In August of 1986, Mark and I experienced one of those "I think we may have just arrived" feelings. I was 24, Mark was 27 and our firstborn daughter was 3. We'd already owned and sold a home that was apparently too close to the halfway houses in Northeast Salem, Oregon just down the street from the Oregon State Penitentiary and State Mental Hospital. One night around 2am Mark left my infant daughter and I to go to work stocking a grocery store freezer across town. A couple of hours later our moving plans were suddenly shifted into the fast lane with the help of a man at my bedroom window cranking at it with a crowbar! Seeing me swiftly open the curtains to have a face-to-face caused him to run away, but the police saw his tracks. This man and whoever kept stealing all the stereos from our cars, motivated us to figure out how to sell our house on our own and find a safer place to live. Not much later Mark was hired at his first work in Forest Grove and we moved into the big parsonage next door to the church building. We “had arrived” at a much safer place and were also less than an hour west of a congregation that would end up being a blessing to us for decades.
Bill Fain, the preacher at 160th, was well-educated, articulate, as bold as a lion, and held to God’s words tenaciously, regardless of what anyone else was going to do. He became to Mark the very mentor he needed in his earliest years of preaching, and Mark grew spiritually by leaps and bounds during the several years he met weekly with a circle of five nearby preachers Bill had invited to encourage one another and to study what God says around the most controversial doctrines. I’m not certain if it was Bill or a preacher that followed him after he passed who began the practice of hosting an annual “Youth Lectureship”, but this has become one of the highlights of the year for many of the teenagers and college-aged Christians in the Northwest. Each year speakers are chosen to address whatever topics were most beneficial to this age group. Unlike many similar events, all ages are welcomed to the lectures, which encourages whole families to make the long drive and make a family weekend of it. Young people who are old enough to drive often fill their cars with their peers and stay the weekend in the homes of the members at 160th to catch the Friday night lecture through the Sunday morning lessons. For lunch on Saturday, the members knock themselves out creating quite the lunch spread for hundreds of guests just a few blocks from the church building at a nearby school cafeteria. Both the church building and the cafeteria is often full to the gills with enthusiastic youth learning how to take on the world to the glory of God. Throughout our years at Beaverton, we were so grateful that the young people at our congregation had such an encouraging event to look forward to every year.
The church family at 160th on Sunday mornings has recently been studying various ways God says we can build one another up. In previous weeks they’d discussed accepting one another, greeting one another, serving one another, bearing one another’s burdens, encouraging one another, and forgiving one another. On the Sunday morning we visited 160th, Jason Songer taught a class on building one another up through honoring God’s instructions by confessing our sins to one another. We noted how humankind are not designed by God to hold onto guilt or solve all of our problems alone. In fact, in the case of King David in Psalm 38, carrying the overwhelming burden of his sin made him ill, as it can any of us. Listen to David’s outpoured heart and ask yourself, is this any way to live your one precious life?
“There is no health in my bones because of my sin.
For my iniquities are gone over my head;
As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me.
My wounds grow foul and fester
Because of my folly.
I am bent over and greatly bowed down;
I go mourning all day long.
For my loins are filled with burning,
And there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am benumbed and badly crushed;
I groan because of the agitation of my heart.
Lord, all my desire is before You;
And my sighing is not hidden from You.
My heart throbs, my strength fails me;
And the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me.”
The gorgeous ripple effects of yielding to our Heavenly Father’s instructions always render uncountable benefits. Some of the benefits of confessing our sins to one another that were noted in our class included:
Finding the mercy of God. Mercy was waiting for David, and David found God’s mercy because he confessed his sin. It was David’s son who would write years later: “He who covers his sin will not prosper but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13). In a world that can be at times merciless, let’s tap into the mercy our Heavenly Father who so longs to pour that mercy generously upon us.
Learning to humble ourselves: To find God’s mercy, we must tell the truth. And that's what's really going on when we’re confessing our trespasses, isn’t it? We’re finally acknowledging the truth --- first to the Someone Who knew the truth all along anyway and then to one another. Why not willingly humble ourselves by admitting when we’re wrong rather than allowing pride to be our undoing.
Fearing only the fearful: For the rebellious, Hebrews 10:31says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” How ironic then, --- that we would not be afraid to commit a sin, but that we’d be quite afraid to say the words that merely represent the doing of the sin. If we transferred the fear of telling the truth about our sin to instead the fear of the consequences of sin, we’ll do ourselves a world of good and God will be given the fear and honor due Him.
Healing of both body and soul: God says in James 5:15-16 “...confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Perhaps the connection of confession with healing in this passage goes back to that first observation in Psalm 38 about how sin often destroys our physical health. But of course, that’s just the beginning. Sin also destroys our spiritual health and separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). He longs for us to be ever near Him (James 4:5) and it is upon our confession, that God offers spiritual healing as well. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Our Merciful Father wants to free us of guilt and that is a primary blessing that confession accomplishes.
When the woman caught in adultery was forgiven by Jesus, He said to her something that He, throughout scripture, also calls we who have also been forgiven: “Go and sin no more”. Rather than viewing this instruction as overwhelming, realize that “Go and sin no more” is one of the most liberating things God could ever say to us. Because what God is telling us is that “You’re not destined the rest of your life to be a train wreck!” “You don't have to be a slave anymore!” “What sort of future do you want?” “You have a choice in the matter!” The world may say “Lord knows, I can’t change” or “You're just going to be a mess the rest of your life”, but when God says “Go and sin no more” He liberates us from all those lies. Let’s confess our sins so that we can move on and enjoy a brighter future.
Bonding through vulnerability: Confession is the opposite of what made the church in Corinth so dysfunctional. This 1st-century congregation was using their spiritual gifts as a way to display their superiority, build their self-esteem, and basically show off. Confessing our trespasses does just the opposite. Instead of creating a spirit of competition, it creates emotional intimacy. When someone tells you their weaknesses, how often does your heart soften toward them with the feeling “Wow. Me too.” You may not share the same weakness, but you know exactly what it feels like to struggle against weaknesses. It takes time together to get to the point where we’re comfortable enough and close enough that we can tell one another our faults, or say, “Hey. Listen. Can we talk? I’m struggling with this sin.” Only when we know one another’s struggles can we even know what to pray for on behalf of one another. Our culture often glorifies independence, and there are certainly situations that demand independence. But let’s not overlook the innate beauty God has placed within interdependence. We need each other's prayers. We need the comfort of church family. We need help in life. And it’s a blessing that God has given us to each other to meet these needs.
An awareness that I actually am my brother's keeper. When Cain killed Able, he got smart with God when asked “Where’s your brother?” “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” he snapped back. Yes, Cain. You actually are your brother’s keeper. We all are our brother’s keepers. Jason Songer, who taught our class had a bit of an advantage in speaking to this concept, having served in the military. “My military buddies and I. You can’t break our bond. We've actually bled in war together. We have a connection that I can't describe, that will never be broken…” he shared, then went on to describe that if he didn't ask for help on the battlefield when he needed it, people were going to die, then made the spiritual application that “...our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day … having done everything, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:12-13
The truth is, in our battle against sin no one is ever faithful alone and no one's ever unfaithful alone. We’re too interconnected. The people who surround us are watching us. It’s our nature. And because they are watching, your and my level of faithfulness has a huge impact upon those silently looking on. If you go down, you typically take other people with you. You never know when other Christians that were thinking about giving up, may have seen your faithfulness under the most trying of circumstances and were inspired by your example to just keep going. We cannot control other people’s choices, but we can’t help but influence others either toward their victory or their downfall.
It may not take a village to raise a child --- good parents can do that. But a healthy, God-loving, supportive, community sure comes in handy for reinforcement, and for that reason, I’m thankful for the 160th church of Christ and how they benefitted my husband in his early preaching years and have touched the lives of countless young people who have carried with them the wisdom they learned at these Youth Lectureships as they’ve gone on to live their adult Christian lives all over this country. Whether the fruits of our spiritual labor are near or far from our physical presence, our labor is never in vain when it is unto the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58) and others are greatly benefitting from what we’ve invested in the younger generation.
I’ll end this entry with a practical principle I once learned about how to effectively touch the lives of young people, that relates to the thoughts I’ve shared here on the topic of confession. I learned this approach when I volunteered for a short time with a faith-based organization called Door to Grace in downtown Portland, Oregon that was helping young teenage girls rebuild their lives after being sexually trafficked. In the course of my training there, we were taught “You will not be able to reach the hearts of these girls if they think you are perfect and have always had it all together. They will only open their hearts and listen to you if they can relate to you in some way. Do not hesitate to share with them your own remorse and what you have learned from what you regret.” Wow. When we are brave enough to tell the truth, we may not be the only one who is set free (John 8:32). And moving hearts is so much more fulfilling than saving face anyway, isn’t it?
130 NE 160th Ave
Portland, OR 97230