Tag Archives: Confession

Pre-Scribed Events and Reimagined Narratives

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.
2 Kings 5:11 (NIV)

I’ve always had a rather active imagination. As a kid I spent a lot of time in the land of make-believe. I can remember many scenes of war and espionage played out in my back yard and neighborhood. There were all sort of athletic miracles and Rudy-like moments that took place on the neighbor’s basketball court. I can even remember drawing colorful geometric shapes on notebook paper, taping them to the wall in a line and transforming my room in to the command deck of the Starship Enterprise. The final frontier alive and well in the limited space of my bedroom. I was that kid.

As I’ve continued on in my life journey, I’ve come to the realization that my active imagination has some unintended consequences. Because I have this unconscious ability to make up a narrative in my head, I sometimes find myself applying my imagination to real life. I just read the other day how, according to the author of the article, eye-witness testimony has become one of the least reliable forms of evidence in today’s justice system. People testify to what they honestly imagined they saw. I get that. Wendy sometimes corrects my retelling of events as my imagination makes changes and embellishments to the facts over time.

I have also found that I like the stories I tell myself. In fact, if I’m honest, I often like my own imaginative narratives better than the one God seems to be dictating in my current “real life” and present circumstances.

So it was that I found myself uncomfortably identifying with Namaan in today’s chapter. The worldly rich and power leper came to the prophet Elisha for healing. He also came with an imaginative narrative already written in his head how the events of his healing would unfold. Perhaps he’d heard others’ stories, or perhaps someone planted ideas in his head of what Elisha would experience (here I go again, imagining what might have happened). What we do read in this morning’s chapter is that when circumstances didn’t live up to the imagined narrative Namaan had prescribed for himself he became disappointed, frustrated, angry, and finally was utterly dismissive of the instructions Elisha prescribed for healing.

Namaan almost missed out on being healed of his leprosy because it didn’t match the events as he’d imagined them and pre-scribed (think of the word pre-scribed, literally: “scripted ahead of time“) them in his head!

In the quiet of this beautiful summer morning I’m glancing back into the past and honestly taking stock of ways that I have attempted to pre-scribe life along my own journey. I’m also doing my best to genuinely search for ways I may have imaginatively reimagined past events to place myself in a better role, give myself better lines, and alter others’ perceptions of events to place myself in a more favorable light within the scene.

I confess that I do these things more than I’d like to imagine.

[sigh]

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

Practice Required

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:7 (NIV)

I received a text from one of our daughters the other day. She was doing an exercise for work and each person was asked to quiz a few people who knew them well and ask , “What is it that I do better than anyone else?” In other words, what was the thing or things at which she excelled. It was an interesting question to ponder and fun to be allowed to share my thoughts with her.

I have always had certain things at which I excelled and many things at which I did not. I was never very good at sports. The only sport at which I exhibited some excellence was swimming, and this was only because of years of constant and disciplined practice. I was always a pretty good student, however. And, I displayed a modicum of excel-lence in the arts, especially on stage.

In today’s chapter, Paul answers our daughter’s question to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. Paul reports that they excel in faith, in good conversation, in being knowledgable and in their earnestness. Then, Paul then urges them to add one more thing to the list. He wants them to excel in giving.

The interesting thing about the encouragement given here is that generosity must have been an area that the believers in Corinth had not already displayed excellence. It was something that was going to require exercise and practice, and this was the entire point behind today’s chapter. Paul was urging them to stretch their generosity muscles and practice giving.

One of the passages of God’s Message around which I’ve chosen to try and model my life is Psalm 112, which has ceaselessly admonished me in the same way Paul encourages the believers in Corinth. The lyrics of the psalm describe the person who is “generous and lends freely” and who “scatters abroad their gifts to the poor.”

I must confess this morning that when it comes to generosity and giving I am an honorary Corinthian. I have known people who excel at giving, for whom it is a spiritual gift. For me, it is a lot like swimming. If I want to excel I’ve got to endlessly practice. Generosity stretches and builds spiritual muscles that are not naturally strong for me, but the effort and development is good for me in a myriad of ways.

This morning I’m pondering the areas of life in which I easily and naturally excel, and the areas like generosity that require repetitive practice. I don’t ever want to stop working on improving. I’m encouraged this morning to keep working, keep practicing, keep driving towards excellence in these important areas of Life and Spirit.

Willingness

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said.
Matthew 8:3a (NIV)

When my daughter Madison was about four years old I called out to her from my home office in the basement of our home. She came scampering in my office from the next room where she had been playing. I needed something (I can’t remember what it was) retrieved from upstairs. “Will you go upstairs and get it?” I asked.

“Sure Dad!” she said with a big smile and child-like excitement. “I’ll be happy to!” And with that she ran off, immediately did as I asked, and cheerfully returned with the item.

I sat there for a moment thoroughly dumbstruck by her willing attitude. I can vividly remember sitting there and enjoying that little moment. She didn’t do what I asked grudgingly. She didn’t do what I asked dutifully. She didn’t do what I asked because I paid her allowance. She didn’t do what I asked out of obligation or familial obedience. She did what I asked out of a cheerful, willing attitude. I’ve never forgotten that moment.

One of the rarely demonstrated service skills I teach my clients is the simple act of expressing your willingness to do what a customer asks.

“Can you…?”
“I’ll be more than happy to do that for you.”

“Will you…?”
“You bet I will. I’m on it.”

“Is it possible…?”
“It sure is. And I’ll be glad to take care of it.”

In this morning’s chapter, Jesus begins by using this simple service skill when asked by leper if He’d be “willing” to heal him.

“I am willing,” Jesus said, and I imagine the warm smile on his face as he reaches out to touch the contagious, infected, deformed leper.

The rest of the chapter reveals so much about Jesus willingness:

  • Willingness to heal the son of a member of the despised Roman occupational force. (I’m guessing that Jesus’ disciple, Simon the Zealot, would have preferred Jesus kill both the Roman Centurion and his son).
  • Willingness to cast out evil spirits and heal anyone and everyone who came to him.
  • Willingness to heal the mother of his friend, Peter.
  • Willingness to use His power and authority to calm both the sea, and his followers fears.
  • Willingness to show mercy, even to His spiritual enemies, and grant the demons’ request.’

This morning I’m enjoying the memory of Madison’s cheerful attitude. I’m thinking about Jesus willing attitude, and I’m recalling what He said in yesterday’s chapter as He concluded His “Sermon on the Mount”:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

I must confess that I, too often, approach God and Life with the attitude of scarcity. I expect that God wants to punish more than bless, and even if He does bless me He will be miserly doling out those blessings. “After all,” I think to myself, “I’m such a wretch that I should be grateful for anything I receive.” I sometimes attach to God my own warped image of the begrudging parent. Ugh. I see God out of the lens of my own personal shortcomings.

“If you’re willing,” I hear Jesus whispering to my heart this morning in the quiet of my home office, “you can choose to see me differently. To see me as I am: Willing.”

Yes, Lord. I’d be happy to do so. By the way, thank you for your willingness to be patient, and to help open my eyes.

“I’ve Got This”

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Matthew 6:30-34 (MSG)

This past week was our first trip down to the lake this year. I have said before that our family’s place on the lake always has been what many call a thin place. It’s a place where things of the Spirit are perceived with greater clarity.

So it was that I began to realize during our time at the lake just how anxious I have become about certain things in life. A bout of insomnia and some time of reflection unearthed a host of things I have been increasingly worried about. I’ve been harboring anxiety; My mind dwelling on things I ultimately can’t control. Being at heart a pessimist, my natural personality tends to take these little anxieties, hide them in the dark corners of my mind, and quietly grow them like bacteria.

On our drive home, I brought these things out into the open in conversation with Wendy. Along life’s journey I’ve discovered that fears and anxieties tend to lose their power when brought out and exposed to the light of conversation. It was helpful to talk it out, and to have Wendy challenge each anxiety with her lock-tight logic.

Yesterday after our local gathering of Jesus followers, I had a few friends praying over me. After a while in fairly routine prayer mode one of my friends, who is a prophet, said out of the blue, “You’re carrying too much. Stop worrying about…”  they then proceeded to name, specifically, the things I’ve been anxious about. There was more that was said, but suffice it to say that I got the message.

This morning I’m reminded that we as humans sometimes need repeated reminders. In today’s chapter Jesus continues His classic “Sermon on the Mount.” One of the simplest reasons I continue to daily journey through God’s Message is that often I’m given exactly the spiritual reminder I need. So it is today. It’s like Jesus personally following up on Wendy’s reasoned logic and the words spoken through my friend yesterday.

“Tom, when has worrying done anything for you? Chill out. Keep going. Stay focused on me. I’ll take care of you.

“I’ve got this.”

When the Walls Come a Tumblin’ Down

[The travelers from Judah] replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”

When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah 1:3-4 (NRSV)

In ancient days, a nations walls were everything. Every major city (which subsequently controlled the nearby lands) was surrounded by walls. Walls were your security, making it impossible for enemies to easily invade. Walls were your pride. Their height, width, and engineering told the world how prosperous, industrious, and educated you were. Your gates were your calling card. Being the weakest point of defense, your gate said everything about you. The more secure, enamored, and embellished the gate, the more your city state would be held in high esteem.

The book of Nehemiah is about the walls and the gate of the city of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed (along with Solomon’s temple) by the Babylonian empire in 587 B.C. Most of the nations best and brightest were carried off into captivity in Babylon. Ezra, Nehemiah and their families were among them. As the scene is established in the opening sequence of today’s chapter, Nehemiah runs into some travelers who had arrived in Babylon from back home. He inquires about the state of their homeland and capitol city, and learns that the walls and gates had been utterly destroyed. The remnant back home feel utter shame.

If you have no walls, you are nothing.

Nehemiah’s reaction to the news was telling. He is grief stricken. He weeps. He fasts. He prays and confesses to God his sins, the sins of his family, and the sins of his nation.

We don’t have literal walls surrounding our homes and capitols [Unless you live in a gated community…there’s a good conversation to be explored there. Trump’s promised border wall is another interesting parallel conversation, but I digress] Walls as a line of defense became obsolete hundreds of years ago. The word picture, however, still carries weight for me in my personal life. I still build walls, metaphorically, around my heart and life. I build walls of protection against forces spiritual, emotional, relational, and cultural. I erect walls of possessions and words revealing to others what I want them to see, while hiding safely that which I desire to hide. I engineer relational walls that warn people off, walls that keep people out, and gates of relationship that open and close at my will.

And, my walls can crumble and fall just like Jerusalem’s.

On my left bicep I have a tat that references Psalm 51. It is an ancient song of confession, the lyrics written by King David at a moment when the walls of Jerusalem stood tall and proud, but the walls of his personal life had come crashing to the ground. The gates to his soul lay in utter ruin. It is on my left bicep because the ancients identified left, and left-handedness (I’m a lefty, btw), with foolishness, iniquity, and sin. It is on my bicep because it is a reminder to me that my strength is not in the quality of the walls I build around myself, but in humility and the utter honesty of my confession.

Nehemiah is having a Psalm 51 moment. I have had my own (multiple times). Walls crash and burn. Life sometimes lays in ruin before us. I have learned along the journey that in those moments when life crumbles around me the key to finding seeds of redemption and restoration lie not in the strength of my biceps, but in the condition of my spirit. Nehemiah gets it, too.

Strength in Humility

Daniel Sistine ChapelSo I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. Daniel 9:3 (NIV)

Daniel was a spiritual rock star. He was humble, faithful, disciplined, and righteous. Most of the great, ancient heroes of the faith have their obvious flaws, but I don’t see that with Daniel. The dude seems never to have made a wrong move. It is said that whatever fire does not destroy it purifies, and Daniel had more than his fair share of suffering. Perhaps he was refined by the fires of life’s suffering at an early age and the lessons carried him through a lifetime.

As I read Daniel’s prayer of confession this morning, it struck me once again that there is a connection between confession and strength that seems almost counter intuitive. Here we have Daniel, who by all accounts was a righteous man, covering himself in sackcloth and ashes (an ancient practice, the scratchy clothing and ashes were a word picture of a person’s humility and unworthiness before God). It doesn’t diminish him in my mind. It strengthens my perception of him.

What a contrast to the culture we live in. We value arrogance, bravado, and braggadocio (My mind conjures up images of Donald Trump, Kanye West, Richard Sherman, the Kardashians, et al). The powerful and famous hire PR firms, invest in their personal brand, and eagerly hide their flaws. When the skeletons come out of the closet, they fly the banner of “all publicity is good publicity” and ride out the storm until it’s the right time to make a comeback. We love comeback stories.

This morning I’m once again pondering what kind of person I want to be. I have made a tremendous number of big mistakes in my personal journey, and I continue to make my share on a regular basis. Pretending that I haven’t seems like a lot of on-going PR work, and it feels more than a little smarmy. I think I’ll try to stick with Daniel’s example. It is said that confession is good for the soul, and along the way I have found it to be true on many different levels. The more honest I am about my own flawed humanity, the more deeply I’ve come to understand and appreciate God’s mercy and grace.

Contrition

Close up of an 17th-century depiction of the 2...
Close up of an 17th-century depiction of the 28 articles of the Augsburg Confession by Wenceslas Hollar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 1 Kings 21:27 (NIV)

For over 20 years I have been training and coaching people in the art of delivering customer service. In that time, I have found that there is no more contentious and divisive service skill than the simple apology. I increasingly find that individuals struggle with saying a simple, “I’m sorry that happened,” even when saying it as a representative of a business and there is no interpersonal relationship between customer and representative. I also find it common for clients to exchange the word “unfortunately” for any form of “sorry” or “apologize.” I find this fascinating.

The root word of “unfortunately” is “fortune” which is synonymous with “luck.” When saying, “Unfortunately, you don’t have a receipt with you,” it’s like saying “It’s bad luck that you don’t have a receipt with you.” It acknowledges the other’s stinky situation, but does nothing to express any kind of personal empathy. It avoids having any personal skin in the game like the statement “I am sorry, but you don’t have a receipt,” or “I apologize, but without a receipt your options are limited.”

We don’t talk much, at least in the protestant circles in which I run, about contrition anymore. Contrition is the act of being sorrowful or remorseful about the ways you’ve blown it and the things you’ve done (or should have done but didn’t). In culture, and in media, it seems to me that we commonly find individuals who stonewall, obfuscate, deny, and deceive in order to escape taking responsibility for their inappropriate or damaging words or actions. As I write this, we are nearing an election day. One need only turn on the television to be bombarded by every politician with the same message: “I’m all good and am going to make your life rosy. My opponent is all bad and is going to ruin your life. Here are some gross misrepresentations of truth to deceive you into believing it.”

It’s interesting to note that when Jesus addressed potential followers, the call to following and believing were regularly predicated by an act of contrition. “Deny yourself,” “Take up your cross,” “Repent,” and “Sell all you have,” were prerequisites Jesus placed to faith and belief. Sincere contrition is a gateway to spiritual reconciliation, as we see in the example of Ahab in today’s chapter. By acknowledging our impotence, God’s power is loosened in our lives. By accepting our need, God’s sufficiency is quickened to provide. With the honest confession of our failures, God successfully showers us with grace through the blood of Jesus which was sacrificially poured out to atone for them.