Tag Archives: abuse

A plea for sobriety

This has been a hard week for a lot of folks I know…men and women who have been assaulted, bullied, ridiculed, and mocked know that pain – the pain of being outcast, unclean, unwanted. Ben Sasse summed up the dynamics of sexual assault perfectly this week. But there have been so many that have suffered.

This past week, I have heard from many, many of these people.

They told me that when they heard the president mock Dr. Ford, they didn’t see him. They saw their classmates, their peers, their abusers.

They told me that when they saw the pastors laughing and joking, they didn’t hear those pastors. They heard their rapists laughing at them and mocking them.

When their Christian friends ridiculed the accuser, mocking her as a liar unheard and rashly, they didn’t hear their friends. They heard their teachers and parents refusing to believe them all over again. They heard their pastors mocking victims from the pulpit all over again…

One survivor told me that when she heard the crowds laughing and cheering the president on, it sounded like the Romans at the arena. She wondered about compassion, sobriety, respect, at such a serious subject.

I wondered if so many of my Christian friends realize what they lost this week.

In our partisan rush to support all things conservative, we told the whole world, “Don’t come to us with your sexual assault stories. We don’t want to hear them. We don’t care.”

We really did. We supported the mockers. We ridiculed a woman that we never met, never spoke to, never had any first hand knowledge about, before a hearing even took place.

It didn’t matter what the truth was. We didn’t say, “Let this play out. If he did it, then he is unfit.” No. We said immediately that she was lying, that he couldn’t do such a thing. And if he did, he was only 17.

We mocked her for being ugly in High School, for being at the wrong place, for drinking too much…We posted the ugly, hateful memes, we rebuked our friends, and unfriended anyone who differed with us – all to support someone we never met and don’t know at all, before any hearing happened.

And what did we gain?

But we told every survivor in our community not to come to us for help. That we don’t care. We won’t listen.

I hope it was worth it. We traded the witness of the gospel for a seat on the Supreme Court. That seems like a lose/lose to me, no matter what happens from here.

By the way, I have never met Kavanaugh, nor have I met Ford. I am not the one doing the job interview, and no one listens to my opinion at all. So my concern is not at all who is or is not on the Supreme Court. I have nothing to do with that.

But I am held accountable for my love, my witness, and how clearly I present the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am judged by God for the ninth commandment, bearing false witness. I am judged for my words and my actions. Am I so absolutely sure of the truth of this situation that I can ridicule, mock and slander the other party, no matter which side they are on or which political views they subscribe to?

I am posting this because I love the church of Jesus Christ, I love my Lord, and I love the truth of the gospel.

I am posting this because calling your own people to account is not an act of disloyalty, hatred, or blasphemy. It is an act of love.

If you have not partaken in these sins against our brothers and sisters, then scroll past. I’m not speaking to you.

But for the rest, I can’t remain silent anymore. I will not by my silence be a partaker of these sins.

If you wish to unfriend me, there is nothing in scripture that says we must be friends on social media. If you love the Lord Jesus Christ then you also are my brother, whether we are friends on Facebook or not.

I am posting this for all of those – men and women – who have been abused, bullied, mocked, and ridiculed and still bear the marks. There are those who care, who are concerned, who will listen.

21 Then they said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.” (Gen. 42:21 NKJ)

13 Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted. (Isa. 49:13 NKJ)

5 He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished. (Prov. 17:5 NKJ)

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Filed under Abuse, assault, Words

When you honor your ministry more than you honor God…

12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the LORD (1 Sam. 2:12 NAS)

Eli was the High Priest during the years of the Judges. Samuel was not yet born. The Temple had not yet been built, but the tabernacle that Bezalel built in the wilderness was erected in Shiloh. This was where God met with his people. The sacrifices were offered; families ate the peace offerings together in fellowship with the Lord. The word of the Lord was taught.

But something was rotten.

Eli is an old man, and his sons are preparing to take over the priesthood during his retirement. But they are “worthless men” (lit, sons of Belial). Instead of simply saying that they were worthless, the sacred text tells us exactly what the problem was. It is heartbreaking.

First, they abused the families coming to fellowship with God. The families would bring a peace offering as their feast before the Lord. By the law of Moses, part of that offering was to go to the priests. But the sons of Eli demanded more. They threatened violence on those who sought to correct them.

16 And if the man said to him, “They must surely burn the fat first, and then take as much as you desire,” then he would say, “No, but you shall give it to me now; and if not, I will take it by force.” (1 Sam. 2:16 NAS)

The second problem was similar to the first. There were women who gathered at the tabernacle who served God is some capacity. They were “warrior women of Shiloh

And the sons of Eli were raping them. The sacred text says, “They lay with them”, but the dynamic between the high priest and the women was such that rape is not too strong a word. What choice would they have had? Would these two wicked men, who threatened to take meat by force just stand back and ask politely when it came to the women there?

So that was the dynamic. These two men, who were in place to serve God in the highest position of honor – representing the mercy and love and justice and covenant faithfulness of God to the people of God – were worthless. They used their position for their own gratification. they enriched themselves and sated their own ruthless lusts with the bodies of God’s people.

They acted as if their ministry was their own personal playground, rather than the representation of Christ in Shiloh.

And God took pleasure in destroying them. That is what the sacred text says (1 Samuel 2:25). And it is a terrifying thought.

Why was Eli condemned? Eli did an investigation. He established the facts. He rebuked his sons. He rebuked his sons strongly.

But the law of Moses said that they were to be removed from office, taken outside the city, and stoned to death. They were to be reported to the proper authorities and were liable to civil penalties for the evil that they inflicted upon Israel. They were to be removed from office.

But Eli concluded his investigation. Rebuked his sons. Sealed the report. And they continued doing what they were doing.

And God told Eli

29 ‘Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?’ (1 Sam. 2:29).

Eli honored his ministry, his family, his tabernacle, more than he honored God. Think of the scandal! How could God’s name survive if it were publicly known what the sons are doing? No. They need to stop. My heart goes out to the victims. But we really have to keep this quiet – for the sake of the ministry.

And so God intervened, and it was hard. Hophni and Phinehas were both killed in battle. Eli hears the news and breaks his neck in a fall. The ark of the Lord is captured by the Philistines. God removed his presence from Israel because of the wickedness of the priests.

There are many similarities. Pastors continue to threaten and abuse. They make themselves fat through fraud, deceit and threats. Many who say, “Enough” are threatened with excommunication or driven out all-together.

Boys and girls continue to be abused by the thousands by leaders in every denomination. And the Elis of the world know about it.

The investigations are done. The leaders are rebuked. The reports are sealed. The abuse continues.

Because far too often we honor the ministry more than we honor God.

And God hates it.

Paul said that if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged (1 Cor. 11:31). If we do not cast out the sons of worthlessness from our midst, God does. And all who were complicit by their silence will also bear their judgment.

There are those whom God delights in destroying. That is a terrifying thought. It is also terrifying to think that far too often the people of God are standing with those whom God would delight in destroying.

Such a thing should not happen in the church.

For all of the families who have been threatened and cast out; for all of the women who have been molested in the “service of the Lord”, know this: God isn’t sealing and ignoring the report. He sees your tears and he hears your cry.

He has not yet acted because he is longsuffering and merciful. But he will act. He will come in judgment.

The Son of David, Jehovah himself, our Lord Jesus – both true and eternal God and the Son of David in one person – is the King we desire. He isn’t fooled. He doesn’t ignore the cries of the needy. He isn’t fooled by false words.

One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 72, describing his reign.

2 He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.
3 The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.
4 He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.
5 They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.
7 In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. (Ps. 72:2-7 KJV)

Even now, although there is much that is not right, we see the Son at work exposing evil, bringing justice. And that work has just begun.

We will continue, as long as we have breath, to expose evil, reflecting God’s justice and righteousness as his image-bearers.

But ultimately, our hope is that the King is coming. He brings justice with his arm. He sees. He knows. He isn’t mocked. He isn’t fooled.

12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. (Ps. 2:12 KJV)

He is longsuffering. But the offer of peace does not last forever.

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Filed under Abuse, assault, justice

Brothers and Sisters

Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers,
2 the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.
(1 Tim. 5:1-2 NAS)

Aimee Byrd recently wrote an excellent article on the relationships between men and women. She rightly critiques the multiplying of rules that make interacting with the opposite sex so complicated. (I will take a moment here to plug her new book, which I have not yet read. I am greatly looking forward to it. It is called “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”). Aimee has done some excellent work, calling for a renewal of simple friendships between brothers and sisters in Christ. Anyway, her latest post has caused some discussion on the web. Some edifying, some not so much.

So I started thinking, naturally, about 1 Timothy 5:1-2, particularly where Paul commands Timothy to think of younger women as sisters and older women as mothers. This verse has always puzzled me, maybe it is because I never had any sisters. But I also know that there is much abuse that takes place between siblings. What does one tell a woman or a man who was abused by a brother or a sister? Did Paul mean here that we are to treat our sisters in Christ as a good brother would treat his sister?

Perhaps. Of course, a healthy sibling relationship can be a tremendous blessing to all. If it happens that way, then that would be wonderful to emulate in the church.

But when Paul wrote to Timothy, it was not at all a given that brothers and sisters were living together in chastity and purity. Caligula was emperor, and we all know what that did to the reputation of purity among siblings.

I’ve been thinking about it and thinking about Heidelberg Catechism question and answer # 1.

“What is thy only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ…”

Natalie Hoffman writes,

Her body belongs to Jesus, not her abuser. And by the way, not only does YOUR life and body belong to Jesus, but your spouse’s life and body belong to Jesus as well. So if you’re not treating your spouse’s life and body with loving honor, then you’re missing the point of grace.

And that got me thinking. I think that Paul’s point to Timothy is deeper than simply a reference to a sibling group. The reason that we as believers are one family is that we are all members of Christ, of his flesh and of his bone (Ephesians 5:32).

This union with Christ is so unbreakable and so close that Jesus considers mistreatment of one of his children the same as mistreatment of himself. Consider what he said to Saul of Tarsus:

Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (Acts 9:4 KJV)

Likewise, to the sheep and the goats

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt. 25:40 KJV)

Think about what that means. Christ considers what is done to his members as being done to his own person. Why are you persecuting ME, not others, but me? When Paul applies it to Timothy, he means that when he is speaking to a young woman who is a believer, he better remember that she is a sister – a member of Christ, a prophet, priest and king. A firstborn son. A daughter of a king.

And he better remember this. Whatever he says to her, whatever he does to her, whatever he coerces from her, Jesus will consider it as done to his own person on the day of judgment. Because that is precisely what it is. On the other hand, the respect and honor, kindness, gentleness, patience and love we show are considered as shown unto Jesus himself. “Be careful to entertain strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares.”

And even greater, in the body of Christ, you are serving Christ himself with every cup of water given, every meal served, every person clothed.

On the other hand, every harsh word, every act of contempt and hatred, every intimidation and power-play over one of Jesus sheep, He takes it very, very personally.

He does not take kindly to the abuse, ridicule, insults, contempt and hatred of the members of his body – of his flesh and of his blood.

Here is what we all must keep in mind. the young woman in the congregation, the older woman in the congregation, the young man and the old man – they aren’t objects to be used and controlled according to the pleasures and whims of the pastor, but they are dearly loved members of the body of Christ. Whatever is done to them is done to Christ.

Remember that, and you won’t need any “Billy Graham rule”. Love will flow from the heart, if, of course, you belong to Christ.

Take courage, you who have been mistreated and abused and assaulted in the name of Jesus, your Lord is coming again. He grieves with you and he hates what was done to you. He will come with recompense and vengeance.

He truly will. For by faith you are members of his body and are greatly loved by the Creator and Maker of the universe.

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Filed under Abuse, Faith, Union with Christ

What is your name?

Have you ever stopped to think about how tremendous words are? Words, more than anything else, display our creation in the image of God. God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1) and when he created, he gave names. He called the light, “Day”; and the darkness he called, “Night”. But when he created the animals, he didn’t name them. He created a man in his image and commanded him to name the animals. What a tremendous thought!

Our speech is the connection of our soul, our ideas, our bodies, with creation (the molecules of the air vibrate with our vocal cords shaped by our tongues and lips). The molecules vibrate from our mouths and cause the same vibrations in the membrane of the ear of another image bearer and our souls and ideas and bodies are connected in fellowship! What an astounding thought!

And God himself speaks to us in his word, and we respond with hymns and prayers and he hears those prayers. Does not he who created the ear hear? (Psalm 94:9).

This was why the fall of man was so disastrous.  That tremendous gift of fellowship between God and man and woman was torn to shreds when the man and the woman listened to the lie of the devil instead of the truth from God. Immediately, speech turned into manipulation and blaming. Speech was used – not for fellowship –  but to tear down and destroy. Words became carefully chosen to destroy communication, shut down fellowship, and dominate people. Words became weapons of destruction, designed to enslave and destroy other image-bearers, and so gratify the lusts of wicked men.

And those destroyed, oppressed, abused, used and discarded, became silenced. It is the devil’s best work: to destroy fellowship and imprison men and women in the bondage of silence. The Bible calls it darkness.

But Jesus is the light of the world!

I have been teaching through Luke 8 in our Sunday Evening Bible Studies. Notice, in this chapter, how Jesus used words. He spoke words of life and tied eternal life and fruit-bearing to what we do with his words. Will we believe them and again enter into fellowship with God?

He said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” Since the fall of man was centered on breaking fellowship with God through “breaking fellowship with his words”, if you will, then the redemption of man is restoring man to the family of God by restoring fellowship with God’s words. Hearing those words, and doing them. This is the essence of faith: believing the words of the Word of God, who became flesh and gives the words of life.

Are his words trustworthy? He shows us that his words are words of power and life. He silences the storm with his rebuke. He casts out the demons with his word. He heals the woman with the issue of blood. He raises Jairus’s daughter.

That is the context of what I want to say.  When Jesus is confronted by the man possessed by a Legion of demons, he asks, “What is your name?”

This man’s voice had been silenced by demons. This man’s voice had been taken away by the power of wickedness and evil. This man’s voice had been turned to screams and groans and shouts of rage. But Jesus is about to return to him his name.

“Who are you? This isn’t you.”

Jesus is God, and knew what his name was. But the Word of God who created the world took upon himself our breath, our lungs, our tongue and lips, our ears. So he speaks, for he came to open the tongue of the silenced ones and calls them to shout for joy.

And this begins when he asks, “What is your name?” The demon answers, for they have not yet been cast out.

But when they are cast out of the man, we read that this:

35 Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. (Luk 8:35)

They were talking! Jesus was teaching his new disciple, who was sitting in the position of a disciple and learning. He had his name restored; he had his dignity restored. He had his voice restored.

The very next scene that Luke takes us to is the woman with the issue of blood. I have written on this before, so I will just mention it briefly. Jesus asked her “Who touched me?” And she told him everything. He asked her this because her story mattered. He asked her because he desires that his children speak to him. He asked her because he came to restore what we lost with our sin and misery – to give a voice to the voiceless and words to those who were silenced.

This is why the misuse of language is so deadly and hateful and destructive. This is why a reviler will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Reviling is the very work of the devil. To tear down and to destroy with the tongue, to silence the voice, to ridicule and mock is so very hateful to God. It strikes at the very heart of who God is and who we were created to be.

But Jesus came to restore to his people the image of God, as they were created. We are called to be as he is. We are called to begin to use our ears and our tongues and our lips to open the ears of the deaf and open the tongue of the dumb. Of course, we don’t work miracles. This isn’t what I am talking about. I am speaking about listening to those who have never spoken of their hurt. I am talking about learning to use words to edify and build up rather than confuse, destroy and silence. The connection between our soul, our ideas, our bodies and the soul, idea and bodies of our neighbor must again be made.

In order to do this, we must listen and learn. We must learn to be trustworthy and faithful listeners. We must cease with the gnat-straining and learn to hear, for that is what our Lord would have us do.

Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger opens with these words:

MOTHER died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. The telegram from the home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP. SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.

Do you see what he has done here? He took the matter of tremendous importance – the death of mother – and made it of the same importance as the timing of the event. Whether she died yesterday or today takes the center position. The death of his mother becomes secondary, and not important. By focusing on the trivial, he silences the import of the death of his mother. This sets the stage for the whole book. It is a bleak, but brilliant, read.

I think that we fall into the same trap. We who are pastors, who are trained to examine words and exegete scripture, are particularly bad at this. Recently, Oprah made a speech about how women have been sexually assaulted. She spoke of degradation and losing dignity. She spoke about how many women have just become used to being raped and silenced. They tolerate it because they have no choice. They cannot speak because their voice has been taken away. If they speak up, they are outcast and unable to work. So they suffer in silence just to put food on the table. She skillfully outlined the brutality of her upbringing and the tremendous suffering her mother went through, just to survive. She went on to encourage those who have been silenced to speak and not suffer in silence any longer.

And we focused on her words “her truth” and “their truth”, and didn’t hear anything else. We thought that she was giving a lecture on post-modern literature instead of speaking about the experience that so, so many of our wives and daughters and sisters and neighbors have to put up with daily.

We thought that what we were hearing was a college discussion about the merits of enlightenment thinking versus the philosophy of Derrida and Foucault, and we didn’t listen to the pain of our sisters, made in God’s image. The death of the women through assault and silence was trivialized by the emphasis on a mundane matter of grammar and philosophy.

Because evangelicalism didn’t listen, and still doesn’t listen, it continues to disbelieve. It continues to tolerate sexual assault and degradation of women by pretending it doesn’t happen. It appears as if the modern evangelical machine will use any excuse it can come up with to shut its ears to the cries of the oppressed – especially those with different politics, different backgrounds, different skin color, and different cultures that ours.

Ouch.

Don’t get me wrong. I despise the postmodern philosophy that denies all absolute truth, making moral judgment and even truth relative to the mind of the knower. By a denial of certain, objective knowledge, postmodernism becomes simply another tool of Satan to convince us that we are alone, not capable of communicating, and locked in our own thought bubble.

But I also really don’t think that anyone truly believes that outside of a university classroom. Regardless of the foolishness of the classroom, people still look both ways before crossing the street. I also don’t think Oprah was saying that.

Perhaps she was just saying, “Everyone has their own version of the story. The abuser has twisted and lied long enough. Speak your truth.” I don’t think that she meant that all truth is relative to the person, but simply that you know what happened. Speak it out.

The problem with the Christian community is that we think we know everything. When someone begins to speak, before the words even leave the mouth, we already have the answer.

And this is why we fail. We don’t listen. Perhaps someone needs a lecture on epistemology and the follies of the philosophy of Derrida, but maybe when you are being told of the horrors of the assault to dignity that our sisters face every day isn’t the time or the place to give that lecture.

I have a suggestion. Instead of focusing on our philosophy and apologetics classes that we took in seminary, maybe we should practice this:

“What is your name?”

Use words to open communication, not shut it down. Use words to encourage the light, not to continue to keep wickedness in the dark. Use words to connect, to fellowship – not to shut down.

And that’s not just me. That is what our Lord would have us to do.

11 And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;
12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.
13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.
14 For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”
15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise,
16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
(Eph 5:11-16 NAS)

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Filed under assault, practical theology, Words

Sola Fide and Assault

In the past few weeks there have been two streams of stories that have dominated Christian circles. The first is the debate concerning Sola Fide and the second is the #metoo campaign in light of the fall of serial rapist, Harvey Weinstein. As women around the world told their stories of assault, we saw that sexual assault and rape are not just something happening “out there” but right in the middle of our churches. More often than not, church leadership purposefully and ignorantly looks the other way. You can read a small sampling here, remembering that these are only the tip of the iceberg.

As I read these stories from Christian women, I see a connection. The connection is subtle and hard to glimpse at first, but it is there.

If you are unfamiliar with the debate concerning Sola Fide, you might want to take a few minutes to get up to speed. The historic doctrine of the reformation is summarized simply and beautifully in the Heidelberg Catechism:

60. How art thou righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

61. Why sayest thou, that thou art righteous by faith only?

Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God, and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only.

62. But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?

Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment-seat of God, must be perfect throughout and wholly conformable to the divine law;1) but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

63. Do our good works merit nothing, even though it is God’s will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come?

The reward comes not of merit, but of grace.

64. But does not this doctrine make men careless and profane?

No, for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.

I could not say it more succinctly or carefully or beautifully. Perhaps this is why it has been used for over 450 years to explain the Christian faith.

The attack on this doctrine is always subtle. The latest has been the distinction proposed between “justification” and “final salvation”. The idea is that we are declared righteous before God by faith, but our final salvation is dependent upon our holiness. The normal caveat is added, “by grace of course” or “by the power of the Spirit, of course”, but the idea is that somehow we must add our own works to the perfect holiness of Christ in order to finally stand before God.

This, as has been amply shown, is the very idea that began the protests of the reformation to begin with. It is contrary to scripture, to the creeds of the reformation, and to the sound doctrine that brings comfort to the heart of God’s people.

But the purpose of this post is to show that there is a connection between this doctrine and the rise of sexual assault in our churches. But first, a caveat. It is not at all my intention to accuse anyone who disagrees with me of sexual assault. It is merely my contention that the denial of the doctrine that salvation (and not merely justification) is by faith alone provides an ample breeding ground for predators and can never bring safety to the sheep.

It is no coincidence that the Roman church at the time of the reformation was also full of predators. The priests held the sheep in an iron grip of guilt and had their way with them. There were brothels ran by the papacy right in the Vatican and corruption filled every corner. This was not a disconnected anomaly, but directly connected to the doctrine that we must somehow add our works to our faith in order to please God.

If our righteousness and holiness are not complete in Christ, then it follows that we must add something of our own. It might be that we must desire God more, or that we must submit more, or that we must wear different clothing, or watch different movies. The Federal Vision guys prattle about “Covenant faithfulness” and the Vatican says, “Penance and masses and confession.” But it will all come down to the same thing. Christ isn’t enough. You have to add to it. “Yes”, they all say, “We are justified by faith alone. But to really progress in our sanctification we must add to that our good works.”

Since every Christian has a tender conscience, and every Christian wants to please God, they become vulnerable to this kind of thinking. They also make themselves a prey, which is what Paul warns the church of in the book of Galatians.

If Christ is not enough, then where will I go? I know that all of my own works, even now that I am a Christian, are defiled by sin. I know that I can never achieve the purity and holiness that God requires. And if Christ is not enough on the final day, then where will I go?

And when you ask that question, there will always be a Tetzel to offer you a solution – for a price.

Buy my book. Register for my conference. Submit silently to rape and assault. Don’t rock the ministry. Don’t speak up. Don’t rebel against God’s anointed. Go home to your violent and abusive husband. God sanctifies us through torture and evil.

Here’s how to please God more: please God’s servant, and God will be finally happy with you. Here’s who to make the check out to…

And the first step of this bondage is always the same one. “Christ is not enough. We don’t want “easy believism” now, do we?”

But if Christ is not enough, then who is? and what more do I have to do?

And then we start viewing God like an abusive husband: He tolerates you if you get the food on time, don’t give him any grief, do as you are told, and shut up about it.

Perhaps now we can see the connection. If our theology teaches that God is like an abusive husband, then we tolerate all sorts of behavior as “Christlike”.  Abuse, reviling, hatred, envy, strife…

This is why Paul wrote this:

19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
(Gal 5:19-21 NAS)

In the context of the book of Galatians, the “flesh” is the belief that the works of the law – any law – must be added to the perfect work of Christ in order to be finally saved. In the churches of Galatia, the point at issue was whether Christians should be circumcised. Whether that is your issue, or whether it is covenant faithfulness, desiring God enough, loving God enough, wearing appropriate clothing, submitting to authority, it is all “the flesh” according to Paul, and the flesh always conceives the same babies: immorality, impurity, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, etc. It is the spirit of Cain, Esau, Ishmael.

Abraham didn’t receive the promise because he could have a baby. He didn’t receive it because he reached high enough and worked hard enough. It was by faith, and faith alone. Even his faith wasn’t a work that was deemed good enough. No, faith was the hand that grasped Christ from afar. And in Christ, he rested. And he became the heir to the world.

And by that same faith – holding to Christ alone by faith alone – we find that same rest, and become heirs according to the promise. Never by the flesh. Always by faith. In finding rest, we also find freedom from every Tetzel of every stripe in every age.

In the heart-breaking accounts I referenced earlier, notice how many times you see these ideas:

“I knew that I had to please God.”

“I knew that God wanted me to be submissive”

“I knew that this man was helping me learn to please God”

What if those in the pews had been taught that their whole salvation, from beginning to end, has already been accomplished in Christ? What if they hadn’t been told week after week after week that everything they were doing was wrong. What if they hadn’t been told how to work harder, try more, be more motivated, and instead had been taught what it means to rest in Christ’s finished and completed work? From rest in Christ comes joy in the Lord. Joy in the Lord results in love for God and love for neighbor. A Christian does not work because she has to, for how can love come from being ordered to love? But a Christian works because it is not possible for him not to. He brings forth the fruit of the Spirit because he is born again of the Spirit and united to Christ by the Spirit.

Perhaps if we actually drove the wolves from the pulpits and again accepted only the gospel, we would see the church again become light and strength and courage and salt in a world full of Harvey Weinsteins. But as long as those in the pulpits are in basic agreement with Hollywood producers (“You need something that only I can give you”) the churches will continue to be morally and spiritually bankrupt.

It is time to stop putting up with it. It is time that we all refuse to submit and support every Tetzel of every stripe. If you are being taught that Christ’s righteousness is not enough, or that we must somehow offer our own works to God as part of our holiness, then you need to either leave or file charges. If you are not in a denomination that hears charges, then it is time to leave. You are being fleeced.

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“Christians” who revile

In preparing for Sunday’s sermon, I have been meditating on this verse:

But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler– not even to eat with such a one.
(1Co 5:11 NAS)

It seems so clear to me, but the implications are profound. There are those who go about calling themselves Christians. And yet their lives are marked with sexual immorality, greed, love of money, and hatred.

One word in particular strikes me – a reviler. A reviler is one who is deliberately abusive in their speech. A reviler is one who uses speech to vomit out their anger, to tear down and destroy, and to belittle and condemn. A reviler doesn’t leave physical bruises, but seeks to silence and degrade the image of God in their target.

The church at Corinth was being rebuked by the Apostle for being too proud to remove the corrupt leaven.

So here is my question: How can we refuse to allow divorce from a reviler (or any of the other crimes on this list), when the scripture forbids us from even eating with a so-called brother who is a reviler?

Doesn’t this involve us in hopeless contradiction? If the trumpet blows an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?

So, for all who think that if there aren’t bruises there can’t be divorce, answer me this. What are you wanting to happen? A man systematically tears down his wife for years with his words. He doesn’t use fists, for he is skilled at destructive speech. He comes to church every Sunday and professes Christ. According to this text, he is a reviler, who calls himself a brother. So, what does this passage say? “Don’t even eat with this guy. He will corrupt the whole church.”

But then you force his wife and children to live with him. “He didn’t leave any bruises. You aren’t really in danger. You have no grounds for divorce.”

Can you explain this to me? I’m trying to understand, and coming up empty.

Are you willing to excommunicate the victim for obeying the command of the Lord in this passage? Or is it your contention that she should still continue the intimacy of marriage, but perhaps eat separately? I’m having a hard time understanding this position.

Perhaps this is why the church today has become so corrupted. We have been tolerating corrupt leaven. I say it is time we stop, and start obeying the Lord. You can be a reviler, or you can be a Christian. You can’t be both. In fact, according to this text, a reviler who calls himself a brother is far, far worse than an outright unbeliever. A reviler who is allowed to call himself a brother will corrupt the whole church. That isn’t me saying that. That’s God Himself.

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Dealing with Abusive Men

Thoughts on Psalm 129, from a sermon preached at First Reformed Church, February 9, 2014.

Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say:
2 Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me.
3 The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows.
4 The LORD is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.
5 Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Zion.
6 Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up:
7 Wherewith the mower filleth not his hand; nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom.
8 Neither do they which go by say, The blessing of the LORD be upon you: we bless you in the name of the LORD. (Psa 129:1-8 KJV)

This is a psalm about evil men.

I recognize that there are Christian people who sin against each other. This Psalm isn’t about them.

I recognize that there are even unbelievers who sin against Christians – this Psalm isn’t about them, either.

This Psalm isn’t about the hurts and pain of living in a cursed world, caused by friction between Adam’s race, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” But this Psalm isn’t about that, either.

This Psalm is about a class of people that the Bible calls “Children of the Devil.” Or even, “Sons of Belial” (worthlessness).

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it”. (Joh 8:44)

This Psalm is speaking of those men and women who have so united their hearts to the works of the evil one that they are called “the children of the devil”. Their works are not characterized by even the simplest forms of common human decency. The common decency of men are gifts are given even to unbelievers by the common grace of God. This Psalm, on the other hand, speaks of those who are characterized by two words: murder and lies.

Everything that they do is for the purpose of destroying the image of God in man, but they conceal their true motives by a false front of sorrow for sin, contrition, pious platitudes about religion, and a front of kindness and strength. But under it all is murder, hatred and destruction.

We don’t know when this Psalm was written. We know that there were many times in Israel’s history when they were greatly abused by the kingdom of Satan. Both Assyria and Babylon were renowned for their cruelty – smashing the heads of babies against the walls, beating and abusing children, raping women and children – all under the front of honor and glory. They were murderers and liars.

There was a servant in the land of Syria named Hazael. He was a servant to the king of Syria. God sent him to the prophet Elisha and told Elisha to anoint him king over Syria. When Hazael got there, we read that Elisha stared at him until it was uncomfortable. Then Elisha wept.

12 And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child.

13 And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, The LORD hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria. (2Ki 8:12-13 KJV)

Hazael eventually showed that his words and his actions were all a lie. He was intent on murder and destruction and became one of the most corrupt and violent kings of the ancient world. It was not that he lied once, or even that he got angry and killed a man. It’s that his whole life marked him as a child of the devil. Every thought and every pursuit of his hand was dedicated to destruction and lying.

This Psalm is about these people.

They still show up today. Often they show up in the church of God. Jesus said that they would. And the church, for the most part, has handled everything about them wrongly.

Too often we hear of men who are well-thought of in church. They know all of the right phrases, and know when to shed the right tears. They sing with gusto and say “Amen” at the right places in the sermon. But when they go home and are alone with their wives and children, they think only of destruction and murder. They systematically seek to destroy the image of God in their family.

They are the king of the castle and smack their loved ones around just to make sure that they remember it. They belittle, despise and ridicule their wives. They beat and abuse their children.

They do these things not because they lose control of their temper. As horrible as it is to be out of control of your temper, these people are even worse. These are those who plot iniquity on their beds, and their plots are meticulous, planned and systematic, designed to hurt and destroy. They are not governed by passions, they are governed by their father, the devil. Since they are murderers, they think only of destruction and tearing down. Since they are liars, they do it all under a cloak of feigned decency.

They will be in the middle of a tirade against their families and the phone will ring, or the police will show up, and immediately they are under control, speaking reasonably and with such concern for their families. But their wives and children are left terrified, broken, bloodied, and have learned how to keep all their feelings, thoughts, and opinions carefully hidden, so as not to enrage the father.

We know these people. We have seen them before and will see them again.

They are not sinners – even like David – who committed adultery and murder but was himself broken and brought to repentance. They are not sinners like Paul, who obtained mercy because he did it in unbelief. They are children of the devil. They know what they are doing, they plan it, they think through it, they carry it out.

Because they are liars, as soon as they are exposed in the church they know how to weep and stress how sorry they are. And the church usually starts talking about forgiveness. When the children become adults, or when the abused spouse is finally free from the abuser, they get counsel from the church. They are told, “You need to forgive them.”

“You need to reach out to them.”

“You need to give them another chance.”

And when the wives and children are strong enough to acknowledge that their abuser is a murderer and a liar and refuse to allow themselves to be abused again, the church often disciplines the abused! The church throws salt on the plowed wounds and disciplines, for “not being forgiving”, for getting a divorce, for speaking badly of such a nice man who made a few mistakes. And thus we often become partakers of another man’s sins, thinking that we should be more loving than God is, heaping even more affliction on the abused.

But the fact is – God hates abuse even more than we do. A man who systematically beats and terrifies his wife hasn’t “made a few mistakes” or “committed an indiscretion”. He is a child of the devil. A man who will molest a child isn’t a nice person with a personality flaw. He is a child of the devil, and the works of the devil are what he does.

It is true that the Bible commands us to lay aside all bitterness, wrath, and desire for revenge – as befits a forgiven child of God. It is true that we are commanded to do good, even to our enemies. The question is how do we do that? How can we finally be free from the bondage of bitterness and isolation and terror that flow from abuse?

That is what this Psalm is about.

First, be honest with the damage caused by evil men

Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say: Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me. The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows. (Psa 129:1-3 KJV)

Our Creator does not want us to deny the damage and the hurt that has been done. This Psalm was written by someone who knew what it was to be as helpless as a field under the cruelty of a plow. Look at the imagery – the plowers plowed on my back. Those who afflicted me from my youth stood over me, hurt me, shredded me, tore me, and I had no power. All I could do was lay there and take it. It didn’t happen once, it didn’t happen twice. It happened many times. They hurt me over and over again. I was continually hurt and abused by those who were stronger and greater than I was.

When I cried out, no one heard me. When I spoke, no one believed me. That isn’t my fault. It isn’t my fault that I was a field under a cruel plow. It isn’t my fault that I was hurt so badly. They did this to me.

The word “afflict” means to bind tightly, to wrap with cords, to tie up. In other words, it is the action of an enemy that is designed to keep you under control, to completely subjugate you to their power – to destroy the image of God in you. Ultimately, our afflicter is the devil. He seeks to destroy you and keep you under his bondage and control. So he convinces you that what happened was your fault, that it wasn’t so bad, that you caused it to happen. He convinces you that it is just how people are. Why does he do this? Because he is a liar and a murderer.

For this reason, the first step in dealing with abusive men is the truth. Quit lying to yourself about it. You were hurt badly by evil men who wanted to destroy you because they are children of the devil. They didn’t smack you around because you mouthed off. They didn’t ridicule and belittle you because you were stupid and foolish. They didn’t blow up at you because dinner was late. They didn’t lose their temper because you just didn’t listen to them. They didn’t molest you because you were seductive or provocative. None of this is true. They did what they did because they are liars and murderers and children of the devil, and they hurt you very badly. You were powerless and as free from fault as a field is under the blades of a plow.

But while you are being honest with the damage caused, there is one more step that you need to take. They tried to destroy you because they hated God – but they didn’t succeed!

Notice what he says in verse 2: “Much have they afflicted me – bound me, constricted me, bent me to their power and control – but they had no ability over me.” In other words, they didn’t succeed in doing what they wanted to do.

How is that?

You are here. You are alive, you are you, you are greatly loved by God. They plowed you under because they wanted to destroy you. God allowed it because he wanted your field to bring forth much fruit. And they didn’t destroy you, for now you are bringing fruit to God.

The only way that you survived the abuse of abusive men, the only way you survived the all-out assault on the devil, is that God did not give them the ability to do what they really wanted to do. They could do nothing except further God’s plan for you.

It hurts, it was evil, it left scars. But it didn’t destroy you. The destroyer did not win.

Second, understand that in Christ, the bondage to abuse does not need to control your life.

4 The LORD is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked. (Psa 129:4 KJV)

Those cords of oppression that Satan has sought to bind you with have been cut asunder by God.

You cannot serve two masters. Satan wanted to control you; when you came to Christ, you turned your back on Satan in order to embrace Christ – and God has broken his power over you.

It is a shame that so many in the church speak of forgiveness in such muddled language. Forgiveness in the Bible is acknowledging that the blood of Christ has covered the sin of the sinner. When you forgive a Christian, you are promising to remember it no more, just as God in Christ forgave you. Since the abuser is not a child of God, but a child of Satan, the word “forgiveness” doesn’t really apply, and is meaningless.

What we must do is acknowledge that the cords of Satan no longer bind us. For too long we have allowed self-protection, isolation, bitterness, distrust, rage and denial to control us – but when these things are broken by God in Christ, we can let them go, leaving vengeance in the hands of the One Who is Far More Capable of Righteous Wrath Than I Am. We are not talking about forgiving an enemy of God. We are talking about laying aside all thoughts of revenge, putting away bitterness, and not letting Satan have dominion over us. We are talking about opening up the door of your heart to truly trust and love and receive love – even though it is risky. I’m not speaking about trusting and loving a child of the devil, but trusting and loving God and your neighbor as becomes a child of God. Because the alternative is the hatred and strife of the devil.

The only way to do that is to understand that God’s work – sending his Son to break the cords of the devil once and for all – has freed us from the bondage and misery of sin. It is also to understand this: Evil and abusive men may have fooled everyone else; but they never fool God. God has a very special care for his little ones, and when men abuse and molest little ones, it is as if they were molesting and abusing God himself.

Jesus said, But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Mat 18:6 KJV)

My prayer is that the Church would grow more and more like Jesus Christ, and have the same view of abuse and molestation that Jesus himself has.

And third, pray for justice.

God will certainly hear the prayer. The judge of the earth will do right.

The next four verses are listed in the form of a prayer – let them be ashamed – let them be as grass on the roof. The Hebrew itself could either be interpreted as a prayer, or as a statement of fact. It is in the future tense and the words would be identical in either case.

In other words, the psalmist could be saying “Let them be ashamed,” or he could be saying “they will be ashamed.” Either way, properly understood, the meaning is the same, for God certainly hears the prayers of his people, and how much more does he hear inspired prayers that are written for the godly to pray. We pray with the Psalmist “Let them be ashamed,” and the promise is for us “They will be ashamed.”

“Ashamed” doesn’t mean “embarrassed and sorry”. It means that everything that they hope to have accomplished will come to nothing. They seek to keep their victims under their power and control – but no one can take us from God’s hand. They seek to destroy and to murder you, but God will not allow his sheep to perish. They seek to keep up the front of respectability and godliness, but they will be exposed before the angels in heaven and the whole world, alive and dead, for what they really are. Everything that they sought to accomplish will come to nothing. Satan himself, the great abuser, will be cast into the lake of fire forever – and with him will go every one of his children. They will be ashamed.

God hates abusers and molesters with a perfect hatred, a hotter and fiercer anger than anything that we feel on this earth, and he will certainly do right.

But not only will there be eternal judgment, they will not even succeed in accomplishing what they desire on this earth. For a time, they may appear to be growing in power, untouchable, as tall and lush as the grass that grows. But that grass is growing on the top of the roof. There’s no depth of soil there. As soon as the sun arises, that grass will wilt and wither and blow away.

Don’t fear their power, their money, or even their fame. They might be famous directors or actors or writers or artists, or even pastors. What Does God care for their lawyers, their money, or their friends? Ultimately, they are grass growing on the roof. Whenever God desires, their fear is gone. The wealth is gone. Their life is gone. So their power over you is gone now.

In verse 3, the church suffering abuse was compared to a field being plowed. We know that the devil seeks to destroy us, but God is seeking our produce. In Christ, we WILL bring forth fruit – the fruit of love and joy and peace and faith, hope and self-control. These things come by the power of the Holy Spirit, but they come through the trials that God brings to us. We can look at the damage of the past through the eyes of faith and see that God has used that to make us who we are today, and who we are promised to be tomorrow.

But what about the plow? What about those who have done such great damage? When the reaper looks for fruit, there isn’t any. There is nothing there. There was just wind and noise all along. In fact, when the mower finally cuts them down, there won’t even be enough dead grass there to fill a hand. When we are under the plow, when we are being afflicted by the children of the devil, we think that our abuser is all-powerful, all-wise, and terrifying.

When we succumb to fear, we think that they have far more power, reputation and charm than they actually have. This Psalm is calling us to see them as God sees them. As dry grass on top of a roof, weeds to be plucked down and thrown into the fire.

Finally, look at verse 8:

Neither do they which go by say, The blessing of the LORD be upon you: we bless you in the name of the LORD. (Psa 129:8 KJV)

In Israel, this was a common greeting when passing by a field. We see it in the book of Ruth

And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The LORD be with you. And they answered him, The LORD bless thee. (Ruth 2:4 KJV)

Among the godly, it was a way of saying hello. but more than that, it was a prayer for God’s blessing. This verse is one of the most freeing verses for those who have suffered at the hands of the children of the devil. How can you pray for or expect God’s blessing on those whom he has given over for destruction? You cannot.

I am not at all saying that the blood of Christ cannot save certain people. He certainly does. But at the same time, we must remember that there are many passages of scripture that speak of those whom God has devoted to destruction, those who have turned the truth of God into a lie, those for whom the fire of judgment is reserved forever.

It is true that all men are sinful and in desperate need of Christ’s blood. Even as Christians, we still sin and hurt each other, and need to seek forgiveness and healing. But, as I said, this Psalm isn’t about that.

The Bible teaches that there are those whom God has removed his hand of restraint, who give themselves over completely to their own lusts, and are full-blown children of the devil. They are characterized, as Jesus said, by their relentless pursuit of murder and destruction, covering it all with a veneer of lies. When these are the people we are dealing with, it is an abomination to God to bless them in the name of the Lord, even as a greeting.

May they be exposed and outcast, may the church see them for who they are, may they be stripped bare and left outside.

It is about time that the church stopped worrying about hurting the feelings of the abusers and started giving the abused the opportunity to heal.

For all who have suffered this kind of trauma, you may have been told how harsh you have been towards your abuser. You may have been commanded to forgive them. You may have been instructed to let them back into your life. Your abuser may have confronted you with tears, demanding reconciliation. You may have forgiven your oppressor again and again and again, only to be abused again and again and again.

How can you be set free? Only by the truth. Quit offering the blessings of Zion to the children of the devil.

How can you tell who is who? How can you tell the difference between David and Hazael? You don’t have to. That’s the beauty of it. God knows whom he will save, so leave him to it. You, as a human being, have only limited knowledge. You cannot know the heart, you can only know the fruit. Jesus told us to deal with men based on their fruit. When a man hurts, lies, and seeks to destroy the children of God, that fruit is the fruit of the devil, and he may be judged accordingly, even while we pray for true repentance. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. God knows who belongs to Him. And God also knows whom he will judge, so leave him to that, as well.

We must understand that these people have always been the same. Here’s a Psalm written thousands of years ago dealing with a very current problem. They seek to destroy and murder you and as long as you keep allowing them into your life, they will continue to do so. It is true that you must put off hatred and bitterness and desire for revenge; but the only way to do that is to leave their judgment or their salvation in the hands of God.

If they come again crying for forgiveness, this in no way obligates you to allow them back into your life where they have caused so much damage. If they are truly repentant, they will rejoice in salvation and understand the depth and depravity of their sin, and will understand and respect your desire to be left alone as a just consequence of their sin which they committed. But on the other hand, if they are not truly repentant, but merely seeking another entrance to cause you more damage, they will accuse you of hard-heartedness. They will get as many of the gullible and untaught on their side as they can. They will seek to manipulate you with their tears. They will continue cause you as much grief as you allow them to.

Put them in God’s hands, and leave them there. When a man plows a helpless back as he would plow a field, just because he can, he has forfeited all right and all expectation of any relationship – and again, this isn’t your fault. He caused it. Not you.

Leave the rest in God’s hands. The judge of all the earth will do right. When you leave it all in God’s hands, you can finally know the freedom that you have been given when God cut those cords from you.

Now live like it.

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“Just Keep Quiet, Sister”

Recently I’ve been meditating on the rape of Tamar and the coming of the Christ. These two are connected.

This might need some explaining. King David was anointed by God Himself. He was the king “after God’s own heart.” After the oppression and abuse against him by King Saul in 1 Samuel, your heart is cheering as David is finally anointed king. The good guys won! You expect the fairy tale ending, “And they all lived happily ever after…”

But the accounts of Israel’s history rarely end that way. Ever since sin entered into the world, our stories never end well. David was a righteous king – compared with Saul. But he was never really the point of the account. If salvation could come by government, David’s kingdom would have succeeded and Christ need not have come. But the problem with the world is universal. Not even David is immune. The sin that lies in the heart of every man also lies in the heart of David – and not “sin” in the mild “everyone sins” kind of way, but hateful, ugly, destructive and vile sin.

Like every good story teller, the author of 2 Samuel doesn’t just give us a treatise on total depravity and our need for a greater king and greater savior; instead, he shows us. David’s fall into murder and adultery has consequences for his whole family, including his virgin daughter, Tamar.

Tamar is beautiful, which means she is a target for the kingdom of the devil who hates beauty. Her half-brother Amnon is consumed with lust for her. His lust is not a lust for her beauty, but the lust of a hungry wolf in the presence of a sheep. His lust to kill, consume and destroy has been sexualized, which is what rape is.

He is constricted by Tamar’s position as a daughter of the king and one thing a man like Amnon hates is to be restricted by anything. He has two conflicting beliefs going on. First, he believes as the crown prince that he is entitled to whatever he wants. And second, the king has the authority to command. So what happens when the king’s rights conflict with the prince’s “rights”? It is this conflict that consumes Amnon and makes him sick. To Amnon, Tamar’s personhood and will don’t even enter into it. She’s just an object to be used.

Amnon, like all wicked men, has an advisor that promises to help him through the dilemma. Jonadab says, “Go to your sick bed. When your father comes to visit, ask him to send Tamar to nurse you back to health.”

And Amnon does. We are not told why David didn’t see through such a ridiculous ruse, but based on simple observation, we can make an educated guess. People have no problem confessing total depravity when it comes to people that are different than they are. If one is outside of your circles, you have no problem with confessing their corruption. It is easy to see the sin of Philistines, Moabites – even those of other tribes. The sins of Benjamin are easy to see if you are from Judah.

But where it hits hard is when you are confronted with the total depravity of your children, your brothers, your sisters, your church. “Those kinds of things don’t happen in Israel!”  “Not in my church. Not in my family. Not in my tribe.”

But sin doesn’t give us a pass because of who we descended from. In fact, it is the opposite. It is precisely because of who we descended from that we are all conceived and born in sin.

Even Amnon. Would David have allowed a non-family member to be alone with his daughter under such a flimsy excuse? I think not.

At any rate, David commands Tamar to attend to her brother. Tamar makes food for poor, sick Amnon and he watches her. She brings the bread to him, but he refuses to eat. Then he sends everyone else out of the room.

Tamar stands there alone, afraid, powerless. He commands her, “Come here. Lie with me.”

She protests strongly. “A thing like this shouldn’t be done in Israel!”

She begs him. She pleads for him to remember pity. “Where will I take my shame? I will spend the rest of my life ashamed and reproached. Unable to marry. Unable to live. What will I do? Who will take this shame away from me if you do this horrible thing.”

She pleads with him to remember his own reputation. “You will go down as a fool in Israel! Why would you do such a thing?”

She even gives him a desperate alternative, “Ask our father to give me to you as wife. He won’t withhold me from you!”  It seems desperate, but it is her only option in that culture before Christ. If she is raped, no one will marry her. She will be cut off without children, without protection, without support. She will have nothing but shame and reproach. Even today, in many cultures a girl who is raped faces excommunication from her family, her people, and sometimes is even tried and punished as an adulterer. The devil’s kingdom is ugly, hateful and cruel. How many women do we know who have been driven from their churches and families even in America because they were raped?

Amnon refuses to listen. He wants to destroy her innocence and beauty. His destructive desires are sexually charged. He is not lusting after her beauty. He is lusting after her destruction. So he forces her, because he is stronger than she is. And he rapes her.

The word “forces” is the Hebrew word, ‘anah, which means to afflict, oppress, humble. We will come back to that word.

After Amnon is done with her, he hates her. He hated her before, but now he has what he wants from her. He says, “Get up and get out.”

She weeps. She pleads. It is now clear to Tamar that it was not an act of extreme love gone bad, but an act of hatred and destruction. All rape is about destroying the image of God. It is never about love or even desire. It is about hatred and defacing God’s image.

Amnon calls in his servant and has her thrown out of the room. She leaves the room in tears. She tears her robe – the special robe of honor worn by the king’s daughters – and flees to Absalom’s house. Absalom is Tamar’s full brother.

Absalom immediately knows what happened and tells her, “Be quiet. Don’t take it to heart. He’s your brother.”

God gave men and women a wonderful gift when he created them. It was a gift of communication. Words and thoughts, the ability to hear, to meditate, to express. It is unique to man out of all creatures under the sun. We can open our lips, choose words and fellowship with one another and with God. We can talk about our feelings, our likes and dislikes.

We can use words like “love”; “joy”; “peace” – as well as “hatred,” “ justice,” “abuse.”

But the devil and his kingdom hate God and hate his image. He seeks the destruction of the voice, of the personhood, of the will. He seeks the annihilation and defacement of beauty and love.

The most effective way to achieve all of these goals of the devil is through rape. For this reason a rapist was not allowed to live in Israel under Moses’s law. There wasn’t anything to be done with him. A man who rapes is a man completely given over to the power of the devil and must be removed from society.

And rape removes the voice. Where will she take her disgrace? Does she have two or three witnesses? Does she have the courage to stand up to her attacker in an assembly of men who in her mind are just like her attacker? She tells her church, and is told to just be quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ruin the ministry. She tells the magistrate, and is often left just like Tamar. David knew about it. He was angry, but did nothing.

Her choice is gone, because he is stronger than she is. Her voice is gone – silenced by threats, intimidation, coercion. Where will she take her shame?

This is the hopelessness of the kingdom of the devil. After Absalom takes Tamar into his house, we are left with this: “And Tamar lived with Absalom, desolate, in her brother’s house.” She then disappears from the sacred record – except in the mind of God.

Her question still hangs in the air, leaving us empty and hungry for a solution. “Where will I take my shame?”

Many centuries later, Isaiah comes on the scene. He writes,

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (Isa 61:1-3 ESV)

The good news, the gospel, is proclaimed to the “poor”. The Hebrew word, as you may have guessed by now, is ‘anah – Afflicted, forced, humiliated, poor

And who is this one of whom Isaiah speaks? Does he speak of himself or does he speak of another?

When Jesus of Nazareth began to preach in Capernaum, he opened his Bible to this passage and read it. Then he said,

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luk 4:21 ESV)

Do you see? Do you see that Isaiah is giving the answer to Tamar’s question? Do you see those for whom Jesus came? He came into this world in the womb of another virgin daughter of Israel. He came for all who have been broken, bowed, and afflicted. He came for those who have been abused, raped, and humbled. He calls to the broken-hearted, those with no strength, and those who have been the victims of every Amnon of this present world. His gospel is for the weak, the downtrodden – those who mourn.

He never told the outcasts to “be quiet”. He spoke with them. He listened to them. But more importantly than all of that, he brought to them good news. He came to set his people free. He came to give a voice to the voiceless, justice to the oppressed, mercy to the repentant. He came to set the prisoner free.

I know that the world is full of those who are like Tamar. I know many of you personally and see the gospel of Jesus alive in you. Christ has indeed fulfilled his promise and proclaimed the good news to you and has called you his own.

If Tamar’s story is yours and you do not know Jesus, learn of him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. He hates Amnon, and destroyed the power of the one behind Amnon on the cross. He bore the curse in his own body and then rose from the dead, proclaiming the season of God’s favor to all who are hopeless and voiceless. He came to restore the damaged image of God in you – to restore your beauty, your voice, your will, your courage.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made, a daughter of the king who will never look away and refuse you justice. You have your voice restored to confess his name. You have your will restored to choose for yourself whom you will serve. Have the courage to come out of the kingdom of oppression and darkness and bondage and follow your savior.

If we call ourselves Christians, should we not strive to imitate our Lord? Do we follow him and give the gospel to the Tamars of the world – justice and mercy and renewed hope? Or are we more like Absalom; “Be quiet, sister; don’t take the matter to heart.”

May God give us the courage to proclaim faithfully the gospel of the kingdom of Christ, even when the kingdom of the devil threatens and fumes. May we stand firm.

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Filed under Abuse, Christmas, Gospel, Hope

An Uncomfortable Truth

By Sam Powell

As I watch this election unfold, there is something that repeats continually that is bothersome to me. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it. But I think I have finally pinpointed what is causing me grief.

This is not a political post. If you have good reasons to vote for Hillary, go for it. If you have good reasons to vote for Trump, go for it. I don’t care. Neither one will destroy or advance the kingdom of God. Christ’s throne is in heaven, and is not touched or threatened by anything on this earth.

What bothers me is not the candidates for this year’s election. What bothers me is the state of the church and the state of conservative America. I have always considered myself a conservative. I was, until recently, a registered Republican, and that was a large part of my identity, I say with a small amount of shame.

Here’s what bothers me in this election. We all know that Hillary Clinton is morally bankrupt. I agree that she will say and do anything for power. I also do not believe her to be a champion for women’s rights, or anyone’s rights, for that matter. Her relentless attack on the women abused by her husband adequately demonstrate that she is only concerned about power.

As Horatio said to Hamlet, “There needs no ghost come from the grave to tell us that, my lord.”

What bothers me is not that. It’s that we, the church, who are supposed to be salt and light, who are supposed to bind up the broken-hearted, who are called release those in bondage, and be a voice for the voiceless – we have actually shown our true colors, and that greatly concerns me.

What I mean is this. We, the church, have relentlessly attacked the left for their slaughter of the unborn, the redefinition of marriage, the unbridled grab for more and more power. But at the same time we defend Donald Trump as the champion of America. Make America great again, right?

But Donald Trump has relentlessly oppressed the poor, abused and despised the weak, attacks and degrades women, and is currently being sued in Federal court for the rape of a child.

The answer from those who support Trump is that these are unsubstantiated, that the media lies, or that he has changed. But the moral failings of Trump are at least as bad as those of Hillary Clinton. Again, the church, who should be salt and light, is mostly silent on his past abuses and criminal activity, and instead strongly support him. In fact, some influential and loud voices in the evangelicalism are openly and actively supporting Donald Trump for president.

Again, neither candidate will change God’s plan one bit. Vote your conscience. You have every right to do so. This post really isn’t about that.

Here’s my main problem. Evangelical support for Donald Trump, a known abuser, a serial sex offender, and oppressor and a thief, illustrates a very large problem in the church today.

The problem is a lot deeper than simply choosing the lesser of two evils. The problem is this. It seems to me that we have sunk to this: as long as we preserve our lifestyle, our ministries, and our culture, the oppression and abuse of the weak don’t matter.

This is what it seems to me. I am seriously asking the question why Hillary is continuously attacked by Christians for her moral failings, when Donald Trump’s failings are ignored and minimized?

And the only answer I can come up with is this: Hillary’s moral bankruptcy affects ME. My pocketbook, my ministry, my place in the culture. Donald Trump promises to preserve my place and my nation.

So we can overlook Trump’s active and unapologetic abuse of women and children as long as he “makes America great again”, whatever that means.

Do you see what the bigger problem is? This election is simply mirroring what goes on in evangelical circles continually. In our churches, women can be degraded or physically assaulted in our homes, children can be raped or beaten, abusive speech is toleratedas long as our ministries aren’t threatened.

Remember that the reason the leaders of the Jews betrayed Jesus to be crucified?

48 If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. (Joh 11:48 KJV)

So much violence has been tolerated for the sake of personal safety, wealth and position. We become afraid that our ministries will be taxed, our positions of power will be taken away, that things will be uncomfortable. And here comes a man who promises to make us great again. So what if the poor, the women, the children, the foreigner and the outcast are destroyed, violated, abused and driven away. We have to look at the big picture. At least Hillary won’t be president.

“All this I will give you, if you just bow down and worship me.”  It sounds eerily familiar.

Instead of jumping on the Trump bandwagon, I have a better suggestion from the scriptures:

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isa 1:16-17 KJV)

As long as children have a far greater chance of being molested in church than in a transgender bathroom, we have no moral ground to stand on. Until we get this right, we might as well close the doors anyway.

God is far more concerned with how we treat the oppressed and outcast than he is with our ministries and lifestyles. It’s time we got that straight.

So if your conscience allows you to vote for either candidate, go ahead. But please quit looking the other way at such great evil. If the salt loses its saltiness, what will it be salted by? If the light is under a bushel, who will see it?

Evangelical America, it is time to be salt and light. We have far bigger problems than transgender bathrooms, gay marriage and Hillary Clinton.

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Filed under Abuse, politics

Help! I’m On Fire!

I read an interesting quote from that out-dated comedian Garry Shandling. Remember him? He passed away in March of this year. It made me sad.

He said, “I met a beautiful girl at a barbeque, which was exciting. Blonde, I think—l don’t know. Her hair was on fire. And all she talked about was herself. You know those kind of girls It was just me, me, me Help me. Put me out ”

It got me thinking. This seems to be the response so many of our Christian sisters seem to get when they are dying inside. They have been torn apart emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically. They have been broken and battered and torn down over and over again. Pornography, brutality, reviling, drunkenness, adultery. They have to live with it every day. And finally, they may come and tell us about it.

And what’s our response? “Oh. You again? You always talk about yourself. Why can’t you ever think about anyone else.”

But in Shandling’s bit, who is the real narcissist? It’s the one who is so self-absorbed he can’t even see that this poor woman is on fire!

How can we tend the sheep when we don’t even notice that they are on fire? They come to us broken and bloody and turned upside down, and we heap on them even more scorn and shame instead of putting out the fire!

For those who have a hard time making the connection, take these examples of counsel that I have actually heard.

“Pastor, my husband hit me last night.”

“Why did he hit you?”

“Because dinner wasn’t ready when he got home.”

“Well, let me have Mrs. Pastor show you how to manage your time so that you can get dinner on time”

Or, let’s take this one:

“Pastor, my husband stays up all night in his study watching pornography. it makes me feel ugly and useless.”

“I see. Have you made sure that you are satisfying him  in bed? Have you tried fixing yourself up a bit?”

So vile, so narcissistic, so contrary to Christ! Jesus requires us to be wise enough to see that someone is on fire. If we can’t do that one thing, perhaps it is time to retire our frocks.

Just some thoughts I’ve have lately.

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Filed under Pastoral ministry