Monthly Archives: January 2023

Covering the Altar with Tears

Malachi 2:13–14.
     13      And this is the second thing you do:
     You cover the altar of the LORD with tears,
     With weeping and crying;
     So He does not regard the offering anymore,
     Nor receive it with goodwill from your hands.
     14      Yet you say, “For what reason?”
     Because the LORD has been witness
     Between you and the wife of your youth,
     With whom you have dealt treacherously;
     Yet she is your companion
     And your wife by covenant.

The wives in Israel were so treacherously abused that they had no recourse but to cry before the Lord. THEY are the ones covering the altar with tears and bringing their cries to the Lord.

For this reason, God will not hear the prayers or accept the offerings of the husbands. You cannot treat your wife as a slave, a servant, or a beast, without bringing upon yourself the wrath of God.

In fact, Peter alludes to this passage in 1 Peter 3:7

1 Peter 3:7 (NKJV)
7Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.

If you treat your wife with anything less than the honor befitting a firstborn heir of eternal life in Christ, you are also dealing treacherously with her.

God hears the cries of the oppressed and he answers them.

Remember, dear ones, that Lazarus received evil things on this earth for a time, but when he died he was carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham, and rests in the arms of Jesus for eternity.

The rich man, on the other hand, who was treacherous to Lazarus, was tormented day and night.

God knows how to deliver the godly and give them peace. The cries never go unheard.

She is a wife by covenant. This does not mean that you can treat her however you wish and she is not allowed to leave you. That is contrary to everything we know about covenants. I have written on that before. Malachi is using Old Testament language to say what Peter says in the New Testament. She is a co-heir of eternal life, a wife by the covenant you made with her, and that covenant can be broken.

Israel understood broken covenants. They had already been cast out of the land because they broke the covenant with their God. And now, as they are resettling the land, they are treating their wives, whom they made covenants with, the same way.

Which follows – they deserve to be cast out.

God is bearing witness of your treachery, and refuses to hear your prayers as long as your wife is covering the altar with tears.

Matthew 5:25–26 (NKJV)
25Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.
26Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

In Malachi, the adversary is the oppressed wife, crying out to the judge. Make peace with her before Christ comes in judgment. Repent of your treachery, for there is a God in heaven coming to hand you over to judgment.

In fact, it would be better to give her a divorce and send her away (verse 16).

Therefore, the wise man will hear.

Take heed to your spirit, and do not deal treacherously. (Verse 16)

3 Comments

Filed under Divorce, Marriage

Co-heirs of eternal life

Have you seen the “trend” going around, where fathers are groomin…oops, I mean “training” – their daughters to serve men, cleaning after them, cooking for them, serving them at the table…?

It is really stomach-churning. But far worse, it isn’t Christianity. Maybe it is God’s desire that we teach our daughters to be more and more like Jesus; perfecting their gifts, using those gifts in their communities, learning to speak without fear, growing in wisdom and stature.

It is true that women, like all of humanity, are called to serve. Men are also called to serve. It isn’t a gender role thing, it is what it means to be like Christ.

Matthew 20:25–28 (NKJV)
25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.
26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.
27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—
28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Mutual service in Christ isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the fathers and mothers that teach their daughters that they are called to cook and clean and pick up after their fathers and brothers, that they are to serve, while the men are to be served.

And here is where it gets interesting. If I name the names of people who teach this (of which there are many) the response will be “Why did you name names? Did you confront them first? I know that they are good men who love the Lord!” And on and on.

But if I DON’T name names, then the response is “I’ve been a Christian my WHOLE LIFE and have never, ever heard anyone teaching this!”

Any reason at all to discount what I am saying. So I would simply invite you to look over my facebook page and see the hundreds of men and women who have been taught exactly what I am saying – that women’s goal is to be married and to serve men. Men are called to be served at home, since they have to do all the hard work.

None of this is taught in scripture. Yes, the scripture teaches women to serve. It also teaches men to serve. It teaches apostles and prophets, martyrs and pastors and teachers to serve.

And not just “I tell them what to do” kind of service, nor the kind of service like the Pope of Rome, surrounded by wealth, power and prestige and calling himself the “servant of servants”. This is not at all the kind of service that scripture calls for.

It calls for us – men and women – to put on the apron, do a load of laundry, mop the floor, bring our loved ones coffee, love, honor and respect one another.

When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, it was the work of a servant – THAT is the kind of service Jesus calls us all to.

If you are teaching your boys and girls to have a servant’s heart, you have no argument from me.

It is the teaching that only GIRLS are called to serve. That boys are called to lead and to BE served. None of this is in the bible.

Maybe we can do better. Maybe we can teach our daughters to grow to their full potential, led by the Holy Spirit, with gifts and callings and personalities all their own.

And maybe we can teach them that they can live their lives fully before the face of God without fear and shame, whether they ever marry or not.

Perhaps God’s will for our daughters, just like his will for our sons, is that they be conformed to the image of God’s Son, and thus become fully human, fully alive – without ever having to suppress their voice or their beauty or their wisdom out of fear of insecure masculinity.

Marriage should allow both men and women to be fully who they are before God, thriving and loving as image-bearers, and thus a fountain of blessing to all who know them.

Why isn’t this our goal?

I posted something similar to that on Facebook yesterday and people are losing their minds. I’m being called a hater of God, an unbeliever, a bad influence on Christian women, a pagan, a feminist, a heathen, non-reformed, a Satanist, and so on.

It got me thinking –

Pharaoh lost his mind when Moses said, “Thus saith the Lord, Let my people go.” He didn’t want to lose the work of the slaves. It, after all, was the order that his gods placed on the world. Pharaoh and Egyptian males first, women and Israelites next. Every knows that, right? It is the natural order of things.

But when God said, “Let my people go” it upended everything about Pharaoh’s religion and social order. That is why he couldn’t bend.

Similarly, even though the Lord so clearly loves and values women as his image-bearers, and did not create or redeem them to be the slaves of men, yet His cry, “let my people go!” upends the status quo and turns everything upside down. It arouses the same fury in the ones who hold the power.

BTW – I’m not speaking of divorce right now, I am speaking of letting go of the control and domination of wives and daughters and watching them thrive as image-bearers of God.

If the first thing your wife would do if you let go of your control and dominion is leave your sorry a#@, maybe you should rethink your lifestyle.

You could, maybe, learn to make your own sandwiches.

She is your fitting help, not your property or your servant.

Malachi 2:16 is often translated “God hates divorce”. I have written extensively on how bad that translation is. The Hebrew reads “Because he hates, let her go…”

It is the exact same word used in Moses’ instructions to Pharaoh. “Let my people go” or “let (her) go”. Set her free. If you hate her so much that she is odious to you, send her away.

If not, then please treat her as the scripture commands you to – as a co-heir of eternal life.

One day, you will stand before God and answer to how you treated her, a firstborn son, an heir of all things, and the bride of Christ.

4 Comments

Filed under Marriage, Men and women

Love and the Cross

20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Galatians 2:20–21.

A friend recently asked me about the cross. The way he had always thought about it was like this: “God finds me so loathsome that the only way he could accept me was by torturing and killing his son.”

My heart hurt for him.

Another friend could not understand how the cross, that ugly instrument of death and unspeakable agony, could demonstrate the love of God.

I can understand that.

It is especially difficult for survivors of childhood sexual assault or other forms of abuse. The abuser convinces his victims that they are worthless, ugly, stupid, and bad. And then they head off to church and hear a fire and brimstone sermon.

“God agrees with the verdict of your abuser” they hear. “He also thinks you are worthless, ugly, bad and worthy only of abuse and degradation. But he degraded and abused Christ instead.”

This is a twisted presentation of an otherwise correct doctrine known as “substitutionary atonement”. It is true that Christ died in our place. But it is NOT true that God finds us loathsome and hateful. These two thoughts are not contrary, but complementary. It has to do with Christ as the head, we as the body; union with Christ before the foundation of the world; and the justice and mercy of God. I probably won’t be able to get to all of that in one blog.

It is no wonder that so many people have a hard time seeing the love of God in the crucifixion of Christ! Today, my prayer for you, dear reader, is for you to know the depth of the love of Jesus. No matter how great and broad and deep his love, it will never be great and broad and deep enough. We will spend all of eternity learning about his love and never exhaust it.

John Calvin famously said that a shepherd must have two voices. One for gathering sheep and another for driving away wolves. One of the big problems of modern preaching is that the wolves are comforted and the sheep are driven away.

The voice to gather sheep is a voice of welcome, of invitation, of patience and peace, shining the love of God. You can’t throw rocks and garbage at the sheep, screaming obscenities at them (I’m looking at YOU, Driscoll), and expect them to come.

The voice to drive away wolves is a voice of rebuke, sharpness, condemnation – in the hopes that they will see themselves as God sees them and flee to the cross for mercy. A wolf is one who views the sheep as his prey. You will know them by their fruits. They have the right words to say in public, but they are abusive to their families, demand recognition and deference, destroy the wounded soul with words, are constant overbearing busybodies, and live according to the lusts of the flesh.

There is one voice to use for the confident and entitled. Another to use for the weak and trembling soul.

In other words, when you threaten the weak, the outcast, the poor, the afflicted, with words of terror, you wound the weak conscience and drive the hurting heart from the love of Christ.

So with that being said, I would like to look at some of what the bible teaches about the cross of Christ.

First, it is never used as a devise to increase toxic guilt and manipulate shame-driven behavior. “Jesus suffered all of this for you! Shouldn’t you repay him by being a better person?” If guilt and shame were capable of rescuing us from ourselves, Christ would not have needed to die in the first place. It is shame and guilt that drive us away from God in the first place. It is new life that draws us back into fellowship. New life does not come by shame and guilt, but by the putting to death of the old man in Adam, and making alive the new man in Christ. Crucifixion, and resurrection – as Paul writes in Galatians 2, quoted above. Jesus did not give himself for us that we might live by the law; but so that we might live by faith in Him.

“If righteousness could come by the law, then Christ died in vain.”

When the preacher tries to increase your guilt and shame, using the cross as a tool to try to manipulate you into better behavior, then he is missing the point of the cross. Toxic guilt never works the righteousness of God.

There is a place for redemptive guilt. Redemptive guilt is the honest appraisal of the soul, the cleansing light that shines in our dark places and brings us out of hiding. We all have those places in our hearts that we try to keep carefully hidden. We think we have those dark holes under control, until they burst out on us, driving us to sleepless nights and even fear of exposure and punishment. Redemptive guilt is the work of the Holy Spirit, like a skilled surgeon, exposing the cancer so that we might be healed by the blood of Christ. It is the voice of Nathan, pointing the finger and saying, “You are the man!” so that David can finally quit hiding and be forgiven and healed. Redemptive guilt bursts forth into the words of Psalm 51.

The first thing that we must do is prayerfully consider the distinction between toxic guilt and redemptive guilt. Toxic guilt is the voice of Satan, driving you into hiding, heaping on your soul things that don’t belong to you. Toxic guilt pounds into your head at night, telling you that you are worthless; that if you were a better person, he wouldn’t have hurt you; hat if you dressed differently or had a different body, or didn’t show your arms, then he wouldn’t have hurt you. Toxic guilt drives you into hiding, crushing you under heavy burdens and leaving you hopeless, dejected, walled off, silent… My parents rejected me because I’m bad. My mom hurts me because I’m not the right sort of person. It is the voice of the accuser, and it is not designed to drive you to Christ. It is designed to crush your soul in despair. Satan is a liar and a murderer. Toxic guilt works effectively for both.

Redemptive guilt is the conviction of the law designed to call you out of hiding. That time you stole from your employer, drank too much and drove home anyway, cursed your neighbor’s child for walking on your grass, used your words to wither and scald the souls of your loved ones. That time you hurt a coworker thinking you were being funny. The damage you did with that one-night stand when you were younger; the flirting with the coworker that definitely went too far.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of these things, so that we are not overcome with despair, so that shame doesn’t continue to destroy us, so that we can finally understand freedom and peace. We stand under the cool, refreshing water, flowing from the rock, and close our eyes while that water washes away the filth of the soul. But it is not the guilt that cleanses our soul. It is only the blood of Christ. That is, he took all of that shame and guilt and pain upon himself. Like a head suffers when a body is wounded and cancerous. He is, after all, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He joined himself to us and to our dying flesh and took all of the tears and shame and pain and death and sorrow upon himself, because he loves us, and he put it to death. Redemptive guilt drives us to repentance and restitution to those we have harmed.

Toxic guilt is not of God. You are not worthless, you are an image-bearer of God. You are not loathsome in his sight, you are like a wandering sheep, waiting to be gathered by the arms of the shepherd.

Redemptive guilt does indeed belong to you. There are real sins that you have committed, because you are human and a child of Adam. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. God does not teach you about the nature of sin so that you can take part in some kind of self-flagellation exercise. There is no redemption there. God’s desire for you is for you simply to confess your sins and be free from them.

Jesus has already born those sins on the cross. He was crucified so that you might know for certain that he took upon himself the curse that was on you. That curse of shame and death that you bear in your deepest part is taken away completely and fully, so that you might be reconciled to God – because the death of the cross was cursed by God. The curse no longer belongs to you. You have been crucified with Christ in order that you might live by faith, not by law.

Shame and hiding no longer belong to you. Jesus took them away, having nailed them to his cross. You have your voice back, your humanity back, your will back. That is the new man, alive in Christ, a life lived in faith, a life fully human and fully alive.

Jesus went to the cross so that you might know for certain that you are NOT loathsome in the eyes of God, but a beloved child. The cross of Christ creates for us a safe space to come into the innermost circle of the dwelling-place of God, the Holiest Place of all.

Hebrews 10:19–22 (NKJV)
19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,
21 and having a High Priest over the house of God,
22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

And, to clarify another misunderstanding, Jesus and the Father are never at odds. There is only one true eternal God. Jesus is God. The Father is God. The Spirit is God. The Father sent the Son because he loves you. The Son gave himself for you because he loves you. That love in the divine nature is not divided. It is correct to say that God gave his Son. It is also correct to say that the Son gave himself.

But we also need to talk more about the justice of God. But this will take another blog.

2 Comments

Filed under Christology, cross

The Essence of Humankind

I was brought up in the Reformed Church and nursed on TULIP. As the years passed by, I was more and more dissatisfied with the abbreviation. It is an oversimplification of some tremendous truths. I still hold to the Canons of Dort, which teach more fully those doctrines that are intended to be summarized by TULIP. But I find TULIP to be oversimplified, good as a mnemonic for children, but should probably be left behind when one becomes an adult.

I’ve been thinking about the “T” – Total Depravity. The way I have mostly heard it taught is Jonathan Edwards style – that man and women are loathsome spiders held over the pit of hell by an angry God.

It is emphasized so much in Reformed circles that it is almost as if an essential attribute of humanity is depravity!

It is true that sin is a cancer that has invaded every part of a human being. There is none that seek after God. There is none who do good. No, not one. But we are talking about those kinds of works that can stand before the judgment throne of a holy God. The scripture does not teach the inherent goodness of man. Before God, all of our works must be perfect and we can’t even satisfy our own consciences, much less a holy God. Sin has corrupted us all – body and soul. We have fallen short of the glory of God.

But this does not mean that there is nothing good whatsoever in humankind. Murder is an affront against God because men and women are made in God’s image. To be sure, they are tainted by sin apart from God’s grace, but the image is still there.

Men and women still create beautiful things, have tremendous insights into human nature, and are capable of making relatively wise decisions. We celebrate art and music and humanities, and do not ask whether that celebrated person was in Christ or not. A Hindu or Muslim might teach our children math far better than a Christian could, and this should not alarm us. All gifts of beauty and wisdom come from the Father and are given to the children of Adam and should be celebrated. All humanity needs a Redeemer, but there is something beautiful there to redeem.

There is something in humanity that reflects the nature of God. This is what makes sin such an affront to God. It corrupts his beautiful creation and the dignity with which men and women were created.

That is the bad news. It isn’t the gospel. The gospel is that our Great Physician has redeemed us, body and soul, to belong to him. He has conquered sin and death and misery. He has delivered us from this deadly cancer and has begun the process of our re-creation after his image. We are being restored to his image by union with him. Each day we are his “workmanship – created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”

So what if we started treating people as if they were ESSENTIALLY image bearers of God rather than essentially sinners?

What I mean by essentially is that which makes up the essence of what we are. When all of the accidental attributes are stripped away, and when those things that make us different are stripped away, what is left? What is the humanness of humanity? What is the whatness of the essent?

Here is a hint: It isn’t sin. Sin came later, a pustulant cancer invading the will and the reason and the emotions. It took God’s good creation and turned it inward upon itself like Narcissus in his stagnant pool.

But God came into this world and took upon himself our flesh – born under the law. He bore that sickness and that infirmity and carried it to the cross, putting it to death once and for all.

And our humanity remained, forever united to the divine nature in the person of Christ, risen from the dead.

And in him, our cancer is being healed. Our doubts, lusts, fears, grumblings, pains, sorrows – are all being taken away, until we stand before our Groom complete, beautiful, whole and free from sin. He takes our gaze and lifts our head up from the stagnant pool so that we can see the glory of God and the beauty of his image bearers. And the day will come when we will be whole again.

And still gloriously human, but without sin.

If we view humankind as essentially sinful, then we will view the world as a place to be afraid. We will never rest for we must continually be on our guard against sin. We must look at every person in every situation and find out what they did wrong so that we can fix them.

We tell the church about the horrific abuse we have suffered, and they tell us what we did wrong, for that is all they know.

Our spouse, who vowed to love and cherish us, abuses us and takes a lover, and the church tells us what we did wrong, and how to dress and how to not be bitter, for they only see the world and humans as essentially fallen. They become C.S. Lewis’s dwarves sullenly hiding in their caves, looking out for themselves.

Because so often the church views people, at bottom, as sinners, rather than image-bearers of God. So we discount emotion, we take away choices, we silence the voice, we consider our neighbor as a poison to be avoided.

But what if, instead, humans were image bearers of God in their essence, as the scripture says,

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

And, yes, sin has tainted all of that. It is a deadly cancer eroding its host and will end in death if it is not taken away.

But the cancer of sin is horrible precisely because it has brought corruption and putrefying sores to something that was in essence very beautiful.

Start there. View your neighbor, the barista with the tattoos and nose rings, the lesbian co-worker, your middle aged boss – first and foremost as God’s image-bearers. Practice looking at the world beyond the taint of sin, to the beauty beneath. There you will find the connection, the common ground – the thirst for significance and beauty and intimacy and belonging.

Your view of the world will change. And maybe you will start to think God’s thoughts after him. For he so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Wrath is coming. But first comes mercy.

Edwards famously compared humans to a loathsome spider being held over the pit of hell by an angry God.

Let’s change that image. Jesus showed us how God views sinners: as lepers who need pity, rather than spiders to be crushed.

The crushing will come in God’s time. But today is not that day. Now, God’s hand of compassion is reaching out.

When the leper asked the Son of God, “If you are willing, you can make me clean”…

Jesus said, “I am willing. Be clean.”

13 Comments

Filed under Anthropology, Sin and Grace