Sunday, April 10, 2011

Closing the Cirle: Unconfessed Sin

Below are the notes from my sermon this morning. Before I spoke, Mrs. Katie (as Corrie Ten Boom) read an excerpt from Tramp for the Lord.

Closing the Circle
The Power of Unconfessed Sin in the life of a Christian

James 5:13-20

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

In preparation for this message, I read through the book of James. This book has a lot of wisdom to offer for the Christian life. He tells us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance (James 1:1). And he also tells us that “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you (1:5). He teaches us that it is not God who tempts us but we are drawn away by our own evil desires and enticed by sin: “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”(1:14-15)
James talks a lot about sin, it’s effects and how to avoid it. He wisely says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (1:19-20)
He calls on us to be doers of the word (1:22) and to walk out our faith in our actions by caring for the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed (1:27).

In chapter 2, James instructs us not to show favoritism but to love equally and invite all to the table. And, again he tells us that our faith without works is dead. He wants us to show the fruit of our salvation.

Much of chapter 3 is devoted to learning to control the tongue. I’m learning a great deal about that particular spiritual truth and it is mentioned in most wisdom literature. Our words are powerful and we must choose them carefully. Wisdom comes from heaven and is pure, peace loving and full of mercy. That should be reflected in our words if we are the children of God.

In chapter 4, he talks to us about the fighting and back biting that can go on among us. All of these quarrels are rooted in sin and choosing to love the world and the things of the world. None of us is promised tomorrow, so we should live each day to the fullest and not pin our hopes on a future that is uncertain. One especially interesting point he makes in chapter 4 is found in verse 17: “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” So, it’s no longer about the sins you commit, but also about a failure to be obedient. James has a lot of wisdom, but also some very tough truths for us today. We are called to a difficult road as Christians, but we are promised joy in the process.

The last chapter of James begins by reiterating some of what he has already said. Do not oppress the poor (5:1-6) and be patient in suffering (5:7-12). But, when we come to the summary regarding prayer, there is a portion we so often overlook.

James says if anyone is in trouble, he should pray. That makes sense to us. Easy.

Then he says, if anyone is happy, they should sing praise songs. Sounds good.

Or if anyone is sick, he should call on the elders to pray, lay hands on him and anoint him with oil. He says that the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. He will be raised up and his sins forgiven.

All of that falls very much in line with our Christian doctrines, beliefs and actions.

It’s the next portion that starts to make us a little squeamish.

“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Confess my sins to someone else? I don’t know about that. That would be humiliating!

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” There doesn’t seem to be any gray in that, does there?

James doesn’t stop there, he continues in the same breath to say “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Are my unconfessed sins weakening the power of my prayers? According to James, yes. As you heard in the story of Ms. Corrie Ten Boom, unconfessed sin in our lives breaks the circle of protection the Father desperately wants to keep around us. By holding in those dark secrets, we allow Satan to get a foothold in our hearts, in our minds, in our spirits. We start to fill up with things that block the communication between us and God.

When I read the notes regarding what Pastor Greg wanted me to preach about today, I laughed out loud. The Lord has a funny sense of humor. You see, last week, as we prepared to take communion, Pastor Greg read from I Corinthians 11:17-34. Paul was addressing a situation in the church in Corinth where the Lord’s supper was being taken in an unworthy manner. Pastor Greg charged us to take a moment to examine our hearts and confess any sin to the Lord before partaking in the Lord’s supper. As I prayed in preparation, the Lord revealed some things in my heart – some sin that needed to be confessed. I took that moment to confess those things to the Lord and repent of them before taking the Lord’s supper. But, James says we must also confess our sins to each other and pray for each other.

I have a great network of support and accountability. My best friend has been my best friend since I was 14 years old. She knows me better than just about any other person on the planet. And, she loves me fiercely and with a grace I hope I return to her in any portion. She’s someone I know I can call and confess my sins to and she will love me, offer gentle wisdom and correction, and pray with me that I may have victory over whatever it is. I have found this to be priceless in my life; absolutely priceless.

But, as the Lord’s sense of humor is a complicated thing sometimes, He continued setting up His punchline for me. There is a situation in my life for which I’ve been praying for some time. Lately, I’ve begun to pray that the truth would just rise to the surface, but I haven’t seen any movement in that direction. But, since I’ve confessed the sin in my heart and to my friend, suddenly, truths have begun surfacing. It’s small, but to me, it was a confirmation of the truth the Lord was proving in my life.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16).

It was after all of this that I reviewed the notes for this sermon. I really couldn’t help laughing out loud at how the Lord works. He’d already walked me through this journey so that I could stand before you and be transparent and have fresh proof of His truth.

But, James also gives us proof. He references the story of Elijah from I Kings 17-18. Elijah was sent as a prophet to God’s people. He called down the judgment of God in the form of a drought. No rain, not even any dew, would be on the ground until Elijah asked the Lord. It was three and half years before the people again had rain.

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Because Elijah was obedient to the Lord, he performed and witnessed many miracles. He saw a jar of flour and oil remain miraculously full while the drought remained. He raised a boy from the dead. And, he took on 450 prophets of Baal and proved that our God is real and powerful.

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

In what areas of your life are you lacking power in prayer?

Are you feeling like your prayers are just bouncing off of the ceiling and not making their way to heaven’s ears?

What in your life may be weakening your prayers and opening the circle of the blood of Jesus in your life?

Dig deep. Don’t be afraid to search them out – there is healing in shining the light on the dark places. Find someone you trust and confess your sins and pray together. There is healing there.

James ends by giving us this truth: “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (5:19-20)

There is life, healing, and freedom in the confession of sins. It’s a discipline that we don’t like to embrace. We don’t like to unzip our hearts and show the darkness inside. But, the Lord offers healing and power to those who are willing to close the circle and be surrounded by His blood.

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