Confession

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Depending on your backstory or world view, the word “confession” can conjure up a variety of mental images and impressions. For example, if you are Catholic, then confession is a sacrament where you confess your sins to the priest who then intercedes on your behalf and proclaims that your sins have been forgiven.

If you are in law enforcement, then a confession is something you hope to obtain from your suspect to facilitate his prosecution.

Yet, for others, confession is an admission of guilt, an admission that they were wrong.

James 5:16 says “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” For my entire life, I thought this verse told me to confess to my brothers and sisters at church the sins that I had committed, and the temptations I had struggled with. If I shared my dirty laundry, and they shared theirs, we could all pray for each other and we’d find healing.

While that may be a good practice, it is highly unlikely. We fear being judged and marginalized by others, and that level of confession opened us up for both. In my experience, in church groups, or Bible studies, we tend to keep our confessions small (I violated my diet this week) in order to show imperfection without opening ourselves up for criticism. The problem is that this lack of transparency not only hinders the healing effect of praying for each other in faith, but it also falls way short of the healing and fellowship (dare I say Spiritual intimacy) that God intended for us.

James 5:16 does not tell us to confess everything we did wrong last week. It told us to confess our faults. In essence, we are to confess our weaknesses, struggles, and whether our faith is wavering, and why our faith may be wavering.

This level of confession is basically a total transparency with your brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a transparency that is rare for the same reason we do not truly confess our sins to others. We lack trust in each other and we fear being judged by others.

Yet, it is this level of transparency that is completely necessary to heal. As a pastor and a chaplain, I cannot truly help you if I do not know what your real struggle is. I cannot truly pray for you if I do not truly understand what is distressing you.

Therefore, I ask my congregants and patients to be completely transparent with me, no matter how bad their confession may sound. (I often add that there is almost no chance that anything they say can catch me by surprise or draw my disgust).

If they are angry with God, I need to know. Then we can work to uncover the cause of that anger and pray it over. If they are struggling with sexual sin, I need to know, so that I can pray for them, but also so that I can refer them to resources that will help them overcome temptation. If they cannot understand how God would allow them to suffer, and so they are questioning His very existence, I need to know, so that I can take them to the scriptures that will explain it and offer them comfort.

And, in some cases, it is entirely necessary and appropriate for me to refer them to a competent, licensed professional counselor. But I cannot make that determination if I do not know their struggle.

Therefore, I ask, “What is your struggle? What is your fault? What do you need to confess today?”

I don’t ask to condemn. I ask so I can assess and help.

Confession is about transparency, and transparency is about identifying the problem so you can find healing. That healing is accessed by prayer, and that healing comes from God.

So, find a few brothers or sisters in Christ. Find your pastor. Confess your faults to each other. Be transparent. And pray for each other. You will find that God will indeed heal you.

Maybe we’ll see him when we get there

Coolio performing for the troops ca. 2002

Accepting an MTV VMA award in 1994, Coolio imparted the following timeless wisdom, “This year, we kept it real. Next year, let’s keep it honest.”

Such became the mission statement for his music career. While “Fantastic Voyage” encouraged hope and striving for a better way to do life, “Gangsta’s Paradise” honestly assessed the condition of the inner city and the reasons for the struggle.

No one with a conscience can ignore the heaviness of the second verse of “Gangsta’s Paradise.” In it, he opined, “Look at the situation they got me facing, I can’t live a normal life. I was raised by the street…. I’m 23 now but will I live to see 24, the way things is going I don’t know.”

The song came to a hopeless conclusion in the third verse, “They say I’ve got to learn but nobody’s here to teach me. If they can’t understand, how can they reach me? I guess they can’t. I guess they won’t. I guess they’re frontin’, that’s how I know my life is out of luck, fool!”

The song was a hit, the lead single off of the Dangerous Minds soundtrack, and resonated across the nation. While most hip-hop chronicled life in the inner city and assessed the hopelessness thereof, “Gangsta’s” was sort of a call for help with an indictment on the hypocrisy of those who claimed to care, but offered no help that would provide any real relief.

From the inner city perspective, help meant viable education, spiritual support, and a pathway forward. Yet despite all the conversation in the media about solving inner city violence and poverty, that help was not coming.

To this day, I cannot listen to the song without considering what I can do to take the Gospel, God’s light and hope, into the inner cities.

Coolio’s final hit, “I’ll C U When U Get There,” shifted the focus internally. Instead of waiting for help from the outside that wasn’t coming, Coolio implored those in the inner city to look within, and make the changes in their own lives to find a better way. It’s a message that actually applies to all of us, whether rural or urban, rich or poor, White or Black.

That song reminds me to honestly assess what I’m doing while evaluating my priorities and my standing with God.

It may seem unusual for a Baptist preacher to relate to hip-hop. However, brokenness, searching and a longing for redemption resonate with me, which is why Coolio’s music hit home.

That’s why I was heartbroken to hear of Coolio’s untimely death. I can only hope that he found the hope and redemption he pined for, and that he found salvation in the Lord. I truly hope to see him when I get there.

The broken commandment that causes most of our problems

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Most people think that the 9th commandment states, “Thou shalt not lie.” And while that is a simplification of the command, the actual directive is, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” The actual wording of the commandment lifts the standard from a prohibition of speaking falsehoods, to a prohibition of validating stories you don’t know to be true. Let me share what I mean.

Several years ago, I was working as the news director for a local radio station when I received a visit from a listener of the station. Through casual conversation, she told me that HEB had agreed to build a grocery store in our community.

Now, over the years I had worked in media in Brownwood and Early, Tex., the biggest desire of the residents was a new, trendy grocery store. HEB has become one of Texas’ folk-hero companies, so they were at the top of the list. The news that HEB would be coming to town would be our top headline, if true.

I asked the lady where she heard the news, she told me that a friend had told her. I asked the friend’s name, got contact info, and contacted the friend to verify. The friend told me that she had heard the local economic development director make the announcement on our competitor.

That was a slap in the face. As news director, I had allowed my department to become the PR wing of the local economic development corporation, expecting to be first in line with such news. For them to give a breaking story like that to my competitor was highly disturbing.

My competitor would not be willing to verify the story, and the economic development director had left town to attend a series of meetings. Meanwhile, social media buzz began to build about the coming of HEB. Everybody heard from somebody that the city had announced the coming of HEB.

I called the local chamber of commerce (which worked hand in hand with the economic development corporation). The director told me that the city has worked to recruit new grocery stores, but no agreement had been made yet, and if it had, my department would be the first to know.

She allowed me to interview her for a story to dispel the rumor that HEB was coming. (I often ran stories to clarify or dispel rumors). The story ran.

After the story ran, I received a call from the economic development director, who asked where all this came from. I told him, someone heard from a friend who heard from a friend that the announcement was made on my competitor. (The competitor denied an announcement was made, and I believe them).

The economic development director was upset, but civil. He explained that rumors being spread like that can cause agreements to bring new retailers to town to fall apart. He explained such had happened in the past.

Little did anyone know, the economic development director was in talks to bring a major grocer to town, and a few short weeks later, the announcement of a new United Supermarket was made. A deal almost lost because someone heard from a friend that something was going to happen.

We think of lying as blatantly trying to deceive, but bearing false witness is also deceptive, and destructive. The reason the commandment was given was that witness testimony was solid evidence in Old Testament courts, and a false witness who was just repeating gossip could cost another man his life.

Today, people aren’t executed over gossip and false witness. However, reputations, careers, businesses, marriages, homes, families and churches are destroyed every day by false witness.

Are you passing along information, something you heard, which may or may not be true? Are you presenting information as being first hand when you really have no direct knowledge? If so, you may be breaking the 9th commandment, and “bearing false witness.”

Stop shaming grief

I never mourned the death of a celebrity. That is, I never mourned the death of a celebrity until one that I could identify with passed suddenly without warning.

On this blog, I posted how the death of Tom Petty shook me, and how it marked the passing of an era in my life.

I was never a fan of Kobe Bryant. I never followed his career, nor was I ever inspired by his actions on or off the court. I’m not being critical, I had just left the NBA. For me, pro-basketball died with the retirements of David Robinson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and the breakup of the Chicago Bulls.

Yet, I know that others could see themselves in Kobe the same way I saw myself in Petty. It’s that level of identification that sells tickets, merchandise, and music.

When news broke that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash along with his 13 year old daughter Gianna, with whom he shared his love of basketball, I saw a tragic tale of the death of a loving parent and his beloved child. There’s a lot to be said for that. I saw an inspirational storyline.

Yet, I understand that others have a deeper affinity for Kobe and his family. And to them, his sudden death stings like Petty’s death stung for me. It’s the loss of a role model, an inspiration, the passing of an era and the death of a special one.

And there is legit grief attached to that.

So, if you’re mourning the death of Kobe, you’re okay. Mourn, but do so healthily.

If you’re not mourning Kobe, good. Do the rest a favor. Don’t shame those who do on social media, or in person either.

Yes, there were 7 other people on that helicopter, and their lives were important. On the same day, we lost soldiers in combat, first responders in the line of duty, and hundreds died of cancer.

All those lives were important. However, we cannot expect people to mourn those they do not know, or expect people not to mourn those they did know for the sake of those who did not.

Grief is personal, and at times, people have a moment. Let them have that moment. Let them grieve. Let them reflect. Let them heal and learn, and let them move on.

It’s a Biblical concept that has been colloquialized in the phrase, “mind your own business.” We are all learning and growing.

Be blessed.