November 18, 2004
Mind Your Business
By David A. Zimmerman
"Thanksgiving for every wrong move."
One thing I’ve learned over my many decades: if you find yourself mentioned by name in a sermon, you’ve done something either really, really good or really, really bad.
You can avoid that kind of scrutiny in a big church, such as the big church I left earlier this year because I wanted to be involved in a smaller church. In a big church you’re pretty safe if you want to be, because the vast majority of your fellow church attenders don’t know that you exist. But in a small church, people know you. By name. And if you’re not careful, by your deeds. And if you're not really, really careful, by your misdeeds.
I learned all this firsthand, all of a sudden, when I was mentioned by name in my pastor’s sermon—and for the record, I didn’t do something really, really good.
I brought this outing on myself, I must confess. In fact, I did confess just minutes before the sermon was delivered, in front of the whole congregation. Our church was in the midst of its annual “stewardship” program, which is fancy talk for how we manage our money. I’m on the stewardship committee, so I got to make an announcement, during which I shared my complete lack of self-control regarding money. Along the way I confessed my having brought significant credit card debt with me into my marriage, for which my incredibly gracious wife has incredibly, graciously forgiven me. Then I invited people to a luncheon and sat down.
My pastor saw an opportunity and took it: my confession became an illustration of the power of money in our culture. And I must confess, it makes for a pretty good illustration. I certainly felt convicted by it.
I don’t have any illusions—or at least no longstanding illusions—that I am perfect or that my successes in life outweigh my failures or failings. I’ve learned at least that much in my many decades. But I do find it somewhat gratifying that, even when what I do causes profound difficulty or even pain to me or someone I love, my mistakes can have some redemptive value—even if only as a cautionary tale.
I’m reminded of a verse from Scripture, advice given from the apostle Paul to his student Timothy: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). Our life, however it is lived, has influence on the people around us. And how we persevere in our living and our believing has its own influence.
They say confession is good for the soul, that when we live in the truth about ourselves we are freed from the image management that keeps us from knowing each other and knowing ourselves. I don’t know about all that, but I certainly survived my confession, and I’m certainly motivated now to do something really, really good right in front of my pastor.
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My book’s now in stock. Look for it in stores, and be sure to check out the sweet flip animation running up the right margin.
No Strangely Dim next week, which you can include in your thanks-giving if you like. Catch you in December!