Tag Archives: abuse

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.

Advertisements

25 Comments

Filed under Abuse, Faith, sola fide

“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.

49 Comments

Filed under Abuse

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.

17 Comments

Filed under Abuse

“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.

16 Comments

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.

6 Comments

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.

5 Comments

Filed under Pastoral ministry

The Secret Things of God

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deu 29:29 KJV)

Making decisions is a daunting process. There is much that goes into a decision, especially one that will change a life.

Take, for example, a decision to separate or divorce a spouse. This decision is terrifying enough, but it is often muddled by poor counsel. As Christian counselors and pastors, we must ensure that our counsel is based firmly upon scripture, and not the opinions or biases of men.

Whole books have been written on appropriate grounds for divorce, but the purpose of this post is to address just one area where we often go wrong.

We must remember that we cannot make decisions based upon what we hope God will do in the future. This belongs to the secret things of God. God has revealed to us what he wants us to know so that we can make right decisions that are honoring to him, but he has reserved the future for his hand alone.

To put this practically, suppose a wife reports – again –  to the elders that her husband refuses to keep his marriage vows. Perhaps he is violent, abusive or engaged in fornication. Perhaps he is a drunkard or a reviler. Let’s assume that these facts are not in dispute. Everyone knows that this is what the wife has been enduring  for years.

When she reports that she is filing for divorce, the answer of her elders is often something like this: “God can change hearts. Stay in the marriage. What will you do if he repents? What if he changes?”

It seems to me that this puts an unendurable burden on the heart of the wife (or husband, as the case may be). The church is asking her to make a life-altering decision based upon what God may or may not do in the future. But how can we ask our sheep to sin in this regard?

The devil took Jesus to the temple and told him to throw himself down, for God promised that he would not allow his foot to be moved. In other words, the devil told Jesus to make a decision based upon requiring God to act in a certain way. But Jesus called this testing God, which is forbidden in the law.

Let’s apply this to our example. The way that things stand now, she has grounds for divorce. Assume, again, that this is not disputed. But she is still counseled to remain in the marriage “in case he repents”. But repentence is a gift of God. Only God can change a heart. So now we are asking this woman to make a life-altering decision, or even put her life in danger, based upon what we hope God will do in the future.

But our text in Deuteronomy forbids doing just that. We cannot make our decision based upon the “secret things of God”. We are required only to make wise decisions based upon what we know today.

As of right now, is your husband a reviler, drunkard, abuser, fornicator? As of right now, is the marriage broken? As of right now, has he pulled asunder what God has joined together?

We can only make these decisions based upon what is revealed to us. To pry into the future is forbidden by God and is only a short step away from soothsaying and fortune-telling.

It is cruel and ungodly to force a spouse to stay in perpetual limbo because God may or may not act in the future, especially when Jesus himself said that God gave us divorce because of the hardness of men’s hearts. Because men’s hearts are still hard, divorce is still sometimes an option.

To ask what the offended spouse would do if there was repentance is neither helpful nor biblical. I could ask what I would do if I won the lottery or became rich and famous, but to base your life and obedience upon a fantasy is not honoring to God. Let’s not fall into the heresy of Creflo Dollar’s prosperity gospel in our counsel to hurting men and women.

CAN God bring repentance? Of course he can. That isn’t the question. Can God fill your bank account with gold? Of course he can.

Why is one fantasy wrong while the another is right? Would it be foolish to buy a new car or a new house based upon hoping that God can fill our bank account with gold? Of course it is. Then why would we counsel a spouse to stay in a broken marriage based upon hoping that God will grant repentance?  All we can do is make the best decisions that we can based upon what we know NOW. Is the man a fool addicted to his folly? Of COURSE God can change his heart, but that isn’t the point.

Wisdom would dictate that throwing yourself off of the temple would be suicide. It would have been a denial of God. Wisdom also dictates that fools return to their folly. This is the norm, just as falling from the temple results in death.

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. (Pro 26:11 KJV)

This is what fools do and will continue to do apart from God’s free and unmerited grace. God can, of course, intervene. He often does, or we would all be lost. We call upon men and women to repent and believe and pray for God’s intervention in their headlong rush to hell. We urge, we exhort, we confront. But when it comes to decisions – whether we are judges deciding on a sentence, church courts deciding on discipline, or spouses deciding on divorce –  we must act in wisdom, not in fantasy.

Only God can soften a heart, and we pray that he will. But we have to make our decisions based upon what God has revealed to us, not through crystal-ball gazing or empty hopes.

5 Comments

Filed under Divorce, Wisdom

Does the cross glorify passive acquiescence to violence?

From Donald MacLeod, Christ Crucified.

But if the cross does not quite glorify violence, does it not glorify passive acquiescence in violence? This is a serious issue, particularly if it can be shown that part of the message of Calvary is that victims of abuse should endure it silently, soak up the pain, offer no resistance and demand no justice.  The charge gains plausibility from the fact that too many Christian men have seen meekness as a distinctive feminine virtue and quiet submission as the crowning glory of womanhood, and too many Christian women have accepted this role definition. Even where they have not been abused and violated, they have taken it for granted that they exist to serve their husbands and children, and should sacrifice their own personal fulfillment to those objects.

The cross certainly commends non-violence and non-resistance to the extent that it portrays Christ as one who went like a lamb to the slaughter and who suffered without any threat of retaliation (Isa. 53:7; 1 Pet. 2:23). This fits in with the great kenotic perspective which Paul describes in Philippians 2:6-11. Far from insisting on divine rights, Christ made himself a no-person, devoid of rights, and there can be no doubt that the apostle lays this down as the paradigm for all believers. But that is precisely the point. It is the paradigm for ALL believers, above all for the powerful, who must renounce their own rights and strive for the rights of others. No man who takes the cross as his paradigm can make it an excuse for demanding that women acquiesce under his authority and submit to servility and abuse. Christ has exactly the same destiny in mind for the woman as for the man, and in the meantime, each of us, male and female, is called to do everything in our power to encourage the other in his or her journey towards that destiny. At the foot of the cross, the husband is bound to subordinate his own interests to those of the wife no less than she is bound to subordinate hers to those of her husband. It is patriarchy, not the doctrine of atonement, that needs to be redeemed. (Page 192-193)

When asked for the secret of a happy marriage, the answer is the same as the secret to a blessed and happy life. “Take up your cross, and follow Jesus.” I would add that the responsibility to put to death our old nature belongs to every Christian, as MacLeod so admirably teaches. But it is doubly laid upon the husband when Paul also writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”

Perhaps it is because God knows our pride and our demands and our desire to be kings in our homes that He commands us twice: first as Christians, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus;” and second as husbands, “Love your wives, as Christ loved the church.”

It is time to put to death our lusts for power, and put on the love of Jesus in service to our families.

4 Comments

Filed under Love, Marriage, Patriarchy

Our Desperate Need for Wisdom

King Solomon was famous over the world for his wisdom. The Bible gives us an account to show us how Solomon’s wisdom truly was divinely given.  I would like for you to read it carefully:

16 Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.
17 And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house.
18 And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house.
19 And this woman’s child died in the night; because she overlaid it.
20 And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.
21 And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear.
22 And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king.
23 Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living.
24 And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king.
25 And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.
26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.
27 Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.
28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.
(1Ki 3:16-28 KJV)

At first glance, this seems an odd choice to display how Solomon’s wisdom far surpassed the wisdom of his peers. As a child reading the account, it mostly confused me. How did this display such great wisdom? Surely there were other accounts of Solomon’s judgments that were astounding, magnificent and awe-inspiring! What was so special about this one?

My childish mind had only a superficial and rather foolish view of human nature. I did not understand it. It still puzzles me, for the most part, but I think that I am beginning to get a handle on what was so astounding in Solomon’s judgment here.

When these two women presented themselves before Solomon, they both looked and sounded very sincere. Both were sinners (they were harlots). Both had the show of great grief. But they told a different story.

Woman A – we’ll call her Prima – tells Solomon that she woke up and her baby was dead. She knew that the dead baby wasn’t hers and claims that the other woman (we’ll call her Secunda) rolled onto her own baby during the night and then exchanged her dead baby for Prima’s living baby.

Secunda responds that Prima is lying. She claims that Prima rolled onto her own baby and killed it and now is trying to get Solomon to take Secunda’s baby away.

At issue is the living baby. Whose baby is it?

How is Solomon supposed to sort that one out? There were no DNA tests to prove it either way, and he was supposed to make a judgment. All he had to use was wisdom. He had to understand human nature, and especially fallen human nature.

A foolish judge would try to determine who was lying by the “looked me right in the eye” test. The one that seemed the most sincere would very clearly be the one telling the truth, according to this test. But this is utter madness. Even the devil can fool the wisest of men on those grounds. In order to use the “sincerity” test, you would have to deny the existence of pure wickedness, wolves, and oppressive sons of Belial. But all scripture testifies to the existence and prevalence of these kinds of people. In fact, right after the fall, God spoke of the seed of the serpent who would seek to destroy the seed of the woman. To ignore that is utter madness and folly, combined with extreme arrogance. Almost every book of the New Testament warn us that these people will be right in the middle of our congregations and we must mark them and have nothing to do with them.

A foolish judge might actually say, “Who cares? they’re both harlots anyway. Why are you bothering me?” But a wise judge knows that he has been given his task by God himself, and is required by God to judge righteously, without “respect of persons.”

If Prima’s story is correct, then Secunda is not a normal woman. She is a child of the devil, thoroughly corrupt – a liar and a murderer with no conscience. Think about it. She killed her own child during the night (according the Prima’s story) and then exchanged her own dead baby for the living one of her friend. She has no natural affection – babies were simply commodities to be used. You normal mothers out there, if you accidently killed your baby in the night, would you mourn and weep and cry out to God? Or would you simply get another baby and pretend like nothing happened?

A normal mother does not simply steal another baby and pretend it is her own. That would take a tremendous hardening of the heart.

If Prima’s story is correct, then Secunda also has no concern whatsoever about the grief she may be bringing to those whom she previously thought of as friends. Secunda is entitled to a baby, she is entitled to win, and if this causes tremendous grief to those around her, that’s not her concern.

In this day, we have a word for these kinds of people: They are sociopaths. If Prima is telling the truth, then Secunda is a sociopath.

On the other hand, if Secunda is telling the truth, then Prima is a sociopath, for the same reasons.

So Solomon may not know which one is telling the truth, but because of his God-given wisdom, he knows that one of them is the “seed of the serpent”, a liar and a murderer who will stop at nothing to establish her own control and sense of entitlement.

If that is the case, then the one who is the seed of the serpent is not REALLY concerned about the living baby; her primary concern will be to win at any cost. Her sense of entitlement – she is OWED a baby – will be far greater than any other need. How is one to determine this?

Solomon commands that the baby be divided into two. THAT’S the wisdom of Solomon that all of us must pray for, seek after and prize. To order this risky sentence, Solomon must know and understand certain things:

1. That there are people in this world whose sense of entitlement is so great that they will destroy everything in order to have power over others, to win at any cost.

2. That either Secunda or Prima was one of those women. They were not “making mistakes”; they were not misunderstood; consumed with grief; out of their minds with problems. One of them was a sociopath who would stop at nothing to win.

THAT is wisdom. It can only come from God. It is extremely rare, even in churches.

When the Prima cried out, “NO! Spare the baby. Let her take it rather than kill it!” Solomon had his answer. Prima was more concerned about life than about winning. She was more concerned about the welfare of her child than about even her own grief. She would rather lose everything than have this little child lose his life.

How we need wise judges. How rare they are!

By now, you have probably heard of the case in Michigan. A judge sentences three children to juvenile detention for refusing to have lunch with their father. They and their mother claim that the father is abusive. The father claims that the mother is alienating the children from him. His attorney says,

“It is unfortunate that the children are in shelter care due to the actions of their mother….She has continued to endorse the children’s behavior that she successfully instilled in them, effectively alienating them from their father. The court took severe action to attempt to remedy a heart-wrenching situation, solely created by the mother.”

I wish that the judge had just a small amount of the wisdom of Solomon. Who is telling the truth? Let me ask it this way, “Who is willing to destroy the children rather than lose the case?”

The father would rather see his children abused and neglected in Juvenile Hall than lose his battle of entitlement over his ex-wife. He’s a sociopath and should be removed from society.

When the Judge ordered the kids to be remanded to Juvenile Hall, a righteous father would have cried out, “NO, JUDGE! Let her have them rather then sentence them to the death of innocence and childhood!”

It is a curse from God when He removes wisdom from the land. Mourn and howl with me, that such foolishness reigns in high places! Pray that God would be merciful and give us judges who can tell the difference between sheep and wolves. Pray that our churches would wake up and discern between good and evil!

Pray that the Lord will be merciful to us!

3 Comments

Filed under Abuse, Wisdom

The Pastor’s Great Struggle

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

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

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

We don’t listen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The voice of the oppressed, whispering in the corner.

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

But

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Comments

Filed under Pastoral ministry, Repentance