Good for the Soul

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 42; 32, Daniel 9:3-10, Hebrews 2:10-18, John 12:44-50


Alcoholics Anonymous teaches us: “You are only as sick as your secrets.” The author of Psalm 32 knew this well. He wrote of his formerly deceitful spirit:

While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Today we might describe a secret as eating away at us or causing us to lose sleep. The longer we convince ourselves to keep our sins secret, the larger the role they play in our lives, yet somehow we convince ourselves an admission of guilt would be worse than the physical and psychological destruction we inflict upon ourselves. We fear the consequences of revealing our truths – often for good reason – but until we face them, we will not know peace. We want relief from our pain, but we turn to the bad medicine of substance abuse, anger, self-righteousness, or self-harm rather than swallow the bitter yet effective pill of confession.

Whether it is a one-on-one sacrament as observed by Roman Catholics and Lutherans or a community prayer and assurance of pardon during other Protestant liturgies, most Christian denominations practice some form of confession and absolution. Corporate confession is a valuable reminder of our ongoing need to evaluate and improve our behaviors and attitudes, but it is rarely a catalyst for deep change. Individual confession – to a priest, pastor, counselor, friend, or support group – forces us to confront truths in a personally meaningful way. Sometimes we have to admit them to others before we can really believe them. God’s forgiveness is always available to us, but first we must recognize what it is we need forgiveness for.

Guilt is a great weight. We can shift its useless burden from shoulder to shoulder, desperately growing weaker while trying to convince others we are strong … or we can confess our weakness. God’s forgiveness is not about shaming our weakness or balancing the load, but about teaching us to drop it entirely.  Each secret we speak is a weight we no longer carry.

Comfort: God’s forgiveness is always available, because He is more interested in loving us than damning us.

Challenge: Unburden yourself a little this week. Pick a sin or secret that troubles you and confess it to a trusted friend, minister, or counselor.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Discussion: Has anyone confessed a secret to you? How did it make you feel?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

‘Fess Up

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 19; 150, 1 Samuel 4:12-22, James 1:1-18, Matthew 19:23-30


While nearly all Christian denominations now consider the Book of James an official part of the New Testament canon, it can still be controversial. It mentions Christ only twice, and never in the context of his resurrection, but does refer to many of his sayings. Scholars don’t agree on its author, timing, or structure. Still it contains great wisdom which doesn’t rely on complex theological understandings (though it is not without its own theological stance). Simply put, James wants us to live with the integrity of a disciple of Christ.

Not everyone embraces this common-sense approach. Here’s some of what James has to say about temptation:

No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

We like to push the blame for our temptations onto external sources. It’s part of the earliest stories of our faith, when Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve. We blame the devil. We blame God. Yet James tell us we can’t be tempted by something we didn’t want to begin with.

If we dodge responsibility for our own temptations, we never overcome them. It’s like denying a need for bifocals by saying the television won’t focus any more.

When we say confession is good for the soul, we’re usually talking about sins already committed. What if we practiced confessing our temptations before they matured into sins? Shame tells us to shove them in the closet, but then we end up struggling so hard to keep them behind the door that they consume all our energy and eventually wear us down, escape, and trample our lives.

Confessing a temptation to a trusted friend or counselor helps us put it into perspective and manage it. If, as Justice Brandeis said, sunlight is the best disinfectant, let’s not suffer alone in the darkness.

Read more on today’s passage from Acts in Camels and Needles.

Comfort: Temptation is a part of life. It doesn’t make you a bad person.

Challenge: Be brave enough to deal with your temptations before they become reality.

Prayer: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19).

Discussion: How do you fight temptation?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Just one bite …

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 65; 147:1-11, Esther 6:1-14, Acts 19:1-10, Luke 4:1-13


Ever long for the day when your faith is so strong, temptation will never taunt you again? Spoiler alert: it will be a long wait. Even Jesus, when he spent forty days in the desert preparing for his ministry, felt the devil’s temptations to abandon his ministry for a life of worship and power.

Temptations can shame us. We think we are the only people tempted to think or act a certain way. Ironically we are especially reluctant to confess to those who could counsel us best, because we want to keep their respect. Instead we battle urges in silence and solitude, and the very thing we try to avoid – food, sex, gossip, drugs, alcohol – becomes the center of our attention because we have nowhere to banish it. Scriptures like Matthew 5:28 (“anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”) convince us temptation has already condemned us.

When we speak openly to trusted counselors or support groups about our temptations we find that we are not alone. We also find speaking the truth unlocks the mental prison where we are trapped alone and wrestling with guilt. We learn scriptural words like “lust” and “covet” don’t refer to casual thoughts, but to ungoverned desire. We learn to check casual thoughts before they become ungoverned desire. Most importantly, we learn sunlight is the best disinfectant even for spiritual ailments.
When we pray “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” what are we really asking? To avoid all instances of temptation? Unrealistic. We are acknowledging temptation is part of life, and that we depend on God to help us cope. Tempted until the end of his ministry, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that his burden might pass. The important lesson is that he submitted his will to God’s.

Don’t be discouraged – experiencing temptation doesn’t mean we’ve already lost the battle! Resisting temptation in small things helps us build strength in case serious temptations arise. Let’s follow the example of Jesus, and acknowledge our temptation, but choose to submit to God.

Comfort: God is greater than temptation; we just have to invite him in.

Challenge: If you struggle with temptation, find a place to talk about it.

Prayer: God of strength, deliver us from evil. Amen.

Discussion: How do you deal with temptation?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!