Focus 3 (of 4)-Love, Confessed

Focus 3 | Love, Confessed

Any love a person tries to find that’s based on merit isn’t really going to be love they receive.
Consider this ice breaker as you gather for the Spotlight.
What vegetable is best with cheese?
See what this Spotlight—and series—is focused on.
Tap on the words "Focus 3" in the image below to read this Spotlight's summary.
Let’s talk about questions and answers.
Listen to this audio clip when you’re ready to begin today’s Spotlight. (And welcome, by the way! It’s great that you’re here!)
(A special nod to Trinidadian-German Eurodance artist, Haddaway, and the 1993 international super-hit, “What Is Love”!)
Consider what it would take to completely explain love.
In 1917, pastor and poet Fredrick Lehman write a hymn about the love of God poetically entitled “The Love of God.” It’s still used in some churches today. The refrain sums it up pretty well, but you could simplify it even more: The love of God is quite great.

Every line of Lehman’s hymn supports that central thesis, but no part of the hymn does it better than the third verse. That verse does two things particularly well:

  1. It shows just how hard it is to really quantify God’s love. We’d have to write forever and everywhere and still wouldn’t quite have it. Love’s too much for that.
  2. It makes it real by giving you a place in the metaphor: You are a scribe, you can write as much as possible on every available surface, and you’d never finish - even though, when you ran out of strength and your pen gave its final letter, you’d know that you spent your time doing something totally worthwhile.

Read the lyrics to the hymn:

The love of God is greater far
than tongue or pen can ever tell;
it goes beyond the highest star,
and reaches to the lowest hell.
The wand’ring child is reconciled
by God’s beloved Son.
The aching soul again made whole,
and priceless pardon won.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
the saints’ and angels’ song.

When ancient time shall pass away,
and human thrones and kingdoms fall;
when those who here refuse to pray
on rocks and hills and mountains call;
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
all measureless and strong;
grace will resound the whole earth round—
the saints’ and angels’ song.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
the saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
and were the skies of parchment made;
were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill,
and ev’ryone a scribe by trade;
to write the love of God above
would drain the ocean dry;
nor could the scroll contain the whole,
though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
the saints’ and angels’ song.

Below is a song inspired by Lehman’s hymn (in fact, it starts by quoting the entire third verse.) But this version tries to take the thesis of the original (that the love of God is quite great) and add two more thoughts: This great love is designed to be useful to all humanity, and it is designed specifically to be useful to you.

Because the truth is that while you could write, for the rest of time, general things that explain what God’s love is—as Lehman’s metaphor so beautifully suggests—you won’t do that, because instead, you’ll write the very narrow and specific story of how God loved you, and exactly you, exactly as you needed to be loved at every moment of your existence.

God’s love is quite great, yes, but that’s not what makes it great. What makes it great is that its greatness is used to connect God to individual people like you, and then to connect individual people like you to God, in perfect (loving) relationship.

Listen to the song, “The Love of God.”
Welcome Perspective
What is love? It is connection, one to another,
and it must be held together by confession.
Interact with this presentation to consider what God wants of you.
What is love? It’s an honest question that hopes for an honest answer. God has treated it this way many times throughout history.

(To navigate through the experience, use the arrows in the frame below.)

Think about love in terms of the whole #nofilter movement.
#nofilter (pronounced “hashtag no filter”) started as a simple marker on posts on Instagram (the social media platform designed for pictures) where the person posting the picture wanted to highlight the fact that these fabulous photos hadn’t been edited in any way.

Most of the time, people used it for shots of gorgeous, natural oases—shots like these…

Over time, the concept was turned toward picture of people and particularly applied to selfies, with the addition of #nomakeup (so, no camera filtering and nothing changing your appearance).

This typically resulted in posts that looked like these:

The change (from landscape shots to selfies) has been interesting.

In essence, #nofilter started as a way to brag, saying, “I’m somewhere so perfect that I don’t even need to lie to you to make it seem awesome.” 

Over time, though, it’s become a way to say, “I’m someone who is not perfect, and I’m OK with that.”

What is love? It’s a connection that is held together by confession. It’s helpful to redefine this confession concept as both versions of #nofilter.

(Historically, the word confession has had a couple different meanings: originally, in a religious context, to “confess” was to boldly proclaim your beliefs, usually despite persecution or threats. You’re not hiding the goodness of what you know—you’re boldly just confessing it. Later in history, the idea of coming to someone and admitting your wrongdoing became the main idea behind confession. Both are true, because all “confess” really means is to intensely acknowledge a true thing.)

It’s helpful to define confession as “intensely acknowledging” that which is good and that which is bad (as long as the good and bad are TRUE) because that’s what God asks for. He wants to love you, and the more of you you’re willing to honestly share with him, the more of you you will realize he loves.

(One more note: a study of Instagram posts with #nofilter found that 5% of all #nofilter posts actually did have a filter. How often is that true of our confession, I wonder?)

Thankfully, God knows. Nothing is hidden from him—and still, he absolutely loves you!

Listen and sing along to this song.
Worship Perspective
God comes in love and wants you.
Just you, nothing more and nothing less.
Answer 36 questions about love.
The most popular article ever published in the New York Times’ “Modern Love” column is called “The 36 Questions that Lead to Love.”

The questions come from the research of a team of psychologists who were trying to “accelerate intimacy between strangers” by developing three sets of questions—each set probing a little more deeply than the last.

The crazy thing about these 36 questions is that they have a track record of working. Not every time—not perfectly—but they do help move a relationship forward if they’re asked in a safe way and if they’re answered honestly.

Because it isn’t about questions. It’s about vulnerability.

Follow these steps to explore this article.

  1. Prepare to be vulnerable with yourself for a second.
  2. Take a look at the list of questions. (There is a button/link below.)
  3. Identify one of the questions that would be particularly difficult for you to answer. (You don’t have to answer it. Just identify it.)
  4. If you’re doing this Spotlight with a group, consider sharing which question you’d have a hard time answering. (Nobody needs to explain why—just find comfort knowing that everyone has questions like these.)

Elaine Anon, one of the contributing authors to the study, said this:

“The basis of the 36 questions is that back-and-forth self-disclosure, that increases gradually (not too fast), is consistently linked with coming to like the other person you do this with.”

This is not just true of two people. It’s also true of a person and God. The dynamics of relationship development apply here, and confession is really just exercising the process of gradual, continuous, increasing disclosure.

Compare two prayers.
One, a Pharisee; the other, a tax collector. 

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9–14

What question was God asking the Pharisee and the Tax Collector?

Jesus says that both of these guys went to temple to pray. What made them want to go? Imagine that they’d both heard God’s voice, at the same time, and that God had asked them a simple question. What question explains their words?

(Hover over or tap on the image below for help.)

Who is the main subject in the prayers? Who does the Pharisee think about while he prays, and who does the Tax Collector think about while he prays?  

(Hover over or tap on the image below for help.)

Respond to this quote: “How can one pour anything into a full vessel? But the one God’s law empties, that his grace can and does fill.”

It may help to ask: Have you observed this to be true in your life or in the life of someone you know?
Let’s work on letting these two things be true in our lives.

First: The Complete Truth

God has completely forgiven your sins in Jesus, he has fully accepted you into his family, and you have nothing to worry about when it comes to your eternal destination.

Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.
Psalm 25:7

Second: The Incomplete Truth

You have room to grow in your understanding, application, and appreciation of the complete truth. You will always be able to be more honest, deeper, and clearer in your openness to God.

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior…

Psalm 25:4

And a third, bonus truth: God is doing the same vulnerable exercise with you. God isn’t just a far-off, aloof deity. He’s trying to reveal more and more of himself to you.

The Lord confides in those who fear him…

Psalm 25:14

Now, consider what “love, confessed” means to you.

If you’re doing this with a group, the following are two, open-ended discussion questions. If you’re doing this Spotlight on your own, grab a piece of paper and try to write down answers to each of these questions.

  1. Sometimes, a person needs to spend time “confessing” with the complete truth in mind. Sometimes, a person needs to spend time “confessing” with the incomplete truth in mind. Where are you at, lately? Which is more helpful to you right now? 
  2. No worthwhile human confession can happen if God hasn’t confessed some things first. What is God confessing to you?

All of your sins are forgiven, but not all of your self is confessed—and that’s OK.
Learn Perspective
If the question is love,
then answering the question is letting love in.
Let’s connect this honesty to empathy.
To get started, grab a piece of paper and a writing utensil, dividing it up the piece of paper like the “Empathy Map” below.

Then, add what strikes you to your map as you watch the following video from our non-profit partner for the month.

(If you weren’t aware, we’re partnering with the Modern Widows Club throughout the month of February. In short, they’re a national non-profit with a Seattle chapter that’s devoted to empowering widows to lean into life.)
Now, discuss the map with your group in this order:

  1. Says
  2. Thinks
  3. Does
  4. Feels

Finally, as a group, pray for widows like the women you met in this video.

You can…

  • Pray silently for two minutes.
  • Have one volunteer pray.
  • Use the popcorn prayer format.
Feel free to submit a prayer request by filling out the below form.
(If you choose to make your request public, you'll see it display in the Current at the end of the Spotlight along with anyone else who did the same.)

Prayer Requests

Pray through your requests—together—as a group.
After submitting your requests in the above form, take some time to share with your group whatever requests the group might have for this week.
Serve Perspective
As confession deals honestly with the bad,
it is better able to identify the good.
Pray through Psalm 25 using the video below.
You’ll hear a section of the psalm read, and then have several seconds to pray before the next section is read.
Listen to this song as we close today.
Hopefully, this Spotlight has given you the impression that confession can not only be a good thing, but an empowering one that levels-up your relationship with God. The song Cages by We the Kingdom does a really good job of putting confession into that light, with a sense of excitement and motivation that really aligns with the way God talks about the goodness of confession.

Beyond all that, the second verse gets into the positive side—as we move past our shortcomings, God shows us our new potential in him. It’s great! Hope you love it.

Lyrics from Cages by We the Kingdom

What if I got real honest?
What if I took a risk?
What if I opened up my heart
and let you see in?
What if I took my mask off?
Trying to fit in…
I don’t wanna be a mannequin!

What if I let my guard down?
What if I took a breath?
What if I wasn’t perfect?
What if I was just a mess?
What if I bled my soul out,
giving all I could give?
I’m so tired of pretending.

I’m coming out of my cages.
I’m stepping down from my stages.
I’m sick and tired of faking it.
What I wouldn’t give to be known!
What I wouldn’t give to be known!

What if I got new armor?
What if I swung my sword?
What if I face my demons
like I’ve never done before?
What if I hung my banner?
What if I chose a side?
What if I knew I couldn’t lose this time?

I’m coming out of my cages.
I’m stepping down from my stages.
I’m sick and tired of faking it.
What I wouldn’t give to be known!
What I wouldn’t give to be known!

Coming out of my cages.
Coming out of my cages.
coming out of my cages.
Coming out of my cages.
coming out of my cages.
Coming out of my cages.
I’m coming out.

I’m coming out of my cages.
I’m stepping down from my stages.
I’m sick and tired of faking it.
What I wouldn’t give to be known!
What I wouldn’t give to be known!
Sing along with (or listen to) this song to close out this Spotlight.
Feel free to sing along or simply listen. Do what makes you comfortable—but do whatever helps you focus on the song's meaning best.
Farewell Perspective
Call it love, call it confession, call it something else—
it’s God and you, and vulnerability is its greatest strength.
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