How Forgiven is Forgiven? A Blog Sermon

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

I haven’t posted in over a month, so I decided I wanted my next post to be a good one. After a great discussion in Sunday School yesterday morning, I realized what I wanted to do. It’s a long one so hold on tight…

A year or so ago, I preached to the youth and after I finished one of the adults came to me and told me that he was disappointed about the sermon. I was a little disturbed by this and asked him why. He responded, “Because this sermon is something the whole church needs to hear, not just the youth.” Since I longer have a pulpit, a blog will have to do.

I think that 1 John 1:9 is possibly one of the most harmfully misused verses in the Bible. Sure lots of verses get taken out of context and cause confusion, but the way that this verse is often used cripples believers in their walk with Jesus and buries them under a pile of guilt. Many of you have been told that in order to stay right with God, when we sin, all we have to do is confess and he’ll forgive us. If we don’t confess those sins and receive that forgiveness, we end up “out of fellowship” with God and he doesn’t hear our prayers. When we sin, God still loves us and our salvation is still intact, but he’s not going to talk with us until we “get right with God” and deal with our “unconfessed sin.” Therefore, we often live lives characterized by guilt, sure that God isn’t listening to us anymore because he’s so disgusted with us.

I had a seminary professor who calls this “Protestant Penance.” Catholics to confess the priest and the priest punishes them for their sin; Protestants confess to God and punish themselves. If I had to guess, I’d say that about 95% of my prayers in high school began with “Lord please forgive me for ________.” But is this what the Bible says the Christian life is supposed to look like? Does God want us to feel guilty? I’ll get back to 1 John 1:19 in a little bit but first, let’s see what else the Bible says about sin, guilt, and forgiveness.

From Temptation to Condemnation

When Satan wants to mess with a Christian, he uses two opposite strategies. The one we’re most familiar with is temptation. He coaxes and persuades us, leading us toward sin. He wants us to sin, but once we cross that line and commit a sin, he switches gears.

“See? I knew you were no good. You’re disgusting!”

“Can you really call yourself a Christian after doing that?”

“God can never use a weak, pitiful sinner like you.”

The Hebrew word that we translate is as Satan is ha-Satan a.k.a. “the accuser.” Satan first tempts us to sin and then destroys us with guilt because of that sin. And to make it even worse, he convinces us that God is the one accusing us and beating us down. Romans 8:1-2 tells a different story:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

No condemnation! God does not condemn those who are in Jesus. Instead or condemnation and guilt, we have freedom. This freedom is made possible because we are forgiven, our sins are no longer on us, we have the righteousness of Christ, and we are now at peace with God. But how forgiven are we really? When a person becomes a Christian, God forgives them of their sin because Jesus took their punishment on himself at the cross. Does that forgiveness only cover the sins committed prior to conversion so that a Christian must continually go back to God begging for forgiveness in order to stay in a right relationship with God?

How Forgiven Are We?

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25)

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14) (emphasis mine)

How forgiven are we? Our sins are so far removed from us, as far as the east is from the west, and God remembers them no more. Does that mean God actually forgets? No, but he doesn’t hold our sins against us and when he looks at us he doesn’t see those sins anymore. He sees us like he sees Jesus… completely, totally, perfectly righteous! When God forgives sin, he forgives ALL our sin. That’s ALL of them – past, present, and future. The sins we committed before conversion were forgiven but so were all of the sins he hadn’t even committed yet! I know I’m going to sin in someway tomorrow, but that sin is already taken care of, forgiven, and God won’t hold it against me or pull away from me because of it. I don’t have to go back to God to confess and ask for forgiveness; instead, I can praise him for having already forgiven me!

But What About 1 John 1:9?

See, I told you I’d get back here eventually. This verse says we have to confess our sins to to receive forgiveness, right? So we need to get out our lists every day and start fessing up if we want to stay right with God, right? Wrong. Let’s look at the verse in context with the rest of the passage.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

John wrote this letter to deal with the problem of some false teachers called the Gnostics. One of the claims that these false teachers were making was that they were sinless. In the passage above, John is warning his readers that those who say that they aren’t sinners are lying to themselves. Instead, we should humble ourselves and confess our sinfulness and receive God’s forgiveness. In the Greek language, the words “forgive” and “cleanse” mean past actions that have results today and will continue to have results in the future. This is not a continual cycle of confession and forgiveness. When we come to God and confess our sinfulness, we are forgiven. Period. From ALL unrighteousness.

When we’re cleansed of our unrighteousness and clothed in the righteousness of Christ, our sins are taken care of completely. This obsession with confession keeps us focused on our selves and our sins instead of focusing on the one who has already taken those sins away. Sin doesn’t make God turn his back on us or separate us from him. He doesn’t hold our sins against us anymore.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

So What Do We Do?

This might have shaken you up a little. If you believe what I’ve been saying here, you might be wondering what you’re supposed to do now. You know you’re going to sin and you feel like you need to do something to make up for it. After I taught this before someone told me that they still wanted to confess and ask for forgiveness because it made this feel better. I guess that’s okay, but realize that it’s really more of a psychological trick to make you feel better about what you did than anything that actually affects your relationship with God. So what do we do?

First off, realize that you don’t have to do anything to stay in favor with God. There is nothing you can possibly do that will make God love you any less or any more. You can sin in the most blatant obviously way possible and God’s not going to love you less. You can sell all of your possessions, move halfway across the world, and devote your life to spreading the gospel to sick children in a third world country and God’s not going to love you more. God doesn’t play favorites. So when you sin, realize you already have the favor of God, he still loves you as much as he ever will, he’s still committed to being in a relationship with you, and you don’t have to do anything to restore that relationship because it’s not actually broken.

Secondly, if you’re feeling guilty, check to see where that guilt is coming from. Are your feelings driving you to change for the better or are they beating you down, making you feeling hopeless and useless? Sorrow over sin that leads to repentance is a good thing, but guilt is not. God does not make you feel guilty. Instead he convicts you to spur you onward toward change. Godly sorrow makes you turn away from sin and work to be more holy; worldly guilt makes you give up.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. (2 Corinthians 7:10-11)

Finally, when you sin, stop doing whatever it was that you were doing and go on with your life. Thank God that he loves you and that that he has forgiven you before you messed up. Remind yourself that you have freedom from sin and guilt and you cannot be accused by the one who wants to destroy you. Celebrate that God doesn’t require you to do or be anything other than who you are in order to gain his favor. Smile knowing that spiritually, you’re just as righteous as Jesus himself and that is the way that God looks at you. And live in his peace, his joy, and his freedom.

Are you excited knowing that when you say your prayers tonight, you can spend a lot more time on thanks than begging for forgiveness? Do you feel more freedom after reading this? Got your pitchforks out ready to string me up as a heretic? The comments section is your place to share.

The Care and Feeding of Your Youth Minister

To avoid any confusion, here’s a quick disclaimer: this is not based solely my personal experience though that has definitely colored my perception. From what I’ve heard, this can apply pretty much across the board.

So you’ve decided to add a youth minister to your life… Congratulations! Your life is about to get a lot more exciting. Youth ministers can be wild and unpredictable, but also very loving and affectionate. Taking care of your youth minister does entail some special considerations. Left on their own, the average life-span of a youth minister is frequently only 18 months or less, but with proper care, your youth minister may last much longer. In the right circumstances, some have been known to thrive for 20-30 years!

Bringing Your Youth Minister Home

• Be careful of the environment where you place your youth minister. Make sure that the environment is open and comfortable, allowing your youth minister a lot of freedom. Youth ministers thrive in environments with a high amount of freedom.

• If you have had several youth ministers in a row, all with short lifespans, it may be that the environment has been poisoned. Don’t place all the blame on the youth ministers that haven’t lasted. Though it may look like a good environment from the outside, some seem specifically designed to kill youth ministers.

• Do not isolate your youth minister.

• When pairing your youth minister with a pastor, a good match can greatly enhance the life of your youth minister by adding companionship and support. Be warned though, a bad pairing can greatly shorten the youth minister’s lifespan. In fact, if they don’t get along, pastors often are the ones who kill the youth minister.

• The office may be your pastor’s preferred habitat, but too much time in an office may make your youth minister suffocate.

Feeding Your Youth Minister

• It is often assumed that your youth minister will feed himself. While this is true to a degree, youth ministers still need to be fed by others. Many people simply drop their youth minister off in their environment and then ignore them until they starve or until something goes wrong.

• Youth ministers can be fed on the job in many ways: encouragement, listening, support, prayer, volunteering, and others. Make sure you also feed them outside of their job through friendship and relationship.

• Youth ministers often spend so much time feeding students that they forget to eat. Make sure that they have plenty of meals and plenty of time to eat them.

Important Considerations:

• Remember that your youth minister is an individual and may be very different than other youth ministers you’ve had before. Don’t expect two youth ministers to do things in exactly the same way, even if one had success with their methods in the past.

• While youth ministers and senior pastors share many similarities, they are not the same thing.

• Youth ministers love building relationships with students, but just being with students is not enough. Though they may be close to students, they also need close relationships with adults.

• Following these tips does not guarantee that your youth minister will have a long life, but they will greatly increase the odds that your youth minister’s life with you will be happy and healthy.

So youth ministers (and youth ministry supporters), anything else you’d like to add?

X-Rated: Adults Only!

A little disclaimer before you read this post: This was not originally a blog post. I was commissioned by Circle Six Magazine, an online magazine aimed at Christian men ages 18-35, to write an article about Song of Solomon for Valentine’s Day. With their readership in mind, I let it all hang out with no self-censoring for this article. This might make you blush. It kind of makes me blush to have it on my blog. The article was published in 2006 and I’m just now posting a link to it in 2010. (I still can’t bring myself to share the link on Facebook.) But here’s the thing: I think this may be one of the best articles I’ve ever written.

After the article was published someone wrote in the forums that this article changed her life. She said that she and her husband had been doing everything that the article suggests, but she always felt a little guilty about it, like enjoying sex was wrong. Reading this, she said, gave her new freedom in her marriage. I loved that! So here it is… if you have trouble making eye contact with me after reading this, I’ll try to understand.

You have tried the candles, the wine, the Barry White, maybe even some toys… so what else is there? How about the Song of Solomon? You may not believe it, but hidden in the middle of the Bible is a book all about sex and love, and Solomon holds nothing back. The Song of Solomon is an X-rated, adults-only celebration of love and sex, as erotic as anything you are going to find in a porno shop. In fact, some Jewish rabbis recommend that no one under the age of thirty be allowed to read the book.

Song of Solomon paints a beautiful picture of romance, sex, and intimacy in the context of marriage, but for thousands of years interpreters have been trying to find some way to get around it. Surely God would not talk about things like that in the Bible! So they find all kinds of hidden meanings about God’s relationship with Israel or Jesus’ relationship with the Church – anything to avoid sex in the Bible. The fact is Song of Solomon is a celebration of love and sex enjoyed freely by a married couple the way God intended. This book is thick with eroticism and offers plenty of tips for married couples on how to keep each other happy between the sheets. There’s a lot of good stuff in these eight chapters, but I am going to cut to the chase and just talk about the dirty parts. Feel free to take notes.

First, let’s introduce the characters in the story. We have Solomon, the king of all Israel, and his new bride, a simple girl from the country who is only identified as “the Shulammite.” Already this sounds like the perfect setup for either a hit romantic comedy or a dirty porn. It is their wedding day, and this girl is already getting hot and bothered thinking about what is coming later that night. As we look at this book, there are some wonderful and steamy tips every couple can take away and put into practice.

Tip #1: Ladies, never be afraid to initiate sex in your marriage. Trust me; your husband will appreciate it!

1:2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.

3 Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;

your name is like perfume poured out.

No wonder the maidens love you!

4 Take me away with you—let us hurry!

Let the king bring me into his chambers.

As the wedding approaches, the Shulammite is not worried about whether or not the caterer has been paid or what the flowers look like for the ceremony. She just wants to get this show on the road and get down to the business of lovemaking. She is imagining him kissing her, thinking about how he smells, and she longs to enter his chambers with him. This is a girl who has her priorities straight. She is not ashamed of her sex drive and is willing to initiate things when she feels the urge.

Tip #2: Try new things! Do not be afraid to experiment.

2:3 Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my lover among the young men.

I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.

Here she is giving him a little sneak peak of what she wants to do after they have walked across the threshold. She wants him to be standing while she sits in his shade and tastes his “fruit.” Now what exactly could she mean by fruit? Apples? Pears? Nuts? Most guys would run down the aisle if their bride-to-be starting making these kinds of offers. She is not afraid to experiment with her husband and tell him what she wants. All men should be so lucky.

Tip #3: Men, take your time and enjoy building anticipation. Do not rush through foreplay.

The wedding takes place in Chapter 3, and in Chapter 4, the marriage is consummated. For the first seven verses, Solomon looks at his new bride wearing nothing but a veil over her eyes, and talks seductively to her. (Note to men: When your wife is naked in front of you, choose your words carefully!) His eyes slowly inch down her body, as he describes her hair, her eyes, her lips, and her cheeks flushed with anticipation and desire.

4:5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
like twin fawns of a gazelle
that browse among the lilies.

Why does seeing his wife topless make Solomon think of two furry little woodland creatures? I think there is something subtle going on here. When you see furry little baby animals, what is your first instinct? You pet them! Solomon is a breast man, and he cannot wait to get his hands on her. Instead of rushing right in though, he takes his time and uses his words to get her ready. Foreplay is important to a woman. He speaks of their sultry adventures, which only seem to end with the setting of the sun.

Tip #4: Enjoy every part of your partner. All five senses are important in the bedroom.

4:12 You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride;
you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.
13 Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates

with choice fruits,

with henna and nard,

14 nard and saffron,

calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,

with myrrh and aloes

and all the finest spices.

15 You are a garden fountain,

a well of flowing water

streaming down from Lebanon.

The woman has saved her virginity for her husband and until this point has been a “locked garden” and a “sealed fountain.” Now that garden is wide open, and Solomon is enjoying all its fruits. Pomegranates, henna flowers, nard, saffron, calamus, cinnamon, incense, myrrh, and aloes were the finest fruits and spices available in the Middle East, and all had erotic implications. He’s talking about smells and tastes coming from her body, which he now calls a “well of flowing water streaming down from Lebanon.” There is no place for inhibitions in the bedroom. Explore, touch, taste, feel, smell, and experience your partner in every way you can. After all this sensory indulgence, she is hot, horny, and ready, and she invites him to keep going. She gives herself freely to him.

Tip #5: Men, when your wife is in the mood for love, be willing to change your schedule around for her.

5:2 I slept but my heart was awake.
Listen! My lover is knocking:
“Open to me, my sister, my darling,

my dove, my flawless one.

My head is drenched with dew,

my hair with the dampness of the night.”

3 I have taken off my robe—

must I put it on again?

I have washed my feet—

must I soil them again?

4 My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening;

my heart began to pound for him.

5 I arose to open for my lover,

and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with flowing myrrh,

on the handles of the lock.

6 I opened for my lover,

but my lover had left; he was gone.

Every couple has a bad night now and then; Solomon and the Shulammite were no exception. The beginning of the chapter says Solomon arrived home late, and his beloved was naked in bed awaiting his arrival. She had already perfumed her body with myrrh, a sure sign she had planned on making love, yet now the mood is ruined. She becomes angry with her beloved for not calling (forgetting, of course, that phones would not be invented for a few thousand more years) and refuses to unlock the door for him.

Solomon tries to smooth talk her into showing him a little affection, calling her “my darling,” “my dove,” and “my flawless one.” This time, though, his words fall on deaf ears, and he makes one final attempt reaching for his beloved through an opening in the door. Seeing how much he wants to be with her moves her heart, and she decides to open up for him. She goes to open the door, but it is too late. Solomon is gone. Solomon’s story aside, if you keep your wife waiting until one in the morning while you play X-Box, do not assume your wife is going to be so thrilled over your Halo victory that she will want to celebrate with you. Be considerate of her feelings. When she is in the mood, go spend time with her, or you may find her back to you, being in no mood for passion.

Tip #6: Ladies, every man appreciates a good striptease.

In Chapter 7, Solomon’s new bride gives him a private performance by dancing naked for him. This is one of the most explicit passages in the entire book. Solomon watches her intently, observing each part of her body, from her feet to the top of her head, leaving nothing out. The word Solomon uses for one of her body parts is so graphic the English translators get a little scared and translate it as “navel.” Solomon compares this body part to a bowl of wine: round, red, and wet. He says it is full of wine, sweet to the taste and intoxicating. Whoever said the Bible had to be boring? After her dance, he can no longer remain an observer.

Tip #7: When the time is right, let her know how you feel and make your move.

7:7 Your stature is like that of the palm,
and your breasts like clusters of fruit.

8 I said, “I will climb the palm tree;

I will take hold of its fruit.”

May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine,

the fragrance of your breath like apples,

9a and your mouth like the best wine.

Solomon makes his intentions clear – he wants to take hold of his bride, touch her breasts, taste them, and kiss her, taking in every part of her. The environment is perfect for a night of satisfying lovemaking.

Tip #8: Be spontaneous!

7:11 Come, my lover, let us go to the countryside,
let us spend the night in the villages.

12 Let us go early to the vineyards

to see if the vines have budded,

if their blossoms have opened,

and if the pomegranates are in bloom—

there I will give you my love.

13 The mandrakes send out their fragrance,

and at our door is every delicacy,
both new and old,

that I have stored up for you, my lover.

In the final sexual scene of the book, the Shulammite asks Solomon to take her away for the weekend. She wants to take a vacation to keep things fresh. Budding vines, opening blossoms, pomegranates, and mandrakes were all considered to be aphrodisiacs. Here, among all these outdoor delicacies, she promises, “There I will give you my love.” Not just in the country, but outside under the open sky, they will find a place for just the two of them where they can give themselves to each other. Outdoor sex… have I mentioned that Solomon was a lucky guy?

Did you take good notes? If not, pick up your Bible and read it again. You might even try reading some of it out loud to your wife. The Song of Solomon is what marriage and sex are all about: love, commitment, pleasure, enjoyment, and mutual satisfaction. God, in all his wisdom, gave us a guide book for a happy sex life, so make sure to not overlook it. Now stop reading and put your Bible study into action. You can have this same kind of passion in your own marriage. Go light the candles, pour some wine, turn up the music, and enjoy the fruits of your own private garden.

Originally published at Circle Six Magazine.

Confession: Moving Toward Authenticity

I’m feeling very convicted about what a fake I am a lot of the time. I want to be an authentic person. I believe the church needs more authentic people. By that, I don’t mean people who genuinely change who they are to match their talk, but people who are simply honest about who they are. I believe God made me exactly the way he wants me to be, and to be dishonest about who I am is just another way of saying that I know how to do things better than God. So from here on, I’m shooting to be real and I think the first step of that process is to get a lot of the fake crap out in the open.

Most of the time, I act like I am absolutely the most important person who ever lived. I think I’m cooler than everyone else and that my ideas are better than anyone elses. Deep down I’m pretty insecure and I don’t believe any of this, but you wouldn’t know it from the amount of time and energy I spend making myself happy.

I’m not a Republican, and I don’t believe they are any more on God’s side than the Democrats. I’m not a Democrat either, but a lot of times I lean more to the left than the right. Jesus wasn’t a political figure, and I doubt he approve of everything either party does. I think a lot of things that politicians do “in the name of God” are really motivated by other agendas and add to the reasons why the world hates Christians.

I’m more comfortable hanging around a group of artists and pot smoking hippies than I am around some of the people in the church. Even though I grew up in the church and love it on one level, I feel out of place a lot of times. People in the church have hurt me very deeply. A lot of times when I’m in church, I become really fake, putting on a cheesy smile saying things like “God bless you” and other Christian slogans while I shake hands. I don’t even know what I mean when I say those things. Honestly, I don’t hold a grudge against the church, I just realize I’m different than a lot the other people there and don’t feel like I fit in very well.

I struggle with lust. A lot.

I dress the way I do because I think that makes me look cool. I wear a cross around my neck as more of a fashion statement and a way to make people think I’m spiritual. Overall, I’m very concerned with my image, how I look, how I talk, how I walk. I’m very afraid people will stop thinking I’m cool.

I don’t share my faith outside of the church very often. The way I’ve been taught to share my faith makes me feel like I’m pushing Jesus like a vacuum cleaner salesman. Also, I’m afraid that if I tell people what I believe about Jesus they’ll think I’m stupid.

When I get angry, I tend to say cusswords.

I have doubts at times, not about whether or not I believe what the Bible says, but more about whether or not I can really do anything about it. I feel totally unqualified to be a leader. I think a lot of Christian leaders should quit pretending to be Moses and just admit that they helped build the cow statue.

As a Christian, I’m supposed to be known by my love for others, but there are a lot of times when I don’t feel very loving and don’t act that way. I want to be loved, but loving others is hard.

I’m always afraid that the people are going to figure out how phony I am. I’m afraid to be real with most Christians because experience tells me I will either be lectured or rejected. I feel like I have to be godly in order to be accepted.

This is by no means everything I want to say. I feel like this could be a good first step though. By being true, I hope that I will allow people to get to know the real me and that they will still love me for who I really am. I don’t feel like God wants to use fakes. I may not have everything together, but I do know I want to be the kind of man that God can really use.