Sunday, April 06, 2008

Life Beyond Regret: Part I

[Number nineteen in a series]

I am beginning to look at Chapter 8 ("Life Beyond Regret: The Practice of Confession") of John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted. The study questions are from the back of the book, and were written by Kevin G. Harney.

The book is about spiritual disciplines. The most important thing I have gotten from the book about spiritual disciplines in general is that we should not do them just so we can check them off a list. They are not a barometer of spirituality or a way to earn favor with God. They are a way to enable the transformation God wants to make in your life.

Small Group Discussion Questions

Some years ago we traded in my old Volkswagen Super Beetle for our first piece of new furniture: a mauve sofa. It was roughly the shade of Pepto-Bismol, but because it represented to us a substantial investment, we thought "mauve" sounded better.

The man at the furniture store warned us not to get it when he found out we had small children. "You don't want a mauve sofa," he advised. "Get something the color of dirt." But we had the naive optimism of young parenthood. "We know how to handle our children," we said. "Give us the mauve sofa."

From that moment on, we all knew clearly the number one rule in the house. Don't sit on the mauve sofa. Don't touch the mauve sofa. Don't play around the mauve sofa. Don't eat on, breathe on, look at, or think about the mauve sofa. Remember the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden? "On every other chair in the house you may freely sit, but upon this sofa, the mauve sofa, you may not sit, for in the day you sit thereupon, you shall surely die."

Then came The Fall.

One day there appeared on the mauve sofa a stain. A red stain. A red jelly stain.

So my wife, who had chosen the mauve sofa and adored it, lined up our three children in front of it: Laura, age four, and Mallory, two and a half, and Johnny, six months. "Do you see that, children?" she asked. "That's a stain. A red stain. A red jelly stain. The man at the sofa store says it is not coming out. Not forever. Do you know how long forever is, children? That's how long we're going to stand here until one of you tells me who put the stain on the mauve sofa."

Mallory was the first to break. With trembling lips and tear, filled eyes she said, "Laura did it." Laura passionately denied it. Then there was silence, for the longest time. No one said a word. I knew the children wouldn't, for they had never seen their mother so upset. I knew they wouldn't, because they knew that if they did, they would spend eternity in the time-out chair.

I knew they wouldn't, because I was the one who put the red jelly stain on the mauve sofa, and I knew I wasn't saying anything. I figured I would find a safe place to confess-such as in a book I was going to write - maybe -- John Ortberg
1. We all have our own mauve sofa story of when we had a chance to confess, but chickened out. Tell about a time you stood on the edge of confession, but just couldn't do it. What is it that makes confession so hard and painful for us?
The awareness of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin, feared it, fled from it, grieved over it. Some of our grand, parents agonized over their sins. A man who lost his temper might wonder whether he could still go to Holy Communion. A woman who for years envied her more attractive and intelligent sister might worry that this sin threatened her very salvation. . . . In today's group confessionals it is harder to tell. The newer language of Zion fudges: "Let us confess our problem with human relational adjustment dynamics, and especially our feebleness in networking." Or, "I'd just like to share that we just need to target holiness as a growth area." Where sin is concerned, people just mumble now. -- Alvin Plantinga
2. What are some of the euphemisms for sin that we use in an effort to keep from calling sin exactly what it is? Why is it so important that we learn to identify sin in ourselves and call it sin?

3. When writing about confession, John Ortberg says,
When we practice confession well, two things happen. The first is that we are liberated from guilt. The second is that we will be at least a little less likely to sin in the same way in the future than if we had not confessed. Sin will look and feel less attractive
How have you experienced the liberating power of confession? How have you seen confession reduce your desire to continue in a sinful practice in your life?

4. John Ortberg says,
At the heart of it, confession involves taking appropriate responsibility for what we have done.
What are the consequences of confessing but refusing to take responsibility for the impact of our sinful choices? How can taking responsibility help us turn away from sin and walk in deeper places of holiness?

5. When we see sin through our own eyes, it is easy to excuse ourselves and justify our sin. When we see sin through the eyes of those we have sinned against and hurt, our perspective begins to change. When we see through the lens of God's vision and heart, we get a whole new perspective. Why is it essential for us to learn to see our sin through eyes of those we have sinned against and through the eyes of God?

6. How can God use tears, mourning, and brokenness over our sins as a tool for his will to be done in our lives? John Ortberg talks about the "gift of tears." Have you ever experienced this and how did this gift make you more the person God wants you to be?

7. Describe a time when you hurt someone through a sinful choice, humbly confessed, and saw God bring healing and restoration. How did this experience act as a catalyst for future obedience and willingness to confess when you recognized your sins?

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly