30 May

Wednesday Is for Worship: “Majesty (Here I Am)”

Good Wednesday to you! This is the day the Lord has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it!  Of course, there are manifold reasons to rejoice, but today I want us to think about rejoicing in God’s majesty.  In fact, that’s the name of today’s song:  “Majesty (Here I Am).”

Martin Smith and Stuart Garrard of the band Delirious? penned this song in 2003 and published it through Curious? Music UK.  It’s been covered by many artists, including Michael W. Smith.  I first worshiped the Lord with this song in 2006 at a Promise Keepers conference at Freedom Hall in Louisville, KY.  Immediately, the lyrics struck my heart and caused me to think more highly of God, which all worship songs should do.

So, here is Delirious? leading us in worship with “Majesty (Here I Am)”:

VERSE 1
Here I am humbled by your Majesty
Covered by your grace so free
Here I am, knowing I’m a sinful man
Covered by the blood of the Lamb

PRE-CHORUS
Now I’ve found the greatest love of all is mine
Since you laid down your life
The greatest sacrifice

CHORUS
Majesty, Majesty
Your grace has found me just as I am
Empty handed, but alive in your hands
Majesty, Majesty
Forever I am changed by your love
In the presence of your Majesty

VERSE 2
Here I am humbled by the love that you give
Forgiven so that I can forgive
Here I stand, knowing that I’m your desire
Sanctified by glory and fire

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Both verses are a statement from the worshiper, stating what they are humbled by and what they know as they stand in the presence of God.  The worshiper is humbled by the majesty of God and the love of God and knows that while he is sinful, he is still desired by God.  That’s an amazing thought that a holy God would graciously cover our sin and love a sinner like you and me!

The pre-chorus moves in to highlight the love of Christ demonstrated in His atoning, substitutionary death on the cross.

And then, the chorus explodes with the word “Majesty!”  In other words, “God, you are great and full of splendor in your sovereignty and beauty!”  Perhaps the most vivid picture is found in the line that says “Empty handed but alive in your hands.”  I love that imagery!  We come with nothing to God.  We earn nothing good from God.  Yet, because of the great love with which He has loved us, He has made us alive together with Christ!  It’s a transforming love that meets us where we are sin and works to rid us of that sin as we’re made into the likeness of Christ.

May you worship the Majesty for all of His majesty this Wednesday and forevermore!

28 May

The Demise of Death

One of the most haunting songs has to be the old mountain song “O Death.”  Most of us are probably familiar with Ralph Stanley’s a capella version made famous in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou.

In this lifetime, we certainly know death.  On this Memorial Day as we remember the servicemen and service women who died for the USA, I thought it would be appropriate for us to look at the doctrine of death from the Bible.

Before we jump into these Bible truths, can I just say that I hate death?  Death is a punk and a bully.  However, I probably don’t hate it as badly as some of you do.  I’ve lost very few loved ones to death, and none before they were retirement age.  But, some of you have lost very close ones, even spouses and children, even at a young age.  I hate death, but some of you really hate death.  I’m glad God will soon put it under His feet!

Here are 10 truths from the Bible about death:

  1. Death is an interloper—an intruder—into the world that had no part in the beginning of time.  (Genesis 1-2)
  2. Death is a curse by God upon sinners.  (Genesis 3)
  3. Death is a grace to sinners in that God doesn’t allow us to live in sin perpetually.  (Genesis 3:22-24)
  4. Death is what we have earned.  (Romans 3:23; 6:23)
  5. Death is a powerful motivator to come to Christ before we die in our sins and face judgment.  (John 8:24)
  6. Death comes in two stages:  physical and eternal.  (Revelation 20:11-15; Matthew 13:36-43)
  7. Death’s power is held by the devil.  (Hebrews 2:14-15)
  8. Death is overcome by the death of Jesus for all who believe on Him.  (John 3:16)
  9. Death’s sting is removed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  (1 Corinthians 15:50-57)
  10. Death will soon be trampled under God’s feet and has no part in the age to come.  (1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Revelation 21:1-4; Isaiah 2:1-4)

I’m longing for the day when death will be done and when weapons will be transformed in farm implements!  Tanks might be tractors, Apache helicopters might be crop dusters, and M-16’s might be tomato stakes!  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!!  But, until then we remember and honor those who died before us, especially those of the US Armed Forces.

24 May

Homosexuality and the Golden Rule

God tells us through Paul, as translated in the KJV, to rightly divide Word of God, the Bible (2 Tim. 2:15).  “Rightly divide” comes from the Greek verb orthotomeo and literally means to cut straight.  As reflected in newer translations, God means that we should strive to correctly/accurately/rightly handle or teach Scripture.  We should make every effort to understand it as God intended for us to understand it.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  People like to take the Scripture—especially the words of Jesus—and fill them with a different meaning than intended by God.  Whether intentionally or not, many twist the Bible to support their own viewpoint.  Recently, President Obama did just that on May 9, 2012 when he announced in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts that he now supports the legalization of homosexual marriage.

Don’t get me wrong.  President Obama is entitled to his opinion on the subject no matter how much I disagree with him.  You’re entitled as well, but none of us are entitled to use the Scripture to support our opinion if Scripture doesn’t support our opinion.  To do so is to wrongly divide the Word of God.  It’s misguided at best and to lie at worst.

Read what he said and how he used the Bible:

At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that—for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that—I think same-sex couples should be able to get married…In the end, the values that I care most deeply about, and she [Michelle Obama] cares most deeply about is how we treat other people. We’re both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but when we think about our faith the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf but it’s also the Golden Rule – treat others the way you’d want to be treated. [Full Transcript]

President Obama said that his opinion on homosexual marriage is shaped by the Bible, particularly Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, which is widely known as the Golden Rule.  Jesus said in Matthew 7:12, In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  In Luke 6:31, He said, Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.  Most of us have not memorized the Golden Rule in those exact words.  You probably know it best as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—at least that’s how I know it best.

It’s easy to see how President Obama and others take the Golden Rule as supporting homosexual marriage and any number of other things.  They reason, “I would want others to let me do what makes me happy.  So, I am going to be in favor of whatever makes them happy.”  Was Jesus the first postmodernist?  Absolutely not!  (pun intended, by the way)  You see, one cannot just take a verse of Scripture, rip it out, and insert your own interpretation.  It must be interpreted by Scripture.

What President Obama and others like him are missing is that Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31 are just different ways of saying the second greatest commandment.  Jesus tells us that the first greatest command is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:36-37).  He then goes on to tell us the second greatest one, The second is like it, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” (Matthew 22:39).  Now, how do I know that Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31 are just different ways of saying Matthew 22:39?  I know this because after telling us the second greatest commandment, Jesus says that on these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets, (Matthew 22:40).  That’s exactly what Jesus told us in Matthew 7:12 after stating the Golden Rule, In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  So, when Jesus says “treat” others or “do unto” others, what He means is “love” others.  The Golden rule would then be better understood as Love others as you would have them love you.

The problem is that President Obama and many others don’t define love biblically.  They define love as supporting me in doing whatever I want to do—“I’m going to support you in doing whatever you want to do because I would want you to support me in whatever I want to do.”  That’s how the world often tries to define of love, but what if the thing a person wants to do is harmful physically, emotionally, or spiritually?  What if they really wanted to jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet without a parachute?  Does “I’m going to support you in doing whatever you want to do because I would want you to support me in whatever I want to do,” sound like love in that situation?  No way!  It would be completely unloving to just say, “Go ahead.”  Common sense says that “I’m going to support you in doing whatever you want to do because I would want you to support me in whatever I want to do,” isn’t love.

It’s certainly not the Bible’s definition of love either.  Here’s how the Bible defines love:  Love…does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).  Love loves truth and righteousness, and love hates falsehood and unrighteousness.  So, to support homosexual marriage—even homosexuality itself—is to actually hate the people struggling with that sin because it is rejoicing in unrighteousness and falsehood.

If you really want to love somebody concerning homosexuality, lovingly tell them the biblical truth, which is:

 

1. Homosexuality is rebellion against God’s design for humanity.

We see God’s design for man and woman in Genesis 2:18-25:

  • Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Common sense screams the truth that homosexuality is rebellion against God’s design in nature, but here we have Scripture’s account of creation.  God made a man and a woman, and then gave the woman to the man for a companion.   Men and women were designed to fit together spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  Homosexuality rebels against God’s design, and there is a great price to pay even physically as Romans 1:27 points out, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.  Male homosexual acts in particular can do great damage to the body and significantly increase the risk of infectious disease.  Even if the physical toll on the body due to homosexuality is minimized, there is great emotional and spiritual damage done as well.  God designed men to be with women and women to be with men.

 

2.  Homosexuality cannot obey God’s commandment to be fruitful and multiply.

God commands man and woman in Genesis 1:28 to be fruitful and multiply:

  • God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

God had in mind that a man and woman would marry and have children.  Homosexuality completely flies in the face of this idea.  It’s impossible for two men or two women to have a baby.  You might say, “Now wait a minute!  Lesbian couples have babies all the time through in vitro fertilization or some other medical means.”  But, you forget that it still takes a male sperm donor to fertilize one of the lesbian partner’s eggs.  There’s no way around it:  it takes a man and a woman to procreate.  Therefore, homosexuality cannot obey God’s commandment to be fruitful and multiply.

 

3.  Homosexuality might not be just a choice, but it is still a choice.

There has been a big debate as to the origin of homosexuality.  Some would lead us to believe that homosexual attraction is merely a choice.  Others would have us to believe that homosexual attraction isn’t a choice at all.  Certainly, there are more instances than some would like to admit that homosexual attraction is merely a choice, but perhaps the answer is somewhere in the middle.

For those of us who are Bible-believing Christians, we know full well the impact that sin has had on humanity.  It has totally marred every aspect of a human being:  our intellect, our will, our emotions, our spirit, our biology, and everything else.  There is no part of a human being that sin has not touched.  We are born sinners.  Ephesians 2:1-3 make this ever clear:

  • And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

We are born sinners, and homosexuality is without a doubt an outworking of being born a sinner.  It very well might be that the damage of sin leaves some people inclined to homosexual temptation.  Others by their very temperament are prone to sinful anger, it seems that most men are prone to sexual lust, and it seems that we’re all prone to be liars.  Just let a preschooler get into trouble, and you’ll see virtually every one of them display what good liars we sinners are prone to be.  So, I have no problem saying that homosexuality might not be just a choice.  We often don’t choose our temptations.

However, while we might not choose our temptations, we every time choose our sins.  It’s not a sin to be tempted.  If so, then Jesus sinned in the wilderness when the devil tempted Him, but we know that Jesus was sinless (Hebrews 4:15).  Temptation is not a sin, but to give in to that temptation is sin, and that is always a choice we make.  Nothing outside or inside a person causes them to engage in homosexual lust and action.  The one who does so is completely responsible for their sin because sin is always a choice.  They did what they wanted to do.  So, while homosexuality might not be just a choice, it is a choice nonetheless, and the person engaging in homosexual acts will be held accountable for disobedience to God.

 

4.  Continuing in homosexual lust and activity signals that God is bringing a curse on that person.

Read carefully how continuing in homosexual activity is an outworking of God’s wrath on a person.

  • Romans 1:18-27, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

As a result of men and women suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness, God “gave them over to degrading passions.”  That’s another way of saying that God cursed them with degrading passions, which are further explained as homosexuality.  Now, that doesn’t mean that God made them commit homosexual acts.  It simply means that God, as a function of His wrath, withdrew His restraining grace from them.

The same is true today.  Continuing in homosexual lust and activity signals that God is bringing a curse on that person.

 

5.  Continuing in homosexuality will bar a person from Heaven.

There are many who are deceived into thinking that they can continue in homosexuality and be absolutely fine with God on the Day of Judgment.  That’s simply not true.  God is very clear in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

  • Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

It’s important to note here that homosexuality is not the only sin.  It’s right there with adultery and drunkenness and many others.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  Nevertheless, God is communicating to us that those who continue in sin, including homosexuality, will not inherit the kingdom of God.  In other words, they will be barred from Heaven.

Some who continue in homosexuality will say, “But I’ve trusted in Jesus Christ!”  The fruit of your life says the opposite (Matthew 7:15-19).  No one who is a true follower of Jesus Christ embraces sin.  To embrace sin is to reject Jesus.  Therefore, it’s not enough to simply claim forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus. There must also be repentance leading to transformation. This transformation is not what saves us but is proof that we’ve been truly forgiven and saved.  Those who continue in homosexuality prove they have not been forgiven or saved and will be barred from Heaven.

 

6.  Homosexuality can be overcome by the transforming power of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There is great hope for the one struggling in homosexuality!  There is victory over it by the transforming power of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We just read 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which is terrible news, but God doesn’t stop there.  He continues on to tell us in 1 Corinthians 6:11, Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

I love the past tense of the verb “to be” in the beginning of the sentence:  such were some of you.  God is saying that in the Corinthian church, there were individuals who used to be homosexuals, but they had been transformed.  They had been washed, sanctified, and justified through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  There’s hope for victory over sin, even homosexuality, for all who will come to Jesus!

One of the greatest lies in the discussion over homosexuality is “You can’t change.  It’s just who you are.”  That’s a lie!  While it’s true that homosexuality is a gripping, sinful lifestyle and that you can’t change by your own power, you most certainly can change through the power of God.  Indeed, He wants to change you!

So many who struggle with homosexuality have just given up and given in.  Don’t surrender to your homosexuality.  Surrender to Christ.  He calls you to Himself just as you are but desires to transform you into just as He is—holy, pure, without the blemish of sin.  May it be said of every one of us, “Such were some of you!”

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So, in light of a full understanding of the Golden Rule:  Promote righteousness, which includes denouncing homosexuality, in other people’s lives as you should have them do so in yours.  If you really love the person struggling with this sin, lovingly stand for them by standing against this sin and all sin while offering them certain hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

23 May

Wednesday Is for Worship: “Hosanna”

Well, it’s Wednesday, and we’re once again turning our spotlight on songs to worship our great and glorious God.  He’s so awesome!  How could you not praise Him?!!!

Today’s song is written by Brooke Fraser and also performed by her below along with the Hillsong band.  The song was published in 2006 by Hillsong Music Publishing and is included on a few Hillsong worship albums.  I was first introduced to this song at the “Connect” time at New Life Academy, which is a time of worship and devotional at our homeschool co-op.  I’ve enjoyed worshiping the Lord with this song many times!  Without further adieu…

VERSE 1
I see the King of glory
Coming on the clouds with fire
The whole earth shakes, the whole earth shakes
I see His love and mercy
Washing over all our sin
The people sing, the people sing

CHORUS
Hosanna, hosanna
Hosanna in the highest (x2)

VERSE 2
I see a generation
Rising up to take their place
With selfless faith, with selfless faith
I see a near revival
Stirring as we pray and seek
We’re on our knees, we’re on our knees

BRIDGE
Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity

____________________

The chorus is based upon the words the crowd shouted as Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem riding a donkey colt on what has come to be called Palm Sunday, which is the Sunday before His crucifixion and resurrection (Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9-10, John 12:13).  Hosanna is a plea to God to Save us now!  That’s what it means.  So, Hosanna in the highest basically means We are really, really serious; Save us now!  What a simple but powerful prayer to God in worship!

The verses are written from a prophetic perspective, communicating the great and glorious things that one prays to see:  the return of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, the uprising of a godly generation, and a sweeping revival.  I don’t know about you, but these things are the subjects of my prayers.  This is what I want to see too.  May God cause it to be quickly!

For me, the bridge is what endears this song so much to my heart.  It’s nothing more than a humble prayer to God to make you more like Jesus and devoted to Jesus.  I especially ask God to break my heart for what breaks His and desire to give my life to Him, everything I am for His Kingdom’s cause.

May God use you mightily from here into eternity, and may your heart sing praise to God this day and everyday.

16 May

Wednesday Is for Worship: “Behold Our God”

As many of you know, I’ve been a worship leader in some capacity since 1999.  I’m passionate about music, especially music that magnifies the Lord!

Today I want to introduce a new weekly series that I pray will be beneficial to you.  I’m calling the series “Wednesday Is for Worship,” and each week I’ll post a worship song to God.  I pray you’ll use it to first sing praise to our great God and then to introduce it to others, hopefully even your congregation.  Some of the songs will be new.  Some will be old.  But, all of them will extol the name and glories of God.

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Our inaugural song is one that’s been on my heart for over a month now.  My dear pastor friend Darrell Crawford introduced it to me as we drove to Louisville, KY in April of this year to attend the Together for the Gospel conference.  It struck me right away and was later cemented in my heart when 8,000 people sang it at the top of our lungs at T4G.  The song is called “Behold Our God.”  Listen to it and sing praise to God with it!

VERSE 1
Who has held the oceans in His hand 
Who has numbered every grain of sand
Kings and nations tremble at His voice
All creation rises to rejoice

CHORUS
Behold our God seated on His throne
Come let us adore Him
Behold our King nothing can compare
Come let us adore Him!

VERSE 2 
Who has given counsel to the Lord
Who can question any of His Words
Who can teach the One who knows all things
Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds

VERSE 3
Who has felt the nails upon His hands
Bearing all the guilt of sinful man
God eternal humbled to the grave
Jesus, Savior risen now to reign!

TAG 
Men: You will reign forever!
Women: Let Your glory fill the earth

© 2011 Sovereigns Grace Worship (ASCAP)/Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI).

____________________

I love how the accompaniment in the intro and verses evoke the emotions of mystery and fear.  The arrangement simply has a palpable tension to it, helping us feel that God is awesome and not to be trifled with!  The lyrics in the verses back up that idea.  God’s grandeur, transcendence, majesty, and otherness is captured in the verses, but then the tension of the arrangement resolves in the chorus, moving us to respond to the stunning beauty and glory of God.  Behold our God!  Adore our God!

For further information and resources on this song, click here.

15 May

Apology Accepted!

As a sinner interacting with sinners in a sinful world, there is going to be ample opportunity to apologize for something.  Preferably, giving and receiving apologies will be few and far between, but most likely, it’ll be more often than we would like.  The problem is that often our apologies are not apologies at all or are just lip-service, sort of like Larry the Cable Guy’s famous, “Lord, I apologize, and be with the starving Pygmies down there in New Guinea.”  If we are going to honor God and actually work toward peace and reconciliation with those we offended or offended us, we’d better learn to apologize well.

That’s why Ken Sande’s “Seven A‘s of Confession” are so good.  They are an extremely helpful, practical guide for learning how to make a clear confession and apology.  The “Seven A’s” below have been slightly modified and explained by Alfred Poirier in his book The Peacemaking Pastor, which the following segment has been quoted from:

____________________

1. Address Everyone Involved. The first way people weaken their confession of sin is by failing to address everyone involved in the conflict. The first person we must address when we confess our sin is God. As David says in Psalm 51:4, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done evil in your sight.” Though David has sinned against Bathsheba and ultimately confesses to her, he understands that his most grievous sin is against God. Sadly, over my years of pastoring and counseling, when I have asked people in conflict, “Have you confessed your sin to God?” most have admitted that they have not. Conflict truly blinds us to God. Nevertheless, this admission opens the door for pastors to perform the very work to which God has called us-leading people back to God. It also gives opportunity for us to announce to them God’s great promises of forgiveness and cleansing (see 1 John 1:8-9). He forgives us even when we confess our failures in confessing.

Sin affects not only the person we have directly offended but also the others indirectly involved in our conflict…

Our sins may be against a specific person, but they often involve others. Therefore, we need to address everyone involved: God, the person we offended, and the others watching.

2. Avoid If, But, and Maybe. A second way people weaken and often destroy a confession is when they add specific qualifiers to their confessions…

If, but, and maybe are confession stoppers. They effectively erase every word confessed before and after them. Moreover, they turn a confession into a subtle form of blame-shifting and often shift the blame to the one from whom we are seeking forgiveness!

The same can be said for “it wasn’t my intention.” While it may be true that we did not intend to harm anyone by the action we took, “it was never my intention” does more to exonerate ourselves than to admit the real wrong we have done and the offense we have committed. The second A of a good confession, then, is to “avoid” such qualifiers as these.

One way to test the strength of our confession is to say it to God. What would God think if we told him, “Lord, please forgive me by the blood of your Son, Jesus Christ, but know that it wasn’t my intention to sin,” or “If only I wasn’t under so much stress, I would not have sinned against you”? Hearing how these qualified comments minimize our sin before the Lord, we can better understand the inadequacy of our confession. We can see how such a confession diminishes not only our guilt but also Christ’s atonement.

3. Admit Specifically. In teaching people to make a strong confession, we must instruct them to admit their sin specifically. When people confess their sin by simply saying, “I’m sorry,” or “I’m sorry if I hurt you,” it begs the question, “Sorry about what?” What is missing is specificity. Consequently, generic confessions make it appear to the offended party that the offender does not understand the gravity of his or her offense.

It is important to note here that admit specifically does not suggest that forgiveness depends upon our admitting each and every sin in some medieval confessional sense. Rather, by confessing honestly and specifically, we are informing the party from whom we seek forgiveness that we recognize the gravity of our offense and thus how we have sinned against and hurt him or her.

Generic confessions also show little evidence that the offender is truly repentant for his or her sin…

One way I help people in conflict make specific confessions is by presenting them with two examples. I will say, “Of these two, tell me what sounds to you like a sincere confession.” Then I will confess, “I’m sorry you got so upset.” After that, I will make a sincere, specific confession: “John, I want you to know that as I’ve thought about what I did to you, I’ve come to realize that I wronged you. I publicly embarrassed you that night at the party. It was wrong, and I know it must have hurt deeply.” Inevitably, they see the marked difference between the two types of confession, and they are more likely to hear how they can sincerely confess their own sin to the party they have offended…

4. Accept the Consequences. In a good confession, a person acknowledges that he or she must accept the consequences of his or her actions. Many people have trouble forgiving because the one confessing fails to accept the consequences for his or her offensive behavior. Theologically we might say that a person makes such a confession because he or she divorces God’s justification (God forgives) from his sanctification (God’s call for us to produce the fruit of repentance), embracing the former while rejecting the latter.

…we as peacemaking pastors must help the confessor think through and accept the potential consequences of his or her behavior, thus embracing not only God’s forgiveness but also his call to repentance. This process leads naturally to the fifth feature of a good confession.

5. Alter Your Behavior. A good confession will also include one’s commitment, by God’s grace, to alter one’s behavior. If our goal is to grow to be like Christ, then confession is not enough. We need to alter our behavior. We must put our confession into action by replacing sinful habits with holy ones, just as Paul urges in Ephesians 4:31-32: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Furthermore, we will prove the sincerity of our confession if we are earnest about changing our behavior. This desire to change is made tangibly evident when the offender lists in his or her confession the actions he or she will take to remedy the offense. One of the great benefits of sharing these plans is that the offended person is more likely to forgive.

6. Ask Forgiveness. A good confession not only admits sin but it also asks forgiveness. In twenty-five years of pastoring, I could count on both hands the times I have heard, “Will you please forgive me?” Most of the time when confessing, people assume that the request for forgiveness is assumed in their apology. So I commonly hear, “I’m sorry,” and in response, the offended party grants forgiveness.

But this assumption is not correct. A good confession needs to include a real request. We need to ask the person we have offended, hurt, or harmed, “Will you please forgive me?” because by asking, we recognize and acknowledge that we do not and cannot forgive ourselves. We must ask another to forgive us since our offense was against another, and that person alone (besides God) can release us from the debt of our sin against him or her by forgiving us.

7. Allow Time. The final step in making a strong confession is to allow time for the offended party to forgive. Assuming the person we are counseling has made a good confession of sin, it remains incumbent upon us as peacemaking pastors to help the one confessing a sin to distinguish the difference between God’s immediate response to a confession made and the various reasons why the one who has been offended may be slow to respond.

When we ask God to forgive our sins, he forgives us immediately, for he has promised to forgive us when we ask. Thus the apostle John encourages his people, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). As a pastor or spiritual leader, it will be important to point out to those you counsel this and other passages of Scripture that assure us of God’s forgiveness.’

While God forgives us immediately, humans do not. Sometimes people are unwilling or slow to forgive. This response itself can become a cause for a subsequent conflict. Their slowness to forgive may cause the person who confesses his sins to think he remains unforgiven. If the confessor’s conscience is tender, he could continue to be troubled by this lack of forgiveness and develop feelings of bitterness and dejection.

In this kind of case, it is important for us to help the confessor allow the offended person time. We must teach him that the offended party needs time to pray about the confession and work through his or her feelings. Moreover, we must help the confessor separate his responsibilities from those of the people who are called upon to forgive. For example, if I confess my sin to a brother, I cannot and should not be the one who demands he forgive me. Before God, it is my responsibility to confess my sin, while it is his responsibility to forgive.

The counsel to allow time is not a counsel to do nothing. Rather, we can encourage the confessor to use this waiting period to reflect upon the seriousness of his sin and how ruinous it is, while at the same time contemplating how great Christ’s atoning work is on his behalf so that God can forgive the confessor. We also ought to encourage the confessor to pray for the offended person who is struggling to forgive him. The confessor can reflect upon his own slowness to forgive as well as the many things that could tempt the person who was offended not to forgive, which will thus rob the person of his or her joy in the gospel. Thus the confessor can pray that the offended person would be set free from bitterness, thoughts of revenge, and the grief of loss. Taking these steps is a proactive way to allow time.

In summary, these Seven A‘s of Confession are a helpful guide to walking a person through his or her confession of sin to another. They should not be taken woodenly, of course, as if the only true confession requires each A to be fulfilled. Instead, think of these Seven A‘s as a checklist or a rough outline for constructing a meaningful confession of sin.

-Alfred Poirier. Peacemaking Pastor, The: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict (pp. 124-130). Kindle Edition.

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May you find these as helpful as I have as you confess and apologize unto glorious forgiveness and reconciliation!

10 May

The Danger of Airing Negative Church Situations at Home with Our Children: An Interview with Pastor Bill Houpt

I have been in pastoral ministry now for a decade.  As any leader in the church knowswhether they are a pastor, elder, deacon, chairman, director, or a regular lay volunteerdisappointment, frustration, controversy, disagreement, arguments, and a whole other litany of negative situations are part of what every leader has to deal with.  We are sinners working with sinners.  Negative things are bound to happen from time to time.

But, what happens when we as leaders drag this negativity home and air the details?  To our spouses?  To our children?  What effect does this have?  This question is not just pertinent to pastors and leaders.  It’s applicable to every person in the pew.

That’s why Pastor Bill Houpt from Little River Baptist Church in Herndon, KY is here today at the blog. I had the privilege of working very closely with Bill from 2005 to 2008 in the Hopkinsville Youth Ministry Network in western Kentucky. I found him to be a generous friend, a faithful minister, and always willing to share the wisdom he has gleaned from decades of ministry. In fact, I was reminded recently of some great wisdom he shared with me that I thought would be helpful to pass on to you all but thought it would be best to get it straight from his mouth.

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Ben:  Bill, it’s great to be with you again! Thanks for taking the time to minister to us. Go ahead and introduce yourself and your family.

Bill:  I am married to Marsha.  We have been married 40 years.  We have three children. Shannon, who is married to Matt. He is collegiate and small groups leader at Rolling Hills Church in Nashville, and Shann teaches 5th grade. Bill, my oldest son, has my two grand kids, Madisen age 10 and Kinsley age 7.  They live in Huntsville. And the baby of the family, Jeff, lives in Virgina and works for Westar Aero Space.

Ben:  How many years have you served the Lord as a pastor and where?

Bill:  2 years as Pastor at Little River Baptist in Herndon, KY and 20 years as Associate Pastor/Youth Pastor at Hillcrest Baptist in Hopkinsville, KY

Ben:  Church ministry can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be very frustrating and disappointing. I’m sure you’ve felt at times like just giving up on the church and the ministry (I’m sure all Christians have, even if they are not vocational ministers!), but you haven’t. What has kept you going?

Bill:  The love for people. I spent 20 years in the Army as a sniper and Special Forces guy. Killed more than my share and lost many friends. With great cost comes great responsibility. I owe it to the ones who died and the ones I killed to live my life for Christ.

Ben:  How old were your children when you began to do vocational ministry?

Bill:  Shannon was 18, Billy was 15, and Jeff was 13.

Ben:  When something negative happens in the church, it’s very easy for us as leaders in the church to drag all of that negativity home and unload it on our family. Is that a healthy thing?

Bill:  No. I still have my oldest son who resents the Lord because I brought too much home. I learned the hard way that just like Vegas, what happens at church stays at church.

Ben:  When we unload all of our frustrations with church and church people on our children, what effects will that have on them?

Bill:  As I mentioned, my oldest is finally, after years, getting on with his relationship with Christ. He was saved as a child but bitterness at the church tainted his love for God.

Ben:  The wisdom that you shared with me that has stuck with me over these years had to do with one of your sons and his reaction to the church because of the negativity you were bringing home. Would you give us the details of what was going on with you and how he reacted?

Bill:  It was one of those times when I was dry, and the church was dry. This always brings conflict, and I had a couple people who knew God was telling me it was time to leave. (This was 10 years before God told me!) Anyway, as people do, rumors were being spread, and my son was fed up. He said, “I can stay home and be closer to God than the ones at church.”

Ben:  How did you handle that with him, and what adjustments did you make to safeguard your children’s hearts against bitterness toward your church and its people?

Bill:  I learned to talk with him about what God was doing. To explain to him that rumors are rumors. We also agreed to let another adult working with the youth group to correct him at church during youth. I did not realize it, but I was harder on him than the others, and he felt he had no where to be himself. I also encouraged him to pick two men he trusted. We went to them and asked if they could be someone he could talk to with the agreement that they would not tell me what they talked about. This really helped. Finally, he could be just a youth at church instead of Bill Houpt’s son.

Ben:  Of course, I believe that this wisdom is not just for pastors. It’s for all church members with children. Would you agree? Why?

Bill:  Yes, if we are not careful we begin to encourage our kids to be fake at church.

Ben:  What advice would you give church members who are parents concerning how to handle negative church situations with their children?

Bill:  Be honest and don’t sugar coat. But remind them that it is not everyone. It becomes too easy to say “the church” instead of “so and so.” Keep it in perspective.

Ben:  How about with our spouse? Our spouse is supposed to be our best friend and complete confidant, but should we take measures to safeguard their heart against bitterness toward our church? If so, how? If not, why not?

Bill:  This is a hard one. Every minister I have talked with that went through a tough time, their wives are still bitter. When I left the youth ministry to be a pastor, I went to a conference for “ministers in transition.” I met a pastor who had been fired. He gave me a real piece of wisdom I still draw on. He said there is a little bit of truth in every gripe. What has helped us is to admit I make mistakes and that it is not always someone else.

Ben:  If it’s not helpful to dump all of this stuff on our family, where should a person turn? What should he do?

Bill:  It is impossible to survive in ministry without an accountability partner. I have two:  one retired minister who helps me put stuff into perspective and one younger that I can help.

Ben:  Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share with us?

Bill:  A minister is an unthankful, unbelievably hard calling. You cannot survive unless you have been called. But, if you are called, it is an unbelievable life with Christ.

Ben:  Bill, thank you so much for spending a few moments with us! May the Lord bless you, your family, and those to whom you minister!

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Pastor Bill has certainly given us a lot to think about here.  I have often thought about his advice to me to strive to protect my children’s heart from the negativity we encounter as leaders in the church.  If I do not, it is likely that they will become bitter toward our local church and the church in general, just as happened with Pastor Bill’s teenage son.

Certainly, we don’t want our children to be naive, but we also must realize that as children, they are not able to rightly handle the complex adult situations we are so tempted to air before them.  For the sake of their souls, we must not drag the trash home and empty it out in front of them.  Instead, I believe that we should do everything in our power to keep church in a positive light in their eyes.  Our goal should be to help the church stay in their minds a place where they want to go, a place where sinners being saved by grace go to serve Jesus and to become more like Him.  And in the moments when our children cannot help but witness sinners in the church doing what sinners do, we must help them biblically and graciously process what they witnessed, keeping the cross of Christ in mind the entire time.

I took to heart Pastor Bill’s advice when he gave it to me years ago but have struggled at times to follow through.  The temptation is often strong to air the negativity in front of my children, but I have recommitted once again to protecting their hearts because I love them and want them to love our church and its people.

May you commit to doing the same for the sake of your little one’s heart!