Even though words may be simple, they aren’t always easy to say. This week, in Simple Words, we explore the word ‘sorry.’ Sorry is one of those words that, while simple, isn’t always easy to use. Sorry requires humility, vulnerability, and surrender, and too often, we find ways to avoid it.
This week we are looking at the story of Ananias and Sapphira to learn not only how sorry is difficult, but what can go wrong when we refuse to say sorry. We will also explore three steps so that, as individuals and as a community, we can be a people marked by the simple word ‘sorry.’
This week we are challenged and changed by the simple word, sorry.
I will do a fearless and searching moral inventory.
I will confess my faults to God, myself, and another person.
I will do whatever I can to make right what I’ve made wrong.
Alright, we’re in a five-week series called “Simple Words” where we’re looking each week at just one word that can change your life. We started with the word no — how that one little word can begin to de-clutter your life and make space for God. Then we looked at yes — how no matter how many promises God has made, they are all yes in Christ Jesus, and we can say yes every day to God, yes every day to life. Last week we looked at the word help — how it takes a lot more courage to say the word help than it does to hide, and pretend, and deny and act like we don’t need help. In fact, we were made to live in continual dependence on God in the context of surrender, and the word help, though it may look like weakness, is actually life and strength. Alright, today we look at what might be the hardest word of this whole series. It will strike at your pride. You may not like this word. It’s the word sorry. * Not like, “Oops.” * Not like, “My bad.” Like going under the knife. Like examining myself with unflinching honesty, and confessing with humility, and setting things right — like surgery for the soul. It’s a simple word, but people find amazing reasons to avoid it. Maybe it’s been a long time since you’ve said this word. I want to start today with this — One time after a hike on the Pleasanton ridge, my wife Kathy was looking at me, and she said, “You have a tick on your leg.” My leg felt kind of weird. I’m not a doctor. I don’t know what a tick looks like. It just looked like a random spot to me. Kathy said, “I’ll cut it out.” She’s a Nurse Practitioner working in Dermatology so she loves cutting things out of people, especially me. So she got a pair of pliers and a little chain saw. And she cut it out. She got the tick out and saved my leg. Now imagine that I would have said to Kathy, “I don’t want to be bothered to mess with this tick. It’s not a big deal. My life is still manageable. My leg is still manageable. It’ll probably go away by itself.” Or imagine that I would have said to Kathy, “Why did you have to tell me I have a tick? You’re shaming my body. You’re making me feel bad.” We don’t do that with our bodies. We don’t do that with our cars or our possessions. If someone tells you that you have a nail in your tire, you don’t say, “Oh man, why did you have to tell me that?” We don’t do that with our businesses or our houses. We only do that with our souls. We only do that with our character. We only do that with what matters most to God. * You see, I have a resentful temper. * I have an undisciplined tongue. * I have a habit of lust. * I live in bondage to gossip all the time. * I’m shackled to selfishness every day. * My real god is money — that’s my identity. That’s my security. People who know me well can see this as clearly as Kathy saw the tick. But I subtly or not-so-subtly let them know that their telling me this would not be welcome by me. So I live a respectable double life. * I go to church. * I pray, especially when I need something. * I believe, although I doubt a lot too. Sorry is mostly a word I use to smooth over relational unpleasantness, to try to control people, not to deliberately face the full ugly truth about the state of my soul. So I keep my character defects hovering vaguely in the background. * I don’t systematically examine myself for them. Who would do that? * I don’t make a priority of seeking God’s help to remove them, no matter what the cost. * I don’t invite other people to look at these hidden areas. A lot of other people don’t do this either. God is okay with my not doing that, isn’t he? See, this gets us real deeply into grace, which is a word we often misunderstand and misapply and turn into pain avoidance. This gets us real deeply into guilt and confession and redemption and mercy and what kind of people God wants us to be — what kind of community we’re called to be as a church. I want to tell you at the beginning of this message right now, with as much love as I can — you have a tick in your leg. Now, will you make asking God to deliver you at any cost the great priority of your life? Or will you pretend like it’s not there and just hope it goes away and say, “I don’t want to have to look at that. It would be too painful.” There’s a strange and scary story in the New Testament that tells us how high the stakes are. In the earliest days of the church, just when the church is getting started in Jerusalem, one of the couples in that community is a husband and a wife. Their names are Ananias and Sapphira. We don’t know what first drew them to the community — what first attracted them to Jesus — but there’s something about the church that appeals to them. One of the most unusual aspects of that community was generosity. Most people in the early church were poor, but some people had resources and would share them. We read about one man named Joseph. He sold a field he owned, brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet, to be used for the community. People thought so highly of Joseph that they started calling him Barnabas, which means son of encouragement. Ananias and Sapphira, like Joseph, have some resources. So here’s what happens next. Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 5:1-2 Now, let’s play this out a little bit — * They see how other people with resources are giving stuff away. Maybe they feel a little pressure to give and kind of resent it. * They see Joseph get a new name, Barnabas. Maybe they feel a little jealous at his attention. * They want to be generous, but they also want to be rich. * They want to be loved, but they also want to indulge their jealousy. * They want to be celebrated, but they want to deceive. * They have divided hearts. And I’m like that. I want God. I really do. But I also want what I want that I know God is opposed to. Ananias gets this idea. He thinks, “We could take a field, take some of the money from selling it, give it to the church, but we could keep some of the money for ourselves. It wouldn’t even be lying. Not really. We don’t have to say we’re giving it all. We just know people will think we’re giving it all. We’ll have a false reputation for generosity. We’ll indulge our greed. We’ll avoid the pain of exposing our jealousy and resentment. We can have the admiration of others, while we secretly betray the values we pretend to uphold. It’ll be great.” So he tells his wife Sapphira. Now, this is a key moment, because she could have said, “Hey, honey, there’s a tick in your leg. There’s a defect in your character. I’m getting the chain saw. It’s coming out now.” Instead, she says, “Okay, good idea.” This is what a great writer, Neal Plantinga, calls the “sin of conniving.” And that’s a really destructive kind of sin. We pretend not to notice our character defects. Good connivers don’t even acknowledge that they’re conniving. They just connive. The apostle Peter finds out about this. We don’t know how, but he does. Peter does not connive. Peter confronts Ananias directly. He makes it very clear the deepest sin here isn’t the jealousy or the resentment or the greed. In fact, he says to Ananias, “You could have kept all the money if you wanted. No one was holding a gun to your head. You didn’t have to sell the field.” The real sin here was deceit. It was the decision to live a double life. There’s something about spiritual hiddenness that’s so toxic to God’s community — it makes it a sin, not just against other people but, against God. Here’s what happens next. When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Acts 5:5 A couple hours later, his wife Sapphira comes in. Same conversation with Peter. Same results. She falls down dead. They carry her body out. The text says — Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. Acts 5:11 No kidding. Now, why in the world does this story make it into the Bible? Remember, when the Bible was written, it was the early days of the church. They’re trying to grow the church. Having a story about someone falling over and dying in the church doesn’t seem like a good recruiting strategy — “Come to church. You might die.” Here’s what I think was going on. Because the Holy Spirit had come at Pentecost in Acts 2, the early church was a community of unprecedented spiritual power — * power to heal * power to forgive sin * power to break down ethnic barriers between groups that had always hated each other * power to love Because the Holy Spirit came, the human race got plugged into a source of power it had not known since the garden of Eden. Question — how does spiritual power work? This is really important for you as an individual, for your relationships, and for us as a church. Spiritual power flows when people get honest about their flaws and sin and need for God. None of us can fully understand this. None of us controls this. It’s kind of counterintuitive. We think it’s all about being great or wise or strong or smart, but, actually, the power of God really flows through people when they get serious about acknowledging their weakness, their confusion, their guilt, their sin, their need for God. God is really clear about this. God says to the apostle Paul: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9 We get confused about this. We think we have to show people how strong we are. No. A community of people, a family, a small group, especially a church, is a spiritual ecosystem, a spiritual power grid. We forget about this and think we have to look better than we are. That kills the church. When we get honest, when we share our real stories, our real struggles, our character defects — it increases the flow of spiritual power. It’s when we’re willing to say to one another, “I messed up today. I’m dealing with temptation right now.” It’s when we’re honest with each other. When sins get named — that’s when people get known, and people get loved, and people get healed. When you and I hide, it decreases spiritual power. It blocks, it impedes honesty and change and grace. It doesn’t damage just the hider, but then other people are led to hide. And we all sense this —- when people are wearing masks. Then we get stuck, and then we pretend, and then we isolate, and then we end up in despair. < When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, God started a new community where spiritual power flowed in an unprecedented way. You see, the story of Ananias and Sapphira is the first story of hiding and deception in the early church. It’s very much a repeat of the story of hiding and deception that happened at the beginning of the Bible in the garden of Eden. It’s kind of like God’s second attempt — new humanity — and now a second story of the fall. And here, too, in a real visible way, we see it leads to death. It always leads to death. So here’s part of the lesson. Here’s part of why this story made it in the Bible — Do not make your ultimate fear the fear of dying. Fear living the wrong life. Fear becoming the wrong person. Fear hiding. Fear losing your soul. When the text says not once but twice, “Great fear seized them all,” we look at that and think, “Well, that must have been unpleasant.” No — it’s just sanity. Ironically, it’s people who know grace who know this best. There’s an old song you probably know, “Amazing Grace.” One of the verses says, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.” There are people I know and love who are in AA. They live in the knowledge and the healthy fear that apart from the everyday, moment-by-moment grace of God, they are one choice, one drink away from hell and death. “God, help me. God, help me. Jesus, help me.” Such people need a community of intense spiritual power, the kind of power that comes only with great honesty and deep confession and thorough cleansing. And that’s the church Jesus came to start. And I have to tell you — I’m tired of that power being present in places like 12-step communities and not present in God’s church, which is the place where it was born. You will help us become that church or you’ll help thwart it, one or the other, but you can’t avoid this decision. You cannot avoid this crossroad. Alright, we’ll talk more about this is just a moment. Announcement In the time that’s left in this message, I want to walk us through how to become the kind of people who live the word sorry with deep spiritual power before God and others? It’s not rocket science. It’s just hard. We’ll look at three steps. The first step is: 1. I do a fearless and searching moral inventory. This goes way, way back in the life of the people of God. The psalmist put it like this — Search me, O God, and know my heart. Psalm 139:23 * I don’t do this alone; I do this with God. * I ask for God’s help, like we talked about last week. * I set aside time to be alone. * And I use a framework — and often when I do this I will use what has been known for a long time in the church as the seven deadly sins — pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, greed, and laziness. * I ask God — “God, help me see where these are in my thoughts and my behavior.” * And I write them down real honestly. Is this painful? It’s intensely painful. Now, I want to say a word about why you should do this. I was thinking about our world and about this question — what does our world need most? Not what does our world need a lot of. What does it need most? I would say what our world needs most is not better houses, or better laws, or better medicine, or better governments. It needs better people. That’s need number one. The good news is you can make a great contribution to this. So where should you start? What should project number one be? Who do you have the best shot to make into a better person? * Your friend? * Your roommate? * Your spouse? * Your boss? * Your child? No. You have the best shot at doing that in you. For me it’s me. I get the tick removed from my leg because I’m responsible for my leg. I get the sin dealt with in my soul because I’m responsible for my soul. And I want you to know, personally, I do this on a regular basis. Every week, I review my week and ask God to help me see where I was resentful, where I was anxious, where I indulged in self-pity, and what apologies I need to make the following week. Periodically, I’ll take a longer chunk of time, like several hours, and do a longer exam. Then it’s time for the next step. The first step is — I do a fearless and searching moral inventory. The second step is: 2. I confess my faults to God, myself, and another person. Again, this came from the Jesus community — the people of God. James is writing to the early church and says: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16 Notice the connection between the practice of confession between people and the power for healing. Something happens when people get real — that’s when power flows. I confess to God, myself, and another person. Those three — God, me, and one other person. Guess which one of those three is the hardest? I will guarantee you what’s hardest is to confess your faults to another person. And the primarily reason why is because that person is looking you right in the eyes. Now, I understand that most people will be unwilling to do this. So I want to give you a reason to do this second step. Wouldn’t you like to have fewer problems in life? What would you say is the number-one creator of problems in your life? It’s you, right? You are your biggest problem. The good news is — together with God’s help you can pursue the transformation of the number-one source of your problems. I know, I know — a lot of people will say, “I don’t need to do this. God can forgive me without me needing to tell another person what I’ve done wrong.” Of course he can. God can forgive you any way God wants to. That’s part of what it means to be God. But I do this on a regular basis, and I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you a strange thing. When I know I’ll have to face the pain, the humiliation of telling my friend about my name dropping, about my lying, about my lusting, about my pouting, oddly enough, it makes me less likely to name drop, lie, lust, and pout, because I know I’m going to have to face the pain of telling someone that. And I don’t want to face that. And I have to tell you — I would not want to do life without having someone in my life that I can confess everything to. Now you should do this only with someone you know well, only with someone you fully trust. Don’t walk up to a stranger sometime this week and say, “My pastor said I’m supposed to tell you the darkest sin I ever committed, so here goes.” It may be that you want to find a really good counselor where you know you can trust their confidentiality. For some people, that will be the person they tell all of their secrets to. I’ll tell you something else — as long as I carry around a secret, I carry around a burden. — You’re only as sick as your secrets. It works like this. When I keep a secret from you, even if you tell me you love me, I’ll be thinking, “Yeah, but you wouldn’t tell me that if you knew the truth about me.” See, you can only be loved to the extent that you’re known. You can only be fully loved if you’re fully known. And God made the church to be a place where people can be fully known and fully loved and fully healed. When you confess to another person, you experience what’s sometimes called the relief of healing love. And really, that’s when you’re more able to forgive other people — because you’re familiar with your own sinfulness, your own brokenness. I’ll tell you something else. We live in a spiritual ecosystem. * When people hide, people die. * When people get real, people get healed. So I confess to God, myself, and another person. And then there’s a third step in this process of living sorry. 3. I do whatever I can to make right what I’ve made wrong. Again, this goes way back in the Bible. It’s not rocket science. There’s a passage in the Old Testament, the book of Leviticus, that lists ways that people in Israel (you and me) sin: deception, stealing, carelessness, anger, and so on. Then God says when they sin in any of these ways and realize their guilt: They must make restitution in full. Leviticus 6:5 The purpose behind doing a moral inventory, confessing, and making amends is not that you have to do that to get God to forgive you. It’s not even to smooth out relationships, although very often it will bring about reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness in amazing ways. At its core, this is the way transformation and redemption work — it’s how you and I receive grace to become a different person. It’s a funny thing, but if I gossip or indulge in lust or lie, and then I know I have to tell someone about it, and then I know I’m going to have to set it right — I’m less likely to do that stuff than if I know I get to keep it all a secret. There’s a teaching pastor I know who essentially does the same type of work I do — he studies Scripture, reads commentary, researches, writes and teaches the Bible to people a lot like you and me. Except he teaches in a church that has a lot more people than we do at Blue Oaks. When we see each other at conferences, the question always gets asked — how many people are coming to your church. And when he tells me how many people attend his church, instead of my first thought being, “Wow, that’s great. A lot of people are learning and growing because of the work this guy does as a teaching pastor,” my first thought is to feel a little inadequate, to feel a little sad, to feel a little jealous. “How come I’m not teaching more people?” Now here’s the point — I see this in me when I examine myself and confess it to a friend. Now this is not something that really requires amends, but as I was reflecting on it, this thought came to me — “Write a note to this person. Congratulate him and tell him, ‘You’re doing a great work for God. God is using you to make a difference in so many lives. Way to go.’ In fact, Matt, if you really want to be restored to moral sanity, every time you get jealous of someone else who’s doing better than you, write them a note and congratulate them.” I’ve been writing a lot of notes lately. Is it painful? Yeah, it’s intensely painful. I’m told giving birth is painful. I’m sure glad my mom went through with it. Is it worth it? It is intensely worth it. I want to mention two barriers that could trip you up. One of them is this thought that may occur to you — “I don’t really need to do this. I know there are moral train wrecks — murderers, thieves, adulterers, kidnappers, addicts. They need it, but my life is manageable.” You put yourself in the category of conventionally decent people. — Not perfect, not a train wreck. I’m a conventionally decent person. Here’s the deal. The sins of conventionally decent people are particularly insidious — pride, resentment, judgmentalism, lovelessness. They’re actually the sins we most need help to see. By the way, it was conventionally decent people who were Jesus’ biggest enemies. * It was conventionally decent people who put him on a cross. * It was conventionally decent people who killed the church. Speaking as a recovering conventionally decent person, I don’t need less help from other people with my sins; I need more help. I’m more likely to be blind to my sin. Another barrier — The Evil One will put this thought in your mind — “I know I should do this. I know I ought to do this. I know God wants me to do this. I know I need to do this, but I don’t want to do it.” Of course you don’t want to do it. No one wants to do it. What in the world does want have to do with it? Where in the Bible do the writers of Scripture ever say, “Thou shall do what thou wantest to do”? If you’re serious about following Jesus, then “I don’t want to do it” died a long time ago as the ultimate criteria for your decisions. If you’re still allowing “I don’t want to do it” to trump Jesus’ call to do it, then you might think about whether or not you’re really following Jesus. You might wonder — “Isn’t there an easier way?” No, there’s not. It’s like dying. That’s why the apostle Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ.” What does that mean? What does that feel like? What happened to Paul’s soul? This could sound flip, and I don’t mean it to at all. — It hurts like hell. Being crucified with Christ hurts precisely like hell — the hell of my sin, my betrayal, my ugliness, my deception, my apathy, my selfishness. To be seen and known for what I am hurts like hell. But the thing about resurrection is — if you want to experience it, you kind of have to die first. Now I want to get real personal. If you’ve never made the decision to die to your old self — to your old life — to make Jesus your forgiver, your friend, your new life, your source of power, and your guide — you can do that today. You can ask him right now. You can confess and repent and invite right now. Let me lead you in a prayer. And let me say this — don’t do this as a conventionally decent person. Do this as someone who is laying down their pride, and their reputation, and their entitlement — because listen — you have a tick in your leg. Would you bow your head and pray with me? Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA