When Sin Brutalizes You

Detail of Painting by Rembrandt, “Return of the Prodigal Son”

There are three things for certain.

#1 You will never forget your sins.

#2 God has forgotten them.

#3 The Devil will try very hard to condemn you for your past.

 

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There are some days that are harder then others.  You see, I have lived profligately, harmed many, and influenced others to do evil.  I have wounded and hurt people very deeply.  There are days when I have this mental image of myself– I’m a ‘Fountain of Feces’ spewing and polluting my filth to anyone passing by.

But I am also the Prodigal.  I’ve squandered everything.  It’s gone.  I’ve been to the pig pen.  Filthy and starving.  Coming to my senses, I decide to return home, and sell myself to the employ of Him I once called “Father.”

But the most outrageous thing has happened.  It is so wildly fantastic that it defies any reason.    (I hardly dare to think it real).  The man who I once called “Father” refuses to listen to my list of sins.  He has embraced me, dressed me, established me as a son.  I have new shoes, and a signet ring.

I am a wonder to behold. A feast of unparalleled joy is waiting.  I pinch myself– is this really happening to me?  Those days in the pig pen, what a stupid waste.  I want to weep and shout for joy– all at the same time!  It doesn’t seem real.

The subject of my grossness and sin has been forgotten.  I have not been interrogated or punished.  (Since then, I’ve learned that Someone else took this on.)  But my perversity and my iniquity has never, ever been discussed.  Their is no list of my sin, no cataloging has taken place.  The promises tell me that my past sin has been put on a big barge, and shipped to the deepest part of the ocean– and dumped!

You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

Micah 7:19

As critical-thinking believers, with just a modicum of divine truth, what we do with our personal sin is huge.  It determines much about our walk.  We function out of our past.  The plant is rooted in something.  But our Father has turned our prodigal past into our personal future of total redemption.

Look at your greatest pain.  The Holy Spirit will very likely take that deep, deep bruise and turn it into your greatest ministry.  And He does it without resorting to a list of your ugly, ugly sin.  You see, He has already forgotten it.

“The question is who are we going to side with? God says our sins are past, cleansed, and gone. You cannot go on with God until you stand on His Word as cleansed with the heart made pure.”  

Smith Wigglesworth

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Bryan (the Prodigal)

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A New Perspective About Sin

“Our first problem is that our attitude towards sin is more self-centred than God-centred. We are more concerned about our own “Victory” over sin than we are about the fact that our sin grieve the heart of God. We cannot tolerate failure in our struggle with sin chiefly because we are success oriented, not because we know it is offensive to God.”

    Jerry Bridges

 

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”

Ezekiel 36:26

 

 

 

Righteousness: His, Yours? (or Ours?)

“All of us are dirty with sin.
All the right things we have done are like filthy pieces of cloth.
All of us are like dead leaves,
and our sins, like the wind, have carried us away. “ 

Isaiah 64:6, NCV

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I have this reoccurring nightmare. I jump out of a plane.  I deploy my parachute, and it opens.  But it is completely full of holes!  Yikes!  I wake up before I splat. And then I think in a spiritual sense— what a relief it is to have a holiness that is given, or imputed.  If somehow you could turn off the spigot of the holiness he gives, and then run on your own merits; how far would you go?

Among good Christian people, there is an occupational hazard of sorts, and that is to “advance” in our thinking to that place where we are doing fine on our own.  We very much appreciated Jesus’ help– but now, at this moment, I must figure it out by myself.  This line of thinking, is called “self-righteousness.”

“Many have passed the rocks of gross sins – who have suffered shipwreck upon the sands of self-righteousness.” 

William Secker:’The Consistent Christian,’ 1660

We begin to travel in our sense of ourselves, away from a desperate, clinging to a trust in his mercy that is moving to a place of a confident, strutting awareness of having put ourselves back together again.  This is the ‘evil ones’ work– to steer you into self-righteousness.  Once you get there, he can just release you and let you ‘stew in your own juices,’ while he rules over your soul.

Becoming self-righteous should scare us to death.  It will damn our souls just as quick as adultery, or murder.  It is evil, and it sedates us to the place where it can work, unhindered and unchallenged.  I’ve read that some predators inject first an anesthetic to soothe their prey. This enables them to take their time, as they slaughter them.

I have had several bouts with self-righteousness.  (And I bet I’ll have several more.)  It is sin that will give you a wonderful back massage, just before it reaches for the knife that will cut your throat.  Somehow, we are lulled into this and my! I’m such a good person (even after such a dark and evil start.)

“Self-righteousness is the largest idol of the human heart – the idol which man loves most and God hates most. Dearly beloved, you will always be going back to this idol. You are always trying to be something in yourself, to gain God’s favour by thinking little of your sin, or by looking to your repentance, tears, prayers ; or by looking to your religious exercises, your frames, etc; or by looking to your graces, the Spirit’s work in your heart.”  

–Robert Murray McCheyne

 Jesus was, and is, and will be all my “righteousness.” 

We must cling to these hand-holds of grace.  The waves are substantial, and we most certainly would be swept out to sea.  But we grab and hold on to him.  And he holds on to us!  The fantasy of having enough of my own created righteousness to please God is simply a crock.  Jesus was, and is, and will be all my “righteousness.”  I have nothing– nothing else.

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Fear and Loathing

“For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night.”

1 Thess. 5:5

A year before I received Christ as my Savior, I was hospitalized in a U.S. Army psychiatric ward.  My uniform was replaced with the distinctive attire of a mental patient.  Ironically, I’d been attached to the same hospital as a medic on the pediatric floor.  And to make things only slightly more surreal was that one of my nurses on the psych ward was someone I bought drugs from!

Previous to this hospitalization, I had dropped two hits of LSD and found myself in an awful mess.  It was night and I was prowling outside my barracks.  I was hallucinating heavily and had lost control of my thoughts.  I had pretty much flipped out  and it entered my drug saturated brain that the darkness would kill me that very night!

Utterly convinced of my impending fate, my mind seized upon the street lights.  If I could stay in that illuminated circle I could escape death!  The light would save me.  I stood under that light for a few hours.  As I stood I could see very clearly the boundary between the light and the dark.  I knew I was safe as long as I didn’t wander.

Despite that traumatic experience, the drugs and the mental instability continued to develop.  I began to mainline cocaine, crossing my “no needle line”.  I also became quite the heavy drinker, with Jack Daniels for breakfast.  I had one basic rule though.  As a medic who worked in maternal/child health, I had the best assignment in the Army.  Many people coveted it, and I was not going to endanger it by drugs or alcohol.  I never went on duty loaded.  It was my rule. I would be the best medic they had.

Shortly after my psych ward discharge, I was reassigned to Labor & Delivery on the night shift.  I was pulled from my duty and I went on an ambulance run as the medic in charge.  We were called to officer’s housing were an older man had died in bed which got me thinking.  Back at the hospital I returned to L&D.  On the way back I took a shortcut through a ward on another floor.  That’s when I found it!

On a waiting room table was a small book called, “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell.  I picked it up, reading it right on duty because there were no mothers waiting for the delivery room.  By the end of my shift I was well on my way to becoming a Christian.  It was a book solidly speaking of the light, and of the dark.  And I knew beyond a doubt that I couldn’t remain in the dark anymore.

I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in June of 1982.  I became a born again believer on July 4, 1982.  I was in Bible College that October.  Life has become radically different, and I became a missionary and a pastor.  All I can tell you is that Jesus is real, he is alive and the Bible is true.  I have translated from the dark to the light, and I am not afraid anymore.  Jesus is my light.

“The people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light.
And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow,
    a light has shined.”

Matthew 4:16

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Links:

Alaska Bible Institute, http://alaskabible.org/

“More Than a Carpenter”, by Josh McDowell http://www.amazon.com/More-Than-Carpenter-Josh-McDowell/dp/0842345523

Amazon.com Review

Since its release, More Than a Carpenter has been challenging readers to ask the question, “Who is Jesus?” Author and renowned speaker Josh McDowell acknowledges that while the topic of God is widely accepted, the name of Jesus often causes irritation. “Why don’t the names of Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius offend people? The reason is that these others didn’t claim to be God, but Jesus did.” By addressing questions about scientific and historical evidence, the validity of the Bible, and proofs of the resurrection, McDowell helps the reader come to an informed and intelligent decision about whether Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. This short, 128-page gem does not employ fancy theological words, forsaking the layman, but reads more like an intimate research document laying out the facts with veracious accuracy, from reliable sources ranging from secular scientists to conservative seminarians. A skeptic himself for many years, McDowell always believed that Christians were “out of their minds” but now insists that “never has an individual been called upon to commit intellectual suicide in trusting Christ as Savior and Lord.” McDowell adeptly articulates fundamental answers to poignant questions that cause the skeptic to consider whether Jesus was a liar causing countless martyrs to die in his wake, a lunatic deserving death, or actually the Lord of the universe. –Jill Heatherly

Good Grief, [Post by James Winsor]

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How Depression is a Blessing in Disguise; by Rev. James Winsor

A darkness creeps into the soul and smothers it. Who knows why, how long it will last, or what will make it go away. You feel like you have nothing left to give to anyone else. You don’t want anyone around, except that one person who knows how to lift the darkness. You can’t and don’t want to explain how you feel. You don’t know why you’re sad, and you feel embarrassed by it because you have a pretty nice life. You can see why hungry, sick or poor people would be sad, but not you.

If you’re up to it, you try to process thoughts about God or words to or from God. This feels impossible. At best, God is distant. He couldn’t care about these stupid, unjustifiable feelings. There are people with real problems; God should be much more concerned about them. At worst, God becomes a very active enemy. He judges you for feeling this way. He wants you to just drop this selfish, self-centered, self pity trip. Doesn’t the Bible command, “Rejoice in the Lord always?” You’re a long way from doing that. Every word of good cheer seems to condemn you more for not being cheery.

As you deal with these feelings, you start to see what’s at the bottom. For the most part, it’s self-loathing. You just can’t stand being around you! Sometimes you can’t see the causes for the self-loathing. It’s just there and it won’t go away. I hate being me, and anyone who really knew me would hate me. The people who love me only do because they don’t know me.

Sometimes the self-loathing turns outward. It explodes into a kind of rage against the world. Now the darkness has covered not only your heart, but your eyes. You can’t see outside of yourself. You have trouble remembering there is an outside world. When you wake up to that fact, you again see the self-centeredness and hate it all the more.

It doesn’t seem possible to break out or for anyone to break into it. Even God doesn’t seem to know how to break inside the darkness. Some of the most spiritually-rich Christians I know experience depression. Some of them medicate it. Some don’t. But it doesn’t make that much difference when it comes to the soul. You can’t medicate the soul.

God is up to something in your depression. There are things God can do for you better when you’re depressed. Someone once said that God empties in order to fill, and kills in order to raise up. God could have made a world where depression is impossible. He could have made a world where sin, death and Satan are not on the scene. But God decided ahead of time that it was better to do things His way. There was something important that He could do with a broken world that He couldn’t do with a perfect world.

In paradise, Adam and Eve did not know God as well as you do. They walked and talked with Him, but were ignorant of what God was really about. God is self-sacrificing, self-giving love. Adam and Eve didn’t have a clue about Good Friday. They didn’t need Good Friday. Do you realize what that means? They didn’t need God’s self-sacrificial love. All they needed was a creator and provider. They didn’t need a Savior.

But that’s what’s best about Him. He saves sinners by dying for them. When Jesus was on the cross, you were loathed enough. God took out all of His holy loathing, and it was over. There is nothing more important in your life than God’s saving love for sinners.

Depression is a cold, gray wind that blows you off the cliff.

You can’t find anything inside yourself to cling to, to hope in, to claim as a basis for God’s acceptance.

All you have is Jesus and His love for sinners.

His resurrection of sinners in Himself. His baptizing of this sinner, you. That’s all you have. You fall into the water and lose yourself. But once you fall in, you can only see the love of God in Christ. A purple robe for mocking. A brown cross. Silver nails. Red blood. A white robe shining forth from the darkness of the tomb.

Have you ever noticed that you can see the farthest at night? In the daytime the most distant object you can see is the sun – a mere 93 million miles away. But at night your eye takes in countless stars and galaxies that are many light years away. Your vision is greatly improved in the darkness.

So it is with depression. When you are having bright days of happy sunshine, you can’t see too much further than your studies, sports, work, friends, family or possessions. A very small world. But in the darkness of depression you begin to see the glistening vast expanse of God’s love in Christ.

And when you are full of self-loathing and darkness, the love of Christ is all you have. And as it turns out, you don’t have Christ at all until all you have is Christ.


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The Rev. James Winsor is pastor at Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Arvada, Colorado.

Taken from the Spring 2002 edition of Higher Things magazine. You can write Higher Things at P.O. Box 58011, Pleasant Prairie, WI 53158-8011.

http://www.issuesetc.org

Bryan’s Note: This is the second article by Rev. James Winsor that I have selected for http://www.brokenbelievers.com. He has a very definite ministry to those who struggle. He writes with insight and a real sense of wanting to help– not preach. I hope you will enjoy this and receive the gift he offers. Let me know what you think.

 

Related articles

God Makes Impossible Love Possible (pureglory.net)
Justification by Faith (divinitytreasures.wordpress.com)
Sinners Get Dibs (brokenbelievers.com)

 

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The Real Treasures, [Weaknesses]

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As Christians often our theology tells us that mental illness, depression, and bipolar disorder have no place in the believer’s life.  So we hide, sneaking into our sessions with our therapists, and change the subject to minimize our exposure to direct questions. We have had to hide our issues really well. 

But I would submit to you that it is we who are closest to the Kingdom of God. It is far easier for us to approach the Father, in our brokenness, humility, and general lostness. We have needs; a sound mind, a healthy body and we know it. We have no illusions of wellness, nothing can convince us that we are well. We are not.

We are broken and only our loving creator can mend us.

You might say that the Church needs us. An Archbishop was given an ultimatum by the Huns who surrounded his cathedral. “You have 24 hours to bring your wealth to these steps”, the war-leader demanded. The next morning the Archbishop came out leading the poor, the blind, the lame, and the lunatics. “Where is your treasure? Why have you brought out these… people?” The Archbishop simply and quietly replied, “These are the treasures of the Church, these who are weak are our valuables. They make us rich.”

We often can value giftedness more than weakness.

I am afraid the the Western Church no longer sees its “treasures” like it should. In our pride and self-centeredness we have operated our churches like successful businesses. We value giftedness more than weakness. We definitely have no room for the desperately weak. I suppose it’s time for the Church to begin to act like Jesus.

Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church should be a verb.  Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to Church, let’s be the Church.

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The Hidden Smile of God, [Discovery]

 

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Imagine for just a moment, you can actually see the face of God. Is He…?

  • angry, seething with a vindictive hostility
  • rolling His eyes, amused, maybe a bit perplexed
  • disturbed, frustrated, ready to give up on you
  • not looking at all, bored, detached, not caring
  • smiling at you, like a proud Father?

Three simple verses for the God’s ‘face-seeking’ person.

13 “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord.”

Jeremiah 29:13-14

3 “Long ago the Lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”

Jeremiah 31:3

32 “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Luke 12:32

There are many, many more like these three. (But I didn’t want to scare you.)

God’s love is not logical, or mechanical. and you can’t see His face based on your performance. You simply just can’t do enough. So we all must come to Him the same way— on our knees. God’s love is outrageously understood, it is completely undeserved and perhaps just a bit scandalous. So settle this now, you’ll never, ever be good enough, (but you can be bad enough).

I believe the face of God is smiling on us, and He ‘lights up’ when we come into His presence. He is incredibly gracious. You can thank Jesus— it was His cross and resurrection that made access to God possible. (O.K., just one more verse.)

19 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

Ephesians 2:19

There is a freedom that comes when you quit struggling and simply believe in ‘the smiles of God,’ and when you know deep-down that you belong. Everyone who comes to Him comes by the goodness (and sacrifice) of Someone else. And that is remarkably good news.

Hallelujah,

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