Category Archives: Repentance

The Dark Places

From a sermon preached at First Reformed Church in Yuba City

Text

John 8:1-12

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.

2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not .

7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

(Jn. 8:1-12 KJV)

Sermon

In the house of our life we have attic with dark corners. In those dark corners there are boxes that hold our dark things.

One box is called pride. One is lust. One is called fear. There is trauma, guilt, pain, secrets that we hide from even ourselves…all the things we keep carefully hidden.

We keep hidden in our attics those things that cause us shame –  the things we try to get rid of but can’t.

The tears that we shed and then swallow, and bury. The shame that we will never, ever talk about. The feelings of being unwanted, alone – the emptiness of life.

Other boxes are filled with our pet sins. These are the things we don’t want to be rid of: The grudges that we nurse. The lusts that we hide. We keep those grudges carefully hidden and keep the outside of our house clean and smiling. But we keep records. We carry every offense up to the box in our attic and hide it carefully. Then we go up in secret and go through the boxes – reminding ourselves of all the ways that someone hurt us while the hatred grows into murder and rage.

 

Sometimes those boxes are filled with lusts. CS Lewis speaks of this.

Lust “sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself”

We keep a place in the attic of our minds for our imaginary harem, our grudges, our “if onlys”, our regrets, our desire for pre-eminence, our hurts, our loneliness, our ignorance, our shame and guilt. All of these and more hide in the dark corners. And in the dark, they grow. The darkness creeps about and takes over.

I think that these boxes of dark things are carefully stored away because of our fear of death – when death entered the world it brought a lot of ugliness with it. The ultimate uselessness of life – the insignificance. That in the end, nothing matters. We are only fit for the grave and no one will even remember my name.

But that is unbearable, so we hide away our treasures – those things we think will bring meaning and hope and significance and power and control to our lives. Even if that hope is in fantasy, we carefully store it away. At least we can control our fantasy. At least we can pretend we are powerful, wise, desirable, worthy of love…

But the ugliest box of all is the box of records that we hold on to – all of the proof that we give ourselves that we are really just a little bit better than Abel.

It’s a trophy room of our own accomplishments – those things that we think add up to make us just a little purer, holier, wiser, stronger, smarter, than our neighbor…

It is called pride, and it is the ugliest dark thing of all. Every moment of self-righteousness, every moment of cutting insight, every biting remark, taking someone down to size. I may not be perfect, but at least I am______, and the blank is filled with as many answers as there are people. Nice. Tall. Good (deep down), pretty, wise, handsome, not that guy… And the darkness grows.

It overcomes everything, it overwhelms everything. Eventually, there can be no pretense of light – for darkness devours all – except one thing – the light that God sent into the world.

In the introduction to his gospel, John says this:

4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

(Jn. 1:4-5 KJV)

Why Jesus has to go

This is a story of darkness and a story of light.

The scribes and Pharisees had already determined that Jesus must die. They had issued a warrant for his arrest.

The problem was this – they believed that if the nation sinned, God would destroy them. God sent them into exile once before because of sin. They didn’t keep the Sabbath. Now, if they wanted to stay in the land and have victory over the Romans, they had to do their part – obey God. Keep the Sabbath. Bring back moral fortitude.

When Messiah comes, he will straighten people out. He will bring back law and order and usher in the kingdom of God, where everyone knows what right and wrong is, and everyone does what they are supposed to do, and everyone is righteous and pure. The foreigners are over there where they belong, and there is morality in the land, just like it is supposed to be…

And now – here is the problem. Jesus is here, and everyone is wondering if he is the messiah. The reason that they are wondering is that he is doing miracles that only the messiah can do. The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, demons are cast out. But he also eats and drinks with sinners. He also “breaks the Sabbath”. If only he validated our desire to be better than the other guy, if only he validated my fig leaves and hiding places, if only he validated my own system of what is right and what is wrong, there would be no problem. But he won’t play along.

This was where their darkness was revealed by the light. If Jesus eats with sinners and he is messiah, then that means that he fellowships with sinners. But that can’t be. Everyone knows that we are the righteous ones. Everyone knows that God only blesses and heals righteous ones. But if Jesus blesses and heals sinners, that means that everything I think I know about righteousness is wrong…

And this, Paul says, is the offense of the cross.

Nothing will make a man angrier than one who takes away the box that proves he is a little better than everyone around him.

In chapter 5, a man is lame. Jesus says, “Take up your bed and walk.”

He picks up his bed. That was when the Jews decided that Jesus needs to go. Because it is the Sabbath day. If Jesus is the Christ, then he blessed and healed someone who had the bad manners to be sick to begin with. Furthermore, he healed a man who was the kind of man who would carry a bed on the sabbath.

If a man who would carry a bed on the Sabbath, and who was sinful enough to be a cripple, could be healed by Messiah – then what is the point of good works at all??

And that would mean that there is nothing that makes me any better than that guy – that beggar, the cripple, that man who works on the sabbath. There are only two options for me. One, change everything I think I know about purity, morality, righteousness. Or 2, get rid of Jesus. Change is intolerable. If I change my view, I have to view myself as needing salvation, as one who needs a savior as much as this adulterer. So Jesus must be destroyed.

And every new thing that Jesus did, they wrapped it up in the paper of their hatred and stored it carefully away in the box in the attic. And they got angrier and angrier.

But the problem was even deeper than that. The Pharisees weren’t allowed to just murder someone. They had the pesky job of proving that the person was in the wrong and deserved to die. And they had to prove it to two groups – Romans, and the common people. The Romans, because they alone had the power of death; and the people, for they could cause problems. If they went after Jesus now the way they wanted to, there would have been rioting. Everyone knew that Jesus was righteous, a healer, a prophet sent from God.

And if they went to Pilate and accused him of breaking the Sabbath, Pilate would ask one question: What did he do on the Sabbath? And there was no way that they wanted to answer that question. To answer that question would be to prove in a Roman Court that Jesus was the Christ. They didn’t even want to go there.

So they needed an opportunity. And now there is one right in front of them: a woman taken in adultery.

Another child lost in the darkness. We don’t know the circumstances. We know that it was the Feast of the Tabernacles – This was a time similar to Mardi Gras – in Jerusalem. It was celebration time and the streets crammed full of people partying. Hundreds of thousands of celebrants from all over.

It would have been a simple matter to find someone committing adultery.

It was perfect. They needed to test Jesus with someone that everyone would despise – and who is despised more than a woman committing adultery…Homewrecker! And every other name one could think of. It is part of our fallen human nature. A man is excused – just carried away by hormones. But a woman! She is a seductress, a Jezebel! Away with her!

She’s the perfect test.

The story

And so they bring her to Jesus. The put on a great front of respect. Master. Rabbi. This woman was taken in the very act!!

They are sure that this will get him. There is no question as to her guilt. They caught her actually at it! The man, of course, is excused. There was wine, she seduced him, blah, blah, blah…

But her! Look at her! Surely you can see how society will fall apart if we allow this sort of thing. We can’t have women walking around naked and seducing men. We can’t have this sort of thing happening or God will certainly destroy us. Surely, Jesus, you can see how important it is that you denounce this immoral behavior, or the demise of our society will be on YOUR HEAD!!

“Moses said she must be stoned. What do you say?”

We got him – they think to themselves. If he says, “Stone her”, we tell Pilate and all the people that he is acting like a king, trying to take the place of Rome as judge, jury and executioner.

If he says, “None of my business” we will say, Look at this pretender. Acting like a teacher, a Rabbi, and he isn’t concerned about the decay of society at all.

If he says, “Be merciful” then we will denounce him to the people. He eats with sinners and adulterers. You know, he is probably sleeping with her himself. You know how these people are. You know, come to think of it – he does have a lot of women following him around everywhere. They even sit at his feet like disciples. Something hinky there…

“So. Rabbi. What do you say”

And he goes right on with what he was doing. He ignores them completely as if he didn’t even hear them.

He gives them an opportunity to think about what they are doing. You are, right now, plotting murder. You are liars, pretending something that is not true. You are planning to destroy this woman, and while you are at it you will deliver me to Pilate for crucifixion…And you DARE think that you are one step above this woman, whom you despise as a sinner?

In the darkness of their hearts, the light is working – exposing their corners, exposing their pride

While the longsuffering of God is waiting, as it did in the days of Noah.

And he keeps writing on the ground. The beat goes on.

And they ask again.

We don’t know how many times they asked. He gave them chance after chance to change direction. But they were set.

If Jesus will not denounce adultery, then everything we think about ourselves is wrong. If adulterers can be saved by God and healed by the Christ, then that means there is no point to my law-keeping. If Abel can be saved, there is no point in striving to be Cain, and that is unacceptable to Pharisees of every age.

And finally Jesus stands up and points his finger right at their dark place – “he who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone…”

And the light shines.

What happens next is the supernatural power of God. If the light of Jesus Christ did not shine in their dark places, exposing, convicting and rebuking, they would have formed a line with stones. But Jesus’s words have power.

The same God who said, “Let there be light” also shone in the hearts of these wicked men. John says of them:

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

(Jn. 3:19-20 KJV)

He speaks. And then stoops back down to write on the ground – letting the light do its work.

And one by one, convicted by conscience, they all begin to slink away.

Until only one is left.

She also has a dark spot. She is a sinner. It seems to be clear that she was indeed caught in the act. Adultery. No excuse. She is exposed before everyone.

What dark places were in her heart? The longing to feel something? Guilt? Shame? Perhaps as a young girl she was attacked, and felt herself no longer pure. Perhaps she figured, “Why not have fun. This is all I’m worth anyway.” Perhaps she had her own trauma and hurt and helplessness. Being helpless and out of control is intolerable to the human spirit. At least, she thinks, I can have my control back.

Or perhaps it was a fear of discovery? Falling in love with the wrong man? Or perhaps she felt as if she had no choice for whatever reason.

Or she just got beguiled. We don’t know. But here is what we know. She was a sinner.

And she stayed. She stayed right there as all of her accusers, one by one, left.

And Jesus looks up and sees her.

Is anyone left?

No.

Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.

Because sin entered into the world, we love our darkness and fear the light. We have nightmares of being caught naked, unclothed. Exposed to the world.

We nurse our secret sins; bear our grudges.

Bury our trauma, our hurt, our pain. We cry out, like Tamar, “Where will I take my shame?” – and we hear no answer. So we wrap it up, carry it up to the attic and box it. And try to convince it to stay put.

But it doesn’t. Those dark places make us fearful. We don’t trust. We don’t open up. We don’ t love.

We commit adultery, but we can’t love. We cannot protect ourselves from the hurt that others do us, so we put on our happy faces and smile, and keep careful track of our grudges. And then we find ourselves picking up stones to kill and destroy.

The dark places overtake everything until goodness and beauty are gone, and all that is left is pain and isolation, destruction and sorrow.

 

And we will take comfort in the fact that at least we aren’t adulterers – like this Jezebel here.

At least we aren’t those people. That guy over there needs Jesus just a little bit more than I do.

And then comes Jesus with the light. He shines in our dark places. Right there.

He who is without sin…

  • Adam, where are you?
  • Cain, where is your brother?
  • Abraham, Sarah – leave your country, your safety zone, your refuge and go to a place that I will show you.
  • Abraham, take your son, your only son, the one that you love…
  • Moses, take off your shoes. The ground you are on is holy ground.
  • Samuel, Samuel

We pray for the presence of God. We long for him to smile upon us. To dwell with us. To be near to us. And when God answers that prayer for his presence, the darkness will be exposed. That is what light does, and God is light. All of our pain and hurt, all of our grudges and lusts, all of our sin and shame, will be exposed before the Lord and Judge of all. You have no options. The light will come.

And when that happens, you have only two options:

The first option – you can do what the scribes and Pharisees did: slink away. But that option always ends the same way: with death. With your darkness growing until you find yourself shouting “Crucify him, crucify him” because you cannot bear to look at the darkness of your own heart. But you cannot destroy it. Darkness never stays the same. It consumes everything else. Except the light…

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overwhelm it.

The second option. Stand still and wait before the Lord. Lord, here am I.

Be silent. No excuses, no blame shifting, no denying. Silent. You did it. You were caught in the act. You cannot fool God.

He knows all of the dark places, and either you stand before him naked and exposed or you continue to slink away, continue to sew fig leaves together.

But if you come out of hiding and stand before him, naked and exposed; When you bring to him all of your sins and your lusts and your grudges and your pain and your grief and guilt and shame; you will always hear his voice: “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Our natural reaction is to defend ourselves. Make an excuse. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it isn’t so dark. Maybe he didn’t mean it. Maybe I was just tired, or just afraid, or just….

And all of those things that we do to justify it only shut us away farther and farther from the light. The light exposes. Notice this woman. She didn’t say, “Look, here’s the deal. I didn’t mean to. It just happened. I haven’t had a date in a long time, and I just got carried away with the moment…”

Or whatever her story was. She waited silently for the judgment of the Son of Man.

Neither do I condemn thee…

Aren’t you tired of the war?

Isn’t it time to lay down your weapons?

33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

(Rom. 8:33-34 KJV)

When you come to the light, there is no room for darkness. When you come to light the shadows flee away. When you come to the light the corners are opened and cleaned and filled with light.

There are no dark places in the temple of God – and you are a living temple, made up of living stones – Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone.

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Filed under Gospel, Light, Repentance

Sex and sandwiches

3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;
4 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. (Eph 5:3-4)

This horrible meme has been floating around – about how a husband needs sex, sandwiches and submission.

I don’t want to link it because I don’t want to give the godless people who support it any more support, even by a click.

But it got me thinking about this false idea promoted by patriarchialists of every stripe. The idea is this: the cure for fornication is to get married.

The problem is that it is unbiblical. Now I know that many of you are thinking about 1 Corinthians 7:

Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (1Co 7:2)

In fact, there are many false teachers that teach that it is the wife’s duty to make herself available at all times in order to keep her husband from committing adultery or watching porn.

I wish I could tell you how many times I have heard of pastors giving that counsel to wives whose husbands would rather use porn. “Well, are you making yourself available to him?”

We have to do better. All of scripture is inspired by God. There are no contradictions. There is only one route to purity, and it isn’t taking your fornicating heart into the marriage bed. “Let the marriage bed be undefiled”, the scripture says (Heb. 13:4).

What does Paul mean? As a Reformed pastor, I hold to historical/grammatical exegesis. In order to understand any portion of scripture, you have to look at it in the historical context to see what it is addressing. Paul is addressing a specific situation, which he summarizes in 1 Corinthians 7:1. There were those who were teaching that marriage was not good, and a man should just avoid it all together.

But then what about those young couples in love? Do you remember those years when the bloom of spring is upon you and young hearts are turning to love? Do you remember not being able to keep your hands off of each other?

And now some false teacher is forbidding you to marry. Paul says, “What do you think you will accomplish?” God created sexuality and called it “very good”. Let them marry. Let them rejoice in the wife of their youth. Let them give thanks to a good God who created them and who rejoices at their union (Song of Songs 5:1).

In a twist of self-contradictory thinking, many patriarchialists also throw so many obstacles in the way of their sons and daughters dating and getting married that fornication increases ten-fold in those kinds of circles…This is exactly what Paul is addressing to the church at Corinth.

 

Paul is most certainly NOT teaching that the cure for a fornicating and adulterous heart is to inflict yourself upon your wife. He is not teaching spousal rape, sexual abuse and domination – no matter what you call it.

Because Paul wasn’t a fool, who said one thing in one place and another thing in another place. The opposite of fornication, according to Ephesians 5, is thanksgiving.

The opposite of fornication is NOT marriage. It is thanksgiving. “But rather, giving of thanks,” God says.

God created men and women and filled the earth with wonderful, beautiful things. He created beautiful things, things with color, shape, form, texture. He gave men and women bodies and made them beautiful. Sin twisted that beauty. Fornication lashes out at beauty, consuming and devouring it for our own twisted lusts. God, who created men and women, created them to be “one flesh”, with sex and touch and sight and smell and taste all rolled into the relationship. Spirit and matter united in a holy bond of love and unity.

And we made it hateful – possession and conquest, lust and demand, devouring and destroying…

The heart of fornication is this: God isn’t good. His gifts aren’t good. I need to reach out and grab the fruit for myself on my own terms. God will not give me every good thing. When you see the heart of the issue, you see that ingratitude and fornication are different sides of the same coin.

Instead of rejoicing at the beauty of the world, the unthankful heart says, “God just created all sorts of beautiful women and then said, “Don’t touch”. But I’ll show HIM!”

It isn’t enough to have EVERY OTHER tree in the garden. I must have them ALL!

THAT is what fornication is, and that is how it has twisted and devoured beauty as God created it. The powerful seduce and devour and consume the weaker like a rich man roasts and eats a lamb (2 Sam. 12:1-4)

And the cure is not to take your twisted, hateful self and inflict it on your spouse. The cure is to take your naked, sinful self to Christ and throw yourself on his mercy. Listen to the accusation of God’s prophet: “THOU are the man!” and then follow David in repentance and faith.

Then you will know what love is. Then you will see what it means that “Christ loved the church and gave himself for her”.

And that is when you are ready to learn how to love a woman (or a man, as the case may be. I do want to be “gender inclusive” in the call of the gospel).

 

In the Heidelberg Catechism, written over 450 years ago, the Reformers understood that. In the exposition of the 7th commandment, they wrote:

108. What does the seventh Commandment teach us?

That all unchastity is accursed of God, and that we should therefore loathe it with our whole heart, and live chastely and modestly, whether in holy wedlock or in single life.

You CAN be unchaste, unholy, ungodly in wedlock. If you treat your wife like an object to be used, a thing to be broken and discarded, if you refuse to learn what makes her rejoice , then you certainly do not have the heart of Jesus Christ.

Before you can even begin to understand the problem with “Sex, sandwiches and submission”, you must first understand that no one who knows Christ can possibly say such a thing. You are in great danger. Flee the wrath to come.

This is not the heart of a thankful man or woman. This is the heart of fornication – I demand to be served. I demand my own way. I demand that this woman take up the cross and follow ME. I demand sex now…

You have no idea what love is. And you also have no idea what sex is. You understand rape and murder, you understand lies and reviling. But you do not know what love is.

Go and learn what love is at the foot of the cross. Until then, please keep your hands to yourself.

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Filed under Abuse, Marriage, Repentance, Sex

God so loved the world

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John. 3:14-17)

In Numbers 21, there is an account of the children of Israel traveling through the wilderness. As usual, they were rebelling against God, angry with him, and constantly complaining. God sent poisonous serpents among them and many of them were dying.

Moses made intercession for the nation, and God told him to do something rather strange:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” (Num. 21:8 NKJ)

Moses made the serpent, put it on a pole and walked through the camp. Everyone who looked at the serpent lived.

Jesus reminded Nicodemus of this story. Jesus was teaching this highly educated and respected bible scholar something about the kingdom of God that was impossible for Nicodemus – or any of us – to see, unless we are born again by the spirit of God.

It is natural for us as image-bearers of God, to ask the question, “Am I right before God?” We all seek to determine whether we are worthy to enter the kingdom of God – or, to put it in our modern terms, whether we are saved and will enter the new heavens and the new earth when Jesus comes again. Especially those who have been brought up in the church, as Nicodemus was.

Those of you who were raised in the church, who attended Sunday School and sat through sermons, have you asked that question? “Will I be ready to meet the Lord when he comes again?”

Do I belong to him? Or, as Nicodemus would have put it, “Am I worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven?”

Naturally speaking, we look to ourselves to answer that question. Am I holy enough? Have I done enough good things? Do I know the answers to the questions? Have I had a “Christ experience in the heart?”

Early in the history of our country, the Congregationalists of New England focused on regeneration. People were taught to look at the regeneration experience to determine if they were born again. This led to the abuses of the Revivalists and eventually to the heretic Charles Finney – looking for bigger and better experiences. Finney made the excitement of the revival a means of grace, and denied the necessity of atonement.

Nicodemus would have looked to his law-keeping.

But Jesus cuts through all of that. He reminds Nicodemus of the rather strange account in Numbers.

Do you remember Nicodemus? How did our fathers live through that and not die of the poison? They looked outside of themselves to a serpent that God provided. It was put up on a pole.

You could look to your heart, but all that was there was poison and death. Life is outside of yourself.

And Jesus went on. In the same way that God loved his nation Israel, God also loved the world. The same way that God told Moses to lift up the serpent, the Son of Man will also be lifted up.

“That whosoever looks to him would not perish of the poison that is destroying them – sin – but have life without end.”

The point is this: salvation is outside of ourselves. It isn’t in our hearts, in our good intentions, in our good works, in how much we desire God, in how much we love God or love one another –

In fact, it isn’t in ourselves at all. Certainly, new life will affect behavior. But new life isn’t found in how well we behave or how we feel.

Are you cast down and anxious? Look to Christ.

Are you doubting and fearful? Look to Christ.

Are you struggling with sin? Look to Christ.

Do you doubt whether it is possible to be saved if you have done too many horrible things? Look to Christ.

Do you see him with the eyes of faith? He is nailed to the cross and dying. He is bearing your poison and will die from it. Your crimes are nailed above his head in the sight of God. Your doubts and fears, your sins and crimes, your thorns and thistles – all of your poison – is nailed to his cross.

And when he rises from the dead, do you see him? Do you see how he left all your sins in the tomb? All of your fears and doubts are buried with him. The old dying man of greed, hatred, unbelief, is buried with him. And his sacrifice was accepted by God. He rose from the dead! The Holy One of God did not see corruption, so that you might know for certain that in him is life.

Look to him and live. Quit looking to yourself.

Your hope of salvation is not in whether your faith is strong enough, whether your experience was spectacular enough, whether your works are good enough. All you will find there is poison.  Your savior is not found in your heart or in your faith or in your experience, or in your works. Your savior is found in heaven at the right hand of God. He was crucified, dead and buried for us. He rose from the dead for us. He ascended into heaven for us. And will come from there to judge the living and the dead. Look to him where he is, and live.

Believe the record of the apostles, and live. Look to him in the word and sacrament, and live. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved.

Look to Christ and live.

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Filed under Gospel, Repentance, Sin and Grace

The Samaritan Woman

17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:
18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
19 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.
(Joh 4:17-20 KJV)

 

Jesus and this Samaritan woman were having a conversation about water. Jesus invited the woman to ask for living water – that is, water that gives life, that quenches thirst permanently – and the woman asks for it.

Then Jesus tells her to call her husband. The standard interpretation is that Jesus is confronting her fornication, and the woman gets uncomfortable with that and changes the subject. That was how I always viewed it, until I started asking questions of the text.

If this is what Jesus was doing, why did he allow her to change the subject? Shouldn’t he have pressed on until she repented?

Then I understood something. Jesus knows the heart, but we have to ask questions. Jesus knows perfectly what is going on, but we need to explore.

The assumption that Jesus is confronting her sinful fornication is the assumption made by men from the perspective of men. If this was a man that Jesus was talking to, then the assumption is that the man has kicked out his wife five times looking for a younger or prettier model. We get that. But in that day, a wife didn’t have many options. Where would she go? How would she feed herself? What will she do?

Further, a wife didn’t divorce her husband; a husband divorced his wife. And this happened to her five times. She continued to marry the same kind of man, a man who didn’t know how to love, and continued to reap the same results – just as she kept coming to the well to drink the water. Eventually, she thirsted again.

Her quest for acceptance, security, intimacy and love led her to seek out the same kind of man over and over again. Eventually she gave up, decided that she wasn’t worthy of the dignity of marriage and simply let the sixth man use her as he saw fit. That was all she was worth. Her deepest longing would never be filled. But Jesus would change all of that.

Jesus, seeing the heart, knew that her problem was a problem of worship. She sought her healing and worth in the arms of men – one marriage after another; and she was discarded, one after another, by the same type of man. She thought that the next time her thirst would be filled. But that dream was as futile as thinking that water from the well would quench her thirst forever and she would never have to draw again.  The reason we have to keep drawing water from the well is that the water of the earth can’t ever fill what we thirst for. The problem with the woman wasn’t lust and fornication. It was a problem of worship. The god she worshiped had her in hard bondage, a never ending cycle of abuse, degradation, and despair, until finally she required nothing, demanded nothing, and allowed herself to be used and discarded as a useless thing.

But Jesus saw a prodigal daughter, a woman in God’s image, and restored her in the area she needed the most: the area of worship. Jesus didn’t allow her to change the subject. We just need to see what the subject WAS. The subject they were talking about was thirst, and Jesus pinpointed her true thirst with one simple question: “Go call your husband, and come here.”

When true worship is restored, the bondage and cycle of degradation and abuse cease. He came to proclaim deliverance to the prisoners, not to harp on women like a Pharisee. He came to bind up the brokenhearted, and he saw in the women one who was brokenhearted. He didn’t stop at the outside of the cup; he went to the heart.

Did Jesus confront her sin? Yes, of course he did. But her sin wasn’t that she was a fornicating tramp who didn’t know how to keep a husband. That’s reading into the text what isn’t there. Her sin was deeper than that. It was a problem of worship.

Jesus didn’t let her off the hook on that one. He pointed his finger right at it, then when she confessed that he was right (“I perceive that you are a prophet”), he continued to do what he told her he would do, and gave her living water. But instead of falsely accusing her of something that she didn’t do, he went right to the heart of the issue, because it wasn’t his intention to further degrade her and humiliate her, it was his intention to restore fellowship with God, and this fellowship must be in spirit and in truth.

If we wish to evangelize as Jesus did, we have to learn to know people. Jesus saw the heart, but we have to ask questions and learn how to listen. Then we need to point them to the only one that can give living water. Too often I fear we settle for telling everyone what is wrong with them – but we usually get that part wrong. The heart of the matter is worship. We need to get to the heart, and that can only come with time and patience.

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Filed under Gospel, Hope, Repentance

A Godly Abuser? Really?

I recently read this comment on “A Cry for Justice“:

You would be amazed at how many pastors in thriving ministries abuse their wives, are involved in pornography or other sexual sins. Men of God are not perfect.

Really?

I continue to be astounded at these kinds of things. A “godly pastor who abuses his wife” is a lot like saying “a reprobate Christian” a “square circle”, or “waterless water”. It makes no sense.

Since Christians are the salt of the earth, it is no wonder that words have become meaningless in our society. Postmodernism isn’t just something that “others” believe. It started right in the church! If this statement is true: “a godly minister who abuses his wife” , then words have no meaning. If a man can self-identify as a Christian even though he has all the marks of the devil, then how can we protest if a man wants to self-identify as a woman? Isn’t it the same thing?

But if we want to uphold reality, we have to say, “No; you are a man. You have all the parts of a man, and your self-identity is false.”

Don’t we then also have to say, “No. You are not a godly man. You are not a Christian. You have all the parts of a son of Belial. Your self-identity is false”

The bible says that a reviler and a drunkard will not inherit eternal life.

10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (1Co 6:10 KJV)

It can’t say it any clearer. You can be one or the other. Christians inherit eternal life. Revilers do not. Therefore, revilers are not Christians. Pretty simple syllogism. If you revile your wife and kids, if you drink and hit your wife and children, if you sexually abuse human beings made in God’s image YOU ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN! Flee from the wrath to come. Do not be deceived. The wrath of God is coming because of these exact things!

The same evil exists in these statements:
“He’s working on his marriage.”
“He’s trying to change.”

Ugh. Why are these statements acceptable? Would we use them with a murderer?

“He’s working on not killing people.”

“He’s working on not raping and pillaging.”

“He’s working on not robbing liquor stores and gunpoint.”
I once knew of a man who was confronted by his church for his adulterous relationship and he said, “Can I taper off?” Why is this any different. You don’t “work on not abusing your wife!” I can’t believe I have to even write that!!!!!

The fact is this: You are either a Christian or you are not. You are either a child of the devil or a child of God. You don’t “work on it”. You either are or not!

In the words of Yoda, “There is no try. Do. Or do not.” (I can’t believe I just quoted Yoda. How sad is it that Yoda is wiser than so many church leaders!)

Please remember this. Jesus came to give you rest. You should be safe and at rest at home and in the church. If you are not, please flee and join with the people of God.

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Filed under Abuse, Repentance

The Pastor’s Great Struggle

13 He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. (Pro 18:13)

I have had fellowship with many pastors. I also am a pastor. I have had lunch with pastors, talked with pastors, and have even at times tried to reason with pastors as pastors have also tried to reason with me.

There is one particular sin that I see in myself and continually fight against. I think it is probably endemic among pastors, to our shame.

We don’t listen.

We think we do. We nod and go Mmmhmmm a lot. But if the story goes on to long, we want to finish it. If the problem is clear in the first three words, we want to give the answer and get on with things. This is also  my great shame, for which I continuously repent.

We thought we were validated by the early nouthetic counselors: The problem is sin; the solution is repentance. There. Don’t waste any more of my time. I already told you what to do.

But we never listened. It took me years of repentance to begin to understand that most people don’t actually get to the real problem the first time they meet with the pastor. They are simply testing the water to see if we listen.

We usually fail that test and the sheep scurry away. We then wonder why no one talks to us. They don’t talk because we don’t listen.

Reformed pastors, to which tribe I belong,  seem to struggle with this to a greater extent. I don’t know why, but I think I might have a few clues. We are usually well-read, full of book-knowledge, and love to see the inner workings of the great truths of scripture. We are usually well-acquainted with original languages, and have a high regard for the authority and inspiration of scripture. All of these things are great and to be greatly desired. But the devil never rests and sin turns our strengths into folly.

We already know everything, so we don’t need to listen. We already know what the problem is, so we don’t need to hear.

But the Bible doesn’t call this “an area to work on.” Nor does it call this “a weakness”.  It calls this folly and a shame to us.

Shame on us every time we fail to listen. Shame on us every time we don’t hear.

We fail to hear in so many ways: The language of a childhood victim of sexual abuse goes beyond words, but we usually don’t stick around long enough to hear.

We silence the voice of the victims of domestic abuse by repeating the mantra, “God hates divorce.”

The voice of the abuser is decidedly different, for it comes disguised as a sheep.

The voice of those who are hurting and poor and in trouble shout at us all around. We would far rather stand on the corner and shout gospel platitudes than actually listen to them.

If we would open our ears to hear, we would begin to make some sense to the cacophony around us. The voice of the proud, saying, “I am, and there is none like me.”

The voice of the hurt, building barriers around her heart to stop any more pain.

The voice of the oppressed, whispering in the corner.

We don’t hear the matter because we don’t want to. It rattles our windows and shakes our floors and makes our house unsteady. It is an unwanted visitor brought to us by sin and the power of the devil and we think that if we shut our eyes and stop our ears and ignore it perhaps it will politely go away and let us get back to our books.

But

13 Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard. (Pro 21:13)

That should stop us in our tracks. When we refuse to hear the cry of the ones without strength, God will eventually stop HIS ears when WE cry to Him!

Also implied is the great truth that we ourselves, we pastors who have “so much knowledge” (sarcasm alert), who have everything all together – are just as needy, just as poor, just as helpless as that poor and oppressed one – we ALSO will cry out, and we will be heard to the extent that we heard those who cried to us. This should strike fear into our hearts.

Fellow pastors, we don’t need to do better. We need to repent. We need to learn to hear the cry of the poor and repent of all the times we were too busy, too uncomfortable, too unsure, too occupied with “important things”, to hear.

When we have shut our mouths long enough to listen, then we must open our mouths to speak.

8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
(Pro 31:8-9 KJV)

The phrase translated “such as are appointed to die” is literally “children of vanishing.” They are the ones who are so easily ignored, the ones who suffer quietly because they have been unheard for so long. They are the ones who don’t meet your eye, withdraw into the corner, whisper so low they are hard to hear.

They vanish and are forgotten – except that their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life and He entrusted them to your care and commanded you to hear them and then open your mouth to defend them, to plead their cause.

Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, it will rattle the very foundation of the nice and neat theological house that you built. Yes, the Enemy won’t give up without a fight.

But it is God’s fight, and He commanded you to fight it. And the day will come when you will stand before God and give an account of every idle word. You will be called to account for your listening skills. You will be called to account for your willingness to open your mouth.

Don’t delay. Learn to hear. Learn to speak. Learn to listen.

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Filed under Pastoral ministry, Repentance

Why we should have learned our catechism…

I don’t know the Duggars. Quite frankly, I’m a bit tired of hearing about them. Two weeks back, I had a vague notion about them having a bunch of kids and some kind of reality show. I wish that was still all that I knew.

But there is something quite disturbing in the air. I deal with it all the time. I have heard it repeated over and over again. It rears its ugly head every time a new scandal erupts. And it is utterly false.

It is the idea that repentance is the same thing as a carefully crafted statement accompanied by tears.

We forget that the first tears of remorse that we shed were by Cain. Esau wept tears of remorse.

In fact, Paul himself said that sorrow is NOT the same as repentance:

9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2Co 7:9-10 KJV)

His prayer was that the sorrow of the Corinthians would LEAD to repentance. Sorrow is something quite different than repentance.

Of course, this is no new insight. It was first published in 1583 in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q&A 88: In how many things does true repentance consist? In two things: the dying of the old man and the quickening of the new.

Q&A 89: What is the dying of the old man? Heartfelt sorrow for sin, causing us to hate and turn from it always more and more.

Q&A 90: What is the quickening of the new man? Heartfelt joy in God through Christ, causing us to take delight in living according to the will of God in all good works.

Notice how beautifully repentance restores life! It is not the same as manipulation in order to gain an earthly goal. It is not a carefully planned statement calculated to make the consequences of your sin to go away. It is heartfelt hatred of sin because it is sin and it is always coupled with a heartfelt joy in doing all of God’s will  – everything written in the law – because that law expresses the will of God, whom we love and serve.

Though we lose every earthly delight, though we are the offscouring of the world, though we are ridiculed and reproached – or worse, ignored – we will take immense joy in knowing that our God is glorified by our quiet and peaceable lives.

I can think of no greater waste of time, at this point, in the countless comments concerning whether or not Josh Duggar has truly repented or not. I don’t care, having never met him and not being given the responsibility to shepherd him.

My biggest concern is that the false doctrine surrounding him and the Village church and every single person that falls into sin be stopped.

Quit thinking that your carefully planned, or even spontaneous, tears are the same as repentance. To repent is to turn away from sin because it is sin and turn towards the living God, because He alone is worthy of worship and honor and obedience. He alone is beautiful and worthy of our adoration and love.

Wipe away your tears; quit blathering into the camera; quit trying to convince me just how sorry you are. Everyone is sorry. Adam and Eve were sorry, and hid in the bushes trying to hide themselves from God. You don’t need to be sorry. You need to repent. You don’t need to convince me, your elders, your pastor,or the world of how sorry you are. You need to repent. Repentance may or may not include tears, but it certainly isn’t the same thing.

Repentance is never a tool to get the victims of your heinous sins to quit calling you on it.

It isn’t a tool to get out of earthly consequences.

True repentance has only one object: to see the smiling face of our heavenly Father. Turn away from the rot and filth of every idol, and seek his face for we know that he is a God who abundantly pardons.

This is also why true repentance cannot ever be the work of natural man. Even David, when he finally understood this, cried out for the Holy Spirit to purge him, make him clean, create in him a new heart. The heart that we all have is ugly and hateful, no matter how many millions say how holy and wise we are. We don’t need the acclaim of men; we don’t need to convince the world. We need a new heart, because God is not mocked. All things are open in the eyes of the One with whom we have to do.

6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
(Isa 55:6-7 KJV)

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