To the Lost and Abused


You are not forgotten. 

You are not irrelevant.  

This world of sin and sinners is often a place where young girls are sexually abused.  Where little boys are ignored by their fathers or beaten by their fists.  Where the small or disadvantaged are trampled by the anger or selfishness of warped men with warped hearts.  

Creation groans under sin.  

And Satan delights in it.  

He hates truth, hates Jesus, and loves pain.  

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?

Genesis 3:5

And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.  She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself.  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your disability.’  And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.  But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, ‘There are six days in which work ought to be done.  Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’  Then the Lord answered him, ‘You hypocrites!  Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it?  And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?’  As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. 

Like 13:11-17

This is a world where Satan often whispers a violent and treasonous song over the most helpless of people, and then dances to their fear and their pain and their bewilderment.  And it is a world where others join his twisted song.  

But it is not his world.  

Hear me.  

Let Hell and death and sin clamor for your soul.  Let them.  But their loudest ragings will not prevail if you will despair of all other hopes and instead call out to Jesus, like a lost and helpless child.  

Let your anxieties and all your most jagged memories creep up on you like old ghosts with sharp teeth.  They will not get to claim you if you are ransomed by the King of Kings.  

Let pain be pain and fear be fear.  Neither will have the last word if you will believe in Jesus.  

I know you have been wounded to the bone.  

You don’t trust people.  You don’t trust God. And you don’t trust “the world,” by which you probably mean people and God.  

You have heard that God is different from the one who abused you, but you don’t believe it.  

Believe.  

The one who violated you?  I know he used you.  But this is a God who was obliterated to bless people just like you.  

He lied to you.  But this is a God who speaks only truth; He can do no other.  

He promised to change, to be better, only to hurt you time and time and time and time again.  But this is a God who endured Hell and shame and death and agony to keep His promises. 

This God is different from the one who hated and harmed you.  Unimaginably different.  This Jesus will never leave, never forsake, never forget you.  He would rather die than lose those He claims, and the Cross stands as a vertical proof of it.  This is a Lord with a heart for the lowly and the bruised, and who breaks all the violent who refuse to repent. 

You have suffered.  

So has He.  

And at the place your suffering and His meet, namely your faith, a new song starts.  One that sin and death and Satan hate to the core.  

And one that is no whisper, no lie, and that never, ever ends.  

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 

1 Peter 5:8-9

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Long, Long Shadows and A Light


Sin never stops where you think it will. 

Your repeated anger leads to latent bitterness which leads to relationship-destroying gossip.  

Your pornography-viewing leads to unmarital sex which leads to one parent raising a child in isolation which leads to crippling resentment.  

Unchecked sin always spreads, and kills where it does.  Like cancer.  

But one of the beautiful mercies of God is that He has given us a community where sin and its scars can be dealt with.  

The church.  


Churches are little cities of imperfect people, people who have been miraculously remade and who, by the grace of a very real and very compassionate God, continually confess and continually turn from the sins they still commit.  They know who they were (spiritually dead evil people), they know who they are (spiritually alive people being slowly made more and more like Jesus), and they know who God is (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who love to save sinners).  And because of these 3 things, these little collections of Gospel people are able to bring wicked and broken and scared and angry humans into their midst and minister to them.  Serve them.  Help to stop the bleeding in their lives.  

The world is home to all stripes of sinners who are in different stages of the pain or disarray or death that sin brings along as its trail.  And there is no one else who can get to the root of the chaos or who can apply supernatural salve to the wounds of all this sin like the church can.  She has been given the Good News that can heal and can save people from their evils, and from the evils that were committed against them.  She can rescue them from the worst of the violence and the trouble and the affliction of this world.  

Which is great, because this is not Mayberry.  This is a world of adultery and ulterior motives and hearts who will cast those they love aside for pleasure or power.  This is a world where sin has left some long, long shadows.  Sons deserted by their fathers, marriages in flames because of selfishness, grown men and women who don’t know how to be men or women.  And there in the heart of this world stands the church, giving the hope and the truth and the life that only she can give.  

This world needs her.  The single mothers and the heroin addicts and the workaholics and the shallowest of womanizers need her.  She is a city on a hill.  

She is where they can come for possibility.  For hope.  For adoption into a forever family.  She is where they can sojourn for all of the things that only Jesus can hand over.  

For everyone trapped in what sin has spoiled, churches are households of transforming mercy.  They are families of forgiveness.  They are little peoples of honest confession and honest love and honest Gospel.  

This is a world of long shadows.  Because sin never stops where it whispers it will.   Sin never keeps that promise.  

But the God of the Cross has given a light that can beat those shadows back.  His church holds that light in her hands, for any and all to come see.  

The Only Good Christmas

  
If you think you can do life and morality on your own, if you think there is some native ability in your own soul to please God, Jesus’ Christmas won’t be the good news for you that it can be.  

If you think you’re ethical enough or strong enough on your own, then God becoming man to rescue you and invite you into His family won’t sound like the incredible happiness it’s being offered to you as.  

If you’re trusting in you, Christmas as Christmas can’t be a joyous message for you at all.  The holiday trappings may still be nice, but what the day was created to commemorate will go right over your head. 

There’s a parable Jesus told about trusting in yourself.  It applies to a Christian whose confidence is in his theological precision, to an academic whose identity is in her degree and high-minded dialogue, to a social reformer who finds his value in being on the cutting edge of a societal revolution, to a cultural conservative whose sense of achievement is in her being different from most of 2015 America, and to a liberal Christian whose meaning comes from being (in his own estimation) beyond the other Christians around him in his day and place.  It applies to every heart that trusts in anything other than the free righteousness of Jesus Christ, offered only by grace through faith. 

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:  ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed:  God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.  But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Luke 18:9-14

God having come to rescue us from what we deserve is startling and beautiful, but only if you’re like sinner #2.  Only if you realize how wicked and helpless you are and call upon the sole person with the authority (and willingness) to forgive you.  

If you’re heart is hardened like sinner #1, it doesn’t matter what else is on your resume.  You’ll miss the point of Christmas.  God’s Gospel won’t break you and put you back together, like it did the sinner Zacchaeus in the chapter after the one this parable is from.  If you’re trusting in you, in any way, you’ll miss the point of Christmas.  

And, on a much grander scale, you’ll miss the point of life altogether:  Worshiping the glory and beauty of the Jesus Christ who offers pardon.  And for broken-hearted wretches, that’s ultimately why Christmas is a happy and hopeful day.

30 Seconds on the Right Kind of Compassion

  
It is not compassion to be vague on that which God is clear. If you speak with great clarity and force on the parts of the Bible our wider culture likes (mercy, the sinfulness of oppression, etc.) but suddenly find yourself hemming and hawing when it comes to clear teachings of God our culture doesn’t like (that sex is meant for Godly marriage, that repentance is necessary for salvation, etc.) you’re probably not being governed by compassion. You’re probably being governed by fear of man.

That kind of compassion, the kind without conviction, is usually cheap veneer covering a heart that craves fitting in.  It’s misguided, self-seeking, and it doesn’t usually accomplish much eternal good.

But compassion made strong by the truth of God and love for God?  That is kindling and spark for a world freezing to death.  

Jesus spoke unimaginably hard words from a heart of unimaginably deep love.  Real compassion is like that, like Him.  It can wound temporarily so that it can heal eternally.  The fake kind can’t even tell you where your problem is. 

This Thing On My Back

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The beauty of the Good News of the crucified and risen Messiah is that it’s for bad people. People like the sexually immoral Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. People like the thief and traitor that Jesus called into the Kingdom and into ministry in Matthew 9 (Levi/Matthew). People like the man being fairly executed for his real crimes right next to Jesus’ cross who repented and believed just before dying.

This thing on my back is my imagined righteousness. Or in different light under a different moon it might look like excessive shame.

I alternate between periods of trying to furiously earn the respect and admiration of a God I wrongly believe is cold and distant and an intense loathing of myself for past sins (or even imagined sins).

Instead of following a Jesus who has freed me, I’m tripping over my own feet trying to impress a Jesus I think wants me to free myself before He’ll have anything to do with me.

You can be a minister of the Gospel and forget it. It works like this: 9:30 in the morning rolls around, and as you’re doing your normal workday tasks the ways that you’ve failed and the sins that you’ve committed leak into the back of your mind. And instead of proclaiming the Gospel of God’s grace to yourself, you try to prove that you can be better. You try to balance the scales. Today, you think, I’ll be better… That is the answer to my guilt and shame and failures. And so instead of putting your hope in the finished work of the Lion of Judah, you put your hope in your own abilities and good works. Instead of seeking peace in the unsearchable, unfathomable love of God in His wrath-absorbing Son, you look for peace in your own newly-charged resolve to be a better person.

It is a never-ending cycle of exhaustion and despair or of spiritual blindness and arrogance. If you and I think we can impress God or that ultimate hope or peace can come from our good works, we will not walk in the humility, love, joy, and worship of the healthy Christian. We’ll be self-absorbed, self-pitying, self-righteous, or self-loathing. And most of all self-deluded.

The beauty of the Gospel is that it’s good and that it’s true. It’s far more good than any righteousness we can eke out on our own, and it’s far more true than any transitory illusion we might have of our own ability to impress God and man.

This thing on my back? It’s of my own making. And it crumbles and falls to the ground when exposed to the Gospel. Like sin, it’s power is less than the Messiah’s.

Look over your shoulders and see if you have one like mine. If so, join me in turning from sin and trusting in the Son. Our shoulders are weak and burdened with depravity; His are holy and strong as steel.

We can’t carry the weight of our own sins; He can carry the world’s.

I’ll Be Found Out

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And so will you.

Every secret sin, every careless word, every greed and hatred and unfought lust; each human being will have to give an account to God. You know that web site that got hacked recently? The one where people (mostly men, it turned out) paid to have (or flirt with the idea of having) affairs? I’ve heard a couple of tragic stories about it, and Monday night night I read one Christian leader’s public confession of having browsed it once. And something he said made me think: Nothing I do will stay hidden.

I haven’t done what he did. But what about secret hatreds I’ve nursed? Grudges I’ve held? Faithless fears, idolatry of television or food or other physical pleasures, prayerlessness and bitterness and hypocrisy? What about my selfish fits of impatience or anger? Do I think those will always just stay in the quiet dark?

I am grateful God has kept me from great and destructive sin like the earthquake that is adultery, but before I get too glib and judgmental when I’m reading a confession like the one I read Monday, I should pause and remember the blood the perfect Son of God shed for my petty professional jealousies and thoughtlessness toward my wife and kids.

You know, the stuff I did yesterday.

So what is the hope, the Good News? You know I’m a broken and still-rebellious man; what do I do? And more importantly for you, what do you do?

All the sins are coming to the light someday, guys. So what do we do?

What is the hope for all the sexually immoral, covetous, backslidden, cowardly, deceitful little hypocrites and failures? What do we do on the day we’re crushed by the weight of what we’ve done or who we’ve been? What solace is there on the morning after you self-destruct? For the man who wants to repent of his adultery or the woman who’s realized how toxic her gossip has been or the young guy who wants to stop getting drunk but doesn’t feel like he has the will to stop?

Well, here’s what I got: The Good News is that your worst sins being brought to the light doesn’t have to be the end. It isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you, and it doesn’t have to be the last word on your life.

Do me a favor: Picture a man who loved and followed Jesus, then made his life a disgrace through a very public sin. Throughout the world news of his moral failure gets carried to believers and unbelievers alike, to this day. The folly of it all gets repeated over and over, how he thought he was above committing that sort of sin and how he said so to anyone who’d listen and then how he stumbled hard into a shameful spotlight. It’s retold with crystal clarity all over the world.

Okay, now my flesh would say that that is the end of the man. The part of me who forgets the heart of the Gospel, who forgets that terrible, wicked people can be rescued by a loving Father by grace through faith in His Son, would think, Tsk, tsk, what a shame. What was he thinking? Thankfully, I haven’t done that, as I sipped from a big, tall glass of pride.

But my flesh doesn’t call the shots. So that wasn’t the end of his story.

This brokenhearted and greatly humbled sinner named Simon Peter, whose public cowardice the night of the Crucifixion is still told pretty much everywhere there’s a church and at least one Bible, was held in His loving Father’s hands. He was forgiven by his Great Shepherd.

At the same Supper where Jesus told Simon Peter in advance that he’d deny Him, He also said this:

“Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

I want you picture that part, too. Picture the Son of God looking into this man’s eyes and knowing what he was going to do. Picture him looking square at this man and knowing his hypocrisy and his sin, and then telling him, “I have not forgotten you. I will not forsake you. I have prayed and interceded for you. And now when you turn back to me again, when you repent and receive the blood that gives grace and kills shame, strengthen your brothers, here. They’ll need to know what you’ll have found out: That I forgive to the uttermost.”

So, tell me: Have you screwed up your life? Are you afraid of what will come out someday? Know that you’ve sinned against God? I have Good News for you, and I have Good News for me, too: The Kingdom of God is made up of some formerly wicked, slimy sinners. People who blasphemed the Son before being reborn and who dishonored Him after. People who fought with their sins and their flesh but who often lost. It’s filled with Peters and Sauls and Davids. You see, the banquet feast in Jesus’ Kingdom has a pretty simple entrance policy: The ones who trust in their own righteousness don’t get in, and the ones who turn to the Savior in faith do.

I’m going to be found out, guys. And so are you. All our sins are going to be public someday, like Peter’s. There won’t be anything that stays hidden.

But there will be all kinds of stuff that gets washed away.

If we have been born of God, we have been brought out of the darkness through the kindness and love of the Father of Jesus Christ. We don’t need to fear like unbelievers. We can have confidence in the blood of our Jesus. We can grieve our sin and repent of it and then have peace because we know and have been known by God. We don’t have to fear the light, because we’re not children of darkness. For us, the light is good. It’s sunlight and forgiveness and the end of winter and knowing our Abba as we’ve been known. For us, it’s the beginning of the last good day. The one that never ends.

If we have been born of God, we don’t have to fear the light of the Gospel of Jesus. It’s our only hope.

And it cleans and saves to the uttermost.

Monsters From Up Close

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It is nonsense to think I would have stood up to Nazism’s murder of human beings if I do not stand up to Planned Parenthood’s. If I’m easily seduced by the apparent normalcy of abortion, then I’m the kind of man who would’ve been too complacent or lazy to hide Jews in my attic.

Everyone seems to be able to identify evil 70 years after the fact. But a lot of monsters look and smell normal up close, where you get distracted by their nice office buildings and good lighting. C.S. Lewis described that kind of evil well, and having lived through both World Wars (and fought in one) I think he’d seen it.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t have barbed wire and guards with rifles, but as an organization they treat image bearers of God like trash. So I don’t care whether they look like Auschwitz from the waiting room. You can’t smell the blood or hear a baby screaming from there.

Two quotes:

“Man is and remains an animal. Here a beast of prey, there a housepet, but always an animal.”

Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propagandist

“”So then you’re kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above.”

Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Senior Director of Medical Services for Planned Parenthood, on dismembering infants in the womb in such a way that the body parts can be sold.

I pray for salvation for every worker at this monstrosity. I pray for repentance from horrible evil and for saving faith in Jesus, who can redeem any wicked one.

But I also pray that Planned Parenthood would dissolve, and that in its bloody ruins the people of Jesus would adopt little babies, care for impoverished mothers, weep with the child-murderers who would repent, and mourn the deaths that can’t be undone.

And I pray that the Savior who loves children and knits them together in the womb would return. His will be the last word.