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Posts tagged ‘Sin’

God’s Love Won’t Let Me Go — Regardless

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Ruth Myers

The Love That Won’t Let Go

God’s passion for His children is unlike any other love we’ll ever experience.

When I was a teenager, God began to deepen my appreciation for His love through “The Love of God,” a song made famous by George Beverly Shea. This song describes God’s love as “greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.” If the skies were a scroll and the oceans filled with ink, the song goes on to say, and if every stalk on earth were a writing quill, we still could never write in full this love God has for us. The skies could not contain it. The oceans would run dry.

Through the years since then, the Lord has been weaving into my life a richer awareness of how lavishly He loves me (and all of us) and how deeply He longs for each of us to experience His love. My heart has been opened again and again to delightful discoveries that have made me feel more satisfied and at rest in Him, more alive in His love, more liberated, more secure.

In God we find the kind of love we most deeply need. If we want real love, ideal love, perfect love, God’s heart is where to find it. It’s the only love big enough to meet the God-sized needs of your life and mine.

Just Because

Because you are a special treasure to God, He is working to draw you into a deeper love for Him—away from any idols in your life, away from rival interests, away from giving first place to His good gifts instead of to Him.

In Jer. 31:3, the Lord tells His people, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (NKJV). Every hour since you first met Him, He has been pursuing you, seeking to draw you closer as a mother draws her child, as a bridegroom his bride. He wants you near.

God loves us “just because.”

His love defies human logic. It doesn’t make sense. And yet there are reasons. I think of at least two:

First, God loves us because He is love. It’s His nature to love.

Second, He loves us because He made us.

Sin has destroyed some of the beauty of His design that He must now work to restore; but He made each of us with great skill, and we have unique value to Him. Because He made us for Himself, in His image, we have the potential of intimate relationship with Him. He prizes us and wants us for Himself. He loves us for what a love relationship with Him can mean to us—and to Him—now, in this life. He also loves us for what He knows we’ll become for all eternity. He eagerly awaits the delights in store for Him and us when we will dwell with Him forever in joyful, unbroken fellowship.

We read in Dt. 7:7 and 10:15 that God set His love upon His people—He “fastened” it upon them, as The Berkeley Version says. I like that. There’s a gentle but unyielding persistence about the love of God, a tenacious tenderness toward each person who has responded to Him. He loves us and holds on and won’t let us go.

From Everlasting to Everlasting

What is God’s love like? The tenacious love of God is both eternal and changeless. These two concepts are wonderfully linked.

“The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him” (Ps. 103:17,RSV). From everlasting to everlasting. Let’s look at this phrase more closely.

From everlasting, before I ever existed, God loved me. Long before I was born, He looked ahead and fastened His affection upon me. His love for me began in His foreknowledge of me. When He decided to love me, I did not yet even exist. His love is not mine because I merit it, for He fastened His love upon me before I ever did one thing, good or bad.

Before we were born, He already knew the worst about us, and nothing that happens now can surprise or disillusion Him. He has never had any illusions about anyone or anything. He doesn’t suddenly discover some truth about one of us and think, Oh, why did I ever choose to love him or her? I like what J. I. Packer says in Knowing God: “God’s love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on the prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.”

Therefore, in the midst of my failures and struggles when I feel so undeserving, I never have to think, Oh dear, does He still love me? His love for each of us is never rooted in our worthiness, but rather in His own nature.

God says to us, “It’s not because you earned it or worked so hard for it that I have loved you. And I don’t continue loving you because you manage to maintain a high enough standard in My eyes. No, I simply made a permanent choice to love you.”

That choice will never change. He loved me from everlasting and will love me to everlasting. His love for me—and for you—will never end. It’s a lifelong, eternity-long relationship, now and forever available to meet our every need as we seek to know Him better.

Even When We Rebel

We see God’s unchanging love in an especially beautiful way in the book of Hosea. There God declared that He still loved His people “though they turn to other gods” (Hos. 3:1). Hosea’s message shows God’s constant love for His people, even when they spurned Him and persisted in rebelling against Him.

God speaks these words to His people in Hos. 11:8: “How can I give you up, Israel? . . . My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong” (Good News Bible). And the New Living Translation puts it this way, “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? . . . My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows.”

This was His attitude toward them even though they had persistently rebelled against Him. God had patiently sent them warnings over the centuries, but so often they refused to listen. Finally, He had to send severe chastening. They needed it, and He gave it. But even that chastening was evidence of His love, just as it is in our lives. Throughout it all His attitude was still, “How can I let you go?” He cannot give us up. He cannot abandon us. His love for us is too strong.

How that relieves my heart!

Even when I’m letting something else be more important to me than God, God is still loving me. Even when He must discipline me, He says, “I won’t go one bit further than I have to for your good, and I would never cut you off from My love. My heart would never allow it.” He recoils at the very thought of ever withdrawing His love for us.

Psalm 73:26 begins, “My flesh and my heart may fail”—yes, this will happen to us in different ways all through life. Our bodies and souls may grow weak and waste away. And worse than that, we may inwardly and outwardly fail to trust and obey the Lord. But we can come right back to Him, confess how we have failed, and let the Lord love us. Then we can go on to personalize the last part of this verse, saying with the psalmist, “Lord, You are the strength of my heart, the source of my stability; and You are my chosen portion forever.”

Love without Limits

God’s love is incalculably great. His love is abounding, vast, infinite. His love has no limitations, no boundaries. In both duration and extent it is limitless. We’ll never be able to get out of it or away from it or beyond it.

Notice the description of God’s love in Eph. 3:16–19. Paul speaks of how the Spirit within us strengthens us so that we can, in fuller measure, have Christ dwelling within us. He says, “I pray . . . that your life will be strong in love and be built on love” (Eph 3:17, NCV). He goes on to pray that we will know in actual experience the greatness of Christ’s love—that we will understand more fully its boundless dimensions, how long and wide and high and deep it is, though it is far greater than anyone can ever know.

God’s love is limitless. This means there are no bounds to the encouragement and hope and strength it can give us. Once I found myself under unusual pressure while my husband, Warren, was gone for almost a month. Situations arose that were difficult for me to cope with. In those stressful weeks the Lord deeply ministered to me through 2 Thess. 2:16–17: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us unending encouragement and unfailing hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word” (paraphrase based on NASB and Phillips).

Here is His personal, loving touch: encouragement and hope that never fail because they are by grace, not based on my deserving. My heart—and yours—may often fail and our resources prove to be inadequate. But the Lord Himself, who loves us, is always ready to inspire us with courage and confidence, as J. B. Phillips puts it.

The Lord does not parcel out little dabs of love—”Well, you’ve been good children today, so I’ll love you a little bit.” No, His love flows freely. It overflows, coming to us in an abounding way. We read in Ro. 5:5 that God’s love has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. “It floods our hearts,” as James Moffatt translates it. It’s a tremendous outpouring of love—not in skimpy measure, but rather in a flood, an inundation.

And He has put right within us the source of this abounding love—the Holy Spirit—so His love can be poured out abundantly throughout our whole being. We don’t have to settle for trivial little insights into His love. We can experience vastly more of it than we do at present, if we truly want to—if we open ourselves to Him and His Word, seeking and yielding and trusting.

The Grace behind His Love

God’s love is linked inseparably with His grace, His attitude of unmerited favor toward us. Grace is the basis on which He first chose us in His love, and His overflowing grace is the basis on which He continues to lavish His love upon us.

We read in Ro. 5:20 in the Wuest translation that where sin abounded, “grace superabounded with more added to that.” There are no words to adequately convey the abundance of God’s grace. So we can just say that it “superabounds—with more added to that”!

God’s love is so great that no sin is too great for Him to forgive. We can always approach His throne of grace and receive forgiveness, whether for a large, even scandalous sin, or for any of the mass of little failures that get us down so that we think, Oh, do I have to confess that again?

The flow of God’s love never stops; it always shines forth undimmed. But our response determines whether it gets through to us. We can pull the blinds—or we can open them. We choose what we’ll let ourselves be filled with, and God respects our choice. He does not force His love on us. But at all times His love flows and shines—perfect, unwavering, available to meet our needs.

We see this unchanging flow of God’s love portrayed in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The father was waiting for the son to turn his back on his rebellion and return home. And when he saw him coming, he didn’t have to think twice about responding with fervent love. The flow of his love had never lessened, though the son had strayed to a far country and into terrible sin.

All of us need this grace. To the person with desperate needs who is willing to admit them, God shows His love. Do you qualify? I know I do. I qualify because I have needs—desperate needs. And He has made me willing to admit them and let Him meet them. When I fail to recognize how needy I am, He graciously works to remind me (at times in painful ways). And He renews my willingness to say, “Lord, I’m so messed up, so needy, so unable to obey You and to handle life in my own strength. So I bring my deep needs to You.”

As we mature through the years, we see shortcomings and areas of neglect in our lives that we didn’t know were there. So often, when we feel we’re doing well (if we’ve been victorious and had our quiet time every day and learned Bible verses and been nice to our family and our neighbors), then we think, God surely loves me today. Then we drop into those low times—we’re sure there’s no way He could love us now. So at the very point where we need His love most, we don’t even dare come before Him to seek and experience it. We forget that He has always loved us, even when we had absolutely no use for Him at all. And He will always love us—just because.

Sacrificial Love

When it comes to human love, we like to see action as well as words, don’t we?

Words, of course, are important. A wife never tires of hearing her husband tell her again, “I love you.” God gives us plenty of words to tell us He loves us, but He also acts upon that love. His greatest action was sending His Son to suffer humiliation and anguish for us when we still had no use for Him. He was willing to pay the highest price possible so that we could belong to Him, so that He could have a loving relationship with us.

His love for you and me is a costly love. In the Wuest translation of 1 Jn. 4:7 we read that God’s love is “divine and self-sacrificial.” This, again, points us to the cross—the ultimate sacrifice. Such love is foreign to our nature. Humans love like this only when their love comes from God.

In Ro. 5:6–8 we read:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And because of this sacrifice, “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Ro. 5:11).

Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). A human love will conceivably die for a friend—though only the greatest of human loves would ever dare to do it. Jesus, however, died for His enemies, so that He could make us His friends, bringing us into intimate relationship with Himself. That’s how much He desires to have us near Him.

Only God is the source of such love. His is truly the greatest love of all.

The Favor of the King

In this, as in all that God gives us, He is immeasurably generous. His love gives and gives and is never depleted, because His power and resources are unlimited. He never has need to give in a grudging way. As Eph. 3:20 says, He’s able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think—beyond our fondest dreams. He’s a total giver who loves to give, who delights to do good for us, so that we can live truly abundant lives.

Romans 5:17 speaks of what Christ has done for believers and how “by their acceptance of his more than sufficient grace and righteousness” people can now “live their lives victoriously” (Phillips). We have this possibility of living royally because of the abundance of God’s grace. As we have seen, grace means “unmerited favor,” favor that we don’t have to earn, favor that we don’t deserve. In fact, we deserve just the opposite!

And whose favor is it? The favor of the King of kings. Favor that flows out from Him toward us. And as we receive it, realizing we are highly favored by the only truly important person who exists, it does something in our hearts. If we belong to the King of kings, we can be sure of His favor whenever we approach Him.

God loves to honor our requests and bestow His favors upon us. God delights to do the things that delight us, and so He gives to us lavishly. He is not a stingy God. When Jesus came to this earth, His purpose was to share with us His true and eternal treasures. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

These riches include everything we need here on earth for a full spiritual life and a satisfying emotional life. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Pet. 1:3).

This is all ours to enjoy as we seek to know Him better.

Being Formed in Forgiveness

 

Perhaps no issue more quickly assesses the true state of our spiritual formation in Christ than how we respond to being sinned against. Forgiveness becomes concrete when we talk about how we deal with anger. How do you deal with your anger? Maybe a rude driver on the road cuts you off, Someone steals your credit card, A friend criticizes you, A family member continually mistreats you.

Most of us know that as Christians we should forgive in these cases. However, we may need to clear up some misconceptions so that our forgiveness will be genuine and result in healing for us and release for our offenders.

“Forgive and forget,” some say, but forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about not being resentful, but you can remember and not hold onto anger. It’s important that we remember our experiences in life so that we can learn from them.

“Just let it go to God and move on,” is a common approach. This advice may work for minor offenses, but to attempt to overlook deep wounds and repeated violations is denial. If forgiveness is to be real then it has to be honest about the violation against you that needs to be forgiven. Forgiveness in these cases is a process of working through hurt, anger, and other feelings. “You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there” (Jeremiah 6:14, LB).

“I’ll forgive when…” It’s easy to think that until your offender apologizes or stops mistreating you that you don’t need to forgive. It doesn’t work that way; forgiveness is a gift of mercy. No one deserves to be forgiven! The only way to forgive is to “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). By appreciating how fortunate you are that God has forgiven you of your sins then you are helped to share that forgiveness with the one who has sinned against you. “I can’t forgive,” some believe, “it’s not a safe relationship for me.” But this thinking confuses forgiveness and reconciliation. If you’ve been abused and are vulnerable to be re-injured then indeed you need boundaries to protect yourself. At the same time, you can learn to release your offender to God’s justice, refusing to hold onto a posture of angry judgment.

I’ve found that the acid test for whether or not I’ve forgiven someone is if instead of holding onto anger at those who sin against me I can pray for and sincerely desire God’s blessings on that person. Jesus taught us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you” (Luke 6:27-28). We can’t do this by gritting our teeth and forcing it!

How do we learn to forgive and bless the one who curses us? “Train yourselves to be godly” Paul answers (1 Timothy 4:7). We each need to grow in grace to become the kind of person who, like God, forgives. We need to be formed in God’s forgiveness through a heart connection to God’s favor in which we’re thankful that God has blessed us though we don’t deserve it and his blessings are flowing through us to others. Then we can offer the gift of his mercy to those who sin against us, even if in some cases it takes some time to pray our way to that point.

 

40 Consequences of Adultery

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by David Boehi — Family Life Ministries

If I committed adultery…

  1. My relationship with God would suffer from a break in fellowship.
  2. I would need to seek forgiveness from my Lord.
  3. I would suffer from the emotional consequences of guilt.
  4. I would spend countless hours replaying the failure.
  5. My spouse would suffer the scars of this abuse more deeply than I could begin to describe.
  6. My spouse would spend countless hours in counseling.
  7. My spouse’s recovery would be long and painful.
  8. My spouse’s pain would grieve me deeply and compound my own suffering and shame.
  9. Our marriage relationship would suffer a break in trust, fellowship, and intimacy.
  10. In our marriage, we would be together, yet feel great loneliness.
  11. The reputation of my family would suffer loss.
  12. My children would be deeply disappointed and bewildered.
  13. My grandchildren would not understand.
  14. My friends would be disappointed and would question my integrity.
  15. My employment or job performance would be affected.
  16. My witness among neighbors would become worthless.
  17. My witness to my family would be worthless.
  18. My testimony among my spouse’s family would be damaged.
  19. My service in ministry would be damaged.
  20. My ability to work within the church would be damaged.
  21. I would suffer God’s discipline.
  22. Satan would be thrilled at my failure.
  23. Satan would work overtime to be sure my shame never departed.
  24. My spouse might divorce me.
  25. My children might never speak to me.
  26. Our mutual friends would shy away from us and break fellowship.
  27. I would bring emotional pain to the person with whom I committed adultery.
  28. I would bring reproach upon the person with whom I committed adultery.
  29. If my affair partner is married, that person’s spouse might attempt to bring harm.
  30. My affair partner’s spouse might divorce her.
  31. An unwanted child could be produced.
  32. My part in conception might trigger an abortion, the killing of an innocent child.
  33. Disease might result.
  34. Some might conclude that all Christians are hypocrites.
  35. My business could fail because I couldn’t be trusted.
  36. My leadership among those I have led in the past might also be diminished in impact.
  37. My zeal for ministry would suffer and possibly result in others not continuing in ministry.
  38. My health would suffer.
  39. I might have to start life over again.
  40. This same sin might be visited upon my family for four generations.

It’s a pretty sobering list, isn’t it? What’s even more sobering is that many people will consider these consequences and still proceed in their sin. The fantasy is more important to them than the reality.

The biggest benefit of this list may be in helping us realize the need to set up strict safeguards to ensure that we are faithful in our marriage commitment. If I am convinced of what adultery would do to me and to my family, I will watch my wandering eyes, guard my thought life, and avoid any situations that could put me in harm’s way.

The fantasy is just not worth it.

The Process of Developing a Life-Controlling Problem

SOURCE:  Living Free

John and Becky are 50-year-olds who attend church every Sunday and on Wednesday evenings. To look at them on Sunday morning, it would seem they are a happy Christian couple; however, the police know their address very well. During the last two years, they have become regular visitors to this home.

There are two life-controlling problems in this home.

John has uncontrolled anger, and Becky, though frequently physically and verbally abused, covers for his violent behavior because she believes it is the Christian thing to do. This violent behavior and unhealthy cover-up have gradually worsened over the years. John, who was abused by his father when he was a child, has been abusing his wife for years, but it has escalated to the point where her wounds can no longer be covered up.

These mastering problems have not only trapped John and Becky, but because they have been covered up and not dealt with, their children have also been caught in this web of pain.

A life-controlling problem is anything that masters (or controls) a person’s life. Many terms have been used to describe life-controlling problems. Someone may speak of a dependency, a compulsive behavior, or an addiction. In 2 Corinthians 10:4, the Apostle Paul uses the word stronghold to describe an area of sin that has become a part of our lifestyle when he writes that there is divine power to demolish strongholds.

The easiest life-controlling problems to identify are harmful habits like drug or alcohol use, eating disorders, sexual addictions, gambling, tobacco use, and the like. Life-controlling problems can also include harmful feelings like anger and fear. The word addiction or dependency can refer to the use of a substance (like food, alcohol, legal and/or illegal drugs, etc.,), or it can refer to the practice of a behavior (like shoplifting, gambling, use of pornography, compulsive spending, TV watching, etc.). It can also involve a relationship with another person. We call those relationships co-dependencies.

The Apostle Paul talks about life-controlling problems in terms of our being slaves to this behavior or dependency that masters us. He writes in Romans 6:14, Sin shall not be your master. In 1 Corinthians 6:12b, he says, Everything is permissible for me ‘ but I will not be mastered by anything [or anyone]. According to 2 Peter 2:19b, A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. Anything that becomes the center of a person’s life if allowed to continue will become master of that life.

Because we live in a world today that can be described as an addictive society, most people are affected in some way by a life-controlling problem — their own or someone else’s. Everyone has the potential of being mastered by a life-controlling problem. No one plans for it to happen, but without warning, an individual (and those who care about him) can be pulled into the downward spiral of a stronghold.

Addictions and Idols

Idolatry leads to addiction. When we follow idols, a choice has been made to look to a substance, behavior, or relationship for solutions that can be provided only by God. We have a felt need to serve a supreme being; if we choose not to serve God, we will choose an idol to which we will become enslaved. Jeffrey VanVonderen says:

Anything besides God to which we turn, positive or negative, in order to find life, value, and meaning is idolatry: money, property, jewels, sex, clothes, church buildings, educational degrees, anything! Because of Christ’s performance on the cross, life, value, and purpose are available to us in gift form only. Anything we do, positive or negative, to earn that which is life by our own performance is idolatrous: robbing a bank, cheating on our spouse, people-pleasing, swindling our employer, attending church, giving 10 percent, playing the organ for twenty years, anything!

Following idols, which leads to addictions, prevents us from serving and loving God freely. All kinds of substance and behavioral dependencies lead to enslavement because everyone who makes sinful choices is a candidate for slavery to sin (see John 8:34). Jesus states in John 8:32 that the truth will set you free. God spoke to Moses in Exodus 20:3, You shall have no other gods before me. Sin, when unconfessed, strains the relationship with God that is meant to be enjoyed by the believer (see Proverbs 28:13; Jonah 2:8).

A very controversial question arises: Is an addiction a sin or a disease?

Those who believe addictions are sin point to the acts of the sinful nature which include a substance (drunkenness) and behavioral (sexual immorality) problem in Galatians 5:19-21. Another reference to the sinfulness of addictions is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which shows that a definite change occurred in the lives of the Corinthian Christians: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Those who believe addictions (particularly alcoholism and other chemical dependencies) are a disease state the characteristics are progressive, primary, chronic, and fatal. In the latter stages, the victims are incapable of helping themselves because there is a loss of control and choice. In the 1950s the American Medical Association voted approval of the disease concept of alcohol dependence. The term disease means deviation from a state of health (Minirth, 57).

When sin and addiction are compared, they show similar characteristics. Both are self-centered versus God-centered and cause people to live in a state of deception. Sin and addiction lead people to irresponsible behavior, including the use of various defenses to cover up their ungodly actions. Sin and addiction are progressive; people get worse if there is not an intervention. Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda and later saw him at the temple. Jesus warned him about the progressiveness of sin: See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you (John 5:14). Sin is primary in that it is the root cause of evil. Sin produces sinners as alcohol causes alcoholism. Sin is also chronic if not dealt with effectively. Finally, sin is fatal with death being the end result.

Although addictions do have the characteristics of a disease, I must stand with the authority of God’s Word as it pronounces various addictions as being a part of the sinful nature (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21). They are sinful because God has been voided as the source of the solution to life’s needs, and these choices often develop into a disease. A noted Christian psychiatrist says:

Physiologically, of course, some people are more prone to alcoholism than others, even after one drink. And often guilt drives them to more and more drinking. But then some people also have more of a struggle with greed, lust, smoking, anger, or overeating than others. Failure to contend with all of these is still sin (Minirth, 57-58).

Anything that becomes the center of one’s life, if allowed to continue, will become the master of life. If God is not the center of a person’s life, that person will probably turn to a substance, behavior, or another person for focus and meaning. David describes his enemy in Psalm 52 as one who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others (v7).

The young, rich ruler described in the gospels (see Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30) came to Jesus asking how to receive eternal life. When Jesus told him he would have to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and follow him, the young man went away sad. This rich man’s stronghold was the love of money. Everybody, not only the rich, must guard against this greater love of the rich young man. Paul writes: People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

This stronghold, the love of money, is the root cause of most addictions that plague our society. Although alcohol is a major cause of deaths, sicknesses, broken families, and relationships, it continues to be advertised with marketing strategies which appeal even to America’s high school and elementary-aged children. The demand for cocaine and other substances would soon cease if there were no profits to be made. Sexual addictions are fed by an $8 billion industry of pornographic materials, appealing television commercials, and provocative movies. Compulsive gambling is fed by state-run lotteries. I wonder how much the love of money contributes to eating disorders. Many young women starve themselves to sickness and even death because of a greedy society that promotes an unhealthy thinness as beauty through media appeal and modeling agencies.

As the creation of God, each of us has a need to be dependent. There is a vacuum in the heart of every human since the fall of Adam and Eve that can be filled only by Christ. After our first parents disobeyed God, they immediately recognized their nakedness. Without God’s covering, they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8). They soon learned they could not escape from God.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there (Psalm 139:7-8).

It is interesting that Adam and Eve hid among the trees. They hid there because of guilt. Idols, which are false gods, can also become hiding places. Isaiah writes: for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood [or false gods] our hiding place (28:15).

In a life where Christ is not the focus, a person is likely to center attention on a substance, behavior, or another person which will eventually become a god to them. David recognized the need to have God as his tower of strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior from violent men you save me (2 Samuel 22:2-3).

The disease concept of addictions should be approached with caution. Assigning addictive substances and behaviors to the disease model tends to overlook the sinful nature of mankind. Although it is popular to label every stronghold as a disease, the Church must warmly care for those caught in the web of deception with ongoing support. It takes more than a pat on the back to cure them of their stronghold. Sinful choices develop into lifestyles that are self-centered and destructive. The fall of man puts us all in need of recovery.

How the Trap Works
Addictions and dependencies generally fall into three categories: substance addictions, behavior addictions, and relationship (interaction) addictions.

1. Substance addictions (the use of substances taking control of our lives)

  • Drugs/chemicals
  • Food (eating disorders)
  • Alcohol Other addictive substances

2. Behavior addictions (the practice of behaviors taking control of our lives)

  • Gambling
  • Compulsive spending
  • Use of pornography/other sexual addiction
  • Love of money
  • Sports
  • Other addictive behavior

3. Relationship (interaction) addictions (You may have heard a relationship problem like this referred to as co-dependency. )

Everyone has the potential of experiencing one or more of these life-controlling problems at some time. Maybe you find yourself already involved in an addiction or another problem behavior that has taken over your life. Sometimes it is hard to identify a life-controlling problem.

Here are some questions that may help in that process:

Is my behavior practiced in secret?
Can it meet the test of openness or do I hide it from family and friends?
Does this behavior pull me away from my commitment to Christ?
Does it express Christian love?
Is this behavior used to escape feelings?
Does this behavior have a negative effect on myself or others?

These questions help us identify problems that have reached (or are in danger of reaching) the point of becoming life-controlling problems.

The next step is to look at the ways these behaviors and dependencies tend to progress in a person’s life. Researchers have identified a pattern that follows some very predictable steps. Most people get involved with an addiction to receive a feeling of euphoria. Alcohol or other drugs, sex, pornographic literature, gambling, and so forth, produce a temporary high or euphoria.

Vernon E. Johnson, the founder and president emeritus of the Johnson Institute in Minneapolis, has observed (without trying to prove any theory) literally thousands of alcoholics, their families, and other people surrounding them . . . we came up with the discovery that alcoholics showed certain specific conditions with a remarkable consistency. Dr. Johnson uses a feeling chart to illustrate how alcoholism follows an emotional pattern. He identifies four phases: (1) learns mood swing, (2) seeks mood swing, (3) harmful dependency, (4) using to feel normal. Many of the observations made by Dr. Johnson and others, including myself, can also be related to other types of dependencies although the terminology may differ.

We call it the “Trap” because it often snares its victims before they realize what is really happening.

Every person has the potential of experiencing a life-controlling problem. No one is automatically exempt. Even though no one plans to be trapped by such a problem, it can happen without a person’s even being aware.

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Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
Copyright © 1991, 1997 by Turning Point Ministries
All Rights Reserved

How do you know when someone is truly sorry?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds.

Hosea 7:14

As biblical counselors, sometimes it’s hard to discern if someone is truly repentant.

Tears are often the language of the heart, but when one is crying in the counseling office, it’s important to hear what the person’s heart is really saying.  The apostle Paul speaks of two kinds of sorrow, worldly sorrow that leads to death and godly sorrow that brings repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).  As Christian counselors, it is crucial that we learn to distinguish between the two especially when we are doing couples work.

Worldly sorrow is a self-focused sorrow. It may contain great emotion, tears, and apologies, but the grief expressed is for one’s self. The person mourns the consequences of his or her sin and what she has lost. This may be a marriage, a job, a reputation, friends and/or family, or can even be one’s own idea of who they thought they were. Here are some of the things we often hear a person say when they are sorrowing unto death.

·         I can’t believe I did such a thing.

·         Why is this happening to me?

·         Please forgive me. – Implying, please don’t make me suffer the  consequences of my sin.

·         Why won’t he/she forgive me? (In other words, why can’t reconciliation be easy and quick?)

·         I’m so sorry (sad).

·         I’m a horrible person.

·         I wish I were dead.

·         I hate myself.

Judas is a good example of this type of sorrow (Matthew 27:3-5).  After he betrayed Christ, he was seized with remorse yet it did not lead to godly repentance, but self-hatred and suicide.

It is natural that we feel compassion for the person suffering such emotional and spiritual pain. However, it’s crucial that we not confuse this kind of sorrow with the kind that leads to biblical repentance, especially when we are working with both the sorrowing sinner and the one who has been sinned against.

Godly sorrow demonstrates grief over one’s sinfulness toward God as well as the pain it has caused others. John the Baptist said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).

Below are eight things I have found that demonstrate those fruits of genuine repentance.

·         Accepts full responsibility for actions and attitudes, doesn’t blame others or situations.

·         Acknowledges sinfulness (instead of “I can’t believe I could do such a thing”).

·         Recognizes the effects of actions on others and shows empathy for the pain he/she’s caused.

·         Able to identify brokenness in detail such as abusive tactics, attitudes of entitlement, and/or areas of chronic deceit.

·         Accepts consequences without demands or conditions.

·         Makes amends for damages.

·         Is willing to make consistent changes over the long term such as new behaviors and attitudes characteristic of healthy relationships.

·         Is willing to be accountable and if needed, long term.

In my work with couples who have experienced grievous sin, I have found that it is not their sin that destroys most relationships. All couples experience sin. The destruction comes when we refuse to acknowledge it. It is our blindness to it and our unwillingness to humble ourselves to get help, be accountable, and repent that makes reconciliation and healing impossible.

Why Homosexuality Is Not Like Other Sins

SOURCE: Jonathan Parnell/Desiring God

Homosexuality is not the only sin mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

It’s not the only sin mentioned, but it is different from all the rest, at least right now. At this moment in history, contrary to the other sins listed here, homosexuality is celebrated by our larger society with pioneering excitement. It’s seen as a good thing, as the new hallmark of progress.

To be sure, the masses increasingly make no bones about sin in general. Innumerable people are idolaters, not to mention those who are sexually immoral, or who commit adultery, or who steal and are greedy and get wasted and revile neighbors and swindle others. It happens all the time. And each of these unrepentant sins are the same in the sense of God’s judgment. They all deserve his wrath. And we’re constantly reminded that “such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11). You in the church.

Concerning Popular Opinion

But as far as I know, none of those sins is applauded so aggressively by whole groups of people who advocate for their normalcy. Sexual immorality is no longer the tip of the spear for the progressive push. Adultery is still frowned upon by many. Accusations of greed will still smear a candidate’s political campaign. Thievery is still not openly embraced, and there are no official initiatives saying it’s okay to go take things that don’t belong to you. There’s no such thing as a drunk agenda yet. Most aren’t proud to choose a beverage over stability, and there aren’t any petitions that the government should abolish the driving restrictions of inebriated individuals. Reviling others still isn’t seen as the best way to win friends and influence people. Swindling, especially on a corporate level, usually gets someone thrown into jail. In fact, the infrastructure of the American economy depends upon, in some measure, our shared disdain for conniving scammers.

Perhaps excepting fornication, these sins are still seen in a pretty negative light. But not homosexual practice, not by those who are now speaking loudest and holding positions of prominence. According to the emerging consensus, homosexuality is different.

What to Be Against

As Christians, we believe with deepest sincerity that the embrace of homosexual practice, along with other sins, keeps people out of the kingdom of God. And if our society celebrates it, we can’t both be caring and not say anything. Too much is at stake. This means it is an oversimplification to say that Christians — or conservative evangelicals — are simply against homosexuality. We are against any sin that restrains people from everlasting joy in God, and homosexual practice just gets all the press because, at this cultural moment, it’s the main sin that is so freshly endorsed in our context by the powers that be. Let’s hope that if there’s some new cultural agenda promoting thievery — one that says it’s now our right to take whatever we want from others by whatever means — that Christians will speak out against it. The issue is sin. That’s what we’re against. And that’s what should make our voice so unique when we speak into this debate.

Some would like to see this whole issue of homosexuality divided into two camps: those who celebrate it and those who hate it. Both of these groups exist in our society. There are the growing numbers, under great societal pressure, who praise homosexuality. We might call them the left. And there are people who hate homosexuality, with the most bigoted rationale and apart from any Christian concern. We might call them the right.

Those Glorious Words

The current debate is plagued by this binary lens. Those on the left try to lump everyone who disagrees with them into that right side. If you don’t support, you hate. Meanwhile, those on the right see compromise and spinelessness in anyone who doesn’t get red-faced and militant. If you don’t hate, you support.

But true followers of Christ will walk neither path. We have something to say that no one else is saying, or can say.

Distancing ourselves from both the left and the right, we don’t celebrate homosexual practice, we acknowledge God’s clear revealed word that it is sin; and we don’t hate those who embrace homosexuality, we love them enough to not just collapse under the societal pressure. We speak the truth in love into this confusion, saying, simultaneously, “That’s wrong” and “I love you.” We’re not the left; we say, this is wrong. And we’re not the right; we say, you’re loved. We speak good news, with those sweetest, deepest, most glorious words of the cross — the same words that God spoke us — “You’re wrong, and you’re loved.”

God tells us we’re wrong, that the wages of sin is death, that unrepentant rebellion means judgment, that our rescue required the cursed death of his Son (Romans 3:23; John 3:36; Galatians 3:13). And God tells us we’re loved, that even while we were sinners, Jesus died for us, that while we were unrighteous, Jesus suffered in our place, that though we were destined for wrath, Jesus welcomes us into glory (Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 3:18; Ephesians 2:1–7).

Where the Gospel Shines

You’re wrong and you’re loved — that’s the unique voice of the Christian. That’s what we say, speaking from our own experience, as Tim Keller so well puts it, “we’re far worse than we ever imagined, and far more loved than we could ever dream.”

That’s our message in this debate, when society’s elites despise us, when pop songs vilify us, when no one else has the resources to say anything outside of two extremes, we have this incomparable opportunity to let the gospel shine, to reach out in grace: you’re wrong and you’re loved. We get to say this.

That’s why homosexuality is not like other sins.

How Will I Ever Overcome My Failures?

SOURCE:  Taken from the work of  J. G. Kruis 

Overcoming Sin

     1.  The truth sets us free.

John 8:32. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

  1. By nature we are all slaves to sin, but Jesus sets us free.
    John 8:34–36. Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”
  2. A believer can overcome sin because he is a new creature.
    2 Cor. 5:17. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
  3. God has given us all we need for life and godliness.

2 Peter 1:3. As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.

  1. God requires you to work out your salvation in every area of life.
    Phil. 2:12. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
  2. God enables you to do so; you need not go it on your own.
    Phil. 2:13. For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
  3. God is able to make all grace abound to you, to enable you to overcome any specific sin.
    2 Cor. 9:8. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
  4. We are being transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus.
    2 Cor. 3:18. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
  5. You must keep working at breaking sinful habits and developing new and godly ways.
    Eph. 4:22–24. That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
    Col. 3:9–10. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.
  6. Like a runner in a race, keep pressing on until you have gained the victory.
    Phil. 3:12–14.
  7. Don’t keep dwelling on past failures; nor should you get discouraged and give up after you have failed. Hang in there!
    Phil. 3:13–14. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
  8. Get rid of everything which might hinder you. Persevere!
    Heb. 12:1. Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
  9. One who is saved by grace must no longer serve sin. Keep working at overcoming it, using your body to serve only the Lord.
    Rom. 6:11–22. (Romans 6 contains much good instruction concerning how a Christian must and can overcome sin through the grace and power of God.)
  10. Don’t be mastered by any sin.
    1 Cor. 6:12. All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
  11. Christ, dwelling in us, enables us to overcome sin.
    Gal. 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
  12. Drunkards, homosexuals, idolaters, and others caught up in wickedness can overcome sin by God’s power and grace.
    1 Cor. 6:11. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
  13. Paul, Titus, and others were set free from the power of sin. God gave them victory through the Holy Spirit.
    Titus 3:3–7.
    Titus 3:5–6. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.
  14. Use the infallible Word of God.
    2 Tim. 3:16–17. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
  15. A true Christian will not live in sin.
    1 John 3:6. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.
    1 John 3:9. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
  16. Jude mentions three things that are necessary to remain faithful to God.
    Jude 20–21. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

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Kruis, J. G. (1994). Quick scripture reference for counseling (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

 

Q&A: What’s the Big Deal With Porn?

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article at  Relevant Magazine/Eddie Kaufholz

QUESTION:  I get that porn is frowned upon, but why is it such a big deal to look at it since it doesn’t seem like it’s “as bad” as premarital sex? I mean, if you think about it, it may be corrupting you, but it’s not messing up someone else, just you.

So what’s the big deal?

– Cody

I must begin this answer with a disclaimer: I will fail to fully address this topic. The pandemic issue of pornography is so complex that to fully understand the spiritual ramifications, psychology, economics, and victimization that it causes is more than can be covered in a single advice column.

Having said that, I’m going to specifically answer just your question, Cody. And despite my desire to write a book for you on the sweeping devastation of porn and how a person can begin to escape the throes of this addiction, I’m going to do my best to just stick with your inquiry. So, let’s get to work…

Cody, you’ve asked a fair question: “Why is it such a big deal…”? Well, on a theological level, it’s sin—and sin is a “big deal” (see Romans 6:23). You see, every time a person engages in the consumption of pornography, they’re sinning on multiple levels:

First, they’re having an affair—yes, like the gigantic, devastating kind of affair. Put more clearly: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” —Jesus (Matthew 5:28)

While there may be screens or magazine pages between the victim and the consumer, the mind, heart and body are still behaving in similar ways.

However Cody, you may be saying, “Wait a sec, I’m single, I can’t have an affair. So again, what’s the big deal?” Well, by the letter of the law, I suppose you’re accurate in saying that an affair by definition requires one married person in the equation.

However, there’s also a second level:

“Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”” —Paul (1 Corinthians 6:16)

And here’s where the problem gets really intense.

When a person sleeps with anyone they’re not married to, they may have a belief that it’s just sex. It’s not love or romance, it’s just an opportunity to engage in the most primal of urges, to have fun, to test drive the car. The kicker is, sex is a deeply spiritual act. And unlike animals, God hard-wired in us the opportunity to join emotionally and spiritually as a result of our physical union. We can’t turn the connection off, and those who say they can are lying to themselves. You can’t not be human, it is not possible for us to just be animals and copulate. We become one flesh—it’s our design.

Which leads us back to porn. When someone is engaging in the consumption of pornography, they’re knocking at the door of a real physical connection. And while there may be screens or magazine pages between the victim and the consumer, the mind, heart and body are still behaving in similar ways.

Engaging in pornography is so addictive not just because it alleviates some sexual tension—but because for a moment, it makes the person feel human, loved, spiritually connected, not alone. And it’s those feelings that, when appropriately expressed and realized within the context of marriage, are breathtaking. But when they’re tapped into via a fleeting moment of internet content, there is no question that what’s happening is well outside of any reasonable definition of God’s hope and design for sex.

Cody, pornography is a huge problem for so many reasons. I decided to go with one of the theological routes, but there are endless paths we could have walked down together.

For instance, the problem of porn is staggering not just because of the heart and mind of the consumer, but because there are countless men and women producing this content who are deep in the throes of sexual exploitation and prostitution. Former porn star Shelley Lubben has compiled some vital and sad statistics, which you can read here. These people need our prayer, and they need for people to stop supporting their demise by buying their product. Pornography is also detrimental to future intimacy, in part because it rewires your brain to constantly move from image to image. And the list of problems goes on and on.

However, I want to leave with this: Knowing why pornography is wrong is never going to make anyone stop engaging in it.

It may guilt, shame, and subsequently white-knuckle them into trying to stop. But until a person gets deeper into their story and starts to realize why there’s such a need for connection (and where that connection has been lost) they will never be able to break this addiction.

If you are reading this and you want to stop, but can’t, tell somebody. Meet with a support group, a pastor, a counselor or really anyone you trust. There’s no amount of head knowledge or fact-finding that will suddenly jar you into abstaining. What will break the cycle of addiction is getting open and honest, and finally getting free.

Cody, I really do appreciate you asking this question. I don’t know what your story is or if you were just emailing a hypothetical question. But in the off-chance that this question was personal, please know that there are countless men and women who have recognized what a big deal pornography is, and have subsequently changed their lives. If that’s your reality, know that there’s hope, and that many people will be praying for you and for the bravery it’ll take to ask for help.

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Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/relationships/what%E2%80%99s-big-deal-porn#3Y4wXlGPH46xrZ2Y.99

 

Lord, Forgive all, All, A-L-L My Sins

SOURCE:   tollelege

The Valley of Vision — “Pardon all my sins”

Merciful Lord,

Pardon all my sins of this day, week, year,
all the sins of my life,
sins of early, middle, and advanced years,
of omission and commission,
of morose, peevish and angry tempers,
of lip, life and walk,
of hard-heartedness, unbelief, presumption, pride,
of unfaithfulness to the souls of men,
of want of bold decision in the cause of Christ,
of deficiency in outspoken zeal for His glory,
of bringing dishonour upon Thy great name,
of deception, injustice, untruthfulness in my dealings with others,
of impurity in thought, word and deed,
of covetousness, which is idolatry,
of substance unduly hoarded, improvidently squandered,
not consecrated to the glory of Thee, the great Giver;
sins in private and in the family,
in study and recreation,
in the busy haunts of men,
in the study of thy Word and in the neglect of it,
in prayer irreverently offered and coldly withheld,
in time misspent,
in yielding to Satan’s wiles,
in opening my heart to his temptations,
in being unwatchful when I know him nigh,
in quenching the Holy Spirit;
sins against light and knowledge,
sins against conscience and the restraints of thy Spirit,
sins against the law of eternal love.

Pardon all my sins, known and unknown,
felt and unfelt,
confessed and not confessed,
remembered or forgotten.
Good Lord, hear; and hearing, forgive.

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–Arthur Bennett, ed., “Sins,” in The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1975), 87

 

Abortion: How Does God See Me Now?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Kim Ketola

“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.” (Romans 5:8-9 NLT)

Abortion has created strife that sometimes may spill over into the church. Those who are rightly outraged about the loss of life that happens with each abortion may not be sensitive to the pain experienced by those who learned the truth too late. Or the double pain known to millions of Christian women because we denied what we knew to be true when we chose abortion against our own beliefs.

Kim admits, “Whether through perceived judgment or my own guilt, abortion made me avoid church.” Many women feel like a second-class citizen in church after abortion—caught in the crossfire of abortion politics and personal guilt and shame.

But God’s ways are not our ways. No matter how others may see us . . . or how we see ourselves . . . Jesus looks at us through eyes of love.

God doesn’t hate us for our weakness and our need. He knows we are frail and need his help.

Jesus can help you consider all the circumstances of your abortion and hold you in love as you think it through with him. Even if he doesn’t love what you did, he never stopped loving you. As you mourned, he mourned too.

Jesus sees us through eyes of love. He loves us so much he died for us while we were still sinners. And no matter what we have done, if we will leave it at the cross and trust Jesus, he will make us right in God’s eyes. Jesus does not condemn. He forgives.

Lord, I do need your help. Help me get past my fears and shame and trust you to walk me through this. . . . Help me reach out for your forgiveness and peace. Thank you for loving me. In Jesus’ name . . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …


Cradle My Heart: Finding God’s LOVE After Abortion by Kim Ketola.

Same-sex Attraction: Truth–But No Stone Throwing

SOURCE:  Eric Metaxas/RPM Ministries

Eric Metaxas at BreakPoint shares great wisdom about a humble, grace-oriented approach to speaking about human sexuality. You can read and listen to his thoughts at No Stone Throwing.

Here’s a portion of what Eric shared (headers added by RPM Ministries).

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Think Twice

It’s easy to get angry at someone in open sexual sin. But you might think twice before picking up that stone…. Sometimes we Christians demonize our opponents instead of loving them. We often forget that, apart from the grace of God, we might well be on the other side of the issue.

Truth Is a Person

This is especially true when it comes to the issue of human sexuality. To understand why, we must first remember that, for the Christian, truth is a person: Jesus Christ. We see the world and our place in it in light of the person and work of Jesus.

So we should never forget that just as Jesus was the incarnation of God’s love, mercy, and compassion for us, we are called to model these for our neighbor.

Now this doesn’t mean that we should shy from calling sin by its name — on the contrary, sometimes this is exactly what loving our neighbor requires. But we should do this in sorrow rather than in anger and never out of a sense of condemnation — because we know that since none of us is without sin, none of us gets to cast the first stone.

Humility

So, when we address a hot-button issue like same-sex attraction or same-sex marriage, we should always keep in mind our own struggles and brokenness when it comes to sexuality.

If you are blessed not to have struggled in this area, then recall your struggles in other areas. If you can’t think of any, well, you might want to think about the sin of pride. I’m just saying.

….As Christians know, sex is intended to serve a unitive purpose — it’s supposed to be the physical expression of the spiritual union between husband and wife. As the Bible puts it, “the two become one flesh.”

Seeking in a “Disordered” Manner

It may come as a surprise to many of us, but many people in same-sex relationships are seeking the same thing. The problem is that they can’t achieve what they are seeking, because they are seeking it in what Catholic moral theology calls a “disordered” manner. Likewise, many advocates of same-sex marriage aren’t out to subvert marriage, at least not consciously. They’re pursuing the goods of marriage, all be it, in a disordered fashion.

Thus when we rightly say that the Christian response to same-sex attraction is chastity, we must remember that chastity is difficult enough for heterosexual Christians — who at least have the hope of expressing their sexuality in marriage.

The same is true with same-sex marriage. As God said in Genesis 2, “it is not good for man to be alone.” We were designed for the deep kind of physical and spiritual connection that comes through marriage. So even while we insist that that kind of connection is only available between a man and a woman, we must empathize with and grieve for those who cannot achieve it.

Speak in Love or Don’t Speak

If we can’t, then we should consider keeping our mouths shut. Because if we forget to offer love and support along with the truth, we aren’t much better than the scribes and Pharisees, whom Jesus rebuked for placing heavy loads on people’s shoulders while not lifting a finger to move them.

The world doesn’t need more Pharisees, it needs people who speak the truth in love — love that never forgets Who is the Truth.

Seven Things the Bible Says About Evil

SOURCE:  Johnathon Bowers/Desiring God

How can we reconcile God’s sweeping control over creation with the existence of such horrors as cancer, famine, genocide, sexual abuse, tsunamis, and terrorism? Voltaire sums up the issue nicely in his “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster,” written after the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755:

Ill could not from a perfect being spring,
Nor from another, since God’s sovereign king.

His point is that since God is good, he can’t properly be the source of evil. Likewise, if God is all-powerful, no one else can thwart his intentions. So we’re stuck, it seems. Who’s to blame for the suffering we experience? Though we lack the space here for an extended discussion, let’s consider seven biblical affirmations.

1. Evil is real.

That is to say, we distort the Bible and do ourselves a profound disservice by minimizing the existence of suffering. God invites us to acknowledge our pain. The Psalmist wrote, “I believed, even when I spoke, ‘I am greatly afflicted'” (Psalm 116:10).

2. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

In some ways, talking about a “problem of evil” is a false start. A better quandary to start with would be the problem of sin. How quickly we rush to raise a self-righteous fist while our other hand digs in the cookie jar. “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?” (Ezekiel 18:25).

3. God is good.

Whatever we say about God’s sovereignty over evil (and say we will; see below), we must never imply that God is corrupt, that he somehow nurses a dark side. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).

4. God ordains all things that come to pass, including evil.

God does whatever he pleases (Psalm 135:6). To be sure, this means he clothes lilies and feeds birds (Matthew 6:26, 28). But he also makes lightning (Psalm 135:7). He strikes down firstborn children and kills mighty kings (Psalm 135:8). Our God holds sway over the good, the bad, and the ugly. “I form light and create darkness,” he says. “I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

5. Man is responsible for his actions.

Lest we fall into fatalism, we should remember that God’s sovereignty never excuses wrongdoing. When a man commits murder, the blood is on his hands. “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22).

6. God did not spare his own Son.

The cross speaks to our theology of suffering in at least two ways. First, it shows us that God can will something to happen that he opposes. Proverbs 6:16-17 tells us that God hates “hands that shed innocent blood.” And yet he sent his Son to suffer precisely that fate. Is this a mystery? Absolutely. But it is not nonsense. We can look at evil and with no contradiction say, “This is wrong, and God has willed that it take place.” Listen to how Peter describes the crucifixion: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23, emphasis mine).

Second, the cross demonstrates that God regards our affliction not as something strange to the palette, but as a cup he has drunk to the dregs. By giving up his own Son, God entered into our pain. He knows what it’s like to suffer loss. But he also did more. By putting his Son to grief, God turned grief on its head. “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). This brings us to the final point.

7. Heaven works backwards.

C. S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

Lewis is not being novel here. He is simply restating what Christians have hoped in for centuries, the promise that gives all our suffering purpose: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Johnathon Bowers is Instructor of Theology and Christian Worldview atBethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, MN.

How God Really Sees Me: Am I Condemned? Or Not?

SOURCE:  Living Free

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2 NIV

Condemnation. A distorted reflection . . . and a lie.

We confess our sins to Jesus and He forgives us. When we become a follower of Jesus Christ, He forgives all our past sin. As Christians, when we fall into sin, the Bible promises that if we confess that sin, He is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us (1 John 1:9).

And yet, we persistently hang on to the guilt.

We condemn ourselves and sometimes allow others to condemn us.

If we can get our eyes off the expectations of others and ourselves and look into the mirror of God’s Word, we will see ourselves as God sees us–forgiven, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Here are a few of the reflections found in the Bible–there are many more.

  • I am righteous through faith in Christ. (Philippians 3:9)
  • Christ made me right with God. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • God declares that through Jesus we have been made righteous. (Romans 3:23-24)

Look into God’s mirror. He sees you as forgiven and righteous!

Are you struggling with condemnation?

It can weigh you down, depress you, fill you with fear, and keep you from doing what God has called you to do. God wants us to repent and seek forgiveness. He wants us to try to make things right with others when that is possible. And then He wants us to move on. To learn from our mistakes, but not to dwell on them. He wants us to see ourselves through His eyes–forgiven and righteous.

Father, I thank you that Jesus paid the price for my sins. Thank you that when I repented and confessed my sins to you, you forgave me and cleansed me. Because of Jesus, I am righteous in your eyes. Please help me see myself through your eyes. Help me to walk in the peace of knowing that I am forgiven. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …


Seeing Yourself in God’s Image: Overcoming Anorexia and Bulimia
 by Martha Homme, MA, LPC.

The Reasons for My Suffering

SOURCE:  R.C. Sproul

Suffering and the Glory of God

I once visited with a woman who was dying from uterine cancer. She was greatly distressed, but not only from her physical ailment. She explained to me that she had had an abortion when she was a young woman, and she was convinced that her disease was a direct consequence of that. In short, she believed cancer was the judgment of God on her.

The usual pastoral response to such an agonizing question from someone in the throes of death is to say the affliction is not a judgment of God for sin. But I had to be honest, so I told her that I did not know. Perhaps it was God’s judgment, but perhaps it was not. I cannot fathom the secret counsel of God or read the invisible hand of His providence, so I did not know why she was suffering. I did know, however, that whatever the reason for it, there was an answer for her guilt. We talked about the mercy of Christ and of the cross, and she died in faith.

The question that woman raised is asked every day by people who are suffering affliction. It is addressed in one of the more difficult passages in the New Testament. In John 9, we read: “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (vv. 1–3).

Why did Jesus’ disciples suppose that the root cause of this man’s blindness was his sin or his parents’ sin? They certainly had some basis for this assumption, for the Scriptures, from the account of the fall onward, make it clear that the reason suffering, disease, and death exist in this world is sin. The disciples were correct that somehow sin was involved in this man’s affliction. Also, there are examples in the Bible of God causing affliction because of specific sins. In ancient Israel, God afflicted Moses’ sister, Miriam, with leprosy because she questioned Moses’ role as God’s spokesman (Num. 12:1–10). Likewise, God took the life of the child born to Bathsheba as a result of David’s sin (2 Sam. 12:14–18). The child was punished, not because of anything the child did, but as a direct result of God’s judgment on David.

However, the disciples made the mistake of particularizing the general relationship between sin and suffering. They assumed there was a direct correspondence between the blind man’s sin and his affliction. Had they not read the book of Job, which deals with a man who was innocent and yet was severely afflicted by God? The disciples erred in reducing the options to two when there was another alternative. They posed their question to Jesus in an either/or fashion, committing the logical fallacy of the false dilemma, assuming that the sin of the man or the sin of the man’s parents was the cause of his blindness.

The disciples also seem to have assumed that anyone who has an affliction suffers in direct proportion to the sin that has been committed. Again, the book of Job dashes that conclusion, for the degree of suffering Job was called to bear was astronomical compared with the suffering and afflictions of others far more guilty than he was.

We must never jump to the conclusion that a particular incidence of suffering is a direct response or in direct correspondence to a person’s particular sin. The story of the man born blind makes this point.

Our Lord answered the disciples’ question by correcting their false assumption that the man’s blindness was a direct consequence of his or his parents’ sin. He assured them that the man was born blind not because God was punishing the man or the man’s parents. There was another reason. And because there was another reason in this case, there might always be another reason for the afflictions God calls us to endure.

Jesus answered His disciples by saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v. 3). What did He mean? Simply put, Jesus said that the man was born blind so that Jesus might heal him at the appointed time, as a testimony to Jesus’ power and divinity. Our Lord displayed His identity as the Savior and the Son of God in this healing.

When we suffer, we must trust that God knows what He is doing, and that He works in and through the pain and afflictions of His people for His glory and for their sanctification. It is hard to endure lengthy suffering, but the difficulty is greatly alleviated when we hear our Lord explaining the mystery in the case of the man born blind, whom God called to many years of pain for Jesus’ glory.

God’s Mercy in Messed Up Families

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to find an example of what we would call a “healthy family” in the Bible?

It’s a lot easier to find families with a lot of sin and a lot of pain than to find families with a lot of harmony.

For example, here’s just a sampling from Genesis:

  • The first recorded husband and wife calamitously disobey God (Genesis 3).
  • Their firstborn commits fratricide (Genesis 4:8).
  • Sarah’s grief over infertility moves her to give her servant, Hagar, to Abraham as a concubine to bear a surrogate child (Genesis 16). When it happens, Sarah abuses Hagar in jealous anger. Abraham is passive in the whole affair.
  • Lot, reluctant to leave sexually perverse Sodom, his home, has to be dragged out by angels and then weeks later his daughters seduce him into drunken incest (Genesis 19).
  • Isaac and Rebecca play favorites with their twin boys, whose sibling rivalry becomes one of the worst in history (Genesis 25).
  • Esau has no discernment. He sells his birthright for soup (Genesis 25), grieves his parents by marrying Canaanite women (Genesis 26), and nurses a 20-year murderous grudge against his conniving younger brother.
  • Jacob (said conniver) manipulates and deceives his brother out of his birthright (Genesis 25) and blessing (Genesis 27).
  • Uncle Laban deceives nephew Jacob by somehow smuggling Leah in as Jacob’s bride instead of Rachel (Genesis 29). This results in Jacob marrying sisters — a horrible situation (see Leviticus 18:18). This births another nasty sibling rivalry where the sisters’ competition for children (including giving their servants to Jacob as concubines) produce the twelve patriarchs of Israel (Genesis 30).
  • Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is raped by the pagan, Shechem, who then wants to marry her. Simeon and Levi respond by massacring all the men of Shechem’s town (Genesis 34).
  • Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, can’t resist his incestuous desires and sleeps with one of his father’s concubines, the mother of some of his brothers (Genesis 35).
  • Ten of Jacob’s sons contemplate fratricide, but sell brother Joseph into slavery instead. Then they lie about it to their father for 22 years until Joseph exposes them (Genesis 37, 45).
  • Judah, as a widower, frequented prostitutes. This occurred frequently enough that his daughter-in-law, Tamar, whom he had dishonored, knew that if she disguised herself as one, he’d sleep with her. He did and got her pregnant (Genesis 38).

That’s just the beginning. Time would fail me to talk of:

  • Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10),
  • Gideon’s murderous son, Abimelech (Judges 9),
  • Samson’s un-Nazirite immorality (Judges 14–16),
  • Eli’s worthless sons (1 Samuel –2-4),
  • Samuel’s worthless sons (1 Samuel 8),
  • David’s sordid family (2 Samuel 11–18),
  • Wise Solomon who unwisely married 1,000 women, turned from God, and whose proverbial instruction went essentially unheeded by most of his heirs (1 Kings 11–12),
  • Etc., etc.

Why is the Bible loud on sinfully dysfunctional families and quiet on harmonious families?

Well, for one thing, most families aren’t harmonious. Humanity is not harmonious. We are alienated — alienated from God and each other. So put alienated, selfish sinners together in a home, sharing possessions and the most intimate aspects of life, having different personalities and interests, and a disparate distribution of power, abilities, and opportunities, and you have a recipe for a sin-mess.

But there’s a deeper purpose at work in this mess. The Bible’s main theme is God’s gracious plan to redeem needy sinners. It teaches us that what God wants most for us is that we 1) become aware of our sinfulness and 2) our powerlessness to save ourselves, as we 3) believe and love his Son and the gospel he preached, and 4) graciously love one another. And it turns out that the family is an ideal place for all of these to occur.

But what we often fail to remember is that the mess is usually required for these things to occur. Sin must be seen and powerlessness must be experienced before we really turn to Jesus and embrace his gospel. And offenses must be committed if gracious love is to be demonstrated. So if we’re praying for our family members to experience these things, we should expect trouble.

Family harmony is a good desire and something to work toward. But in God’s plan, it may not be what is most needed. What may be most needed is for our family to be a crucible of grace, a place where the heat of pressure forces sin to surface providing opportunities for the gospel to be understood and applied. And when this happens the messes become mercies.

My point is this: if your family is not the epitome of harmony, take heart. God specializes in redeeming messes. See yours as an opportunity for God’s grace to become visible to your loved ones and pray hard that God will make it happen.

Is Suffering Inevitable?

SOURCE:  Chuck Swindoll

“There’s no getting around it, pain and suffering are inevitable.

Our parents did not escape it, you and I will not escape it, and neither will our children.

According to Philippians 1:29, suffering is here to stay:

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.

“There are some today who say, ‘All suffering is wrong. All who suffer are out of the will of God. If you suffer, you are in sin. And since you are in sin, if you will deal correctly and sufficiently with your sin, your suffering will go away.’

That is simply not the truth.

Scripture does not support such teaching. To be sure, all suffering is rooted in the fact that sin has entered the human race; however, not only has it been granted that we believe in Christ, but it has also been planned that we suffer.”

What Works? What Doesn’t?

When we suffer, our problem solving skills seem to escape us like an evaporating mist on a spring-fed lake. We know the solution lies within the cleansing waters of Christ being poured into us from the depths of our souls.

But the surface is turbulent. We struggle to overcome, and we find ourselves fighting to take our next breath. While everyone is different, a few strategies help us to respond well in times of trial, and some simply leave us gasping for air.

What works …

  • An honest assessment of the trials and suffering in your life
  • Absolute trust in God’s sovereignty
  • Patience, perseverance, and persistence in the face of great difficulty
  • Confidence in God’s ultimate plan for your life
  • Prayer

What doesn’t work …

  • Quick fixes with one-size-fits-all solutions
  • Denial
  • Avoidance
  • Rejecting people who genuinely have our best interests at heart
  • Becoming angry with God

—————————————————————————————
Insight for Living. (2007). Counseling Insights: A Biblical Perspective on Caring for People (565). Plano, TX: Insight for Living.

Parents Need To Confess, Too!

SOURCE:  Dennis Rainey/Family Life

Sinner on Site

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
1 John 1:8

Part of our job as parents is dealing with the sins of our children. Correcting misbehavior, admonishing them for mistakes in judgment and disciplining them for their own good make up a fairly big wedge on the parenting pie chart.

But I believe it’s also important that we never develop the impression that our children are the only ones who ever come up short in the character department. They need to know that the two grown-ups they know best in life confess their sins and need forgiveness, too.

Raising children, perhaps more than any other assignment in life, reveals your true character. The spiritual discipline of admitting your own sin is part of what makes your parenting real and genuine.

I can’t count the number of times I made a mistake and needed to ask one of my children for forgiveness. Like the time one of our children stepped on my favorite fly rod. It not only snapped, but so did I. I grabbed the remaining pieces of that rod and began to break them against my bent leg in a fit of anger.

Barbara was stunned. The children scurried and scattered to their bedrooms like bugs. Thirty minutes later, I called a family meeting and apologized for my sin.

I’m not just talking about when your sin is something directed solely at your children–they also need to hear how you deal with things like covetousness or pride or retaliation. If you are honest about your own sins, they won’t feel so funny admitting them to you, talking about them and learning how you handle them.

Your children need to know they’re living with people who are totally dependent on the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. They need parents who are not afraid to admit they fail and need the Savior’s forgiveness, just like they do.

Rachel Weeping for Her Children — How should Christians think and pray in the aftermath of such a colossal crime?

SOURCE:  Albert Mohler

Rachel Weeping for Her Children — The Massacre in Connecticut

Thus says the LORD:  “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”[Jeremiah 31:15]

It has happened again.

This time tragedy came to Connecticut, where a lone gunman entered two classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and opened fire, killing at least twenty children and six adults, before turning his weapons of death upon himself. The young victims, still to be officially identified, ranged in age from five to ten years. The murderer was himself young, reported to be twenty years old. According to press reports, he murdered his mother, a teacher at Sandy Hook, in her home before the rampage at the school.

Apparently, matricide preceded mass murder. Some of the children were in kindergarten, not even able to tie their own shoes. The word kindergarten comes from the German, meaning a garden for children. Sandy Hook Elementary School was no garden today. It was a place of murder, mayhem, and undisguised evil.

The calculated and premeditated nature of this crime, combined with the horror of at least twenty murdered children, makes the news almost unspeakable and unbearable. The grief of parents and loved ones in Newtown is beyond words. Yet, even in the face of such a tragedy, Christians must speak. We will have to speak in public about this evil, and we will have to speak in private about this horrible crime.

How should Christians think and pray in the aftermath of such a colossal crime?

We Affirm the Sinfulness of Sin, and the Full Reality of Human Evil

First, we must recognize that this tragedy is just as evil, horrible, and ugly as it appears.

Christianity does not deny the reality and power of evil, but instead calls evil by its necessary names — murder, massacre, killing, homicide, slaughter. The closer we look at this tragedy, the more it will appear unfathomable and more grotesque than the human imagination can take in.

What else can we say about the murder of children and their teachers? How can we understand the evil of killing little children one by one, forcing them to watch their little friends die and realizing that they were to be next? How can we bear this?

Resisting our instinct toward a coping mechanism, we cannot accept the inevitable claims that this young murderer is to be understood as merely sick. His heinous acts will be dismissed and minimized by some as the result of psychiatric or psychological causation, or mitigated by cultural, economic, political, or emotional factors. His crimes were sick beyond words, and he was undoubtedly unbalanced, but he pulled off a cold, calculated, and premeditated crime, monstrous in its design and accomplishment.

Christians know that this is the result of sin and the horrifying effects of The Fall. Every answer for this evil must affirm the reality and power of sin. The sinfulness of sin is never more clearly revealed than when we look into the heart of a crime like this and see the hatred toward God that precedes the murderous hatred he poured out on his little victims.

The twentieth century forced us to see the ovens of the Nazi death camps, the killing fields of Cambodia, the inhumanity of the Soviet gulags, and the failure of the world to stop such atrocities before they happened. We cannot talk of our times without reference to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, Pol Pot and Charles Manson, Idi Amin and Ted Bundy. More recently, we see evil in the impassive faces of Osama bin Laden and Anders Behring Brevik. We will now add yet another name to the roll call of mass murderers. His will not be the last.

The prophet Jeremiah knew the wickedness and deceit of the sinful human heart and asked the right question — who can understand it?

Beyond this, the Christian must affirm the grace of moral restraint, knowing that the real question is not why some isolated persons commit such crimes, but why such massacres are not more common. We must be thankful for the restraint of the law, operating on the human conscience. Such a crime serves to warn us that putting a curve in the law will inevitably produce a curve in the conscience. We must be thankful for the restraining grace of God that limits human evil and, rightly understood, keeps us all from killing each other.

Christians call evil what it is, never deny its horror and power, and remain ever thankful that evil will not have its full sway, or the last word.

We Affirm the Cross of Christ as the Only Adequate Remedy for Evil

There is one and only one reason that evil does not have the last word, and that is the fact that evil, sin, death, and the devil were defeated at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. There they were defeated conclusively, comprehensively, and publicly.

On the cross, Christ bore our sins, dying in our place, offering himself freely as the perfect sacrifice for sin. The devil delighted in Christ’s agony and death on the cross, realizing too late that Christ’s substitutionary atonement spelled the devil’s own defeat and utter destruction.

Christ’s victory over sin, evil, and death was declared by the Father in raising Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the ground of our hope and the assurance of the final and total victory of Christ over all powers, principalities, and perpetrators.

A tragedy like this cannot be answered with superficial and sentimental Christian emotivism, nor with glib dismissals of the enormity and transience of this crime. Such a tragedy calls for the most Gospel-centered Christian thinking, for the substance of biblical theology, and the solace that only the full wealth of Christian conviction can provide.

In the face of such horror, we are driven again and again to the cross and resurrection of Christ, knowing that the reconciling power of God in Christ is the only adequate answer to such a depraved and diabolical power.

We Acknowledge the Necessity of Justice, Knowing that Perfect Justice Awaits the Day of the Lord

Charles Manson sits in a California prison, even now — decades after his murderous crimes were committed. Ted Bundy was executed by the State of Florida for multiple murders, but escaped both conviction and punishment for others he is suspected of having committed. Anders Behring Brevik shot and killed scores of young people in Norway, but he was sentenced to less than thirty years in prison. Adolf Hitler took his own life, robbing human courts of their justice, and Vladimir Lenin died of natural causes.

The young murderer in Connecticut took his own life after murdering almost thirty people, most of them children. He will never face a human court, never have to face a human accuser, never stand convicted of his crimes, and never know the justice of a human sentence.

But, even as human society was robbed of the satisfaction of that justice, it would never be enough. Even if executed for his crimes, he could die only once. Even if sentenced to scores of life sentences to prison, he could forfeit only one human lifespan.

Human justice is necessary, but it is woefully incomplete. No human court can hand down an adequate sentence for such a crime, and no human judge can restore life to those who were murdered.

Crimes such as these remind us that we just yearn for the total satisfaction that will come only on the Day of the Lord, when all flesh will be judged by the only Judge who will rule with perfect righteousness and justice. On that day, the only escape will be refuge in Christ, for those who knew and confessed him as Savior and Lord. On that day, those who are in Christ will know the promise that full justice and restoration will mean that every eye is dry and tears are nevermore.

We Grieve with Those Who Grieve

For now, even as we yearn for the Day of the Lord, we grieve with those who grieve. We sit with them and pray for them and acknowledge that their loss is truly unspeakable and that their tears are unspeakably true. We pray and look for openings for grace and the hope of the gospel. We do our best to speak words of truth, love, grace, and comfort.

What of the eternal destiny of these sweet children? There is no specific text of Scripture that gives us a clear and direct answer. We must affirm with the Bible that we are conceived in sin and, as sons and daughters of Adam, will face eternal damnation unless we are found in Christ. So many of these little victims died before reaching any real knowledge of their own sinfulness and need for Christ. They, like those who die in infancy and those who suffer severe mental incapacitation, never really have the opportunity to know their need as sinners and the provision of Christ as Savior.

They are in a categorically different position than that of the person of adult consciousness who never responds in faith to the message of the Gospel. In the book of Deuteronomy, God tells the adults among the Children of Israel that, due to their sin and rebellion, they would not enter the land of promise. But the Lord then said this: “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” [Deuteronomy 1:39]

Many, if not all, of the little children who died in Newtown were so young that they certainly would be included among those who, like the little Israelites, “have no knowledge of good or evil.” God is sovereign, and he was not surprised that these little ones died so soon. There is biblical precedent for believing that the Lord made provision for them in the atonement accomplished by Christ, and that they are safe with Jesus.

Rachel Weeping for Her Children

The prophet Jeremiah’s reference to Rachel and her lost children is heart-breaking. “Thus says the LORD:  ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’” Like Rachel, many parents, grandparents, and loved ones are weeping inconsolably even now, refusing to be comforted for their children, because they are no more.

This tragedy is compounded in emotional force by the fact that it comes in such close proximity to Christmas, but let us never forget that there was the mass murder of children in the Christmas story as well. King Herod’s murderous decree that all baby boys under two years of age should be killed prompted Matthew to cite this very verse from Jeremiah. Rachel again was weeping for her children.

But this is not where either Jeremiah or Matthew leaves us. By God’s mercy, there is hope and the promise of full restoration in Christ.

The Lord continued to speak through Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.”
[Jeremiah 31:16-17]

God, not the murderer, has the last word. For those in Christ, there is the promise of full restoration. Even in the face of such unmitigated horror, there is hope.“There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to your own country.”

————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.,serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

Jesus doesn’t condemn us when we sin

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Roy Borges

Go, and Sin No More

As I lie in my bunk listening to my radio, Rebecca St. James croons, “Go, and sin no more.” The words vibrate off the four walls of my cell. If only I could erase the past and begin again.

The Bible tells a story of a nameless woman whom the scribes and Pharisees dragged before Jesus (Jn. 8:1–11). Like me, she was accused, convicted, and judged. They brought her to Jesus as He sat teaching in the temple.

In a huddled heap, prostrate before Christ, she sobs bitterly. Alone, shivering at His feet, she listens to their indictment. The charge: adultery. The verdict: guilty. The penalty: stoning.

But the undaunted eyes of the omniscient Christ see the religious leaders’ intent with a glance. They came to trap Him.

Seeming to ignore them He stoops and writes something on the ground. The circle of bearded men impatiently watches and waits. Stones are ready in their hands. Suddenly He declares: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn. 8:7).

Again He stoops to write on the ground. One by one the accusers creep away into the crowded street to hide their shame.

Alone now, Jesus looks at the weeping woman at His feet.

“Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?”

Incredulous, she lifts her head for the first time and looks into the eyes of the one who will pay the price for her acquittal.

“No one, Lord.”

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more” (Jn. 8:10–11, paraphrased).

Jesus knows everything about me. I cannot hide anything from Him. But He’s not there to judge, accuse, or condemn me. Man has already done that. Jesus is there to offer forgiveness and to bid me not to sin again.

The past can’t be erased. I have to live with my mistakes. But God can use them for good when I have a contrite heart. God’s grace not only completely forgives; it tells me I can begin again.

When I asked Christ into my heart and felt His forgiveness, like the woman in the story, I saw the greatest miracle of all. It’s more marvelous than creation, more mysterious than the stars, more melodious than a symphony, more fabulous than life itself.

God forgives a sinner like me and sets me on the path of righteousness. “Go now and leave your life of sin,” He beckons. Can I do it?

Not in my own strength. Even though in my heart I desire to please God and I don’t want to sin again, I know I will.

The Apostle Paul put it this way: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Ro. 7:18).

The devil wants me to focus on the disease so I’ll forget the power of the Physician. But God is able to deliver those He has saved. No, I am not free from sin. It will always be present in my flesh. But my sin cannot condemn me because the blood of Christ satisfies God’s justice.

When I’m overpowered by temptation, I cry out to the Lord. My cry will keep me guiltless. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

“Go, and sin no more” is a command and a challenge. It means I can begin again wherever I am because I am trusting Him. When I rely on His strength, He will help me. That’s why He came. His love and mercy see me through whenever I pray, “Lord, forgive me for my sins and give me the strength to ‘go, and sin no more.'”

How To Forgive And Why It’s Good For You

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Sheila said, “I know I’m supposed to forgive my husband for hurting me, but how exactly do I do it? I try but I still feel angry and bad thoughts come into my head. How do I know when I’ve let his offense go?”

I find many believers struggle with the practical application of biblical truths. We know where we want to go, we’re just not sure how to get there. Here’s a roadmap that will help you navigate through the process of forgiving someone.

First, forgiveness is a decision not a feeling. It’s a choice we make. You must decide to work toward forgiving those who have hurt you or sinned against you.

I find that people either forgive too quickly, before doing the emotional work they need to in order to process and get rid of their hurt and anger, or they don’t forgive at all because they have erected large, thick walls of bitterness and resentment.

Jesus tells us to forgive one another, and that alone is a good enough reason to do it, but forgiveness is a good thing to do even for those who don’t know Jesus or believe in him. Long before modern medicine studied the physiological effects of chronic anger, resentment, and bitterness on the body, God knew that harboring these toxic emotions could not only damage our health but also ruin our lives. He warns us to get rid of them promptly.

God knows sin destroys us. It is not the sin that is committed against us that wields the fatal blow. Rather, it is our own sinful reaction to the things that have happened to us. Unresolved anger often turns to depression, self-pity, bitterness and resentment, and these things poison our body and our soul. A person finds healing through the process of forgiveness–both receiving forgiveness and extending forgiveness. That is why God is so insistent that we forgive. He doesn’t want sin to ruin our lives.

Please don’t misunderstand what forgiveness is. Forgiveness isn’t excusing the offender or minimizing their offense. Forgiveness is your decision to cancel the debt they rightfully owe you. Many protest here and become stuck because they are rightly deserving of justice or an apology or some restitution for the offenses done to them. They don’t want to cancel the debt owed because it feels so unfair to them. Yet if they are waiting for the person to repent, apologize or show remorse, they may wait a very long time.

In the Old Testament story, Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery. Joseph’s obedience freed him to be used by God in Egypt. But Joseph never initiated reconciliation with his betrayers—nor did he expose himself to them when he first saw them again. Why? He did not trust them. He was kind and gracious to them because he forgave them, but he tested them to see if they had repented and changed their jealous and self-centered ways. Joseph invited them back into relationship with him after they passed the test (see Genesis 42–46). Joseph’s forgiveness and his brothers’ repentance were both necessary to bring reconciliation andrestoration to their relationship.

Some of you may never see repentance from the person who hurt you. Sandy lived stuck in her past, angry that her father abused her. She refused to give up her anger until “he admits what he did and says he’s sorry.” When she confronted him and asked for an apology, he told her she was crazy and denied everything she accused him of doing. That left her waiting for something that may never happen. She allowed her father to continue to ruin her present and her future because he would not do what she longed for him to do. Sandy’s anger and lack of forgiveness wasn’t hurting Sandy’s father. He lived selfishly just as he always did. It was Sandy’s life that was hurt by her angry and bitter heart. Finally forgiving her father released Sandy from those toxic emotions. Her father will still have to give an account for what he did to Sandy, only it will be God, not Sandy who will judge him.

In my own life, forgiveness usually comes in steps and cycles. It is not a one-time, over-and-done-with event. First, I decide to forgive, exercising my will. Then I begin the process of letting go, releasing the anger, the hurt and my desire to retaliate. I appeal to God for justice and turn the situation over to him. I also ask him to help me see my offender and myself differently. This is very helpful. When God shows me my own sinful nature and the things I am capable of doing, then I can have some genuine compassion for my offender because, but for God’s grace, I may have done the same thing. I no longer want to see my offender only as someone who did something wrong, but also as someone who has done some things right. I no longer want to see him or her as a victimizer, but as a person with weaknesses of character and a sinful heart, just like me.

When hurtful memories surface and I’m tempted to dwell on the wrongs done to me, I continue this process and keep at it until the negative emotions and thoughts are no longer in the front of my mind. They are fading and moving to the past, right where they belong.

To practice forgiveness, walk regularly through these four steps: Decide—Begin—Continue—Keep at it.

As we do this, we are changing. We are no longer defining ourselves by what has happened to us, but we are instead seeing ourselves by what God is doing in us. Our healing becomes a powerful conduit for God’s love and grace to flow to others, and we can honestly say what Satan meant for evil, God is using for good.

The nature and effects of anxiety

SOURCE:  John Piper

What’s the Deal with Anxiety?

Think for a moment how many different sinful actions and attitudes come from anxiety.

Anxiety about finances can give rise to coveting and greed and hoarding and stealing.

Anxiety about succeeding at some task can make you irritable and abrupt and surly.

Anxiety about relationships can make you withdrawn and indifferent and uncaring about other people.

Anxiety about how someone will respond to you can make you cover over the truth and lie about things.

So if anxiety could be conquered, a mortal blow would be struck to many other sins.

. . . One of the most important texts has been one I underlined when I was 15 — the whole section of Matthew 6:25–34. Four times in this passage Jesus says that his disciples should not be anxious.

  • Verse 25: “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life.”
  • Verse 27: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span?”
  • Verse 31: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?'”
  • Verse 34: “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow.”

Anxiety is clearly the theme of this text.

It makes the root of anxiety explicit in verse 30: “But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will he not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?”

In other words, Jesus says that the root of anxiety is inadequate faith in our Father’s future grace. As unbelief gets the upper hand in our hearts, one of the effects is anxiety. The root cause of anxiety is a failure to trust all that God has promised to be for us in Jesus.

Future Grace, (Multnomah, 1995), 53–54, bulleted list added.

Reconciling with Others

SOURCE:  John MacArthur/Grace to You

Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. – Matthew 5:25–26

The time for reconciliation with others is always now, just as it is with salvation. Tomorrow may be too late. No excuse is valid to allow bitterness, anger, hatred, or any other sin to keep us separated from another person. Jesus illustrates here that we should make good on any debt or settle any grievance before it is too late and we’re imprisoned.

In the Roman Empire, two opponents at law could settle an issue on the way to court, but not after a judge became involved. To avoid judgment and imprisonment, the guilty person had to pay “the last cent,” or everything owed in debt.

Being thrown into prison and not being able to get out until a debt is paid is Jesus’ analogy to the Father’s punishment. We can’t miss the Son’s teaching here: we must make every effort possible, with no delay, to mend any broken relationship with a brother before we can avoid divine chastening and have a right relationship with God.

We know that because of sin, none of us is ever completely at peace or perfectly related to another. And since it’s impossible to have perfectly right attitudes toward others or God, no worship is ever fully acceptable. All of Jesus’ teachings in this passage and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount show us again the utterly perfect standard of God’s righteousness and the absolute impossibility of our meeting that standard on our own.

Ask Yourself

There’s no denying the pain of strained and severed relationships. But there’s nothing like knowing you’ve done everything you can to make it right. Can you live in the Lord’s peace even if nothing changes?

From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008.

When [I] Look Like Satan

SOURCE:  Adapted from a post by  John Piper

When People Look Like Satan

God made humans to reflect his image and advance the display of his glory over the created world (Genesis 1:26–28). But Adam failed in this commission.

Rather than have dominion over the serpent he succumbed to its craftiness. As Greg Beale explains, “Instead of wanting to be near God to reflect him, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 [so also 3:10])” (NTBT, 359).

Sin brought chaos and disorder. Things got all messed up. In fact, things became so backwards that Adam could be seen as actually supressing the image of God to reflect the image of the serpent, like a back-story to Romans 1:18–25.

Adam was the first human idolator who became something he was not supposed to become, looking more like the snake than he did his Creator. Beale explains how:

“Idol worship” should be defined as revering anything other than God. At the least, Adam’s allegiance had shifted from God to himself and probably to Satan, since he came to resemble the serpent’s character in some ways.

[He Lied]
The serpent was a liar (Genesis 3:4) and a deceiver (Genesis 3:113). Likewise Adam, when asked by God, “Have you eaten from the tree of the which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11), does not answer forthrightly. Adam replies, “The woman whom you gave me to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). Adam was deceptively blaming Eve for his sin, which shifted accountability from him to his wife, in contrast to the biblical testimony that Adam, not Eve, was accountable for the fall (e.g., see Romans 5:12–19).

[He Didn’t Trust God’s Word]
In addition, Adam, like the serpent, did not trust the word of God (with respect to Adam, see Genesis 2:16–173:6; with respect to the serpent, Genesis 3:14–5). Adam’s shift from trusting God to trusting the serpent meant that he no longer reflected God’s image but rather the serpent’s image. . . .

[He Exalted Himself]
[Adam] not only stood by while his covenantal ally, Eve, was deceived by the serpent, but also decided for himself that God’s word was wrong and the devil’s word was right. In so doing, perhaps Adam was reflecting another feature of the serpent, who has exalted his code of behavior over and against the dictates of God’s righteous standard. But, if not, certainly Adam was deciding for himself that God’s word was wrong. This is precisely the point where Adam placed himself in God’s place — this is worship of the self.

G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 359f., headings and full biblical citations added.

Adam was a deceiver. He didn’t trust God’s word. He exalted his standard above’s God’s in the worship of himself. Humans, created to image the majesty of God, rebelled and imaged the character of the serpent. This was the fall.

And it’s not just Adam’s story, it’s our story, too.

Sin is not a thing we can just sweep under the rug. It’s not a little this or that. Oh no. Sin is most fundamentally our acting like Satan instead of reflecting the glory of God.

Think about that for a moment.

Fudging on the truth, spinning things a bit, ignoring God’s word, elevating our reason above what he’s said — these are neither struggles nor foibles, they are Satanic. It is to deny the most fundamental purpose we exist: to glorify God and bear the imprint of his holiness.

One motivation to a life of repentance is to see our sin for what it truly is.

Forgiving Your Spouse After Adultery

SOURCE:  Cindy Beall

Four lessons from my journey of regaining trust in my husband.

Editor’s Note: In 2002, Cindy Beall was a happily married wife to Chris, her husband of nine years. Chris had been on staff with a church in Oklahoma City for only six weeks when he made a confession that would change their lives forever: He had been unfaithful with multiple women over the course of two and a half years, and he was pretty sure one of those women was now pregnant with his child. He also admitted an addiction to pornography. 

His complete inability to control his addiction had left Chris utterly broken, humbled, and repentant. Over the course of several weeks and much prayer, Cindy sensed God calling her to stay in her marriage. The following is an excerpt from her book, Healing Your Marriage When Trust Is Broken, which tells the story of how God redeemed their marriage, making it “better than new.”

Every week I receive e-mails from women who ask many questions about getting through infidelity in their marriage.  Of all the questions I am asked, one of the most common is, “How did you learn to trust him again?”

And every time I give the same answer: “I am still learning.”

I would love to be able to come up with the perfect algebraic formula that shows exactly how to restore trust. But that isn’t going to happen—not because I barely squeezed out of algebra with a 71 percent, but because trust and forgiveness don’t exist in the land of numbers. They are born of God’s grace, mercy, and healing.

You don’t have to have endured infidelity in your marriage to lose trust. Trust can be broken in many different ways. I am still on my journey of having my trust restored in my husband, but I have learned a few things that I hope you will find helpful.

1. Trust means taking a risk.

My husband works hard to regain my trust, but I still struggle. I wish I could say otherwise, but I’d be lying.

Isn’t that the way it is with all of us? I’ve come to realize that we are all capable of doing things we never imagined we’d do. So trusting a person is a risk. We must learn to trust people, but we must also realize that people will fail us. It’s part of life. But if we place our utmost trust in our heavenly Father, we will never be let down.

There is a mental battle going on inside me as I strive to trust my husband more every day. I engage in this battle on a regular basis, and it can be exhausting. But the more I do it and believe what God has shown me, the easier it becomes.

I stand on the one thing that is trustworthy and never fails. I stand on the Word of God. Praise Him that His words are sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). There is power in them, and when we claim them, believe in them, stand on them, and trust in them, we will be lifted up. We will find peace.

2. Replace anger with forgiveness.

We’ve all been wounded. I am no stranger to the pain I see in the eyes of so many people. We can try to cover it up and “get over it,” but if we don’t truly forgive, we will be stunted individuals going about our lives and becoming more and more embittered. Forgiveness is essential. It’s also possible.

The Bible doesn’t mince words when it comes to forgiveness. We don’t have to wonder what our heavenly Father thinks about the idea. He’s the author of forgiveness, and we’d do well to follow His commands. Matthew 6:14-15 says, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, you Father will not forgive your sins.”

Ouch. That stings a bit, doesn’t it? Especially when you’ve been wounded by someone you’ve loved as unconditionally as possible. It sounds like a cruel joke to expect us to just let it go, doesn’t it?

Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” If you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you know that you have a sinful nature. If we don’t recognize that nature, we won’t recognize our need for a Savior. We also need to understand and remember the true meaning of God’s love. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). If we truly understand God’s forgiveness, can we really withhold our forgiveness from those who have hurt us?

3. Stop nursing your wounds.

It can become second nature to tend to our wounds with such care that we begin to identify only with the wound and not with a life of healing or restoration. When something reminds us of our pain, we nurse the hurt and then just can’t get past it. It’s almost as if we forget that we, too, need a Savior. We’re so busy saying, “Look at my hurt!” that we forget to give it over to God.

Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sure, I haven’t been unfaithful to my husband physically, but I have committed sins, too. And when we sin, we are not just sinning against one person; we are also sinning against our heavenly Father.

I know how hard this is. I am profoundly aware of how badly my flesh wants to throw my husband’s sin back in his face when he gets mad at me for something small. I know how easily I could remind him of his failures and make sure he knows just how picture-perfect my marital resume is. But reacting like that will never bring about forgiveness.

4. Don’t wait until you feel like forgiving.

One of the harder parts of forgiveness is that we don’t always feel like forgiving. The problem is that feelings are often misleading and erratic. I learned a long time ago that you rarely feel your way into positive actions, but you can act your way into better feelings. You may not really want to wake up at five for that morning run, but you do it anyway. Afterward, you are so glad you made the extra effort because you feel good and have more energy. There is great satisfaction in making a choice to do something that your flesh was yelling at you not to do! You acted your way into a feeling.

How to know you’re healing

The results of forgiveness look different for everyone. Some relationships will be mended in spite of betrayal, and some will end because of it. The key, though, is to make sure you are healing from this wound. You don’t want to get a knot in your stomach every time you think about this person, especially if he or she is your spouse.

Here’s one way you can know you have healed from a wound caused by someone else: You cease to feel resentment against your offender. My mentor says, “You know you’ve healed from the hurt that someone else’s actions have caused when you can look back on the situation and it’s just a fact.”

We all make mistakes. We all have done things we regret. We all need forgiveness. And we all need to extend that same forgiveness to others—not just today, but every day.

It’s time to forgive.

——————————————————————————————–

Taken from: Healing Your Marriage When Trust is Broken. Copyright © 2011 by Cindy Beall.  Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR.  Used by permission.

Cindy Beall is a writer, speaker, and mentor to women. She and her husband, Chris, share openly about their journey of redemption through Chris’s infidelity and pornography addiction.

Even When… God is…

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 61

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Certainly, God takes no pleasure in what is hurtful (Ezek. 33:11), and he is never the author of sin (James 1:13-14; I John 1:5). Yet, for his eternal purposes, he sometimes allows suffering and permits unjust acts by men and women whom he decides not to restrain, even though he has the power to do so… Even when sinful and painful things are happening, God is somehow exercising ultimate control and working things out for his good purposes.

Food for Thought

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

From war and rumors of wars, to politics and politicians, to road rage and playground rage, it is tempting to bow our heads in despair. Hate is strong. The song of peace is mocked. But even when it sounds as if there is no peace, you and I must remember the deeper, truer song of His word. God is in control. And He is working for his good purposes.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1864

Living With an Angry, Abusive or Violent Spouse

SOURCE:  Edward T. Welch/CCEF

No matter how bad your situation is, remember that you are not alone.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

It shouldn’t happen.

You married someone you trusted, and you gave yourself to that person. How could it be that the person you once trusted with your life now acts like the person who could take your life? Whether you are facing unpredictable anger or outright physical abuse, this is betrayal at its worst.

It just shouldn’t happen.

A quick scan of the Internet reveals that you are certainly not alone. Twenty-five percent of adult women say they have experienced violence at the hands of their spouse or partner in a dating relationship. Men, too, can be victims of spousal violence. Eight percent report at least one such incident. But since men are more often violent against women, and since women are typically weaker than angry or violent men, this article is written especially for women.

If you have experienced violence, and you are living scared, statistics are little comfort. Women who live in identical conditions don’t protect you or give you hope for peace and reconciliation. But the numbers do remind you that others know the pain of such a living situation, and that resources are available to help you.

You are not alone: There are people who want to help.

Where can you turn for help?  Where can you find a wise friend to guide you?

If you attend a church, talk to your pastor. If you don’t attend a church, find one in your area. Look for a church that is centered on Jesus Christ and believes what the Bible says about Him—that He is the Son of God who came to earth, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and is the living and powerful head of His church today. Find a community of people who worship this Jesus and who express their worship in love for one another. There you will find hope and direction.

You are really not alone: Listen to the God who hears.

Your long-term goal should be to know the personal God. This won’t magically change your situation, but you will find that knowing God does change everything. Think about it for a moment. What would it be like to know you are not alone, you are heard, and the One who hears is acting on your behalf? It would make a difference. It would especially make a difference if you knew that this person was the holy King of the universe.

The challenge, of course, is that, at this time in history, you cannot see God with your eyes. When you want real hands and feet to help you, the knowledge of God’s presence might seem to provide very little consolation, but don’t let your senses mislead you. God’s presence is a real spiritual presence. The Spirit will confirm this, and “Blessed are those who have not yet seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29, ESV).

How do you know that the invisible God of the universe is with you? Look at the evidence from the past. The Bible is full of stories about God hearing the cries of His people and coming to their rescue.

In Genesis, the first book in the Bible, a woman named Hagar and her young son, were unfairly sent from their home and left in the wilderness to die. She turned her back on her son so she wouldn’t have to watch him die, and they both wept. They thought they were utterly alone, but “God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation’” (Genesis 21:17, 18).

This is a pattern. God’s ears are finely tuned to tears. Like a mother who wakes at the sound of her child, God hears the cries of the oppressed.

We see this again when God’s people, the Israelites, cried out because of their slavery in Egypt (Exodus 2:23, 24). Like Hagar, the people were not even crying out to God; they were simply crying, and God heard. While some people can hear and do nothing, when the God of heaven and earth hears, He acts. He gave Hagar and her son water and made her son the father of a great nation. He responded to the cries of the Israelites by delivering them from their slavery in Egypt.

So don’t think that God merely listens. His listening always includes action. We may not see all of what He is doing, but, make no mistake, He is acting.

You are not alone: The God who hears wants to listen to you.

God wants you to direct your cries and fears to Him. Does that seem impossible? If so, He will help you to find the words. Psalm 55 can get you started.

“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest…For it is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.”
 (Psalm 55:4-8; 12-14)

Psalm 55 has given a voice to human betrayal for centuries. If the words fit your experience, then you are now part of a much larger body of people who have sung this psalm and made it their own. One person in particular leads the singing. Yes, King David wrote this psalm, but he wrote it on behalf of the perfect King who was to come after him. It is Jesus’ psalm, and you are sharing in His Words (read Mark 14). He was the innocent victim of evil people. He was tortured and suffered a terrible death at their hands. To be part of His chorus, all you have to do is follow Him.

Indeed, you are not alone.

The God who hears is against injustice.

The God who came to this world as Jesus and experienced oppression and injustice also stands against it. When people are oppressed by those who have authority or physical power, God pronounces grief and judgment on the oppressors.

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.”  (Jeremiah 23:1-3)

This doesn’t mean you should silently gloat, “Yeah, go ahead. You’ll get yours some day.” As you probably know, women who are victimized usually don’t think like that. It’s more likely that you feel guilty, as if somehow you are the cause of judgment on your spouse. But neither response is what God intends. He wants you to respond by depending on Him to be your defender. He wants you to trust that He is hearing your cries and is going to act on your behalf.

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

Most likely, you are numb, scared, confused, and paralyzed. If this describes you, then you might know some action steps, but taking one will seem impossible. There is no trick to taking a first step; you just have to do it.

Start by making a phone call to your pastor or a friend. You need help, and God’s hands and feet often are the friends He raises up to help you. Look for God’s help to arrive from God’s people.

You have many reasons why you don’t ask for help. One is that you don’t know exactly what kind of help you need. For example, you aren’t eager for someone to confront your husband because you are afraid he will get even angrier at you. You don’t want to leave. So what’s left to do? Your path isn’t clearly marked, and you’re not sure what to do next. That makes it even more important for you to ask for help from someone else.

Don’t let your sense of guilt or shame paralyze you.

Another reason you might not ask for help is because you are experiencing something shameful. You’re probably asking, “What kind of wife gets treated this badly by her husband?” The wrong answer to that question is, “Only a bad wife could elicit such a response from someone sworn to love her.”

The truth is that you are not to blame for the cruel anger of another person. Even if you incite anger (and that is rarely the case), there is never any excuse for cruelty.

Put it this way: You cannot make someone else sin. Sin comes from our own selfish hearts. Your spouse, when he is sinfully angry, is caring only about himself and his own desires (James 1:13-15). He will try to make it sound like it’s your fault—there isn’t a victimized woman in the world who doesn’t feel like she is somehow at fault—but his sin is his alone.

If necessary, find refuge.

If you’ve been physically hurt by your spouse, and he continues to threaten you, then you should get protection. If children are threatened, this is essential. Every county in the United States has domestic abuse hotlines that will provide you with resources. Protection from abuse orders are available though your local courthouse. Friends may have an extra room or two. As you think about how to keep youself and your children safe, please find someone to discuss this with you and guide you. God’s wisdom says that the more important the decision, the more critical it is to receive counsel from wise people.

The reality is that most women who are suffering like you don’t take these steps. Some who do quickly renege on them and go back to the abusive situation. Why? Fear of retaliation, fear of aloneness, love for the perpetrator, hope that things at home will change, and the lingering guilt that says, “It’s your fault.” These are powerful tugs that make decisive action very difficult.

With this in mind, you can see how important it is to listen for the consensus among the wise people around you. If you have fears and doubts about their counsel, voice them.

Distinguish between loving your spouse and wanting to be loved by your spouse.

Here’s a hard distinction, but it can go a long way toward bringing you sanity. Have you noticed that in all relationships we balance our commitment to love with our desire to be loved? Usually the scales are tipped in favor of wanting to be loved. Your goal is to tip the scales towards a commitment to love.

This is the way to avoid the twin contaminants of most relationships—anger and fear. When you need someone more than you love that person, you will be prone to anger, because you don’t get the love that feels so critical to you. You will also be prone to fear, because the other person has the power to give or withhold what you think you need.

When you set your sights on your commitment to love, the possibilities are limitless. Love gives you the clarity to make difficult decisions on the fly. Should you speak out or be quiet?   Love can guide you more than you realize. Even going to someone else and asking for advice and help with your difficult relationship can be an expression of love. You need help because you care about your spouse. His foolish, selfish lifestyle is not only hurting you, but it’s also hurting him because it’s spiritually self-destructive. Love wants to warn the fool. It wants to rescue, if possible, the self-destructive person from the wrath of God.

Love can be patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13). It can rebuke (Leviticus 19:17). It can stand against injustice and confront another person in their sin (Matthew 18:15-17). The challenge is to keep the scales tipped in love’s favor.

You can only do this when you remember that God always tips the scales in love’s favor in His relationship with you. No matter how moral you have been, you have not been perfectly faithful to the one who created you. But instead of withdrawing in anger, God pursues you even when you don’t want to be pursued.

Find the book of Hosea in your Bible (it’s in the Old Testament), and read the first three chapters. You will get a picture of God as the relentless lover of His people. Although His people repeatedly reject Him, He will not give them up or let them go.

As you know and experience God’s pursuing love, your love for others will become stronger than your desire to be loved. Trusting in God’s love will free you to love others the way you have been loved. After all, when we were God’s enemies, He extended His call of love to us (Romans 5:10). Since God loved us like this, we should expect that we will have the opportunity to love others in the same way. The Bible calls this overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:20).

Learn to disarm an angry person.

Outfitted with love, you have more power than you think. Love comes from the Spirit of the living God, the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. Whenever you encounter the Spirit in the Bible, you encounter power. The power, of course, is the power of wisdom and love, and there are times when it can disarm an angry man.

Because of the limitless possibilities of love, let wise friends brainstorm and pray with you. Here are some things that the Spirit of power can help you do when you are faced with an angry spouse:

    • Ask him why he thinks you are the enemy.
    • Leave the house when he is sinfully angry.
    • Go and get help instead of being silenced by your shame and his threats.
    • Accept responsibility for your own sinful responses, and not accept responsibility for his.
    • Tell him what it is like to be the recipient of his anger and hatred. Angry people are blind to how they hurt others.
    • Ask him if he thinks that he has a problem.
    • Speak with a humility that’s more powerful than anger. When in doubt, you could ask what he thinks you did that was wrong. You don’t have to defend your reputation before him.
    • If he claims to want to change, ask him what steps he is taking to change.
    • Keep James 4:1-2 in mind. You are witnessing his selfish desires running amok. Be careful that you don’t become an imitator of such behavior.
    • Don’t minimize his destructive behavior. Sinful anger is called hatred and murder (Matthew 5:21, 22).
    • Read through the book of Proverbs underlining all the sayings about anger. Proverbs like “reckless words pierce like a sword” will validate your experiences (Proverbs 12:18).
    • Remember, it is possible to overcome evil with good.

This is only a sketchy list. The details will have to be worked out within your community of counselors. What guarantees do you have? God doesn’t guarantee the momentary peace and quiet you might be longing for; instead He promises you something much more lasting. He promises that as you turn and trust Jesus Christ you will become more like Him; that His Spirit will help you love more than you need to be loved; that God will be with you, He will hear and act on your behalf; and that although the Spirit of God is the one who changes hearts, you have more power than you know—the power to both know and promote peace.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Is it wrong to leave, even if my husband is violent?   Isn’t marriage a permanent commitment?   

The Bible does emphasize that marriage is a covenant that should not be broken unless we have God’s permission (Matthew 19:6). Do you have permission when there is domestic violence? Know this for certain: God opposes such evil and intends care for the oppressed (Jeremiah 23:1-3). Such care can sometimes be found in finding a place for refuge and protection. If you need to leave and seek safety, that is not necessarily a first step toward divorce. It is better understood as a statement of hope and a desire to see change in the marriage relationship.

You are right that these decisions are difficult. Therefore, ask for help. Ask your pastor to guide you in the knowledge of what God says.

Can angry men change?

This question can be heard two ways. First, “I want a relationship. Can my spouse change?” The answer is yes, absolutely! God changes all kinds of people. If He can change us, when we see that our hearts are prone to selfishness and quickly stray from trusting Him, then He can certainly change people who are like us.

You probably already believe that God has the power to change anyone. Your biggest struggle will be to put your hope in God more than you put your hope in your husband changing. When you put your hope in God, you live on a rock. When you put your hope in a person, you will feel like a life raft let loose on the open sea.

Second, this question might be about the process of change. You might be really saying something like this, “My husband has promised to change so many times, but we end up at the same place. Can he change, or is there a deeper problem?” Sin is hard to leave, in part, because we like it. In the case of abusive anger, the angry person might like the sense of power and control. If your husband says he wants to change, then he should have a plan. This plan should include at least the following things:

    • Accountability: He must be willing and able to speak openly about his sinful behavior to others who can help
    • Confession: He must be able to understand and confess that his anger has been destructive, recognize that his behavior is ultimately against God, and learn to hate his sin.
    • Growth in the knowledge of the true God: All the best intentions are not enough to bring about deep change. The real problem with angry men is their arrogance and “hatred toward God” (read James 4:1-10), in which case they must both confess their sin against God and set out on a course of knowing and fearing Him.

      —————————————————————————

      Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF).

“The Lord Rebuke You, Satan!”

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/David Daniels

Acquitted!

Satan’s Accusations Are No Match For Jesus’ Defense.

The problem started during “the rockets’ red glare.” My six-year-old was playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” for his elementary school talent show. For several months, Pearson had been learning to play piano by ear, and my wife and I were thrilled that he was confident enough to show off his skills to a listening public.

However, he missed one note—just one among a hundred.

When the piece concluded, the audience erupted in thunderous applause, but Pearson clearly was discouraged. After the show, I cut through the crowd to congratulate him for a fabulous job. His feelings of disappointment and self-criticism burst like bombs and destroyed his ability to bask in my praise. In his mind, he was a failure.

Like Pearson, I sometimes allow even the smallest errors to stifle my sense of success. I can spend multiple weekends crafting a project in my woodshop. Then, after all my hours of sawing, gluing, sanding, and finishing, friends will compliment me on my accomplishment. They marvel at the masterpiece, but I see the mistake.

Such is the tension of living as a Christ follower.

All of us carry past stains or flaws that Satan uses to convince us that we are failures. Like a wrong note or a crooked cut that seems to nullify an otherwise great job, past sin—though confessed and forgiven—can overshadow the abundant, joyful life we have in Christ.

At these moments, we need a reminder of grace. When the devil points out our spiritual blemishes and accuses us of sin, God provides an immediate defense to help us reflect on the past but not dwell there.

Court in Session

The exiled Israelites also struggled to overcome guilt for past sins. During the second year of his reign, the Persian king Darius permitted them to return home to Jerusalem. They had been taken captive generations earlier by the Babylonians, not because they were militarily inadequate but because of sin. The Israelites had traded the worship of God for idols, the holiness of God for sensuality, and the justice of God for selfishness. So God made their home like their hearts. Their city walls were demolished, their temple was destroyed, and their people were deported to live as aliens in a foreign land.

Ezra, one of the leaders during the time of their return, reflected on the reason for their defeat:

From the days of our forefathers until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.

—Ezra 9:7

God’s people were under God’s discipline. He had used shaping, sharpening circumstances to correct them and redirect the course of their lives. Although God disciplined them out of love to produce the fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:6, 11), it was nonetheless painful.

At Israel’s return to Jerusalem, this pain was unbearable. As the leaders stood atop piles of debris, they surveyed a city in disrepair and wept. The rocks and rubble were reminders of their former depravity and God’s severe discipline. How could they ever hope to receive His favor again?

Israel’s discouraging circumstances set the stage for the courtroom drama that unfolds in Zechariah 3. Zechariah was a prophet called by God to speak to Israel as they were rebuilding the city and temple. In a vision Zechariah received from God, the spiritual representative of God’s people stood before the angel of the Lord. Satan was also present—as the prosecutor.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.

—Zech. 3:1

This vision depicts the ongoing spiritual battle we, as God’s people, face every day: As we work toward restoration, the enemy attacks with accusation.

Accusation is one of Satan’s primary strategies. His name means “accuser” or “one who opposes.” In Rev. 12:10, he is called the “accuser of [the] brethren” (NASB). After he traps us in sin through temptation, he overwhelms us with reminders of our failure.

A scene from The Lion King clearly illustrates this strategy. The villain, Scar, leads his nephew, Simba, into the middle of a wildebeest stampede. Simba’s father dies attempting to rescue his son, and Scar blames the young cub for the devastating outcome. His accusations consist of a wickedly covert combination of “no one will ever know” followed by “I told you so.”

Satan repeatedly uses the same tactic against Christians.

Our accuser lures us into sin and then puts us on trial when we take the bait. Even after we’ve confessed and sought forgiveness, he continues to condemn us for our failures.

In Zechariah’s vision, “Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel” (Zech. 3:3). I know exactly how Joshua must have felt: exposed, ashamed, unworthy. The devil’s attacks cause me to question my position before God, the cross’s power over sin, and God’s protection from eternal judgment. First, I experience guilt—that painful sense that I am unclean and unforgivable. Second, my heart floods with doubt: Does God still love me? Is the cross big enough for my sin? Third, I drift into fear, wondering whether I really am saved; perhaps I have lost the eternal security I once possessed. Finally, I slip into hopelessness—that discouraging sense of irreversible defeat.

For the Defense

Fortunately, there were three people in the courtroom Zechariah saw. As soon as the devil stood to deliver his prosecution, the Lord rose to defend His servant:

The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?…Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it, says the Lord Almighty, and I will remove the sin of this land in one day.

—3:2, 8–9

The courtroom judge became a criminal advocate. This is a picture of amazing grace. When the devil harasses us, God rises to our rescue.

God based His defense on His promise to send a servant, the life-giving “Branch” who would remove the sin of the people in a single day and deal with their failure once and for all. What God’s people at that time could only imagine, we enjoy fully today. Through Jesus Christ, God is both “just and the justifier” (Ro. 3:26, NASB). The Apostle John summarizes this remarkable assurance when he writes, “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 Jn. 2:1). Because of Christ’s work on the cross, the one who can damn me rises to defend me instead.

The remainder of Zechariah’s vision spells out Jesus’ threefold defense.

Grabbed by God

First, we have been chosen by grace. In verse 2, the Lord vigorously reprimands the enemy:

The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?

The people of Israel understood grace. Their nation was the fulfillment of the covenant (Genesis 12) in which God selected Abram to be the father of His chosen people, not because of his great ancestry, spiritual potential, moral lifestyle, or good looks, but as an act of grace. So when Satan’s accusations came, the Israelites could lean on the fact that their relationship with God wasn’t initiated or earned by them . They didn’t grab God; He grabbed them like sticks snatched from a fire. Therefore, their position with God was secure. Likewise, Jesus assured His followers, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn. 15:16).

Grace is difficult to grasp. I earn an income. My children earn an allowance. I earn a degree, a promotion, and a reputation. When the telemarketer enthusiastically informs me that I’ve won a free cruise, I laugh. Because nothing in life is free.

Except salvation.

Paul affirms this great truth by reminding his readers that our salvation is a free gift not based in any way on our merit (Eph. 2:8–9). None of us is strong enough, smart enough, or good enough to crawl out of the fire of judgment. We are simply sticks snatched away by Jesus, the righteous Branch.

Fortunately, we cannot undo what we did not earn. Since God chose us even with the stain of past sin, He doesn’t reject us when we experience present failure. His grace not only reaches to the depth of our deepest sin; it also reaches far enough to cover our sin day after day after day. Just as our goodness didn’t secure our salvation, so our sin cannot endanger it. When we are reminded of our imperfections, we can rejoice in the unfailing grace of God.

Squeaky Clean

Each year my oldest son, Grant, enjoys a summer camp tradition called Buffalo Hunt. During this activity, preteens chase their counselors through mud pits trying to steal token rubber bands from their wrists. By the end of the game, Grant’s clothing is so dirty, so stained, so foul, that even the strongest detergents can’t clean it.

Literature sent out before camp warns, “Have your child wear something that can be thrown away.” At least the camp is honest. The shorts and shirt are unredeemable. They’re filthy. They must be discarded.

So must our sin.

God doesn’t excuse, ignore, or minimize our sin. He calls it what it is. Joshua was “dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel [of the Lord]” (Zech. 3:3). The word filthy means “covered with excrement.” Sin is like dung in the presence of God. There is nothing that can be done but to strip it away and throw it out.

And that’s exactly what God does for Joshua:

The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.

—3:4

The ugliness of our sin is removed by the ugliness of the cross. Christ died to make us clean. That’s our second defense.

First Corinthians 6:9–11 describes sin’s repulsiveness and God’s remedy:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

I will never forget the first time I read those words. After the first few verses, inadequacy tumbled into hopelessness. The wicked have no inheritance in the kingdom of God! As far as I could tell, my life was hidden in the list of sinners.

Then suddenly, the passage changed direction. “That is what some of you were”—past tense (emphasis mine). I used to be a sinner wrapped in filthy rags. That was my identity. But I was washed by Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God.

Whenever a person comes to Christ, the old is stripped away (2 Cor. 5:17). God removes our sinful nature and gives us a new, Spirit-infused one. He also takes away the guilt or stain of our sin, throwing our transgressions “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12) and forgetting them forever. Finally, He takes away our fear of condemnation (Ro. 8:1) so that we can live at peace with Him. We are not old stuff veneered to look brand new. We have been completely renovated, with all sin, guilt, and fear stripped away. So when we hear the voice of accusation, we can rejoice that we are clean!

New Threads

As quickly as Joshua’s clothes were removed, rich garments and a clean turban were brought out, and he was dressed in fine array. Not only was he clean; he was clothed.

Just before I was married, I purchased an antique wardrobe as a gift for my new bride. Because the auction find was covered in years of dirt and neglect, I spent many evenings after work stripping off decades of stain and varnish to reveal a beautiful mahogany cabinet. But the removal of the old was only half the restoration process. I also needed to reapply stains and sealants to protect the furniture from further abuse.

After God removes our sin, He redresses us in a new fashion. He clothes us in “garments of salvation” and arrays us in “a robe of righteousness” (Is. 61:10). This completes our defense against Satan’s prosecution. Our new clothes seal us from further accusation by identifying us as God’s children.

In the story of the prodigal son, when the wayward young man comes to his senses and decides to return to his father’s house and admit his failure, he hopes that he can at least have a room among the lowest servants. Instead, the gracious father receives his son with open arms and, after a moment of celebration, demands that a new robe, sandals, and the family ring be brought to the son. After all, a son must look like family, not like a hired servant.

In Gal. 3:27, Paul writes that “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” As believers, we are wrapped in Him and His righteousness. This is our new identity. We are no longer strangers, but children. Not aliens, but heirs. Not enemies, but friends. Not sinners, but saints genuinely changed by Jesus forever.

I must be careful not to define myself by anything—positive or negative—other than the righteousness of Christ. I am not essentially Type A or a perfectionist or a pastor. My Christian friend isn’t an alcoholic, a divorcée, or an entrepreneur. There are no workaholics, Olympic champions, middle-classers, Gen-Xers, financial experts, or introverts in the kingdom of God. All that our Father sees is the righteousness that He has put on us. Everything else is a limiting, often unfair label—not an accurate indicator of our new identity in Christ.

This is our greatest defense against the devil. When he calls us a failure, a fraud, a hopeless sinner, we may stand firm on the truth that we are nothing less than righteous offshoots of the Divine Branch. Our life in Christ is simply learning to live what is already true about us.

Almost 200 years ago, Edward Mote penned words for a hymn that take on greater meaning in light of Zechariah’s vision:

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,

All other ground is sinking sand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

I have no other hope than what Christ has done for me and in me. I cannot trust any identifying factor in my life other than the righteousness of Jesus that He gained for me at the cross. I stand on the foundation of Jesus. The last verse of this affirming song summarizes this truth:

When He shall come with

trumpet sound,

Oh may I then in Him be found.

Dressed in His righteousness alone,

Faultless to stand before the throne.

Faultless. Without accusation. The devil may point his finger at us, but we stand innocent before the throne of the Eternal Judge because we stand clothed in Christ.

Case Closed

In November 1999, I conducted a private memorial service for four unborn children. Wesley, Richie, Jessica, and Drew had been aborted years earlier, and their mothers wished to honor them. As you can imagine, the service was filled with intense reflection, grief, and loss. If anyone faced the temptation to sink into the depths of unworthiness, these women did. But something had happened to each of them in the years since their regretted decisions. They had discovered a new life in Christ. They knew they didn’t have to bear the burden of their offenses. They had been chosen by grace, they were cleansed of sin, and they were clothed in Christ.

Grace triumphed. Jesus stood for them. They had been acquitted, and court was adjourned.

Leaving The Past — Stepping Into The Future

SOURCE:  Adapted from Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Ministry

[Try] as I may, I find that my brokenness and past sin are sometimes like a huge stone hanging around my neck. Carrying that stone causes guilt, shame, weakness, and at times, causes me to avoid certain opportunities and experiences. I know and believe I have been forgiven, but I struggle with laying down that stone and walking away from it. Many people share this struggle, do you?

Our yesterdays hold broken and irreversible experiences for us. It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return, but God can transform those mistakes and sins, the destructive guilt and anxiety, into constructive thought and hope for a transformed and transforming future. We don’t have to hold onto distorted lenses from past wounds and mistakes. But we do have to look back and re-examine them through Godly lenses, letting God into and heal our past so we can have clear lenses to see Him, ourselves, and daily experiences that He brings into our life today.

Trusting God’s forgiveness is a big and difficult stretch … for most, myself included, really receiving God’s forgiveness takes time. For me, I had to work up to this huge step of trust by practicing, implementing, and applying trust in much smaller areas of life and in my relationship with God. Then I was able to absorb His forgiveness in the bigger areas of my life. You can, too.

Trusting Him when there is an illness … a flat tire … change of plans … someone else is in charge … a deadline is changed … a random bill comes into your life … protection for your children is needed … feeling unloved or valueless. Like any skill, starting small, practicing, and then stretching it can lead to powerful capabilities. Trust is the same way. Trusting in His power of forgiveness is one of the richest skills you can develop. Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Jesus Christ.

Today, leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into your invincible future with Him. Start by trusting Him, His agenda, promises, character, and instruction in 3 small situations today. You probably already do, but acknowledge and identify it so you can apply it to bigger, tougher areas tomorrow. Your decision, choose well.

Prayer
Dear Mighty and Forgiving God, I can easily become paralyzed with shame, guilt, and fear over my past. I have hurt You … and I know I have hurt others. I am so thankful for Your promise of forgiveness – Thank You, Lord. I ask You, Father, to help me lay down the heavy stone of my past that I have been carrying. Let me remember and be accountable for my past brokenness and sin … but let it not keep me from moving toward You with freedom. I pray in the name of the one whom You sent to lift the burdens of my past, Jesus Christ –AMEN!

The Truth
But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
Isaiah 52:12

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.
Jeremiah 33:8

Bruised and Mutilated by Sin

The Bruised Reed

SOURCE:  John Macduff (by Deejay O’Flaherty)

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”  Isaiah 42:3

When a human soul is bruised and mutilated by sin, He (God) casts it not away. He repairs it for its place in the heavenly instrument, and makes it once more to show forth His praise.

Look at David, the Psalmist of Israel.

Who more a “bruised reed” than he?

God had inspired his soul—made it a many-stringed instrument in discoursing His praise; but now it lay a broken mutilated thing, with the stain of crimson guilt upon it, tuneless and mute. “I kept silence,” says he; “my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me, my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”

Does Jehovah desert him?—does He cast the reed away and seek to replace the void by another, worthier and better? Does He mock the cry of penitential sorrow as through anguished tears that stricken one thus implored forgiveness—”Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving-kindness, according to the multitude of Your tender mercies blot out my transgressions”?

No.

Hear him detail his own experience—”I acknowledged my sin to You, and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’—and You forgave the guilt of my sin.” And then he takes up the re-tuned instrument, and sings for the encouragement of others—”Let everyone who is godly pray to You while You may be found.”

In the case of some aromatic plants, it is when bruised they give forth the sweetest fragrance; so it is often the soul crushed with a sense of guilt which sends forth the sweetest aroma of humility, gratitude, and love.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

——————————————————————————————-

Macduff, John Ross, a Presbyterian minister, was born at Bonhard, near Perth, Scotland, May 23, 1818, and educated at the high school of Edinburgh and in the university of the same city. He became a minister of the Church of Scotland in 1842. Among his pastorates was one of fifteen years in the city of Glasgow. In 1871 Dr. Macduff gave up the pastoral relation. He is the author of a number of volumes in prose and poetry, some of which have great practical and devotional value and have a wide circulation. Most of his hymns appeared in his Altar Stones, 1853, and in The Gates of Praise, 1876. He died April 30, 1895. The Universities of Glasgow and of New York each conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity.

SHAME: Misplaced Vs. Well-Placed

Battling the Unbelief of Misplaced Shame

SOURCE:  John Piper/Desiring God

2 Timothy 1:6-12

Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. 8 Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, 10 and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 and therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.

The Definition and Causes of Shame

Let’s start with a dictionary definition of shame. Shame is the painful emotion caused by a consciousness of guilt or shortcoming or impropriety.

Let me illustrate each of those causes.

  1. First, the cause of guilt. Suppose you act against your conscience and withhold information on your tax returns. For a couple years you feel nothing because it has been put out of your mind, and you weren’t caught. Then you are called to account by the IRS and it becomes public knowledge that you lied and you stole. Your guilt is known. Now in the light of public censure you feel the pain of shame.
  2. Or take the cause of shortcoming. In the Olympics suppose you come from a little country where you are quite good in the 3,000-meter race. Then you compete before thousands of people in Seoul, and the competition is so tough that by the time the last lap comes up, you are a whole lap behind everyone else, and you must keep running all by yourself while everyone watches. There’s no guilt here. But the humiliation and shame could be intense.
  3. Or take the cause of impropriety. You are invited to a party and you find out when you get there that you dressed all wrong. Again, no evil or guilt. Just a social blunder, an impropriety that makes you feel foolish and embarrassed.

Well-Placed Vs. Misplaced Shame

One of the things that jumps right out at you from this definition of shame is that there is some shame that is justified and some that isn’t. There are some situations where shame is exactly what we should feel. And there are some situations where we shouldn’t. Most people would say that the liar ought to be ashamed. And most people would probably say that the long distance runner who gave it his best shot ought not to feel ashamed. Disappointment would be healthy, but not shame.

Let me illustrate from Scripture these two kinds of shame. The Bible makes very clear that there is a shame we ought to have and a shame we ought not to have. I’m going to call the one kind, “misplaced shame” and the other kind “well-placed shame.”

Misplaced shame (the kind we ought not to have) is the shame you feel when there is no good reason to feel it. Biblically that means the thing you feel ashamed of is not dishonoring to God; or that it IS dishonoring to God, but you didn’t have a hand in it. In other words, misplaced shame is shame for something that’s good—something that doesn’t dishonor God. Or it’s shame for something bad but which you didn’t have any sinful hand in. That’s the kind of shame we ought not have.

Well-placed shame (the kind you ought to have) is the shame you feel when there is good reason to feel it. Biblically that means we feel ashamed of something because our involvement in it was dishonoring to God. We ought to feel shame when we have a hand in bringing dishonor upon God by our attitudes or actions.

I want to be sure you see how important God is in this distinction between misplaced shame and well-placed shame. Whether we have a hand in honoring God or dishonoring God makes all the difference. If we want to battle shame at the root, we have to know how it relates to God. And we DO need to battle shame at the root—all shame. Because both misplaced shame and well-placed shame can cripple us if we don’t know how to deal with them at the root.

So let’s look at some Scriptures that illustrate misplaced shame and some that illustrate well-placed shame.

Misplaced Shame

2 Timothy 1:8

Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God.

What this text says is that if you feel shame for testifying about Jesus, you have a misplaced shame. We ought not to feel shame for this. Christ is honored when we speak well of him. And he is dishonored by fearful silence. So it is not a shameful thing to testify, but a shameful thing not to.

Secondly the text says that if you feel shame that a friend of yours is in trouble (in this case: prison) for Jesus’ sake, then your shame is misplaced. The world may see this as a sign of weakness and defeat. But Christians know better. God is honored by the courage of his servants to go to prison for his name. We ought not to feel shame that we are associated with something that honors God in this way, no matter how much scorn the world heaps on.

Mark 8:38

Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Shame is misplaced when we feel it because of the person or the words of Jesus. If Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” and others laugh and call it unrealistic, we should not feel ashamed. If Jesus says, “Fornication is evil,” and liberated yuppies label it out of date, we should not feel shame to stand with Jesus. That would be misplaced shame because the words of Jesus are true and God-honoring, no matter how foolish the world may try to make them look.

1 Peter 4:16

If one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God.

Suffering and being reproached and made fun of as a Christian is not an occasion for shame, because it is an occasion for glorifying God. In other words in the Bible the criterion for what is well-placed shame and what is misplaced shame is not how foolish or how bad you look to men, but whether you in fact bring honor to God.

This is so important to grasp! Because much of what makes us feel shame is not that we have brought dishonor on God by our actions, but that we have failed to give the appearance that other people admire. Much of our shame is not God-centered but self-centered. Until we get a good handle on this, we will not be able to battle the problem of shame at its root.

Romans 1:16

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

The reason shame in the gospel would be a misplaced shame is that the gospel is the very power of God unto salvation. The gospel magnifies God and humbles man. And so to the world the gospel doesn’t look like power at all. It looks like weakness (asking people to be like children and depend on Jesus, instead of standing on their own two feet). But for those who believe it is the power of almighty God to save sinners.

2 Corinthians 12:9–10

Jesus said (to Paul),

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly exult in my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Now ordinarily weaknesses and insults are occasions for shame. But for Paul they are occasions for exultation. Paul thinks that shame in his weaknesses and shame at insults and persecutions would be misplaced shame. Why? Because the power of Christ is perfected in Paul’s weakness.

I conclude from all these texts that the biblical criterion for misplaced shame is radically God-centered. The biblical criterion says, don’t feel shame for something that honors God no matter how weak or foolish it makes you look in the eyes of unbelievers.

Well-Placed Shame

The same God-centeredness will be seen if we look at some texts that illustrate well-placed shame.

1 Corinthians 15:34

Come to your right mind, and sin no more. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

Here Paul says that these people ought to feel shame. “I say this to your shame.” Their shame would be well-placed if they saw their deplorable ignorance of God and how it was leading to false doctrine (no resurrection) and sin in the church. In other words well-placed shame is shame for what dishonors God—ignorance of God, sin against God, false beliefs about God.

1 Corinthians 6:5

The Christians were going to secular courts to settle disputes among themselves. Paul rebukes them.

I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood?

Again he says they should feel shame: “I say this to your shame.” Their shame would be well-placed because their behavior is bringing such disrepute upon their God as they fight one another and seek help from the godless to settle their disputes. A well-placed shame is the shame you feel because you are involved in dishonoring God.

And let’s not miss this implication: these people were trying their best to appear strong and right. They wanted to be vindicated by men. They wanted to be winners in court. They didn’t want anyone to run over them as though they had no rights. That would look weak and shameful. So in the very act of wanting to avoid shame as the world sees it, they fell into the very behavior that God counts shameful.

The point is: when you are dishonoring God, you ought to feel shame, no matter how strong or wise or right you are in the eyes of men.

Ezekiel 43:10

And you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple and its appearance and plan, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities.

God says Israel ought to feel shame for its iniquities. Sin is always a proper cause for shame because sin is behavior that dishonors God.

(See also Romans 6:212 Thessalonians 3:14 for more instances of well-placed shame.)

We can conclude from all these texts that the biblical criterion for misplaced shame and for well-placed shame is radically God-centered.

The biblical criterion for misplaced shame says, don’t feel shame for something that honors God, no matter how weak or foolish or wrong it makes you look in the eyes of men. And don’t feel shame for bad circumstances where you don’t share in dishonoring God.

The biblical criterion for well-placed shame says, DO feel shame for having a hand in anything that dishonors God, no matter how strong or wise or right it makes you look in the eyes of men.

Now how do you battle this painful emotion called shame? The answer is that we battle it by battling the unbelief that feeds its life. And we fight for faith in the promises of God that overcome shame and relieve us from its pain.

Three Instances of Battling Misplaced Shame

Let me illustrate with three instances.

1. When Well-Placed Shame Lingers Too Long

In the case of well-placed shame for sin the pain ought to be there but it ought not to stay there. If it does, it’s owing to unbelief in the promises of God.

For example, a woman comes to Jesus in a Pharisee’s house weeping and washing his feet. No doubt she felt shame as the eyes of Simon communicated to everyone present that this woman was a sinner and that Jesus had no business letting her touch him. Indeed she was a sinner. There was a place for true shame. But not for too long. Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). And when the guests murmured about this, he helped her faith again by saying, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (v. 50).

How did Jesus help her battle the crippling effects of shame? He gave her a promise: “Your sins are forgiven! Your faith has saved you. Your future will be one of peace.” So the issue for her was belief. Would she believe the glowering condemnation of the guests? Or would she believe the reassuring words of Jesus that her shame was enough? She’s forgiven. She’s saved. She may go in peace.

And that is the way every one of us must battle the effects of a well-placed shame that threatens to linger too long and cripple us. We must battle unbelief by taking hold of promises like,

There is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared. (Psalm 130:4)

Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked man forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord that he may have mercy on him and to our God for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6)

If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:15)

Every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:4313:39)

2. Feeling Shame for Something That Glorifies God

The second instance of battling shame is the instance of feeling shame for something that is not even bad but in fact glorifies God—like Jesus or the gospel.

Our text shows how Paul battled against this misplaced shame. In verse 12 he says, “Therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”

Paul makes very clear here that the battle against misplaced shame is a battle against unbelief. “I am not ashamed FOR I KNOW WHOM I HAVE BELIEVED AND I AM SURE OF HIS KEEPING POWER.” We fight against feelings of shame in Christ and the gospel and the Christian ethic by battling unbelief in the promises of God. Do we believe that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation? Do we believe that Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness? The battle against misplaced shame is the battle against unbelief in the promises of God.

3. Feeling Shame for Something We Didn’t Do

Finally, the last instance of battling shame is the instance where others try to load us with shame for evil circumstances when in fact we had no part in dishonoring God.

It happened to Jesus. They called him a winebibber and a glutton. They called him a temple destroyer. They called him a hypocrite: He healed others, but he can’t heal himself. In all this the goal was to load Jesus with a shame that was not his to bear.

The same with Paul. They called him mad when he defended himself in court. They called him an enemy of the Jewish customs and a breaker of the Mosaic law. They said he taught that you should sin that grace may abound. All this to load him with a shame that it was not his to bear.

And it has happened to you. And will happen again. How do you battle this misplaced shame? By believing the promises of God that in the end all the efforts to put us to shame will fail. We may struggle now to know what is our shame to bear and what is not. But God has a promise for us in either case:

Israel is saved by the Lord with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity. (Isaiah 45:1749:23)

No one who believes in the Lord will be put to shame. (Romans 10:119:33)

In other words, for all the evil and deceit,  judgment and criticism that others may use to heap on us a shame that is not ours to bear, and for all the distress and spiritual warfare it brings, the promise stands sure that they will not succeed in the end. All the children of God will be vindicated. The truth will be known. And no one who banks his hope on the promises of God will be put to shame.

Sin Must NOT Keep You Away From Jesus!!

Does sin trouble you?

SOURCE:  Charles Spurgeon

Does sin trouble you?

Then remember that it is written, “All manner of sin and of blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men.”

Remember this again, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

And hear yet again this word, “Come now, and let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Do you know, I feel right happy to have to talk to you about this, and yet I feel a dart going through me lest I should not speak of it as I ought to do; for, oh, I would that poor troubled sinners would see that sin need not deter them from coming to a reconciled God.

The blood of Jesus Christ has already removed from before the throne of justice all the transgressions of all those who come and rest in Jesus.

If you believe in the Savior sent of God, your sin is already gone, and you are accepted in the Beloved.

——————————————————————————————————–

From a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon entitled “Clearing The Road To Heaven.” 

“Should I Try to Forget My Past?”

SOURCE:  Dr. Robert Kellemen

As a biblical counselor, people often ask me the important question, “Should I try to forget my past?”

I first respond with a one-word answer. “No.”

Then I respond with a blog-size answer using the words:

• Remember

• Reflect

• Repent/Receive/Renew

• Reinterpret

• Retell

• Resources

Remember

Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t forget the past. It’s impossible. More importantly, it’s ungodly.

Memory is our God-given capacity to store and recall what we have experienced and learned. Remembering is part of our design by creation—before the fall into sin. “Remember” is used 167 times in the Bible (NIV), thus reminding us of the importance of remembering.

Some people mistakenly interpret Philippians 3:13 to mean that we should try to forget our past. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” The Greek word for “forget” does not mean not to remember, but not to focus my attention on. More importantly, the biblical context is whether Paul would focus his attention on his works of the flesh, attempts at self-righteousness, and putting confidence in the flesh, versus focusing on Christ’s righteousness and the power of Christ’s resurrection.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is a testimony to the biblical value of remembering. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia” (2 Cor. 1:8a). Throughout the epistle, Paul recalls and rehearses a litany of past suffering.

Reflect

In a similar way, the Psalms are a biblical testimonial to the power and value of remembering face-to-face with God. I call it reflecting.

People typically ask about forgetting in the context of dealing with past suffering—being sinned against, or dealing with past sin—sinning against others. I believe that attempting to refuse to remember our past can actually be a symptom of sin.

Trying to suppress past memories of pain (either regarding our suffering or sin) can be a refusal to face and deal with life. It can be an attempt to deal with pain apart from God. We could compare such attempts to self-sufficient “coping mechanisms” such as drinking and drugs—where we try anything to numb our pain, emptiness, or guilt.

In my book, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I describe how the Psalmists, Job, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul remember face-to-face with Christ through “candor and complaint/lament.” In biblical candor, we’re honest with ourselves regarding our past and present. In biblical complaint/lament, we’re honest with God regarding our past and present.

Rather than attempting to forget, we are to bring to mind past external events and our current internal thoughts and feelings and bring them to Christ. As I put it in the book, “No grieving, no healing. Know grieving, know healing.” Reflecting on our past is our admission to ourselves and God that we can’t handle our past on our own, that we desperately need Christ.

Repent, Receive Grace, Renew

When our memories of the past relate to our past sin, Christ’s soul-u-tion is to remember, repent, and receive grace. “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:5).

In Psalms 32 and 51, David models remembering, repenting, receiving grace, and renewing his life by God’s Spirit. Rather than trying the impossible and sinful mental activity of suppressing the memory of his sin, David recalls to mind his sin against God. He repents deeply not only of behavioral sin, but of heart motivational sin.

Having repented, David receives grace—he accepts God’s gracious forgiveness and prays for shalom—a conscience at peace with the God of peace. He then prays that the Spirit would renew a right spirit within him so that he could turn from his path of sin (put off) and return to the path of righteousness (put on).

Reinterpret

But what do we do with our emotional agony when we remember past suffering—being sinned against? God’s Word is clear. We never forget, we re-member.

Think about that word: re-member. To put our memories back together again, to shape our memories through God’s eternal grid.

In God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I use the life of Joseph to portray how God wants us to remember and then reinterpret our past with spiritual eyes. There I call it “weaving.”

In Genesis 50:20 and 45:4-8, Joseph refuses to forget. He calls to mind his suffering past with these words. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

In the Hebrew, the word “intended” can be used in a physical sense for weaving together a tapestry, such as Joseph’s coat of many colors. It can be used in the metaphysical sense in a negative way for weaving together an evil scheme or plot, such as Joseph’s brothers did. Or, it can be used in a positive sense of God weaving together good out of evil.

How do we deal with our past suffering? We look at life with spiritual eyes by bringing to bear God’s eternal narrative, spiritual 20/20 vision, and larger story perspective. Weaving is re-membering—to create wholeness using God’s perspective to bring meaning to our suffering.

That’s how, like Joseph, we find hope when we’re hurting. That’s how, like Joseph, we grant forgiveness to those who have caused our suffering. In so doing we can say, “I grieve, but I don’t despair.”

Retell

Being human involves shaping our personal experiences into stories or narratives. That’s part of our God-given capacity of memory. We shape our sense of self and who we are in Christ from our retelling of our experiences.

As spiritual friends, it is when we listen carefully and compassionately to one another’s most important stories that we gain access to how our friends are attempting to make sense of themselves in the context of their past experiences. Our one-to-one relationships and our small group meetings should be places where we retell our stories.

In God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I discuss how the retelling process moves us from “weaving” to “worshipping.” In worshipping we are committed to finding God even when we can’t find answers. We are committed to knowing God more than knowing relief from our past. We worship God by retelling our stories like Joseph did—in a way that honors and glorifies God and His role in redeeming our past (see Genesis 45:4-8).

There is no power in forgetting our past. God doesn’t want us to pretend. Of all people, as Christians we must be the most honest about our past. We must remember, reflect, repent/receive/renew, reinterpret, and retell.

Resources

Two biblical counseling resources that I think you will find helpful in dealing with your past are:

• God’s Healing for Life’s Losses: How to Find Hope When You’re Hurting by Bob Kellemen.

• Putting Your Past in Its Place: Moving Forward in Freedom and Forgiveness by Steve Viars.

Forgiveness: Coming Home to God’s Embrace

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Paul Thigpen

When Wycliffe Bible translator Bob Russell sought a word for “forgiveness” in the language of the Amahuacas of eastern Peru, he discovered their unique way of asking one another for pardon. In that culture, if an offender wants to be reconciled with someone he’s offended, he says to him, “Speak to me.”

Russell learned that Amahuacas who are unreconciled typically refuse to speak to each other. So when the offender asks the offended to speak, it’s the equivalent of saying, “Show me we’re friends again by being on speaking terms once more.”

The many biblical terms translated in English as “forgive” reflect a beautiful array of meanings: to cancel debts; to lay aside or to cast away sins; to spare, to cleanse, to rescue, or to free the sinner. Yet the Amahuaca expression strikingly translates what is the most important biblical meaning of God’s forgiveness—above all, it is a reconciliation, the restoration of a friendship with Him that has been marred by sin.

The prophet Isaiah put it this way:  “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Is. 59:2).

Our wickedness is an offense to God’s holiness, and we aren’t on “speaking terms” until the offense is forgiven. But Christ’s sacrifice has made a way for us to be reconciled.

For [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins . . . Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

—Col. 1:13–14, 21–22

The sins that came between God and us can be cast aside so that we can be friends again.

All other meanings of the word forgiveness must be seen in the light of this one. As the various biblical terms imply, our debts have indeed been remitted, our punishment has been averted, our hearts have been cleansed and set free, our lives have been spared—and all with a single purpose in mind: that we might receive the greatest gift of all, to be once again “on speaking terms” with our Father in heaven.

Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, we’re relieved to be swapping our smelly rags for a silken robe and our pigs’ pods for a fat-calf feast (see Lk. 15:11–32). But what could possibly match the thrill of seeing our Father—the one whose heart we broke with our sin—running toward us with open arms? He has welcomed us home again!

It takes two.

If God has gone to such great lengths to reconcile us, why do we sometimes fail to experience His marvelous forgiveness? Instead of returning to our Father as the prodigal son did, why do we so often wallow with the pigs, far away from home?

It’s not that God’s grace isn’t great enough or that some sins provoke Him so mightily that He refuses to forgive. It’s simply that God’s offer of forgiveness is essentially an offer of friendship. Since friendship takes two, our response is critical.

Those who have accepted God’s great offer of reconciliation through Christ may sometimes fail to experience His forgiveness in concrete situations because of certain attitudes or behaviors that are somehow marring their relationship with Him.

I had a close friend in college who always seemed to be short of cash. One day he asked me for a small loan. As he well knew, I didn’t have much money to spare, but I made the loan on the condition that he pay it back by a certain date when I would need it to pay a bill.

That date came and went, and the loan remained unpaid. At first I was upset, because I had to scramble to pay my bill. But I was well aware of his situation, so I let go of my anger and determined to cancel the debt for the sake of our friendship.

Yet there was a problem:  Because my friend knew he was guilty of breaking his promise and causing me hardship, he started avoiding me. He no longer dropped by my dorm room and never returned my phone calls. He began eating in a different dining hall so he wouldn’t run into me.

In short, he lived every day under a cloud of shame that ruined our friendship. And his failure to come to me and talk about his offense denied me the chance to say, “I forgive your debt.”

Opening Ourselves to Forgiveness

In a similar way, experiencing divine forgiveness and its proper fruit depends in part on our right response to God. Scripture reveals several responses that help us open ourselves to receive God’s forgiveness in its fullness. Consider these.

Confess your sin. The scriptural promise of forgiveness for our daily failures includes an important condition: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9, emphasis mine).

King David tells us how his own failure to admit his sin blocked his reception of God’s forgiveness.

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long. . . .
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions
to the Lord”—
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

—Ps. 32:3, 5

In a sense, our refusal to confess our sins to God is a refusal to be “on speaking terms” with Him. If we would be reconciled, then we must admit to the sins that are damaging our friendship with Him.

Practice humility.   We can’t ask God to forgive our sin—and we can’t accept His forgiveness for it—when our pride keeps us from even recognizing that we’ve sinned. Our Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector vividly demonstrates this obstacle to forgiveness (Lk. 18:9–14).

The tax collector was painfully aware of his failings, beating his breast and crying out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” (v. 13). The Pharisee, on the other hand, was self-righteous (v. 11), patting himself on the back for all his good deeds. Yet despite all the Pharisee’s religious accomplishments, his relationship with God was flawed by pride, and pride is blind to its own evil. Not surprisingly, then, Jesus tells us that the humble tax collector went home forgiven, but the proud Pharisee did not.

Fight against habits of sin.   Like the conscience blinded by pride, the conscience blinded by habitual sin is unable to recognize its need for grace. Perhaps the most startling scriptural example of a hardened conscience is the mocking thief crucified next to Jesus, whose cruel and blasphemous attitude suggests that his heart had been calloused by his crimes (Lk. 23:39). His scorn of Jesus’ sacrifice and his lack of any remorse stand in stark contrast to the humble plea of the other thief, who rebuked the impenitent criminal for failing to see that they both deserved their punishment (vv. 40–43).

The same gift of grace appeared to both men; the same possibility of forgiveness was offered to both. One, because of a seared conscience, refused grace and was lost forever. The other, though equally a sinner, accepted grace—and gained paradise with the Lord.

We may not refuse God’s grace altogether as the one thief did. But if we persevere in a particular kind of sin until it no longer disturbs us, we may become like those whom Paul described as having “consciences . . . seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). Our friendship with God will be damaged by the sin we no longer regret.

Recognize the seriousness of sin.   Even when we must admit to ourselves that some aspect of our attitude or behavior is sinful, we may nevertheless convince ourselves that the sin is of little consequence. Yet only when we recognize the true seriousness of even “small” sins are we able to experience fully God’s forgiveness of them.

Remember the “woman who had lived a sinful life” and who came to Jesus while He was the guest of Simon the Pharisee (Lk. 7:36–50)? She wet the Lord’s feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured costly perfume on them. When this scandalized Simon, Jesus observed that her extravagant behavior reflected her own keen awareness of the seriousness of her sin: She was able to love Him deeply, to enjoy an intimate fellowship with Him, because she knew how great was the debt she had been forgiven.

In contrast, Jesus pointed out, Simon had received Him rather coldly. The Lord compared the Pharisee to a man who “loves little” because he “has been forgiven little.” Self-righteous Simon probably took that to mean that he didn’t have any serious sin to be forgiven. But knowing Jesus’ explicit and repeated condemnations of pharisaical pride and hypocrisy, we might more reasonably conclude that Simon’s problem wasn’t that his sin was insignificant. He had simply failed to recognize just how serious it was, and thus he had failed to accept forgiveness for it.

Recognize grace as a costly treasure.   God’s grace is free, but it isn’t cheap: It cost Him the most precious life of His Son. If we fail to recognize the steep price that was paid to reconcile us to God—if we view forgiveness as cheap—then we’ll place little value on our restored friendship with God, and we’ll be more likely to persevere in sin.

The writer to the Hebrews recognized the seriousness of this problem. He warned that those who “deliberately keep on sinning” (10:26) have actually devalued and despised God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ. Such a person “has trampled the Son of God under foot . . . has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him . . . has insulted the Spirit of grace” (v. 29).

When we persist in sin with the idea, “No problem—God will forgive me,” we lose all sense of the treasure that is God’s grace, and we reject the freedom from sin that it’s intended to bring. Is it any wonder in such a case that our experience of forgiveness will be empty?

Cultivate faith in God’s goodness and mercy.   Sometimes the obstacles to experiencing God’s forgiveness have less to do with an inadequate grasp of the seriousness of our sin and more to do with a wrong understanding of God and His great gifts to us. Our Lord’s parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14–30) reveals the sad irony of those who mistrust God because they doubt the goodness of His character. Though they receive the same gifts of grace others receive, they’re unable to profit from such gifts—they bury them—because they’re paralyzed by fear.

To experience fully the grace of our reconciliation with God—to know the power of His forgiveness—we “must believe . . . that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). If we doubt that God is willing to forgive us, we won’t be motivated to seek His forgiveness. So we must plant firmly in our hearts the scriptural promises of divine mercy, meditating on them and using them in prayer as the psalmist did: “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you” (Ps. 86:5).

Realize that no sin is greater than Christ’s sacrifice.   Sometimes we fail to experience God’s forgiveness because we’re tempted to conclude that our sin is so great, or so tenacious, or so shameful that God can’t possibly forgive it. But this conclusion is simply a failure to appreciate the magnitude of what God has done to reconcile us to Himself. Think of the infinite value of Christ’s atoning death. Could our sin possibly be greater than His sacrifice?

Forgive others quickly and completely.   Finally, we must note that Jesus was quite explicit about the consequences of holding a grudge. After teaching His disciples what has come to be called the Lord’s prayer, He added a sobering comment: “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt. 6:15). Then, as if to underline the point, He later told the frightening parable of the servant who was denied mercy because he himself was unmerciful (Mt. 18:21–35).

The lesson is clear:  Bitterness damages our relationship with God and blocks our experience of His forgiveness. What we refuse to grant others, we reject for ourselves. For that reason, we must obey the scriptural command: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

On Speaking Terms

Is God’s forgiveness available to all? Is it a free gift? Is it greater than the greatest of our sins? Is He always willing to forgive? Yes, on every count. But our experience of His forgiveness depends in part on our right response to His grace.

Once again, I think of my cash-short college friend. Though he hid from me for months, the story had a happy ending. One night we ended up at the same party. When my friend walked into the room, his eyes met mine, and he knew what he had to do. He took me aside to ask my forgiveness. I told him the debt had been canceled long ago and asked him, with a hug, what had taken him so long to find out.

We were on speaking terms again.

The parallel should be clear. To know the breadth and depth of God’s mercy, we must strive, in all the ways we’ve noted, to let no sins or doubts remain between us, causing a separation. Only then can we enjoy the fullness of a restored friendship with the Father who never tires of running to meet us with arms open wide.

Misplaced Grace or Realistic, Authentic, Biblical Grace?

SOURCE:   An article at Practical Theology for Women/Wendy Horger Alsup

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics … every action is met by an equal and opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff. … I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

From Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas

I believe in grace. I’ve written about it many times on the blog (here and here for instance). I found it core to the message of Ephesians as I studied and wrote By His Wounds You Are Healed. Yet despite my belief in gospel grace for myself and my commitment to live it out with others, I am constantly seduced away from it. The gravity that is our culture (both unbelieving and believing) pulls us down and away from gospel grace.

I remember a number of disasters in South Korea when I taught there—a gas explosion that killed 150 school children, a mall collapse that killed 500, and others. Seoul was so crowded that an accident that might kill 5 or 10 in the U. S. killed 300 there. With each incident, the culture screamed for a scapegoat. An individual government official or single head of a company would eventually be identified and sent to prison, if he didn’t take his own life first. In reality, there were systemic problems in the Korean infrastructure, not the least of which was a widespread, inbred culture of bribery. But it was easier to cry for the blood of one than address the culpability of many. The culture craved focused karma on the one guy rather than diluted karma across a wider group, and grace or forgiveness was not to be spoken of.

I noticed a similar thing in the aftermath of the teenager raped by a church usher then made to confess in a church discipline service. I read one Christian fundamentalist web forum in particular where the posters were over the top in their cry for the blood of the rapist. “They should tie him up and cut off his ….” They used their over the top language calling for the blood of the rapist to deflect from examining the culpability of a larger group. Like the mall collapse in Seoul, it was easier to cry for the blood of one than address the culpability of many.

We have an unforgiving culture, and we as believers have contributed to it. Because karma is seductive, and grace seems threatening. But I’m with Bono. My hope is that Jesus took my sins on the cross. And Scripture is clear that I can’t choose grace for myself and karma for everyone else.

But like everyone else, I’m much better at telling others to forgive than doing it myself. When something I love is threatened, my energy is aroused and expressed in either active anger or passive-aggressive manipulation. Karma seduces me – hey, they DESERVE it. And I forget that there is a better way.

The crux of grace is forgiving when you’ve been burned, as Christ has forgiven you. What does grace look like in the worst case scenario? What does grace look like for the pedophile? The child murderer? Is there anyone our culture hates more than them? They leave the worst kind of scars on their living victims. But if karma rules the day for even the pedophile or child murderer, it rules the day for all of us. And that is NOT the gospel. Karma’s a bitch, a totalitarian dictator. NOBODY wants her in charge.

Gospel grace in contrast offers hope to both the victim and the offender. If you haven’t yet read Generous Justice by Tim Keller, you really need to read it. He closes with this profound sentence (which I assure you he has proven from Scripture throughout the book), “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor (and abused) is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.” Any kind of grace to a perpetrator that doesn’t pursue justice for the victim is no grace at all.

 There are legal consequences in our culture, a result of God’s common grace to us all. There is no grace found in circumventing the system. Instead, you just delay karma’s hammer, and it hangs over the head of the perpetrator growing larger and larger until it finally falls and crushes them altogether. We all know of cases where a perpetrator comes forward, admits guilt, and enters a plea agreement with a reduced sentence. Our secular legal culture recognizes the value of immediate acknowledgement of guilt. Contrast that to the guy who managed to avoid police for 15 years and then fought charges in court instead of accepting a plea deal. Had someone loved him enough to walk him into a police station 15 years ago (grace), he’d be out of jail today. Instead, a pastor mistook grace to that guy as protecting him from the civil consequences of his sin, and now he’s facing decades in prison. Karma’s a bitch.

Authentic, Biblical grace is so, so, so much better. Grace is not hiding sin. Grace is not allowing someone to continue to wound others. Grace instead frees them to face their sin (and its consequences) head on. If you want to extend grace to someone our culture longs to make a scapegoat (because they have in fact committed an egregious sin), confront them and offer to stand with them while they admit their sin publicly and seek to repair as the legal system requires. Love them with the gospel away from defensiveness and self-protection. Offer them hope in authentic confession.

If you’ve been wounded and long for a scapegoat, don’t get seduced by karma. She’ll suck the life out of you. Because if you choose karma for the pedophile, eventually she’ll find you too. If gospel grace doesn’t inform how we handle the worst of life, it’s no use anywhere.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, … nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken (Part 2)

Editor’s Note:  This is a lengthy article, but it is so well worth the investment of time to read thoughtfully and prayerfully through these truths.

SOURCE:  David Powison/CCEF

3. It’s a WIDER war

Sexual sins grab everyone’s attention. They haunt the conscience and excite the gossip. They push other sins into the background. They go up on the marquee in red letters 10 feet high.i But consider the struggle with sin this way. Imagine a multiplex theater screening many movies simultaneously. Sexual sin is the “feature film” advertised on the marquee. But other significant films are playing in other screening rooms. The war with sin takes place in many places simultaneously. In ministry to people who struggle with sexual sins, you may get the breakthrough in another screening room, with a sin that you might not have noticed or might not have considered to be related. A breakthrough – with anger, or pride, or anxiety, or laziness – may have ripple effects that eventually help disarm the big bogie-man that has been hogging all the attention and earnest concern. It’s very important to widen the battlefront, and not to let the high profile sins blinker us from seeing the whole picture. I will give a case study of how sexual sin can and must be located within wider battles.

“My temper tantrum at God.” Tom is a single man, 35 years old. You might be able to fill in the rest of his story, because his pattern is so typical! He came to Christ, with a sincere profession of faith, when he was 15. At about the same time, his 20-year struggle with sexual lust began. It involves episodic use of pornography and episodic masturbation, about which Tom is deeply discouraged. Over the years he has experienced many ups of “victory,” and just as many downs of “defeat.”

Tom came for help from me as his elder and small group leader. He was currently discouraged by recent failures, by the latest downturn in a seemingly endless cycle. Over the years he has tried “all the right things,” the standard answers and techniques. He’s tried accountability – sincerely. It helped some, but not decisively. Accountability had a way of starting strong, but slipping to the side. At a certain point, to tell others you failed yet again, and to receive either sympathy or exhortation, stopped being helpful. Tom has memorized Scripture, and wrestled to apply truth in moments of battle. It’s often helped, but then in snow-blind moments, when he most needs help, he’ll forget everything he knows. Sex fills his mind and Scripture vanishes from sight. Other times he just overrides the truth in an act of “Who cares?” rebellion. Then he feels terrible – his conscience only goes snow-blind for half an hour at a time! He’s prayed, and continues to pray. He’s fasted. He’s sought to discipline himself. He’s planned constructive things to do with his time, and to do with and for others. He’s gotten involved in ministry to teens. He’s tried things that aren’t in the Bible: vigorous exercise, cold showers. dietary regimes. Briefly, he even tried the advice of a self-help book, trying to think of masturbation as “normal, everybody does it, so give yourself permission.” His conscience, wisely, could never get around Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28. Tom has tried it all. Most things (except giving up the fight) helped a bit. But in the end, success was always spotty and fragile. Tom has gained no greater insight into his heart and into the inner workings of sin and grace. For twenty years it’s been: “Sin is bad. Don’t do it. Just do _____ to help you not sin.” His entire Christian life has been conceived and constructed around this struggle with episodic sexual sin.

His pattern is as follows. Seasons of relative purity might last for days, weeks, even for a few months. He measures his success by “How long since I last fell?” The longer he goes, the more his hopes rise, “Maybe now I’ve finally broken the back of my besetting sin.” Then he falls again. He stumbles through seasons of defeat, wandering back to the same old pigsty. “Am I even a Christian? Why bother? What’s the point? Nothing ever works.” He’s plagued with guilt, discouragement, despair, shame. Sometimes Tom will even turn to pornography to dull the misery of his guilt over using pornography. He’ll beg God’s forgiveness over and over and over, without any relief or any joy. Two weeks or a month of “victory” does far more to alleviate his guilt than anything arising from his relationship with Christ. Then, for unaccountable reasons the season will change for the better. He’ll get sick of sin or get inspired to fight again. That’s when he gave me a call. He really wanted deliverance once and for all.

What should I do in trying to help Tom? I was reticent to simply give Tom more of the same things he’d tried dozens of times, and found wanting. I didn’t want to just give him a pep talk and a Scripture, urge him to gird his loins to run the race, and offer accountability phone calls. What is he missing? What’s happening in the other theaters of his life? Are there motives and patterns neither of us yet sees? What’s going on in the days or hours before he stumbles? What about how he (mis)handles the days and weeks after a fall? Why does his whole approach to life seem like so much complicated machinery for managing moral failure? Why does his approach to the Christian life seem so dehumanized and depersonalized? His Christianity seems like a big production, a lot of earnest effort at self-improvement. Why does his collection of truths and techniques never seem to warm up and invigorate the quality of his relationships with God and people? Is the centerpiece of the Christian life really this endless cycle of “I sin. I don’t sin. I sin. I don’t sin. I sin.” What are we missing?

I asked Tom to do a simple thing, attempting to gain a better sense of the overall terrain of his life: “Would you keep a log of when you are tempted?” I wanted to know what’s going on when he struggles. When? Where? What just happened? What did you do? What were you feeling? What were you thinking? If you resisted, how did you do it? If you fell, how did you react afterwards? Does anything else correlate to sexual temptations?

Through all the ups and downs, Tom had maintained a great sense of humor. He laughed at me, and said, “I don’t need to keep a log. I already know the answer. I only fall on Friday or Saturday nights – usually Friday, since Saturday is right before Sunday.” If you have any pastoral counseling genes in you, you light up at an answer like that. Repeated patterns always prove extremely revealing on inspection. I asked, “Why does sexual sin surface on Friday night? What’s going on with that?” He said, “I go out and buy Playboy magazine as my temper tantrum at God.”

Amazing. Look what we’ve just found out: another movie is playing in a theater next door. Now we’re not only dealing with a couple of bad behaviors, buying pornography and masturbating. We’re dealing with anger at God that drives those behaviors. What’s that about? Tom went on to give a fuller picture. “I come home from work on Friday night, back to the apartment. I’m all alone. I imagine that all my single friends are out on dates, and my married friends are spending time with their wives. But I’m all alone in my apartment. I build up a good head of steam of self-pity. Then by nine or ten o’clock, I think, ‘You deserve a break today’ – I even hear the little MacDonald’s jingle in my head, and then sexual desires start to look really, really sweet. ‘God has cheated you. If only I had a girlfriend or a wife. I can’t stand how I feel. Why not feel good for awhile? What does it matter anyway?’ Then I hop in the car, head to 7-11, and fall into sin.”

Amazing, isn’t it? Pornography and masturbation grabbed all the attention, generated all the guilt, defined the moment and act of “falling.” Let’s call that Screening Room #1. But we’ve also heard about anger at God that precedes and legitimates sexual sin: Screening Room #2. We’ve heard about hours of low-grade self-pity, grumbling, and envious fantasies: a matinee performance in Screening Room #3. We’ve heard Tom name the original desire that leads to self-pity, to anger at God, and finally to sexual lust: “God owes me a wife. I need, want, demand a woman to love me.” That’s playing in Screening Room #4, an unobtrusive G-rated film, seemingly no problem at all. It’s a classic non-sexual lust of the flesh that Tom has never viewed as problematic. In fact, in his mind, it’s practically a promise from God: “Psalm 37:4. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. If I do my part, God should do His part and give me a wife.”

As Tom and I kept talking, I found out why God owes him a wife: “I’ve tried to do all the right things. I’ve served Him. I’ve tried accountability. I’ve memorized Scripture. I’ve tried to be a good Christian. I do ministry. I witness. I tithe.… but God hasn’t come through.” In other words, the “right answers” for fighting sin are also the levers to pry goodies out of God. Tom’s words sound eerily like the self-righteous whine of the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son: “I’m good, therefore God owes me the goodies I want.” Subsequent anger at God operates like any other sinful anger: “You aren’t giving me what I want, expect, need, and demand.” This fatally-flawed, proud ‘upside’ of the classic legalistic construct has been showing in Screening Room #5. And why does Tom mope in self-lacerating depression for days and weeks after falling, rather than finding God’s living mercies new every morning? That’s the self-punitive, despairing ‘downside’ of the legalistic construct: “I’m bad, therefore God won’t give me the goodies.” Screening Room #6 is where self-punishment, self-atonement, penance, and self-hatred play out.

It doesn’t take much theological insight to see how all these distortions of Tom’s relationship with God express different forms of basic unbelief. We suppress living knowledge of the true God. We create a universe for ourselves voided of the real God’s presence, truth, and purposes. Unbelief does not mean a vacuum; rather the universe fills up with seductive, persuasive fictions. Screening Room #7 is showing a blockbuster that Tom had never noticed as trouble. (When Dame Folly keeps her clothes on she sounds like common sense.) In fact, we even found out why Tom is so eager right now to get my counsel and advice. Why did he want to have victory over his lust problem, to try again, to defeat the dragon of lust once and for all? He’s recently had his eye on an eligible young lady who started to attend our church. That’s reawakened his motivation to fight. If only lust goes, then God owes, and maybe he’ll get the wife of his dreams. Even Tom’s agenda for counseling plays a bit part in the wider battle: Screening Room #8!

Look how far we’ve come in half an hour. Tom’s “fall” at 9:30 P.M. last Friday was not where he started to fall. It was not even his most devastating fall. For me to assist Tom’s discipleship to Jesus is not simply to offer tips and truths that might help him remain “morally pure” on subsequent Fridays. Counseling must be about rewiring Tom’s entire life. “Cure of souls” is what ministry does.

You can see why we must widen the battlefront in order to cure souls. Tom concentrates all his attention on one marquee sin that sporadically surfaces, defining and energizing all his guilty feelings. But that narrowing of attention serves to mask far more serious, pervasive sins. As a pastor, friend, or other counselor, you don’t want to concentrate all your energies in the same place Tom does. There are other, deeper opportunities for grace and truth to rewrite the script of this man’s life. Tom had turned his whole relationship with God into flimsy scaffolding. Self-righteousness (“victory at last”) would get him the goodies he really wanted out of life. Though Tom knew and professed sound theology, in daily practice he reduced God to the “errand boy of his wandering desires” (Bob Dylan).

Tom and I put the fire of truth and grace to the scaffolding. Wonderful changes started to run through his life. We didn’t ignore temptations to sexual sin, but many other things that he had never before noticed became urgently important. We spent far more time talking about self-pity and grumbling as “early warning” sins, about how the desire for a wife becomes a mastering lust, about how the self-righteousness construct falls before the dynamics of grace. Temptations to sexual sin greatly diminished. The topography of the battlefield radically changed. The significance of Jesus Christ’s love went off the charts. The lights of more accurate and comprehensive self-knowledge came on. A man going in circles, muddling in the middle, started to leap and bound in the right direction. We experienced the delights of a season of gazelle growth. Ministering to someone who has struggled for 20 years with the exact same thing is disheartening, and frequently a recipe for futility. Ministering to someone who is starting to battle a half-dozen foes that were previously invisible is extremely heartening! Widening the war served to deepen and heighten the significance of the Savior who met Tom on every battlefront.

4. It’s a DEEPER war

The Bible is always about behavior, but it is never only about behavior. God’s indictment of human nature always gets below the surface, into the “heart.” His gaze and Word expose the thoughts, intentions, desires, and fears that shape the entire way that we approach life. An immoral act or fantasy – behavior – is a sin in itself. But such behavior always arises from desires and beliefs that dethrone God. Whenever I do wrong, I am loving something besides God with all my heart, soul, mind, and might. I am listening attentively to some other voice. Typically (but not always!), immoral actions arise in connection with erotic desires that squirm out from under God’s lordship. But immorality results from many other motives, too, and usually arises from a combination of motives. We saw some of this in describing Tom. Erotic motives, the “feel good” of sex, played an important role. But other motives – “I want a wife”; “If I’m good, God owes me goodies”; “I’m angry because God has let me down” – interconnected with his eroticism. Many co-conspirators play a role when Tom starts rummaging in the gutter of “I want to look at a naked Playmate” and “I need sexual release now.” Many other lusts join hands to give a boost to sexual lust. It’s worth digging, both in order to understand yourself and in order to minister wisely to other people. As our understanding of sin’s inner cravings deepens, our ability to know and appreciate the God of grace grows deeper still. Consider a handful of typical examples to prime the pump.

a. Angry desires for revenge.

Sexual acting out can be a way to express anger. I once counseled a couple who had committed backlash adulteries. First they had a big fight, full of yelling, threats and bitter accusations. In anger the man went out and slept with a prostitute. Still burning with anger, he came home and gloated about it to his wife. In retaliatory anger, the woman went out and seduced her husband’s best friend. Did they get any erotic pleasure out of those acts? Probably. But was eros the driving force? No way. Though it’s not always so dramatic, anger often plays a role in immorality: a teenager finds sex a convenient way to rebel against and to hurt morally upright parents; a man cruises the internet after he and his wife exchange words; a woman masturbates to fantasies of former boyfriends after she and her husband argue. In all these situations, the redemption of dirtied sexuality can only happen alongside the redemption of dirtied anger.

b. Longings to feel loved, approved, affirmed, given romantic attention.

Consider the situation of an overweight, lonely, teenage girl with acne, whose enjoyment of sex as an act is minimal or even nil. Why then is she promiscuous, giving away sexual favors to any boy who pays her any attention? She barters her body in service not to erotic lust, but in order to feed her consuming lust for romantic attention. When boys say sweet things and pledge their faithful love, she might even know inside that they are lying. She knows that they are merely using her as a receptacle for their lust, but she temporarily blocks out the thought. She does sex anyway – because she’s hooked on “feeling loved.” Ministry to such a young woman does her a disservice if we only concentrate on the wrong of fornication, and do not help her to understand the subtler enslavement of living for human attention. Sex can be an instrument in the hands of non-sexual lust. Both evils must find the mercies and transforming power of Christ.

c. Thrilling desires for the power and excitement of the chase.

Some people enjoy the sense of power and control over another person’s sexual response. The flirt, the tease, the Don Juan, the seducer are not motivated solely by sexual desires. Often evil erotic pleasure is enhanced and complemented by deeper evil pleasures: the chase, the hunt, the thrill of conquest, the rush that comes with being able to manipulate the romantic-erotic arousal of another. There is a kind of sadistic pleasure driving through such sexual sins. They like to see people get aroused, “fall” for them, and squirm. They may become indifferent to a willing sexual partner once that particular chase has ended. Repentance and change for seducers will address lusts for perverse power and excitement, as well as lusts for sex.

d. Anxious desires for money to meet basic survival needs.

The obvious link of sex to money is the “sex industry”: sex makes lots money for lots of people. As in the previous cases, eros may be one factor. But in money-making sex, pleasure plays second fiddle to mammon. There are also more subtle situations. A single mother in our church was in very tight financial straits. She found herself strongly tempted by her sleazy landlord’s offer of free rent in exchange for sexual favors. If she had fallen, sexual desire might have been non-existent. In fact, she might have fornicated despite feeling active repugnance, shame, and guilt in the act. To God’s glory, she opened up her struggle to a wise woman. In a variety of appropriate ways the church was able to come to her aid with care and counsel. One aspect of care for her came from the deacons (who didn’t even know what almost happened): “Know that you will not end up on the street. We are your family. If you get stuck, if you wonder where the money will come from for rent, or groceries, or a doctor’s bill, don’t think twice about asking for help.” Interesting, isn’t it? Mercy ministry to financial needs played a significant role in reducing a woman’s vulnerability to one particular sort of sexual temptation. She needed counsel, too, in order to run further in her race of repentance. But anxiety, finances, and the character of God were more salient than her sexual temptation.

e. Distorted messianic desire to help another.

Certainly there are pastors and priests who are sexual predators, but that’s not the only dynamic of sexual sin in the ministry. I’ve dealt with a number of situations that involved the very impulses that make for ministry – run far off the rails. For example, a pastor feels deep concern for a lonely young widow or divorcée. He so much (too much) wants to help her and comfort her. She so appreciates his wise, Scriptural counsel. He’s such a role model of kindness, gentleness, communication, attentive concern. But life is still very hard and lonely for her. He starts to console her with hugs. They end up in bed. The motives? Sexual, yes. But more significant in the early going was a warped desire to be helpful, to be admired, to make a real difference, to be important, to “save” her. When anyone who is not the Messiah starts to act messianic, it gets very ugly very fast. When you minister to a minister who has committed sexual sin, you might find that sex was only the poisoned dessert. The poisonous entrée might be a very different set of deceitful desires, desires arising more in the mind than from the body (Eph. 4:22; 2:3).

f. Desires for relief and rest amid the pressures of life.

Sexual sin often serves as a kind of “escape valve” from other problems. When steam pressure gets too high in a pressure cooker, it blows off steam. That’s a metaphor for what’s often true with people, too. Consider a man who faces, and mishandles, extreme pressures in his work place. He’s part of a team facing a drop-dead deadline for a major project. They’ve been running behind. He’s had a month of 80-hour work weeks. He’s harried, driven, preoccupied, worried, worn out. Every day his boss applies more pressure, more panic, more threats. There’s been vicious infighting on the project team: who’s responsible for what task, who’s to blame for what glitch, who gets credit for what achievement. All along, he is not casting real cares on the God who cares for him; he is not “anxious for nothing,” but anxious about lots of things. After two straight all-nighters, just under the wire, they finish the project. They made it. He made it. Success. Finally he has a free night, with no deadlines, no jungle of intramural combat, no tomorrow to worry about. But after a month of living ‘stressed-out’, he feels no relief. He finds no satisfaction in achievement. So he surfs the internet, revels in pornography, forgets his troubles. What’s going on with him?

Erotic sin is part of his picture, but there’s lots more. Every deviant motive – all lusts of the flesh, lies, false loves – is a hijacker. It mimics some aspect of God. It usurps some promise of God. Consider that about 2/3s of the Psalms present God as “our refuge” in the midst of the troubles of life. Amid threat, hurt, disappointment, and attack, God protects, cares, and looks out for us. Our friend has faced troubles: people out to get him, threats to his job, intolerable demands, relentless weeks. But he’s been finding no true refuge during this frenzied month. Now, in a spasm of immorality, he takes “false refuge” in eroticism. His erotic behavior serves as a counterfeit rest from his troubles. Psalm 23 breathes true refuge: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” This man pants after false refuge: “After I’ve walked through that godforsaken valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because the photograph of a surgically-enhanced female wearing no clothes is with me.” A false refuge looks pretty silly when it’s exposed for what it really is.

Sexual sin is one expression of a deeper war for the heart’s loyalty and primary love. Learning to see more clearly is a crucial part of your sanctification journey. Teaching others to have eyes open to the deeper battles is a crucial part of wise pastoral ministry. Jesus Christ looks better and better the more we see what He is about. He is not simply in the business of cleaning up a few embarrassing moral blots. Deepening the battle deepens the significance of the Savior. He alone sees your heart accurately. He alone loves you well enough to make you love Him.

5. It’s a SUBTLER war

A newcomer to war imagines that the first battles are the hardest battles. When you’re first coming out of the morass of an adulterous relationship, of being betrayed by a spouse’s adultery, of promiscuous fornications, of having experienced rape or molestation, of a homosexual lifestyle, of an obsession with internet porn, it can seem like your troubles will be over if you can only get past the particular bad behavior (yours or another’s) that insulted God and sucked the life out of you.

Those battles are hard. But will your troubles be over? That’s not how life works. That’s not how sanctification works in the clean-up from sexual dirt. In fact, in some ways it’s the opposite. The more obviously destructive sins can be “easier” to deal with. The subtler sins can be more stubborn, pervasive, sneaky, and elusive.

Consider a metaphor for this. Many computer and video games send you out on a quest, a sort of pilgrim’s progress. You proceed through level after level, facing test after test, until, say, at Level 50 you’ve run the race and won. Level 1 starts you out with easier challenges. The tasks are clear cut. The enemies are slower, more limited in their abilities, more obvious in their approach, not so smart. With some practice, you learn to accomplish your task and blow away your attackers. Level 2 gets a little harder. Each successive level gets harder still. The tasks get trickier. The enemies are wilier, stronger, quicker, more numerous. The skills you need are subtler and more varied. If you ever arrive at, say, Level 40, it’s because you’ve died often, but you learned something each time, and you kept coming back. You’ve come a distance in the right direction.

The struggle with sexual sin (as with any other sin) has a certain similarity to those video games. There is typically a front-and-center issue, and the “front lines” of the current battle move from the more overt sins to subtler sins.ii Let’s work out the metaphor.

a. High-effort, high-cost sins.

Think of consenting sex (adultery, fornication, homosexuality, prostitution) and criminal sex (rape, child abuse) as the Level 1 sins. These are the obvious evils. I don’t mean that such sins are easy to break or easy to change. But they are relatively easy to see. Easier to recognize as wrong. Easier to know when you’re doing wrong, once your conscience starts to see straight. And such sins are usually harder to do and harder to get away with. Think about that. You have to put in a lot of effort scheming in order to arrange a liaison. You have to hide things from people who love you, who would be unhappy if they found out what you’ve been doing. You have to tell consistent and increasingly complex lies in order to get away with it. You have to lie to your own conscience to persuade yourself that everything’s OK. Because these actions involve actual copulation with other people, those partners may blow your cover, or blackmail you, or slip up, or report you. These sins can catch up with you very quickly, taking you down in an instant. They can destroy your reputation. Destroy family relationships. Destroy finances. Destroy health by a sexually-transmitted disease. Even send you to jail. In other words, these sins take a lot of work and can bite back hard. If you’re willing to seek mercy and change, it’s easier to set up meaningful barriers against the high-effort, high-cost sins.

Jesus Christ often begins His work of mercy and renewal by dealing with such high-handed sins. Often the dramatic first steps of sanctification shake off overt evils. Oily-rag people make leaps and bounds into the garden of light. There are adulterers who repent and never have sexual relations with anyone who is not their own wife or husband. It is entirely possible to have lived an immoral life for many years, with a string of lovers, and then to make such a complete break with that sin that you will never be immoral again – in the Level 1 sense. That does not always happen. And it’s never a snap of the fingers. And you may still face ongoing consequences. And believers do fall back into such sins. But grace and change can be as easy to see and as powerful as the sin once was. Accountability relationships can really help. The Scriptures openly and frequently speak into the obvious sins to bring transformation. (By doing this, God also familiarizes us with how the subtler versions of sin and love work, teaching us how to see more of life for what it is and can become.)

b. Lower-effort, lower-cost sins.

Let’s say you’ve done some growing. You’ve put away overt evils. No immoral liaisons. By grace you’ve worked and fought your way to a Level 8 battle. Pornography was around before, but now it’s the biggie. In some ways, pornography is a tougher problem than adultery. In one sense, it’s “not as bad,” because it doesn’t involve an accomplice or victim. But it’s harder to get rid of. Harder to set up protective barriers. Why is this? Pornography is easier to do and easier to get away with. The necessary deceit is not as complicated. It doesn’t take much work for you to do the sin. Adultery usually takes a lot of effort, both to arrange and to cover your tracks. But pornography? The gap between temptation and sin can be a matter of seconds. Three clicks of the mouse, and you’re there. A few dollars at an airport magazine shop. Standard fare in films. A remote control in your hand to check out what’s on cable TV. And who’s to know? No one. Pornography use is harder to discover. Unless you fail to erase it off your computer. Or you spend so many hours on-line late at night that friends and family get suspicious. Or someone walks in on you. Or you get depressed and grouchy because you feel guilty. Or your relationships slowly fray and alienate because of your preoccupation, defensiveness, and hiding. The consequences are shameful – but usually not as disastrous as with the interpersonal sins.

So pornography is both “not as bad” as adultery, and yet harder to defeat because it’s easier to do and not as devastating. Christ is merciful here, too. Lots of people have broken with pornography and never gone back. You learn the joys of righteousness, the deeper pleasures of a clear conscience and honest relationships. You learn to say No to yourself. You get more interested in good things. You care about people, and sin just doesn’t have as much room to insinuate itself into your heart. Some practical tools can help, too. A friend who will look you in the eye, ask a direct question, and expect an honest answer can help you. You can set up Covenant Eyes software (www.covenanteyes.com) to monitor your internet use and e-mail a report to a friend.

c. No-effort sins.

Let’s say you’ve put pornography and immoral copulation aside. The acted-out sins no longer draw you. Are there no more enemies to fight? Now we’re up to Level 16: mental tapes. This is an even subtler problem. You don’t even have to do anything. No effort, no expense. You aren’t copulating outside of marriage. You aren’t cruising the internet. But you have a theater and library in your own mind. It’s all stored there: memories, images, stories. At your mind’s fingertips are things you did, experiences you had, people you watched or read about. You don’t have to tell any lies or arrange anything. You just open a door in your mind. You can’t get caught – except by the Searcher of hearts, before whose eyes all things are open and laid bare, Him with whom we have to do. Because He sees us on the inside, and because He’s merciful both inside and out, grace is available here, too.

Sometimes the battle with mental tapes stalls because you actively cherish and nurture old memories. But when you actually start to fight, you wish you could push ERASE, and obliterate the collection of old videos. But the erase button on memories doesn’t work on request. It’s a subtler battle, learning to say No inside your mind, and Yes to your Father who is right at hand. The point is clear. The enemies get subtler. They aren’t as “bad” outwardly. But they’re “worse” when it comes to getting rid of them, because sins are so easy to arrange and not so immediately self-destructive.

I’ve chosen examples from the active sins. But there is an analogy for those who experienced the dark splash of evil as the victim of another’s sin. In some ways, it can be “easier” to deal with an abusive relationship (Level 1). Hard as it is to get away, it can be done. The problem is clear cut and definable. Like adultery, the wrongdoer can be caught in the act. Violence can be intercepted. The action steps are more obvious. Friends will help you. The law can help protect you: police intervention, a restraining order, criminal charges against the offender. You can flee. When you aren’t in the same room, the person can’t hurt you anymore. There are places to live where you are safe. But how do you deal with the memories (Level 16)? Memories aren’t as “bad” as being abused, but they can be “worse” when it comes to getting rid of them. They inhabit the room of your mind. Or, how do you deal with the fact that your pump is primed to interpret anyone’s irritation at you as a threat of imminent violence (Level 24)? How do you deal with the subtle fears that you now bring to all relationships, apprehensions so automatic that you don’t even know you’re doing it (Level 40)? Those motions of your soul are almost invisible, pervasive, hard to intercept, and highly corrosive to developing future trust and love. Safe refuge, peace, and watchful care run deep in the psalms. God is trustworthy at every level. Psalm 23 means one very good thing at Level 1, something still richer at Level 16, and wonders beyond wonders at Level 40. The significance of the Lord’s kindness is not exhausted at the more obvious levels. The psalms go deep, deeper, and deepest, the more you bring complex, honest experience onto the table.

d. Sins that come looking for you.

Let’s say you’ve left adultery and pornography behind, and simply don’t go there. You’re closing and locking the door on mental tapes. But how about those situations where you aren’t looking for sin, but sin is out looking for you? Let’s call that Level 24. In this battle the insurgents are trickier. An invitation to lust can sneak up and attack you in ways that no actual human being with adulterous copulation on the mind could find you. Our culture has many “acceptable” predators. Have you ever been blindsided by a lewd image or suggestion that you were not looking for, but it was looking for you? The fashion industry, entertainment industry, advertising industry, and sex industry know their business well. They are looking to find you, to snag your heart, to shape your identity, your goals, your worries, your spending. Some of my examples arise because we live in a culture of visual media, where such ambushes are increasingly common.

    • You’re doing a book search on the internet, looking for an out-of-print theology book. A slightly mistyped web address pipes hardcore porn onto your screen. Or, you open an e-mail that looks like it’s for real, but it turns out to be well-disguised spam spewing gutter words in bold, colorful print. Or, you recognize that an e-mail is spam and delete it, but you can’t avoid reading the filth on the subject line. You feel splashed with sewer water. You weren’t looking for sin; you didn’t linger; you’re dirtied anyway.
    • In the grocery store, a handsome, charming young man starts to flirt suggestively with you, a mature, married woman with well over 100,000 miles on your odometer! Is there an answering flutter inside you?
    • You hear that a certain movie is worth watching, but get blindsided. A lewd scene was gratuitously inserted into an otherwise good movie for the sake of avoiding a G rating. Or, the cinematography is beautiful, but deep emotional empathy is created for a man and woman whose respective spouses are portrayed unfavorably. The couple is portrayed as committing wondrously life-affirming adultery. Are you neutral and detached? Disgusted? Somehow hooked?
    • You’re driving down the highway, and voilà, a 20’x60’ billboard advertises Coors beer by featuring a lady wearing practically no clothes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were nothing inside answering back to her call, if that ad created the same neutral indifference as the neighboring billboard, on which Citizen’s Bank advertises its thrilling 5.25% mortgage rate?! Suddenly, you’re in a fight that you didn’t start. You didn’t do anything to put yourself in harm’s way. Nobody (except God and your conscience) will ever know if you sin by responding to the Coors woman’s initiative in a way that commits adultery in your heart. No one ever came under church discipline or was sued for divorce by driving on the interstate and looking twice at the billboard of a mostly naked lady sprawling behind a beer bottle. But that’s where an ambush occurs.
    • You’ve learned to deeply trust and love your God and a circle of dear friends, after torturous experiences many years ago. You’ve learned not to shrink from new people. Your new boss generally treats you reasonably, but his appearance, voice, and mannerisms bear an uncanny resemblance to the person who once betrayed you. Where that person was cruel, your boss is only irritable and sarcastic on occasion. His sins are 1% of what you once experienced; but that’s where today’s battle erupts.

You can have a lot of light growing in your life, good latticework in place, gardens of healthy sexuality. But wherever there’s still a broken lattice, an oily stain, then an inner spark or inner flinch can answer to what comes at you. Redemption proceeds exactly in such places. You face things that whisper the very things that once shouted in your life. And Christ speaks loud and clear, so at this level, too, you learn to choose well.

e. Sins so atmospheric they seem like who you are.

Sometimes lust is so subtle it doesn’t even seem like lust – until you think about it, unmask it, pull it towards the light: Level 40. For example, have you ever tried to battle the instinct to employ sexual-attraction criteria in sizing up what a person look like? It can be a largely unconscious operation. Subliminal radar attends, explores, notices, registers on the wavelength of mildly sexualized desire. It’s a quiet current trending in the direction of lust. You’re subtly aware of a body’s shape, of the cues communicated by posture and gesture, of the messages expressed through clothing, hairstyle, makeup, scent, tone of voice. This subtle attentiveness correlates to the heart’s erotic attraction: “Is this person desirable to my eyes, worth further exploratory interest?” Perhaps this thought process rarely surfaces into conscious awareness. Perhaps you almost as instinctively say No, resisting the impulse to convert its intentions into a conscious lewd look. (Garden of light within the lattice! Unchosen, unplanned, freely given fruit of the Holy Spirit!) But the very existence of such atmospheric erotic intentionality subtly stains you. It is yet another aspect of our battle with darkness.

When you see sin’s subtlety, you realize how much our lives hang upon sheer mercy from God. He is utterly aware of thoughts and intentions of which we may be barely aware or wholly unaware. Mercy extends here, too. “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.… May the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:12, 14). The stains that corrupt our hearts are not simply the planned, willful, chosen, enacted sins that emerge at the more obvious levels of our battle.

Is it possible to alter the subtle tendencies that pattern how you look at people? Yes. The Holy Spirit is about this business. It takes awhile: a lot of walking on the paths of light, a lot of needing God and loving God, a lot of receiving His mercies, a lot of learning to genuinely love people. But you can grow wiser even at this subtlest of levels. You can increasingly view each human being as a sister or brother, a mother or father, a daughter or son, not as a sexual object. Your gaze and intentions can become more and more about the business of caring and protecting.

f. Truly changed, truly changing, and still at war.

All this – from Level 1 to Level 40 – is the arena of sanctification. Heart, soul, mind, and might we are being conformed and transformed into radiant purity. A heightened view of our war brings with it a heightened view of the significance of our Jesus Christ. One of the deep truths of sanctification is that you get “better” and “worse” at the same time!

You truly shine more brightly as you move towards the light. You hold onto God more steadily. You’re more loving and joyful. You’re more trustworthy. More teachable. You give to people rather than use them. But brighter light also exposes more dark corners, pockets of unconscionable and once unimaginable iniquity. As we have seen, sin is not only the worst things I ever did. It’s also an atmospheric narcissism: “Is that person pleasing to the sexual beck and call that animates my desires?” John Calvin captured well the historical wisdom of the church regarding these things:

The children of God [are] freed through regeneration from bondage to sin. Yet… there still remains in them a continuing occasion for struggle whereby they may be exercised; and not only be exercised, but also better learn their own weakness. In this matter all writers of sounder judgment agree that there remains in a regenerate man a smoldering cinder of evil, from which desires continually leap forth to allure and spur him to commit sin.iii

A smoldering cinder of evil. A restless inner motion of sin. Jesus’ first beatitude is first for a reason. Awareness of impoverished need for mercies from outside is the opening motion of living faith. Jesus’ blessing on the inwardly poor is not “first” in the sense that having once experienced it, we move on and leave our need for grace behind. The first beatitude is foundational. It sets the shape and infrastructure of the entire building. The better I know my Christ, the better I know my need for what He alone is and does.

When you understand your subtle sinfulness, you will never say of any human being, “How could he do that?” or “She’s so unbelievable!” We are fundamentally more alike than different. You may never have been an adulterer, fornicator, homosexual, or consumer of pornography. But you know with all your heart that no temptation overtakes anyone that is not common to everyone (1 Cor. 10:13). And you know how significant it is that God is faithful. Grasping the subtlety of the battle helps you to grasp the true subtlety and scope of the work of our Savior. Remember me, O LORD, according to Your loving-kindness.

6. Remember the goal

We’ve looked at many varieties of sexual darkness. The war is longer, wider, deeper, more subtle than we might imagine. It is no accident that the height, depth, length, and breadth of the love and work of Jesus is more wonderful than we understand at first. What is God after in remaking our lives? Is His purpose that we would just stop sinning? Is His purpose to get us diligently involved in religious activities?: have a quiet time, participate in corporate worship services, find fellowship. Yes, stop sinning. Yes, use the means of grace. But neither is an end in itself. The point is to become like Jesus in real life. The ends of grace are the active opposites of sin: love.

Jesus loves God. He lives out a head-on, honest relationship with His Father. The psalms open up his inner workings. He’s talking, not just living in his head. Whether in pain or joy, whether needy or exultant, whether looking at the weather or looking at the people out to hurt Him, whether considering God’s love or considering God’s wrath, Jesus talks it all out. He needs God, thanks God, trusts God, serves God. The psalms aren’t “devotions.” When Jesus talks and acts, He brings life to God and brings God to life. That’s what God intends the means of grace to accomplish. As you stop sinning, that’s how you live instead.

The way Jesus works as a person is the diametric opposite from how the oily rag works. When you’re living in sexual sin (or swamped in unredeemed sexual sufferings), you live in your own head. Sin pulls us into an incurving, self-absorbing inertia. We shut God out. The universe becomes all about me. Suffering tends to have the same effect, because we return evils (40 levels, from obvious revenge to subtle apprehensions) for evils. But Jesus suffers in the exact opposite way, opening out to God in need. As Jesus starts to rearrange how your personhood operates, you are becoming a qualitatively different kind of person. You operate differently. He teaches a life lived in God’s direction. He teaches you how to talk out everything that matters with the One whose opinion most matters, the only One who can do something about it all.

In the same way, Jesus loves people. He notices others. He stops. He helps people where they most need help. He answers real questions. He inverts hostile questions. He relentlessly leads people to think about the two decisive life-or-death questions: “Who are you living for? How are you living?” He’s dedicated to the true welfare of others. He protects and promotes the sexual purity of others (even when interacting with notoriously immoral women). He attacks oppressors, and tenderly bends towards the helpless. He dies willingly, the innocent for the guilty. Jesus works with people in the very terms we’ve been talking about throughout this article. He takes in hand the gamut of real problems. He initiates a war that is much longer, wider, deeper, and subtler than people realize. He gives graces, mercies, and truths that are much longer, wider, deeper, and subtler than we realize.

The way Jesus loves is the diametric opposite from how sexual sin works. Whether flagrant or atmospheric, whether copulatory or imaginary, sexual sin is hate. It misuses people. Jesus’ love treasures and serves our sexual purity. We misuse a gift when we do not treasure and serve the sexual purity of others. We degrade ourselves and degrade others. As Jesus starts to rearrange how you treat people, you are becoming a qualitatively different kind of person. A James Ward spiritual puts it this way: “I won’t treat you like I used to, since I laid my burden down.” Let me give two simple examples.

First, you learn to see and treat all people in wise, constructive ways. In principle, every person of the opposite sex fits into one of three categories: either family member, or spouse, or threat. (Every person of the same sex fits into one of two categories: either family member or threat.) Family member is the controlling category. In general we are to view and treat people like beloved sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers. The lines are clear: anything that sexualizes familial relationships is wrong. True affection and fierce protection go hand in hand. The notion of incestuous sexuality is abhorrent before the face of God. In marriage, one sister, Nan, becomes my wife, and I become her husband. All our sexuality belongs rightly and freely to each other. The notion of treacherous sexuality – infidelity – is abhorrent before the face of God. A third group of people fall into the category of threat. Males and females who prove unfamilial in their intentions are threats. Again, the lines are clear: nothing sexualized, so flee seduction, whether in person or in imagination. The notion of an invitation to immoral sexuality is abhorrent before the face of God. Love is radically free to be fiercely faithful.

Second, good sexual love is simply “normal.” Sometimes the idealized view of good sex can sound overheated, even when we prize and protect marital sexuality. Sometimes we can give the idea that good sex (in both senses) is a gymnastic, ecstatic, romantic, athletic, electric, semi-psychotic, erotic, high-wire, bug-eyed, luxuriating, ravishing bliss of marital passion! Sorry to disillusion you. But much of good sex is just… well, normal, everyday. Think about it. Most people in the history of the world have lived in one-room huts, where the kids sleep in the same room with their parents! Countless families have lived in flats, with only curtains for room dividers, your mother-in-law in the far corner, your wife’s younger brother sleeping on the couch. Or they’ve lived in tents, as nomads. Not much sound-proofing or major privacy operative in that housing arrangement! Not much in the way of gymnastics or sound effects is possible unless you have no children. That’s not to say that a married couple with children shouldn’t get away for a weekend, or close the door, or do things to make sex special. Nothing wrong with some high-wire encounters that bring a little extra spice.

But think of the analogy with food, another of life’s very redeemable pleasures. Occasionally you pull out the stops for a memorable feast with all the fixings: Thanksgiving dinner. But in normal life, you eat a lot of healthy breakfasts. In the redemption of sex, lots of normal things flourish. How about courtesy? Basic kindness and patience? How about humor – pet names, teasing, irony, private jokes? Good sex is not that serious! How about mercy? How about a shower, shave, and being relaxed? How about a fundamental willingness to be available to another, simply to give. How about conversation? How about quiet, slow, leisurely time together? Basic love goes a long way towards making good sex good. It’s great when the Richter Scale tops out at an earth-shattering 8.1. But in normalized good sex, you’ll also enjoy 3.1 temblors that hardly rattle the teacups.

Get your goals straight. It heightens the significance of your Savior. He alone restores you to practical love for God and to the practical love appropriate for each of your various kinds of neighbors. He alone makes daily life shine with visible glory.

7. Get down to today’s skirmish in the Great War

We’ve talked about the war, the direction of the journey, the destination. The final word in restoring  joy is to get down to business. And your business has three parts.

First, where is today’s skirmish? Your battle always gets fought at the next step, not all at once. “Today’s trouble” is where you find God’s aid. A clear view of what you face defines the fork-in-the-road, your choice points. Where are you tempted, now? For example, Tom had to figure out how to refight his Friday nights so he wouldn’t keep coming out a loser. How about you? You are somewhere between Levels 1 and 40. Where is today’s choice point? The current struggle is the place the Vinedresser is pruning. It’s where you need life support from the Vine. Making all things new is always about something going on today. Restoring pure joys is not theory. It’s what’s happening here and now. It’s not about instant perfection (I hope that’s clear by now). And it’s not about yesterday. If you’re still brooding and obsessing over yesterday’s failures, then today’s choice point is, “How do you handle failure?” How will you quit curving in on yourself after you fall, and start dealing with your sins the way Psalm 25 does? (See section 1-c above). You’ll always need your Father, Savior, and Comforter to help you, forgive you, and teach you. Today’s trouble identifies where.

Second, what one thing about God in Christ speaks directly into today’s trouble? I gave an example earlier from Psalm 25. Just as we don’t change all at once, so we don’t swallow all of truth in one gulp. We are simple people. You can’t remember ten things at once. Invariably, if you could remember just ONE true thing in the moment of trial, you’d be different. Bible “verses” aren’t magic. But God’s words are revelations of God from God for our redemption. When you actually remember God, you do not sin. The only way we ever sin is by suppressing God, by forgetting, by tuning out His voice, switching channels, and listening to other voices. When you actually remember, you actually change. In fact, remembering is the first change.

Here’s a simple example. God says, “I am with you.” Those are his exact words. How does taking that to heart utterly change the script of your sexual darkness? What if you are facing a temptation to some immorality? For starters, nothing is private, no secrets are possible: “I am with you.” “I… am… with… you.” Say it ten different ways. Slow it down. Speed it up. Say it out loud. Say it out loud back to him: “You are with me, Lord.” You’ll probably find that you immediately need to say more, like “Help me. Have mercy on me. I need you. Make me understand that you are with me.” You will find that the competing voices, sly and argumentative, will become more obvious. To the degree that you remember that your Lord is with you, then what those other voices have to say will sound devious, tawdry, hostile to your welfare. How did they ever sound so appealing?! The contrast, the battle of wills, the battle between good and evil, will be more evident. Your immediate choice – which voice will I listen to? – will become stark. Remembering what’s true does not chalk up automatic victory. It’s not magic. It’s life. It’s not easy. Your battle will heat up. But we only do secretive things when we’re kidding ourselves. Every time you remember that you are out in public, then you live an out-in-public life. “I AM WITH YOU” means you’re always out in public. In order to sin, you’ll have to drown out the voice of reality, put your fingers in your ears, and switch channels to the fantasy channel, the lie channel, the death channel. And even if you switch channels and sin by high-handed choice, you will still be in broad daylight before God’s searching eyes. You can shut your eyes and plug your ears, He’s still right here. You’ll never get away. And you only have to open your eyes, listen, and turn around in order to find help. After all, He who loves you says, “I am with you,” mainly to encourage you. You have some degree of shame and secrecy attached to your sexual sin, unless you are a brazen, sleazy advocate for your fornications (not yet even fighting enemies at Level 1, but still committed to adore your enemies). Sin can’t stand to be out in public where everybody knows and everybody’s watching. “I am with you” means that the person who can help you right now knows and is watching. In fact, He is watching over you to protect you. He will help you escape darkness, because he has transferred you into the kingdom of the Son whom He loves.

What if you face a different struggle today? What if you feel overwhelmed with aloneness and fear, buried under your hurt, abandoned and betrayed by people? “I am with you.” “I am with you.” Again, when you really hear that, and take it to heart, you know you are not alone. You are safe. Manipulative or violent lust betrayed you; steadfast love never betrays you. Or what if you’re overwhelmed by the grime of past failures? “I am with you.” God is not shocked by the ugliness of your real-time evils. He came to die for “the worst of sinners” (as Paul twice refers to himself – 1 Timothy 1:15f). Whatever your struggle, “I am with you” changes the terrain of battle. You now see a fork in the road. A good road runs uphill towards the light, where previously you only knew to hurl yourself down a bobsled run into the abyss.

Third, put trouble and God together. Start talking, and start walking. We already began to do this in the previous paragraphs. It was impossible simply to identify choice points and then to offer promises and revelations of God without starting to capture the honest human responses: faith’s need for God, and constructive love for others. The Psalms put trouble and God together and talk it out. “Remembering” is not some la-de-da recitation of Bible verses. You fiercely pursue God. He must be to you what He says He is, and do for you what He says He does. In remembering, you change what’s on your mind. You change direction. You seek help. No face-plant in the muck today? That matters – even though tomorrow, or next month, the battle will mutate into some new form. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, step by step in real life. The Proverbs put you on the street before God’s eyes, and walk out how to live as a wise, loving person. The voice you listen to determines the choice you make. (Interestingly, Proverbs 1-9 drives this truth home by using sexual immorality as a vivid case in point.) How will you treat people today? Will love contain and express your sexuality well? Or will evil squander and warp your sexuality, treating others as sex objects?

Walking in the light is not magic. When you see the fork in the road more clearly (today’s skirmish)…, and when you see and hear your Lord more clearly (something He says)…, then you start talking, start needing, start trusting, and then you start making the hard, significant, joyous choice to love people rather than use them.

Go into action in today’s battle. That’s our final word. It gets us down to where our Savior is going into action. It’s where our Father is making us more fruitful. It’s exactly where the Spirit of life is changing us into His image of light and delight.

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This characterization partly arises from tendencies within American Christian culture. Other Christian cultures may do their calculus of the conscience a bit differently. In Uganda, for example, anger is particularly shameful, the bogie-man sin that automatically disqualifies from ministry. But Ugandans view sexual immorality the way that Americans view anger outbursts or gluttony. Such behaviors are sinful, but aren’t uniquely shocking and damning. Dante’s Divine Comedy portrays ‘normal’ sexual sins – sensuality, fornication – as meriting a shallower circle in hell. Like gluttony or sloth, these are distortions of normal desires. But sins of treachery, sexual and otherwise, involve betrayal of trust, and they sit in the deepest pit of hell.

ii The video game metaphor captures a progression of different kinds of battles we face . It does not capture how in real life we also “regress,” and may have to fight an old battle over again. It also does not capture that in real life the subtler sins are actually present all the way through. But they don’t tend to come front-and-center when some other struggle is more overt and decisive for that moment.

iii Calvin, Ibid., III:iii:10.

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