I have been having the best time doing premarital counseling with a couple otherwise not connected to the congregation. I haven't been doing anything different from my normal premarital material, but the conversations have been so real that not only do I feel they are learning, I'm finding myself taking notes and expanding all my material.
What have we been talking about? Sin. Yep, the good stuff. And the bad stuff. As a pastor, I figure people know how to handle the good times. But when the bad times come, will they have the tools to survive? Couples still in the honeymoon stage may never have even had a bad time yet, but it's my job to prepare them for when they come.
Studies say (and the findings seem self-evident) that the greatest indicator of longevity for a relationship is how they handle the small stuff. The small stuff. Some might think it would be the big stuff, like a move or the most stressful child in the world (Mom? Dad? How'd you do?). But it's practice that makes perfect, and those who learned to handle the small stuff, like leaving the toilet seat up or not washing a shirt, that have the tools to handle the big stuff.
This couple renewed my own passion for this topic - how do we deal with sin - and at the same time I came across a verse of Scripture that surprised me. In the book of Acts, twice repentance (that thing you do when you say "I'm sorry" - sometimes called "confession" in the Church) is described as a gift.
Peter says in Acts 5:31 that God exalted Jesus so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. When the Apostles learn that Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit, they exclaim in Acts 11:31: Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.
I always thought repentance is what we do. Repentance is a gift? My brain is still wrapping itself around that idea.
So this summer, both in our monthly at-home Bible studies and in worship, we're going to look in depth at sin, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. My hope is that by the end all of us feel empowered to do what it means to be Christian: Live out the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).