Tag Archives: reconciliation

Garbage Truck Confession (part 3)

A few weeks ago, Pastor Chris Zarbaugh gave what was, in my opinion, the best message on confession that I had ever heard.  Here’s the link to that message: Get Rid of Your Baggage.  Chris taught on 1 John 1:9, which says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (ESV)

After hearing that message, I was inspired to write about forgiveness, reconciliation and repentance.  I wrote about them from a person to person point of view and from what I believe is God’s point of view.  Last year, I wrote on repenting (turning to God) but I had yet to address the subject of confession.  What does confession have to do with all of this?

In that message a few weeks back, Chris said that to “confess” means “to agree with”.   When we go to God in confession, we are agreeing with God.  The verse above from the 1st Book of John (1 John 1:9) talks about the very first time that we went to God to ask His forgiveness.  That was the time that we decided to follow Jesus.  That only happened once.

Every other time that we confess to God, it has nothing to do with forgiveness, but we think it does.  We mistakenly think that there is a transaction occurring when we confess.  We think we’re bringing our “bucket of sin” to God, which He empties and hands back to us.  We live our lives and the bucket fills up again, so we go back to God in confession.  And the cycle continues, as if God is a Heavenly Garbage Man, taking our junk week after week after week, right on schedule.

But that’s not what’s happening at all.  Chris stressed the fact that no transaction is taking place in confession.  There is no bucket to empty.  God forgave us 2000 years ago when Jesus died and was resurrected.  That “bucket of sin” was emptied and thrown away long before we were born.  In confession, we are simply agreeing with God that we turned away from Him and thanking Him for having already forgiven us.  In thankfulness, we can turn back to God, knowing that we are in good standing with Him.

All Sons & Daughters say it so beautifully in their song, “Brokenness Aside“:

Will your grace run out
If I let you down
‘Cause all I know
Is how to run

‘Cause I am a sinner
If it’s not one thing it’s another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies
But You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful
Beautiful

Don’t like that word “sinner”?  I didn’t either, but here’s what I found out:  A Forgiven Atheist?

Advertisements

A Forgiven Atheist? (part 2)

“Forgiveness starts with recognizing that we hurt someone and taking responsibility for it.”
“Reconciliation requires that both parties agree to go forward with the relationship.”
Forgiveness, posted on 1-28-15

We have all been forgiven.  We have all been reconciled.  That’s the good news.  Literally, that’s God’s Good News: the Gospel.  But what if I don’t believe in God?  Or what if I believe He exists, but I don’t see that I’ve done anything to hurt Him?  What would I be taking responsibility for?  Or what if I believe that He is not a person, but an unseen force?  How would I have a relationship with an unseen force?

I was an atheist for the first 22 years of my life.  I didn’t believe God existed.  Heaven, Hell, billions of dead people somewhere up in the clouds, none of that made any sense to me.  I thought reincarnation made a lot more sense.

And isn’t that the problem?  We grab onto what makes sense to us.   As I said in the last post, “we want to be right, we want to be in control and we want to do what we want to do.”  I believe that, at our core, we are selfish, greedy and prideful and we don’t want anyone telling us what to do.  Just look at a 2 year old.  No one had to teach them how to say, “Mine!” or “I do it myself!”  That’s inborn.

And selfishness doesn’t go away as we grow up.  We learn ways to disguise it so it doesn’t look so bad.  The most talented can even make it look like we’re doing good things, when we’re really just serving ourselves.  Manipulation is such a creative tool.  We don’t think we’re hurting anyone, but our pride, greed and selfishness, by their very nature, hurt other people.  And they hurt God too.  

Now, I am not a pastor.  I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.  I don’t have a Masters of Divinity.  I have 21 years of following Jesus, working through Bible studies, listening to sermons, living life, hurting other people and asking for forgiveness.  I’d like to think that I’ve learned something in those 21 years, but I certainly don’t have it all figured out.

CS Lewis didn’t have it all figured out either, the brilliant man that he was.  But he had an awful lot of wisdom to share, and thank goodness he shared it.  I love what he said in the chapter “The Perfect Penitent” from “Mere Christianity“:

“The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.  Theories as to how it did this are another matter.  A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work…. Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works….I think they would probably admit that no explanation will ever be quite adequate to the reality…. Indeed, if we found that we could fully understand it, that very fact would show it was not what it professes to be — the inconceivable, the uncreated, the thing from beyond nature, striking down into nature like lightning.”

Lewis goes on to give his theory of why Christ died.  And he encourages us to remember that his explanation is only one picture, one viewpoint.  If it helps, keep it.  If it doesn’t help, drop it.  I will say the same thing here.  I have an explanation to share, a theory, but it is only one picture.  If it helps, keep it.  If it doesn’t help, drop it.

Romans 14:23 says that “whatever is not from faith is sin”.  It’s one or the other – faith or sin.  I believe that in every moment of our lives, we have two choices, two postures.  We are either:
1) turned toward God (faith) or
2) turned away from God (sin)
Using that terminology, here is my basic “theology”:

1) “Sin” is when we “turn away” from God , so a “sinner” is someone who turns away – that’s all of us
2) Jesus took on and paid for our “turning away” on the cross
3) “Repent” means “to change one’s mind” and “to turn around” – to turn back to God

I wrote about this in 2014.  Feel free to read more in these two posts:
Two “churchy” words and
The Face of Grace

Jesus was the only one who never turned away from God.  He was the only one who could do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  Romans 5:8 says “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

That word, “sinner”, has gotten a bad rap, but it’s simply a description of our posture.  As an atheist, I was a “sinner” – one who lived her life turned away from God.  I still am a “sinner”.  I still turn away from God.  I’m human – it’s part of our nature.

But in 1994, when I came to realize that God existed, that He was real and personal and He wanted a relationship with me, I could step away from trying to make sense of it all.  I could recognize and take responsibility for the hurt I had inflicted by turning away from God for so many years.  I could ask His forgiveness and accept the reconciliation that only Jesus could make possible.

“For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.”  I Timothy 2:5 (NLT)

“Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”  Colossians 1:22 (NLT)

Click here for Part 3

Forgiveness (part 1)

Life would be so much easier if it weren’t for all of us human beings.  We really make things complicated, don’t we?  We want to be right, we want to be in control and we want to do what we want to do.  And in the process we step on each other and somebody gets hurt.  And the hurts don’t just go away.  They build up.  And if it’s true that “hurt people hurt other people”, the problem multiplies.

If we have any hope of surviving as a human race, we desperately need to forgive one another.  And not just one time, but over and over and over again.  This isn’t just “I’m sorry” and move on.  “I’m sorry” feels a lot more like “I’m sorry I have to say this” or “I’m sorry I got caught” or “I’m sorry you think I hurt you.”  I’m sorry, that’s not forgiveness.

Forgiveness starts with recognizing that we hurt someone and taking responsibility for it.  The scary part about asking for forgiveness is that the ball is in their court.  They can choose to forgive or to withhold forgiveness.  That’s probably why we’d rather say, “I’m sorry”, hoping that they’ll say, “It’s okay” and move on.  But it’s not okay.  The proverbial “toothpaste” is out of the tube and we can’t put it back in.

But it might be a lot worse than just hurtful words.  They might decide that we’re not a “safe” person.  They might forgive us, but they may choose to sever the relationship.  Reconciliation is not the same thing as forgiveness.  Reconciliation requires that both parties agree to go forward with the relationship.

And what if the shoe is on the other foot?  What if we’re the one who’s been hurt and we’ve been withholding forgiveness from someone?  We might think that, by not forgiving them, we’re taking revenge against them, hurting them like they’ve hurt us.  But what if they don’t even know that we’ve been hurt?  What if they’re oblivious to the whole thing?  St Augustine said that “unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.”  We’re the one being poisoned by the unforgiveness we’re holding onto.

On the flip side, Lewis B Smedes said in his book Forgive and Forget, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”  There may never be reconciliation of the relationship, but forgiving someone who has hurt us will actually set us free.

It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

-Matthew West, “Forgiveness

Click here for Part 2