For my fellow believers, tell me if you have experienced this. Have you ever felt like a sermon was being preached directly to you? You know, as if there was no one else in the room and the pastor had written it exactly for your situation?
That was me. This entire summer.
Our church has been working through a sermon series on Ephesians this summer, and every week was aimed directly at me. Even when we went to visit friends in Ohio and attended their church service that morning, guess where the sermon was from - Ephesians.
Ephesians, in particular, provides one of the more practical applications of how the Christian life is to be lived. It outlines why the life is so important and instructs us on how it is to be lived. How we as Christians are to act.
"[F]or at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light."
Even our bible study as a couple seemed to be hitting on the same themes. We moved from reinforcing Ephesians and Galatians into the minor prophets. All about how God's people had strayed and how he would correct them.
How God disciplines his people. How He corrects them. How He will not allow His children to remain in darkness. How He will expose their darkness to the light.
Two weeks ago, I had to confess to Jamie that our debt was twice the amount that I had led her to believe. That though we had already been crawling out from under a lot, there was a portion that my arrogance and pride had held on to. That through my issues of control, selfishness, and pride, I had determined that there was a piece that I needed to correct. That it was my problem, that I had created it, and that I alone needed to be the one to fix it. And because of that foolishness, I had instead let it increase.
God had been working on me all summer. Every sermon was used to convict, every study. Each one was God's way of saying that this could no longer remain in darkness. Looking back, I'm now convinced all of this, the firing, the long job search, the sermons, all of it was designed to get me to this point. To a point where I no longer had self-reliance. Getting me to the point where I would stop fighting it.
And believe me, I fought it. I bargained with God. I pleaded. I even tried to delay the particular day of telling Jamie when I finally got to the point of confession. I then got a reminder in our church email bulletin with a first point that said "We should live our lives in the light and continually expose things that we have kept in the dark." That was clear enough for even me to understand.
I also know that I clearly heard Him say "I will not bless you until this is confessed." Letting me know He would provide, because He promises to provide for His people, but there would be no permanent job, there would be no great position, no new opportunity until this was out in the open.
So, it has been confessed. I confessed first to Jamie. I've confessed to my pastor, to our parents, and to a journey group member. And now I'm confessing it here.
I'm not going to go into the full details. I do not mean to minimize the weight of the confession, but the amount of money is not the root issue. We are not in financial trouble; the amount of debt is significant, but it is a fraction of what we have come through. Given our projections, even in this time, should nothing change, we project to be completely out within less than a year. Hopefully, if a permanent position comes it would be something that would speed up the process even more.
The root issue to be addressed is the self-reliance to think I could handle it all by myself. The control issues to think I should. The foolishness and selfishness that led it to increase. And the preservation instinct that led me to cover it up instead of reveal it. That is what needs to be confessed the most and that needs to be addressed.
I'm sure there is a question as to why confess it in such a public forum. In such a public way.
Sure, confession is good for the soul. There is power in exposing ourselves, in acknowledging our failures, and moving on from them. It brings the issue into the light and it increases accountability.
But that is only a small part of confessing here.
I write all of this because I firmly believe this is what church is supposed to look like. It is supposed to be group therapy, instead of the pep rally we have made it. It's a hospital for the sick, the broken, and the wounded, instead of a country club for the well-to-do.
One of the saddest realities is that we have created a vision of the church in modern American society of the ultra-pious, goodie two shoes coming together each Sunday. Of a group of people who do nothing wrong, who have their lives together, who have all the answers and who judge those who don't. That idea that you have to get your life together first to go to church.
It's why the most common complaint against churches is that they are full of hypocrites. Because that is an impossible standard. And it is a great lie.
The real truth is that we are all far worse than you realize. We gather on Sunday because we know how bad we are. That there are people that have come from abuse, from neglect, from addiction, from crime. That there are compulsive liars, cheats, and addicts among us. We gather in the Lord's house because we know what we have been brought through. What we have been saved from.
Churches are full of filthy sinners barely holding it together. Full of people struggling to live day to day. Those who do what they do not want to do and do not do what they want to do.
I write because I want to be a part of that reality and not the sanitized version of church we have created.
I write because from the outside, I'm sure our life looked like everything was perfect. Like we had everything together. Because we're good at hiding and covering our weaknesses. Our shortcomings, our failings.
I write because I know that is not the truth. That we struggle, just like everyone does. That we have our hang-ups like everyone does. We have issues that you might not even imagine from the outside, from the mundane to the serious.
I write in case anyone else is going through the exact same thing.
Because we should live in the light and continually expose the things in the dark.
Imagine if our churches really looked like group therapy. That they appeared to the outside world like a place where people gathered to get better. To get healed. Where they could be completely open in regard to the struggles that they were facing. Where they expected to get support instead of judgment.
If we opened with something like, "Hello, my name is Mitch and I am a sinner. In this past week, I've struggled with self-control, self-reliance, and self-image issues. I continue to struggle with trying to control most aspects of my life. I have seen things I should not, I have said things I should not, and done things I should not. And because of that I have been ashamed to live as I should. I've felt like a failure for most of the week."
A place where we were able to show each other just how similar our struggles are. How alike we are in trying to live this Christian life. And how we cannot do this on our own.
How we need the two most beautiful words in the English language - "But God"
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."
That there are already positive impacts that I can see happening. I can see how this will lead to our benefit. That it will be a blessing. I'm not going to give into magical wish fulfillment thinking, believing the job is just going to immediately fall into place because I've confessed. Treating God in a transactional way - I've done my part, now it's time for you to do yours, etc. The job will come in its time according to His will.
The blessing is in the freedom. The blessing is in a better focus. The blessing is in a strengthened relationship as we work through this.
The blessing can be in helping others work through the same or similar issues. In speaking truth into other's lives. In being part of that great group therapy needed in the church and our society.
In hopefully revealing a bit of that God for greater than you know.
If there is something you need to bring to the light, if there is something you need to confess, I pray you are able to find someone that you trust to do so to. A pastor, a friend, a spouse. Someone that will hold you accountable. Someone that will respond in love and will seek to help you through whatever the issue is that you are holding on to.
It's what we were created for.
"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."