How Shame Drives Us From Christ

This story came up in my newsfeed today. I am taking a sick day today, but there is so much wrong here, and it is so prevalent, that I wanted to make a few comments.

For some reason, Evangelical America has decided that shame is an effective way to battle sin. My whole life, I have heard that “Israel forgot how to blush” (Jer. 6:15) which led to their destruction. Therefore (so it is taught) when we catch someone in some kind of sin, the best thing we can do for them is publicly shame them so that they won’t sin any more.

This is actually practiced in so many churches, but it seems to always be selectively applied. The only people I have ever heard of being publicly shamed like this – forced to stand before the whole church, or the whole school, and confess their sins – are teenage girls who are found to be pregnant. I find it abhorrent, and contrary to the gospel of  Christ. And yet, it still seems to be the consistent practice of Evangelical America.

The article linked above does an excellent job in its critique and how it actually encourages abortion. But there are a few theological issues as well.

First, to clarify the Jeremiah passage, the prophet was not addressing those with tender consciences who needed comfort and hope, already plagued with guilt. He was speaking to the hardened, oppressive, idolatrous leaders who were casting their children into the fire, crushing the poor and the widows, and abusing and destroying without any twinges of conscience whatsoever. Jeremiah is rebuking their hardness of heart and was not expecting any repentance from them. It was not written to teach us that shame is an appropriate corrective to sin but to warn us of those with “seared consciences”. There are those who can do the most horrific things and feel no pains of guilt whatever. To apply this passage solely to teenagers found pregnant is simply abusive.

There is no biblical warrant for public confession of private sins. And, no, sex before marriage is not a sin against the whole school – or the whole church, for that matter.

Even in the Old Covenant, before the Gospel of Jesus Christ was fully revealed, two kids who got pregnant before marriage was not considered the worst imaginable sin that must be publicly exposed and shamed. The boy was either to provide a dowry and marry the girl. Or if the father thought that marriage was a bad idea, the boy was to provide a dowry and leave town.  Neither one was stoned or publicly shamed.

That being said, it might be good for us to remember our first parents after their first sin. Shame drove them into the bushes, hiding from the face of God. It was the voice of God that lovingly drew them out of the bushes. “Adam, where are you?”

They didn’t die. God told them the truth, but he didn’t shame them. Rather, he provided for them coverings, pointing to the perfect sacrifice of His Son, to be revealed in due time. Now that the gospel has been revealed to us, we know that the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ covers our sin and our shame and brings us out of hiding. That is what being a Christian is. We live openly and honestly, not seeking to cover our shame by shaming others, but by coming again and again to the cross. Why an organization that calls itself Christian would drive sinners into the bushes is beyond my understanding.

The kind of “Christianity” practiced by so many, which publically shames young girls for sin, is not the Christianity of the Bible. Shame is intolerable to the human spirit and must be covered. We have only two options: Cover with fig leaves of our own making, or come to Christ for what he has offered us. When we come to Christ, shame is taken away so that we might stand before God and one another. When we try to cover our own shame, we increase it. We may temporarily feel better, but eventually, the shame returns.

The worst part of what happened to this young woman is that she learned about a false Christ – a Jesus who shames sinners, who turns an angry and harsh face on those who confess and repent, who demands his pound of flesh before he offers peace. She was taught that Jesus first ridicules and gleefully watches us weep before he grudgingly offers forgiveness. She was taught that even after she goes through all of that, Jesus is still ashamed to be seen in public with her. She was taught that Jesus was ashamed to be her God, ashamed of her and her baby!

No wonder the young people are leaving the church in droves! They aren’t leaving the Church of Jesus Christ, they are leaving the Church of the Blind Leaders of the Blind.

Jesus came to call us out of hiding. To offer covering for our shame by taking it upon himself. He came, not to ridicule and mock us, but to bear all of that shame and guilt and take it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Heb 2:11 ESV)

Jesus offers salvation, not shame, to all who come to him in faith. Shame is reserved for those who refuse to come, who refuse to repent. Shame is reserved for the Day of Judgment, but it has no place in the Gospel.

How should the church respond then when a young girl is found to be pregnant?

First, reach out with love and support. Do not pretend that sin is not sin, but respond to it honestly according to scripture. I would hope that the pastor and elders have forged an open relationship with this girl before this happened, so that she will feel safe with them, because there are some important questions. Was this assault? Who is the father? Did she feel compelled? Was there a power imbalance?

If this is simply a boyfriend/girlfriend situation that got out of hand, they will need counseling and help to deal with the shame and guilt that they already feel. Otherwise, if they get married, they will carry that shame and guilt into their marriage bed, which will be damaging to the “one-flesh” relationship. But those are topics that are far bigger than can be addressed here.

But more importantly than all of this, they need to know again the gospel of Jesus Christ. He offers his perfect righteousness without shame, without reproach, without grudging, to all who come to him. No strings, no penance, no public ridicule. This is what the free offer of the gospel IS. It’s about time we got it right.

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Too Filthy to Serve?

From the archives, for friends who need this today.

My Only Comfort

And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
2 And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel.
4 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.
5 And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. (Zec 3:1-5 KJV)

Have you ever believed that you…

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You weren’t there

Dear Pastor James (and any other pastor who will listen), You said to me in your letter, “it is about you and John learning to understand one another.” LISTEN. Please, for once, stop talking. Stop spouting parts of Scripture passages and trite “Christian” expressions. Stop trying to fix this. Stop trying to fight for “marriage” above […]

via You Weren’t There — a letter to pastors from a survivor of domestic abuse — A Cry For Justice

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Billy Graham Rule Follow-up

I recently wrote a blog to correct the misinterpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You can find it here. I am certainly aware that in terms of the age of internet news, Mike Pence and the Billy Graham rule are the equivalent of 200 years ago, but I can’t seem to let bad theology go, especially when it harms the sheep.

I also know that most readers skim, so please – before you skim, read this paragraph: I have nothing against Mike Pence and his love for his wife and his desire to protect himself as a famous politician with a great deal of power. It seems like a wise thing to do, given his position in our country. So PLEASE don’t think that this post is about that. Also, I don’t know anything about Billy Graham or his rule, having never read his biography. How Billy Graham does things rarely enters my mind.

What this post is about is the bad theology that has surfaced in the aftermath of the discussion. I find it concerning and harmful.

The whole discussion seems to center around whether or not a pastor should be alone with a woman who is a member of his congregation. Apparently, the only danger is if the woman is attractive, because that seems to be the word attached to “young woman” every time she is spoken of.

As a disclaimer, I would never meet with a woman alone in my office with the door shut. I wrote in my previous blog that I could think of valid reasons to not meet with a woman alone. Here are a few.

  1. My wife is a very skilled counselor herself and has remarkable empathy and understanding, especially when it comes to counseling women. She is almost always with me.
  2. There are times when a woman wishes to meet with her pastor to discuss childhood sexual abuse, assault, domestic violence and other attacks on her person. The worst thing a pastor can do is to make her feel vulnerable and threatened. Meeting alone in a closed space does not tend to make a parishioner feel very safe.
  3. There are other times when a meeting alone in a closed space would not be good for the comfort and peace of the woman for other reasons, and as a pastor it is my calling to be sensitive to that.
  4. If it is necessary to meet alone, an open door or an open place takes away the feeling of being trapped, this is very important when counseling. You are seeking to reestablish the counselee as a person who matters, who can make choices, who can take power back in her life. Trapping her with a closed door seems to me to defeat that purpose .

So I would like everyone to understand me. I am not at all against acting in wisdom, walking circumspectly and being above reproach.

That being said, there are others who practice the so-called “Billy Graham Rule” but for reasons I reject completely. Here are some of those reasons.

First: “All it takes is one accusation to ruin a ministry.” This might be true, but are not our calling and reputation in the hands of God? It seems to me that our calling is to be faithful stewards and submit ourselves to the sovereign hand of God, doing what we are commanded to do and leaving the rest in His hands. We are simply farmhands in God’s field, workers in God’s vineyard. It isn’t our ministry to begin with.

I also can’t think of one example where someone’s ministry was ruined by one false accusation. Every one of the “destroyed ministries” that I can think of were destroyed because of accusations that were backed up with stacks of evidence, multiple witnesses, over many, many years. When it comes to famous celebrity pastors, one accusation is almost never believed. It usually takes mountains and evidence and years and years of time. Even then, the celebrity pastor generally just goes away for a few months and then starts again. So it is a false objection to begin with.

But suppose it is true, and a reputation is destroyed because a pastor met alone with a woman who was a sinner. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did?

Jesus “made himself of no reputation” when he saved us from our sins. The Bible tells us that this way of thinking is to be also in us (Phil. 2:5-12). Meditate on these verses for a while. Jesus, in order to save us from our sins, allowed himself to be viewed and treated as a sinner. He despised the shame of the cross, so great was his love for us. He came down from the glory of heaven and sunk right into our filth and mire and corruption in order to save our stinking rotten corpses. He healed our sicknesses and did it on the Sabbath day, knowing that it would “ruin his reputation”. In fact, this is specifically why they hated him.

I honestly cannot fathom why a Christian would not help one in need for fear that someone might ruin the reputation of his ministry. If this is your thinking, then the ministry that you have is truly yours, for it bears no resemblance to the ministry of Christ. Would it not be more pleasing to God to bear joyfully the reproach of Christ while helping those who need you?

This is the point of the account of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite were on their way to Jerusalem when they saw the broken and bloodied man. They had no idea if he were dead or not. If they helped, and he turned out to be dead, they would have been defiled for touching a dead body. If they were defiled, they would have been unable to fulfill their ministry in Jerusalem. So they protected their ministry, and “passed by on the other side.” Their ministry was more important to them than the life of a man.

The Good Samaritan was already ceremonially defiled, being a Samaritan, so he had nothing to lose.

And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” We are  to consider ourselves already defiled, so that we might love others as Christ loved the church. Take up your cross with him; despise the shame. Make yourself of no reputation. “Let this mind be in you, that was also in Christ Jesus.”

Perhaps it is time that we start thinking about love, rather than reputation.

Second: “You need to be aware of the temptations of the flesh and put no confidence in it. You never know what will happen if you allow yourself to get too close.”

Really? Think about this one for a while. This one is so common it’s frightening. It’s almost as if fornication is like the flu, and you accidently catch it if you happen to be close to a woman. “Here I was, minding my own business, when all of the sudden! BLAM! I caught adultery. I couldn’t help it. Her knees were exposed.”

Sorry, guys. This one is on you. Pastors who commit adultery commit adultery because they want to. They take one step after another because they want to.

They start by complaining about how their wives never understood them. Because they want to.

They let a church member linger in their thoughts, and dance through their fantasies. Because they want to.

They hold hands a little too long, hug just a little extra, and let their imaginations flit. Because they want to.

Then it progresses to trying to find time alone – and here they use the excuse of pastoral counseling. “I’m just ministering to her.”

Now, at this point please use discernment and follow me. Elders and wives, if the pastor is insisting on counseling a particular women alone in a closed study, there’s a reason for it and it usually isn’t a good one. It’s is perhaps wise at this point to ask some questions. BUT the problem is the HEART, NOT because he was left alone with a woman. We have to get that straight.

The reason that we have to get it straight is because the Bible insists on it. Sanctification does not come because we have hedged ourselves about with extra rules. Sanctification is the work of the Spirit in the heart which comes through the gospel, not the law. You can make a rule about pastors counseling alone in their studies after hours, and maybe you should to protect your sheep, but the rule will never change the man’s heart!

39 “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; (John 5:39 NAS)

The Pharisees searched the scriptures looking for rules that would fix whatever problem they were having, and they missed Christ. When we search for rules to protect us from catching adultery, we also miss Christ.

Adultery begins in the heart: in the will, and the reasoning, and the emotions and the desires. It starts with the idolatry that we were born with and progresses from there. We say in our hearts, “I will be as God and everyone will serve me.” This is what must be put to death. And the only way to deal with it is on your knees in confession, putting to death the old man with the lusts thereof and making alive the new man. And this can only come through the gospel. It only comes through Christ. You must be born again by the Spirit of God.

Finally, and this to me is the biggest problem. If you make the rule about never being alone with a woman because you are afraid of “catching adultery”, then your view of women is devilish and wicked, and you must repent of it. It is the same reason that non-Christian religions try to avoid fornication by covering up a woman from head to toe. It’s wicked, oppressive and wrong.

Let me explain. According to Scripture, a woman is a child of God, a firstborn son (Gal. 3:28-4:7), the image of God (Gen. 1:27), fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), with gifts and abilities and personhood, filled with the Spirit, and thus the Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

The devil hates that and seeks to destroy it. One very effective weapon is through sexual assault, domestic abuse, rape and sexual harassment. The effects of sexual assault are that a woman is “reduced” in her mind and in the mind of the assailant, to a body to be despised and used and discarded.

And now she comes to the pastor for help and she is told that she can’t meet alone because the pastor might “catch adultery” from her.

I can see telling her that you would love to meet with her outside on the picnic table. Or with your wife who is very gentle and kind. Or in a place that isn’t nearly as threatening as alone in the pastors study. All of these I can see.

But to say that you won’t meet with her because you need to guard the heart is to confirm her worst fears: There is something wrong with her. She’s just a body to be gawked at and used. She has no worth other than sexually. She has to cover herself up and take responsibility for the pastor’s corruption. And this is the message that she is receiving from her pastor. It breaks my heart.

We should be restoring her to the image of God in Christ, giving her back her voice, her dignity, her worth. We should be talking to her as a whole person, in whom dwells the Holy Spirit of God. But instead, we are worrying about “catching adultery.”

25 percent of your congregation has been sexually assaulted. And this is how we respond. We may have a problem in our churches.

Perhaps I overreact. But I don’t know what else to think when I read comments that say, “So you would meet alone with an attractive woman in your study? Isn’t this an appearance of evil?”

I don’t know how else to take it. Let’s break it down. “Attractiveness” is apparently determined by the pastor. The fear is apparently that this woman would arouse so much lust in the pastor against his will that he will be unable to control himself. So really, it would be her fault – and his, by implication, for not hedging himself about with anti-adultery rules. If they get too close for too long, BAM – he catches adultery.

This rule also applies if she is in the car with him, walking down the sidewalk, or wearing a skirt a little to short. The solution, then, is burkas and isolation…wait a minute…

Do you see where this leads?

I believe that the Bible teaches another way. When we cast off the old man and put on the new, we start to learn to love our neighbor – men and women alike. This means that we MUST repent and flee from our fleshly tendency to view others as objects designed to give us what we want. Through the gospel, we are to reach out to humans AS HUMANS, made in God’s image. We must learn to see our sisters in Christ as sisters (1 Tim. 5:2), with thoughts, longings, dreams, hopes, fears. They also long for the marriage supper of the lamb. They also long to be closer to God. They long to be healed, just as we all do.

They long for a name, for significance and worth, for dignity – because they are in God’s image. We as Christians should begin to see one another as fellow-pilgrims, not as objects to be used and discarded. Cross the road and help the one in the ditch. Bear the reproach of Christ with joy.

Adultery starts when we reduce women to objects of possession, a collection of body parts, rather than sisters in Christ. This is where repentance must take place.

Please don’t use Joseph and Potiphar’s wife as an example. Joseph fled from her, not because he was afraid of “catching adultery”, but because he was a slave with no rights and was being sexually assaulted by someone in power.

We will never be effective pastors as long as we are afraid of the women in the congregation. When Paul said to have no confidence in the flesh, he meant that adding rules to protect yourself from sin would do absolutely nothing in the war against sin. Hedging the law with stacks of rules is exactly the “flesh” that Paul had no confidence in. Read all of Philippians 3 in the context to see what I mean. Paul was the expert in all the rules. A Pharisee of the Pharisees. THIS was exactly what he learned to have no confidence in. He counted it all dung, that he might know Christ.

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Every Appearance of Evil, and the Billy Graham Rule

I’ve been gone and out of the loop for a while. The debate over the so-called “Billy Graham” rule, in light of the comments of Mike Pence, went on without me. That was probably a good thing.

But every generation renews its battle with the horrible interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You have probably heard it:

22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1Th 5:22 KJV)

This is generally interpreted by small-minded men as an excuse to avoid interacting for good in the lives of others. When the passage is poorly translated, and taken out of context, it appears as if it is saying that one should avoid doing anything that someone else might take as being evil. Thus, lazy and guilt-ridden men can avoid interaction with “undesireables” and still pretend to take the high ground.

For example, I heard one man say that if he were driving alone down the road and saw a beautiful woman stranded with car trouble, he wouldn’t stop to help, but would call someone at the next town. He wouldn’t want the neighbors to think evil of him being alone with a beautiful woman. And, as he said, the Bible says, “Avoid every appearance of evil.” (This rule only applies to beautiful women, apparently.)

Another man told me once that he couldn’t be seen with a troubled teen who appeared to be “effeminate” (I hate that word), for fear that someone might think evil of him. I just can’t even…

I do not wish to judge the heart of Billy Graham. I simply don’t know enough about the situation, and God did not assign to me the task of being everyone’s conscience. I only wish to make one point. Is dining alone with a member of the opposite sex an “appearance of evil” and thus forbidden by 1 Thessalonians 5:22?

If that is the case, then Jesus himself broke the rule. He spoke with women one on one, alone. He even dined with publicans and sinners.

Further, Paul wrote that we should not seek to please men, but to please God (Gal.1:10), and Jesus commanded us not to judge according to appearance (John 7:24). So does the Bible have contradictions? Certainly not!

A quick look at the historical and grammatical context of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 will sort out the issues, if one wishes to have eyes to see.

The historical context is this: Remember that the Thessalonians were real people with real problems, and Paul knew them.  Paul preached at Thessalonica and the conversions there caused the Jews to respond with furious envy (Acts 17). The believers in that city had to send Paul away quickly to spare his life, and Paul went from there to Berea, where they were “more noble”, since they searched the scriptures daily to “see if these things be so.…”

Paul, then, is very concerned about the new church in Thessalonica. He left them suddenly without new leadership in place. This in turn left them open to various itinerate preachers. Some were good and some were not so good.

This is the historical context of 1 Thessalonians.

Here is the grammatical context:

19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
(1Th 5:19-22 KJV)

As you can see, what Paul is saying is this. “When you hear the word of God preached to you, don’t despise it. But at the same time, don’t swallow everything you hear. Test it according to the scriptures (like the Bereans do). If it is good, grapple it unto your soul with hoops of steel. If it is evil, shun it strongly and completely, no matter what appearance it takes.”

When evil comes, don’t be fooled by the mask. Shun it, no matter what mask it wears.

So, in the context, if someone comes to you and says, “Don’t do good to others because someone might think you are doing evil”, perhaps we should apply 1 Thessalonians 5:22 and reject that counsel as bad. This is, after all, what the scripture tells us to do.

Let’s be discerning in what we hear. If what we hear is good, embrace it. If it is evil, reject it – no matter how pretty one makes it sound. It is only the scripture that determines what is pleasing to God, not the envious and self-righteous judgments of passersby.

There may be all sorts of valid reasons to try to avoid getting into a situation alone with a member of the opposite sex, but the “appearance of evil” is not one of them.

You can see my follow-up post here.

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Christ, the Church, and Marriage

I have a beautiful muscat grape vine. Last week I pruned it. Then I felt bad, since Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Maybe in my pruning the vine I misrepresented the permanence of the Covenant of grace. Jesus will never cut us off, will he?

Last night, before I went to bed, I locked my front door. That made me feel bad, since Jesus is the door, that maybe I misrepresented the kingdom of heaven, by locking people out of my house.

I guess that when I turned off my lights at night, I could possibly be communicating that I walk in darkness and not in the light. I should probably keep them on.

And I could go on, except now it is getting silly.

In case you wondered, these ridiculous examples show how important it is to interpret pictures and parables correctly.

Take, for example, our mystic union with Christ. It is so intense, so diverse and so deep that scripture uses picture after picture after picture to describe it.

He is the vine; we are the branches. He is the Good Shepherd, we are the sheep. He is the head; we are the body.

And this one: He is the husband; we are the bride.

And that brings me to my point. Ephesians 5 is about the union of one flesh that takes place in a marriage. The husband and the wife, through mutual love and submission, are to become more and more as one flesh – like Christ and the church.

And we have to be very careful about imagery. Don’t take it further than is intended. The common interpretation of Ephesians 5:22ff is this: Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Since Christ will never abandon his church, divorce is forbidden under all circumstances.

Hogwash. This is the same as saying that since Christ will never abandon his church, we also must never prune our vines. It’s silly on the face of it.

I have also heard that since Paul says that the husband is like Christ, he is to sanctify the wife with the word, and act as her prophet priest and king.

Piffle. It doesn’t say that at all.

The Husband isn’t Christ; Ephesians 5:22ff teaches only this: the husband is to love sacrificially like Christ did. This doesn’t say that the wife is not to be like Christ, nor does it say that the husband is a king, or a prophet or a priest in the home – like Christ. It merely says that the husband is to love sacrificially, like Christ loved the church.

The wife is to submit, which is beautifully explained by Barbara Roberts here. It doesn’t say she is made in the image of man, or that she is eternally subordinate, or that the husband is her savior, umbrella of protection, or any other nonsense. It simply says submit, like the church submits to Christ. She also is a Christian, and a partaker of Jesus’ anointing. She is also a human being, made in God’s image. She is a covenant creature, responsible to God alone. She also is given the Holy Spirit. But when she marries, she is to strive to be one flesh with her husband, like Christ and the church. That’s all that Ephesians 5 is teaching.

When you say that, it is best to then stop with the analogies, lest you make the husband a god and the wife an idolater.

This passage says nothing about whether divorce is permitted, whether marriage is to be a “living picture of the gospel” or anything else of that sort. It is simply an analogy that Paul uses pastorally to teach, first of all, about mystic union with Christ, and second, about husbands and wives.

It is true that God created a world so that he could reveal himself to men. He created lambs and fire and gold and bulls and trees so that when he spoke to us, we would know something about what he is talking about. So also with marriage. He gave us marriage so that when he speaks to us of love, tenderness, intimacy and union, we would know something of what he is talking about.

But we also must understand that we cannot ever know God exhaustively. Ultimately, his name is “wonderful”, that is, to be wondered at, not exhausted. He is “I Am that I Am”, self-referential. To bring more into the nature of God than scripture gives us warrant is to ultimately become an idolater.

So let’s be careful with our marriage counsel.  A husband and wife are not a living picture of the gospel any more than any Christian, whether married or single. Ephesians 5 says nothing about divorce or eternal covenants. It implies a LOT about abuse. If the husband abuses his wife, then he blasphemes the name of Christ, but that’s another blog for another time.

Let’s be Christians in all of our actions. This means that all of us- married, single, men, women, children- should strive to become more and more like Jesus. And at the same time, let’s cast aside all the nonsense in the marriage books that go so far beyond what the scripture actually says that they are beginning to sound like caricatures of themselves.

There’s a lot more in the book of Ephesians than Ephesians 5:22. I would recommend that you read the whole book in one sitting, and then read it again. Look at the whole message and see who Jesus is. That’s the point of it.

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Just a quick thought

I don’t have anything brilliant to say, just something that has been on my mind. As most of you know, my wife has a brutal illness called CRPS. She is hesitant to talk about it, because if she says what it is actually like, she thinks she will sound melodramatic.  So she tends to downplay what is going on. But I see her eyes.

And I also know that this disease is one of the worst things that someone can get. No matter how we describe it, the facts of the case are actually worse. A normal person may describe a burning sensation in a limb. But when a sufferer of CRPS describes a burning, she means that her whole leg feels as if it is immersed in burning oil, and charring away. And it never stops. Month after month, year after year. If you don’t have it, it is really hard to imagine that something as horrible as this actually exists. But it does.

So here’s my thought that  I have been having. I hear the same things from those who have suffered terrible abuse, either as children or as adults. And what is the one thing that they always struggle with? Everyone that they try to tell is sure that they are exaggerating, being melodramatic, or just making it up. “People that are that wicked don’t actually exist, do they? You HAD to have misunderstood.”

We have a hard time fathoming deep and profound moral evil, where someone would purposely, continually, year after year after year would plot, plan and carry out destruction and pain against his wife and children. People like that don’t exist, do they? And we cannot fathom it. It is easier to say that perhaps the victim is just being dramatic…

And all of the sudden, I find myself wondering if there is a connection. It seems that for the most part, people don’t want to believe that something as horrible as this can exist on this earth. Maybe it happens to others, but not here. This belongs to another culture, another kind of people, another age.

If we admit that there is great evil – either moral evil, or physical evil – then we have to admit that we really don’t have any control at all.  It terrifies us that there is something so monstrously evil, painful, or wicked that there isn’t anything at all that we can do about it. It is hard for us to acknowledge that there is something greater that we can bear in this cursed world.

It’s easier for us to admit that perhaps people are exaggerating, being melodramatic, because the alternative is a world that is not really a very nice place to live.

But isn’t this exactly why Christ died for us? Because we couldn’t do anything to take away the curse, God sent his only begotten Son. And He WILL wipe away every tear, and there will be a new heavens and a new earth, because this present age is corrupt and fading away.

So we do what we can to alleviate the curse. We seek justice, truth, equity, medicine, comfort. And seek it where we can find it. We work for it, we strive for it. But we always keep our affections where Christ is, for He is our life.

And we also need to hear one another. Yes, horrible evil exists. Monstrous men, monstrous diseases. Almost always, the truth is worse than what is reported. We want to be believed, so we downplay it. We don’t want to be outcasts or make people uncomfortable. So generally, we skirt around the edges, and keep the pain inside. But the truth is, great evils exist. But an even greater truth is that Christ is greater than them all.

This is what has been on my mind lately.

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I Believe in the Holy Spirit

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.
33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
34 “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer 31:31-34 NASB)

From the very beginning, the church has confessed the Apostles’ Creed. The third section of the creed begins thus: I believe in the Holy Spirit.

I wonder, though, if we have really thought about what it means when we confess it.

Jeremiah wrote about the New Covenant. God promised that the day would come when He would write the laws on the hearts of his people, instead of on tables of stone. This would mean that there would not be a need for anyone to teach each man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord.” The reason is that “they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest.”

To understand what is being taught, we need to look at this New Covenant, as it is fully revealed after Christ came into the world. Jesus offered Himself as the perfect satisfaction for our sin, keeping the law (covenant) of God perfectly. He is called the “mediator of the New Covenant.” The Bible teaches that we are “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10), and can neither add nor take away from his perfect work. His righteousness is put on our account, as if we neither had, nor committed any sin. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this:

60. How art thou righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

And because we are now considered righteous by God, because Christ has completed the work, He has received “the promise of the Father” (Acts 2:33), which he has poured out upon his people. This promise, according to Peter, is the Holy Spirit, whom Christ gives to all who believe on His name.

The work of the Holy Spirit, according to Jeremiah (and Ezekiel 36:27) is to write the knowledge of God and the law of God on the hearts of God’s people, so that they will truly be “his people, and he shall be their God.”

To put this simply, the work of the Holy Spirit is to take the words that He has inspired in the Holy Scriptures and apply them to the hearts of the young and old, rich and poor, male and female. This is what Joel meant when he said,

28 “And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.
29 “And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29 NASB)

I don’t want to get overly wordy, for there has been many centuries of excellent work done on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I just say these things as a reminder, and then make this simple application.

If we believe in the Holy Spirit, why do we flock to celebrity preachers to tell us what music to listen to, what movies we should watch, how we should dress, how to be manly, how to be womanly, what household chores a man should do, how to focus on our family, what household chores a wife should do, how to educate our children, how long should our skirts be, how high should our necklines be, where should we shop, where should we NOT shop, what books should we avoid, how often should we exercise, how do we exercise as Christians, should we have friends of the opposite sex, should we have friends of the same sex, how close should we be to them….and on and on and on and on…?

Do we, or do we not, believe in the Holy Spirit?

As I was thinking about this, I saw this documentary on the Bill Gothard cult. It is heartbreaking – not just because of the results, but because of the demonic theology that allowed him to thrive in the first place. Please do not say to me, “Well he says a lot of good things, too.” This isn’t a matter of that. The devils also believe in one God. And I used the analogy on purpose. The things that Gothard has always taught have been nothing less than a denial of Christ, and a denial of the Holy Spirit.

He has taught for decades that Christ is not enough. If you truly wish to be blessed, you must follow his teachings, go to his conferences, send your kids through his program. “He made promises” one of the participants said in the documentary. But these promises can only be given by God. Peace in the home, blessings on our lives, love and joy and peace come from only one place, according to scripture: The Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Anyone who promises that which can only come from Jesus Christ and his perfect sacrifice on the cross is not Christ, but an antiChrist. This is exactly what the devil did in the Garden, and the sons of the devil have been promising the same things ever since. It was then, and it still is now, a lie.

Please hear me closely. God favor, God’s blessing, and God’s love come from only one place: the finished and perfect sacrifice of Christ. Israel failed in the keeping of God’s law, according to Jeremiah. So God made a new covenant – where he would “forgive their sins” and they would be his people and he would be their God. God is ALREADY our God, and we are his people, because of Christ. We are heirs to the promises and heirs of eternal life already, because Christ paid it all. He did perfectly that which God required. It is finished and done. We are not given the blessings of the covenant because we went to a Gothard conference, went through the steps, or followed his rules, any more than Luther was accepted because he crawled up the steps of the Scala Sancta. We can’t purchase God’s favor through Gothard’s home school system any more than we could buy indulgences from Tetzel!

And please do not tell me that Gothard isn’t teaching this. He may add “by God’s grace” with every vile word he writes. But writing it doesn’t make it so. The Heidelberg Catechism addressed this very problem with the Popes of old, and it still applies to every minor pope of whatever stripe:

30. Do those also believe in the only Saviour Jesus, who seek their salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else?

No, although they make their boast of Him, yet in deeds they deny the only Saviour Jesus for either Jesus is not a complete Saviour, or they who by true faith receive this Saviour, must have in Him all that is necessary to their salvation.

Under “anywhere else” we might add conferences, training materials, programs, steps, devotionals, and anything else that promises salvation. Anything that teaches, “do this and live” is another gospel, contrary to Christ, and under the curse. Either Jesus completed everything, or He is not a complete savior. Any attempt to add anything to the perfect work of Christ is a denial of Christ. Any attempt to gain God’s blessing by doing some kind of work, no matter what it is, is a false gospel, and anathema.

In fact, the Bible says it will always have the same results:

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21 KJV)

Do not be surprised that this is what we are finding under Gothard’s umbrella. He didn’t deliver what he promised, for he worked according to the flesh, not according to the Spirit, and so reaped the corruption that he sowed. The child abuse scandals that his cult is now fighting is not an anomaly, but an expected result from the theology of the devil. If you sow to the flesh, you will reap the corruption of the flesh. God will not be mocked.

Do we, or do we not believe in the Holy Spirit? Then flee from every man who promises to hold the key to the blessings of God. They can be found in only one place. Life can only be found in Christ, who has given us his spirit, has written his laws on our hearts and has promised to never leave or forsake us.

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is not at all a denial of the proper offices of the church. God has indeed given pastors and teachers. The difference is that a true pastor and teacher builds up the body in the unity of faith until they become no more children, tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:11-16). A false prophet doesn’t want maturity, but wants you to stay dependent upon him forever. He will never say, “Trust your God-given wisdom.” He will continue to instruct every aspect of your lives by his own opinion. He will continue to churn out pamphlets and power-points and blogs and systems, promising God’s blessing if you just do a little more.  A false prophet rejoices when you have been made over into the image of the false prophet. A true pastor rejoices when he decreases and Christ increases. A true pastor rejoices when Christ is formed in the hearts of his people, and every opinion of man is cast off.

When the Holy Spirit is denied in practice, the only thing that can result is bondage – not only to sin and the power of the devil, but also bondage to man. Wicked men fill the heart with terror – “if you reject my teaching, God will forsake you and destroy you.”

But God says, “Fear not. I will never leave you, nor forsake you. I will be your God and you will be my people forever.”

Let’s once again confess and believe the confession: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

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Call Upon the Name of the Lord

We don’t know exactly when Joel wrote his prophecy. But we know that the people of God had suffered a tremendous plague of locusts. One swarm of destroying swarm right after the other, and the people of God called upon every god and every power that they could think of. But they didn’t call upon the name of the Lord.

God had warned them. He had given them the greatest thing anyone could ever hope for. He gave them Himself. He said, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” What an astounding thought! That the creator of heaven and earth, the only power there is, the giver of life and all good things, would call himself “our God!”

And yet, when things got tough, they called on every idol, every creature, every trick in the book, and never once called on the name of the Lord.

And God warned them again. There is no other savior. There is no other deliverer. There is no other strength. There is only the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He has offered himself to us and calls Himself “our God.”

And the day will come when God will come in judgment and everything unclean and defiling and wicked will be destroyed,

“But whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” That God would stoop to save the likes of us is a thought that staggers the mind. But He does. In fact, He became flesh and took the wrath of God against sin in His own body on the cross. And He did this so that He could truly be our God, and we would be His people!

And the gospel goes forth to every tribe, every kingdom, every people. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Only now it is made more clear than it was even in the Old Covenant.

Paul told the church at Corinth that the church is made up of everyone “who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus.” He knew what he was saying. He wasn’t inventing a new god, for there are no other gods than the God of Abraham. He was saying that Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, crucified in Jerusalem, who rose from the dead and ate and drank with his disciples was none other than Jehovah, the God of Israel.

And whoever calls upon His name shall be saved. There is  no other hope, no other name given under heaven than the name of Jesus.

So when you say you are a Christian, do you also call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as your only hope of salvation? Do you call upon Him when you are out of hope? When the world is dark?

Or do you look to everything else, as Israel did of old?

Where do you turn for justice? Where do you turn for healing? Where do you turn for covering for your shame?

Where do you look for beauty and hope and goodness? Where is your heart most satisfied? Are your affections on this earth, or does your heart long to be where Christ is, at the right hand of God?

God will not give His glory to another. He won’t share it with his creatures. It is His will that Jesus Christ be praised from the rising of the sun to the going down. It is God’s will that Jesus Christ be exalted in the hearts and minds and affections of all who claim His name.

So this world tends to fade in the hearts of those who love Jesus. This world is seen for what it is when the heart is turned towards Christ. It is under a curse. It is full of madness and folly. Pain and illness and disappointment, and even times where we are close to despair, cling to our skin. The smell of our failures and cruelties and wickedness overpower our senses. Our longing for beauty and goodness and love leave us gasping. And in those times, when we have nowhere else to turn, we call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Lord, save us!”

And that is where we ought to be, and it is good.

For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus shall be saved.

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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Dealing with Abusive Men

Thoughts on Psalm 129, from a sermon preached at First Reformed Church, February 9, 2014.

Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say:
2 Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me.
3 The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows.
4 The LORD is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.
5 Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Zion.
6 Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up:
7 Wherewith the mower filleth not his hand; nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom.
8 Neither do they which go by say, The blessing of the LORD be upon you: we bless you in the name of the LORD. (Psa 129:1-8 KJV)

This is a psalm about evil men.

I recognize that there are Christian people who sin against each other. This Psalm isn’t about them.

I recognize that there are even unbelievers who sin against Christians – this Psalm isn’t about them, either.

This Psalm isn’t about the hurts and pain of living in a cursed world, caused by friction between Adam’s race, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” But this Psalm isn’t about that, either.

This Psalm is about a class of people that the Bible calls “Children of the Devil.” Or even, “Sons of Belial” (worthlessness).

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it”. (Joh 8:44)

This Psalm is speaking of those men and women who have so united their hearts to the works of the evil one that they are called “the children of the devil”. Their works are not characterized by even the simplest forms of common human decency. The common decency of men are gifts are given even to unbelievers by the common grace of God. This Psalm, on the other hand, speaks of those who are characterized by two words: murder and lies.

Everything that they do is for the purpose of destroying the image of God in man, but they conceal their true motives by a false front of sorrow for sin, contrition, pious platitudes about religion, and a front of kindness and strength. But under it all is murder, hatred and destruction.

We don’t know when this Psalm was written. We know that there were many times in Israel’s history when they were greatly abused by the kingdom of Satan. Both Assyria and Babylon were renowned for their cruelty – smashing the heads of babies against the walls, beating and abusing children, raping women and children – all under the front of honor and glory. They were murderers and liars.

There was a servant in the land of Syria named Hazael. He was a servant to the king of Syria. God sent him to the prophet Elisha and told Elisha to anoint him king over Syria. When Hazael got there, we read that Elisha stared at him until it was uncomfortable. Then Elisha wept.

12 And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child.

13 And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, The LORD hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria. (2Ki 8:12-13 KJV)

Hazael eventually showed that his words and his actions were all a lie. He was intent on murder and destruction and became one of the most corrupt and violent kings of the ancient world. It was not that he lied once, or even that he got angry and killed a man. It’s that his whole life marked him as a child of the devil. Every thought and every pursuit of his hand was dedicated to destruction and lying.

This Psalm is about these people.

They still show up today. Often they show up in the church of God. Jesus said that they would. And the church, for the most part, has handled everything about them wrongly.

Too often we hear of men who are well-thought of in church. They know all of the right phrases, and know when to shed the right tears. They sing with gusto and say “Amen” at the right places in the sermon. But when they go home and are alone with their wives and children, they think only of destruction and murder. They systematically seek to destroy the image of God in their family.

They are the king of the castle and smack their loved ones around just to make sure that they remember it. They belittle, despise and ridicule their wives. They beat and abuse their children.

They do these things not because they lose control of their temper. As horrible as it is to be out of control of your temper, these people are even worse. These are those who plot iniquity on their beds, and their plots are meticulous, planned and systematic, designed to hurt and destroy. They are not governed by passions, they are governed by their father, the devil. Since they are murderers, they think only of destruction and tearing down. Since they are liars, they do it all under a cloak of feigned decency.

They will be in the middle of a tirade against their families and the phone will ring, or the police will show up, and immediately they are under control, speaking reasonably and with such concern for their families. But their wives and children are left terrified, broken, bloodied, and have learned how to keep all their feelings, thoughts, and opinions carefully hidden, so as not to enrage the father.

We know these people. We have seen them before and will see them again.

They are not sinners – even like David – who committed adultery and murder but was himself broken and brought to repentance. They are not sinners like Paul, who obtained mercy because he did it in unbelief. They are children of the devil. They know what they are doing, they plan it, they think through it, they carry it out.

Because they are liars, as soon as they are exposed in the church they know how to weep and stress how sorry they are. And the church usually starts talking about forgiveness. When the children become adults, or when the abused spouse is finally free from the abuser, they get counsel from the church. They are told, “You need to forgive them.”

“You need to reach out to them.”

“You need to give them another chance.”

And when the wives and children are strong enough to acknowledge that their abuser is a murderer and a liar and refuse to allow themselves to be abused again, the church often disciplines the abused! The church throws salt on the plowed wounds and disciplines, for “not being forgiving”, for getting a divorce, for speaking badly of such a nice man who made a few mistakes. And thus we often become partakers of another man’s sins, thinking that we should be more loving than God is, heaping even more affliction on the abused.

But the fact is – God hates abuse even more than we do. A man who systematically beats and terrifies his wife hasn’t “made a few mistakes” or “committed an indiscretion”. He is a child of the devil. A man who will molest a child isn’t a nice person with a personality flaw. He is a child of the devil, and the works of the devil are what he does.

It is true that the Bible commands us to lay aside all bitterness, wrath, and desire for revenge – as befits a forgiven child of God. It is true that we are commanded to do good, even to our enemies. The question is how do we do that? How can we finally be free from the bondage of bitterness and isolation and terror that flow from abuse?

That is what this Psalm is about.

First, be honest with the damage caused by evil men

Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say: Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me. The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows. (Psa 129:1-3 KJV)

Our Creator does not want us to deny the damage and the hurt that has been done. This Psalm was written by someone who knew what it was to be as helpless as a field under the cruelty of a plow. Look at the imagery – the plowers plowed on my back. Those who afflicted me from my youth stood over me, hurt me, shredded me, tore me, and I had no power. All I could do was lay there and take it. It didn’t happen once, it didn’t happen twice. It happened many times. They hurt me over and over again. I was continually hurt and abused by those who were stronger and greater than I was.

When I cried out, no one heard me. When I spoke, no one believed me. That isn’t my fault. It isn’t my fault that I was a field under a cruel plow. It isn’t my fault that I was hurt so badly. They did this to me.

The word “afflict” means to bind tightly, to wrap with cords, to tie up. In other words, it is the action of an enemy that is designed to keep you under control, to completely subjugate you to their power – to destroy the image of God in you. Ultimately, our afflicter is the devil. He seeks to destroy you and keep you under his bondage and control. So he convinces you that what happened was your fault, that it wasn’t so bad, that you caused it to happen. He convinces you that it is just how people are. Why does he do this? Because he is a liar and a murderer.

For this reason, the first step in dealing with abusive men is the truth. Quit lying to yourself about it. You were hurt badly by evil men who wanted to destroy you because they are children of the devil. They didn’t smack you around because you mouthed off. They didn’t ridicule and belittle you because you were stupid and foolish. They didn’t blow up at you because dinner was late. They didn’t lose their temper because you just didn’t listen to them. They didn’t molest you because you were seductive or provocative. None of this is true. They did what they did because they are liars and murderers and children of the devil, and they hurt you very badly. You were powerless and as free from fault as a field is under the blades of a plow.

But while you are being honest with the damage caused, there is one more step that you need to take. They tried to destroy you because they hated God – but they didn’t succeed!

Notice what he says in verse 2: “Much have they afflicted me – bound me, constricted me, bent me to their power and control – but they had no ability over me.” In other words, they didn’t succeed in doing what they wanted to do.

How is that?

You are here. You are alive, you are you, you are greatly loved by God. They plowed you under because they wanted to destroy you. God allowed it because he wanted your field to bring forth much fruit. And they didn’t destroy you, for now you are bringing fruit to God.

The only way that you survived the abuse of abusive men, the only way you survived the all-out assault on the devil, is that God did not give them the ability to do what they really wanted to do. They could do nothing except further God’s plan for you.

It hurts, it was evil, it left scars. But it didn’t destroy you. The destroyer did not win.

Second, understand that in Christ, the bondage to abuse does not need to control your life.

4 The LORD is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked. (Psa 129:4 KJV)

Those cords of oppression that Satan has sought to bind you with have been cut asunder by God.

You cannot serve two masters. Satan wanted to control you; when you came to Christ, you turned your back on Satan in order to embrace Christ – and God has broken his power over you.

It is a shame that so many in the church speak of forgiveness in such muddled language. Forgiveness in the Bible is acknowledging that the blood of Christ has covered the sin of the sinner. When you forgive a Christian, you are promising to remember it no more, just as God in Christ forgave you. Since the abuser is not a child of God, but a child of Satan, the word “forgiveness” doesn’t really apply, and is meaningless.

What we must do is acknowledge that the cords of Satan no longer bind us. For too long we have allowed self-protection, isolation, bitterness, distrust, rage and denial to control us – but when these things are broken by God in Christ, we can let them go, leaving vengeance in the hands of the One Who is Far More Capable of Righteous Wrath Than I Am. We are not talking about forgiving an enemy of God. We are talking about laying aside all thoughts of revenge, putting away bitterness, and not letting Satan have dominion over us. We are talking about opening up the door of your heart to truly trust and love and receive love – even though it is risky. I’m not speaking about trusting and loving a child of the devil, but trusting and loving God and your neighbor as becomes a child of God. Because the alternative is the hatred and strife of the devil.

The only way to do that is to understand that God’s work – sending his Son to break the cords of the devil once and for all – has freed us from the bondage and misery of sin. It is also to understand this: Evil and abusive men may have fooled everyone else; but they never fool God. God has a very special care for his little ones, and when men abuse and molest little ones, it is as if they were molesting and abusing God himself.

Jesus said, But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Mat 18:6 KJV)

My prayer is that the Church would grow more and more like Jesus Christ, and have the same view of abuse and molestation that Jesus himself has.

And third, pray for justice.

God will certainly hear the prayer. The judge of the earth will do right.

The next four verses are listed in the form of a prayer – let them be ashamed – let them be as grass on the roof. The Hebrew itself could either be interpreted as a prayer, or as a statement of fact. It is in the future tense and the words would be identical in either case.

In other words, the psalmist could be saying “Let them be ashamed,” or he could be saying “they will be ashamed.” Either way, properly understood, the meaning is the same, for God certainly hears the prayers of his people, and how much more does he hear inspired prayers that are written for the godly to pray. We pray with the Psalmist “Let them be ashamed,” and the promise is for us “They will be ashamed.”

“Ashamed” doesn’t mean “embarrassed and sorry”. It means that everything that they hope to have accomplished will come to nothing. They seek to keep their victims under their power and control – but no one can take us from God’s hand. They seek to destroy and to murder you, but God will not allow his sheep to perish. They seek to keep up the front of respectability and godliness, but they will be exposed before the angels in heaven and the whole world, alive and dead, for what they really are. Everything that they sought to accomplish will come to nothing. Satan himself, the great abuser, will be cast into the lake of fire forever – and with him will go every one of his children. They will be ashamed.

God hates abusers and molesters with a perfect hatred, a hotter and fiercer anger than anything that we feel on this earth, and he will certainly do right.

But not only will there be eternal judgment, they will not even succeed in accomplishing what they desire on this earth. For a time, they may appear to be growing in power, untouchable, as tall and lush as the grass that grows. But that grass is growing on the top of the roof. There’s no depth of soil there. As soon as the sun arises, that grass will wilt and wither and blow away.

Don’t fear their power, their money, or even their fame. They might be famous directors or actors or writers or artists, or even pastors. What Does God care for their lawyers, their money, or their friends? Ultimately, they are grass growing on the roof. Whenever God desires, their fear is gone. The wealth is gone. Their life is gone. So their power over you is gone now.

In verse 3, the church suffering abuse was compared to a field being plowed. We know that the devil seeks to destroy us, but God is seeking our produce. In Christ, we WILL bring forth fruit – the fruit of love and joy and peace and faith, hope and self-control. These things come by the power of the Holy Spirit, but they come through the trials that God brings to us. We can look at the damage of the past through the eyes of faith and see that God has used that to make us who we are today, and who we are promised to be tomorrow.

But what about the plow? What about those who have done such great damage? When the reaper looks for fruit, there isn’t any. There is nothing there. There was just wind and noise all along. In fact, when the mower finally cuts them down, there won’t even be enough dead grass there to fill a hand. When we are under the plow, when we are being afflicted by the children of the devil, we think that our abuser is all-powerful, all-wise, and terrifying.

When we succumb to fear, we think that they have far more power, reputation and charm than they actually have. This Psalm is calling us to see them as God sees them. As dry grass on top of a roof, weeds to be plucked down and thrown into the fire.

Finally, look at verse 8:

Neither do they which go by say, The blessing of the LORD be upon you: we bless you in the name of the LORD. (Psa 129:8 KJV)

In Israel, this was a common greeting when passing by a field. We see it in the book of Ruth

And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The LORD be with you. And they answered him, The LORD bless thee. (Ruth 2:4 KJV)

Among the godly, it was a way of saying hello. but more than that, it was a prayer for God’s blessing. This verse is one of the most freeing verses for those who have suffered at the hands of the children of the devil. How can you pray for or expect God’s blessing on those whom he has given over for destruction? You cannot.

I am not at all saying that the blood of Christ cannot save certain people. He certainly does. But at the same time, we must remember that there are many passages of scripture that speak of those whom God has devoted to destruction, those who have turned the truth of God into a lie, those for whom the fire of judgment is reserved forever.

It is true that all men are sinful and in desperate need of Christ’s blood. Even as Christians, we still sin and hurt each other, and need to seek forgiveness and healing. But, as I said, this Psalm isn’t about that.

The Bible teaches that there are those whom God has removed his hand of restraint, who give themselves over completely to their own lusts, and are full-blown children of the devil. They are characterized, as Jesus said, by their relentless pursuit of murder and destruction, covering it all with a veneer of lies. When these are the people we are dealing with, it is an abomination to God to bless them in the name of the Lord, even as a greeting.

May they be exposed and outcast, may the church see them for who they are, may they be stripped bare and left outside.

It is about time that the church stopped worrying about hurting the feelings of the abusers and started giving the abused the opportunity to heal.

For all who have suffered this kind of trauma, you may have been told how harsh you have been towards your abuser. You may have been commanded to forgive them. You may have been instructed to let them back into your life. Your abuser may have confronted you with tears, demanding reconciliation. You may have forgiven your oppressor again and again and again, only to be abused again and again and again.

How can you be set free? Only by the truth. Quit offering the blessings of Zion to the children of the devil.

How can you tell who is who? How can you tell the difference between David and Hazael? You don’t have to. That’s the beauty of it. God knows whom he will save, so leave him to it. You, as a human being, have only limited knowledge. You cannot know the heart, you can only know the fruit. Jesus told us to deal with men based on their fruit. When a man hurts, lies, and seeks to destroy the children of God, that fruit is the fruit of the devil, and he may be judged accordingly, even while we pray for true repentance. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. God knows who belongs to Him. And God also knows whom he will judge, so leave him to that, as well.

We must understand that these people have always been the same. Here’s a Psalm written thousands of years ago dealing with a very current problem. They seek to destroy and murder you and as long as you keep allowing them into your life, they will continue to do so. It is true that you must put off hatred and bitterness and desire for revenge; but the only way to do that is to leave their judgment or their salvation in the hands of God.

If they come again crying for forgiveness, this in no way obligates you to allow them back into your life where they have caused so much damage. If they are truly repentant, they will rejoice in salvation and understand the depth and depravity of their sin, and will understand and respect your desire to be left alone as a just consequence of their sin which they committed. But on the other hand, if they are not truly repentant, but merely seeking another entrance to cause you more damage, they will accuse you of hard-heartedness. They will get as many of the gullible and untaught on their side as they can. They will seek to manipulate you with their tears. They will continue cause you as much grief as you allow them to.

Put them in God’s hands, and leave them there. When a man plows a helpless back as he would plow a field, just because he can, he has forfeited all right and all expectation of any relationship – and again, this isn’t your fault. He caused it. Not you.

Leave the rest in God’s hands. The judge of all the earth will do right. When you leave it all in God’s hands, you can finally know the freedom that you have been given when God cut those cords from you.

Now live like it.

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