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By Mark Moore

I have a confession to make.

I really don’t like confessions because they constitute an admission of inadequacy, as well as require some modicum of vulnerability. I truly do know that I am inadequate in any number of ways; I just don’t want anyone else to know. Failings, faults, deficiencies, flaws, limitations. I view all these traits as weaknesses, and I suspect that you do as well. But, confess I must. There is some island (perhaps just a sand bar) of honesty about myself that exists in my heart, periodically compelling me to “fess up” to those who find themselves entrapped in my circles of operation.

All my life I have heard that confession is good for the soul. I also know from experience that the habit of concealing inadequacy can be personally harmful. In light of these realities, it appears more and more advantageous to this pre-elderly gentleman to explore the atmosphere of vulnerable confession. Engaging in occasional and carefully selected confession appears to have some merit. It seems that we now live in a cultural environment that values people who admit their flaws and failings. This activity is referred to as “being vulnerable,” and has a healthy appeal to it. There once was a time when the word vulnerable meant “in danger of being slain by one’s enemies.” Now, however, it is more often thought of as a positive and endearing character trait.

Vulnerability, along with pretending to enjoy kale salad, have become trendy in our time. Being a veterinarian, I have lectured my rabbit-owning clients for decades about limiting dietary produce and certain hay varieties that possess a high calcium content. It settles out in the rabbit’s urinary system and, over time, can cause major problems. Kale is one of the biggest calcium offenders in the bunny world. I suppose bunnies want to be trendy also; they seem to like kale when given the opportunity to partake. I recently heard that kale has now become so fashionable among certain human demographic groups that physicians (AKA: “real doctors”) are diagnosing hypercalcemia in people! Too much of a “good” thing.

Don’t tell anybody, but I really do not like kale. Not a fan of the texture nor the taste. Add to that a subtle cultural pressure to be trendy, and my non-conformist tendencies kick in. It seems insincere to pretend that I like something just so I can be viewed as a hipster. And, nowadays, this vulnerability trend affects people (myself included) the same way. The difference is this: you can confess to me that you hate kale, and it comes off as personal preference. It’s easy for you to admit and it’s easy for me to hear. But, when you confess to me something of a personal nature – especially something that might put you in a bad light in my mind, then you are taking the risk of being judged (perhaps placing yourself in danger of being slain by your enemies). Vulnerability brings with it certain potential liabilities: admitting weakness, the possibility of disclosure to others, setting up one’s self for being assessed and perhaps shunned by me (at least) and perhaps by the others with whom I might share your confidential “little secrets.”

Secrets have power over us as long as they remain secrets. None of us like being controlled by something or someone. Confession really is good for the soul. I believe we’re hard-wired for that. But it comes with a price: the gamble associated with opening ourselves up to the scrutiny and value judgement of others.

Becoming vulnerable isn’t like turning on a light switch. You don’t exist as a non-vulnerable person one minute then “poof!” you’re all-of-a-sudden vulnerable. Because of the risk involved in vulnerability, the rheostat method seems to be the safest way to go. What I mean is that you engage variable resistance in order to slowly advance from the dark room toward a more beneficial level of brighter light. The full-on intense brilliance of LED illumination probably shouldn’t be the immediate goal when it comes to vulnerability. In fact, what is the goal when seeking to become more vulnerable?

When I was a much younger Christian, I lived my life in terms of differentiation. I defined what I thought and did based on an “us vs. them” orientation. Much of this comparison emerged from a growing awareness of how well Christianity seemed to make sense as an ideology. If you’ve ever been to one of my Christian Education classes, you have likely heard me state that I think “Christianity explains better than anything else the way things are.” That means that “us” have a pretty solid and sensible and rational belief system. It doesn’t, however, imply that the “them” side of the equation is devoid of truth and value and meaning. It simply means that Christianity explains “the way things are” better and with more intellectual integrity than the other options. Once you realize this, you tend to get excited that you have “discovered the truth.” But there usually exists a certain immature liability that underlies that excitement. What I mean to say is that knowing the truth and applying it to one’s self and others are two very different things. It’s the difference between Orthodoxy and Philosophy of Ministry.

As I enter year 45 of being a Christian, I find myself gradually leaving differentiation and living life more in terms of inclusion. I tend more to define what I think and do based on a “Him and me” orientation, and find myself less likely to evaluate others in light of assorted differences and distinctions. There seems to be a growing inclination to recognize that all believers are on their own God-tailored journey – a journey that does not progress through the same intersections, stopovers and signposts that characterize my own personal history.

So, shouldn’t the changes that accompany my aging bear fruit in terms of the way I view myself and others? I myself should be less judgmental, less likely to withhold validation of others, and less of a “litmus test” person. Most rational folks would agree that I shouldn’t treat others differently for their kale preference. Neither should I make them feel undervalued based on a current inability (or disinterest) in becoming “more vulnerable.” It’s also inappropriate for me (and demeaning to them) if I consider them to be my project. Change is the work of the Holy Spirit. The journey is mapped out by God Almighty. The whole personal project is underwritten by Jesus’ work in this world and on the cross.

As Richard Rohr so aptly writes in his great book, Falling Upward: “Holier-than-thou people usually end up holier than nobody.”

Oh, now back to that confession:

I am broken, fragile, frail and faulty. I am occasionally a hypocrite. That means that I occasionally eat kale and I sometimes feel the pull of acting vulnerable in order to gain your litmus test spiritual approval. Sum it up to say that I often want to look holy more than I want to be holy.

There! I’ve exhibited a modicum of vulnerability, and put it down in black and white. This confession of mine might also apply to you and to all who inherit the sinful, fallen human condition. May God have mercy on our souls!

I Love You:
Mark Moore

“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’” Mark 7:6

“…the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” Romans 4:13b

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in Hope

Waiting Songs and Future Hope

By Damon Webster

On Sundays for the past couple of months of quarantine, we have done the same two or three worship songs with our kids every week. Our oldest daughter is the only one who can read, so it helps our youngest two to have the same songs each week to sing. Unsurprisingly, listening to the sermons isn’t one of their favorite things. Neither is letting my wife and I listen to them for that matter. One of the songs we sing every week is “Zechariah” by Rain for Roots. It’s a bit of an odd choice, but the kids learned it for the kids' program at church and they’ve been excited to sing it weekly. If you can, go to YouTube and take a quick listen. It’s a winsome retelling of the story that reminds us of the humanity of Zechariah and how emotional it would have been for him and his wife to learn about their unborn son.

Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were the parents of John the Baptist. Elizabeth was a cousin to Mary the mother of Jesus. In the gospel of Luke, it opens with the story of Zechariah in the temple. Zechariah is in the temple performing his duties as a priest. There are people outside waiting for him to finish his work inside and come outand perform a blessing for them. While he performs his normal tasks, an extraordinary event occurs. An angel tells him he will have a son. And not just that!

Luke 1:13-17 (ESV)13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

The angel promised him a son that would be great before the Lord. A son that would go in the spirit and power of Elijah. Elijah, who called down fire on Mount Carmel to rescue a nation from paganism. Elijah who was called up into heaven in lieu of death. That’s quite the model. Of course, even when faced with an angel, Zechariah’s first response was disbelief. God gives some a sign, but he made Zechariah into a sign by striking him mute. Zechariah left that temple unable to finish his priestly duties because he lost his ability of speech. God fulfilled the promise and Elizabeth conceived a child. Elizabeth was six months pregnant before the same angel delivered the message to Mary that she would be the mother of the Christ child. In response to Mary’s doubt, he told her how God gave Elizabeth a child in her old age. Mary visited Elizabeth and we saw a beautiful picture when John leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb.

After the birth of John, relatives came to circumcise the child. They wanted to call him Zechariah after his father. Zechariah and Elizabeth were both descendents of Aaron, who was the great priest who led the Israelites out of Egypt with Moses. They were a family of priests. Actual righteous and godly priests at that, according to the scripture. So for Elizabeth to speak out against her relatives, who were likely male, and insist he have a different name must have been dramatic and shocking. Even more shocking would have been when they walked over to poor, mute Zechariah and he wrote the same on the tablet. Giving him a different name than his father implied that he would not be a priest like his father and carry on the family tradition. These are parents confessing that their child would live a different life than them. At this moment Zechariah’s tongue loosened and he broke into a beautiful prophetic psalm about the ministries that John and his cousin, Jesus, would have. I particularly like how Rain for Roots writes this part of the song. How interesting and wonderful, to have a couple of parents who were overcome with joy at how odd and different their child would be from them.

Jesus and John were strong in spirit and close to the Lord from a young age. Now the obvious difference is that Jesus was God in Man, Light of the World, and member of the perfect Triune God, while John was… a man. However, they both certainly made impressions as children, and their parents knew that they were meant to rescue Israel (if not how) and praised God for it. They felt the joy and excitement of the Lord in the lives of their children. As I listened to the song from Rain for Roots, I thought deeply about how devastating it must have been when John the Baptist was killed by King Herod. We don’t know if Elizabeth and Zechariah had lived during the 25-30 years as John ministered to the people of Israel, and there is some speculation about if Zechariah died a martyr. However, we can still feel how horrifying it would have been to be the mother, or friend, or follower of John the Baptist when he died such an undignified death. He was a prisoner of Herod, ruler over a province of Israel, when Herod made a foolish promise to give his step daughter whatever she wished after she danced for him. She asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter immediately, as John had rebuked Herod and her mother for marrying. What a sad way for John’s ministry to end. He didn’t call down fire, and he wasn’t whisked away in a chariot to heaven. He was killed by a cruel girl and selfish oligarch. He didn’t get to see Jesus’s resurrection and ascension.

It’s no accident that John died how and when he did. God did not lack control of that situation. John lived the life that was needed for us to reach salvation. Often, it’s easy to think about what it would have been like to be John or another martyr. I would like for us to think about what it would be like to be their parent or follower. To believe that someone is great and meant for great things, and having to watch them fail, or die, before the greater vision comes true. At that point, John’s followers and family would only have one hope: to look towards the person John had pointed to all along.

God calls some of us to follow people like Zachariah and Elizabeth, to believe, hope, and support their good efforts on earth to expand his Kingdom. He does so knowing how grievous it will be when those people don't get to see the full implementation of their vision. We get pictures of good things, yet they are often colored with suffering and a lack of fulfillment. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 4 short years after the civil rights act, when we could have used his wisdom for a few more decades. Members of Redeemer Presbyterian certainly feel sad at hearing the recent cancer diagnosis for Tim Keller (our prayers for his healing and recovery). To see the suffering of a figure who has pointed so many to Christ. My wife and I had decided that we were going to name our first son after her father, as he was a truly great man, and due to his cancer diagnosis, they never got to meet. The family and friends of George Floyd who didn’t get to see the end of his journey, as he moved to Minneapolis for work and what his Houston pastor called “a fresh start”. There are those who have started nonprofits that ultimately went bankrupt or they had to leave.

I hope that the followers of John, and we, will be faithful to wait upon and look for the only ultimate fulfillment, which is in Christ Jesus. We need to look at everything in this world as stepping towards that future state where Christ fully redeems and reconciles the world to himself. His ultimate fulfillment of restoration gives value, worth, and dignity to those pictures of grace in our lives, even when they don’t have a picture-perfect ending. At John’s glorious birth, his terrible death, and his future of worshiping and enjoying Christ forever in heaven, the song Zechariah sang is still and always true.

Luke 1:68-79 English Standard Version (ESV)

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he has visited and redeemed his people

69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us

in the house of his servant David,

70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71 that we should be saved from our enemies

and from the hand of all who hate us;

72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers

and to remember his holy covenant,

73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us

74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,

might serve him without fear,

75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people

in the forgiveness of their sins,

78 because of the tender mercy of our God,

whereby the sunrise shall visit us[a] from on high

79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

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