Sunday, August 28, 2016

Across the divide: Are there benefits in private confession?

When we look at divisions in the church, what do we think of? For me, it's easy to focus on areas where I would want other groups to see the advantages of my own point of view. (Do we want others to see the errors of their ways because it confirms that we are right?) But what if I looked at the other side? What if there are advantages to someone else's point of view?

With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at the practice of Confession. Some people may not belong to groups that practice confession at all. So consider what happens to us -- or to someone we love -- after doing something truly inexcusably wrong.

If a wrong is defended, it becomes a living part of us.
If a wrong is excused, it is accepted and will be repeated.
If a wrong is ignored, it stays with us.
If a wrong is rejected, only then does it leave us.

We would do well to forgive ourselves only after we have rejected the wrong, not before. 

While some Protestant groups have confession, it is unusual for it to be private confession. It is more often a public confession in which common sins are discussed at a common level. That is to say, it's awfully generic -- possibly too generic for us to receive the full benefits of actually confessing and rejecting our own particular faults. The Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox still commonly have private confession.

So, what are the benefits of private confession? It allows us to see -- more, confronts us with -- the realities of our own character. We gain in both honesty and humility. We lose arrogance and gain perspective. It builds our compassion for others, renews our relationships and directs us towards healing and reconciliation. And if there is a confessor -- someone who hears our confessions -- that person can hold us accountable in the future. With forgiveness, there is cleansing and renewal. We cannot "come clean" without acknowledging that we were wrong.

"If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

On the other side of the divides in our churches, there are things we can learn from each other.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

How should we disciple others?

Martin LaBar posted earlier this month, giving guidelines on discipling others. There's a worthy read. He invites suggestions and so I'd like to offer mine here. I think he begins in an excellent place:
The most important guideline is to be an example of Christlikeness.
As I picture "making disciples", I wonder where to start, and here is a draft which could surely use improvement. For most items I simply list them, but on a few I've added some explanation that I hope is helpful:
  1. Cultivate love of God.
  2. Cultivate love of neighbor.
  3. Cultivate a desire to understand.
  4. Cultivate humility. Recognition of our own faults leads to compassion towards others' faults. An honest examination of our own faults is healthy -- not to cultivate guilt or shame but to cultivate humility, appreciation for others' kindness and for their insights. Knowing our own shortcomings helps to cultivate humility towards others, towards "enemies", towards the Bible's teachings, and towards people whose views we do not understand.
  5. Cultivate a love of righteousness. Along with it, cultivate an understanding of righteousness: that it is not for exalting ourselves, but for uplifting others, for safeguarding their peace and well-being.
  6. Cultivate a delight in the word of God, and in His righteousness.
  7. Cultivate a love of wisdom. Build the understanding that knowledge without love is incomplete.
  8. Cultivate gratitude. Gratitude is an intentional appreciation of our blessings that enriches our spiritual lives and strengthens our love of God and others. It gives the most blessings when practiced continually and habitually. Gratitude towards God will strengthen both love of God and faith in God, and these in turn will strengthen our hope. Gratitude towards our family, friends, and other people in our lives will bless both them and ourselves.
  9. Cultivate fellowship. Look at the lost as our own brothers or sisters, as the prodigal's father reminded the brother, "Your brother was lost". Look at the found as our own brothers and sisters, too.
  10. Cultivate gentleness and respect, without which we cannot answer anyone rightly.
  11. Encourage them to have 'heroes of the faith' among the Biblical figures such as Abraham and Ruth, or heroes of spiritual excellence outside the Bible. The examples inspire us, and the act of appreciating others is itself healthy. I'm convinced that our hearts and minds grow in proportion to the number of people we honestly admire.
  12. Encourage them to consider how their own life's work will be a blessing, through means such as friendship, honesty, and compassion.
And then I didn't find a handy heading for these, which might come under several of the other items above: 
In our thoughts, do not rehearse grievances but how to resolve them. In our words, do not rehearse insults or comebacks but praise and blessings. Become adept at graceful words and satisfying phrases of recognition. Learn how to apologize sincerely and humbly in a way that repairs the original insult or injury with suitable recognition that is due. Ready your arsenal -- or first aid kit -- of apt words to meet the challenges you know you will face. Aim for mastery at peacemaking and fellowship. Never intentionally meet enemies -- or people in a strained relationship with you -- without first praying for their good.

I was edified by the exercise that Martin suggested; I miss the old "meme" days of the blogosphere when it would be handy to tag people and invite a lot of participation. I'd encourage people to try to organize their own thoughts on how we should disciple others. It helps the focus.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The worries of this world

... The worries of this world, and the deceitfulness of wealth, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful ... (Matthew 13:22)
"Worry" is one of the acceptable vices. It can come from honest care, from love, from concern. When worry comes, it does not seem like a temptation. Instead, refraining from worry seems like indifference or coldness. And then so many noble causes promote themselves through fear: fear of some impending apocalypse if we do (or don't) vote for a certain candidate, or promote a certain cause. (And some causes claim to be noble by promoting fear. After all, saving us from catastrophe must be noble.) Every day we hear it implied, "Every good person ought to be worried!" 

And lately I have had personal reasons to struggle with worry, as one relative struggles with COPD, another with addiction, another having been deployed to an area that is not exactly as safe as back home.

Worry is based on fear and helplessness. It drains our energy without accomplishing anything. Worry takes my focus off of the things that I can control, off of my own responsibilities. It makes things more unmanageable by adding exhaustion, tension, and fear to our cares. And if it is a thing under my control -- I could plan or act instead of worrying.

Would it be better to do nothing than to worry? At least, at the end, I would not have drained myself. Worry is marked by how unproductive it is: we come to the same worries over again, and there is no end to the worries because the worry did not improve anything. If there is something I can or should do, let me do that instead of worrying. If there is nothing that I can do, let me voice my cares to one who is in control, and let it go.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

How 12-Step Groups Reach the Unchurched with God's Love

I'm watching someone close to me struggle with addiction. I'm grateful for 12-Step programs because they may be the only place that an unchurched person with that kind of need will ever hear about the love of God. Here are some ways that they reach out:
  1. They refuse to engage in divisive controversies so that meeting time can be unifying, and used for edifying. Their dogmas about the nature of God (which they would not call dogmas) are limited to the ones that would foster health and recovery in their members.
  2. They meet a felt need.
  3. They actively seek to enable people to improve the quality of their lives and their conscious contact with God.
  4. They take seriously the need to talk about our struggles, and to gain wisdom from listening to others who have had the same struggles.
  5. They value vulnerability in sharing about mistakes, and set up guidelines to prevent that vulnerability from being used as anything other than a bridge to someone who can relate, and a growth lesson.
  6. They take seriously the value of people understanding their own life stories, how their lives take shape, how they can recognize what things are under their control, and how they can transform their own lives through knowing God and serving others.
  7. They take seriously the value of spiritual direction, generally called "sponsorship" in those groups.
  8. They have a large number of seasoned spiritual directors (sponsors). They also have a growing collection of spiritual exercises that are designed to help people through real-world problems such as resentments, a tendency to isolate from other people, difficulty praying, anger at God, repairing relationships, etc.
  9. They take seriously the desire for spiritual growth.
  10. They take seriously the benefits of spiritual growth to the person who is growing and to the community as a whole.
  11. They take seriously the need to define a meaningful goal and offer steps by which someone might reach that goal.
  12. They offer both broad guidelines for developing and recognizing growth, and a personal flexibility in what it might take to achieve them.
  13. They hold each person accountable for growth, while offering compassion for shortcomings and support for the growth process.
  14. They recognize that the 'more advanced' members, including spiritual directors, often need reminding of basic things and provide tools to help with that.