May 31

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.  Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.  Revelation 22:14-15 NRSV

I once heard someone say that he thought God would let anyone into heaven who could stand to live there. 

I’ve listened as others have shared their perspective on heaven, or asked questions about it like:  is it real?  Is it a place?  Is it a future home? 

In the book of Revelation, what happens in heaven affects the happenings on earth.

There is a lot I do not know about heaven. In fact, there is a lot I do not know about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, demons, thekingdomofGod, etc.  But this I notice:  our actions matter.  I read about it in God’s word, and I hear about it in the stories people share with me.  These stories may speak of the harm done by others or even self, but there are other narratives too – stories of hope, encouragement, kindness, and grace.

As we turn to a new month, I don’t want to leave this month without paying homage to the stories of wisdom, grace, truth, humility, and love.  God is love.  And it is because God is love that we can love.  Loving others, receiving love from others – may require new skills sets but our capacity to acquire them is in itself a tribute to a God who always runs toward us, seeking to save those he loves (and he loves us all without finding fault).

Confession is one part of a much larger story.  May you share your suffering in all its many forms, so that the larger narrative emerges in all its beauty, hope and love.  There is more to each of us, and the story – much, much more – than the things we have done wrong.

Recommended reading Proverbs 31

Question to ponderWhat might change, if you choose to take this next right step?

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May 30

Proverbs can be read as an opportunity and invitation to become part of a loving, orderly community of people seeking to grow up and gain a renewed perspective for right living.

I pray that all of us are giving this invitation serious consideration – and not just for all the simple, downright linear reasons Proverbs has hammered us with.

One of the things that we need in all our communities of recovery and faith are other human beings with the decency to handle our confessions with care. 

Learning how to confess and be healed by God is a necessary pre-requisite for becoming a person equipped in both empathy and compassion as others share their own confessions with us.

If for no other reason than this urgent need for decent people to listen to the stories of others trying to become more decent human beings, this fifth step is worth taking! 

Recommended reading Proverbs 30

Question to ponder:  Could this step be a prelude to a new way of living?

May 29

Recommended Reading: Psalm 32

1 The one whose wrongdoing is forgiven,

   whose sin is covered over,

   is truly happy!

2 The one the LORD

doesn’t consider guilty—

   in whose spirit there is no dishonesty—

   that one is truly happy!

 

 3 When I kept quiet, my bones wore out;

   I was groaning all day long—

   every day, every night!—

4 because your hand was heavy upon me.

   My energy was sapped as if in a summer drought.

 

5 So I admitted my sin to you;

   I didn’t conceal my guilt.

   “I’ll confess my sins to the LORD,”

   is what I said.

   Then you removed the guilt of my sin.

As we approach the end of the month and the end of the devotional series dedicated to step 5 let’s do it with hope and confidence.  When we make it a habit to admit our wrongdoing to God, to confess, we can have confidence that we will no longer be considered guilty.  We will be forgiven, and we will be happy.

I think it might be a better use of your time today to pray Psalm 32 to God in light of the last month spent working on step 5.  Perhaps this psalm will be a praise for something you’ve already experienced or perhaps it will be a request for something that you want to experience.  Either way, try to spend some time reflecting on its significance for you today.

May 28

For years I watched paddle boarders do their thing at the beach, curious about this sport that looked so easy from a seat under an umbrella. I wished I could to try it out too.  Once in a while, I’d question whether or not I was young enough to learn a new sport, or strong enough to handle the balancing that even I could tell would be essential to stay out of the water.  I asked people if they thought I’d like it.  I looked up places to rent the boards and take lessons on my iphone.  But I still wasn’t sure if I was willing to risk feeling stupid or getting hurt. Last summer, I think everyone got tired of my talking and decided to take action. We called up the rental place, signed up for lessons, and tried paddle boarding as a new potential sport to add to our list of fun things we like to do together.  Learning this new skill set was a challenge, and even as I walked toward my rental board, I questioned the wisdom of my choice.  Maybe, I thought, I should have let the youngsters go off and try this while I sat on the beach under an umbrella reading a good book.  Instead, I dug in and made a go of learning to balance on a board that seemed to love to ride the waves, dipping and diving with each gentle swell.  I wanted to look at the water, anticipate the movement under my feet and plan accordingly.  However, my instructor told me in no uncertain terms that if I look down, I was going to fall into the water.  It seems that paddle boarding, like life, requires that we keep our eye on the horizon if we want to steer through our circumstances and arrive at our destination dry and safe.  I did not fall that day, but my poor ankles and feet ached for a week.  I followed the instructor’s teaching, but my body didn’t trust his words.  My toes gripped the board in defiance to his instructions to “just relax and keep your eye on the horizon”.  I kept my eyes focused, but every cell of my body refused to relax under this new system of moving over the water on a board using a paddle to guide me.  Frankly, this wasn’t nearly as much fun to do as it was to watch.  But I do not regret my commitment to learning new ways of moving through life. 

It is hard to trust God, even when we want to.  May God grant us courage!

Recommended reading:  Chapter 29 of Proverbs

May 27

Recommended Reading: James 5

13 If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. 14 If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. 17 Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. 18 He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit. 19 My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, 20 recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the devotionals so far talking about confession in terms of how it affects other people, your community.  Many times that conversation has been focused on admitting wrongdoing aloud so others can hear it but also so God can take some kind of action.  As we look at this passage for the second day in a row, take note of the importance of prayer in this passage.  When we admit our wrongdoing to God, this is done as an act of prayer.  Prayer here seems like something we can’t be too quick to ignore as we think about step 5.  In fact, it seems like it should be embraced.  Prayer can lead to healing, prayer can lead to the forgiveness of sins, apparently it can even affect the weather!  Our confession through prayer can have all kinds of positive outcomes, it seems.

When I talk about the importance of prayer I am not trying to heap more shame on those of you that don’t make a regular practice out of this.  Prayer should never be mechanical or something that is done at 7 am every day simply because that is when you schedule it.  Prayer should be something done in earnest and should never be a response to guilt over NOT having prayed or someone else pressuring you to do it.

Confession:  I do not pray every day.  Sometimes I miss a day.  Sometimes I even miss two in a row.  Did you know that the Bible never commands you to pray every single day?  I’m not trying to give you permission to be comfortable with never praying.  I am simply trying to free you to feel the desire to pray in the earnest moments when you have things you want to pray for and about.  I think prayer is important and I make sure that it is a regular part of my life as a pastor.  But even pastors miss some days.

May 26

We’re approaching month’s end, and a few of us may be procrastinating about taking this tell-all-to-a-few step.  As an encouragement, I’d like to suggest that the book of Proverbs promises us a certain measure of peace as we choose to follow God’s wisdom.  Part of being wise means that we can admit when we’re wrong.

I once baptized a man who told me that getting baptized was the only kind of “stepping” he needed to do.  After all, he quoted, getting baptized left him cleansed of all his past misdeeds.  He may have gone into the river a sinner, but he came out a saint!  This is all well and good, but upon a subsequent arrest for his fourth DUI, the judge was unimpressed with his baptism as the perfect solution to a life of addictive living (and the DUI made it easy for the judge to support his belief with data) and still sentenced him to prison for two and a half years.  This same gentleman is still talking about the unfairness of his conviction, the rigidity and perhaps godlessness of that particular judge and the limitations of the “law” to “right a man’s heart.”  I often think of this man as a personal reminder that all manner of great spiritual practices cannot replace the value of telling God, another and my own self the nature of my wrongs.  This fellow continues to live a bitter life filled with blaming others for all that ails him.  I wish his baptism had cleared all this up for him, but it did not.  And I think I have a hunch why.  He was hoping that this one act of submission would give him the gift of permanent peace.  The promise of peace is wonderful and real and I empathize with his desire to find it in large doses and hold onto it with all his might.  But it doesn’t seem that either God’s word or personal experience teaches us that this is how to achieve a peace that passes all understanding.  There is some work to be done, much like a farmer plows and waters and plants and fertilizes in order to experience the fruit that pops out “like magic” after all that labor. 

I need encouragement to do the hard work of confession, because, I too, long to believe that a good bath would achieve the same results.  But it doesn’t work that way, this life of loving God and others.  Part of believing will require us to do some things that seem difficult. 

Recommended reading:  Chapters 28 of Proverbs

Question to ponder:  Is there any truth in these scriptures that might help me know exactly what I need to share with God, self and another human being about my wrongs?

May 25

Recommended Reading: James 5

13 If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. 14 If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. 17 Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. 18 He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit. 19 My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, 20 recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins.

This passage has a little different take on confession than what we’ve seen and will see in other passages this month.  Here we see confession tied to forgiveness and healing.  Sometimes in the Bible we see that forgiveness of sins and healing are related.  Now, we might read this and come away with the idea that the Bible tells us that if we are sick then we must be sinning and in need of confession.  Instead I think it tells us that sometimes this is the case. 

Perhaps we should think about the fact that our physical health and our spiritual health are related, and we should consider what it looks like to be healthy in all these ways while also recognizing that we don’t always know exactly what is going on.  Sometimes we might get physically ill because of a spiritual problem or sometimes we might develop a spiritual problem because we’re physically ill.  Or sometimes you might get physically ill just because your kid is in pre-school and brings home all kinds of germs everyday from the other rug rats.  There is not always a relationship between the two.

While we don’t always know and can’t always speak to the exact nature of this relationship, one thing we can say about this passage is that confession helps.  Whatever it is you’re dealing with whether it be suffering, happiness, sickness, or sin confession and prayer can lead to healing. 

So as we start to think about step 5 and as we deal with the anxiety of trying to incorporate the act of admitting our wrongs to God and others into our lives, perhaps we can find some comfort in knowing that there might possibly be a benefit for you in there somewhere.