Tag Archives: abuse

Where abuse thrives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When we force non-disclosure agreements…

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

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

When we teach “sanctified testosterone” instead of meekness…

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

When we normalize pornography…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If she is telling the truth…

Another one.

A rich, powerful, mover and shaker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why didn’t she tell someone?”

Why did she wait?

What was she wearing?

What was she drinking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People will ask, “What happened to you?”

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

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

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

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

22 “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.

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

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

(Exod. 22:22-24)

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Filed under Abuse, Grief

What God has cleansed…

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

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

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

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

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

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

A voice says, “Rise and eat!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pause for a moment and think about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Abuse, Love, Union with Christ

Look at the culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Abuse, assault, Race

Things I’ve been told

They tell me that I scold men too much.

They tell me that they feel sorry for my congregation because I lead them astray by teaching women that they are image-bearers of God with dignity and honor.

They tell me that I rob men of their masculinity by teaching them that imitating Christ means to take the lowest place and become the servant of all, including their wives. Christ did, however, give himself for his bride, the church.

They tell me that I cause divorces and wreck marriages by teaching men how to love their wives instead how to rule over them.

They tell me that I am unbalanced, and am soft on the sin of women because I teach that lust comes from the heart of man, not from the outfit of the woman.

They tell me that I am a feminist because I believe that the Bible teaches that every believing woman is also a prophet, priest and king along with every believing man.

They spit the word “egalitarian” at me like a curse because I believe women have a voice, should be treated as co-heirs of eternal life, and have a right to make decisions and use their gifts for the glory of God, just like every believing man.

And they tell me to stop. They command me to be silent. I make people uncomfortable.

And I worry sometimes.

 

And then I hear of judges who tell rape victims not to report their rape because they will ruin a good man’s life.

And then I hear of husbands punching their wives in the same room that they lead “family worship”.

And then I hear of pastors beating and molesting the children under their care. And I hear of other pastors who knew about it and gave them “a good talking to” but didn’t want to ruin their ministries.

And then I hear of youth pastors raping the children under their care, and calling it “an inappropriate relationship”.

And then I hear of women crying out to their church leaders that their husbands watch porn every night and are asked if they are satisfying them in bed.

And then I hear again of women who are beaten over and over again year after year and when they finally divorce they are excommunicated for being bitter.

And then I hear of wives who cover the altar of the Lord with tears and are told to “submit more”, “suffer a little while like Jesus suffered,” “God hates divorce”.

And then these same wives are shot by the husbands they tried to get protection from.

And then I hear of husbands threatening the wives with weapons, fists, words of hatred, vile contempt and the wives are blamed for not submitting enough, making them mad, provoking them, wanting it…

And then I hear that these are not rare occurrences. These are not unusual. These are the hidden corners, the long dark corridors, the valley of the shadow of death that are walked through by so, so many men, women and children.

I know that salvation is not the same as activism. I am not an abuse advocate. I am a minister of the word, a pastor, a preacher of good tidings of great joy. I will not get sucked into the abyss of darkness and pain nor is it my desire to draw you into it.

But as a minister, I do need to shine a light, expose evil, untwist the scripture that is continually twisted to keep the weak in bondage to the strong.

When the church of Jesus Christ becomes an institution of worldly power and money, the powerful always oppress the weak, crushing them underfoot, and they will use whatever means they can to do it.

And I love the church of Jesus Christ far, far too much to keep silent. For this reason, I will not keep silent about the horrors that so many of our brothers and sisters suffer. Nor will I allow the light of Jesus Christ to grow dim or fade, but will continue to lift the banner, proclaim liberty to the captives, and bind the wounds of the broken-hearted as much as I can.

Even though I know it will infuriate a lot of people who like being in power.

There can only, ever be one head of the church, and he will never give that honor to another.

The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord, to defend,
to guide, sustain, and cherish,
is with her to the end;
tho’ there be those that hate her
and false sons in her pale,
against the foe or traitor
she ever shall prevail. (Samuel John Stone)

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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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Filed under Abuse, Prayer

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