How NOT to Make Confession of Your Faults to Others

Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas, two NBA Hall of Famers, recently reconciled after a long-standing feud.

Their dispute dated back to the late 1980s when the LA Lakers and Detroit Pistons played each other in two consecutive NBA finals.

Johnson further admitted in a book co-authored with Larry Bird–another Hall of Famer who played for the Boston Celtics–that he helped keep Thomas off the 1992 US Olympic Dream Team.

Who takes issue with a such a moving scene? What’s the deal? On the one hand, I hope this emotional exchange results in genuine, lasting reconciliation. It certainly appears sincere.

On the other hand, it contains a flaw that often mars effective apology making–what a lawyer friend of mine refers to as an “abortive confession.” It fails to deliver because of one tiny word.

Did you catch it in the video? Johnson started well for sure. “You are my brother. Let me apologize . . . (so far so good, but then) IF I hurt you.”

One little word at the very least tainted the efficacy of Johnson’s confession.

Other words can have the same effect–like “but” and “maybe.” Ken Sande, in his book The Peacemaker, explains:

The best way to ruin a confession is to use words that shift the blame to others or that appear to minimize or excuse your guilt. The most common way to do this is to say, “I’m sorry if I’ve done something to upset you.” The word if ruins this confession, because it implies that you do not know whether or not you did wrong. … Clearly, that is no confession at all. It is a superficial statement designed to get someone to stop bothering you or to transfer fault for breaking a relationship. Small wonder that genuine forgiveness rarely follows such words (127).

Perhaps that last statement overstates the case somewhat. God can heal wounds between estranged parties through flawed means. We wish the best for these two men, of course.

But Sande’s point keeps in step with Jesus’s emphasis in Matthew 7:5: First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Abortive confessions fail to remove adequately the logs of our own offenses. Removing specks from the eyes of others with impaired vision is a dangerous procedure.

For additional help in making an effective apology see The Seven A’s of Confession.

Question: When have you been on the receiving end of an effective apology? What made it contribute to lasting reconciliation?


Overcoming Resentment and the Urge to Get Even


Everyone deals with this. No one avoids hurt which results from bad treatment. The human condition inevitably struggles with lingering resentment over wrongs done. Who hasn’t relished the prospect of payback which matches the harm inflicted by someone’s evil?

Joseph certainly must have. He had every reason to after his brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery (Genesis 37). Fearing the worst after their father died, those brothers definitely worried so:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” (Genesis 50:15-18 ESV)

They pitched Pharaoh’s number two, their little brother, on accepting an offer of servitude in exchange for their lives and the lives of their families. Joseph’s response stands forever as a marvel of grace and a model for peacemaking reconciliation  even in the face of the worst kind of treatment:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19-21 ESV)

My, talk about letting your speech always be gracious (Colossians 4:6) and love covering a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12)!

How did Joseph do it? What did he know that caused him to release arguably reasonable and deserved resentment for his brothers and bless them with fear-easing comfort?

Three things.

  1. He knew his place – not being God. Am I in the place of God? His was not to judge. That job’s taken. He heard Paul’s words before he ever wrote them:

    Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)

  2. He knew his God – working for good.  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Once again we read foreshadowing of the apostle finding grace to heal hurts anchored in God’s sovereignty.   And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)
  3. He knew his role – caring for others.  I will provide for you and your little ones. Paul, Paul everywhere.

    Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)

Of course Joseph ultimately points to his greater Son, Jesus, who not only modeled such love and grace (Luke 23:34) but also empowers us to do the same through the power of the gospel (Philippians 2:5-11).

Are you shackled by the chains of unforgiveness that harbor resentment and plot revenge? Seek your freedom in the love-covering-a-multitude of your sins and the sins of others by virtue of the cross and resurrection.

RTS Chapel Message Now Available

Thanks to the good folks at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, we are able to make available the audio of my recent message from Ephesians 1:7-10 entitled The Blessing in the Son on our website.

You can listen to the audio here.

I summarized the message this way:

Unsurpassed blessing upon undeserving sinners warrants unrelenting praise. The blessing praised is our redemption. Second, the bounty paid is His blood. The benefit procured is forgiveness of our trespasses. The basis proclaimed is the riches of His grace – extravagantly dispensed, magnificently revealed, perfectly timed, and ultimately purposed grace.

So grateful to pastor in a seminary community!

The Glory of Overlooking an Offense

That’s what Proverbs 19:11 calls it. Glory.

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

The starting place to biblical peacemaking over and over again is the glory of overlooking – choosing to forgive an offense without transacting any communication with the offending party. Proverbs calls that good sense. The Hebrew word means that which reflects prudence, insight, skillful understanding. Few things make us more insightful in relationships than the grace of overlooking offenses.

But when is overlooking appropriate?

Ken Sande suggests the following:

Overlooking is not a passive process in which you simply remain silent for the moment but file away the offense for later use against someone. That is actually a form of denial that can easily lead to brooding over the offense and building up internal bitterness and resentment that will eventually explode in anger. Instead, overlooking is an active process that is inspired by God’s mercy through the gospel. To truly overlook an offense means to deliberately decide not to talk about it, dwell on it, or let it grow into pent-up bitterness. If you cannot let go of an offense in this way, if it is too serious to overlook, or if it continues as part of a pattern in the other person’s life, then you will need to go and talk to the other person about it in a loving and constructive manner.

Overlooking offenses is appropriate under two conditions. First, the offense should not have created a wall between you and the other person or caused you to feel different toward him or her for more than a short period of time. Second, the offense should not be causing serious harm to God’s reputation, to others, or to the offender.

Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 83.

Whenever you can, practice the good sense of patient overlooking of offenses in others. By so doing you will reflect the glory of the gospel manifest in your life like few other things can.

Servants of God and Unprofitable at That

Lately while doing my morning workout I’ve been listening to George Verwer of Operation Mobilisation fame preach through passages of Scripture that have most significantly affected his life over the years of his ministry.

The most recent one focused on a couple of the letters to the churches in Revelation. No one exhorts like brother George and this message was no exception, particularly when he came to the question of pastors and the tendency we can have toward pride.

He questioned how we could even entertain such a notion given a passage like Luke 17:7-10.

7″Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

Earlier in the context Jesus challenges the disciples to a radical standard of forgiveness that includes a frequency of seven times a day when an offending brother repents (v. 4). The disciples respond with incredulity and a plea for increased faith to obey (v. 5). After making a statement about the amazing power of even minimal faith, Jesus goes on to tell this story as another way of reinforcing his teaching on love and grace in offending relationships.

It has everything to do with understanding our fundamental identity as servants of the living God. He makes an argument from the lesser to the greater to drive home His point. He borrows from the culture an illustration about servants and masters and the way they relate. He asks a series of questions which imply their own answers.

The upshot is this. After working hard all day in the field, the servant does not expect to come into the house and find the master inviting him to recline at table for a well-deserved meal. In fact, he expects just the opposite. He expects to be told to make the master’s meal and to dress properly (literally – gird up the loins) for even more service. Only then when his duties have finished may he sit down to eat. Nor does he expect any thanks. This is just the way it works for one designated a slave. If this kind of mindset fits the lesser realm of the world, how much more so does it pertain to the greater realm of the kingdom.

I think this text has at least four things to say about our relationship to God as servants that should color everything about the way we go about obeying the Lord’s commandments in our lives. First, we should serve enduringly. The dutiful servant plowed the field, tended the sheep, AND prepared the meal. He worked hard all the day. We never rest from our labors as God’s servants until we go home to be with Him (Rev. 14:13). May our service endure over the length of our days.

Second, we should serve vigorously. The command to dress properly, gird up the loins, speaks to a certain energy and enthusiasm with which we must go about our service. The men in this day and culture dressed in long robes that were not conducive to manual labor. So when they wanted to get down and dirty with hard work, they tucked up their clothes into their belt to facilitate freedom of movement. Our service for God ought to have a flavor of eagerness and vigor to it that suggests we do our work unto Him with a whole heart.

Third, we should serve humbly. This is the main point of the story. Jesus signals this by the transition in v. 10 – So you also. He explains how a servant of God should talk after he finishes doing what God commands. The way he talks matters because it reveals the inclinations of his heart. What should we as God servants say? We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.

The word for unworthy appears only one other time in the New Testament in Matthew 25:30 in the parable of the talents. Jesus calls the one talent man who buried his master’s money in the ground rather than invest it worthless. Another way to say it would be unprofitable. He brought no return by his efforts.

So when we admit after laboring hard for God that at best those efforts are unworthy, what we are saying is they have merited nothing in and of themselves. They merit no thanks or reward. We have simply done what is required, commanded, obligatory for a servant to his master. Now we know from the Scriptures that God does indeed reward our service to Him, but He is under no obligation to do so and grants rewards by His grace just as He does everything else about our relationship to Him. Even if we forgive an offending brother or sister seven times in a day, it’s no big deal for a servant of God. You just do what you ought.

Lastly, we should serve completely. The text says when you have done ALL that you were commanded (emphasis added). God’s servants must not pick and choose from His word like some ala carte menu what they obey and what they will not obey. All His prescriptions for a holy life pertain to every one of His servants and they must compel our dutiful obedience.

Thomas Watson wrote in his classic A Godly Man’s Picture: A servant must not do what he pleases, but be at the will of his master. Thus a godly man is God’s servant. He is wholly at God’s disposal. He has no will of his own.

Do we see ourselves in such radically different terms? Has the identity of unprofitable servant sunk home in our hearts and dispositions? If so it will compel an attitude of service toward his requirements in our lives that is enduring, vigorous, humble, and complete.

The last notion we will ever entertain is that of pride.

It Is I Who Needs to Ask John Piper for Forgivness

Last evening I posted a link to the full text of Pastor John Piper’s announcement concerning his leave of absence from Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Today, as I thought about this turn of events and the heart of my brother and co-laborer in the gospel, I felt compelled to post a first-ever comment on the Desiring God blog addressed directly to Pastor John.

Here is what I wrote:

My dear brother, as a fellow pastor laboring for my flock’s joy in God, I am sobered by your statement. Thank you for the courage, honesty, humility, and integrity to do the hard thing, but quite obviously the right thing. Who can argue successfully that responding to the Spirit’s reality check, as you put it, and taking seriously the priority of your family, especially your marriage, over your ministry, is somehow misguided and unnecessary. No man’s ministry matters so greatly, even as one as broad and valued as yours by God’s grace, that he should sacrifice the vitality of his marriage for it. To fail to live with your bride in an understanding way, honoring her as a fellow heir of the grace of life as tender of the precious garden of your home would result in hindered prayers leaving all for naught in God’s work anyway (1 Pet. 3:7). So Godspeed to you in this sacred season of redirection in ultimate things. I promise to pray for you as you have asked and I will do it daily. I understand your apology to your flock but assure you owe me no apology. It is I who need to ask your forgiveness for failing to pray more earnestly and regularly for you and your protection from the several species of pride that hunt a man so wonderfully used by God in my life and so many others others. He who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12). May God have mercy on us all who put our hands to the gospel plow that after preaching to others we should not be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27). I look forward to your restoration to the pulpit according to God’s will and in His time. I love you.

Will you join me in praying for this man, his marriage/family, and ultimate return to his pastoral post? And please, please pray more vigorously than ever for me that I not succumb to the several species of pride and a hundred and one other threats to my fitness for the work at OGC.

After this shocking development in the life and ministry of one I admire so much and desire to emulate, I feel more vulnerable than ever and in need of so much in the way of grace, power, and protection. First Thessalonians 5:25 has never seemed to me a more pertinent and absolutely necessary request.

A Good Day for Tiger Woods


After reading this morning’s headline about the golfer’s exit from golf for now and his statement confessing infidelity in his marriage, I clicked on his website. His signature (pictured above), attached to his statement, is the only image in the main window. You can read what he has to say here.

While this news may not make for a good day for the PGA tour and golf lovers everywhere, Tiger Woods may end up regarding it one of the best days of his life.

I say that because of a verse from Scripture like Proverbs 28:13.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Woods’ confession may well possess all the components of what Ken Sande, in his book, The Peacemaker, calls the Seven A’s of Confession.

  1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)  – he has made this statement for all the world to see.
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs) – there appear to be no such clauses in his confession.
  3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions) – he names his actions infidelity and rightly so.
  4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone) – he begins the statement, “I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt.”
  5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution) – stepping away from golf indefinitely certainly qualifies for this.
  6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions) – the attitude appears altered, but only time will tell if actions change as well.
  7. Ask for forgiveness – he says the very words in his statement, “I ask forgiveness.”

Ken Sande often adds an eighth A under the seventh, namely, allow for time. It will take perhaps a very long while for Tiger to win back his wife’s trust. May we wish him well in that endeavor. Reconciliation/restoration of marriages honors God, the ultimate peacemaker.

Only one more thing could turn this good day into a very, very good day for Tiger Woods. If it turns out somewhere along the line that Psalm 32:1-5 applies to him as a result of this fall from grace, he will learn to call this his best of days.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

The biggest thing missing from Tiger Woods’ statement is any reference to God and the offense his sin makes before the Most High.

Oh that he, that we, might know the supreme blessedness of “you forgave the iniquity of my sin” through the good news of the gospel that Jesus Christ stood in his, our place, for things like infidelity and every other sin that condemns us and puts us rightly under His wrath.

The day we obtain mercy, not just from our wives, or children, or the public, but from God, that indeed is the best of all days in our life.