The Gift of Going Second

As always it is a pleasure and a blessing when I have the opportunity to share my heart with you on Sunday mornings. I hope and pray that you were able to find reason to be thankful and grateful for your lives over this past weekend.

As this year has continued to move quickly, I find it almost odd to say that we now find ourselves in the first week of Advent. We quickly move from the theme of thanksgiving and gratitude to that of preparation.

The Worship Team has chosen the theme of “waiting for peace” for Advent this year at Central. And this morning I have the privilege of discussing the idea of waiting for peace in our lives. Before even realizing it, God had placed this topic on my heart many months ago on our team’s plane ride to London over this past summer’s mission trip. I enjoy travel for so many reasons, but one of them is the opportunity to dig into the stack of must read books that my life seems too busy to enjoy during the day to day activities of my work and our family.

The book I happened to unpack on this long flight was entitled Permission to Speak Freely, by a bold and straightforward cheerleader and critic of the church, Anne Jackson. It was both a sobering and challenging read, as she urged the church to speak of our struggles, our joys, our fears, and the grace present in our lives in an honest and sometimes uncomfortable way. But more than anything, the book was about confession. As many of you know, I grew up in the Catholic Church, and formal confession was a part of my earlier practice of the faith. But this is not the kind of confession that Anne was calling her readers to, it was a real, honest, and community based confession that allows us to heal, and allows others the ability to move out of the darkness they are hiding in, into the light of God’s grace.

Now I know that when many of you heard the word confession, that you may already be tuning me out. The problem with confession is two-fold. For one it actually takes time to look inwardly, to slow down, and to simply be present long enough to recognize the sin in our lives. And second, it takes the courage to remove our masks and recognize ourselves as sinners in the first place.

G. K. Chesterton was once asked what was wrong with the world. He simply replied, “The problem with the world is me.” He understood what the apostle Paul meant when he said he was the worst sinner of all in 1 Timothy 1:15. Anne Jackson wrote that, “I’m struggling to believe this as well because if the greatest tragedy of my life isn’t my sin, then the greatest joy will never be my rescue from it.” Let me read that last line for you one more time: “if the greatest tragedy of my life isn’t my sin, then the greatest joy will never be my rescue from it.”

As Abby read the words to us earlier from Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 7:7-25), we are reminded that we are all sinners, and how we have the desire to do good, but so often cannot carry it out. We all have struggles, sin that permeates our lives, and we can help one another heal in community when we are a confessing people.

Before I move any further I want for us to make a distinction between confession and admission.  Admission is the simple act of sharing something that’s wrong to get it off our chest. Confession on the other hand, is the beginning of true transformation.

Anne writes in her book, “When you confess something that’s shattered in your life, something you’ve kept hidden, you’re acknowledging that you need the Cross. You need God’s grace, and you’re willing to allow it to find you as you seek the truth.” But a difficult scenario takes place in our hearts, and theologian Scott Hahn sums this up nicely: “The more we need confession, the less we seem to want it.”

Whether it is a deep laden sense of guilt or shame, the possibility of our legacy being tarnished, or simply the fear of being worthy of restoration, something within us keeps us from laying bear our souls in this place, the church, where we should have the ability to be most real. This community in which we worship and live, should be the safest place to remove our masks while we wait for that true peace within ourselves.

One of Anne’s chapters was entitled, The Gift of Going Second. And I absolutely love the concept of how when we can find the courage to confess something, even to just one person, the long-term effects of that confession can move others into rediscovering their faith and their freedom.  When we confess our struggles and our pain we allow others to stand with us in our vulnerability and recognize that we are all sinners, and that God’s grace is in reach of all of our lives.

My prayer for our church during this Advent season, and far into the future, is that we would not only learn to share our faith with one another, as we practiced during our Unbinding Your Heart series, but that we would learn to confess our struggles as well. I hope that we can create a safe environment, free of judgment to share our struggles, to pursue the Cross together, and to be restored alongside one another.

So as we prepare ourselves for Advent and the coming of Christ’s birth, I am going to ask you this morning, I am going to challenge you this morning to be real with God. Peace within does not coexist with our hidden sins; it is directly attached to the grace with which God replaces the sin in our lives. It is only through the recognition or our brokenness that we are made complete in God.

So much of our talk of Christmas is around the idea of giving gifts to others. Perhaps this Christmas the greatest gift that you could give to a loved one, a family member, or a complete stranger is the Gift of Going Second.

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I want to close with the reading of a written prayer this morning. Abby and I were able to take some of the youth to a Toby Mac concert a few weeks back, and Toby read this prayer as an intro to one of his songs, and it really struck a chord with me. So as I close this message I want to use this time to confess my own selfishness to our community.

It’s a devotional that a pastor in Franklin, Scotty Smith, shared on his Blog.

A Prayer about Loving to Be First
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
3 John 9-10
Dear Jesus,

Being chronicled, by name, in the Scriptures as someone who loved to be first, is a sobering proposition.

Though I grieve Diotrephes’ destructive impact in the church, I don’t stand in judgment of him.

Please convict me and free me from the ways I, too, love to be first.
In my marriage—when I’m more concerned about my needs than my spouse’s heart; when I hear but don’t really listen; when I pout more than I pursue; when I’m more aware of what disappoints me than what delights my spouse.

In my friendships—when I respond to their calls, but don’t really pursue my friends; when I talk about my stuff more than I stay current with their stories; when I love to be remembered more than I’m faithful to pray for my friends.

In my vocation—when colleagues sense I’m more preoccupied with my schedule and success than committed to love and serve as a member of a team; when staying busy takes precedent over giving presence; when I want things to be done more than I want people to feel loved.

In the general population—when I navigate through life with little eye contact and don’t work hard to remember names; when my driving clearly says, “Get out of the way. Me first”; when I push my shopping-cart in the grocery store like a madman on a mission, grabbing items and speeding-up to get to the shortest check-out line first; when I get impatient with waiters and store clerks.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. You didn’t consider your equality with God something to be held onto selfishly. You didn’t love to be first. Rather, you emptied yourself of your glory by taking the nature of a servant. You served us by your life and by your death on the cross. Now you live to serve us, as advocate, intercessor and Bridegroom.

I am convicted and humbled afresh, by your lavish and selfless love. Restore my first love for you, that my love for being first will decrease, and die a thousand deaths. So very Amen, I pray, in your matchless and merciful name.

November 28, 2011 <> Mike Warneke

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