July 30, 2012

Crossroads Vineyard Church Vision

VH1 has this great show called Storytellers. On the show, musicians will tell the story behind their songs, and then sing them for a small audience. You can hear Bruce Springsteen, Kanye West, Stone Temple Pilots, Jason Miraz, almost any artist out there talk about the songs they have written and what was going on in their lives when they wrote them.

I love the show because I like to know what was going through the artist’s mind when they wrote the song. It helps me more fully engage and understand what is going on in the song. What were they wrestling with? Who is that song about (which has plagues Carly Simon fans for years!)? What were they thinking about and reflecting on when they wrote those lyrics?

Brett Michaels of Poison wrote his greatest love song Every Rose Has It’s Thorns while doing laundry. He was on the road and called home to talk to his girlfriend, but in the background he could hear another man’s voice. When you know the backstory, it brings more emotion and understanding to the song.

Eric Clapton’s wrote the song Tears in Heaven after his 4½ year old son fell from their apartment and died. He wanted to know if he met his son in heaven would his son recognize or even know him. He was wrestling with the guilt any parent would feel in that situation. It changes the way we hear that song.

Does it change things to know the song Hey Jude was originally written as “Hey Jules” by Paul McCartney as a song to comfort John Lennon’s son Julian when John and his wife were divorcing. Julian said: "Paul told me he'd been thinking about my circumstances, about what I was going through and what I'd have to go through...It surprises me whenever I hear the song. It's strange to think someone has written a song about you. It still touches me."

Knowing the story behind something changes our understanding. We hear the words to a song, think we understand what they mean, but when we hear the story everything changes. It is like with all forms of art. It is helpful to know what is going on in a writer’s life and times when you read their books. What is going on in an athlete’s life when their normally dominant performance is suffering.

The next few weeks we are going to be talking about our church. Where are we going? What does God want to accomplish here? What do we want to look like in a few years? This morning we are going to look at some of the back stories that will help you understand me as the planting pastor, where I come from and what has been laid on my heart. Kind of like an old fashioned testimony.

A Call to Reach the Lost
In 1992, I finally accepted God’s call on my life. When I was about 5 years old, I felt very clearly that God called me into ministry. As I grew older, I wanted nothing to do with God, the church, its rules...nothing. I tried to stay as far from God as I could, but in the spring of 1992, I was getting ready to graduate from high school, I began to wrestle with what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

I wanted my life to matter. Most people in my situation did not have a life that made a difference in the world. Single-parent, welfare home in the inner-city. When I was 10 years old my mother married a man who wanted her, but didn’t really want me and my sister. I was seen as a rival, and for six years or so suffered from a great deal of verbal and emotional abuse. Finally, mercifully, I was kicked out and went to live with my grandmother.

But here I was getting ready to graduate from high school, submitting college applications, and thinking about a future. I wanted my life to matter. I wanted to make a difference...and that is when God began to speak. I felt very clearly a call to enter the ministry, but I still wanted to be sure. I was hoping that I had misheard Him. I was leaning toward business or law, and ministry...well, that wasn’t in the plans anymore.

Back then I rode my bike a lot, so I put my Bible and a devotional book in a backpack and started riding. As I rode, I prayed, “God, if you want me to enter the ministry I need more than just a feeling inside. Can you confirm Your call today in my Bible reading?” I rode for a long time, but when I finally stopped I pulled out my Bible, opened the devotional, turned to the chosen passage for the day and read Matthew 18:12-14:
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.
For me that was a definitive answer. My longstanding critique of the church had been that it only catered to those who were already saved. While they wanted people to get saved, they certainly weren’t sacrificing anything to see that accomplished.

Most, if not all, of its time, money, and resources were used to care for people who should be focused on reaching a lost world for Jesus. A world of people, just like me, needed to hear about God’s love and concern, but wasn’t because Christian people were too concerned about their next church activity and not being corrupted by the people out there...not being corrupted by people like me.

Salvation messages were preached to congregations that hadn’t seen an unsaved person for years. Church people never left the safety of their churches and Sunday school classes to search for the lost. When you have been in the church for awhile, you tend to lose contact with people outside of the church. You work with them, you live next door to them, but meaningful relationship fade over time. You develop a new set of friends, and find yourself more and more alienated from people who need Jesus.

Here in Scripture was something I had never heard from my pastors. Jesus willingly left the 99 sheep...the church people...the sheep who were safe...the sheep whom He loved...the safety of the sheepfold...to go looking for the one lost sheep who had gone astray. He left the safety of this space, and went into the dark and danger of the night to find the ONE who was lost. I knew this is what being in ministry was meant to be. If Jesus, my leader and savior, was willing to do this for one, so should I because that is the mission of the whole church.

I was told to stay away from THOSE people because we were called to be holy. Which we are called to be. WE are called to be holy; to pursue God with all of our heart. Be we are called to do it in the midst of a world that is hungry for Jesus and doesn’t even realize it. I began to notice the stories of Jesus spending time with the “tax collectors and sinners.” He hung out with the sinners, the losers, the people rejected by traditional religious people. He went looking for the ONE!

Standing atop a hill, preparing to leave His disciples and ascend into heaven, Jesus gives these instructions as the marching order for the Church, Matthew 28:18-20
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The church is an outpost for the Kingdom of God. It is a beach head, to use a military term, in hostile territory. It is a base of operations that sends us out to change the world with the Kingdom of God. For too long we have looked to the church as a place of refuge from the dangers of the world, a place to meet all my spiritual needs. It should meet our spiritual needs, but part of meeting our spiritual need is to give us a mission; a purpose. That purpose is to take what we have been given out of here and change the World with God’s love...to share the Good News of Jesus with those who need Him.

God has not called you to be part of the church so it can be about you. He is constantly inviting you to take steps forward spiritually so you can give it away to the world around you. He invites each one of us to join Him on a rescue mission to bring the Kingdom of God to the world around us. Our biggest ministry as a church happens when you take seriously God’s call to impact the world you come in contact with on an everyday basis; to lead your world one step closer to the Kingdom of God.

Kansas City
A few years later I was sitting in a chapel service at Mt. Vernon Nazarene College. The guest speaker for the day was an adjunct professor from the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, and he was sharing about a new program starting in the Fall focused on Church Planting. I had never heard about church planting...I didn’t even know what it meant...Who knew you could just buy a pack of seeds and “poof” a church would appear!

The more he talked, the more I liked the idea of starting a church. There were several things appealing about the idea.

First, church planting is the most effective way to reach people who are far from God. It tapped into that feeling that we are meant to leave the safety of the 99 and go searching for the 1.  Between 50 and 75 U.S. churches close their doors every week. More than 80% of the churches in the U.S. have plateaued or are declining. In the United States alone, there are over 200 million unchurched people, making the U.S. the third largest mission field in the world. I felt like God was calling me to reach those far from him, and here was a great way to do just that!

Second, established church are not as able to reach those far from God. They can be unwilling or unable to reach lost people because they are turned inward on themselves, or unwilling to make the necessary changes in style, structure, culture, and budgeting to reach the lost. They are more willing to fight over their preferred style of music and whether people come appropriately dressed than whether someone has a life-giving connection with God through His church. And when they do make the changes, they often don’t make the changes in their cultures...this is why you will have a young, hip looking church that sounds just as guilt driven as your old church. Flashy screens and rock-n-roll style worship can’t cover that stuff up. We need new churches to reach a variety of people far from God.

Third, and this is confession time, I have a rebellious streak and trouble with authority. On a positive note some might call it an entrepreneurial spirit. I don’t want to tread on someone else’s path. I want to make my own. There are also some battles that I just don’t want to fight. I don’t want to fight over worship style. I don’t want to fight over spending our money on outreach. I don’t want to fight over certain things. This doesn’t mean I don’t listen to authority or respect people. It doesn’t mean that I am not teachable or above correction. I make mistakes and say I’m sorry quite a bit. I do, however, want to constantly be pushing forward in the mission God has laid out ahead of me...in front of us as a church without having to fight some of those battles that crop up in established church.

So the more I thought about church planting, the more I liked it. Lori and I, after some...discussion...decided to move to Kansas City. Thing was, I didn’t enroll in the church planting program. I pursued the idea of church planting, but found myself drawn to so many other areas where I was deficient. I grew theologically and biblically. I learned to be a pastor. I developed a love for an intelligent, well-reasoned, biblical faith and not just what was handed to me by untrained pastors and Sunday school teachers.

Little did I know this was preparing me to be a bridge of sorts. People come into the church with all kinds of baggage. There are those who have been hurt badly by past church experiences. From church history I know there times we must repent of because we just haven’t gotten it right. There are those who have left the church because of beliefs they just couldn’t agree with, and were told this is the only way for a REAL Christian to believe. From being in a place of debate and healthy discussion, I discovered that not everyone thinks alike, and that is ok. The church represents a wide diversity of beliefs on non-essential issues. And when they are essential issues we are still allowed to discuss and wrestle with Scripture in healthy ways. Some believe the church is just filled with uneducated people who buy everything they are told. I discovered the church is filled with some very intelligent people who want an educated AND biblical faith. Some people were broken and damaged by the world and want nothing to do with the church. I learned the church is founded on God’s love for us and sent out as examples of His love for others.

If there is one thing I have learned in all of this, it is that...God loves us, and wants to come him WITH all of our baggage. We can clean up our act. We can stop doing some of the things that derail our lives, but we cannot really change our hearts.

Matthew 11:28-30 says,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Shortly after seminary I started planting my first church in Pleasant Hill, Missouri. It is just outside of Kansas City. It is a small, rural town that was growing by leaps and bounds as people moved farther and farther out from Kansas City. I learned more lessons there than I can even begin to tell you about in this message. We could plan a multi-day session and still not cover it all. But while there I made a very important connection that has stayed with me, and drive sme as we plant this church. The lesson take the form of an axiom or proverb or cliche:

It is this, “Come as you are you will be loved.” For all of those who have baggage...come as you are. No matter what your background, your problem, your sin...we will love you as a church. Our responsibility as a church is to love each person as God gives them to us...not love them as we expect them to act. Not love them as we would like them to be. Our call is to “Love our neighbor as ourselves,” teach the Bible, and allow God’s Holy Spirit to work in their lives.

Now that doesn’t mean that people who come in contact with God’s grace have the right to act as they wish. No, God’s love is by nature a transforming love that challenges us to grow...not because God wants a bunch of goodie-too-shoes or that this is just about being “good.” God’s wants to form us in the image of his Son. We call that Christlikeness. As a church we are called to exhibit that Christlikeness in our world and lead others to be more Christlike in their lives.

Back to Dayton
The church plant in Pleasant Hill was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. As I said just a minute ago, I learned a lot...mostly because I messed up a lot. There were a lot things God had to purge out of my life, and the only way to do that is in the tough times we all face. But I have learned that everything we go through, especially the tough times, have a purpose. God is leading us somewhere. He is preparing us for our next challenge...Little did I know the next challenge would lead me back to Dayton.

Once Lori and I escaped the clutches of Dayton, Ohio we had settled on the fact that we would NEVER move back here. Too much baggage. Too much family. But once God made it clear this is where He was leading...I recognized how much I resonated with the words of Michael Corleone from the Godfather movie as he tried to escape his mobster lifestyle...



But God showed me how he had been leading me here the entire time. Preparing me for what He wanted to do. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In the rest of that passage we see that Paul is reminding the Church in Rome that despite all the suffering, despite all the problems, despite what they tend to see going on around them, God is constantly working to bring about the good in each of us. His purpose is to draw us closer to Him, and to ultimately bring about good things.

I didn’t want to return to Dayton, but as I thought and prayed, I was able to see how God had been preparing me for this. God has also been preparing you for this church too. Each of us has a life story, things, both good and bad, that have happened to us along the way. They can either sit there and be forgotten history, they can be a nagging pain in our emotional well being...or they can be redeemed, used by God to draw you closer to Him and push forward His Kingdom.

The reality of a church plant is that I cannot do this by myself. I don’t have the money. I don’t have the connections. I don’t have time and talents necessary to do this by myself. This shouldn’t be a one man show...It can’t be a one man show. My past has made me who I am and plays into this church, but your past does too. The hurts and pains and baggage plays into this as well as your talents and time and treasures.

God wants to do something great in our community, and I believe He wants to use us to do that. There are hurts that need healed. There are lost that need found. And we are the ones whom God is calling to do it.

There is no such thing as not gifted enough or not talented enough...God has not made a habit of using the most gifted and talented...he hasn’t used the ones with the most time and the most money...There are only two things God looks for...willingness and sacrifice.

Are you willing to do what He calls us to do?

And

Are you willing to sacrifice to reach it?

I want to introduce you to Tom. Tom is one of the primary motivations for a lot that I do in ministry. When I left Pleasant Hill, I was hurt and discouraged. It had not gone like I wanted it to go. I wanted to plant a church I could pastor for the rest of my life and make into something great...Pleasant Hill was tough. I couldn’t buy a visitor.

But pretty early on Tom started attending. He showed up on Father’s Day with his daughter who wanted her Daddy to come to church with her. So he came to church and just never left. Over the next few years, Tom and I developed a friendship that I cherish. I was able to have dinner with him and his family just a few weeks ago as we passed through Kansas City.

When I first met Tom he hadn’t set foot in a church for more than 39 years. He wasn’t sure he wanted anything to do with God, but he kept coming back. I can count maybe 5 times he missed church in all the time I knew him, and one of those was because he had a kidney transplant.

A year or so in I was sharing the Gospel with him, I was using the bridge illustration as I talked with him about the Gospel. When I asked him where he felt he was on the diagram...still a ways away from God...ready to take the step across the bridge...he said, “I think I am down the block!”

This surprised me because I really felt he was close, but then he said, “But when I first came here I probably wasn’t even in the state!”

Then he said, “Have you seen that blue pillow I have hanging on my garage wall?”

I hadn’t

He bought it after his first session of dialysis because when he went the first time he had to hold his arm straight, on a hard table for several hours while the dialysis ran, and it hurt. He said, “After my transplant, I hung that pillow on the wall so that every time I pulled my truck into the garage I would be reminded where I came from and what I had overcome. I’m going to hold on to this drawing and maybe, one day, I will be able to hang it up there with the pillow.”

Fastforward a few years...Tom is helping me load my moving truck to come to Ohio. We have a short time to load the truck, but Tom has another important thing he has to go to, but asks if I will take a quick ride over to his house. Time is short, but it’s Tom and I would do anything for him. He has done almost anything for me over the past few years.

He drives me to his house and pulls into the garage. When I start to get out he grabs my arm and points to the wall in front of his truck. There, hanging on the front of the pillow, is this drawing I had made a few years earlier...I cried. I still cry when I think about it.

While nothing else seemed to work in Pleasant Hill...Tom had come to faith.

When we put our stories together...when we use the time, talents, and treasures God has given us...we get to see some amazing things. We get to see people like Tom come into the church at 39 years, find meaning and purpose and a vital relationship with God. Tom and his entire family now attend church, they are active, and Tom is leading up a multi-denominational group of people that provides services for hurting, broken people. For single mothers, for the poor of the community.

When I had dinner with him he said, “I took what you taught me about serving and caring for people and have expanded it.”

I hope everyone of you gets a Tom. Because there are thousands of Toms right here in Huber Heights who need to hear God’s message of love and forgiveness and we get the privilege of taking it to them.

July 23, 2012

Confession: Psalm 32 and Psalm 51

A few weeks ago Val Patterson was preparing for the most difficult thing he had ever faced in his entire life...his death. He died on July 10, 2012, but the process of dying was a long one due to throat cancer from years of smoking cigarettes. With his death was just around the corner he decided to write his own obituary. He must have had a sense of humor because it was written with some levity, but was also written as though he had lived life on his own terms.

He writes,

“I loved school, Salt Lake City, the mountains, Utah. I was a true Scientist. Electronics, chemistry, physics, auto mechanic, woodworker, artist, inventor, businessman, ribald comedian, husband, brother, son, cat lover, cynic. I had a lot of fun. It was an honor for me to be friends with some truly great people. I thank you. I've had great joy living and playing with my dog, my cats and my parrot. But, the one special thing that made my spirit whole, is my long love and friendship with my remarkable wife, my beloved Mary Jane. I loved her more than I have words to express. Every moment spent with my Mary Jane was time spent wisely. Over time, I became one with her, inseparable, happy, fulfilled. I enjoyed one good life. Traveled to every place on earth that I ever wanted to go. Had every job that I wanted to have. Learned all that I wanted to learn. Fixed everything I wanted to fix. Eaten everything I wanted to eat.”

He had some great things going on in his life. It sounds like a full life. He dabbled in all sorts of things. Enjoyed what he did. Traveled and saw many things. He even found what some would call his soulmate...though he readily recognizes it took time and commitment for this relationship to be what it was.

Despite all of this...despite all the good things happening...somethings were nagging him.

He continues

“Now that I have gone to my reward, I have confessions and things I should now say. As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest.

Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was the day I went to pay off my college student loan at the U of U, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn't even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters "Ph D" even stood for. For all of the Electronic Engineers I have worked with, I'm sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked very well, and were well engineered, and I always made you laugh at work.

Now to that really mean Park Ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again. To Disneyland - you can now throw away that "Banned for Life" file you have on me, I'm not a problem anymore - and SeaWorld San Diego, too, if you read this.”

Here is a man who lived a very full life. He worked on his marriage so it became the highlight of his life. He did everything he wanted to do...and yet, in the back of his mind, were these nagging confessions he needed to make before he died. Despite his humorous writing style, we can see they have been weighing on his conscience for a long time.

Holding on to unconfessed sin can be an almost unbearable weight. In Psalm 32:1-4 the King David tells of the internal weight of keeping a sin to himself, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”

But in v. 5 he gives us the rest of the story, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

You can almost hear the relief in verse 5. Then I acknowledged my sin...There is something powerful lurking in that simple word “Then.” Release from bondage...freedom

If only relief was that easy, we say! It is, but isn’t. Let’s be realistic...getting to the point where we can say to God I have “acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity” can be a long road.

We don’t like to confess. Or, we like to confess too quickly; which isn’t really confessing only getting it out of the way.

Have you ever seen two siblings fighting and watched how their parents respond?

“Jimmy, it is wrong to hit your sister. Tell her you’re sorry!”

“I’m sorry”

“Louder”

“I’m sorry!”

“Now mean it!”

“I’m sorry!”

And do you know what? He doesn’t mean it. He isn’t sorry in the least, or at least I was never really sorry when I apologized to my sister. And so many of our apologies continue to not be real in the same way that this child’s apology is not real. In order for our apology to be real, we, first, have to recognize that we have done something wrong. Next, we have to sense that something needs to be done about it. Then, we have to overcome our fear of what will happen when we confess. Finally, we have to tell someone.

King David is known for a few things he did in his life. He killed Goliath. He was a shepherd. He wrote most the Psalms in the Bible. He is the Greatest King Israel ever knew...and yet he is most known for his adulterous affair.

2 Samuel 11 tells of King David’s adulterous affair with Uriah’s wife. Rather than join his army in the field, David remains at the royal palace. One evening while walking on the roof, he sees a beautiful woman bathing nearby. She is most likely in the courtyard or on roof of her own home. He sees how beautiful she is, and, wants to know who she is. When the servant returns he tells King David that her name is Bathsheba and she is the wife of Uriah one of his elite warriors called The Thirty.

Believing the King should have whatever he sees David summons her and commits adultery with her. He sends her back home, expecting that to be the end of it...except Bathsheba becomes pregnant.

King David now has a situation. Adultery can be covered up, but the baby cannot. So he sends for Uriah and repeatedly attempts to trick him into sleeping with Bathsheba. He gets him drunk. He orders him to go home. Uriah, though, will not. He sleeps at the entrance of the king’s palace.

When asked why he will not go in, Uriah answers, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

So David has to remove Uriah from the picture altogether. David sends Uriah back to the army carrying the sealed orders ordering Uriah’s death. Then David thought it was over. No one knew...but most likely everyone knew.

During our Step Up series we talked about the Prophet Nathan. He was the prophet God tasked with confronting the king about his sin. He came to David and told a story of a poor man who raised a lamb like it was part of his family. Unexpected guests arrived at the home of his wealthy neighbor...so the neighbor took the poor man’s sheep and slaughtered it to feed his guests rather than use one of his own. When Nathan had finished telling the story, David was angry and demanded justice be done for this poor man whose sheep was stolen from him.

Then in one of the boldest moves ever, Nathan proclaimed, “You are that man!” David had stolen the wife of Uriah and then had him killed..he was the wealthy neighbor who stole what belonged to his neighbor.

But here is where King David sets himself apart from others who were confronted with their sin. 2 Samuel 12:13 says, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’”

Most people don’t respond like that. When Adam was confronted with his sin...do you know what he said? It was the woman. When Eve was confronted with her sin...do you know what she said? It was the serpent. When confronted with his sin do you know what President Clinton said? It depends on how you define “is”. When confronted with our sin we often respond by blaming it on the situation...if you only understood my situation you would know this is a special case.

Here is the tension. We find it easy to see sin in other people, and almost impossible to see it in ourselves...or, at the very least, we find ways to diminish how bad our sin really is. So we either reduce our sins to nothing more than a mistake...we all make mistakes. Or, we deflect by pointing to sin in others. Well, at least I’m not as bad as that person over there. That’s why celebrity gossip mags are so popular...we just love to watch a trainwreck because it makes us feel better about our sins.

In a recent CNN.com editorial, Stephen Prothero noted that national polls tell us 7 out of every 10 Americans believe in the devil and hell. But only 1 in 200 say they will go to hell. Then he says, “Sin, it seems, is for other people.”

So often we refuse to accept the guilt of our actions and focus on our actions alone. But King David...he did what few others do when they are confronted with their sins...he confessed. He owned up immediately. He, unlike most, accepted the full responsibility for his actions when confronted. He didn’t try to hide. He didn’t shift blame. He took it all on himself because only he was responsible.

Showcasing Val Patterson’s obituary, one newspaper report bore the title, “Utah Man’s Confessional Obituary Owns Up to a Life of Pranks.” Another calls them “Indiscretions.” But what we see here is that these were more than pranks. They were more than indiscretions. Pranks and indiscretions may warrant a mention, but they certainly would not be pressing enough for a person to feel the need to confess.

I wonder how much more full and meaningful his life would have been had he confessed these things a lot sooner? When we carry around unconfessed sin...we carry a lot of extra weight we don’t need to bear. There are things we hold on to, things that keep cropping up, things that keep nagging at the back of our minds, regular, habitual sins we need to let go of, and yet we hold out on confession.

James 5:16 offers some great advice. It says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

The Bible states what Alcoholics Anonymous has practiced for years...that only in community can we overcome our deepest sins. We need other people to help us get through. It isn’t enough to just know we have done wrong. It isn’t even enough to just confess it to God and no one else. God has set it up so there is something freeing in verbalizing our sins and weaknesses and temptations to someone else. That is a scary way to do it. I hate that he has set it up that way, but I also recognize its power.

I also know that confession is good for our witness to the world. We can see the damage done by prominent pastors and Christians who sin. But we can also see the damage caused when people fail to see us confessing our sins. When they don’t see us as a church naming our sins, repenting of them, and turning to Christ...then all they hear us talk about is God’s righteous laws and moral standards. They, and sometimes we, begin to believe that we have it all together. That we are a church already perfected instead of a Church of broken sinful people stretching upward to take hold of God.

And we yet we don’t confess and lean on others for some good and not-so good reasons.

We don’t confess because we don’t think we have done anything wrong. This comes from our tendency to downplay the severity of our sin and our actions. I don’t believe that cursing out the guy who cut me off is wrong. I don’t believe that massaging the numbers on my taxes is wrong. I don’t believe that helping someone understand the situation better is really gossip. We just don’t see it as wrong so we don’t confess it.

We don’t confess because we are fearful of what may happen. Sometimes there are consequences associated with our sins, and if we confess them we may suffer those consequences. If I tell someone that I have a problem with pornography...then what will my wife or children think? If Val had confessed the stolen safe incident before his death he could have ended up in jail. We don’t confess because we don’t want the consequences that our sins bring about.

We don’t confess because we are afraid of what others will do with that information. If I tell my deepest struggles with that person can they be trusted to not tell others? Can they be trusted to not tell others even just as a prayer request?

We don’t confess because we have a bad understanding of Grace. There is a terribly wrong idea going in the church about the definition of Grace. Many believe that grace means God will forgive me no matter what I do or have done. Our God is loving and everything is going to be ok.

While that definition isn’t completely incorrect, it is certainly incomplete if they stop there. Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call this Cheap Grace. He says, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession....Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

God is a God of Love. He is a God of forgiveness. He stands with arms wide open waiting for us to return to him. He doesn’t care about our pasts, our sins, our wrongdoing...but he does expect us to turn from them and to Him.

David had blinded himself to the sinfulness of his actions. When the Prophet Nathan approaches him, He seems completely unaware of the problem...but once confronted with his sin, David immediately repents and turns to God.

i would like to close by reading Psalm 51. I know this is a long Psalm. It is the Psalm David wrote as an act of confession of his affair with Bathsheba. What is interesting to me is that the Bible would include such things in its pages. King David is Israel’s greatest king, and yet they are willing to show him flaws and all. Sometimes when the Bible shows you someone’s flaws it is to show you their sinfulness, their pride, their stupidity in the face of God. But in David’s case, I think it is to show us what it means for someone to truly confess their sins to God. I also think it is meant to give us words to use in our own confessions. When we come to God it gives us the framework for our confession.

Psalm 51

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
   blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
   and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
   and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
   and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
   and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
   you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
   let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
   and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
   so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
   you who are God my Savior,
   and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
   you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart
   you, God, will not despise.
18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
   to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
   in burnt offerings offered whole;
   then bulls will be offered on your altar.

This Psalm gives us a guideline for our acts of confession. It gives us words, God’s words, to use when we need to unburden ourselves from the weight we carry.

We see that David calls to God for forgiveness.

He recognizes and confesses his sin.

He prays for God to restore him by cleansing him and creating in him a pure heart.

Then we see that uses his experiences to teach others because our sin affects those around us.

This morning...

July 17, 2012

A Church in a Casino?

Recently Granger Community Church rented space in a casino to hold services...I like the idea. I especially like it because of the underlying principles:

From Tim Steven's blog:


So, what kind of church would meet in a casino?

  • A church that is more interested in reaching the not-yet-convinced than the religious.
  • A church that wants area churches to know, “We aren’t after your attendees!”
  • A church that truly believes culture can be redeemed.
  • A church that believes people really matter to God, and sees an opportunity to impact the Casino staff members and customers.
  • A church that believes the telling of Jesus hanging with drunks, prostitutes and thieves wasn’t just a nice story.
  • A church that has stated, “We will exist for the unique transformation and elevation of the neighborhood, city, village or region where we are located.”
Those are principles I can get behind no matter what the methodology!