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Posts Tagged ‘confession’

“. . . search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord.” [Psalm 4:4b-5, NIV 1984]

examenBefore anyone starts the blame game, God says look at ourselves first. That’s right. Look at our own hearts because it’s very possible that our circumstances are an outgrowth of our own intentions, our own motives, camouflaged as self-righteousness.

Richard Foster calls it the “prayer of examen,” with two parts: the examen of consciousness and the examen of conscience.

The first asks me to reflect on the “thoughts, feelings, and actions of my day to see how God has been at work . . . and how I responded.” In other words, did God speak through others, through nature, through print, through image, or through circumstance; did I notice? Was I aware of Presence? Did I recognize God and how did I respond? Did I assume it was “not” God and respond with anger, disgust, or judgment? Did I stop long enough to see a need, a sorrow, or a joy? Did I walk through my day with blinders, dark glasses, or binoculars? Did I remember God?

In the second type of examen (conscience), I am to invite the Lord to search my heart to its very depth, but to remember it’s a “scrutiny of love.” Foster states, “without apology and without defense we ask to see what is truly in us. It is for our own sake that we ask these things. It is for our good, for our healing, for our happiness.” This search is done with God, otherwise, we will either justify our actions and find excuses or we will self-flagellate, finding ourselves unworthy. Neither is the point.

And why do we do these examinations? To know ourselves in the light of God’s grace, because it is only from the truth that God can build human as we were always intended to be. “Through faith, self-knowledge leads us to a self-acceptance and a self-love that draw their life from God’s acceptance and love.” (Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 31)

It is in this process that words and complaints lose their import. Silence is listening.

When understanding dawns, then it is time for right sacrifice. Of course, in the time of King David, sacrifices were specific to sin: a particular animal, a type of grain, a wave, and so on. Each sacrifice was tuned to the sin for which it was offered. But Christ completed that sin offering for us, once and for all. So what is an appropriate sacrifice from us today? The first verse that comes to my mind is  Hebrews 13:15, “Through Jesus, then, let us keep offering to God our own sacrifice, the praise of lips that confess His name without ceasing. ” [The Voice translation] Another is Romans 12:1 [also in the Voice], “Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship.”
With these sacrifices, there is an intention then. There has to be, an expression of trust. The path might look something like this: Search, Confess, Sacrifice, Trust. And perhaps, finally, Rest.

 

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For years, I have always thought of the “Anti-Christ” as a person. I supposed it’s all that Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins stuff, pre-tribulation, pre-millenialism, and the rapture. Those folks have an entire time line for the appearance of the Anti-Christ. But John sheds a different light on the concept in his letter.

I John 4:2-3
By this you may know (perceive and recognize) the Spirit of God: every spirit which acknowledges and confesses [the fact] that Jesus Christ (the Messiah) [actually] has become man and has come in the flesh is of God [has God for its source]; And every spirit which does not acknowledge and confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh [but would annul, destroy, sever, disunite Him] is not of God [does not proceed from Him]. This [nonconfession] is the [spirit] of the antichrist, [of] which you heard that it was coming, and now it is already in the world.
[Amplified]

If John is to be believed, a simple litmus test is the willingness of the spirit to confess that Christ is indeed, the long-awaited Messiah. In biblical times, maybe this was easier to do. After all, the Jewish people had been waiting for the Messiah for centuries, his coming foretold by prophet after prophet. They expected and even longed for that day, anticipating a revolution of epic size that would, once and for all, free Israel from its enemies and usurpers.

Immediately after Christ’s appearance, ministry, execution, and resurrection, the guidelines were clear-cut: a person accepted Christ as the Messiah or not. If there was no Messiah, then there was no Christ, and Jesus was a nice guy who turned their world topsy turvy for for no good cause.

So, anti-Christ is not necessarily an individual per se, but a belief, or rather, a disbelief. And I think it’s called a spirit because belief happens within. It is my spirit that chooses, that part of me that works with my mind and soul, to unify the interior life and direct my actions & choices.

In modern times, this confession or lack of confession, is less understood or accepted. We have more relativism and few people (outside the circles of denominational Christianity) like the “black and white” feel of this mandate. Plus, other requirements have been added such as a verbal confession or attendance in church or getting splashed/dunked with water, just to name a few.

But, I remember vividly, my spirit confessed the Christ, because of statements like these written as the word of Jesus, “If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” [John 8:46b-47] I could not call Jesus the lie. And I wanted to hear God. I wanted to be part of the God equation, the interaction, the indwelling of Messiah through the Holy Spirit.

And so, this is the one confession: I believe the source of Christ was and is God. And as a result, the Holy Spirit dwells within me.

My primary responsibility as a result of this confession is to love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love my neighbor as myself. The rest is human confusion.

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Back in the day, particularly for the Israelites, the Law was everything. The law was their standard, their crutch, their security, their hope. Why a curse? Because no one could follow every jot & tittle of the law, and for this reason, they participated in the rituals of sacrifice and atonement. That was the point. The Messiah was promised to be the ultimate reconciliation.

Galatians 3:10
And all who depend on the Law [who are seeking to be justified by obedience to the Law of rituals] are under a curse and doomed to disappointment and destruction, for it is written in the Scriptures, Cursed (accursed, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment) be everyone who does not continue to abide (live and remain) by all the precepts and commands written in the Book of the Law and to practice them.
[Amplified]

This was the proposed road for the Israelites. For them to accept Jesus as the Messiah, they had to accept one final sacrifice as efficacious and complete. To accept the Messiah and then go back to the old way, was restoring the power of the curse.

The second leap for the Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah was to accredit the blessings of Abraham (once relegated to their people alone) to the Gentile believers. The exclusive club was no longer a matter of birthright, history, or ancestry.

A single act reboot the system.

As a believer, I am confessing that the work of Christ is the restoration act between me and God. Where the door was closed, it is now open. I may enter the realm of God, the divine. I may participate in holiness. I am permitted to be in relationship . . . not because of what I have done (or not done) but because of who “He” is, that is, the Christ/Messiah for the world.

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Do people actually prefer a mystery to the unveiling of that mystery? I think so. As long as something is a mystery, an unknown, then our imaginations can fill in all the blanks. We can make it up. But once the mystery is revealed . . . well, we’re stuck with the truth of it.

Romans 16:25
Now to Him Who is able to strengthen you in the faith which is in accordance with my Gospel and the preaching of (concerning) Jesus Christ (the Messiah), according to the revelation (the unveiling) of the mystery of the plan of redemption which was kept in silence and secret for long ages, . . .
[ Amplified]

A good friend of mine was adopted in the old days when records were sealed and adoptions were something to hide. He found his original birth certificate by accident as a young teenager (not a good way to discover one’s birthright). No one would answer his questions about the circumstances of his birth and so his imagination ran wild. He said he would look at people all the time to determine if they might be related. He imagined his birth parents as rich and sophisticated. He imagined they traveled the world. He imagined they wanted to know about their long-lost son.

When adoption records started opening up in the 80’s and 90’s and registries were created for adoptees to look for their birth parents, my friend began his search. This was the great mystery of his life and he wanted answers.

In the end, he did find his birth mother and although the physical similarities between her, his half-siblings, and himself were striking, the rest of the story was heart breaking. His mother was not rich or sophisticated. In fact, she and her many children were living on the edge, living from welfare check to welfare check, from one catastrophe to another. They were a family in crisis all the time. His birth father had been a one-night stand and long gone. He would never be found.

My friend went through several years of a new kind of struggle: embracing the truth.

Jesus was the revelation of the mystery that was laid down in the prophetic writings. He didn’t match the picture that many had created in their minds of the long-awaited Messiah. When he claimed his own birthright, it was simply too hard for many to grasp or accept. It’s no different today.

In the end, it takes more energy to perpetuate a mystery and a secret than it does to walk the truth. This I believe.

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Opposites. Either I judge others quickly, forgetting I am equally fallen; or, I wash over reality because I want everything to be smooth sailing. (Don’t rock the boat.) Both ways are problematic and reflect denial.

Romans 15:7
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Paul writes that we must accept one another but the acceptance must be based on truth. It’s not about accepting someone as we “wish” he or she might be (eventually) but accepting what is really there. That’s not particularly easy if the person is difficult.

I confess, I withhold a lot of my acceptance of others based on their behaviors. I accept them “up to a point,” but not really. And yet, Christ accepted me right where I was 30 years ago: alcoholic, drug-dependent, crass, slovenly, and immoral. Jesus did not wait until I got my act together or became approachable. I was book smart but Bible naive. I didn’t know I needed a savior. I didn’t believe I needed anyone.

The stories of Jesus show his ability to accept others over and over again. It’s one of the reasons the Pharisees and “teachers of the law” chastised him: eating and drinking with sinners. Jesus allowed himself to touch, listen, and understand others who were immersed in sin but was confident in the Spirit of the Father within to keep him centered and whole. Jesus knew Himself.

Historically, I have been a bit of a chameleon and unconscious mimic. When I lived in the South for a few years, I developed a pretty strong southern accent, just by sheer exposure. When my kids bring home slang from school, I find myself incorporating it into my daily language without effort. I am too much like a sponge.

One of my favorite illustrations of this phenomenon was years ago when I had my first real “day job” in an advertising agency accounting pool back in Chicago. Thirty women sat in rows of desks with calculators and piles of paper. Initially, I was the oddball, the hippie in my colorful clothes and wire-rimmed glasses who mocked those girls for talking every day about their dinners the night before and what they watched on television. A year later, I had become one with them. I was talking recipes, husbands, television soaps, and vacations. I had acclimated and conformed to the daily norm. It was a type of acceptance, but not the one that Jesus proposes.

It’s not about fitting in. It’s about being strong in heart.

Accepting others comes from within. Accepting others, based on truth, requires an honest assessment of oneself first, then others. Accepting others is a kindness, a type of love. Accepting others is inclusive. Accepting others gives permission for that person to simply “be.” Accepting others allows for differences.

Today, I know, I will be challenged to accept others. Keep me centered in order to be fully present in the reality of others. Keep my heart open and yet fully infused with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God.

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More and more paradox! Think about it: how can I be a “living” sacrifice? Sacrifice implies giving up one’s life. And yet, that is exactly the point.

Romans 12:1a
I APPEAL to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God. . . .
[Amplified]

Among many definitions, this one caught my eye: “The surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim (or value).” In ancient times, sacrifices were usually animals, as close to perfect as possible. These animals were offered as a substitution for the person who was confessing sin, making a vow, or giving thanksgiving. But once the Messiah had completed the ultimate sacrifice, Paul lays it out quite plainly: the new sacrifice is human, but spiritually based.

This is a very well known and often quoted section of Romans. What can I add that hasn’t been said a million times already?

Just do it. That’s all that comes to mind. Just do it. Every day. Today.

Today, I choose. Today I trust God has something for me that is better than anything I can manifest on my own.

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It’s ironic, when Paul the Apostle declared Christ as the Way, it was a testament of freedom to anyone who chose to believe, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or foreigner. Anyone could enter this new relationship with God. But today, the Christ message is treated as limiting, exclusive, or prescribed.

Romans 10:4
Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness [right relationship with God] for everyone who believes.

Several chapters of Romans are dedicated to the logic Paul lays out for the Jews of that time, the reasons and proof texts to support the reasons a Messiah came. He wants to convince them that the way was now open to God for anyone to believe. The season of the heart had come. “For with the heart a person believes (adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Christ) and so is justified (declared righteous, acceptable to God), . . . ” [Amplified, Romans 10:10a].

Many are guilty of limiting the Christ message, perhaps Christians most of all. We have codified the process and made rules of engagement. We have created denominations that have additional requirements such as specific types of baptism, communion practices, sins by degree, and methods of confession.

Today, we would need another Paul to set the Christians from their own chains of law.

The Christ message is one of freedom. That freedom invites us to participate in an intimate relationship with God that has never been possible before. For Christians, we must return to the simplicity of belief and confession. For non-believers, we must focus on the open door of Christ. All are welcome.

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