Mercy Street Church of Christ
Abilene, TX
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Who Needs a Hearing Aid?


The Reader’s Digest ran a couple of cute anecdotes in its new humor section, “Virtual Hilarity,” that illustrate the global connected-ness of the human race. A Marion Short writes how she and all four of her adult kids are wired together via computer so they can see and talk to each other. One night, after talking with her daughter in Montana, she “minimized” the program on the task bar, just in case she wanted to talk again later. Well, she forgot all about it, and hours later — along around MIDNIGHT — was playing a computer game. All at once she heard a voice: “Go to BED, Mom!” “Big Brother,” or, in this case, “Big Daughter” was keeping a close eye on things!

Right below that story was another one sent in by a David Sanger, who got a call from someone inviting him to a 25th high school reunion over in Virginia. “Well, that’s very nice, but I’m not the David Sanger you want,” he told the caller. “I just went to my 50th COLLEGE reunion.” A bit later he happened to be surfing the Net and stumbled across someone — another David Sanger — who LIVED in Virginia. “Maybe YOU’RE the one they’re looking for,” he typed into his computer. And the answer came right back: “I don’t think I’m the right guy either. I’m only in fifth grade!”

Well, again friend, this brave new Internet, Facebook, Twitter world has really made us one huge family. It’s absolutely amazing to me that some of our Christians who lived overseas, maybe working in schools or on missionary tours, and who used to feel COMPLETELY cut off from the rest of the world and especially the Body of Christ, can now e-mail me: “Dear Brother Stan, how are you doing?” . . . and get an answer back in just SECONDS today.

Well, I link that reality — or maybe I should say I “hyper-link” it — to our topic of confession this way. The Bible makes it crystal clear that the Body of Christ is to be exactly that: a united Body. And obviously, unconfessed sin divides the body, while confessed sin brings it together. We’ve already mentioned Matt. 5:23, and 24, where Jesus tells a worshiper at the altar with a gift to LEAVE that gift there, go and make your unresolved issue right with your brother — reclaim him AS a brother — and then come back and finish up your offering. We also mentioned James 5:16, a well-known confession verse:

“Therefore confess your sins TO EACH OTHER.”

But that’s only half the verse, and part two seems to take a cyber-leap into a totally different topic. Notice:

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and PRAY for each other so that you may be healed.” And then this great P.S.: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” “Availeth much,” says the King James.

Now what does confession to each other have to do with prayer, and specifically about prayer regarding healing and the sick? The Word of God tells us that unity of prayer adds to its power. “Where two or three are gathered together” . . . remember? I’ve been part of prayers for a sick person, where we ALWAYS preceded the prayer with a time of confession, to make sure we were praying in full unity. One commentary also made this observation — see what you think:

“The prime requirement for sincere faith IN prayer is a clear conscience. . . . A guilty conscience erects a barrier to UNRESERVED reliance upon God and will defeat prayer.”

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago the miracle in South Africa, where confession of past sins is such a vital part of the success of their Commission on Truth and Reconciliation. Desmond Tutu shares a unique South African word: ubuntu. This concept, ubuntu, “stresses the INTERDEPENDENCE of humanity and our need for reconciliation.” Confession and forgiveness are what is bringing that nation together . . . and those who refuse it are missing out.

Well, unity between “me and thee,” as we say, is a wonderful thing. But before we close, let me address with you a tougher issue. Two Bible verses dealing with unity and connected hearts still slap us in the face. Here’s Matthew 6:15, and this is Jesus talking:

“But if you do not forgive men THEIR sins, your Father will not forgive YOUR sins.”

Wow! And this is right from the Sermon on the Mount. The sentence right before, verse 14, puts it in the positive. If YOU forgive, GOD will forgive. But . . . if YOU don’t, forget it. God will fold His arms and turn the other way.

Back in the Old Testament, Isaiah chapter 59, we find a similar kind of forgiveness blackout being threatened. Here it is:

“But your iniquities have SEPARATED you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, SO THAT HE WILL NOT HEAR.”

Is this saying what it sounds like? Can a God who knows EVERYTHING in the whole, wide universe actually tune us out by covering His ears? Does He wear earplugs and hum a tune so that He won’t even hear the words of unrepentant sinners?

You might think: “Well, that’s an Old Testament prophet, Isaiah. He’s just crabby from wearing sackcloth and living out with the scorpions in the desert and eating cactus leaves all the time.” Friend, I don’t think so. I mentioned the other day a wonderful, warm Bill Hybels book, Too Busy NOT to Pray, where he describes the importance of confession. You might recall his prayer acronym: A - C - T - S. “Adoration - Confession - Thanksgiving - Supplication.” But here’s a brutal, busy-signal kind of warning, word-for-word from HIS laptop. Notice:

“If you’re tolerating sin in your life, don’t WASTE YOUR BREATH praying UNLESS it’s a prayer of confession.” He then adds: “Receive the Lord’s forgiveness, and THEN He will listen when you pour out your heart to Him.”

Friend, what do you make of this? “My Father will not forgive you”? “The Lord will not hear you”? Does an unconfessed sin really cause our loving heavenly Father to go deaf and take us off His internet e-mail list?

Remember, Pastor Bill Hybels is a generous, caring Christian pastor who has mentored many, many people into the faith. Certainly he’s been involved in a great number of small prayer groups. And HE says: “Don’t waste your breath praying if you’re tolerating sin in your life”?

Well, let’s go back to that South African word, ubuntu. Interdependence, relationship, connected-ness. When the Bible talks about divine deafness, the Good Book is simply saying this: “God will not, and actually CANNOT, forgive sins and save us OUTSIDE of a relationship with Him. He can’t do it without putting us on a road to eternal self-deception and destruction.”

If you or I should fail to forgive our neighbor — the scenario Jesus outlines there in Matthew 6 — we’re basically saying to God: “I can’t trust YOU. I can’t give this person or this bad situation TO You. I’ve got to hold on to my un-forgiveness, my grudge, my ongoing anger. Lord, I would frankly rather keep clutching my control, my authority, over this wrong than to be in relationship with You.”

And God’s response isn’t petty: “Well, fine, if you’re going to be that way. You don’t forgive Fred — I won’t forgive you.” It’s not like that at all. Instead, with a breaking heart He says to us: “COME to Me. I have forgiveness waiting for you. I have a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins . . . all for you. But you can only come to Me by turning AWAY from your anger over Fred. You can have ‘hating Fred’ or you can have Me, but not both.”

Remember that commentary note from James chapter five about “a guilty conscience erects a barrier to UNRESERVED reliance upon God”?

It’s the same with our own unconfessed sins. No, God isn’t suddenly deaf; He doesn’t pull the phone jack out of the wall. Again, our refusal to confess sins that the Holy Spirit reminds us of is tantamount to saying “no” to a relationship with God. “I’M not listening to YOU,” we say, essentially, when we don’t confess. And God, who DOES hear, simply cannot respond positively when we demand from Him a mansion . . . but want no relationship with the mansion-Builder.

Well, you know, this is not a good note to end on. Friend, I believe in my heart that you DO want a relationship with God. You DO want to be free from guilt, from the hurt that our unconfessed sins causes. I’ve known guilt and I’ve known FREEDOM from guilt . . . and there’s no comparison in this world. Especially when freedom of guilt comes WITH and comes THROUGH a relationship of total dependence on God.

At the end of Desmond Tutu’s editorial in Christianity Today about this Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he writes in humility and amazement about how God is healing the land over there. Notice this incredible last paragraph:

“We are going to succeed [here in South Africa] — why? Because GOD wants us to succeed for the sake of GOD’S world. We will succeed in spite of ourselves, because we are such an unlikely bunch. Who could ever have thought WE would ever be an example, except of awfulness? Who could ever have thought we would be held up as a MODEL to the rest of the world — not eminently virtuous — clearly not with an evil system. Not too bright. God wants to say to the world, to Bosnia, to Northern Ireland, etc.: Look at them. They had a nightmare called apartheid. It has ended. Your nightmare too will end. They had what was called an intractable problem. They are solving it. No one anywhere can any longer say their problem is intractable. We are a beacon of hope for GOD’S world, and we will succeed.”

Friend, that’s what confession can do. That’s what GOD can do.

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