This blog is in conversation with a post from the blog A Life Overseas written by Craig Thompson on Jan. 22, 2021.
For various reasons, I tend not to be a huge fan of new year’s resolutions, goals, etc. From what I have seen, everyone just expects to fail in the first week and then we end up carrying around a collective guilt about it. In contrast to this, I have very recently started practicing more reflection and using that as a framework to look at the year ahead. Usually, this is the process of looking over the calendar and praying for wisdom in choosing a word that will encapsulate the theme for the next year.
This process of reflection has been hard this year, as it was a heavy year. We all know why this last year was additionally heavy. But the state of the Christ-following community over the last year is in shambles as well.
The writer Craig Thompson writes in his process of looking over the past year, “I recently saw a different kind of look back. It was a list of high-profile Christians who’d made the news for their failings in 2020. It included pastors, authors, and ministry leaders, among others. There were a couple I hadn’t heard about, but sadly, I thought of a couple more I could add. Not everyone’s transgressions took place last year, but that’s when some of them came to light.”
As someone who works in ministry, I cannot help but wonder what happened, what the “first step” was, and what I need to avoid in my own life. Last year, one of the podcasts I frequently listen to said something that has really stuck with me: “COVID has accelerated the already existing trends.” COVID-19, for some reason, seemed to bring to light things that were always hidden in the dark, and part of the trend that has been accelerated in the Christian community is the damage that hidden sins and broken systems cause.
Thompson in his post, goes on to discuss how cross-cultural workers face the same temptations as “famous” pastors, and how new cultural norms and surroundings can actually help to increase the ease in which we do sin. I found this to be true in my life the first summer living in Hungary. Coming from the Midwest, our view of modesty is much more conservative, so when faced with advertisements of women on sides of building in bikinis and graphic magazines sitting rather publicly in stores, I found it difficult and actually exhausting trying to figure out how to reorient my brain to everything I was seeing. These kinds of struggles, when hidden, are the first steps. Possibly even more difficult for me than adapting to new surroundings and attitudes towards modesty was the sneaky sin of pride. Feeling like a hotshot know-it all in my early 20s and getting the savior complex of being a missionary at times, my pride was off the charts. That is another first step.
*Quick side note: There are a lot of conversations around sin and temptation in Christian circles, and honestly, I really do not find many of them helpful. Similarly, trying to list things or rank what sins are worse than others is equally unhelpful. Yes, sin is a reality and there are consequences that come from sin. What is more interesting, though, is asking the question “How does discipleship interact with sin and the process of sanctification?” (becoming more like Christ). It seems like the conversation usually has two approaches: either discipleship is the pointing out of specific sins and trying to stop those sins, or discipleship is the process of creating a framework of examination of life and response to that. Cards down, I see discipleship as the process of creating a framework of walking closer to Christ. Saying this thing is sin and that thing is not is not interesting or beneficial. We can all become rule lawyers and convince ourselves why this thing is not actually a sin even though we know it is.*
One of the best ways to fight back against these hidden things is through the process of intentionally bringing them to light, also called confession. Confession is something that has a long history in the church, but is not something we enjoy doing. It is often a practice we try and pretend the Bible does not actually say we need to do. Especially as Protestants, we really like to pretend confession is only something between us and God. But confession of sins needs to be both individual and corporate (church, country, people group)—both are strongly commanded in the Bible.
Intentionally or not, Craig writes his post almost as a liturgy of confession that can be used as a group or individual, and this is where Craig Thompson’s post is so exciting; he writes out a list of questions to give us a “gut-check.” While there are one or two questions that are “easy,” most cut deeper and the longer you reflect, the deeper the questions go.
Questions such as:
“Am I using ‘curiosity’ as an excuse for sin?”
“Do my jokes and flippant words reveal dark places in my heart?”
“Am I giving enough time to reading the Bible and contemplating its lessons so that it can challenge my suspect behaviors and tendencies?”
“Am I more apt to say, ‘But for the grace of God, there go I,’ or ‘None of that could happen to me’?”
I had to fight the urge to copy all of the questions, but they are good and I would suggest checking out the full blog post. But answering the questions is hard, and can lead to the question of “So, what now?” What do I do when I answer the questions about my jokes revealing dark places inside of me? Just sitting in that place of feeling bad is not helpful, and neither is just ignoring the problems.
I think the answer to this difficulty is in my favorite quote from the blog: “Being on the list doesn’t have to be an indication of lostness. It can also be an opportunity for being found.” In other words, being convicted to confess by any of the questions on the list is by no means a death sentence, it’s an invitation to closer life with God and others. Confession is not an act to bring about shame or hide things away, it is instead the process of turning the lights on, inviting people in, and experiencing the freedom of forgiveness.
I encourage you to check out the full blog post by Thompson and reflect on the questions he presents, and I will end this post with the question he ends his with:
“Do I have someone trustworthy I can share my faults and fears with? Should I give that person a call?”
– By Daniel Buck, OMS Hungary Team Member