Category Archives: Abuse

Why didn’t she speak up?

What a remarkable, wonderful gift the gift of speech is! We were created wo commune with God and with each other with words. Think of it!!

God created us to bear his image, and that image is first seen when the first human named the animals. He used words and connected them to ideas and filled them with content. And thus he was able to receive the revelation of God.

Adam named the lamb, and when God became flesh and entered the world, he told mankind that he was the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Words. With words we pray. With words we speak the truth. With words we encourage. With words we say, “I love you” and “your hair is beautiful” and “I love the shape of you and how you fit with me and the way that your neck smells like I belong.”

But sin is now in the world, and that which was meant for beauty and truth was twisted into ugliness and lies and silence. Satan was a liar from the beginning.

Satan does not want the image of God reflected in words. He twists the words to make them ugly and hateful, and he silences the cries of the oppressed. For the darkness reigns when the dark places remain dark. It is for the advantage of the evil one that secrets remain secret and crimes remain hidden behind non-disclosure agreements.

When you read through the Psalms, you see godly men and women crying out, lifting up their voices to the Almighty One, whose Voice called them into existence.

They speak of praise and joy, pain and sorrow, laughter and anger, oppression and helplessness, despair and elation. And all of it is expressed in words.

He hurt me. He plowed my back. He is telling lies. He oppressed and afflicted me.

Because when the light is on, salvation is near. When the light is hidden under a bushel, bondage still reigns.

God would have us turn the lights on, and he calls us to use words.

But the church, which is to be the place where the light is on, is using her voice to silence the oppressed, the plowed-under, those who are crushed under unspeakable sorrow. Instead of using the voice to bring light into darkness, the voice is silenced by guilt and shame.

When one is buried by decades of silence and the heart has grown numb and buried by walls, the soul sinks into despair. But then, where the gloom has buried hope, a light finally arises and the curtains are pulled back.

And the helpless one finally finds her voice. She is finally able to speak of the atrocities done to her and bring them out into the light and look for healing.

And then those who are appointed as overseers of the soul speak.

“Did you follow Matthew 18?”

“Did you have two or three witnesses?”

“What were you wearing?”

“Where were you when this happened”

“Why didn’t you tell people earlier?”

“Why did you call the police?”

“Why didn’t you call the police?”

“What did you do to cause this?”

And here is the mistake that the oppressed make. They think that if they do everything right, say it just right, dot all of the eyes and cross all of the ts, then the shepherds will HAVE to listen. After all, they are the guardians of truth.

But here is why it is a mistake. If they believe you, their whole world must collapse. The reality of the brutality that you have experienced doesn’t fit their worldview, and therefore it cannot be real. In their worldview, those kinds of crimes happen to other people, outsiders, gentiles, not in our own camp.

If they believe you, then they have choices to make, investigations, confrontation, and cutting out a cancer. And it is far easier to ignore the cancer, pretend that it isn’t there, and go on with life than it is to do what has to be done with cancer. It is easier in the short term to silence the one who warns of cancer than to deal with the cancer.

So they don’t want to hear, and it won’t matter how it is said, they will find some reason not to believe you. They will twist words, they will pull out their verses, they will hire a PR firm, they will issue statements, they will do everything they can think of…

Except believe you.

And this is actually encouraging for the psalmist of every age, crying out for justice.

Listen closely: It isn’t you. It isn’t because you did something wrong, or said it wrong, or didn’t say it at the right time, or didn’t follow the right procedure or whatever other excuse the gatekeepers throw at you.

That isn’t it.

It is because they are of their father the devil and the works of their father they will do. He was a liar and a murderer from the beginning and the truth was not in him.

Speak anyway. Because when you speak, you shine a little light into the darkness.

But even more than that – you show yourself to be a child of the light.

Arise, shine, and Christ will give you light.

And the darkness hates the light. It always has because it loves the darkness. It is easier to hide in the darkness that to be exposed by the light.

Speak anyway. You will find that there are those who walk in the light who hear you. Who understand. Who see you.

Jesus sees you. He knows. He wants you to speak to him. He calls you to come down from the tree. Come out of hiding.

“Who touched me?” he says.

If that was you, tell him everything. He knows already, but he created you with a voice. Don’t let the Evil One silence that voice, because that voice is beautiful in your Father’s ears.

He hears you. He keeps your tears in his bottle, and every one of them will be avenged.

So speak. Write your own psalm. Speak your truth.

You won’t ever do it correct enough or have enough witnesses for the children of the devil to listen. They aren’t going to listen, not even if you sent an angel from heaven to thunder in their ears.

Speak anyway, because you are a child of light.

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Filed under Abuse, Hope, Image of God, Words

An Abusive Man’s Toolbox

It is in the best interest of an abusive man to use religious coercion to hold onto access to his victims.

Godly sounding “christianese” sometimes serves that purpose very well.

One phrase that sticks in my craw is this one:

“God designed marriage to make you holy, not happy.”

I can’t explain how this one became so popular, except by the first sentence above. But it is wrong.

God instituted marriage before the fall, when Adam and Eve both walked in God’s presence in the temple of Eden.

Adam was already holy when God presented him with Eve. Even was given to Adam as a fitting helper, and Adam exclaimed with joy, “At last! Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone!” And God saw it and said, “Behold, it is very good.”

Man’s lack of holiness came AFTER the fall, when he was driven from Eden, away from God’s presence. That holiness is only restored in the Second Adam.

By union with him, we are made what we are not. We are holy, because we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. He has consecrated himself so that he might consecrate us and present us to God, a bride without blemish and without spot. If you belong to Christ, you ARE holy, and you will be MADE holy – whether you are married or single, widowed or divorced, male or female.

But the design of marriage is the same as it has always been. For the happiness and joy of the two entering into marriage.

So that brings me to compassion. We are called to enter into the suffering and pain of others, especially of the body of Christ. When one member hurts, all members hurt. We are called to hurt and suffer together as well as rejoice together. But that is costly.

It takes time to enter into someone’s pain. It may cause you to re-evaluate everything that you thought was solid. It may cause sleepless nights, wrestling in prayer. It may cause you to weep, which is always uncomfortable.

But it may also cause you to have to step out of your comfortable worldview, where “we are all nice Christians here” and into a worldview where wolves terrorize sheep and the sheep are often left scattered and alone and vulnerable.

And that is never a comfortable zone for anyone to be in.

So when a sister or brother tentatively reaches out about pain in marriage, about the abuse she is suffering at the hands of her husband, about the horrible things that human beings can do to each other, it is far safer and more comfortable for the hearer to bounce it back, put up a “I-am-so-not-interested” wall and say,

“Marriage is designed to make you holy, not happy.”

Then make some mmm, mmmm, mmmm sounds. Grasp her hands and make a sad face, and send her on her way.

That way you don’t have to disrupt your own life with uncomfortable truths.

But it is wrong.

As members of Christ, we are to be as he is. We enter into suffering as he does. We walk with the wounded as he does. We pay the cost to sit with the vulnerable and suffering, because Christ paid the ultimate cost and we are honored to take up his cross with him. He paid the cost so that we might be delivered from the hard bondage of sin and misery and the kingdom of the devil.

And it should be our greatest desire to lead others to the paths of liberty. What a great joy when a sheep escapes from the mouth of a wolf!

So listen to the uncomfortable stories. Tear down the wall that you think is keeping you safe and learn to walk with the wounded. Bear the reproach of Christ, and the insults.

It is tremendously costly. Ask anyone who has made a habit of it, and they’ll tell you.

But when you do so, you will have the honor of being more and more like Christ, reflecting his comfort, righteousness and beauty to a wounded and hurting world.

“Be ye holy”, he says. “For I am holy.”

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Filed under Abuse, Marriage

Where abuse thrives

For many years, I worked in the Food and Beverage industry. It has a way of creeping into your pores and into your vocabulary.

I’ve seen restaurants shut their doors because of foodborne illness. Little pathogens and toxins sometimes attach themselves to food and cause illness or even death. Very few restaurants can survive an outbreak.

I don’t know of any restauranteurs that will confess a love of germs. If asked, they will proclaim strongly how much effort and energy they put into the destruction of germs and how clean their establishments are. But the proof is seen in the washing of the hands, the monitoring of food temperatures, the cleanliness of the corners and the walk-in refrigerators, the labelling – in the routines.

Whether a restaurant is truly safe is not dependent upon whether they SAY they are opposed to foodborne illness; but in the environment they keep. Some environments give themselves wholly to the growth of germs and toxins. In order to be safe, good restauranteurs learn how to create an environment that is hostile to germs. It is that simple.

For 20 years, I taught restaurant employees how to create a hostile work environment. Not hostile towards health and goodness and nutrition and peace; but hostile to pathogens and illness and toxins.

Some got it. A few never did. It takes effort and intentionality, and not everyone is willing. They will eventually cause an outbreak.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. I don’t know of any pastors who will just say that they enjoy having pedophiles, revilers, and abusers destroy their ministry. Every one that I know will say, with varying degrees of skill, that they are opposed in the strongest way possible to those who would hurt a child, or revile their spouses.

But that really isn’t the question. The question is this – are they creating an environment where abuse thrives? A quick glance at the news will show us that there is something in the teaching of modern evangelicalism that causes abuse and revilers to thrive.

But in order for sheep to be safe in church, the environment must be “hostile” towards the wolves.

This is why I write what I do. It is for the same reason that I taught young restauranteurs how to protect against food-borne illness. We who have the power to do so must do whatever we can to protect life, to protect health. We must be people of life carrying the savor of life.

And that, very often, means the savor of death – to pathogens and to children of Belial.

In restaurants, the savor of life often smells like sanitizer.

In churches, the savor of life smells like the gospel – that in Christ, God is with us.

And if God is with us, children are safe. The weak are safe. The outcast are safe. And those who hurt and destroy are cast away, for none shall hurt or destroy “in all my holy mountain.”

When we are loyal to our brand first, and our people second, we allow wolves to thrive.

When we refuse to learn about the tactics of abusers, we allow them to thrive.

When we arrogantly assume that we know the Bible, so we know all there is to know about abuse, we allow abuse to thrive.

When we refuse to believe the victims unless they meet a burden of proof so enormous that no evidence actually qualifies….

When we force non-disclosure agreements…

When we teach that women’s bodies are created to serve men…

When we teach that all women are to submit to all men…

When we teach “sanctified testosterone” instead of meekness…

When we teach that “all boys experiment with young girls. It’s no big deal…”

When we normalize pornography…

When we call lust “every man’s battle…”

When we refuse to cooperate with the law when they are doing what they are supposed to be doing…

And I’m sure that we could all come up with more.

Please think about it like this. If you are a restaurant owner, and you believe that foodborne illness only happens to the others, that it can’t ever happen to you – and you take no precautions whatsoever to teach your people how to protect against it – then you will eventually close, after causing a lot of sickness and perhaps death. It takes vigilance to protect against germs.

So also, if you believe that abuse only happens to others, to the other denominations, the other people, the liberals, those who aren’t as clever as we are, God will eventually remove your candlestick. But I pray that you won’t continue to cause death and destruction to those who have come to you for rest.

It takes vigilance to protect the sheep. Sometimes you have to take up your cross to do it.

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If she is telling the truth…

Another one.

A rich, powerful, mover and shaker.

A young girl. Lots of them, it turns out.

Each one of them is an image-bearer of God, used to satiate the lusts of another rich wolf.

Not only does she have to bear the scars of unspeakable trauma, she now has to hear the attacks and slanders on her name.

(Have you heard the one about the 9 year old girl that was “overly sexualized” and “seduced” her rapist? Yeah. That was what he said. And they believed him.)

The powerful man – whether minister, representative, president, judge, father, husband – MUST be innocent. If powerful men are this wicked, what hope do any of us have? She, therefore, must be lying.

Why are we so quick to condemn the innocent and acquit the guilty? Why is our gut reaction always, “She’s lying”

“Why didn’t she tell someone?”

Why did she wait?

What was she wearing?

What was she drinking?

Because if she is telling the truth, we live in a different world than the one we want to live in.

If she is telling the truth, then God was right when he said, “Their mouth is an open sepulcher, there is none righteous. No, not one…” and that is hard to swallow.

If she is telling the truth, then the world is ugly and dangerous. But we want it to be safe, at least for people like us.

If she is telling the truth, then “weep and howl, you rich men, for the miseries that shall come upon you” and the judgment of God is terrifying.

But if she is lying, we can go back to the conferences. If she is lying, we can vote for the guy again. He’s so good for our side. We can go on like we always do.

If she is lying, we can shake our heads sorrowfully and go back to the football game.

If she is lying, then our people are still OK and as long as we stay away from those others, we can be safe and happy and blissfully unaware of her hurt and pain and trauma. Our boat stays secure.

As long as she plays the part right. Submit. Keep quiet. Don’t rock the boat. And everything stays the same.

But God sees it. He warns us. It is very, very easy to believe the rich and powerful and influential. We want our heroes sparkling clean, so it is easy to believe that she is lying.

When one is without power, there is no gain in believing her. And if you do believe her, your world will turn upside down.

People will ask, “What happened to you?”

What happened was that I believed her. And my world turned upside down.

I believed her, and I was right. He did it. And the world is upside down. The only hope is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We need a resurrection, because death and destruction and hatred and ugliness is very, very real.

God sees it all. And he warns us about believing those from whom we can gain, and dismissing those who cannot profit us.

22 “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.

23 “If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry;

24 and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.

(Exod. 22:22-24)

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Filed under Abuse, Grief

Helpful hints for men.

From Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer:

“The pendulum is swinging so far in the overly sensitive direction that men can’t really be men, and women can’t really be women, I feel that women may rue the day that all of this started when no one asks them out on a date, and no one holds the door open for them, and no one tells them that they look nice” (Donna Rotunno).

Since it is apparently needed, here is a helpful guide for men today.
It is OK to tell a woman she looks nice. It is not OK to leer at her and undress her in your mind.

It is OK to hold the door open for a woman. It is not OK to put drugs in her drink and rape her.

It is OK to ask a woman out on a date, assuming, of course, that both of you are single. If she says no, it is not OK to threaten her job, harass her, show up at her house at night, call and hang up, blacklist her from your company or spread horrible rumors about her.

Guide for men in special situations.
If you see a young woman passed out on the street, it is OK to call an ambulance, cover her with your coat, and wait for medical help to arrive. It is NOT OK to rape her while you are waiting.

If you are at a party, and a woman has been drinking to much and starts to flirt with you, it is OK to make sure she is safe and treat her with dignity as an image-bearer of God. It is NOT OK to take advantage of her and use her to satisfy your own godless lusts.

It is OK to go to lunch with a colleague at work, whether they are male or female. It is NOT OK to assault them. If you don’t know the difference between eating lunch with a friend and sexual assault, please do not ask me to lunch.

If you see a young woman on the side of the road and her car is broken down, it is OK to offer assistance. It is not OK to assault her.

If she needs a ride somewhere, it is OK to offer her a ride somewhere. This is NOT to be seen as permission to assault her.

With all of these points, if the woman is extremely attractive, and dressed extremely nicely, the rule still applies. Choice of clothing is NEVER an invitation, nor is it to be mistaken for consent.

When did we get to the point where we can’t tell the difference between manners and assault? What has happened?

So for men everywhere, if you treat women with dignity and honor, as image bearers of God, understanding that you will give an account to their creator who knows and sees the hidden actions and the thoughts of the heart, you should easily be able to tell the difference between sexual assault and acting like a dignified, respectable human.

If you still can’t tell the difference, maybe the proverbial rod for the fool’s back is more in order.

(Proverbs 26:1-3) Like snow in summer and like rain in harvest, So honor is not fitting for a fool.
2 Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, So a curse without cause does not alight.
3 A whip is for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, And a rod for the back of fools.

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Filed under Abuse, assault, Masculine, Men and women

David and Bathsheba

A few years back in a sermon, I mentioned in passing the rape of Bathsheba by David. Unbeknownst to me, this is a very controversial view. The traditional view is that David saw Bathsheba seductively bathing on her roof and was overcome with lust. And after a torrid affair he succumbed and they both committed adultery. Perhaps you have heard it preached with the application that women need to be careful, because even a righteous man like David can be seduced by an adulteress.

The problem with the traditional view is that it isn’t what the scripture says. It is true that the word “rape” is not used. Nor is physical force mentioned, at least on David’s part. However, according to current laws and our current usage of the word, rape is indeed what happened to Bathsheba. If one responds by saying that our standard is scripture, and not modern standards, I would certainly agree. I am merely defining the word rape according to modern English usage. Rape, in modern English, is sexual intercourse or sexual activity without the consent of the victim. The word does not exist in the Old Testament, but sexual intercourse without consent certainly does.

It is my contention that this is what happened to Bathsheba. In this brief post, I wish to establish my reasons for saying so, and will establish those reasons from the scriptures alone. Second, I will briefly mention why I believe it is important to teach this passage accordingly. It is not a minor issue.

First, David’s sexual intercourse with Bathsheba was not consensual. Here is the text:

2 Samuel 11:1-4: It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
2 Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.
3 So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”
4 Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.

Here are the reasons why I believe that the sexual activity was not consensual, and that rape is the appropriate word according to our modern usage.

First, Bathsheba was not on the rooftop seducing David. She was in the courtyard, with the full expectation of privacy according to the architecture of the ancient Jerusalem houses and the customs of the day. She was not languishing in a luxurious bubble bath, but doing the ritual cleansing after her monthly cycle was complete, according to the law of Moses. The courtyard would have been the appropriate place for doing so. David, however, was on the roof. There is nothing in the account that suggests that Bathsheba was acting seductively at all.

Second, David was the king of Israel. Bathsheba would not have considered herself to have had any choice in the matter, according to the custom of Ancient Near East kings. When they wanted something, they took it. Put yourself in her shoes. Would you have feared for your husband’s life? As it turns out, she had good reason to fear for Uriah. Would you have feared for your own safety? The king does as he pleases. In modern thinking, the power dynamic between David the king and Bathsheba the woman would have been such that the definition of rape would certainly be used. Powerful men can easily take what they wish whenever they wish, and the consent of the one taken is not considered at all.

The beautiful thing about the account is that David would have gotten away with it, except that God did not look the other way. God saw, and God brought vengeance. But Bathsheba would not have known this at the time.

Third, the servants sent by David “took” her. The consent of the person “taken” is not implied in the word at all. It is all passive. The one taking takes, the other is taken.

It is true that the scripture says, “She came in…” but would she have had a choice in the matter? Please do not say to me that she could have chosen death. It isn’t a simple as that. It wasn’t just her life that was in danger. Her husband and household would also be threatened, in her mind.

And why would losing her life have been a valid option? Such things should not even be thought of among those who value the life of image-bearers of God. This shows the cruelty of so much in the modern purity movement. “Sure, she would have been horribly and disgracefully killed, but at least she wouldn’t have defiled herself!”

Fourth, and most importantly – when Nathan comes to confront David in chapter 12, he lays no blame on Bathsheba whatsoever. In fact, nowhere in all of scripture is Bathsheba referred to as an adulteress, a seductress, or having any fault in the matter at all. Even David’s great psalm of repentance does not mention any fault in Bathsheba.

In fact, in Nathan’s parable, he compares Bathsheba to an innocent, powerless lamb, fitting point two above.

“And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” (2 Sam. 12:4)

She was not an equal. She was as a lamb before a powerful rich man. This was not a discussion, a negotiation, or even an implied agreement, much less was it a seduction. A lamb is not blamed for being chosen for dinner for being too delicious. The blame is all on the one who took; not the one taken.

So even though the word “rape” is not used, nor is it said that David forced her and lay with her (although the servants “took” her), yet the account does NOT teach that the consent of Bathsheba was involved. And without consent, the action was indeed rape, and not adultery.

Here is why this is important.

First of all, it is always important to make sure we are teaching scripture correctly and that we understand it correctly. We should always be willing and eager to subject our own ideas to the correction of scripture, no matter how long we have held those ideas. If they are not consistent with the scripture, they must be put off.

Second, in every congregation – EVERY congregation – there is at least one woman for whom Christ died who has been sexually assaulted by someone stronger and more powerful that she.

She has also been told by her attacker that it was her fault. She seduced him. She didn’t dress right. She was at the wrong place. She drank too much. She led him on. And it doesn’t matter how heinous her attack was, you can guarantee that she has heard that it was (at least a little) HER fault.

And her one safe place was her church. And now she hears the pastor teach that Bathsheba seduced David and they committed adultery. A small knife enters her heart and she dies a little inside.

Who will believe me? Where can I go?

Why is it that powerful men take whatever they want and society blames the lamb for being eaten, the woman for being raped, the child for being abused?

Even when God does not place blame, the pastors jump in and do it for him. The one punished is not the one who took and ate. The one punished is the one who was taken and eaten.

We have excommunicated or disciplined women for being raped. Children for being assaulted. Wives for being beaten. And not content with destroying our own flocks, we go after Bathsheba, whom God himself refused to blame.

Perhaps an example will help. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, she tells of a disastrous school year with an incompetent teacher. One day, a prankster puts a bent pin under a boy’s seat. He sits down, and immediately yelps and jumps up.

The teacher punishes the boy who sat on the pin for yelping.

Later, the school board comes to visit. One of the board-members looks at this boy and says, “I understand you were punished for sitting on a pin.”

He answered, “No, sir. I was punished for getting off the pin.”

Far to often in our churches, we punish the one who gets off the pin.

And that, it seems to me, is foolish and wicked.

The wise man is one who can discern between right and wrong, between the wicked and the innocent, between good and evil.

Perhaps we should follow Nathan’s example and place the blame where it belongs.

“Thou are the man”

(Disclaimer: this is not an “anti-man” post. This is an “Anti-abusive-man post”. There are men who are faithful, kind, and just. There are women who are abusive and cruel. There are women who are faithful, kind, and just. There are men who are abusive and cruel.)

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What God has cleansed…

(Acts 10:13-15)  A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!”
But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”
Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

The book of Acts describes how the gospel was spread. First at Jerusalem, then to Judah. From there it went to the Samaritans and then to the whole world, ending with Paul in Rome.

Preaching the gospel to the Gentiles would have been a tremendous shock to anyone born and raised a Jew. They had no dealings with Gentiles and everything that a Gentile touched would have been considered unclean and unholy.

But the time had now come for the gospel of Christ to go to the Gentiles. God had promised Abraham that in his seed (Jesus) all the families of the earth would be blessed. So now the time had come. The blessing of Abraham was about to be poured out on the unclean gentile world.

But this meant that Peter needed to be prepared. Without a special revelation from God, he NEVER would have entered a Gentile house. Even AFTER he had that special revelation, he still struggled with it, sometimes failing, as we read about in the book of Galatians.

As Peter is resting on the rooftop, he sees a vision of every sort of animal in a large sheet being lowered from heaven.

A voice says, “Rise and eat!”

Peter is aghast. “Eat an unclean animal?? I’ve never eaten an unclean animal!”

And God said, “What I have cleansed, don’t consider it common.”

The application of the vision was first of all to foods. The Old distinction of common and holy, clean and unclean, in foods was now done away with. Christ had come. The shadows and types would fade away.

But there was a more immediate application. Peter was about to be asked to enter the house of a Gentile. God is telling Peter that the Gentile is clean, because God had cleansed him. He could enter the house in peace. For when God cleanses someone, they are truly clean.

The cleansing of the Old Covenant, through the sprinkling of blood and the sprinkling of water pointed to Christ. When he was crucified, blood and water poured out of his side. And when he ascended into heaven, he poured out the Holy Spirit on his church, fulfilling those ancient signs of sprinkling.

By faith, we are united to Christ and therefore we are clean, because he has cleansed us. This is what the “Holy” in “Holy Spirit” means. He is the Spirit of Holiness, and what He cleanses is clean.

This is the gospel. We are clean in Christ. We are no longer unholy.

Pause for a moment and think about that.

First, apply it to yourself. How many times to you feel unclean, unholy, unworthy of love, unworthy of companionship? How often do you lie awake while your conscience accuses you day and night?

These voices do not come from God, but from the Accuser! God’s voice speaks in the scripture – “What I have cleansed, don’t you call it common!” Obey that voice. When the voice in your head is accusing, accusing, accusing, repeat it. What God has cleansed, don’t call unholy!

But now look outward. How often do abusive men or women rail on God’s image bearers? “You are worthless. You are nothing. You are filthy. No one would touch you.”

How many have to live with these accusations continually thrown at them? Thinly veiled or outright contempt is so, so common in so many households. It isn’t of God.

And this abuse and reviling isn’t limited to those in one’s own home.

Civil discourse has declined so much, especially online, that there are those in the church who will divide and destroy one another over nothing. You can’t even disagree with someone anymore. They have to be destroyed. Those with “righteous crusades” are the worst. The revile, accuse, destroy with pixels of ink and then justify themselves as if they are simply “speaking the truth in love.”

But when you are calling that which is cleansed by Christ “unholy” or “unclean”, you are not speaking the truth. You are speaking lies, murdering with the tongue those for whom Christ died.

God knows the difference. He sees the hate and the venom disguised as “love” and he is not mocked.

“What I have cleansed, don’t you dare call it unclean!”

We are clean because of the blood and spirit of Christ alone. We are not clean because of our political views, our race, our sex, our theological acumen, our ability to tell people what is wrong with them, or our outward acts of piety. We are clean ONLY because of Christ’s blood shed for us and his Spirit poured out upon us.

Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John. 13:35)

How can we love one another when we don’t recognize them as being clean? How can we recognize them as clean apart from Christ?

But in Christ we are clean and holy, and this changes everything. It changes how we view ourselves and how we view others that God has placed in our lives.

The spirit of accusation against one another is not of God, but of the evil one.

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Filed under Abuse, Love, Union with Christ

A Loathsome Vermin?

Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” taught generations of American church-goers that God views us as disgusting vermin, barely tolerable and loathsome in his eyes, as revolting as a spider on a thread.

I believe that sin is far, far worse than we can even fathom, but it is precisely because of the exaltation of mankind as the image-bearer of God (Psalm 8) that sin arouses such wrath in a holy God.

If we were disgusting vermin, sin would not have aroused God’s pity and compassion. It is precisely because of God’s love for us that he is determined to deliver us from the bondage of sin, so much so that he gave his only begotten son, and delivered him up for us all.

The truth is that our sin nature is not part of God’s original design, but a result of man’s fall. God has provided a redeemer because of his great love wherewith he loved us. Christ came to restore that which was lost. (John 3:16)

If you do not believe in the Lord Jesus, come to him to find your value and worth in him. No one that comes to him will be cast out. He calls you to himself because you are created in his image and sin has defaced that image and made it ugly. Come to him for cleansing and healing and forgiveness. You are a great sinner in need of great grace for the wrath of God is coming. But that is different than saying that you are a disgusting vermin. God desires that you be all that you can be and he calls to you to be free from the bondage of sin through faith in the Son of God.

If you are in Christ, you are also not a disgusting vermin, barely tolerable by God. You are a child of his love, a first-born heir of eternal life in Christ. You are a special treasure, a royal priesthood, his bride, his body and he loves you with an infinite love that surpasses anything we know on this earth.

The goal of the Christian life is not to try to make yourself less loathsome to God. The goal is to rest in his love, believe in his promises, understand his compassion, and grow in his grace.

It is the language of a reviler and an abuser – the language of the devil – that tears down the image of God in a person. The devil reviles. “You are loathsome. You are disgusting. God barely tolerates you, you revolting worm. He can’t wait to throw you into hell.” This motivates no one to good works, to love, to worship. We become what is expected of us. Religion is turned into a crowd of groveling worms trying to outdo each other in false humility.

But this is not the good news. The good news is that no matter how great your sin is, you have a far greater savior, who loves you and gave himself for you. He is restoring his image in you that you might finally be free and clean and stand before him whole and complete. His compassions don’t fail. His mercy is everlasting. His love is infinite.

His love for you calls you out of hiding, and says to you, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Rather than viewing us as loathsome, revolting insects, he is a friend of sinners. This knowledge calls to us, invites us to him and drives us to confession, worship and adoration.

“And this is eternal life, that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Imagine a young woman. She grows up in an abusive environment. Suppose her church was tremendously influenced by Elisabeth Elliot, Joshua Harris, and the purity culture – as an example. So she was taught that purity is the same as holiness, and when you loose your virginity, you spoiled your “rose” so that no man would ever want it.

She has been repeatedly raped and molested for years. Or just once. The dynamic is the same. Her abusers have impressed upon her that she is worthless, ugly, loathsome. That she deserved it.

Her worst fear is that God also finds her to be a loathsome vermin.

She has “lost her virginity” and can never get it back so she makes the connection.

No one will ever want me. I am loathsome. I am a vermin, disgusting to God and man.

She might dare to hope that one day, all of those good things that she hears about will apply to her – but for the most part, love and joy, peace and rest, intimacy and glory – those things are for the others, not for her.

And then she reads “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and discovers that the “greatest theologian in American history” has validated her conclusion. She is indeed loathsome and disgusting, a spider or other loathsome insect dangling over hell.

I wonder how many other suicides took place in New England after that sermon…..

Should not the message of the church be “Jesus, the friend of publicans and sinners” who touches us and says, “I am willing; be clean”.

You are washed, cleansed, purified, whole, complete and loved by your father in heaven for the sake of Christ, if only you accept such benefit with a believing heart.

Come to him and rest. Jesus doesn’t find you disgusting. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He hates sin and desires all men everywhere repent and believe.

But he doesn’t find you disgusting.

He is angry at rebellion and sin. His wrath abides upon the unbeliever so long as they are not converted. But he doesn’t find you disgusting.

He is calling you with open arms, with goodness and mercy and compassion, as a nursing mother has compassion on her child. Come to him. He won’t cast you away.

He will clothe you in his righteousness, he will glorify you with the same glory that he is glorified with himself.

You are not “barely tolerable” in the eyes of God. Rest in his love.

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Filed under Abuse, Faith, Goodness, Gospel

Look at the culture

I worked in the Food and Beverage industry for many  years, so that background has become a part of me.

Suppose a family becomes ill with a foodborne illness. Some of you might remember the e-coli epidemic that spread for a while. When people started dying, the authorities tried to find out why. The honorable restaurant owners looked at their own training and procedures to try to determine what it was that was making the conditions favorable to the growth of this deadly bacteria.

It wasn’t the conditions themselves that caused illness and death. It was the e-coli. But there was something about certain restaurants that caused deadly bacteria to thrive. Are the temperatures too warm or not hot enough? Are there appropriate hand-washing techniques in place? Is the staff thoroughly trained on  food safety issues.

The goal of any successful food and beverage establishment is to create conditions that are hostile to the growth of deadly bacteria.

Many years ago, I noticed trends in conservative churches. There were way, way too many instances of abuse of women, degradation of women, despising of women and even criminal activity against women and deadly or potentially deadly assaults.

This trend was accompanied by a trend of child sexual assault by men in authority – pastors, youth leaders, Sunday School teachers. I know that, for the reasons mentioned further down, many will at this point say, “You are exaggerating! You are attacking Christ’s body!!” So suffice it for now for me to mention Anna Salter’s landmark work on Predators where she thoroughly documents everything that I just said.

One thing that Salter mentions is that predators against children find churches to be the easiest targets. As soon as they get out of prison, they lay out their plans to find a church with children, groom the leadership, and do as they please.

They make the plans. They carry them out. And the results are well documented.

So after seeing these disturbing trends, and being a pastor charged with the care of the sheep that God has placed in my care, I asked myself a very important question. “What is it in our churches that makes the conditions so favorable to predators, abusers, revilers, adulterers, and tyrants?”

At that point, I began to examine the interpretations of scripture that make the hunting grounds so favorable to wolves. And asked, “Is this really what scripture says?”

Does scripture really say that a woman must endure abuse “for a season” until she can get her elders involved?

Does it say that she must get the permission of the elders before she can get a divorce?

Does the scripture say that the steps of Matthew 18 must be followed before a parent is allowed to report a crime against her child to the authorities?

Does the scripture teach that a woman is at least partially to blame for her rape, no matter the circumstances, for “putting herself in that situation”?

Does 1 Corinthians 6 really say that it is sinful to report criminal activity to the police?

Does the scripture actually say that a man has the absolute right to command his wife to any degrading, insufferable thing that crosses his fancy and she must obey (as long as it isn’t ‘sinful’)? Does submission mean that she must scrub the kitchen on her hands and knees wearing only her underwear, using only her toothbrush, if that is what catches the man’s fancy at the moment (I have actually heard this used).

And I started to see that the e-coli of tyranny and abuse is actually finding the perfect environment to flourish in our churches – especially those trained in nouthetic counseling. We should, instead, do everything in our power to make the culture of the church as inhospitable to abusers and predators as we possible can.

The resistance to that idea is immediate, brutal, unrelenting and harsh. I have found that the unrelenting persecution against those who seek to purify the culture of the church is far, far greater than anything I have experienced from “the world”. People despise change, and the really, really despise losing their power over other people.

It is nothing new. There were many attempts to reform the morals of the church in the middle ages, but those few who dared to question the system that allowed immorality to flourish met with a quick, fiery, painful end.

It wasn’t until the Reformation that the problem was revealed. Immorality was not an anomaly to the Roman system. It was bred throughout every part of it. It was woven into the fabric of the system itself, until there was no hope for it at all. Money, power, control and the status quo are the perfect environment for all manner of evil to flourish.

While I was thinking about this, I watched a white police officer dispassionately kneel on the neck of a black man. He did not lose his temper. He was not frightened for his life. He knew that he was being filmed. And he knew that he was killing the man slowly and painfully, in public, and he didn’t care.

And I ask myself, “What is it about the culture of our systems of power that cause this kind of wickedness to flourish?”

“Well, we don’t know the whole story…” as if something can make a slow, public execution morally acceptable.

“It was one wicked man, not the system…” and yet it happens so frequently that he did not feel the need to hide his actions, cover his actions or make excuses. He wasn’t afraid or timid. He coolly, calmly, and without any emotion whatsoever slowly executed a black man because he knew he could and get away with it.

I hope he doesn’t, and I hope that there will be earthly justice done for George Floyd.

But even more than that, I hope that those in law enforcement and in churches and in positions of authority throughout the country ask themselves, “Why did he think that this was acceptable behavior?”

Was it a secret to his locker room buddies that he had within himself the ability to do such a thing?

Or did they hear his racist rants, and say nothing. How many other violent incidents were covered up, buried, exonerated, or just ‘put in his file”.

If we are going to put the power of life and death in the hands of a few men and women, should we not all hold them to the highest standards?

I love the church of Jesus Christ, and I love my profession. For that reason, I do everything I can to purge out the leaven that causes abusers and predators to flourish.

So please do not think that this is an attack against LEOs. It is a plea. If there are good and honorable men and women in this profession, which I wholeheartedly believe, perhaps now is the time to take a long look at the culture that continually allows this sort of thing to take place.

You will not ever be able to root out all evil. But you could at least make the environment intolerable enough so that it doesn’t flourish and never breaks out again into open murder. The way to stop e-coli is to create a hostile environment to it.

The way to stop predators in the church is to create a hostile environment to them. This is called “Church discipline” and is the mark of the true church.

The way to stop murderers, tyrants and racists in law enforcement is to create a hostile working condition to them.

When murder takes place openly, without fear, without passion, in a calm environment, over a period of 8 minutes, something is desperately wrong.

If you stand up in your own departments and your own agencies and say, “Not here. Not today. Not ever again” perhaps you can make a difference. I’ll stand with you. There is always room for more. In the words of Arlo Guthrie, maybe it could be a movement.

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Filed under Abuse, assault, Race

Just a little more…

“I’m supposed to be writing something, but I can’t think of anything to write!”

I complain to my daughter.

“What?” She says.

“What should I write about? I can’t think of anything.”

It’s been a long two weeks. At first I was looking forward to a time of exile. Perhaps I could accomplish something. My life is the endless quest to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish….but it seems as if God always has other plans.

I am doing dishes. The dishwasher is broken, so I do them by hand. And it never fails. I drain the water. And clean the sink. And I find one more. Just one more. Just finish that one, and then you can sit. Then you can write. Then you can read. Then you can learn that sonata you’ve wanted to learn. Just one more.

But after that one, there is just one more….

But life doesn’t give you the instruction manual. I see myself at sixteen. I am full of ambition and hope. I see my High School yearbook, full of promises and dreams. I read the “Stay in touch!” from the people that I haven’t spoken to since they wrote that close to 40 years ago…

My brief foray into video games happened at age 15. It was 1978. Asteroids, or some such. I put my quarter into the machine and waited for the instructions to tell me what to do. And while I waited the machine beeped. And then it said, “Game Over”.

I never played again. I don’t like feeling stupid.

At 20, I’m in college trying to fit in, trying to be someone else. I am trying so hard not to be the guy who can’t even figure out Asteroids. I don’t know how people behave. I am keenly aware that I look at the world differently and I loathe myself. I study what other people do and try to imitate them. I don’t know how to matter to anyone, and in my quest to matter to anyone, I lose the friends who care about me. The game was over before I even started.

But there is always another change. So move. Get another job. Pay some more bills. Try to get to a point where I am not paycheck to paycheck and I might even get a few dollars put aside.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and so many of them are working, working, working. And there are bills. And they pile up. And you have to put food on the table. And there are diapers. I’ll get to writing after just one more. Pay off one more loan. Work one more job.

If I could accomplish something, maybe I could get my father to pay attention and see me. If I could just do more maybe my life would matter. Maybe I could leave a legacy behind…

I think about it from time to time. But there are 12 hour work days. One right after another. Horrible pay. No advance. Year after year. Putting food on the table. Paying bills. Just one more, and then I can start my life’s work, my life goal.

Maybe then I won’t end in a mass grave where no one knows my name…

Do more. Work harder…and finally, you hit middle age and then come the chronic illnesses.

For many, many years now my wife and I have had one life-threatening, rare illness right after another. Some have no cure. Some involve surgeries. Some we just live with. Constant pain. Dislocations. Heart trouble. Ruptured colons. Ehlers Danlos. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

Maybe I can get something accomplished when the next round is finished. But there seems to always be just one more…

And then you hit fifty five and the machine starts to beep at you. The day when the neon flashes “Game over” is far closer than it used to be. And I still haven’t written that book. I still haven’t done anything that really matters. I still haven’t finished that Sonata. Wrote that music. Accomplished anything, really. I’ll get to it someday.

And then the exile. Quarantine. Outcast, unclean. Locked away.

I say to myself, “This is my life’s goal! I now have plenty of time and nowhere to go!”

But my wife is so sick she can’t get out of bed. My daughter needs full-time care. The dishes need done. The laundry is piling up. Just one more…

“What do I write about, Maggie?”

“I don’t know anything. I don’t get those words…but look, the tree is starting to get yellow…”

And I look, and sure enough the broom bush is starting to blossom.

And the jasmine is breaking open its perfumed buds into tiny white flowers; and the roses are in bud; and birds are singing.

And I think about it….

I put some tomato plants into the ground, and I think about it.

I trim some bushes and I think about it. I pick some mint and make a mojito and I think about it.

This evening I zoomed with my grandson in Colorado. He laughed at my ostrich puppet and called me “Grandpa”. I thought about that too.

And I thought that maybe I have been looking at this whole thing all wrong.

Maybe I’m not just sitting by the asteroid machine waiting for it to start. Maybe I’ve been knocking them all back one after another my whole life. Or maybe life isn’t a video game without instructions after all and the smartest thing I ever did was just walk away from that stupid game and went outside. I just wish I could have embraced that about myself a lot earlier.

Instead of life being about how much we accomplish, maybe we should just learn how to rest. Maybe that is what it is about. It isn’t about putting away more money in the bank, or leaving a legacy, or making your life matter, or getting a high score – because in the long run, none of those things will make me matter at all.

Maybe it is finally realizing that I DO matter, because Christ died for me and has restored me to his image and not a hair can fall from my head without my heavenly father…

And maybe I’ve been so busy trying to win some imaginary game, hoping that some imaginary person might recognize my worth that I forgot how to just live.

Youthful habits are hard to break, though. But I am going to try.

I’m going to try to just sit and listen to the birds. I’m going to see the jasmine and watch the roses open.

And most of all, I’m going to love my wife, continue to perfect Lebanese Hashweh and maybe just play the piano because I enjoy it, and not because I have anything to prove.

And I pray above all else that my heavenly father will forgive me for all the time I have wasted trying to prove something that didn’t need proving. And instead, I need him to teach me how to just stop and rest and finally know what it means to be accepted in the Beloved – to listen to the music. To quit talking. Quit overthinking everything. And just walk through the woods. Listen to that bullfrog outside. Smell the jasmine. Watch TV with my wife and daughter and praise God that I have them to walk through this valley with.

Sometimes I forget what a tremendous blessing it is to have a wife. And not only that, but a wife with whom I am never alone. 25 years of marriage, and I have not had one day alone, even when she is ill. Not everyone can say that, and that, it seems to me, is far greater than any earthly blessing. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

So I gave my daughter a hug. Now I know what to write. I’ll get to it in a minute. After one more dish….

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Filed under Abuse, Coronavirus, Hope, Trust