Confession: The Blessing Nobody Expects

What comes to mind when you think of confession?  Think about it for a moment.

For some, the thought might be a simple private prayer, or for some a confessional booth.  For others, no specific images might come to mind, but just a feeling of someone “out to get you.”  I expect some of you thought of the Spanish Inquisition, or at least the Monty Python skit making fun of it[1].  Where do these ideas come from?

The blame belongs in many places: secular culture, bad experiences with church, an emphasis on external over internal religion, and even Monty Python comedy skits.  My fantasy baseball league even has a team named “Spanish Inquisition” because the manager of that team thinks no one expects him to win – not even himself.

The mocking of secular culture aside, confession is an uncomfortable topic even for sincere Christians.  In Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, he shares the tension over confession between Tolkien and his then-fiancée Edith.  Tolkien was a practicing Catholic, while Edith was a member of the Church of England.  They had agreed as a couple to be Catholic, but Edith “began to dislike making her confession.  It was therefore all too easy when she was worried about her health (which was often) to postpone going to mass. She reported to Ronald [Tolkien] that getting up to go to church early in the morning and fasting until she had made her communion did not agree with her.”  She insisted “my health won’t stand it.”[2]  In my own Protestant church, we have a weekly prayer of confession, which the pastor regularly defends the importance of.  Few of us probably look forward to confession, whatever form we practice it in.

Photo by Shalone Cason on Unsplash

This discomfort with confession seems to be a shared part of mankind’s fallen nature, but if we look at well-known Bible verses on confession, we find that it is really about restoration, a rebirth of man’s relationship with God and a renewal of man to his ideal nature.  It is as different from God being “out to get you” as it could be.  1 John 1:9 encourages confession, because: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  God wants to give us forgiveness and cleansing, not condemnation and guilt.  Isaiah 1:18 explains this cleansing more poetically:

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
            they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
            they shall become like wool.

Confession doesn’t need to be a dirty word.  The word “confess” means loosely to say the same thing about something, so confession means we agree with God (say the same thing he does) about sin – that it is bad.  But confession also applies to the rest of 1 John 1:9, that God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Full confession includes agreeing about the steadfast and dependable character of God, His faithfulness and justice, as well as His desire to forgive and cleanse.  If we doubt this desire, consider what He voluntarily suffered on the cross to provide for this forgiveness, and to demonstrate His enduring love.

By adding confession about the good things of God to our confession of our sin, our confession does not make us miserable about our own condition but shows us how different we are from what God wants for us, how deeply our sin needs to be corrected, and how wonderfully God has provided for the removal of sin.

But this does not come easily.  Referencing Hebrews 4:16, which says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” Puritan preacher Thomas Watson wrote that “Christ went more willingly to the cross than we do to the throne of grace.”

Why is this?  Could it be that we have trouble whole-heartedly confessing that “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”?  Monty Python joke that “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” but do we fully expect God’s throne to be one of grace when we come to confess?


[1] If you’re not familiar with the skit, here’s a 4-minute example: https://youtu.be/Cj8n4MfhjUc
[2] Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography.  (1977).  P. 68-69.

Today is Mo Gaba Day

Today my local public school system is celebrating Mo Gaba Day, in honor of Mosilla “Mo” Kingsley Gaba, born on January 26, 2006.  Who is Mo Gaba?  If you aren’t a Maryland local, you likely don’t know Mo’s amazing story, but it’s worth telling!

At 9 months old, Mo had his first cancer diagnosis and soon lost his sight completely and permanently.  Over his life he fought cancer in his brain, bones, legs and elsewhere, but even with these challenges, Mo became a local celebrity because of his unquenchable enthusiasm for the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles, and for life in general.  At 9 years old, he began calling local sports radio shows in secret while his mother was at work, sharing thoughts about his teams, and about life, that seemed way beyond his years.  To listeners, he was known as “Mo from Glen Burnie.”  Over time, people also learned of his health issues and his attitude became an inspiration to, and friend of, many, including then-Orioles player Trey Mancini, who had been diagnosed with colon cancer in early 2020.  Tragically, 14-year-old Mo Gaba died on July 28, 2020, after spending 75% of his life in hospitals, but he remains inspirational to many.

Mo Gaba and Trey Mancini

Two years later to the day, the Orioles held their first Mo Gaba Day, and something amazing happened: “Mancini hit an inside-the-park home run with a runner on base that started as what appeared to be a routine sacrifice fly. However, the ball deflected off the glove of Tampa Bay right fielder Josh Lowe after he lost it in the afternoon sun and hit him in the face, allowing Mancini to score…Trey commented about Mo playing around in the clouds so that he could score.”[1]  As Mancini rounded the bases, there was hardly a dry eye in attendance at the game, or watching on TV.  The Orioles won 3-0.

I don’t know much about Mo’s private life, the source of his hope and personality, or his religion, but share his story in the spirit of Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Can followers of Christ provide hope as Mo did?

Lastly, below is what I posted to Facebook the day after hearing of his passing.

“RIP Mo Gaba, age 14.

Who is Mo Gaba?  A few years ago I started hearing him on the radio, calling in to the sports talk show I listened to in the car on my drive home.  He would have been about 10 when I first heard him.  Kids don’t call in much and the hosts usually aren’t patient with them so I wondered what was the deal with this very informed, very enthusiastic kid.  He loved his Orioles and Ravens!!!  Later I found out he was blind and had been fighting cancer his whole life. He was confined to a wheelchair. But he was so endearingly positive at all times.  The talk show host (Jeremy Conn) became a big advocate for him and his family, raising money to support him.  Other local sports figures and celebrities also began to support this kid who had an amazing personality in spite of his health problems that would crush many peoples spirits.  for example, “In 2019, Gaba became the first person to announce an NFL draft pick in Braille when he announced the Ravens’ fourth-round pick.”  Yesterday he was in the news (below) for getting into the Orioles Hall of Fame and today he’s gone.

We can all learn a lesson from his attitude in the face of adversity.  His joy was infectious. 

May we all experience joy as the world has become so negative and in turmoil!  A world that in some ways is teaching us to feel nothing but guilt and helplessness.  We are not victims in God’s eyes.

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” – Ecclesiastes 7:14”

https://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/orioles/bs-sp-orioles-mo-gaba-hall-of-fame-20200728-5kcctc4q6zeefbzkw6ahq2xg7q-story.html


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trey_Mancini

Compassion for the Harassed and Helpless

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” – Matthew 9:35-36

Jesus lived under the greatest empire the world had yet seen, and in a deeply religious Jewish culture developed over centuries.  The people had powerful leaders, both political and religious.  Why then were the people seemingly without a shepherd to lead them?

The Roman Empire touted widespread peace and prosperity due to the Caesars and their government.  But the people still had many unsolved problems and no hope.  “Throughout all the cities and villages” were diseased, afflicted and helpless people, and Jesus could help them all in ways the Romans could not or would not.

The Jewish Pharisees, jealous of Jesus’ ability to solve problems they could not, claimed “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”  They rightly described His power as supernatural, but they called it evil.  Even as He was performing life-saving miracles, they could not tolerate Him as a rival, and so rejected the people’s only hope.

So, the people remained “harassed and helpless,” not knowing who to trust.

Is your culture also faithless?  Your workplace?  Your community or household?  Jesus encouraged His disciples to see rampant lack of faith as an opportunity to show the crowds the compassion of Jesus: “Then He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” – Matthew 9:37-38

Today, pray for workers to bring in the harvest.  Also, know that God might make you and I those workers.  As in Jesus’ day, it is up to individual disciples to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom – through compassionate action and often in spite of what those in charge of other kingdoms might prefer.  Harassed and helpless sheep can be frustrated and difficult, but only humble disciples know the problems on the streets of their cities and villages best.

Pray for the compassion of our Great Shepherd who can work miracles. Is there a need He can meet through you today?

Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash

[This Rewind Wednesday was originally posted in April 2022]

Using Your Talent: A Quint of Quotes

Fellow travelers,

Here is another “Quint of Quotes,” or five somewhat related sayings, from my collection.  These follow up yesterday’s Sunday Share from Kevin DeYoung, where he wrote that even Jesus “did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do.”  I hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

Photo by Tom Bradley on Unsplash

“Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best” – Henry Van Dyke

“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

“It is not your business to succeed, but to do right. When you have done so the rest lies with God.” – C. S. Lewis

“All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them.” – James Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission

“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something” – Max Lucado

The Crushing Obligation to Keep Doing More and More – Sunday Share from Kevin DeYoung

Some days we are able to follow Jesus’ advice in Matthew 6:34 – “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Other days we feel overwhelmed by our responsibilities, and on some days, we feel like we’re carrying all the problems of the world.  Whether it’s something in a sermon, on the news, a book we’ve read, the multitude of notifications on our phones and other devices, or something in our own conscience, we feel that the world needs more than we have to give.

In the linked article, author Kevin DeYoung writes that “most Christians hear these urgent calls to do more (or feel them internally already) and learn to live with a low-level guilt that comes from not doing enough. We know we can always pray more and give more and evangelize more, so we get used to living in a state of mild disappointment with ourselves.”  He shares some thoughts on how to relieve this anxiety and focus on what we need to focus on.  After all, even Jesus “did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do.”

(Estimated reading time 7 minutes)

I discovered this through fellow blogger Barbara Harper, who posts a weekly list of good reads on Saturday.

https://kevindeyoung.org/the-crushing-obligation-to-keep-doing-more-and-more/