Ugh…politics…

Rarely if ever do I blog about politics but, then again, few things rile me up as much as blasphemy or false messiahs. Since I just posted this on Facebook, I figured I might as well post it here too:

I don’t like to post political stuff, but I feel compelled to speak up. No election in my lifetime has frightened me as much as this one, but today topped it all for me.

Christians I know and like are posting links to a blasphemous, scary article and — rather than denouncing it or getting offended — are actually voicing agreement with it. In the article, the author quotes one of my all-time favorite Scripture passages, which is from Isaiah 40. He quotes verses 30-31 in this manner:

“Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” 

Then the author proceeds to claim, “It’s almost like God created this verse for Donald Trump and this moment in history.”

That awful statement alone should horrify any student of Scripture or anyone who claims to believe in the God of the Bible. But it gets worse. 

I have no idea who Wayne Allyn Root, the author of this travesty, is. At the beginning of his article, he identifies himself by writing: “I am a Jew turned evangelical Christian. I am also a passionate supporter of Donald Trump.” I would argue, based on this article, that he is no longer an evangelical Christian but now believes in Trump as his messiah. Mr. Root seems to believe that it is now Trump, and no longer God, who renews our strength, and who enables us to mount up with wings like eagles. 

I wish I was kidding or that Mr. Root had written a tasteless satire, but unfortunately that doesn’t appear to be the case. In his “message for Christians”, he tries to convince us that “Trump is our energy”; “Trump renews our strength”; “With Trump we mount up with wings like eagles”; and, “With Trump we run, we are not weary”.

Sorry, those of my friends who are Trump fans, but that sounds like blasphemy to me. Trump is not God. Isaiah 40:31,32 is not a prophecy that Trump is fulfilling. “The Donald” may think he is America’s savior, and he may have convinced you of that, but he is not our messiah, not our God, not our Savior.

I’m beginning to think that this election is causing people to take absolute leave of their senses. What sort of bizarre hold does Trump have over this misguided and deluded author that he would write something so terrible while claiming to be a Christian — and why are my Christian friends not outraged at what he has written?

You can read the blasphemy in context here: http://m.townhall.com/columnists/wayneallynroot/2016/06/24/a-message-for-christians-about-donald-trump-n2182796

Repentance 


How do we know if someone is truly repentant? How do we know if we are? In light of some of my recent posts, I’ve been asking myself those questions, and doing some careful thinking and self-examination.

These are a few of my thoughts.

While researching the topic of repentance, I found this helpful quote from Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman:

“A few verses before Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18 about church discipline, he provides us with help for determining whether an individual is characteristically repentant: Would the person be willing to cut off a hand or tear out an eye rather than repeat the sin (Matt. 18:8-9)? That is to say, is he or she willing to do whatever it takes to fight against the sin? Repenting people, typically, are zealous about casting off their sin. That’s what God’s Spirit does inside of them. When this happens, one can expect to see a willingness to accept outside counsel. A willingness to inconvenience their schedules. A willingness to confess embarrassing things. A willingness to make financial sacrifices or lose friends or end relationships.” (p. 72)

I like the phrase describing repentant people as “zealous about casting off their sin”. Many of us already know this, whether through study, personal experience, or instinct. For example, something just doesn’t sit right with us about a supposedly repentant adulterer who still wants to keep his mistress on as his secretary and travel with her on business. We wonder how repentant someone is if they refuse to adjust their lives in any meaningful sort of way,  refuse to avoid further opportunity for sin, but expect us to take them at their word. (“I couldn’t resist my secretary before, but now I can. Trust me.”)

Some time back, I read the testimony of a marriage that healed after the wife’s affair. Her repentance came in stages; it was fully a year before she was willing to break off all contact with her affair partner. Needless to say, that year was agony for her husband, and painful evidence that she had not yet fully repented of her selfishness and lack of love. Her husband said he finally knew she was committed to faithfulness when she not only refused any further contact with the affair partner, but decided — unasked — to give up her professional career. She said she had destroyed her husband’s ability to trust her and didn’t want him to worry whenever she spent extended time with clients. That was her equivalent of cutting off her hand or gouging out her eye.

When we repent over sin, it’s rarely just the glaringly obvious sin that requires our repentance. If I lose my temper and yell harshly at my husband, the yelling may be just the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to complex sins like adultery, there are a myriad of sinful actions, thoughts, and attitudes that lead up to the final deeds — and that’s why we should not be so quick to restore someone who is only repentant over acts of intercourse, rather than over the whole stinking rotten web of selfishness, deceit, and unholiness that brought him or her to that point. A wise Biblical counselor will work with the Holy Spirit, rather than abort the process. Covering up sin is never grace.

I’ve noticed, in myself, that I’m not truly repentant until I see the ugliness of my sin and am willing to take full responsibility for it. As long as I am attempting to minimize (“Well, at least I didn’t…”) or excuse (“Yeah, but…”) or explain (“You see, the reason…”) or garner sympathy (“I was in a bad place, and now I feel terrible!”) or demand anything (“You need to trust/forgive me!”) I am not truly repentant. As long as I am lacking in empathy for those I have offended and hurt (“What’s the big deal? Why can’t they get over it already?”) I am only repentant up to a point.

Again, a wise Biblical counselor will know these things, and — when necessary — will call the sinner out, restoring him gently in love or with a firm rebuke, whichever is most appropriate. That will, of course, require the counselor to possess compassion and tenderness along with wisdom and discernment. Unfortunately, at the risk of sounding sexist, I have to point out that male leaders often have a difficult time identifying with women in general, as well as with anyone they consider “weak”. I think that is the reason for the phenomena that distresses and confounds so many of us — that pastors far more readily sympathize with predators, pedophiles, and sex offenders than with those who have been wounded and violated.

Behind a lot of sin, but sexual sin in particular, is a sense of entitlement. The sinner thinks: I am entitled to sexual gratification…I am entitled to more than I am getting from my spouse…I am entitled to happiness…I am entitled to do whatever I want with that child…I am entitled to control others…she owes me…he has no right to refuse me…I am entitled to use others…I am entitled to take what I want…That sense of entitlement outweighs everything else until selfishness runs rampant. We don’t want to admit that when we sin. We don’t want to tell the horrible truth: “I did it because I wanted to and, at that moment, I cared more about myself than anyone else. I am without excuse.”

Even as I write those words, I am searching for loopholes in my mind: Come on, that doesn’t apply to every sin...when I was being a prodigal in my 20’s, I was reacting to trauma and pain…which is an explanation, but not an excuse. I chose how to react, sometimes in healthy ways and sometimes in unhealthy ways. No one dragged me kicking and screaming out of the church and forced me to be a prodigal. No one kept me from Jesus but myself.

We all sin out of our brokenness. What that means is that we need healing as well as forgiveness.

And now for a hypothetical situation…

Let’s say that there is a young man who sexually abused multiple children in two different churches (at least that we know of). He has repented, been convicted, and served time. He has also sought professional help, because he realizes that pedophilia, contrary to what some would claim, is not merely a sexual quirk or preference that can be replaced with another. (“Hey, I like blondes but I supposed I could learn to like brunettes.” “I prefer dudes but maybe I can try real hard to like girls.” “Well, I’m into two-year-olds but that’s probably only because I’ve never met an adult woman I liked!”) However, let’s assume that our hypothetical sex offender has gone through deep inner healing, and that the very thought of sexually abusing a child is now abhorrent to him.

A nice elder from his church decides to set him up with a young woman. “That’s very nice of you,” says the repentant young ex-pedophile, “but there is no way that I could ever marry. You see, because of the very serious nature of the crimes I committed, I am not allowed to be around children except under the supervision of a court-appointed, trained chaperone. I could never be alone with my own children. There is a very real possibility I wouldn’t be allowed to live in my own home with my own family. At best, my wife would have to become my trained chaperone, and would have to supervise me around the children, keeping us in her sight at all times. She could never leave them alone with me. She could never even go to the bathroom or take a shower by herself when I’m in the home. We could never have a normal family life. How could I possibly be so selfish as to inflict that on any wife or child?”

That would be true repentance.

A wise, compassionate pastor, noticing its absence, would say, “I cannot in good conscience stand by and allow you to sentence anyone to grow up in such dysfunction, or to place any woman in the awkward, stressful position of having to chaperone her own husband. What sort of husband or father could you possibly be, even if you could guarantee that you no longer pose a danger to children? No one is entitled to a wife and family, especially if they cannot properly fulfill the roles of husband and father. You lost the privilege of marriage when you committed your heinous crimes against innocent children. I’m disappointed that you would, once again, be willing to place others at risk because of your own selfishness and sense of entitlement.”

That would be common sense…and compassion.

The open letter I wish Douglas Wilson had written

Pastors are not infallible. None of us are. Sometimes we want to believe so desperately that someone has repented and changed, that he or she is trustworthy, and that the past is in the past, that we throw caution to the wind…only to have our trust betrayed. “But they promised…!” 

Humility enables us to admit that we were duped, overly trusting, naive, mistaken, whatever. Pride blinds us and makes us prone to repeat our mistakes.

First some background: Doug Wilson’s Failure to Safeguard Children

And now the open letter that I wish Douglas Wilson had written, instead of the numerous blog entires he has been churning out of late:

In light of the recent court proceedings involving Steven Sitler, and the resultant coverage of those proceedings in the media, I believe that it is necessary for me to make a public statement taking full responsibility for my actions in this matter. Rather than get bogged down in details that are readily available elsewhere on the internet, I would like to confess the following.

I made several grave errors in judgment. As Mike Sloan and Beth Hart have stated, “Offenders are masters of deception and manipulation, often saying what people want to hear so that they attract attention and compassion toward themselves and away from their victims.” I was deceived. But it’s worse than that: my pride prevented me from listening to the warnings and advice of others with more knowledge and expertise.

Furthermore, I misapplied the Scriptures that state it is better to marry than burn, and that each man should have his own wife because of the temptation to sexual immorality. Obviously Steven Sitler is not dealing with garden-variety sexual temptation. His desire to abuse, molest, and harm children will not be fulfilled or healed by the love of a good woman, and it was naive of me to think so.

I believe in the power of the gospel to transform lives; however, it was both naive and prideful of me to think that I could judge whether or not Steven Sitler’s repentance was genuine. Anyone can appear godly and contrite in half a dozen meetings in his pastor’s office — especially when the pastor is, like me, unqualified and untrained in counseling sex offenders — and the fact that he was willing to read some books means little. Furthermore, if he was truly repentant, he would understand and accept that he can never have a close relationship with any child, and certainly cannot be in an authority position over one. Thus, a Biblical marriage — one that is open to life — would be out of the question for him.

If I had to do it over again, I would have advised the elder in my church to give up on his misguided matchmaking efforts. I would have advised against marriage for Steven Sitler, and quoted Matthew 18:6 to him at every opportunity. It would be far better for a serial pedophile to have a great millstone around his neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea than for him to have the opportunity to harm and damage any more children. If we would not allow him to babysit children in our church nursery, certainly we cannot encourage him to have children of his own. It was wrong of me to perform that marriage ceremony.

I wish to repent publicly of my pride, arrogance, and lack of compassion.

Furthermore, I wish to repent of erroneous statements I have made regarding the very nature of marriage itself. Years ago, I foolishly wrote, “A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants.” What a mischaracterization of the beauty and tenderness God intends for the sexual relationship! What an offensive way to describe the act that God designed to be an expression and means of intimacy, unity, and fruitfulness! 

In addition, I maligned many good, decent, loving men by claiming, “Men dream of being rapists.” I should have stated that only ungodly, immoral, depraved men would dream of such a thing, and that men with these desires need to repent immediately — and women need to protect themselves from these men until they demonstrate lasting fruit of repentance. Counseling by someone far more qualified than I am would probably be in order as well.

I deeply regret that much harm that has been caused by my pride, foolishness, poor judgment, and grave error. I pray that those I have harmed and offended would find it in their hearts to forgive me. I am grief-stricken over how I have contributed to the sufferings of even just one innocent child. May God have mercy on us all.

Of course what Douglas Wilson has really written is nothing like this.

The trouble with empathy

There is a big problem with trying to become a compassionate person filled with empathy for others.

It hurts.

In fact, it will cost us. Big time. We will end up with broken hearts. Our entire outlook on life will change. We will find ourselves identifying with the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the marginalized, the abused, the weak, the very young, the helpless, the broken, the poor, the downtrodden, the messy — the type of people our culture ignores or disdains.

The Bible tells us to “weep with those who weep”. That isn’t a “pink verse”; it doesn’t say, “…unless you are an American man, in which case you can just pretend to be John Wayne and ride off into the sunset, thus avoiding the whole uncomfortable, emotional scene.” If you are some sort of manly man who never cries — or a woman who doesn’t want her mascara to run — you don’t get a free ride. Weep. And, if you can’t weep, because you aren’t compassionate enough or humble enough, pray for God to break you. Trust me, He will.

We also don’t get to decide who is worthy of our compassion, and what circumstances are deserving of our tears. The Bible doesn’t say, “Weep with those whom you have questioned thoroughly to make sure they didn’t somehow contribute to their own misfortune; otherwise brush them off and walk away…or you can self-righteously condemn and blame them for all the ways in which you think they messed up and brought tragedy on themselves.” It doesn’t say, “Only weep for what is a big major deal to you, and tell the people you think are whiny crybabies to suck it up.”

Jesus identifies with our weaknesses — even when we are being vile and rotten sinners. Even when we are being wimpy. If we claim to be His followers, what makes us think we can be so stingy and withholding of our empathy, love, and compassion?

If we really want to be like Jesus, it will cost us everything. We will eventually end up meek, lowly of heart, and well acquainted with grief. We will anguish over our inability to bring healing to every broken heart and to set every captive free. We will weep over the Jerusalems in our lives. We will share in the fellowship of His sufferings. Our lives will be poured out like drink offerings.

The good news about empathy is that it brings healing to others in a way that we may never know or comprehend. About five years ago, I went to my first retreat for women survivors of sexual trauma. There were three men there who profoundly impacted me because of the way in which they conducted themselves. Most of us had never experienced having men serve us — I mean, really and truly serve. They didn’t make a big deal and announce they were serving us. They were too humble for that, and neither wanted nor expected anything in return, because their motive was unselfish love and compassion. They didn’t “serve” by leading us, exercising authority over us, teaching us, telling us what to do, monopolizing our time and attention, or taking on roles of prominence and prestige. They just cared for us. It was so sweet and so genuine — and an aspect of godly masculinity that few of us had encountered before — that it was one of the most healing aspects of the retreat.

God gave one of those men some special words of encouragement for me during a meeting, and I was thanking him for it afterward. He knew next to nothing about me, and knew absolutely nothing about my life story, other than what could be assumed by the fact that I was at a retreat for sexual trauma survivors. As we stood outside in the Oklahoma sun, God gave this man a sudden flash of additional insight, a glimpse into a part of my identity that I kept hidden. At first I tried to argue with him…no, I’m not that…but he was right. Then he said, “What happened to you was so…” and he described my rape with a word that I had never dared speak aloud, except in those early months and years after the rape, when I would stand in the shower every morning, head leaning against the hard tiles, weeping, weeping, weeping, and those very words — oh, God help me, it was so … — those words would come out in muffled, anguished cries from the deepest, most wounded part of my soul. Years later, this man I had just met was saying, “That’s why it hurt you so much.” And he was right.

Then, with my permission, he hugged me oh so carefully, and he leaned his head down towards mine and whispered in my ear in a choked voice, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry they did this to you. I am so sorry.” And this big strong man, this man who didn’t really know me but who chose to identify with my pain and anguish and devastation — he wept for me. I felt his tears fall on my shoulder, like the most precious, healing gift. He knew. He understood. And he wept.

I want to be like that.

The best part of asking God to give us hearts of compassion and empathy is that we get to know Jesus more as we participate in His healing work, and as our hearts break for the very things that break His heart. That’s our reward…to know Him. And He is so worth it, every tear, every heartbreak. The people we love are worth it. But He is our greatest reward.

There is, however, one terrible dark valley that we have to walk through first, and it’s the real reason we run from empathy. We know, deep down inside, that eventually we will be forced to identify with, to allow ourselves to feel, the very pain we have caused others. We won’t be able to weasel out, if we choose the way of Jesus, if we heed His voice. We won’t be able to say, “Oh, she was being overly sensitive”, “He needs to man up and stop overreacting to every little thing,” “I was just venting”, “She provoked me”, “I was under a lot of stress”, “It wasn’t that bad”, “Yeah, but what about what he did to me?” “Wait, I can explain!” “I thought I was doing the right thing!” “I had no idea!” Our excuses will turn to ash in our mouths. Our lies will be exposed. Our attempt to minimize and deny will condemn us. We will end up face down on the floor, weeping, what have I done? what have I done? oh, God help me, what have I done? 

Weeping with those who weep is all the more devastating, and all the more necessary, when we are the cause of their weeping.

There is a prayer I am too afraid to pray: “God, please show me how I have hurt others, so that I may ask forgiveness.” I am still too cowardly to face the entire truth. I don’t think I could bear the full experience of that pain…and the knowledge that I inflicted it. God help me.

At the same time, I need a tender heart, a loving heart, a compassionate heart, a broken heart. And those in my life need me to have it…for their sakes.

When non-Christians are far more concerned about sin than we are

There is definitely something wrong.

A Christian pastor admits to an adulterous affair, files for divorce, is stripped of his ordination credentials, and should be undergoing church discipline — but, hey, no problem! — another church hires him almost immediately as their director of ministry development.

A Christian celebrity’s past comes back to haunt him when the fact that he molested five children is revealed publicly — but, hey, no problem! — it was just a youthful indiscretion; he repented; and it was really no big deal. Then the same celebrity’s involvement with the Ashley Madison adultery website is exposed, along with several instances of adultery — but, hey, no problem! — we all sin and, besides, sexual perverts can “let Christ turn your ‘deepest, darkest sins’ into something beautiful”.

A serial pedophile serves 20 months out of a life sentence, is almost immediately upon his release re-arrested for voyeurism — but, hey, no problem! — his church leaders set him up on a date with a naive (or disturbed) young woman and their pastor performs the wedding ceremony, knowing full well that the serial pedophile intends to have children. (Now that this is in the news again because the court has information that “shows [Sitler] has had contact with his child that resulted in actual sexual stimulation“, one would think the pastor would be repenting in sackcloth and ashes over his advocacy and support for a serial child molester…but, no.)

What are we assume from all this? That Christians think adultery and pedophilia are not big deals? That we don’t care about marriage vows and innocent children?  That we are in cahoots with predators? That we are idiots, easily duped by predators, but too prideful to admit it? That we are worse than hypocrites?

This is, unfortunately, not a new problem for the church. Paul had to address it in 1 Corinthians 5:1: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans…” Just like us, some of the early Christians were behaving in ways even worse than the surrounding unbelievers, and engaging in sexual acts considered unacceptable by their society’s standards…yet the church was not doing anything about it.

Sexual immorality is not just like every other sin: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18) It definitely shouldn’t be happening within the church: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” (Ephesians 5:3)

Those of us who have spent any time reading our Bibles know this. We know it full well. Even those who have never opened a Bible recognize that the three examples I gave at the beginning of this blog are seriously wrong. But if we believe the most basic tenets of the Christian faith, the very essence of the gospel, we of all people should recognize the hideous seriousness of sin. Sin is deadly. Rather than minimizing serious sins and trying to pretend that God views serial child molesting the same that He views swiping a half-used cheap ballpoint pen from work, we need to take sin as seriously as God does.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

Most of the time, we get this exactly backwards. If Ed Iversen, a church elder, had taken the above passage seriously, he would not have been inviting Steven Sitler over for dinner, and he certainly wouldn’t have done so in order to introduce him to a young woman.

Yes, we shouldn’t write the sinners in our midst off completely and irrevocably. There is what we call “church discipline” and — following evidence of genuine repentance — a process of restoration and reconciliation. But this does not mean hiring adulterous pastors immediately after their affairs, covering up child molestation, making excuses for gross immorality, writing supportive letters on behalf of perverts, or acting as matchmakers for serial pedophiles. God can and does transform lives. But we must stop being naive suckers, and we must cease from being so out of touch with reality that we are easily conned into enabling — even encouraging — predators to continue in their pattern of destruction and abuse. Men like Douglas Wilson (a pastor with no training in treating sex offenders) are incorrigibly arrogant and foolish if they insist that, over the course of “about half a dozen” sessions, they can determine if a serial predator “has been completely honest“. It is bad enough for an ill-equipped pastor to be duped because his poor judgment and over-inflated sense of importance allowed him to get in over his head; it is far worse for him to refuse to acknowledge the devastation caused by his pride and ignorance. At the very least, such a pastor should admit to his error, and apologize for it, rather than attempting to defend himself.

As someone who is admittedly prone to wander, I have my share of “deepest, darkest sins”. I believe in a God of redemption and reconciliation — in fact, I am staking my life and all of eternity on that belief. However, God does not turn our “deepest, darkest sins” into “something beautiful”. He takes sins away. The beautiful thing He does with sin is to remove it as far from us as the east is from the west. There is no silver lining to sin, and no bright side. There is nothing to redeem. What He redeems is us — our lives after our sins have been repented of and forgiven.

Getting rid of the consequences of sin is not as easy a process as getting rid of the guilt of sin. God forgives, but He doesn’t necessarily undo the damage our sins cause, to others and to ourselves. The process of sanctification is what brings healing and wholeness to us, as we leave our patterns of sin behind, and as we overcome the attitudes and thought patterns that led to those sins. It’s an ongoing process.

I’d be a naive idiot if I assumed that, since God forgave my sins of x,y,z that these will never pose a temptation to me again, or that I am instantly “cured” of whatever it was that caused those sins to be a problem for me in the first place. No matter how far some of those sins might fade into my distant past, wisdom would dictate that I should never let down my guard. Trusting God is an entirely different matter than trusting myself not to fail in the very areas that I have failed in the past.

Freedom from certain sins might necessitate curtailing freedom in certain areas. A repentant embezzler would never want to place himself in the position of being church treasurer and bookkeeper, nor would he want to place anyone in the awkward and uncomfortable position of having to supervise him. One would think that a repentant pedophile would be even more circumspect and willing to restrict himself. After all, we are talking about innocent human lives that are at stake. If he is not yet that repentant — or if he is still too arrogant and selfish for his or anyone’s good — one would hope that the leaders of his church would have the wisdom, Biblical understanding, compassion, humility, grace, and plain old common sense to set him straight.

If we don’t clean our own house, eventually someone else will be forced to do so. We need to start with ourselves, and we need to start taking God…and sin…seriously. May we learn to hate what God hates, and love what and whom He loves, and may we become more like His Son, instead of less.