgiving and compassionate and to not give people what they deserve. Most of us want mercy because we are imperfect and we make mistakes. We want a second chance. We want the benefit of the doubt. But while we want mercy for ourselves, we tend to want justice when others do wrong. We think they should have to pay for what they did. But you can’t have it both ways. If you want mercy, in all fairness, you must be merciful yourself.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7,  NIV). It is easy for me to be compassionate towards people I like but Jesus set a much higher standard. He said, love your enemies, even pray for them. He said “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36, NIV). God is kind to the ungrateful and to the wicked. He makes his sun shine on both the evil and the good. He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:44-45).

Understanding 

After the election, when I shared my grief on Facebook, my uncle told me to consider the points of view of people who are distressed about the direction the country is going. He said that millions of people prayed for divine intervention and that when we pray that God’s will be done, we must accept it. The implication was that since Trump won, he is God’s answer to what ails America. Although I believe that God does have a plan for mankind and his plan includes letting the wicked rule nations, I would caution anyone who assumes that Trump has God’s blessing. Read the Sermon on the Mount. Read the parable of The Good Shepherd. Read the parable of the sheep and the goats.

While I empathize with those who worry about the economy, sexual immorality, terrorism, and other issues, I do not believe that God wants this nation to put its trust in a selfish con man. No matter how hard I try, I can’t understand how good people can put their trust in a man who promotes hatred against the “others.” Donald Trump showed me the kind of man he is with every careless word out of his mouth. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Jesus said that a wicked man brings evil out of the evil stored up in him. I have no reason to believe that Donald Trump will suddenly become a righteous man who does good things just because evangelicals voted for him.

Those of us who mourned the results of the election have been told to shut up, suck it up, stop throwing stones at sinners, stop using all those words (bigot, misogynist, racist, xenophobic, etc.) that describe Donald Trump to a T. These words just divide us, they say. The truth is, these words make Trump’s supporters uncomfortable. By attempting to silence those of us who reveal Trump for what he is, they are doing what they can to try to reduce that psychological tension known as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort we feel when our beliefs or behaviors conflict with each other. So they tell themselves that a conservative Supreme court nominee is more important than any of the unrighteous things Donald Trump has said and done. They tell themselves that the fiscal deficit is more important than Christian values. They tell themselves that everything will be okay if Trump just surrounds himself with good advisors. They tell themselves that Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt politician that ever lived.

I will never understand how Trump’s supporters, especially the Christians, were able to strike a political bargain with an evil man. You give me X, I’ll ignore that command to love your neighbor as yourself. But I can understand the power of deception. We were bombarded with more propaganda and outright deception during this campaign than ever before. And I understand the power of confirmation bias. We are prone to disregard facts that conflict with our preconceived notions.

What does the Lord require of me

For many of us, Trump’s victory was a call to justice, a call to stand up for the oppressed and the marginalized. I don’t yet know what this will look like for me but I am praying that God will put my compassion into action. I certainly never imagined myself as an activist but maybe that is why God gave me the courage to quit my meaningless job just a  month before the election.

The discomfort of the good people who voted for Trump has shown me that I need to be merciful to them. I don’t know what they are struggling with or how they were able to come to a decision that I could never make. I do know that no good will come from constantly criticizing their decision. What is done is done. I will give them the benefit of the doubt. I will pray for them because I believe they will eventually realize that they made a huge mistake.

And as much as I don’t want to, I will pray for the wicked man who will soon occupy the most powerful position in this country. He doesn’t know my Lord but I want him to be a good leader. I want him to be a good man. I want him to walk humbly with my God. My God is merciful to the wicked and the unrighteous and that’s what he requires of me.