January 10, 2021

A Prayer of Repentance Based on Matthew 5


Almighty God,

We come to you today as Christians in the United States after a week of turmoil and we repent.  We repent of misrepresenting you to the world, to our neighbors.  We repent of not embodying the beatitudes Jesus spoke.  We have not humbled ourselves before you to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers.  Rather we have been afraid, defensive, and proud, unbecoming of your people. We have cried “persecution” when we were not being persecuted for proclaiming Jesus Christ, but rather for promoting your morality before proclaiming the good news that Jesus saves sinners, of whom we are the uttermost.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.

We have failed to be salt and light as we have fought amongst ourselves: gossiping, slandering, and hating our brothers and sisters.  We’ve all done it and we’ve tolerated it from others, even retweeting, posting, or speaking others’ gossip, slander, and hate.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us. You are our only hope.

Lord, we are lawbreakers, maybe not civil laws, but Your law - the law Christ came and fulfilled.  We fool ourselves into believing we are good.  We clean the outside of the cup and we receive your grace in vain.  You have set us free and we use our liberty to promote worldly power, position, and privilege rather than to proclaim your salvation in humble awe.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.

We have been angry, in public and private, murdering one another, most often in the interest of self-preservation or self-interest.  We believe the lie that our anger is “righteous” and gives us a free pass to perpetuate untruths, which damages our ability to share the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.

We are quick to point out the sins of others, or simply how their behavior doesn’t suit our preferences.  We are slow to see our own sin as the Holy Spirit reveals it, because we are too busy trying to play His role in other peoples’ lives.  How we have offended you!  How we have wronged our brothers and sisters!  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.

We have misapplied, misquoted, and misunderstood your Word, twisting it to fit our agendas.  We have used your Word to harm others, quoting Scripture and Christian platitudes when people needed us to stand up for them or be quiet and sit with them.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.

We have not followed the example of Christ by loving or ministering to our enemies. And we have wrongly labeled people as enemies who are not.  We have not cared for the vulnerable, too lost in our own concerns and causes.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.

We have tried to “be perfect” in our own strength.  We have listened to lies even in our own Christian circles about what it means to be a “good Christian” rather than listening to the Spirit. We have burdened others with those chains or tried to force them into our mold, rather than pointing them to Jesus, who is our righteousness.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.

Lord, have mercy on us.  We are sinners.

Restore to us the joy of your salvation, that we be moved to acts of justice and righteousness for the vulnerable and proclaimers of the good news of Christ to all.  Help us never forget our utter dependence on You.  You are our only hope.


January 3, 2021

Why I Go to Church*

One early-December Sunday morning, my 2020 devotional of choice had me read Mark 7:14-23.  It goes like this:

And he [Jesus] called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Jesus is telling the religious leaders and anyone else listening that their primary problem doesn't exist outside of them, but rather inside.  Following the rituals that God ordained for them was important, but they were designed to point to and instruct them about something much larger than mere obedience to a handful of ceremonial laws.  The law was given to point to their very inability to obey the law and achieve God's standard of holiness.  Paul talks about how once we know the law it's like, "Man, I can't do this!  I need help!" And on the other side of those exclamations, we find a Redeemer, a Savior, Jesus, who came to fulfill the law and set His people free.

Of course, a fulfilled law does not mean we're free to do whatever we want (check out Romans 6-8 today if you have time).  But what it does mean, is that the rescue we're looking for from these troubles which beset us - evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness - won't come from simply trying harder, removing people from our lives, or getting ourselves out of circumstances.  Those things can help a little, but darn it if I don't have evil thoughts even in the most holy of spaces with the kindest of people!  Or even when it's just me, alone.

Gathering weekly in a space with people who I know need exactly what I need (even if they are dressed up and looking fine) to be pointed to our Great God, reminded of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and reenergized by the presence of the Holy Spirit, is like a weekly treatment.  The cancer of sin is still present with me, but its power has been overcome by the death and resurrection of Jesus!  Praising, praying, confessing, and learning together with a bunch of sinners like me reminds me even more of the grandeur of God, the effectiveness of the blood of Jesus (ALL those people taking communion on a Sunday around the world!  C'mon now!), and the glorious hope that is to come that one day the war within us will end and we will see Him and be like Him.  I. Cannot. Even. Imagine.

In summary, (isn't that a classic high-school-term-paper way of beginning a concluding paragraph? ha!), I go to church because in myself I find only that which defiles, but in God - through the death and resurrection of Christ and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit - I find that which makes me righteous and a new heart, new way of living, new hope.  I go to church because of who God is and His worthiness as both Creator and Redeemer.  I go to church because the sick need a doctor, and until the Lord returns, I've got a chronic bent toward sinfulness that finds its treatment at the throne of my Creator.

I go to church because, to borrow from Peter the disciple, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:68)  I go to church because I've tried myself out as lord of my life and that's more of a dumpster fire than 2020.

*by "go to church" I pretty much mean "why I am a Christian", but wanted to emphasize the importance of corporate worship - even if, at the moment, that is happening from the comfort and safety of my home with my family.