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Why Address Sin?

“If a woman is not to blame for her abuse, aren’t you finger-pointing and blaming the victim to talk about her sin?”

When a woman comes to a pastor, biblical counselor, or older woman for help, the last thing that should be addressed is her sin. Literally. The last thing. Her primary need is practical help, hope, and comfort in the face of unjust suffering; mental, emotional, psychological, physical. She is a sufferer. There is no other, better term.  Because Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse had to be written all at once, it addresses every part of a woman’s spiritual life: salvation, suffering, and sanctification. Sanctuary speaks to her position as a child of God, a saint who is fully forgiven. The greater portion of the book acknowledges her suffering as a woman experiencing domestic abuse. Finally, Sanctuary addresses her reality as a sinner. To look at some parts of her life (saint and sufferer) without seeing her as a whole person would be a disservice. Forgiveness, freedom, and and long-term healing are the result of confession and repentance.

As a victim of abuse learns to cry out to and trust God and His people, there will be a time to walk through sinful thought patterns and habits–things that prevent her from addressing her husband, seeking help, or finding the courage to change. According to statistics, a woman will return to an abusive relationship seven times. That reason alone should move us beyond safety, escape and relief to a desire for personal transformation, which is only available by faith in the substitutionary life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The greater element is her relationship with God; her spiritual growth and ability to glorify God as she lives out the beauty of her original design. In that case, the most unloving act is to provide immediate help, help her feel better, and send her out the door, still dependent on her abuser, desiring to change him or fix their marriage, tied to a need for approval, appreciation and affection from someone other than God, who alone is worthy.

Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).  Sanctuary shows women, churches, and the people who love them how to apply the power of God and His awe-some love for her to a man acting wickedly and sinfully. By faith, she can transfer blame to the deserving individual, the abuser, placing her burden of sin and shame on Jesus Christ. She is then able to live abundantly: free of guilt, shame, failure, and condemnation.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, (Romans 8:1-6)

Forgiveness without Reconciliation pt. 2

Forgiveness is costly. When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing,” He was not providing a blanket forgiveness. He was petitioning His Father, willing to pay the price for their sin against Him. In the same way, Jesus took the punishment of my sin so I wouldn’t have to. That is love–and it is the kind of love only Jesus can give.

jesus_on_cross

None of us can take another’s punishment for sin. We have our own to worry about. But forgiveness* is a promise to withhold punishment for another’s sin against us. It may seem a petty thing–and in the scope of eternity it is–but in the moment, depending on the offense, it is astronomical. What does it look like to forgive a husband who belittles you in public? Demeans you in front of the children? Withholds finances? Takes joy in making your pain?

When we see the ugliness, waste, and offense of sin, we are tempted to retaliate, make him pay, want him to feel the pain and suffering he’s caused. That’s normal and natural. But Jesus can change that. Examining my own heart and sin against God and others brings me to a point of seeing the pain and suffering I brought on Jesus; on friends, church and family members, co-workers, children. And as I fully embrace the price Jesus paid for my sin, all of it, I am able to give him my pain and suffering as a result of others’ sin against me.

Willingness to forgive does not fix the problem. It does not make the offense go away or stop it from happening.  What a heart of forgiveness does do it to take the Jesus-card out of my back pocket and put it in the sin chip-reader. “Charge it to His account. There’s more than enough to cover the cost.” When I delve into Jesus’ forgiveness and extend it to others, I am free from the need to punish them or get revenge. I trust God to take care of things, and I know He will. As far as my own sin, the punishment was at Jesus’ expense. Paul wrote, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

Apart from God’s forgiveness in Christ, I can never be ready and willing to offer forgiveness. But through faith in Jesus, I can choose a heart of forgiveness. If the offending party has not acknowledged, owned, and dealt with his sin, I am free to bring it up when it is in his best interest. In that case, I determine to use his sin against me for Christ’s glory instead of my own.

I will not smash the mirror of God’s Word over someone else’s head, but I may lovingly, gently hold it up as the Standard in non-combative moments to say, “This is what I’m seeing–do you see it, too?” A willingness to love and forgive may mean removing one’s self and children from a dangerous or sinful situation: “I am not going to embrace or be an audience to your sin against God, against me, and against those who are in your care.”

The key is this: *sin cannot be forgiven (or “sent away) until it is acknowledged and forsaken. Until then, we can be willing and ready, dependent on Jesus Christ, extending His kindness and love to the just and the unjust, doing what is right, and using the resources He has put at our disposal.

But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. (Matthew 12:26)

For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. (Matthew 16:27)

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God… (1 Peter 3:18)

Forgiveness without Reconciliation

I was recently asked what marriage to an abusive man would look like if he never changed–if he confessed and asked for forgiveness as manipulation. That’s a hard question. What would it look like to live, willing to forgive, but unreconciled?

Jesus’ said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

That’s hard. Impossible. Supernatural.

And the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. During the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples before His crucifixion, He announced that one of them would betray Him. Each one (including Judas) asked, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22). Jesus didn’t treat Judas any differently than the others, even though Judas had received 30 pieces of silver in exchange for betrayal.

The strained behavior, words, guilt, and shame rest soundly with the one who sinned and refuses to repent. Those forgiven by God in Christ are free; faith-filled, peace-full. They can make decisions, walk, talk, and live with a clear conscience before God and others. Reconciliation affects fellowship with individual who sinned against us, but it does not bear on our own conscience or relationship with God.

Again, the guilt and sin is the responsibility of the one who sins against and uses others to his advantage. The soul who sins will die. (Ezekiel 18:4). That’s each one of us–apart from Jesus. But in Christ, there we can love others independent of their behavior; seeking their best, honoring God with my heart, mind,  body, and soul.

Simply trusting every day;
Trusting through a stormy way;
Even when my faith is small,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

Refrain:

Trusting as the moments fly,
Trusting as the days go by,
Trusting Him, whate’er befall,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

2 Brightly doth His Spirit shine
Into this poor heart of mine;
While He leads I cannot fall,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

3 Singing if my way be clear,
Praying if the path be drear;
If in danger, for Him call,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

4 Trusting Him while life shall last,
Trusting Him till earth is past,
Till His gracious advent call,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

Why the Term, “Victim?”

Using the word “victim” to describe an individual experiencing domestic abuse is, perhaps, a bit archaic. Old-fashioned. Politically incorrect. Or is it?

The choice of the word is intentional and sets itself up for discussion. What word would you use? Secular society chooses the word, “survivor.” The idea is that anyone who has suffered abuse successfully is not a victim because the word victim denotes weakness and subjugation. Surviving abuse is worthy of recognition. I don’t disagree.

The word, victim, as used in the book, Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse, is a temporary term that applies to an individual suffering unjustly for a limited time in a specific setting. It is not a term of identity, worth, or prophecy.

Why not use the word, “survivor?” Because survivor comes with a t-shirt. Survival is a term of endurance and evident success, but the word, “victor” is so much more powerful. In Christ, and through the power of the gospel, a woman experiencing domestic abuse is not a victim. She is not merely a survivor. She is a victor.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Unjust Suffering

We are all familiar with suffering the consequences of making a poor decision. Children refuse to wear the clothing their parents tell them to and suffer as a result. We like to think that those who cheat, lie, steal, and hurt others will suffer the consequences of their behavior, but we don’t always see it. Is it really true? On the other hand, when women experience domestic violence, abusers tell them, “If only you’d _________, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s your own fault!” What a twisted reality!

That’s why the Bible is so vital to sorting out domestic abuse. It is the only source of absolute truth and God lays it out clearly:

The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:20)

Violence is wrong. Manipulation, deceit, coercion, justification, and posturing are wrong. Using someone to get what you want–power, influence, control–is wrong. The person who lives this way will be held eternally accountable.

The key word is, “eternally.” We may or may not see the consequences now. Asaph saw the injustice of evil men: they were rich, sleek and fat, boasting in themselves and committing acts of violence. Life seemed easy and, somehow, they got away with it. But, Asaph, lamented, his life was uncertain, hard, and he struggled to do what was right. “Why?” he asks. “Why am I trying so hard? What’s the point?”

Then Asaph looked to God and gained a different perspective. This is not the final chapter. From where God sits, unquenchable, eternal judgement is on its way. We may or may not see it in this life, but it will come. In a moment the violent and arrogant will be cast down, tormented by fear and terror. Judgment will come swiftly, inescapably. It is an absolute certainty.

What does God have to say to those who suffer injustice? Asaph wrote these words of encouragement and hope for himself–and for us:

Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works. (Psalm 73:23-28)

You can belong to God through faith in Jesus Christ,. When you cry out, He hears you. He sees your need and will see you through. Continue to cry out, trust and obey: tell others, ask for help from friends, the local church,  law enforcement and social services. Keep doing what is right, with your eyes on the long-term goal and your faith in the only One who is with you, in you, and empowering you to press on. Run to your Refuge and Sanctuary. He is steadfast, sure, and able.

Want to know more? Order your copy of Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse. It’s here to help women and their churches see beyond the immediate and obvious to what’s behind and beyond.

Couldn’t Be!

A common response to the book, Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse, from those who have never lived in an environment of domestic abuse is, “Wow. I’d never allow that.” Or, “What’s wrong with those women?”

For those outside the dynamic (by God’s grace), this type of thinking and speaking is called victim-blaming. It comes in many forms. I am guilty of it myself–and see it rearing its ugly head in the most unlikely places. The underlying message is, “It’s the victim’s fault (she ended up in that relationship, he treated her that way). If only she (left, fought back, walked out, etc), it wouldn’t have continued.”

There are a number of reasons that line of thinking is wrong. Here are a few:

  • Abuse is sin on the part of the abuser, not the victim. If you hit someone, you are guilty. If you degrade an individual, neglect, or use them, you are wrong.
  • The reason we attach blame to victims is because it creates a sense of safety. Once I have a list of what-not-to-do, I can simply avoid those things, thus avoiding an abuser. That is not true.
  • You. don’t. know. Even if you think you know what’s going on, you have no idea what happens behind closed doors: what mind games are in motion, which words are charged and have been reinforced with physical force or punishment, what a look or reference may communicate between two individuals. You cannot begin to understand the dynamic of domestic abuse until you have lived with those involved.
  • Control is the name of the game. Reputation is everything. Appearance is the running commodity. If you are questioning the victim’s integrity and character, the abuser has accomplished his goal. She has been compromised, and you are the reason why.

In looking for plausible reasons for abuse, begin with the abuser. The desire for power and control is never satisfied. “The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the Lord will prosper.” Proverbs 28:25. Read The Heart of Domestic Abuse: Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Control and Violence in the Home by Chris Moles along with Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse for a biblical understanding of how to truly bring help and hope through the Person of Jesus Christ.

 

 

Fuzzy Brain

If you live in an environment of domestic abuse, you can expect to experience “fuzzy brain.” You be confused and forget the most obvious things: appointments, names, places, memories. Your thinking is further inhibited by lack of sleep, hyper-arousal, and unsettled emotions. No matter what your abuser (or your own mind) says, this is normal. Anyone facing the uncertainty and stress of living in a war zone has the same difficulty. These are common symptoms of PTSD. Fuzzy brain is especially frightening when you think about how confusion makes it difficult to protect yourself and/or your children.

How can you overcome fuzzy brain? Pray. Ask God for the ability to think clearly.  It may take practice. It might mean removing yourself from the abuser. It will take hard work and effort to focus your mind on God, especially in the middle of the war. But as you settle your mind and replace scattered thoughts with who God is you will find it easier. Isaiah wrote,  “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You: because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). God is able to deliver, rescue, provide peace and clarity of thought. He is with you. He knows what has happened, what is happening now, and what will happen in the future. And He does not encourage you to stay and fix the problem. Get help. If you are assaulted, press charges. Allow God to use what He has put in place for your protection.

As you do, pray, “God, I don’t know what’s going to happen or when, but You do. Help me remember that You are with me. Please be my strength and my song. Protect me. Give me the ability to think clearly and focus on what needs to be done so I can honor You. Amen.”

Get out paper and pencil, your planner or computer and strategically write down everything you’re trying to remember: appointments, thoughts, children’s activities and schedules, work hours, church events, to do’s, must do’s, want to’s. Get them out of your brain and on paper (or in a document). Continue praying, asking the Lord for direction and guidance as you make plans. Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established.”

What problems are you trying to solve? Even if you don’t have an answer, write down each burden and pray, asking God to help. If you have a friend, older woman, or counseling advocate, ask for her help. As you’re able, write down specific, practical steps for when, where, and how to accomplish each task.

If you have the book, Sanctuary, you may benefit from completing the Clarifying Responsibility diagram by Paul Tripp (p. 60).

This is what it looks like to cry out for help. God hears and He will answer. The next step is to trust Him by doing what seems reasonable and best, to do what is right, and wait expectantly for His answer.

Fuzzy brain is a natural response to danger, a gift from God for your safety and protection. Don’t fight it, use it, by His grace and for His glory.

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
2 For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.

7 Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
8 Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
9 For evildoers will be cut off,
But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.
10 Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more;
And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there.
11 But the humble will inherit the land
And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

12 The wicked plots against the righteous
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
13 The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees his day is coming.
14 The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow
To cast down the afflicted and the needy,
To slay those who are upright in conduct.
15 Their sword will enter their own heart,
And their bows will be broken.

16 Better is the little of the righteous
Than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked will be broken,
But the Lord sustains the righteous.
18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
And their inheritance will be forever.
19 They will not be ashamed in the time of evil,
And in the days of famine they will have abundance.
20 But the wicked will perish;
And the enemies of the Lord will be like the glory of the pastures,
They vanish—like smoke they vanish away.
21 The wicked borrows and does not pay back,
But the righteous is gracious and gives.
22 For those blessed by Him will inherit the land,
But those cursed by Him will be cut off.

23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
24 When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.
25 I have been young and now I am old,
Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
Or his descendants begging bread.
26 All day long he is gracious and lends,
And his descendants are a blessing.

27 Depart from evil and do good,
So you will abide forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice
And does not forsake His godly ones;
They are preserved forever,
But the descendants of the wicked will be cut off.
29 The righteous will inherit the land
And dwell in it forever.
30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
And his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
His steps do not slip.
32 The wicked spies upon the righteous
And seeks to kill him.
33 The Lord will not leave him in his hand
Or let him be condemned when he is judged.
34 Wait for the Lord and keep His way,
And He will exalt you to inherit the land;
When the wicked are cut off, you will see it.

35 I have seen a wicked, violent man
Spreading himself like a luxuriant tree in its native soil.
36 Then he passed away, and lo, he was no more;
I sought for him, but he could not be found.
37 Mark the blameless man, and behold the upright;
For the man of peace will have a posterity.
38 But transgressors will be altogether destroyed;
The posterity of the wicked will be cut off.
39 But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
He is their strength in time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
He delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
Because they take refuge in Him. (Psalm 37 NASB)