How to ‘Stand’ Despite Your Sin

Reflections inspired by Psalm 130

“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” Psalm 130.3.
 
Who gets to stand before God confidently? Anyone? I’m not confident standing before my friends, let alone the Almighty! But confidence before God is available.
 
We can, “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” Heb 4.16. We can have, “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” Heb 10.19. Sounds good, but is it your experience? Not always, if you’re like me.
 
What gets in the way of confidence and what can we do about it?
 
 

Silencing the Laughter

I was thirteen. My conscience was troubled. On a hot summer’s night, I stared at the ceiling. Was the Devil’s face above me, laughing? What was going on? I’d been shoplifting for a while now. Sweets, toys, magasines, books and other things. I was a ‘good’ boy. A church chorister and youth group member. My father was a Methodist lay preacher and headmaster. What would he think if he knew?
 
Summoning all my courage I put on my dressing gown and headed downstairs. My parents were watching television and mighty surprised to see me. They knew something was wrong. I remember it so clearly. I confessed all. They were appalled. We agreed a suitable punishment. I went to bed and slept in peace. The Devil’s laughter was silenced. The smile wiped off his face.
 

Relational

The Psalmist is right when he asks the rhetorical question, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” Psalm 130.3. But this is not God’s final word. He wants a relationship with us. What to do? Two challenges must be faced.
 
  1. Confidence is compromised by hidden sin.
  2. Confidence is weakened by pretence.
The Psalmist knows he and his people need forgiveness, “with you there is forgiveness,” v4, and “He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” v8.
 
No hiding. No pretence.
 
What shall we do with sin? Confess it. “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)
 
What do we do with weakness? Admit it. If we do, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” (Romans 8:26). We’ll find a sympathetic ear in Jesus, “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” (Hebrews 5:2)
 
The goal of confession is not providing evidence you are a sinner. God already knows that. The goal of confession is a better relationship.

Movement

Confession moves us back into close relationship with the God we have offended. When Peter confessed his sinfulness, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8 NIV11), he expected Jesus to move away. The opposite happened.
“Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:10–11 NIV11)
Would you like to move closer to God? Confession is a crucial part of what makes intimacy possible. We’re kidding ourselves if we think deep friendship will happen without confession.
 

Good News

Confession is good news. It’s good for our spirit. If it’s good for our spirit, we can be sure it’s also good for our mind, emotions and body. Scientific evidence is building up that confession is healthy.
 
God did not send Jesus to the cross to punish us because of our sin, but to liberate us. Since we are free from the effects of sin, we are free from the guilt and shame of our sin. How sad that we might hide the sin that Jesus came to forgive. Instead, set yourself free to enjoy the good news of forgiveness by bringing your sin into the light.

Conclusion

Pray for greater sensitivity towards sin. Take time each morning to ask God for spiritual soberness, and to have the humility of heart to accept your sin of the previous day.
 
Pray for people who sin against you. Holding them in compassionate prayer may help you to confess your own sins. See Matt 5.44; Col 3.12-14.
 
Beware compulsive confession. If you find yourself compulsively confessing with no sense of relief, contact a friend to talk it over. You may find articles on the Mind and Soul website helpful.
 

Question

What helps you to confess sin and weakness? What advice would you give to people struggling with confession? Please leave a comment below.
 
God bless,
 
Malcolm
 
“Confession is good for the soul, but bad for the reputation….”

“The Judge and the Lover” – A review of “God first loved us: the challenge of accepting unconditional love”, by Antony F. Campbell, S. J.

god-first
“The Judge and the Lover”

A review of “God first loved us: the challenge of accepting unconditional love”, by Antony F. Campbell, S. J.

  • Preamble
    • Which is primary? God as lover or God as judge? What does the Bible reveal, and how do we see it? The way we answer these questions has profound ramifications personally and collectively.
  • Summary
    • Campbell argues that since God is interested in relationship above all, we do better to recognise him as lover first and judge second. His argument develops in a little over 100 pages divided into eight chapters, plus an overview and afterword. A devotional reflection on the events of Good Friday concludes the book. Whether you agree with his emphases, you will find much to stimulate a healthy reassessment of your view of God.
  • Body of the Book
    • If there is a theme scripture to the book it would be, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4.10,19 (NIV11). Campbell would have us find our motivation from the prospect of reward rather than the fear of punishment. Of course, fear can be a helpful motivator, but it is not a mature one (“The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4.18b NIV11). Although I do not recall him putting it in so many words, perhaps the Christian life is an on-going transition from a fear-dominated motivation to one dominated by love. This may depend on one’s starting point, character, personality, family and church upbringing and other factors. Yet, there is not much worth arguing about regarding becoming more and more ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’ (GK: teleioo) in love as we grow in Christ.
    • It must be pointed out that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” Prov. 1.7 NIV11, (and many similar scriptures), hence defining ‘fear’ would be helpful. Campbell does not spend much time on this issue, and it might have helped some readers for him to have done so, since Jesus does not eschew fear as a helpful tool (see Luke 12.5).
    • Our words betray our views (Luke 6.45). I found fruitful reflection considering Campbell’s challenge to evaluate whether the words coming out of my mouth are consistent with the Bible’s description of God. Do I speak about a loving God as much as the Word does? When I speak of God, do I talk about Him as one with whom I have a relationship? Although the relationship is not exactly the same as human one, it must share some of the same language and focus. And, also important, do my actions match my words?
    • Campbell’s forthrightness is refreshing, as when he writes, “The funny thing is, of course, that an unconditionally loving God will only ask of us what is for our own good. But then, many of us are afraid of what might be best for us. Stupid, but true!” page 38. And he is correct in stating that we want intimacy with God, but fear it at the same time. Our relationship with God is just as complicated as any human relationship, indeed more so, since He will retain some elements of His mystery until the next life. How do we deal with this? Jesus is the one who, “can bridge that fearful gap between creature and creator.” p36
    • His portrayal of the atonement will relieve some and confuse others. It appears he is suggesting a Christus Victor and/or healing model and not allowing for the redemptive aspect of the cross, “The idea of redemption is burdened with the overtones of buying back and repayment. Love does not demand redemption; love forgives.  A loving God does not need to redeem us; a loving God forgives us.” p52. But God’s love is so intense that He will redeem (see Hosea). Is there not a place for both redemption and forgiveness as a gift? I remain a little unclear as to whether he is arguing almost completely against the concept of redemption, or simply considering that the issue of salvation, God’s love for us, is primary. The role of Jesus on the cross is not something he avoids, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world can be richly understood as removing all that blocks our acceptance of God’s love rather than as paying off the debt of sin.” p101 But, again, I’m not sure these issues are contradictory.
    • Chapter 8 on “The Mystery” is helpful in that it accepts the unknowable aspects of God as a challenge, while holding to the knowable as a reality. What we can and do know leads us to a place of desiring greater oneness with God, not less. This God has given us unconditional love, thus, “In accepting a loving God, we may be letting go of God the fixer.” p90 God may not ‘fix’ everything they way we want because his love for us is enough, and he is more interested in love than justice.
    • Some would argue with the assertion, “Christ’s incarnation is the central expression of God’s unconditional love of human life.” p99  A case can be made for the cross (and resurrection) as central, but that’s a discussion for another day.
  • Conclusion
    • A book written by a scholar, but wearing his intellect lightly. Much to be admired.
    • Personal stories and those about other people illustrate significant points. Some hit the mark for me and others missed, but that’s a personal choice.
    • In decrying the authoritarian interpretation of scripture, consequent distancing of God as a relational figure, justification of fear as a motivational agent and use of such fear to manipulate people, I applaud Campbell’s work. He writes persuasively on the theme of God as one who loves first, foremost and always.
    • Perhaps he overstates his case, not in arguing for the fulsomeness of God’s love, but for the inappropriateness of fear, and for a model of the atonement that appears to deny a direct connection between the cross and salvation.
    • “God first loved us” may be a help to anyone looking to grasp God’s love better. I made plenty of notes that refreshed my view of God, and the subsequent prayer times were deeper.

Malcolm Cox

www.malcolmcox.org

What we’re reading: “God First Loved Us”

god-first

 

A review of “God first loved us: the challenge of accepting unconditional love”, by Antony F. Campbell, S. J.

Which is primary? God as lover or God as judge? What does the Bible reveal, and how do we see it? The way we answer these questions has profound ramifications personally and collectively.

“Harsh Reality”, Luke 14.24

Sometimes we get away with it, and sometimes we don’t. However, our choices tend to catch up with us in the end. We’re on the final instalment of our exploration of the parable of the banquet, Luke 14.15-24. The summary statement is this:

“I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.” Luke 14.24 (NIV11)

What is the sentiment here? Anger, resignation, disappointment? Perhaps a mixture of several feelings? The host has been insulted and lied to, but his response has been one of grace. The ungrateful have missed out, and the ‘undeserving’ have been blessed. Sounds like the kingdom of God to me!

Who is the host? On one level God, but on another, it’s Jesus. The “you” in v24 is plural, but there is only one servant. It looks as if Jesus is addressing the people around him. If he is Messiah, then it’s his messianic banquet that’s being described. I reckon this banquet belongs to Jesus. And his feelings here? What are they?

In light of what he says in Luke 13.34, “..how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”, I’d suggest his primary emotion of one of regret. “He…sees the deepest tragedy of human life, not in the many wrong and foolish things that men do, or the many good and wise things that they fail to accomplish, but in their rejection of God’s greatest gift.” (Bailey, “Peasant’s Eyes”, p110) He has no desire to see anyone miss out. Those who do so are self-excluded.

The good news is that there is still time to accept the invitation. The house not yet full because we are living in the “already but not yet” times (see Lk 13.28-29). We can come in, and we can do what we can to “compel” people to come in. Let’s celebrate that, and accept it.

That’s the theme of our sermon this morning, 10.30AM, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Road, Watford.

I hope to see you there.

God bless,

Malcolm

“Generosity and Grace”, Luke 14.21-23

StreetHave you ever cancelled an event due to lack of interest? Or attended one where the host clearly expected far more people to attend than actually turned up. Feels discouraging and deflating. How does our feast host respond to the social snubs of his peers?

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry….” (Luke 14:21a NIV11)

Try to imagine being the man preparing the great feast. How might he be feeling as the excuses roll in? Why might he be angry? Well, for one thing, the excuses are all pretty lame. The field would still be there the next day, as would the oxen, and the third excuse is still a choice. It’s not the wedding day, after all. The host has been lied to (they said they would come and did not) and insulted (see yesterday’s post).

How does our host respond? Even though justifiably angry, he responds with grace. He goes on to invite people who did not expect to be invited, and those who the previously-invited thought should not be invited.

  1. The Poor. “…and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’” (Luke 14:21b NIV11) Here, “crippled” includes the loss of use of any limb, not just walking. What are they like? These guests may be messy and smelly and will need assistance to attend. “The poor are not invited to banquets, the maimed do not get married, the blind do not go out to examine fields, and the lame do not test oxen.” (Bailey, “Peasant Eyes”, p100), and see Luke 14.13. They represent the outcasts of Israel. Probably those who the pious Jews would consider ‘sinners’ amongst their number and unworthy of being God’s people. The guests who snubbed the host are anticipating (hoping) for an empty banquet and humiliation for the host. Their first objective is thwarted, but they probably think the second has been achieved – “they will taunt the host as one who is unable to put together a banquet without ‘bringing in this riffraff’.” see Luke 15.2. To whom might we be naturally prejudiced? The poor; politicians; refugees; the rich; adicts; the police; bankers; refugees?
  2. The Distant. ““ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” (Luke 14:22–23 NIV11)  This is a lot of work for the servant – one man going all around the country lanes. These lanes were where derelict people lived, finding what shelter they could. We see here the master’s commitment to filling his house. “compel” does not imply force (what can one servant do?), but, “The slave was not to take ‘no’ for an answer; the house must be filled. There is little doubt that we should see a reference to the mission of the church.” Morris, Leon. Luke: An Introduction and Commentary. TNTC. Why “compel”? Because the answer to such an invitation in that culture would be “no” as a matter of courtesy – it is an acknowledgment that I am of socially inferior rank and cannot come. I do not deserve it. Thus the servant must insist, and grace is illustrated. Grace is unbelievable! How is it that the host cares for me? I cannot invite him back. This makes no sense. Grace is so unbelievable that some special pleading is necessary for people to be convinced to come and that the invitation is genuine. Insistent hospitality! Are we as welcoming towards people different from us as is the master in the parable?

The command is not recorded as being carried out in the parable, indicating perhaps that this was the future mission to the Gentiles to be launched after Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are the servants and are sent out so that people may come and enjoy the feast prepared by Jesus. If we come to the feast (accepting the invitation to the kingdom) we are going to be among the outcasts. Are we comfortable with that? Perhaps some do not come in because they do not want to associate with people they consider unworthy. But in having that attitude they demonstrate that they are ‘unworthy’. Luke 13.30 coming to pass.

One option was to cancel the banquet, but this man decides to invite some people not usually invited to such occasions. What do you think his motivation was? Is there something for us to understand here about the heart of God? What might that be? Are we ready to help people come into the kingdom?

We’ll discuss this in the sermon tomorrow. Come along if you can: 10.30AM, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Road, Watford.

God bless,

Malcolm

What we’re reading: “Zeal Without Burnout: Delight!” – VIDEO

A delight: rejoice in grace, not gift – Luke 10.17–20. Rejoice that your name is in heaven, not in achievements. If joy is to motivate us to gospel work, then joy must be rooted in something outside of the fruits of our work. When our joy comes from our gifts and our successes, we will always be under pressure.
The remedy is to glory much in grace. It is a privilege to be used in ministry; but it is a much greater privilege to be recipients of grace.

 

What we’re reading: “Zeal Without Burnout: Delight!” – AUDIO

A delight: rejoice in grace, not gift – Luke 10.17–20. Rejoice that your name is in heaven, not in achievements. If joy is to motivate us to gospel work, then joy must be rooted in something outside of the fruits of our work. When our joy comes from our gifts and our successes, we will always be under pressure.
The remedy is to glory much in grace. It is a privilege to be used in ministry; but it is a much greater privilege to be recipients of grace.

 

“Grace is Sufficient”, 2 Corinthians 11-12

The Apostle Paul’s understanding of grace is one we desperately need. His acceptance of the thorn, and celebration of strength in weakness are fundamental to his effectiveness as an ambassador for the Gospel.

“Grace is sufficient”, 2 Cor 11 & 12

What did Paul mean when he talked about fools for Christ and the fact that God’s grace was sufficient to him?

“Wonderful Grace”, Malcolm Cox