The goodness of God

17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
  18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
  19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places (Hab 3:17-19).

God’s people were suffering under tremendous injustice. The kings were wicked. The princes were wicked. The judges were wicked. But God is still good.

God is about to punish the wickedness of the nation with the invasion of Chaldeans. It would be brutal, harsh, deadly. Most would not live. But God is still good.

Some times fig trees don’t blossom. But God is still good.

Some times the grapes don’t grow. But God is still good.

Sometimes the wheat fields fail. Sometimes the flocks die. Sometimes plague takes away the cattle. But God is still good.

God is sovereign over sickness, cattle, fig trees, olive trees. If they don’t blossom, it is by God’s decree. If they die in the field, it is by God’s decree. When children get sick, it is by God’s decree. A God who has no power over sickness and health is not a God to worship at all.

God is beyond easy answers, mindless platitudes, memes with pretty pictures, and viral sloganeering. He doesn’t fit into your boxes. But he is still good.

We only see part of the tapestry. He sees the “end from the beginning”. And he is still good.

We see only a little bit of the tapestry and we are inside of it. We are a part of created order, creatures of time and space and limits. But he is outside seeing the whole – and it fits into his perfect decree. Not one fallen hair out of place. And he is still good.

His goodness is seen in the beauty of the fig tree, the joy of the olives, the delights of good wine. In the perfectly cooked roast and the wondrously spicy curried lamb.

His goodness is in the children around the table like shoots of an olive tree. In full larders and green meadows and the sound of surf on a spring morning in Oregon.

But he is beyond easy answers. Because sometimes the fig tree fails. Sometimes the olives don’t blossom. And he is still good. He prepares a table for me, but I am still in the presence of enemies. God’s goodness is seen even in suffering, if we have the eyes to see.

I suppose that certain theological persuasions are trying to be helpful when they tell me that it is not God’s will for people to be sick. But it really isn’t helpful because it isn’t true, and lies are never comforting. Sometimes the truth is hard, but it is always better than a lie.

Who’s will is it, then, that there is sickness? Is there something outside of God’s decree? Is there something outside of God’s control? Is there someone or something that is in charge of illness that isn’t good? Of course not. There is only one God, only one Lord, only one Creator. Only one sovereign.

But the hard truth is this:

Crops fail, and God is still good.

Children suffer, and God is still good.

Death still happens, and God is still good.

He isn’t ignoring suffering. He isn’t delighting in the suffering of his people. But he isn’t out of control either.

Not one hair falls, not one sparrow falls, apart from God’s decree. But hairs and sparrows still fall.

And God is still good. And I can’t sort all of that out, but I can cry out to him. I can’t sort it out because I am in the tapestry of creation and I don’t see everything. But I know he does.

And here is what I know. He hears me when I cry to him. He loves me and receives me as his child in Christ. He has washed away my sin.

I will walk on high places and my feet will one day leap and dance like an antelope.

And until that day, even in suffering, I know I can trust him.

Because he is still good.

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Accusing an elder

In preparing for a study on gossip and slander, I was looking at 1 Timothy 5:19. I noticed a discrepancy in the translations.

KJV 1 Timothy 5:19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.

NASB 1 Timothy 5:19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.

ESV 1 Timothy 5:19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

NKJV 1 Timothy 5:19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.

The translation of the old King James is that accusations against elders must be done in a lawful way, in front of the courts of the church. Two or three witnesses hearkens back to Deuteronomy 17:6.

But the rest of the English translations listed show something else entirely. It teaches that you cannot even HEAR an accusation against an elder unless there are 2 or 3 witnesses to back it up.

What that effectively does is make it impossible to ever accuse an elder of much of anything.

The scandal of child sexual abuse among both Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy would be impossible to prosecute, for rarely does a predator prey in the presence of witnesses.

Abusers don’t abuse in front of eye-witnesses.

Is this really what this verse says? Which one is correct?

The preposition in question is Ἐπὶ with the genitive case. Prepositions are tricky things and take some care in translating. One has to know how language works. If it is to be interpreted “on the evidence of”, which three of the translations above have it, then it is the ONLY place in all of scripture where it has this meaning.

However, in Acts 25:10, Paul answers and says, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal…” using Ἐπὶ and the genitive case. It seems impossible in this legal context that he would mean “on the evidence of Caesar’s tribunal”.

“Before” – meaning, to be judged and found either guilty or innocent by Caesar seems to make perfect sense.

I would suggest that it has the same meaning in 1 Timothy 5:19.

Do not receive an accusation except in front of two or three witnesses that can do something about it.

My denomination has a book of church order, as do many others. (If your church does not, I would suggest finding another church). The form of complaint or charge against an elder or pastor is spelled out.

“Here is what he did. Here is what the scripture says. Here is how you go about it.”

Or, to put it in Paul’s terms in his day, “before two or three witnesses”. Get it before the proper council. And then (verse 20) if they are in sin rebuke them before all.

There are two deadly viruses that destroy a congregation of believers. First, when the leadership is made up of wolves preying upon the sheep. When the leadership devours and destroys, abuses their congregants, using the weaker ones to satisfy their own lusts. Ezekiel 34 and Jeremiah 23 both warn of this, as well as many, many other places.

And the other virus is when a wolf is a member of the congregation who spreads malicious slander against the leadership through twisting words, making up allegations, and whispering in the dark corners.

Paul, using the language of the Old Testament law, gives practical counsel for a real situation. Suppose that you – Walter Q. Churchmember – are having tea with Mr. and Mrs. Churchpeople. Mrs. Churchpeople starts to tell you about horrible things that one of the elders or the pastor has done.

The accusation could be something like “I heard Mrs. Jones say that her cousin had heard from a reliable source that Mrs. Wilson saw Pastor having lunch with a young woman…”

Or it could be more serious. “My daughter says he hurt her.”

There are many different things you could do.

The worst thing to do is simply talk about it, rejoice secretly in the “hidden knowledge” and go tell the next person, in confidence, of course – adding your own juicy tidbits to make it sound just a little better.

THAT is what Paul is forbidding. Don’t hear it, don’t receive it at all – unless it is for the purpose of lawfully dealing with it, exposing it and bringing redemption or justice.

So instead, do this:

If it is a crime, report it to the ones who have the tools to investigate it and the sword to prosecute it (This would be the proper authorities in the civil government).

If it is not a crime but a violation of a vow – teaching that which is contrary to the creeds, for example – encourage the one telling you about it to bring a charge or complaint to the proper church judicatory.

If it is not a crime, but a falling into sin of some sort – adultery, drunkenness, etc – encourage the one speaking to bring a charge or complaint to the proper church judicatory.

What this will do is give them hope and a direction to take if their intentions are honorable, and encourage them to quit spreading juicy rumors if their intentions are not. This is what Paul is speaking of.

Of course, you cannot deal with every single possible scenario with one Bible verse. That isn’t what the Bible is for. We have a letter from an apostle to a real pastor struggling with real issues. You can’t take one verse and try to make it fit every situation. Paul is dealing with one kind of scenario – very common in the church – where one or two people delight in whispering secrets in the dark. Don’t have any part of that.

 

In this day where we have tolerated false churches, wolves in sheep’s clothing, and abusive church courts far too long, there may also be a good reason for someone to flee the church that they are in.

If, for example, there is a history of protecting wolves and running out sheep. Or the theology is wrong. Or the sacraments are not being administered properly – perhaps Christians are being excommunicated while abusive and reviling men and women are tolerated.

Paul has lots of other counsel in those situations, and I might write on it in another post. Fleeing a false church filled with those who refuse to follow Jesus is a good option. But my point here is this:

If you are an elder or a pastor, or represent an elder or pastor on a church judicatory, do not refuse to give aid to the widow or the fatherless (that is, those without power) because they lack two or three eyewitnesses. That isn’t what this verse is about.

When they have come to you for justice, give them justice. Follow your rules of order. It is what they came to you for. When they came to you, they followed Paul’s command to bring the accusation before two or three witnesses.

Paul is forbidding empty gossip and spreading stories without taking any measures at all to bring peace.

But if it is true, lawfully shout it from the housetops. Don’t let evil fester in the dark. Bring a charge, bring a complaint, report to the police, help a child get the help they need.

But please, do not hide behind this verse to keep predators in places where they can get at the sheep.

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As if…

I have a recurring dream. I don’t remember if I told you about it or not. But we always need reminders.

In my dream, I committed adultery.

No, it wasn’t a steamy “sex dream”. No, it wasn’t with anyone that I know. The “other party” wasn’t the point of the dream. In my dream there is no face, no name, no memory of the act itself.

For my dream doesn’t begin with the sin. It begins with my wife finding out. I have to see the look on her face. I see the face that I know only as loving and warm and inviting turn into  a face of hurt and hatred and coldness. It is a nightmare of the worst kind. It is knowing that things will never be the same. That I have forfeited the most precious love. That I have lost a treasure that I will never get back.

It spreads to my kids. It spreads to my church. I lose everything. I am fired from my job, my family won’t speak to me, my kids only look at me with disgust…I say in my dream – O, that this were only a dream! O that I could wake up! And I am overwhelmed with despair, because in my dream I am convinced that it is real.

And then I wake up. It takes me a moment to get my bearings, and then I hear her breathing as she sleeps next to me. I cannot describe the relief and the joy when I realize that I am awake. It was all a dream.

CS Lewis once described an island where dreams come true. The sailors, as they sailed the “Dawn Treader” to the island, were excited about it – until they understood. This isn’t a place where your wishes come true, or your day dreams come true. It is where your dreams come true. Terrifying indeed.

In a very real sense, my recurring dream is a true one. We used to know God as a friend. We used to see his face shining on us. And then, in the Garden and in our actual lives, we committed adultery against him. We raged against him in hatred. We refused to acknowledge how good he was to us. We treated him like an enemy. We made for ourselves idols – the pornography of the spiritual realm. And we inherited it all from Adam. God poured out every good thing on us in abundance (he still does, in fact). And we despised him, looked on his gifts with contempt and hatred and pride.

And God is perfectly just. He will by no means clear the guilty.

Is it possible to wake up from this nightmare? Is it possible to be loved again, to live with God as if we had never committed adultery against him? In our living nightmare, we can’t erase it.

If my dream was real, even if my wife would be able to eventually forgive me, there would always be that hurt and anger and hatred that I CAUSED. It would never be the same again. I don’t think she could ever have that same look in her eye again – that look of trust and safety and peace. I think there would always be a memory of what I did.

(I don’t know why anyone ever commits adultery, by the way. How can anyone wish to go through this nightmare! – but that is the power of sin…)

How much greater is our adultery against God! How can we wake up from this nightmare?

Psalm 126 sees the shadow of such a time – when the bondage was over and God’s people awoke from their living nightmare:

1 When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream.
  2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
  3 The LORD has done great things for us, And we are glad.
  4 Bring back our captivity, O LORD, As the streams in the South.
  5 Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.
  6 He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him.
  (Ps. 126:1-6)

How can that be? As if…

God sent his only begotten son into the world. He is the well-beloved son, whom God loved perfectly because in the flesh he obeyed in all things. He (as our mediator) never committed adultery. He always loved God perfectly, even when he felt the full weight of God’s wrath on the cross. He always obeyed. Always loved. Always was faithful. And he didn’t do it for himself.

In eternity, he was always with the Father, and was always true, eternal, sovereign God. He did not obey in order to earn God’s favor for himself. He became flesh, born under the law, and obeyed so that you and I might stand before God as if we had never had nor committed any sin. As if…

He took God’s wrath against our sin and gave us his righteousness and now when God sees us, he sees us as we are in Christ. As if…

As if we had never sinned.

As if we had obeyed God perfectly from the womb.

As if we had never fallen in Adam

As if we had never said those hateful things, or thought those ugly thoughts.

As if we had always loved as we ought to have loved.

As if we had never played the whore with other gods, with our affections, with our worship…

And because he loves us as if Christ’s legal record is ours, he sends us his Spirit to dwell in us in love, so that one day our “as if” becomes our reality, when complete victory is ours and we stand before him free from sin and death and misery at last.

And we are delivered from our captivity as if we had awakened from a dream. Can you imagine the laughter and the singing and the joy, when the dawn comes?

Lift up your eyes! Already the light of dawn is breaking through. Already God sees you in Christ and you are greatly loved.

And the devil hates it. He has many “teachers” who will try to convince you that Jesus’ righteousness isn’t enough. That you still need to do something. That your adultery will never be clean and washed away. They will always have one more thing that you need to do. They may speak of the gospel in passing, but they will always turn back at the last minute, like Columbo on the old show, and say, “Oh, Just one more thing. You have to…”

And there it is. Add one more thing. Do one more ritual. Follow one more precept. Keep one more statute.

They will try to rob you of the joy of belonging to Christ.

As if…

Hold onto that joy. In this vale of tears, we stumble in many things. We say sinful things. We lash out.  We offend in many things.

And we ask forgiveness of our loved ones. We weep over sin. We beg again for the gift of the Spirit. And our hope is this:

Even then, it is as if we had never committed nor had any sin. We are washed clean. It is different than God saying, “I pardon you”.  When a judge pardons, he is releasing the penalty that is due the crime. But with a pardon, the crime was committed, even if the penalty is released.

But that isn’t really the gospel. Yes, there is a pardon. Yes, there is forgiveness. But it goes deeper. It goes to the wakening of the dream. We wake up. It is “as if”. Yes, we did it. But in the wisdom of God, he has provided a way for us to be truly clean – as if we had never sinned. He has provided a savior.

Jump! Shout! Rejoice! Lay aside the burdens. Walk out of the false churches that continue to tell you how much better you need to be and crawl to where the gospel is proclaimed. There you will learn the true measure of Christ’s gift.

Wake up, you who sleep – and Christ will give you light!

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Filed under Gospel, justification

Everyone calm down

Amazon recently pulled books about “conversion therapy” from their stores.

Conversion therapy is a behavioral modification scheme designed to “cure” homosexuality.

Denny Burk, over at dennyburk.com has warned us all that persecution of Christianity is in full swing. Soon the lions will be brought out and Christians of every stripe will be thrown into the fiery furnace.

I don’t know why we have such a persecution complex. Don’t we know that we will inherit the earth?

But that is beside the point.

Here is what we need to understand: Conversion therapy is to Christianity what iced coffee is to mole rats. Hard to find a connection? Precisely.

Conversion therapy is a dangerous practice of using behavioral modification to change someone’s sexual orientation.

Christianity is faith in our Lord Jesus, who died for our sins and gave us his righteousness so that we can stand before God as if we have never had nor ever committed any sin. From there flows sanctification, where the Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of God’s dear son, redeeming each part of us, even our sexuality.

Conversion therapy is similar to Pelagianism, and the theology of Charles Finney, but instead of the excitement of revival producing righteousness, righteousness is produced on the therapists couch.

To say that Christians are in danger because conversion therapy won’t be marketed and sold by Amazon is similar to saying that Christianity is in danger because I can’t get a Big Mac at Home Depot.

Jesus has never promised to remove every speck of sin from his children on this earth. In fact, the bible teaches in Romans 1 that we will ALWAYS struggle with this body of death until we enter into his presence.

Christianity means that there is now no more condemnation. Christianity means that we are now united to Christ and are taught by the Holy Spirit to offer the members of our bodies as members of righteousness. But we will always struggle with our lusts and our desires.

Christ has never promised to convert same-sex attracted people to hetero-attracted people. And hetero is no guarantee of purity. Hugh Hefner is not something we strive for. Christ calls us to aim higher.

So, to sum up: Conversion therapy teaches that homosexuality can be cured through behavioral modification.

Christianity teaches that we are dead in trespasses and sins unless God makes us alive.

It seems to me that Paul banned the same sort of thinking in the book of Galatians. The flesh – the bondage of the law – will always produce the same thing.

But one can’t ever pass a law against the fruit of the Spirit. “Throw those people out! They are talking about love and joy and peace!”

As a side note, Amazon is banning a dangerous and fraudulent form of therapy based on behavioral modification. They are NOT banning someone being made alive in Christ.

Christ did not die to make us heterosexual. He died to make us alive. Being alive, of course, means that we fight against sin in this life until victory is ours after this life.

As Christians, we should be against conversion therapy and support that ban. Why would we want our kids to be subjected to a false gospel and forced to submit to those whom God tells us to not submit to even for an hour? (Galatians 2:5).

By the way, whenever you hear that California has banned Christianity, or that Amazon has banned Christianity, or such like – this is usually what they mean. That the state has banned a dangerous and unbiblical practice that aims to convert our children to another gospel – one which Paul calls anathema.

That false gospel is that Christianity and outward appearance are the same, that one can be converted by the right sort of laws, and that sin is a matter of free will.

We should support that ban and calm down.

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Let my people go

And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.'”
2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (Exod. 5:1-2)

The account of the plagues that came on Egypt is one that has occupied my mind and my imagination since childhood. Imagine how many frogs there were! And the swarms and the lice!

And you also marvel and the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. How stupid can a guy get? Ten times he hardens his heart and refuses to let God’s people go. And even then, at the end, he changes his mind and chases after them – right into the Red Sea where he and all of his armies drown!

What kind of madness drives a man to this point, where reason and prudence go out the window? What kind of madness drives a man into his grave like this, where he would rather lose everything than concede defeat?

 

This morning, it struck me. In Pharaoh’s mind, HE was god. He was the absolute ruler, placed on the throne by the gods themselves. He made the law. He did not let Jehovah’s people go, because to do that would be to acknowledge that there is a greater god than he, a God who commands obedience, who doesn’t negotiate the terms, who doesn’t compromise. A God who simply commands and must be obeyed.

When Jehovah says, “Let my people go”, there is only one proper response.

But to Pharaoh, this was unthinkable. No one commands Pharaoh. The Israelites were Pharaoh’s people, not Jehovah’s. “I can treat them as I please, for they are mine, not yours. I have the right given to me by the gods to do as I please with what is mine.”

For Pharaoh to submit, Pharaoh would have to give up everything he believed about himself, about Egypt, about men and women, and about God.

And God didn’t negotiate it with Pharaoh. The nerve! Pharaoh tried again and again to modify the terms. “I’ll let you go a little ways. I’ll let just the men go. I’ll let you go, but the livestock stays here”.

Pharaoh was willing to treat Jehovah as an equal and compromise and come to an agreement. He was willing to use diplomacy.

But Jehovah doesn’t negotiate. The command was simple, unchangeable, and there was only one proper response. “Let my people go.”

 

As I was pondering this over my coffee this morning, I also thought of this passage:

9 “Or do you have an arm like God, And can you thunder with a voice like His?

10 “Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity; And clothe yourself with honor and majesty.

11 “Pour out the overflowings of your anger; And look on everyone who is proud, and make him low.

12 “Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him; And tread down the wicked where they stand.

13 “Hide them in the dust together; Bind them in the hidden place.

14 “Then I will also confess to you, That your own right hand can save you. (Job 40:9-14)

God is teaching Job the distinction between the creator and the creature. A creature doesn’t command all of nature (chapters 37-39) and a creature also has no ability to humble a proud heart. Pride is a monster that no man can tame.

Pharaoh would not submit to the simple command of Jehovah for only one reason. To submit to that command would be to admit he is a mere creature who cannot do as he pleases; who is created for obedience and righteousness. He is a creature created to reflect God. And he will never be an original. He will always be a copy.

For Pharaoh to set the people free, Pharaoh would have to acknowledge that he is not a god. He has no right to oppress, control, command, possess or abuse any human being, much less the people of God.

For Pharaoh to let the people go, he would have to bend the knee, recognize that the people of God are the people of God, not the people of Pharaoh and God will hold him accountable for how he behaves and how he thinks and how he acts. That he is not sovereign, independent, and has no right to do as he pleases.

And this he will not do. It is impossible for a proud man to be humble. Only God can change a heart. Job can’t do it. and neither can I.

God gave the command and he didn’t negotiate it. Obey it, or die. He repeated that command over a dozen times. he gave Pharaoh chance after chance. But he didn’t change his mind. Obey it, or die. Those are the options. And Pharaoh chose to die with his whole army rather than bend the knee.

But one time, in all of history, God gave different terms:

18 “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. (Isa. 1:18)

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)

He has offered us his only begotten Son. He still does not negotiate with the creature. He is still holy. He still commands. He still says, “The soul that sins shall die.”

But he has given us his Son and has commanded us to lay down our weapons and believe on the one who offers his perfect righteousness for us. It is the only terms of peace with God that we will ever receive.

But in order to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you must be born again. Otherwise you will act just like Pharaoh.

“Who is the LORD? Why does he think he has the right to tell me what to do? Why should I serve him? What did he ever do for me?”

And only the LORD can soften the proud heart. Let’s face it, we humans like to think of ourselves as the Moses or Aaron of the story. But humans are far more like Pharaoh. We also, if God does not soften the heart, would drive right into the sea and drown rather than submit ourselves to the hand of God. We mock Pharaoh’s foolishness while we do the same things. (Here I am speaking of the unregenerate heart. The mark of a believer is that his heart has been softened by the Holy Spirit. If you have believed on the Lord Jesus, it is because you are no longer like Pharaoh by the grace of God).

Look around. We see how men and women destroy themselves and their families every day. They know that they are doing it, but they also know that the only other alternative is to submit to the hand of God. And that, they will not do. They would rather die.

God has offered us life, instead of death. May he grant us the grace of humbled hearts that we might learn to bend the knee and place our neck under the yoke of Christ, for “his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.”

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Things I’ve been told

They tell me that I scold men too much.

They tell me that they feel sorry for my congregation because I lead them astray by teaching women that they are image-bearers of God with dignity and honor.

They tell me that I rob men of their masculinity by teaching them that imitating Christ means to take the lowest place and become the servant of all, including their wives. Christ did, however, give himself for his bride, the church.

They tell me that I cause divorces and wreck marriages by teaching men how to love their wives instead how to rule over them.

They tell me that I am unbalanced, and am soft on the sin of women because I teach that lust comes from the heart of man, not from the outfit of the woman.

They tell me that I am a feminist because I believe that the Bible teaches that every believing woman is also a prophet, priest and king along with every believing man.

They spit the word “egalitarian” at me like a curse because I believe women have a voice, should be treated as co-heirs of eternal life, and have a right to make decisions and use their gifts for the glory of God, just like every believing man.

And they tell me to stop. They command me to be silent. I make people uncomfortable.

And I worry sometimes.

 

And then I hear of judges who tell rape victims not to report their rape because they will ruin a good man’s life.

And then I hear of husbands punching their wives in the same room that they lead “family worship”.

And then I hear of pastors beating and molesting the children under their care. And I hear of other pastors who knew about it and gave them “a good talking to” but didn’t want to ruin their ministries.

And then I hear of youth pastors raping the children under their care, and calling it “an inappropriate relationship”.

And then I hear of women crying out to their church leaders that their husbands watch porn every night and are asked if they are satisfying them in bed.

And then I hear again of women who are beaten over and over again year after year and when they finally divorce they are excommunicated for being bitter.

And then I hear of wives who cover the altar of the Lord with tears and are told to “submit more”, “suffer a little while like Jesus suffered,” “God hates divorce”.

And then these same wives are shot by the husbands they tried to get protection from.

And then I hear of husbands threatening the wives with weapons, fists, words of hatred, vile contempt and the wives are blamed for not submitting enough, making them mad, provoking them, wanting it…

And then I hear that these are not rare occurrences. These are not unusual. These are the hidden corners, the long dark corridors, the valley of the shadow of death that are walked through by so, so many men, women and children.

I know that salvation is not the same as activism. I am not an abuse advocate. I am a minister of the word, a pastor, a preacher of good tidings of great joy. I will not get sucked into the abyss of darkness and pain nor is it my desire to draw you into it.

But as a minister, I do need to shine a light, expose evil, untwist the scripture that is continually twisted to keep the weak in bondage to the strong.

When the church of Jesus Christ becomes an institution of worldly power and money, the powerful always oppress the weak, crushing them underfoot, and they will use whatever means they can to do it.

And I love the church of Jesus Christ far, far too much to keep silent. For this reason, I will not keep silent about the horrors that so many of our brothers and sisters suffer. Nor will I allow the light of Jesus Christ to grow dim or fade, but will continue to lift the banner, proclaim liberty to the captives, and bind the wounds of the broken-hearted as much as I can.

Even though I know it will infuriate a lot of people who like being in power.

There can only, ever be one head of the church, and he will never give that honor to another.

The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord, to defend,
to guide, sustain, and cherish,
is with her to the end;
tho’ there be those that hate her
and false sons in her pale,
against the foe or traitor
she ever shall prevail. (Samuel John Stone)

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Divorce and Tempting God

Today I am preparing for a Bible Study on the sixth commandment. I am looking at our Heidelberg Catechism, question 105:

105. What does God require in the sixth commandment?

That I do not revile, hate, insult or kill my neighbor either in thought, word, or gesture, much less in deed, whether by myself or by another, but lay aside all desire of revenge; moreover, that I do not harm myself, nor willfully run into any danger. Wherefore also to restrain murder the magistrate is armed with the sword.

I am specifically thinking about that phrase, “nor willfully run into any danger.” The footnote refers us to Matthew 4:7. To understand my point here, I would like to look at the whole context, and then see what Jesus is teaching us.

5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple,
6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:`He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and,`In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'”
7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again,`You shall not tempt the LORD your God.‘”
(Matt. 4:5-7 NKJ – emphasis mine)

Jesus answers the devil’s temptation by referring to scripture. The devil sought to convince Jesus to throw himself down. “Doesn’t the bible say that God will give his angels charge over you? Doesn’t the bible say that God will not allow any harm to come to you? Prove it. Throw yourself down. Be reckless. Put God to the test.”

And Jesus answered “Thou shalt not put the Lord God to the test.” (This is what “tempt the Lord your God” means).

By willfully putting himself in danger, demanding that God protect him, Jesus would be acting sinfully, just like Israel did in the wilderness.

And yet, this is the counsel that thousands and thousands of pastors and counselors give to women and children living in dangerous conditions.

I heard again today of a woman who has lost her Christian friends and her Church because she fled her abusive husband and filed for divorce. He is in prison for his horrible sins towards her and her children. He threatened her. She believed him. She told her counselor. He told her to return to her husband, that it might be necessary to “suffer a season”. But by her “meek and quiet spirit” she will redeem her husband.

The violence is not under question. So many men are in prison for their violence towards their wives and children, but the wives end up driven from the church anyway. They were commanded to put God to the test and refused to do so, and were punished for it.

When you hear this counsel, have the courage to say what Jesus said, “It is written, you shall not tempt the Lord your God.”

Wisdom dictates that a fool returns to his folly as a dog to his vomit. A violent man remains violent. A promiscuous man remains promiscuous. A murderer remains a murderer.

Can God grant new birth and new life? Of course he can. But thou shalt not put him to the test. Can God use suffering for our good? Of course he can, but thou shalt not put him to the test. Can God protect us from evil men? Of course he can. But thou shalt not put him to the test.

Repentance and faith are free gifts given from God’s mercy alone. They don’t come on demand. You must not willfully put yourself into danger and put God to the test.

When you tell someone to put themselves into danger in order to uphold your idolatry of marriage, you are violating the 6th commandment.

God despises murder of every kind. Your life is valuable to him. He is not cruel and is not capricious. He will not have you killed to uphold another man’s desire to build a kingdom for himself.

If you are in danger, please seek help. If you are in a place where you are commanded to put God to the test, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Such counsel does not come from the Holy One.

Domestic violence hotline: 1-800-799-7233

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A bishop must not be a bully

1 Timothy 3:3 – God gives authoritative teaching on who is to be ordained to church office. It would be good to refresh yourself with this list.

One of them always strikes me: not a bully, (or “striker” in the KJV). A bully is pugnacious, always looking to tear someone down with his words. He is not concerned with learning, growing, understanding; he is only concerned with winning. Everything is competition, and he must come out on top, even if it means the destruction of everyone around him.

He loves to fight. He loves to watch someone wither under his words or his fists, for it gives him a sense of power to be able to exercise dominion over someone else.

You can spot a bully easily enough. It’s how they speak to the server in the restaurant, especially if she is a woman.

You can spot them when they speak to other Christians on social media. They aren’t afraid to use obscene language, insults, even blasphemous words; they don’t tremble at calling you RACA, or tearing you down with withering contempt if you disagree. They will not submit to God or anyone. Their words are words of death and pain; they are full of corrupt communication. They will offer you friendship only on their terms, only if you submit completely to every view they hold, or they will destroy you through gossip and slander.

You can spot the bully in the body language of his family. His wife is downcast, stands behind him in church. She’s not used to being addressed without him present. His kids are very “well-behaved”. They don’t act up like other kids, they look at the ground, sit very still in church, because they are terrified. A man leads his family. A bully terrifies them. He likes it that way. He enjoys the look of fear on the faces of the ones he is supposed to love. A bully is without “natural affection”.

This is why Paul commanded Timothy to also look at the kids. How a man manages his house is a clue as to how he will manage the church.

A bully seeks to control others by pounding them with the law and its consequences.

He is not fit for church office and must be removed if he has been ordained, or the whole church will suffer.

The church is a community of grace, love, salvation, peace. Bullies never allow anyone to rest.

Could this be why the church has lost its witness in the world? We have been controlled by bullies far too long. How can we expect God’s favor when we stridently and obstinately refuse to obey him?

Let your gentleness be known to all men. This is what the Bible says. But instead we extoll and exalt the bully. We ordain the one who wins at all cost, the one who terrifies the children into submission and fills the church with other bullies. We ordain the one who knows how to keep the uppity women in line and how to win arguments. But no matter what title we give them, to God they will always be false shepherds. For only God can raise up shepherds for the sheep. He tells us how to spot a shepherd. Do you think we should start paying attention?

But Christ is coming. And he will deliver his people from the ruthless reign of the righteous bully.

In the meantime, cast them out. And strife will cease. Amazing how that works.

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Filed under Pastoral ministry, Qualifications for office

Shattering words and crying to God

This morning, I was meditating on Psalm 42.

9 I will say to God my rock, “Why hast Thou forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
(Ps. 42:9-10)

These two verses in particular struck me. The first thing is the Psalmists righteous determination to cry out to the Lord.

Those of us who were trained with the books of Jay Adams were taught to always be aware of manipulation and complaining. He warned us that the people we are counseling will often seek to manipulate the conversation with tears and a lot of words.

O how glad I am that God does not treat us that way! How many of you have been told by pastors (or even spouses) to stop crying, quit manipulating, and cease complaining. How many of us were told that our tears were simply trying to change the conversation or that our complaining was unthankful and ungodly!

The woman with the issue of blood touched Jesus robes and was made well. He said, “Who touched me” so that she would talk to him. God delights when we pour out our troubles on him and call upon him in distress.

So much of scripture is filled with God’s delight in the prayers of the saints, and his curse on those who did not call upon him, who refused to seek his aid.

Contrary to the American popular religion, God’s blessing is NOT on the one too proud to seek help. It is not on the one who lifts himself up by the bootstraps, but on the one who has no help, no hope, no strength and knows it.

Take heart! God hears our tears, even when surrounded by mockers and revilers!

The second thing I noticed is that the Psalmist compares the reviling of his enemies to a shattering of his bones. How many times have we heard pastors and elders say, “But it really wasn’t abuse, though. There were no broken bones, no one went to the hospital. He didn’t lay a hand on her.”

We have even been taught that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Cute – but it isn’t biblical. In fact, the uniform testimony of scripture is that words hurt and destroy far more that any physical violence. We actually heal from physical scars, but scars of ugly words last a lifetime.

Jesus warned that hateful, reviling words cause one to be liable to hell-fire.

And the Psalmist pours out his complaint to God for the reviling and mocking of his enemies. And his prayers are heard.

God sees every sneer, every contemptuous smirk, every wink of the eye. He hears every reviling word, every “Raca” and every “You are so stupid. You are such a fool”.

And when the altar of God is covered with the tears of those with whom you dealt treacherously, God hears and will come in judgment (Malachi 2:13).

So keep speaking, you who are oppressed. Keep weeping, those who have been reviled. And remember that God will wipe away every tear and will come in vengeance. And remember God’s promise.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

So as the Psalm ends, we read this, even in the midst of tears:

Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance, and my God. (Ps. 42:11)

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Filed under Abuse, Prayer

My Two Bits–in no particular order

It may surprise you that I have random opinions. Sometimes they are pretty good. Sometimes they can just be deleted. But thinking about things never hurt anyone. So here are some more of my opinions. I have a bunch of them, as my wife can attest.

  1. The foundation of the nouthetic counseling movement is a book called “Competent to Counsel” by Jay Adams. The theme of that book is that every single Christian is indwelt with the Holy Spirit and competent to counsel anyone, no matter what the issue is. A companion book was “The Big Umbrella”. The theme of that book is that psychology is very, very bad and you must never go to a psychologist, even if the psychologist is a Christian.  These two books have contradictory themes. Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it…THERE it is…
  2. Completely unrelated, which is the why these are random thoughts: Scripture teaches that God uses tyrants to control and judge nations when the nations prove incapable of controlling themselves. For decades, the visible church has succumbed to reviling, cursing, and mocking the world, the left, the democrats, the gay community, the poor, etc. Don’t tell me they haven’t. You know it, and I know it. Could it be that the modern “politically correct” speech police is a Tiglath-Pilesar or Nebuchadnezzar sent from God to teach us to control our tongues with the whip? (See Habakkuk 1:2-11 and Isaiah 8:6-7). Remember that there are no laws against the fruit of the Spirit, nor can there be (Gal. 5:22-23)
  3. Whenever I read what “biblical counselors” tell women that they must do to avoid sinning, I realize that we have created our own Talmuds – and we have done it for the same reasons that the Pharisees did it: to make sure women and sinners don’t get out of control. But it is wicked and godless, and we must stop. (a good critique is here)

Wow. Just three random thoughts today. It is probably because I have work to do and need to go now.

Hold firmly to the gospel of Christ. Don’t let the devil lead you astray through the righteousness that is of the law, for it can never justify a sinner.

But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matt. 15:9)

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Filed under Random thoughts