Divorce and Tempting God

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

105. What does God require in the sixth commandment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domestic violence hotline: 1-800-799-7233

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A bishop must not be a bully

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shattering words and crying to God

This morning, I was meditating on Psalm 42.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Two Bits–in no particular order

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

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

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

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

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

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Thoughts on the conviction of a predator

16 But to the wicked God says, “What right have you to tell of My statutes, And to take My covenant in your mouth?
17 “For you hate discipline, And you cast My words behind you.
18 “When you see a thief, you are pleased with him, And you associate with adulterers.
19 “You let your mouth loose in evil, And your tongue frames deceit.
20 “You sit and speak against your brother; You slander your own mother’s son.
21 “These things you have done, and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you, and state the case in order before your eyes.
(Ps. 50:16-21)

The children told their parents about him. The parents spoke to the church officials.

The church officials accused the children of lying. The congregation watched him punch a child at a picnic. They rebuked him, and continued to send their children to him for “education.”

The church leaders protected him with a code of silence – veiled and open threats. Do not bear false witness. Do not read the blogs. We all know he is a good man. We know his father. These are good people. We can handle our own.

And the wreckage of the bodies and souls of the children is still being uncovered. The scars will be warn by all of them until Jesus comes again and makes all things new.

But he will come. He will “set it in order before their eyes.”

He will bring judgment and justice. It would be better that a millstone be hung around the necks of all who knew and did nothing. Those who caused the little ones to stumble.

To all who refused to press charges; to all who covered it up; to all who knew about it but “didn’t want to get involved”. To the leaders who threatened those who exposed it – He will reprove you.

It won’t be pretty. You cannot slander the innocent and consort with the adulterer and thief and have the favor of God.

He came with mercy the first time. The second time he comes in clouds of glory, his robes spattered in the blood of his enemies, with their carcasses left for the birds of the air.

Perhaps think about that next time you sacrifice mercy and truth on the altar of expediency, money and power.

You cannot mock God. Even the earthly courts are not fooled. How do you think you will fool God?

PS – this applies to every so-called church that has covered up, hidden and justified rape, murder, molestation, assault and attacks on our little ones.

But the organization that I am speaking of specifically is ARBCA and the evil man in question is Tom Chantry, convicted recently of four counts, with another trial to come. He had been known about and protected since at least 2002.

Imprecatory Psalms come to mind, and these are not contrary to love. Justice is not contrary to love.

15 And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
16 And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. (Rev. 19:15-16)

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Thank you that glimpses of justice are seen on this earth, and thank you for the perfect justice to come.

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Cain and Abel

In my sermon The Dark Places, I wrote the following:

If Abel can be saved, there is no point in striving to be Cain, and that is unacceptable to Pharisees of every age.

A kind reader suggested that I turned the names around. It happens. Sometimes I turn the names around, especially if I am going too fast.

But in this case I have the names correct. When Cain was born, Eve called him Cain – saying, I have gotten a man from the Lord.

Cain was something. The heir apparent, the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent – in Eve’s mind.

Our natural religion is that God is bound to be impressed with our religious services. Cain was the first Pharisee – no faith in the promise, because he didn’t need it. He was something. He was the man from the Lord.

When Abel was born, Eve called his name Abel – which means vapor, wind, vanity – nothing. He was a nobody. He wasn’t a somebody like Cain. He was the other, he was “whatev’s”

The only thing he had was the he believed the promise – that God would provide a sacrifice for sins.

So when Abel was accepted and Cain was rejected, natural order was overturned, Cain’s religion was proven faulty.

God put Abel over Cain because Abel had something that Cain would never have. The righteousness of Christ imputed to him.

This is why Cain killed him. This is why the cross is an offense. This is why Jesus was crucified.

Cain is the Jew of Romans 10 seeking to establish their own righteousness and not accepting the righteousness which is by faith.

Cain is the Pharisee of Luke 18:

I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
  12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
  (Lk. 18:11-12)

I can see Cain saying the same thing, over his offering of the fruit of the ground:

I thank thee, Lord, that I am not like this nobody over here. I thank thee that I can bring this great offering, this astounding offering, this offering that is the greatest, most wonderful, most supreme offering of all. And that I am not like the loser that is my brother “Nobody”

But God rejected Cain and his offering.

Cain was something, but salvation is only for the nobodies. Christ came only for those who take up their crosses – reckon themselves dead, nobody, poor.

Jesus died for the nobodies.

They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Mk. 2:17)

Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. (Lk. 18:22)

So I had the names right. I should have explained it better, I guess.

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As Christ loved the Church…

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (Eph 5:25)

Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. (1Pe 3:7)

There is a growing problem among young men today. Pornography is so available that a large majority of men are not able to love a real woman, even physically. A young woman is simply an object, whose sole purpose of existing is to cater to a man’s whims and moods. A real woman is to be understood and loved, and this is too much to ask for today’s young man.

It is easier to drop out of reality, turn on the screen and love a fantasy, which is simply another word for loving yourself.

This is not love.

Men have become perpetual children, demanding and petulant. A woman is seen as an impersonal collection of various body parts, designed to be used until she has no more to give – and then discarded.

A child demands sex; a man longs for intimacy. A child refuses to give anything; a man gives his heart.

So the streets and the clubs and the bars are filled with children, demanding satisfaction, searching for their next toy to use and destroy.

Some young men seek marriage, but are unwilling to give their heart. They play with a woman’s heart until they “find the right one” and then they inadvertently “fall in love” – Cupid’s next victims. But a victim of Cupid is a victim, not a man. He was not strong enough to choose a wife; he was not strong enough to love the one he chose. He simply allowed the currents of desire to carry him this way and that. He falls in love. He falls out of love. He leaves behind him the wreckage of broken and hurting young women who were naïve enough to believe him when he said, “I love you”.

This also is not love.

The question that I have for you is this: Are you strong enough to love a woman?

Are you strong enough to love your wife as Christ loved the church?

Are you strong enough to live with her with understanding; or do you simply wish to never be inconvenienced, smashing the vessel of her heart on the floor like a cantankerous child?

Are you strong enough to protect her heart? To never do anything that would damage her reputation?

Would you rather die yourself than do the least thing to damage the soul of the one you love?

Are you strong enough to ask forgiveness? Courageous enough to call her lovingly to repentance?

Are you bold enough to reconcile?

Are you strong enough to turn off the television and listen to her?

Do you understand her fears, her desires, her longings? Do you have the courage to hear her?

Do you have the courage to open up your heart to her?

Do you have the courage to talk to her about your fears, your desires and your longings?

Do you have the courage to admit that it is not good for you to be alone?

A child desires a mother. A man seeks a wife.

A mother is a tremendous blessing for a child. She nurtures, feeds, cleans, bathes and provides for the child’s every need.

But a mother is not a wife.

Are you strong enough to leave your mother and your father and cleave to your wife?

It is a great calling – but most are not strong enough, courageous enough or man enough to take a wife.

It is easier to turn on the computer and fantasize about pixels of ink, rather than love a woman, so most choose the fantasy.

They do not know that it is for their life.

But a woman desires a man.

A man is strong enough to give himself for his wife. He demands nothing; gives everything.

He is strong enough to make her place in his heart safe; he is strong enough to win her heart and trustworthy enough to keep it.

He is courageous enough to hear the question “What are you thinking?” and actually understand it and answer it.

He is courageous enough to hold her in his arms and wipe away her tears.

He is strong enough to see when she is at her end, and cook a meal, do the dishes, watch the kids, clean the house and still have enough left to hold her and pray for her and know the right things to say.

He is strong enough to understand her, without resentment, bitterness, impatience or rage. If he is a man, the understanding will come in time.

He is strong enough to forsake all others and cleave unto his wife.

He doesn’t whine and complain when there is dust on the windowsill or dinner is late – these are the actions of a child, not a man.

He has nothing to prove; he will not hide behind a façade of bluster and words; he never has to be the “man of the house” nor the “king of the castle”.

He is strong enough to take the lowest place; be the servant of all; wash the dirty feet himself.

For he is strong enough to know that being a leader doesn’t mean being the boss.

A child tells everyone what to do. A man leads the way by being the servant of all.

A man is strong enough to set his wife as a seal upon his heart, as a seal upon his arm:

For a man knows that love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. (Sol 8:6)

A man is strong enough to keep the flame going; bold enough to never play with a woman’s heart; courageous enough to never use a woman as a toy to be discarded at whim.

A man is one who trusts the Lord with his whole heart. He therefore does not seek proof of his manhood on the earth, for it is safe with his Lord.

The man who trusts the Lord is ready for a wife; for a man who trusts the Lord has nothing to prove to anyone.

Only then he is ready to love a woman.

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Filed under Love, Marriage, Men and women

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

Ye who think of sin but lightly…

Here is one of my favorite hymns, especially for Good Friday. It is something to think about on this day when we remember our Lord’s passion, death and burial.

Ye who think of sin but lightly
nor suppose the evil great
here may view its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God. (Thomas Kelly)

Every scheme designed by humans to take care of sin and suffering will ultimately fail, because the problem is far deeper than we can imagine.

Sin is uglier, deadlier, fouler than we can possibly fathom – and it affects all of us.

It can’t be fixed by purity schemes, modesty balls, virginity pledges. It can’t be fixed with home-schooling, Christian schooling or public schooling. It can’t be solved by patriarchalism, feminism, complementarianism, or egalitarianism. It can’t be fixed by putting all men on the board, or by putting all women on the board, or by having an eclectic mix of everyone.

It can’t be solved by conservatives or liberals. It can’t be solved by moderates. It can’t be solved by good policy or by bad policy.

And it certainly can’t be fixed by the law. Telling people what to do, even if you have a big enough weapon to enforce it, won’t take care of the problem of sin. It is far too ugly and cruel to be fixed that way.

Because sin isn’t fixed by democracy, by republicanism, by representative government or by dictatorship, by law or by compassion, or by anything at all under the sun. If we are to be saved, God must do it. He must come to us, for we cannot go to him.

Where there are men and women, there is sin – and it is far uglier than we think. We won’t even know how ugly it truly is until we see Him Who Is Beauty face to face.

 

I reject all forms of self-righteousness. It is impossible to add any of our works to our righteousness before the judgment throne of God, for the only works that can stand before God are those works that are perfect throughout, and ours are all defiled by sin. Those who try to merit some kind of favor from God don’t understand the power and ugliness of sin.

A little vomit, a little excrement, spoils the whole thing – and our sins are filthier than we can even imagine.

How bad is our sin? Our sin is so bad that the only solution was the death of the Son of God. He who is perfect innocence, infinite love, immaculate beauty, pure and undefiled goodness….the one who cried out with tears in Gethsemane “If you are willing, take this cup away from me”. But the cup would not be taken away, because it is the only way that sinners can stand before God. His compassion and obedience were perfect, for he is true and righteous man. And his power is infinite, for he is true God. “Not my will, but thine be done.”

How ugly is sin? Look at the cross. See the nails in the hands, the thorns on the head. The nakedness and shame and ugliness. He died – not on a bejeweled cross of gold, but a cruel cross of ugly wood surrounded by jeering soldiers and mocking Jews. Held up in the air to be shamed and mocked and outcast – unfit for human kindness and God’s compassion – he was made sin for us. He was counted among the criminals, the slaves, the outcasts. This is how ugly sin is. It is worse than we think.

Don’t miss it. As you fight to make this world a better place, as you give cold water or clothing to the hungry and naked, as you speak with kindness and compassion to your neighbors and friends, as you weep with those who weep, as you fight for justice, don’t forget Friday. As you fight for social justice and expose evil-doers and help untangle the mess that sin leaves behind, don’t mistake your works for righteousness. Sin is uglier than that.

All of these things are good. Food is good. Compassion is good. Justice is good. Love is good. Works that flow from faith are good. But they can never take away sin. They cannot ever reach the heart of the problem. Sin is far too ugly to be cured by advocacy, activism, politics, education, vows, rituals, works of any kind, or even good intentions and sincerity.

Why must he suffer death? Because the justice and truth of God required that satisfaction for our sins could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God (Heidelberg Catechism, 40)

In no other way…

…see who bears the awful load.

If you haven’t heard the hymn, here is my own arrangement.

 

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Filed under Christology, Gospel, Passion

We can’t fix it

We really want to. We want to fix everything. We even sometimes wonder why God isn’t fixing it.

Ministers molesting children. Men and women breaking up their homes through adultery, violence, abandonment, hatred, reviling. Drunkards in the pulpits. Injustice everywhere.

Sometimes it is overwhelming. And sometimes I hurt all over hearing the stories – YOUR stories. I hear you and my heart grieves. And I can’t fix it.

I can’t talk your abusive minister and elders into removing your excommunication for divorcing your criminally abusive husband. I can’t convince your grown children to become Christians. I can’t take away injustice. I can’t humble a proud man or convince a hater to put on love.

I would love to fix things, but then I remember that I am dust.

Stalin just tried to fix things. Marx just tried to fix things. Hitler tried to fix things. Pol Pot, Mao, Kim jong Il…

The world is littered with the corpses of the powerful men who tried to fix things.

The problem is sin. And the older I get the more I understand how powerful, complicated, tangled, horrible, fracturing and evil sin is.

The spot of paint inside the painting can’t see the painting. How can I even see what the problem is? How can I fix anything when I can’t even fully understand the tangled web of my own heart? I am simply a small fragment of the whole tapestry that only the Great Artist can see. I can’t see the creation from the perspective of the creator, for I am not the creator.

But here is what I know: Jesus hates injustice far more than we do. Jesus hates violence and murder far more than we do. Jesus hates adultery, cruelty and reviling far more than we can possibly imagine.

So why does it seem as if he is doing nothing about it?

He did do something about it.

4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isa. 53:4-5 KJV)

All of the violence, hatred, grief, sorrow, murder, hatred and reviling came upon him. He became sin for us.

The fact is this: If he cleansed the earth of all wickedness, there would be no one left. That includes you and me. The wrath of God against sin doesn’t excuse me, because it doesn’t play favorites. When I cry out for justice, I also cry out for mercy, for without mercy I cannot stand a moment. God sees the heart. And that means that I am in trouble.

So before Jesus purges the earth of wickedness, he redeems a people for himself. For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son.

Those nails were meant for me. That crown of thorns belonged to me. The abandonment and shame were mine.

And all of the injustice and hatred and cruelty that is in the world he bore in his body on the cross. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

But now that he has died and risen again, now that he has provided salvation, why doesn’t he come in judgment? Why is he allowing such evil cruelty to exist in his church?

Jesus does not delight in the death of the wicked. He is giving every opportunity for the wicked to repent. He does not follow the timetable of men, for he sees far more than we do. When he finally comes in judgment, it will not be the bloodbath of the kings of the earth, it will be no holocaust, no great purge of Mao or Stalin.

He will judge the earth in goodness and righteousness and equity. He will be merciful to those who confess his name, and he will come in judgment for all the cruel, the murderers, the liars, the hypocrites, the adulterers, the revilers – no matter what outer form they take. He knows the difference between the sheep and the goats.

The one who took our sorrows will also vindicate his own. He will come to pour out his wrath against sin.

And there is comfort in that. He will wipe away every tear.

In the meantime, I will do what I can do as a creature of dust. I will seek to find the right words to comfort and rebuke as necessary. I can listen. And above all I can point to the One who died for me and invite you to meet him, the lion who is a lamb. I can only do that with the Bible. I don’t have answers on my own. I don’t have the solutions on my own.

All I have is the word of God, the record of the apostles and prophets. But that is enough – sufficient to equip us for all that we need. It points us to Christ, who died for us and rose again the third day – according to the scriptures.

Hold to that. When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.

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Filed under Hope, justice