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By God’s grace, I’ve been thinking through what true repentance is made of, especially when it comes to the affections I feel. Most recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between shame and guilt. Both are Biblical words used in the diagnosis and punishment of sin but what do they really mean? Is there one more preferred than the other? How do they apply to repentance?

Let’s begin with understanding what these words mean. In its essence, the chief defining trait of shame, is embarrassment. Feelings of awkwardness mostly from being found out in wrongdoing. Guilt on the other hand, in its essence is about responsibility for an action. Feeling to blame for wrongdoing. Each can have some traits of the other but I think the chief difference is that of embarrassment versus responsibility.

How does this apply when we think about our sin before God and others? When we think about sin, it is not enough to simply know that something is bad and abominable before God, God cares for how we view it and what feelings it invokes in us. This is where shame and guilt come in. We need to feel both embarrassed and responsible for our sin. Embarrassed because we knew better and still went on and did it. Embarrassment because we did what we think others shouldn’t or did to others what we would not like to suffer from them – the embarrassment of our hypocrisy. The embarrassment of choosing what fails and is doomed to fail. I think this embarrassment is what God speaks about in Isaiah 1:29, when He speaks of redeeming Zion by justice. The effect is that those dwelling in Jerusalem as Isaiah is speaking will be ashamed of their idolatry because it will fail them and cause them to face God’s wrath!

But we must also feel responsible. That we deliberately took action and walked a certain path because we wanted to. That we are to blame for the choice and the consequences that followed. Guilt considers that God is right in His verdict of our sin and that we can give no defense; we are rightly accused and judged, indeed guilty! Isaiah at his call in Isaiah 6, sees God and is immediately conscious of his sin. He knows that he is guilty and deserving of death. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” v5. He understands and takes ownership of his sin and knows that it means he is doomed.

How then do these two feelings work together in our repentance? Let us consider King David, his sin with Bathsheba and how shame and guilt work together in his repentance as seen in 2 Samuel 11 – 12  and Psalm 51. David sees a woman bathing, finds out she’s someone else’s wife and still calls her up to his room and sleeps with her. She gets pregnant and David devises this grand plan to have her husband sleep with her to cover up the pregnancy but when that fails, he plots Uriah’s death in war. He then takes Bathsheba to be his wife and bear his child. He does all this in secrecy thinking that he is all safe. But God has been watching and sends him a prophet to expose his sin. The prophet quite expertly exposes David’s sin through a story of injustice. David, as the ‘righteous’ ruler is rightly angered by the injustice and proclaims the proper judgement for the sinner. Prophet Nathan then says simply, “You are this man!” and goes ahead to proclaim Yahweh’s verdict and judgement on him.

How does David respond? “I have sinned against the LORD.” This, I think, is the result of shame and guilt. He is ashamed because he gets to see himself clearly. He is able to plainly see his actions in the light of what he knows and has received from Yahweh’s hand. He sees his hypocrisy plainly – how can he judge the unjust man in the story when he has done exactly the same thing to Uriah? His shame humbles him before the LORD to hear and accept responsibility for his sin. With things now so clear, with him off his high horse, then he can take responsibility for his actions, rightly confessing it, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Shame humbles the sinner and gives proper room for guilt to work to bring about confession and then hopefully godly sorrow that leads to repentance.

Psalm 51 records David’s response to the exposure of his sin. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. . . For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement. . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. . . Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. . .

The shame and guilt have worked out their proper course on the road to repentance for David. We shall do well to learn from him. When God mercifully exposes our sin, in private or public, we ought not to take quickly to trying to excuse/justify our sin. There is never a good reason for sin! Then we are to have a good look at our sin – to name it (blood-guiltiness) and understand what it is that we have believed, said and done that is contrary to God. Often times I’ve found that when I am aware of a sin, I want to skip this step of properly understanding and taking responsibility for it because I am so embarrassed by it. But what I am learning from this is that I do not properly feel the guilt of it – take proper responsibility for it, because I haven’t properly diagnosed the error. This means that I oftentimes stick at sinning because I’m busy trying to treat the symptoms and not the root of the problem. I’m busy trying to put out the fire without understanding its cause. “Let’s just move on!” yet we haven’t known what it is we are moving on/away from. I have found that it is when I have properly understood my sin that I can clearly confess it and then seek to turn away from it, which in fact is what repentance means! How can we ever hope to confess and turn from (repent) what we do not understand? How can we be equipped to recognize sin in its different guises when we’re not humbly taking responsibility for it, understanding it at its root? True repentance involves the pain of shame and guilt followed by the real confession of sin and seeking to turn away from the sin we have just confessed as God cleanses and helps us. Skipping any step leaves us simply wallowing in sin not mortifying it!

This article was written by Leah Kagure. 
Leah is a Ministry Training Facilitator at iServe Africa doing bible teaching,  mentorship and looking after female apprentices.

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Have you ever been in a conversation where you feel totally out of place? This happens to me quite often. I get in a matatu on a Sunday morning headed to church. It’s tuned to one of the local ‘tribal’ stations. I think it’s a gospel show going on because I can hear some ‘Amen’ and ‘God bless you’. Almost everyone in the matatu seems engrossed in the conversation going on on radio. I can hear them laugh, one or two nod their heads. But where am I? Poor me, I can’t understand a word. I have no idea what they are laughing about. Worst of it is when one talks to you commenting on the ongoing conversation on radio. I don’t know, how do you expect me to respond?

It feels so awkward! On the one hand, you want to listen in and hear, on the other hand, you don’t want to hear any of it. I am not only victim but done it too- I have been around my mzungu friends who don’t know Swahili yet that’s what I speak with my Kenyan friend- it gets worse when we switch to Sheng!

Now, come to church. We are talking to young people. The topic/series is Relationships and Marriage- trust me this is a guaranteed topic. In our thinking, this is what every young person is struggling with. We need to speak about these real issues. And so, what we do is get a married couple to tackle this. Share about dating/courtship & how to go about it. How long should it take before you get married? Get an ‘expert’ ‘marriage counsellor’ ‘relationships coach’ to handle this with the hope that the young people shall be helped. The expectation is that they will all get married and live happily ever after.

But the problem is, in this whole conversation, there’s someone who feels awkwardly totally left out- the single and not dating. We concentrate on the dating/courting/engaged and forget about the single and not dating. The question they are asking is how can I be pure and live without thinking that there’s something totally wrong with me? How can I serve my brother/sister without looking at them as my suitor? Sadly, this is never answered yet in answering, we not only help the single & not dating but also the dating, courting, engaged, married, widowed… all of them.

So, why do we leave them out? Why do we totally forget them;

  1. Glorifying Marriage, Despising Singleness

In our society, somehow people view marriage (at least in Christian circles) as the goal for every young person. Culturally, you are only regarded as a man, able to speak before men, if you are married. Some churches even go to the extent of not ordaining single people.

Marriage has been glorified and put perhaps next to salvation! That means if you are of age (whatever that means, in your twenties perhaps) and aren’t ‘seeing someone’ or not ‘being seen’ by someone then there’s a problem with you.

No wonder in our preaching series, there’s no place for talking about singleness!

  1. Failure to Point people to Christ as the Real Source of Our Joy & Satisfaction

Marriage has been seen as a ‘problem-solver’. We think the solution to masturbation is for one to get married. Are you struggling with lust & pornography? It’s high time you got married, so we say. Or perhaps the reason you are so disorganized and late to church is because you are not married- get married and things will be ok. We think this is the real source of joy and satisfaction yet that’s not true. We forget that our identity as forgiven sinners, redeemed by Christ’s blood, we who once were alienated but have now been brought near & become children of God, a people of His own possession is what matters most! The most joyful, satisfying & peaceful thing is that we belong to Christ.

We thus need to be pointing people to Christ, whether they are married or not. He’s the one who’s dealt with & deals with our biggest problem of sin and God’s punishment on us. He’s the one we need to look at & point people to, married or not. So, struggling with masturbation, lust, pornography? Look to Him, behold Him, He is the most satisfying, glorious… all that we need.

  1. The Ultimate Marriage

That marriage is only but a picture of something bigger, greater- Christ and the Church- is a mystery! How can that be the case? Well, Christ is the head of the Church, He died for her, He nourishes her & clothes her. The Church submits to Christ joyfully serving Him. This how it’s supposed to be for a husband (head) and wife.

Even more fascinating is the Church, the bride of Christ is waiting for its marriage to the groom, who is Christ. At the moment, Christ is preparing her, adorning her, for that great marriage. The bride has to be ready. It shall be the most glorious event for us- this is the ultimate. Nothing of the marriages on earth now can compare to it.

Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage supper of the Lamb has come, & His bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure… blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” Revelation 19:7-9.

This is what all of us should be looking forward to- the ultimate marriage- whether single or married!

So, please the single men and ladies there are crying out. Who will listen to them? Why don’t we think of how we can address them in their current state and encourage them to be fruitful in the ministry and service to the LORD? What if they are being called to singleness for life? Is there a place for that in our thinking or we think there’s definitely a problem with them? My encouragement to all singles out there

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you from that.” 1 Corinthians 7:27-28

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Just doing a bit of research on monasticism and came across this great quote from Benedict’s Rule (530 AD) which is instruction to the abbot of a monastery but reads like good wisdom for pastors and Christian leaders:

Once in office, the abbot must keep constantly in mind the nature of the burden he has received, and remember to whom he will have to give an account of his stewardship [Luke 16: 2]. Let him recognize that his goal must be profit for the monks, not preeminence for himself. He ought, therefore, to be learned in divine law, so that he has a treasury of knowledge from which he can bring out what is new and what is old [Matt. 13: 52]. He must be chaste, temperate and merciful. He should always let mercy triumph over judgment [James 2: 13] so that he too may win mercy. He must hate faults but love the brothers. When he must punish them, he should use prudence and avoid extremes; otherwise, by rubbing too hard to remove the rust, he may break the vessel. He is to distrust his own frailty and remember not to crush the bruised reed [Isa. 42: 3]. . . . Let him strive to be loved rather than feared. Excitable, anxious, extreme, obstinate, jealous or oversuspicious he must not be. . . . Instead, he must show forethought and consideration in his orders.
(Rule of Benedict trans. Timothy Fry quoted in Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Baker)

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