Holiness and Confession

What comes to mind when you think of the word “confession”?

Maybe the word reminds you of someone confessing to a crime in front of a judge or jury. Maybe you think of a written statement in a police station. Perhaps you remember a relationship that deepened – or collapsed – when something was confessed.

Maybe the word brings to mind a picture of a person sitting in a closed room and speaking to a priest on the other side of a screen. Maybe you remember a bedtime prayer or a youth camp where you confessed your sins to God.

Maybe the word “confession” makes you uncomfortable. Maybe it just doesn’t mean anything at all to you.

I would like to suggest that confession should play a role in our spiritual growth and development. Confession is part of the way in which we experience God’s love and new life. Continue reading

In today’s Chronological Bible reading, we come across one of my favorite topics in the Old Testament: the cities of refuge. These were six cities in ancient Israel that were set apart as “safe havens” for people who committed murder or manslaughter. Something about the conditions set forward in Numbers 35:9-34 strikes me as meaningful for our lives as disciples of Jesus. Continue reading

Matthew Henry, an English Presbyterian minister who died 300 years ago, is well-known for writing lengthy commentaries on every chapter of the Old and New Testaments. His thoughts are often very helpful to Bible students; he provides background information and insights on any passage of scripture you might choose. His commentaries are in the public domain and are free to read electronically; I have downloaded them as part of the Bible study software that I use on a regular basis. Occasionally, but not often, I have read Henry’s thoughts while studying a particular passage.

I’m going to have a much harder time doing that now.

Continue reading

Ash Wednesday

photo by Sarah Korf

Today is Ash Wednesday, which falls forty days (excluding Sundays) before Easter Sunday.  Traditionally, this begins the season called Lent, an intentional time of prayer, fasting, repentance, contemplation, and meditation on Jesus’s death and resurrection.  A broad majority of Christians begin that season today.

You may notice some folks with smudges on their foreheads; those are ashes that have been applied to believers’ foreheads as a sign of their repentance and humility before God.  I remember seeing a college student of mine some years ago come into math class with ashes in the shape of a cross on her forehead.  She was always kind and respectful in class, but her demeanor seemed even more sincere and thoughtful on that day.

The Church of God does not always make a big deal of Ash Wednesday.  In fact, this will be the second year that our movement engages in a new program called “Focus 40,” which begins next Wednesday and counts forty days (including Sundays) through Easter Sunday.  You will hear more about Focus 40 very soon!

Why is Ash Wednesday so important?  What’s the big deal about ashes on the forehead, anyway?  The whole practice has to do with a correct understanding of ourselves.  All of us have sinned, and we all fall short of God’s glory.  The death and resurrection of Jesus is an event to celebrate, to be sure, but it also encourages us to be mindful of ourselves as sinful people who have been redeemed at great cost.

Just after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, God sent them out of the garden and explained the curses that would follow them for the rest of their lives.  In Adam’s curse, God states that the man will have to toil and labor as he works the ground for food.  This is because Adam was taken from the ground; “for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19 NIV).

Friends, remember that our need to work hard in this world is a result of our sinfulness before God.  Our sins have real consequences that affect our lives.  And our sins had real consequences for Jesus, as well, who went to the cross on our behalf so that our sins might be forgiven and that we might live holy, God-pleasing lives.

Perhaps it would be good for us to wear ashes on our foreheads all the time, if that would help us remember our position before God.  Be blessed in this season of preparation for Easter.

–Pastor David

Cleaning up the mess…again

One of the joys of dog ownership is cleaning up after the dogs when they’re sick.  Wait, did I say “joys”?  I meant “trials.”  This time the culprit is our girl, Lindy – I think she may have picked up a bit of a bug, or perhaps she ate too many blackberries from our back yard.  In any case, the past week or so has been less than pleasant for all of us.  But as I cleaned up after her for the third or fourth time, I thought to myself, “There’s a sermon in this.”

No matter how many times Lindy makes a mess in her crate or in our mud room, Tara and I will clean it up.  We’re certainly not happy that she does it, and after a while we’ve come to realize that she doesn’t do it on purpose.  That helps to reduce our anger toward her; in fact, when I was cleaning up after Lindy this week, I found myself feeling sorry for her that she felt so sick.

Theologically speaking, the correlation between my relationship with Lindy and God’s relationship with any of his people is pretty weak.  In fact, the analogy breaks down at a fundamental level.  We often do make messes of our lives:  not simply through mistakes, but through something quite displeasing to the Lord – sin.  I imagine that our propensity to sin again and again smells pretty rotten in God’s nose.

But sin isn’t quite like Lindy’s sickness.  While my dog might get sick because of something she ate, we sin against God willfully, deliberately, on purpose.  And to our shame we find ourselves continuing to sin even after we initially accept God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.  (Remember my understanding of holiness:  we do not become “perfect” in the sense of never sinning again; our perfection lies in wholeheartedly loving God and other people.  Sin is still a possibility for those who have been saved.)

How amazing God’s love and forgiveness are, given this recurrence of sin in our lives!  I willingly clean up after my dog when she has an accident; God willingly forgives our sins even when we offend him intentionally.  I love my dog and remember that she does not mean to make my life difficult; God loves us even though we make his life difficult.  God cleans up our messes time and time again – thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Friends, remember that the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in love (Jonah 4:2).  Remember that the Lord calls us to live holy lives and that he desires for us to live free from the power of sin.  And remember God’s words of comfort and challenge found in Romans 6, which is your reading assignment for this week.

–Pastor David