Sunday, March 7, 2010

Coming Clean

Pastor Brad Shannon welcomed us warmly with his usual greeting today, "Good morning, I'm delighted you've joined us." With an unseasonably warm week behind us, Brad reminded the congregation about his theme this year during lent. He has extracted this question from a passage in the story about Jesus who encountered a crippled man at the Well of Bethesda: "Do you want to get well?" Today's message would continue the depth probing of recent weeks, as he would talk to us about what it really means to come clean, and the importance of taking a fearless moral inventory of our lives.

The chief announcement this morning was that Bible camp is coming. Cheryl Borndal reminded us of the value and influence camp has had on lives. This year's theme is, "What's your story?" The Bible is the story of God, and the aim will be for everyone to getting a better sense of the roles we each play in God's story. It costs $250 per child this year, though a $50 discount for early registration and scholarships can defray costs for some.

After the introit and a time of worship, we were treated to the baptism of Finn Alexander Stroschein.... at the top of the blog page here, being introduced to the congregation.

The Scripture reading this morning was from Luke 13:1-9, the parable of the fig tree, with these serious words of Jesus, "Unless you repent you, too, will all perish."

Coming Clean
Pastor Brad's message today did not begin with humor or the usual lightheartedness. The past two weeks have been messages about brokenness and surrender. In today's message he called for us to do a self-exploratory operation, to examine ourselves with fearless honesty, and confessing our faults with someone we trust.

All businesses have to run an inventory check from time to time. Brad said in our spiritual lives we need to conduct a fearless moral inventory. He called it a "Journey to the Center of the Truth.." The ultimate goal is a life lived in complete honesty.

For various reasons many we are often afraid to look inside. For some it is because of a shame-based family or church environment which leads us to conceal our faults, weaknesses, and bad behaviors. For others, self-worth is so fragile we fear letting anyone see our real selves for fear of rejection. Yet one of the deepest longings in the human heart is to know that someone knows us as we really are, and loves us anyway.

God says, "Don't be afraid. I already know you." And His love for each of us is unconditional.

Brad then shared with us the "How" of taking a personal inventory. First, we need to get alone, with a pen and a note pad or notebook. Then, we sit and ask the questions, "What is wrong with me? What do I feel remorseful about? What are some of the things I have done that hurt people? What are my faults and character defects that need changing?"

Even though you are alone, you are really not alone because God will be there with you. In Psalm 139 David wrote, "O LORD, you have searched me and you know me." This God will help you know yourself as well, bringing things to mind that maybe you want forgotten. This is why a fearless moral inventory is not exactly a trip to the Dairy Queen.

Proverbs 28:13 states, "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." And at this Brad declared, "The sin you want to conceal most is the one you need to reveal most."

So the process begins with pen and paper. Take your time. Be sure you are in a quiet, uninterruptible place. Writing helps us focus. The process of writing also helps us get our thoughts untangled.

It is important not to to compare yourselves to others. If we drink too much, we can't excuse this by saying, "At least I'm not like that derelict passed out in the park." If we have an anger problem, we can't say, "At least I didn't hit her like her last boy friend." Don't rationalize, don't minimize.

Another way we can short circuit the benefits of taking inventory is to blame others for our problems. We have to accept responsibility for our behavior.

Brad told a story about a man who wore his wedding ring on his index finger, and when he was asked about it said, "It's because I married the wrong woman." But did it ever cross his mind that he might be the wrong kind of spouse himself? We each have to come to grips with our own stuff.

In I John 1:8 it says that if we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we have trouble writing anything down (about ourselves) we're living in a world of illusion. If you want to stop killing yourself you've got to stop kidding yourself. You won't fix anything by changing relationships or jobs or bosses or towns or families, because wherever you go you will bring all your "inner baggage" with you.

"The old adage is true," Brad said, "that where ever you go, there you are."

So it is time to open yourself up to God, saying, "I can't change anyone else, but God, you can change me."

At this point Brad shared a letter from an 11 year old girl who was trying to cope with her father's alcohol and sexual addictions, lost jobs, rehab, and the like. She compared her dad to a red shirt that has been washed in a load of white shirts. "I feel like my dad is a red shirt in a white load of laundry, tainting everybody else with his actions."

What are the actions and behaviors that stain those in our own lives? It's time to go deep and come clean. Why do I drink so much? Why do I exaggerate the truth? What's behind all that? Why do I have to be in charge all the time? Why do I sit for hours memorizing NFL point spreads? Where does my unhealthy need to compete and win at all costs come from?

God can help you bring this deep stuff to the surface so you can begin to deal with it. But remorse is no guarantee of genuine repentance. In II Corinthians 7 the Apostle Paul notes that there are different kinds of sorrow. "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." (vs. 10)

Turning to Isaiah 1:18 we read: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

The message concluded with an appeal to go further than just taking inventory, but to find someone you can trust, to confess your sins to one another, as James has written, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."

Confession is like lancing a boil and letting the poison out of your inner life. There's big time relief in this step. You can't skip this step if you want to get well and be all that God intended for you to be.

Start here... Get a pen and paper, and write a prayer: "God where do I begin?"

We concluded the service with the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

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