From My Online Pastor

Where Was God in All the Goodness of 2012?

byJohn Piper 


As this year ends, the question I am asking is: Where was God when so many good things happened this past year?

How can God be a God of justice, yet allow so much good to happen to people who dishonor him by disbelieving in him, or giving lip service to his existence, or paying no more attention to him than the carpet in their den, or rejecting the kingship of his Son, or scorning his word, or preferring a hundred pleasures before him?

How can God be righteous and do so much good to us who are so unrighteous?

Where was God in 2012?

  • Where was God when nine million planes landed safely in the United States?
  • Where was God when the world revolved around the sun so accurately that it achieved the Winter solstice perfectly at 5:12 AM December 21 and headed back toward Spring?
  • Where was God when the President was not shot at a thousand public appearances?
  • Where was God when American farms produced ten million bushels of corn, and 2.8 million bushels of soybeans — enough food to sell $100 billions worth to other nations?
  • Where was God when no terrorist plot brought down a single American building or plane or industry?
  • Where was God when the sun maintained its heat and its gravitational pull precisely enough that we were not incinerated or frozen?
  • Where was God when three hundred million Americans drank water in homes and restaurants without getting sick?
  • Where was God when no new plague swept away a third of our race?
  • Where was God when Americans drove three trillion accident free miles?
  • Where was God when over three million healthy babies were born in America?

Here are a few of the answers given by God himself in his word.

1. God was reigning from his throne to do his sovereign will.

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)   “He works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11)

2. God was reigning from his throne to prevent much sin and harm in the world.

“God said to [Abimelech, the king of Gerar], it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.” (Genesis 20:6)   “You know what is restraining [the man of lawlessness] now.” (2 Thessalonians 2:6)

3. God was reigning from his throne to give a witness to his goodness and his patience.

“God did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17)

4. God was reigning from his throne to summon the world to repentance.

“Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

So as the year ends, I bow my head as an undeserving sinner, amazed that I have not been swept away. And even more, that because of Jesus, I am forgiven, adopted into God’s family, and destined for eternal life.

God has been good to us. And his best gift is the one that will be there when all the others fail. Jesus, crucified, risen, reigning.

May I Be Happy This Christmas When Others Are Not?

This question is one of permission and goes deeper than asking, “Can I be happy this Christmas when others are not?” Yes, you can be happy – just be indifferent to the plight of the hurting. But May you? May I be happy – is it appropriate to enjoy Christmas when others are grieving? It feels insensitive and thoughtless. I feel guilt. May I sing and be happy this Christmas and even pursue my joy in the Lord while others will shed many tears? Tenderly, hopefully, yes.

Here’s How, in no particular order of importance:

1. I will believe that we can both sorrow, yet rejoice in many truthful things at the same time. 2 Cor. 6:10

2. I will believe that I am finite with limited knowledge of everything – there is nothing that is fully understood by mere mortals. I am not God. Ecc. 6:12; Job 42:1-6;1 Cor. 13:12

3. I will believe that my own days are numbered so that my heart will not act like a fool, thinking that this life is long, luxurious, and everlasting. Psalm 90:9-15

4. I will believe that I don’t go anywhere, for any reason, for any length of time unless it is the Lord’s sovereign will that has planned it all. James 4:13-16

5. I will believe that the reason that I am alive is because God is merciful, not because I’m better than those who are dead. Luke 13:1-5

6. I will believe that my happiness is not rooted in my circumstances of life but in the right standing that I have with Christ and the long-range purpose of suffering. 2 Cor. 12:7-10

7. I will believe that Jesus loves the little children. Luke 18:15-17. And though young children are taken away by evil men and women, I also will believe that if my life experience and knowledge does not match-up with how Jesus is implenting his present phase of his kingdom on earth, Jesus is coming back with Swift Justice. Ecc. 3:16-18; Matthew 11:2-3; Luke 19:27

8. I will believe that God is pleased when his children enjoy his good gifts, even in the midst of real sorrow.Luke 15:23

9. I will believe that my despair will not aid the hopeless – I will hope in God so that others may also. Psalm 42:1-5

10. I will believe that if God can send out his gospel truth in 10,000 new ways through the murder of 5 missionaries in Ecuador in 1956, then he can do the impossible with Newtown, CT.

11. I will believe that God does not owe mankind any protection from ourselves since we already told him to leave us alone. Genesis 2:17, 3:6-7; Judges 17:6

12. I will believe that at no time does God say, “go away from me, all you who are burdened down,” but still calls everyone, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened down.” Matt. 11:28-30

13. I will evaluate my motive and reason to be joyful this Christmas: Do I believe that I deserve to be happy or do I believe that peace and joy is an angelic announcement of grace upon my Christmas? Luke 2:14; Romans 15:13

14. I will believe that peace and joy are the most appropriate emotions in the presence of a holy and merciful God who sent his son into this evil world. John 14:27, 15:11

15. I will believe that if Jesus could have future-oriented joy in a season of horrific evil, then I can too. Hebrews 12:1-2; Romans 8:18-23

16. I will believe that my innate desire for joy is given by a loving God who wants me to pursue the oject of Joy – Him. Psalm 43:4

17. I will open my presents with humility and gladness – knowing that all good gifts come from God (Ecc. 9:7-9; James 1:17).

18. If I begin to feel guilt for being happy while others are not, I will not drown this feeling with food, music, and distraction, rather, I will remember that mis-placed guilt and shame is a tool of the devil to accuse the saints that we are unfit and undeserving of joy – which is true – but the devil’s intention is to humiliate and steal joy, while God’s intention is to increase our joy precisely because it is a gift. I will remember to attack the devil’s lies with God’s truth. Romans 8:33

19. If the Lord wills, I will wake up on Christmas morning and joyfully give thanks for his blessings.1 Thess. 5:18

20. Finally, I will remember that Jesus Christ knows our need, our weakness is no stranger. Behold your King – before him lowly bend. Christ is the Lord! Phil. 2:7-11; Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:14-16

Merry Christmas – see you next year!

For Wounded Hearts – part 3

Some time back I received an invitation to attend a workshop titled: Embracing Forgiveness. The workshop was offered by a prominent psychiatric Hospital in the Chicago area. The advertised promotion went like this:

Imagine what your life would be like with: * decreased feelings of hurt * a reduction in the physical symptoms related to sleepiness, listlessness and dizziness * a reduction in the long-term experience of anger * an increase in the experience of peace in the present moment.” I agree that each of these are viable and healthy goals for the wounded and victimized. But then the next promotion line went like this: “What is forgiveness? * Forgiveness is Peace * Forgiveness is for you, not the offender * Forgiveness is taking back your personal power * Forgiveness is taking responsibility for how you feel * Forgiveness is becoming a hero instead of a victim”.

I realize that my judgment needs to be cautious, given the fact that I did not attend this training workshop. But based upon the desired goals mentioned in the first part, and then the description of what is forgiveness – presented as the means to attaining the goals, I can look at Scripture to see what is forgiveness and what our Lord prescribes for “a reduction in the long-term experience of anger”, and then make a cautious judgment upon the wisdom of this very popular approach to the subject of forgiveness as related to wounded hearts.

Let’s begin with a question: When a child of God has been hurt by a person who will not apologize with repentance and restoration, what is the consistent Biblical prescription for the wounded, in order that “decreased feelings of hurt” will be achieved? Our Lord prescribes this Romans 12:19,
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.’
What is the situation for the Romans that would lead Paul to say this? Persecution! Paul has instructed the believers in practical Christianity in verses 9 – 13. Then he says in verse 14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” What is Paul doing here? How can this possibly be a means of experiencing peace in the present moment of deep hurt and pain? How can a woman muster the energy, emotion and will to bless her enemy and resist the path of cursing him (v. 14), and repaying him evil for the evil that was done to her (v.17)? Is she told by God to, “Forgive him”? No, but she is commanded to give God the place of implementing wrath. God does not extinguish your godly desire for justice, rather, He wants you to give Him the right to take vengeance in His time and in His way. God created humans in His image, and part of that image-bearing is a desire for justice when someone has done evil. If we avenge ourselves we sin. But we do not sin if we give God this prerogative.

I offer this prayer taken primarily from the truths of Psalm 37 so that we may hear the healing of the heart as the Lord applies the promise of justice to His child who has been wounded:

“Lord, I relinquish my desire to repay my tormentor over to you. The place of vengeance belongs to you alone. If you bring justice to me through your ordained magistrates, I will bless your name. If you do not, I will still trust in you to bring forth your righteousness and justice, for just as each day has a noon hour, you will bring your justice to pass for me. I will wait for your justice to be done and rest confidently in your courtroom. I will cease from anger and forsake personal wrath upon my enemy. Therefore, I will not fret about justice being done – it only causes me to stay awake at night and eventually harms my body. I praise you for giving my heart the peace it so desperately needs at this time in my life. I know that if I wait for your justice to be done in my life, you will destroy all those who work evil against me and I will inherit the whole earth as my peaceful and safe land. My sweet Lord, it is hard for me to be happy and laugh with all that you have lain upon me. But you see the end-day of my oppressor and you laugh for me – for you will break the strength of the wicked while you sustain my life. Like smoke, my enemy will disappear into thin air; therefore, my life will be characterized not by seeking vengeance but by showing mercy and generous giving. You are my salvation and strength in this troublesome time. You will deliver me from the wicked because I trust in your Justice! Amen.”

If a wounded heart is to bless her enemy (Romans 12:14) – by feeding him when he is hungry and giving him something to drink when he is thirsty, and shaming him by doing good to him though he has done evil (v. 20), then God prescribes the path of looking to Him for vengeance (v.19). In other words, if you want to bless your enemy by providing his needs when he abused yours, the path to take is trusting God to avenge you. It is not forgiveness of our enemies’ sin that heals our wounded hearts but giving God the rightful place of settling the account with our abuser. We conquer the evil by doing good to our enemy, but the only way that we can get around to doing good to our enemy is turning over our desire for revenge to our Just Lord. Our desire for justice is not wrong, and it is not wrong to put some justice in place on this side of eternity, but it is wrong to personally seek vengeance. Not even a fair sentence given by earthly courts can fully heal the heart, especially when the offender is in denial of the trespass. This is why the LORD, our Righteous Judge will do right for us, eventually, because the earthly courts cannot fully restore the heart, freeing it up to do good to the enemy. And this sure and eventual justice upon our transgressor becomes a means of peace for the heart.

Let’s now check the advertisement on “Forgiveness” and see if it squares with Psalm 37, Romans 12:14-21, and verses we have used in the previous two posts.
“* Forgiveness is Peace” – no, the promise of the Lord’s vengeance and one day living in a land where all evildoers will be removed is our source of peace.
“* Forgiveness is for you, not the offender” – no, forgiveness is for the one who repents; God’s promise to repay your enemy is for you.
“* Forgiveness is taking back your personal power” – no, giving God the place of wrath acknowledges that He has power [“authority” is probably meant by the word power]; humility, peace and freedom to do good to your enemy is now accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit
“* Forgiveness is taking responsibility for how you feel” – no, giving God the place of vengeance is taking responsibility for how you feel. What the abused feel is a desire for justice. Feelings that are responsible before God must be channeled upward to Him. This is worship! When we look up to our heavenly Father and cry for justice, He hears our cry and as a jealous Father for His children, He will not turn His face away – He will curse those who curse His children!
* Forgiveness is becoming a hero instead of a victim” – no, the Lord becomes our hero when we turn to Him, trusting that He will repay as He pleases. What a victim needs is not to be burdened down with personal “hero” language. What a child of God needs to become is a trusting yet hurting petitioner of God the Champion who will fight for His children.

Dear child of God, God has the right prescription for the soul that has been abused by an enemy who will not repent. Therefore, God not only wants you to imagine, but to really experience these things through His promise to avenge you.

Jesus’ Gospel is Better Than Santa’s

You may not know who Haven Gillespie is but you do know the song that he published in 1932:

“You better watch out, You better not cry

Better not pout, I’m telling you why

Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list and checking it twice

Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice

Santa Claus is coming to town”

We grew up hearing those words but have you ever paused long enough to contemplate the doctrine that is taught?  “Don’t cry, don’t pout!  Santa has a nice list and a naughty list.” The subtle implication is if you’re on the nice list you get presents.  If you’re on the naughty list you get a lump of coal.

But this raises two questions:  How does Santa know so much about me and how can I get on the nice list and receive presents?

He sees you when you’re sleeping

He knows when you’re awake

He knows if you’ve been bad or good

So be good for goodness sake!

Oh!  You better watch out, You better not cry

Better not pout, I’m telling you why

Santa Claus is coming to town

These words sound innocent perhaps because of the tune that accompanies the lyrics. The song has a light-hearted, bouncy melody that is typically sung with a cheerful voice supported by the high octaves of young girls and boys. Or perhaps the song presents itself as innocent because of the image that is associated with it. I mean, what is there to be alarmed about when you see a jolly, well-rounded, red-cheeked old man who laughs and plays with children. But if we will slow down enough to hear the message, turn the music off and ignore the jolly old man I believe we will find that the message is not so innocent: “If you want presents you have to do enough good things to stay on the nice list.”

We’ve heard this before: The message that you can present yourself acceptable to God based on the merits of your good works is a message that is found in religions, and songs, and books, and cultures and just about anywhere where man thinks about God apart from grace. Santa is not the real problem – the real problem is the heart of man that wants to get on God’s nice list by doing enough good things so that he may boast not in the cross of Christ but in his own self-reformation. Men are legalists because they think God is a legalist (a legalist is one who believes in performing legal deeds so that God accepts you based upon your performance).

The true Christmas message is that Jesus Christ loved you, knowing all your badness, to the praise of the glory of His Grace.  Instead of trusting in your own performance of good works, trust in what Christ has done for you and by faith receive his forgiveness of your sins and his righteousness. Since this is how I came to be in a right relationship with God, because of the grace of His free love, then how could I ever think that God would now deal with me on the basis of my performance in the flesh.

Jesus loved you when you were naughty and not nice. This truth ought to motivate you to renounce any misrepresentations of God that you have begun to believe. Your heavenly Father loves you with a love that was not dependent upon any good thing in you or that you would ever do. Your heavenly Father loved you so that you would be holy and blameless in his sight.

Galatians 1:15 says, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace . . .”

Paul states that God separated him for a holy purpose when he was born. All the naughtiness of Paul’s life came after God set him apart and before God saved him and called him by grace to display Christ in his life. For Paul it must have been a wonderful thing to say in Gal. 2:20 that “He loved me and gave Himself for me”. He loved me – the blasphemer, he loved me – the murderer, he loved me – the persecutor, he loved me – the violently arrogant man, he loved me – the lawless, insubordinate, self-righteous man.

The good news for us is not that we were good enough to transfer ourselves from the naughty list to the nice list so that we could receive good things, but as Paul says in Colossians 1:12-14, we are “giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

If you are thinking to yourself, “I haven’t been good enough to come to Christ”, you are the one that Christ will receive. Those who think that they are too good to come to Christ will not find Him. But those who say,  “I have been so bad I can’t get off the naughty list no matter how hard I try,” Jesus says to you, “I know everything that you have ever done – come to me, though your sins are many and your heart is stained with years of guilt I will make you white as fresh snow.”

I think Jesus’ gospel is better – so here’s a new song to sing to that favorite old tune:

He knows you should be sleeping (when you’re awake)

He knows you should be awake (when you’re sleeping)

He knows how terribly bad you are

But he’s good to you for His own sake

Oh! You ought to cry out,

“Mercy for Me”

Shout it out loud

“Grace Set Me Free”

Jesus is not a legalist

But a lover

For Wounded Hearts – part 2

Wounded Heart by Keun-chul Jang

My meditations on forgiveness for the unrepentant did not begin recently. The truth is that I have pondered this angle on forgiveness since I took a class called Ecclesiology in seminary. The Greek work for church is ekkleisia which means “called out”, hence, Ecclesiology is “the study of the called out church.” The church is a body of saints who have been called out of the world to represent Christ. The study of the church involves church discipline and this is where my thoughts began to take shape concerning forgiveness for the unrepentant. So come along with me now as I talk you through what for me was an enlightening adventure.

Question: Is the local church obligated to forgive the sin of an erring, unrepentant brother? The answer is absolutely not! Let’s begin with Matthew 18:15 and the verses that follow. If a so called brother sins against you, your desire should be that he will “hear” you when you tell him his fault.  If he “hears” you, that is, agrees with you about his transgression against you, you have gained, restored your offending brother to fellowship.  But if he will not hear you, get two or more witnesses.  If after that, he will not acknowledge his sin, then tell the local church. If after the church pursues his confession but still he does not confess his sin, then the church is to regard him as an unbeliever (v.17).

Verses 18-20 admonish the church to do this in accordance with the authority of heaven itself – which is Christ! Christ stands over the church as the supreme Judge, endorsing this procedure in the church. But the church has only declared, “to bind”, what is already declared, “bound”, in heaven;  the unrepentant person’s sins are retained! The unrepentant is not “loosed” from his sins on earth because he is not “loosed” in heaven. The church functions to represent Christ on earth: The erring, unrepentant believer is not released from his sin. It remains on him so much so that the church is instructed to view him as an unbeliever. Why? Because unrepentance is at the core of what an unbeliever is.

Then Peter, and no doubt, with some stubbornness of his own – and like all of us, asks the Lord how many times he should forgive his brother (v. 21). Why did Peter ask this question? There are only two options: 1) Either Peter believes that he and the church is to forgive an unrepentant brother, which would go against the stance of heaven, or; 2) he assumes that the process of church discipline will work, bringing the erring brother to agree with his sin that he committed, and thus obligating the church to forgive, to “loose” the brother from his sin. Which is it? I believe that the second is correct. Peter assumes that he will have to forgive a “hearing” brother more times than not. And this correct assumption about the success rate of church discipline to do its job, to restore a sinning brother, leads Christ to teach more on the subject of forgiveness.

With the following parable (vss. 23-34) Jesus shows us how to be like our heavenly Father.  We are to be willing and ready to forgive when restoration is sought. The indebted servant said, “Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.” The master was then moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.  Notice that forgiveness, the releasing of obligation of debt came after the servant acknowledged his debt and pleaded for patience. Of course the debt is impossible to pay back and that is why the servant needs forgiveness. This servant enjoyed the consequence of his entreaty to the master, forgiveness of debt, but he did not reciprocate when a sub-servant also desired restoration.

Therefore, what did the Master do? Did he allow the ungrateful servant to remain in a “loosed” state? No! The angry Master now “bound” him with his debt and gave him over to be tortured until the debt is paid in full – which is eternal torture for the debt is infinite in its criminality. Therefore, what will our Heavenly Father do if we will not forgive from the heart an erring brother who has pleaded to be restored, forgiven, loosed from his debt? Our Father in heaven will not forgive us of our infinite debt.  Should we take verse thirty-five out of its context and assume that Jesus is teaching us to forgive the unrepentant? I think not. Jesus is not commanding us to forgive unconditionally, for not even our heavenly Father does that. Jesus is teaching us to forgive when forgiveness is desired, just as our heavenly Father has done for us.  And not only to forgive when restoration is sought, but to have a heart that is desirous to show compassion.

Luke 17:3-4 also supports this interpretation. Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (17:3-4 ESV)

The Matthew 18 passage and the Luke 17 text compliment each other and confirm the same that forgiveness is to be granted with compassion when the offender desires it and not until then. Given the clear and undeniable instruction on the issue from Jesus, I do not believe that we are to assume with contradiction that Jesus wants us to forgive the unrepentant in Matthew 6:12-15.  Just because a passage does not have the fullest version on the subject does not mean we are free to construe a different paradigm of interpretation. I believe that it is improper to use Matthew 6:14 as a text to teach that we are to forgive the unrepentant just because it is silent on the condition of forgiveness which is repentance.  Again, we have two options before us.  We can either assume that repentance is a condition necessary for forgiveness, or we can assume that Jesus wants us to forgive the unrepentant.  Given the evidence from Matthew 18 and Luke 17, my interpretation will lean to the former: Jesus wants us to be like our heavenly Father who gladly forgives when sinners cry for mercy (Luke 18:9-14).

We need to keep in mind that we are to forgive “even as” we have been forgiven.  Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” How did God forgive us? Did He forgive us without punishing our sin? Did He forgive us without purchasing and giving us repentance (Ephesians 1:7; 2 Timothy 2:25-26)? No. He forgave us “in Christ.” This means that the Father forgave us our sins with respect and regard for and according to the work of Christ on the cross. The Father punished our sins in Christ. Then the Father gave us the good message:  “Repent . . . for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). God was not only Just and Righteous when he punished and forgave us our sins in Christ for salvation (Romans 4:23-5:2) but He is also faithful and just to forgive us our sins now that we are the children of God (1 John 1:9).  So whether before or after salvation, the forgiveness of our sins is predicated upon Christ’s atonement and our coming to Him for forgiveness. Therefore, any passage in the Bible that exhorts me to forgive others just as God has forgiven me or to forgive so that I can be forgiven (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25-26), I conclude that I am to forgive others when they desire forgiveness. I do not conclude that I am to forgive others when they don’t repent just because I am forgiven. I conclude that I am to forgive others on the same basis that I received forgiveness – which is repentance toward God, faith in God’s mercy in Christ, and confession of sins.

Oh how we need to pray for God to move hearts to repentance and to know the sweet fellowship of Christ and his church.

For Wounded Hearts – part 1

If you have been unjustly treated by a person who does not know God, and who will not repent or acknowledge their sin, don’t forgive the person, but rather wait for the justice of God! 

Yes, I know this sounds way out of sync with Scripture but I am convinced that it is not.  As wisdom teaches us, there is a time for everything, including a time for forgiveness and a time for justice.  I want to show you from Scripture what is the antidote to bitterness, anger, and pain that rises from the unjust treatment of the wicked.  With all my heart I believe that there is a great misunderstanding on the subject of forgiveness, that is, that the Bible teaches us to forgive the unrepentant – this, I deny. It is one thing to desire, pray, and with readiness of heart anticipate the day when the unrepentant offender will repent so that you can forgive,  so that healing can take place in the heart of the trespasser.  But it is altogether another thing to actually “forgive” an unrepentant sinner who does not seek forgiveness of sins through repentance.

The Bible has much to say on the subject of forgiveness of sin.  I believe that all sins were either punished on the cross of Christ or will be punished in Hell forever.  Since God is absolutely Just and Holy not one sin will go unpunished. You can either confess, repent, turn away from, acknowledge, agree with God for the criminality of your sins, trusting Christ’s substitution on the cross for your sins, or you will pay for each and every one of them – forever in hell, for you will never get out from under the debt.  My point is that if God does not forgive sin apart from repentance, and that no sin goes unpunished, either in Christ or in hell, why do we hear instruction from teachers and friends to forgive the unrepentant? Theologically, this is one of the problems with telling an unrepentant person that he is forgiven when in fact he is not, because, God never forgives apart from repentance and thus,  is a misrepresentation of a Holy and Just God.  Practically speaking, what disturbs me is the misguided, though well-intended, counsel that says to the abused regarding her unrepentant abuser:  “You’ve got to forgive him for what he did to you. If you don’t forgive him God will not forgive you.  You can’t allow this anger and bitterness to plague your mind every day.  God forgave you, so you need to do the same.”

This is the popular Biblical instruction that is given to alleviate the pain in the victim’s life.  The problem with this advice is that it is not Biblical and therefore, it should come as no surprise that the success rate of healing is low; this is not God’s medicine to heal the heart of its anger and satisfy the just desire for justice.  The intention is admirable, that is, the healing of the wounded heart, but the prescription is wrong.  The correct prescription for a wounded heart for which the abuser will not repent of nor acknowledge guilt, is to give God the place of vengeance! What the victim needs in order to dispel hate and love her unrepentant enemy is the assurance that God will deal justly in the end with her abuser; that his sin will not go unpunished frees her from seeking revenge all the days of her life.  She is now free to pray for her enemies’ repentance as she waits for justice from her Righteous Judge.

Biblical Counsel sounds more like this:

If you have been hurt by the wicked, and you don’t want anger and bitterness to eat at your soul all the days of your life, then give your anger to God, let Him hold on to it for you, and then in the Judgment He will unleash His Righteous Wrath on the one who hurt you.  If you will give God the place of vengeance this will do two things for you:  First, it will be a soothing ointment for your soul.  The anger that rises from your wound will no longer fuel your desire for vengeance – you have given the desire for justice over to God.  Secondly, it will free your heart up to love your enemy who hurt you.  The main cause of impoverished love to our enemy is unfulfilled justice. We can’t let go of the injustice that was committed against us.  We feel that if we do not hang on to our anger, that the crime and the criminal will go unpunished.  So we spend our days “punishing” the wicked with our resentful anger instead of loving the wicked.

But God is capable my friend to do for you that which is humanly impossible: God is able to heal your wound and deal justly with the unrepentant.  The Judgment Seat is not yours to sit in.  You are not righteous enough or loving enough to repay with equity.  But God IS!  Are you willing to wait upon the Lord by placing your trust in His Divine Courtroom?  Will you look to the Cross and see the Justice of God poured out on Christ?  Will you give up your pursuit for vengeance upon your tormenter, knowing that God is your avenger?  Are you ready to pursue your enemy with love, not because he is forgiven, but because you are?!  Do you believe that God is more capable than you to give men what they deserve?  Do you really believe that you are more just than God is?  God does not command you to forgive your unrepentant abuser.  However, He does command you to give Him the place of vengeance and to be ready to forgive if God grants repentance to your assailant.

Here is a list of some of the passages of Scripture that will be used for our study:

Deuteronomy 32:35-43; 2 Samuel 22:47-51; Lamentations 3:46-66; Psalm 37

Psalm 94; Matthew 6:12-15; 18:15-35; Luke 17:1-5; 18:1-8; 23:34; Acts 5:31; 26:18

Romans 12:14-21;Ephesians 4:32; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; 2 Timothy 4:8, 14

Hebrews 10:26-39; Revelation 6:9-11

I hope and pray that the forthcoming posts to you will cause you to search the Scriptures, judging for yourself whether or not these things are true.  I invite your responses for clarification and discussion along the way.  My aim is to magnify the healing processes of the Lord for the wounded heart whose tormentor will not confess his sin.  May the Judge of all the earth do right! (Genesis 18:25)

I Need More Than Nat King Cole

God’s Word says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” (1 Cor. 15:19).

If in Christmas we have hope in this life only – we’re doomed.

If I only have Christmas, then I have no hope.

January is coming.

No Hope.

If all I can do is sing along with Nat King Cole, “Chesnuts roasting on an open fire,” then I have no hope. Why not? Because Nat King Cole can’t sing about what happened to baby Jesus. He can’t sing about his sinless life, his crucifixion, his death and burial, and especially – Jesus’ resurrection. This is why you and I need more than sentimental Christmas songs. Don’t get me wrong – I love listening to these songs over and over every Christmas. But they’re not my hope. I’ll explain.

As I get older I miss my parents more and more. I miss my large family too – on both sides. On my mom’s side, I have 16 first cousins and on my dad’s side I have 26. I could have more – I am from WV, so you never know. Anyway, as my family gets older, and more die (I don’t mean to be morbid – it’s just true), I feel the loss of connection with the past. I want time to stop. I want to put Christmas lights up with my mom. I want to see my mom and dad as I see them in my mind – 1972 (I was born in ’64), when we went to visit grandma White and great-grandma Sears in a shack stuck between a railroad track and a river (my dad’s side), and then grandma and grandpa Hall (my mom’s side) and help shovel coal from the bin; I can still smell the coal burning and feel the warmth of that old stove. And yes, chesnuts roasting, good food, a little rough-housing with cousins, and lots of laughter. I miss this all very much.

But I can’t simply put a nostalgic cd in, reminisce, cry – and make it all come back, singing, “here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore.” But this is all that you and I have, if, Christ is only a Christmas Hope. Baby Jesus is not enough for me and you. We need more hope than what Christ can only do on this side of the grave. We need a hope that goes beyond the aging years of time. We need Christ Jesus – the Risen Lord, who defeated our greatest enemy – death and separation from God and all that is lovely.

Enjoy Nat King Cole this Christmas, but remember, come Easter, he’ll not sing with joy that the baby Jesus was Raised from the dead for your justification – your right standing with God as you have put faith in the work of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And if you can’t sing for joy this coming Easter, but yet celebrate the birth of Christ – then you are of all people most to be pitied; you’re hope in Christ is only in this life. Dear family, friend, reader, put your hope in the Risen Christ this Christmas and if you do, your hope will outlast all your loss.

A Wife’s Inner Beauty: Convicting and Compelling

This is what I believe about my marriage to Cheryl.

The following is by Gordan Bals – Enjoy!

Years ago, I wrote a newsletter called Every Husband Feels Like a Jerk and Every Wife Agrees. It was meant to explain a common phenomenon that kept emerging in the course of my marriage counseling practice. No matter what else they brought to the table, couples seemed to agree on one thing: No one believed the husbands demonstrated loyal love in their marriages.

In fact, whenever I began to talk about the quality of love in the marital relationship, most husbands began to act ashamed. They were like Isaiah when he saw the Lord sitting on his throne, “high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1). It seemed like their wives were so good at love.

It’s true. In almost every case, a wife approaches marriage with a deeper understanding of and passion for loyal love. I consider this a God-given gift, one way she reflects the image of God (Genesis 1:27). I began to identify this as an aspect of a wife’s inner beauty.

This inner beauty exposes areas where a husband is lacking. Just as Isaiah encountered the Lord’s beauty, I heard husbands echo his response: “My destruction is sealed, for I am a sinful man and a member of sinful race” (Isaiah 6:5).

But unlike Isaiah, who was reduced to humble contrition in the presence of such loveliness, husbands tend to fight back. “My wife wants too much from me,” they declare. The wives counter with a long list of their husbands’ failures. This tension increases because neither the husband nor the wife responds well to her gift of inner beauty.

Couple Implications

If inner beauty is God’s gift to a woman, then it stands to reason that it’s a gift that can be employed in the service of building redemptive marriages. I want to suggest a couple of implications for each couple.

To grow in loyal love, a husband must not be afraid for his sin to be exposed in his wife’s presence. This requires humility. He must stop telling his wife she wants too much and instead look to the Lord for his help. Typically, a husband wants to be a knight in shining armor. Instead, he needs to be willing to humbly see the ways he hides and casts blame. As a husband opens up to this exposure and learns to look to the Lord for forgiveness and care, he has more to give his wife. A wife’s inner beauty matters because a husband can let it expose his deep need for God’s grace and mercy. A wife’s inner beauty is meant to turn a husband toward the Lord, not drive him to intimidation, control, or defensiveness.

To use her gift to enhance loyal love, a wife must remember that her husband experiences shame in her presence. He experiences this whether or not she says or does anything. Her gift of inner beauty can be that powerful. When a wife trusts this, she can relate to her husband with more kindness and rest instead of feeling compelled to help her husband recognize where he is lacking. When Peter encourages wives to let their “adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” (1 Peter 3:4), he is telling wives to rest as their husbands learn how to make room for the ongoing conviction of sin that comes with marriage. Peter wanted women to stop expending so much effort. A husband’s struggle to love well should turn a wife toward more faith and less activity as she waits for him to grow into God’s love.

In fact, as a wife rests and shows kindness in the midst of her husband’s frustration, she can have a powerful effect. After Isaiah witnesses God’s beauty and expresses humility, a seraph touches his lips with a coal and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6: 7). Later, we find Isaiah willingly responding to the Lord’s direction. Beauty and kindness together inspired courage in Isaiah. He is moved to stand up and follow the Lord.

It works the same way in marriage. When a husband responds well to his wife’s inner beauty, and when a wife mixes it with kindness, she becomes a compelling force in her husband’s life.

Gordon C. Bals founded Daymark Pastoral Counseling in Birmingham, Alabama, a ministry committed to restoring people to God and to one another. Anyone interested in reading further about this topic and/or related marital themes can find them in his recently published book, Common Ground: God’s Gift of a Restored Marriage, available on Amazon or on his website,

Using Facebook to the Glory of God

For all of us who use facebook, here are some helpful reminders. If you are a parent and your teen wants a facebook page, the following is a good place to start for conversation. And remember, our Lord said that we will give an answer for every idle word (Matthew 12:36-37).

1. Beware the seduction of being “liked.” This can become fame seeking and can stir unhealthy ambitions for praise of man.

2. Beware the seduction of “fear of man.” Are you able to send a “like me” to someone and they not “like” you back – can you handle that?

3. Beware the seduction of exalting your own “Truman Show.” Just because you think your life is interesting to watch does not mean that others think so. This can create the delusion that what I ate for breakfast and what I wore this morning or plan to wear, is important for the world to read.

4. Beware the seduction of gossip and slander and cynicism. The privacy of facebook without having to interact with a face-to-face person makes it easier to diss others.

5. Beware the seduction of dribble. See point two but only to add here that facebook can become your hideout when bored with life and often creates a platform for silly chit-chat. Books are still hands-on pleasure.

6. Beware the seduction of superficial friendships – you really don’t have 689 friends. Not really. If you have two or three real friends in this life then that is about all you need. Besides it takes a lot of time to keep up with your real friends – you don’t have time to keep up with the fake ones.

7. Beware the seduction of wasting time and laziness.

8. Beware the loss of good articulation and writing habits. We are getting dumber because we have hyphenated our language down to grunts and then in public, we can barely speak using intelligent language to convey what we want to say. Facebook does not approve of good writing habits. If the average 15 yr old actually used correct spelling, punctuation, and all around good grammar, including capitalizing proper names and words at the beginning of a sentence, you would lose some friends – they would think that you have lost your mind.

9. Beware the loss of real friendships. Remember, if you try to keep up with all the fake friends you might lose a real one simply because of limited time. And, even with real friends, internet conversation is fragile: no one can read your face, your body language, your tone of voice – all important in understanding what the other is saying.

On the other hand, like all forms of social media, if the dangers are understood, limitations are in place, accountability is pursued, then tread cautiously in your modern world. The benefits to facebook are good ones:

  1. A means of cheap and quick communication
  2. A means of contacting and locating people that were special to us in the past
  3. A means of spreading and communicating good things, again, in a quick and cost-effective manner to a larger group
  4. A means of encouragement and support for those in need
  5. A means of communicating a need
  6. A means of sharing special moments and happenings with friends and family who live far away
  7. And finally, a means to glorify God. If we are to put the beauty of our Lord on display, then facebook is included along with eating and drinking to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Keeping this in mind will foster good use of social media.

Winter Warlock was a Balanced Calvinist


One of my family’s favorite Christmas movies is “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town!” Last night, we faithfully watched with delight, again. But for several years I’ve pondered whether Winter Warlock was a balanced Calvinist; I think that he probably was (sorry, my brain loves to do this – and yes I need to chill out:), but . . .

As Kris Kringle gives the Warlock a choo-choo present, the icy, wicked countenance of the white wizard changes. Kris asks what is happening and the Warlock responds, “My icy heart – it’s melting.”

“For God, who said, “let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” – 2 Cor. 4:6

And, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” – James 1:18.

Winter got saved because something more powerful than his icy heart overcame it – Sovereign, Hell-Busting, Electing Love. This is what explains why your heart melted at the offer of the most wonderful gift – Salvation in Christ, and did not remain frozen in unrepentant sin (2 Tim. 2:25).

Then Winter says to Kris Kringle, “Suddenly, my whole outlook is changed from bad to good. But will it last? I really am a mean and despicable creature at heart, you know.”

I too have this assesment of my own heart (Jer. 17:9) and I too have wondered if my change will last. I love Winter’s honesty. Truth is, our salvation in Christ will not last through this day if God were not preserving our faith (Phil. 1:6). Our change will not last another minute if God has not determined our complete change as part of his salvation plan (Rom. 8:29-30). We all wonder if our faith, our change will hold. Praise God it will, because God has Ordained it! And though we are new creations in Christ we are still wretched and long to be finally released from this mixture of sin and holiness (Rom. 7:24-25).

Now this is where it gets slippery:-) Kris advises, “Changing from bad to good is as easy as taking your first step.”

As long as we understand that obedience, change, and walking in the Spirit is the duty and delight of the Christian Life, then the entire book of James is sustained: “Faith without works is dead.” In other words, if you are not changing, if you are not obeying, if you are not “making your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:5-11), by making every effort to supplement your faith with good works, then your faith is useless for saving you from your sins. Works does not save – but they do prove that you are saved. And even then, those works are a work of God in your life (1 Cor. 15:9-11).

As Kris, the penguin, and the fawn show Winter how to walk across the floor, it’s time for the changed, yet mean and despicable heart to obey. Winter looks into the icy mirror, and like a good student of the book of James, rhetorically asks,

“If I want to change the reflection I see in the mirror each morn, You mean that it’s just my election, to vote for a chance to be reformed?”                                          

(very practical presbyterianism I might say)

James says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (1:22-25).

A balanced Calvinist is one who believes that his salvation was completely and totally a work of grace from the very beginning – even accounting for the reason why you have faith in the first place. This love from God was not simply offered, for you and I would still be rejecting it. Rather, it was a kind of love that was set on you for no other reason than it was God’s free choice to do so (Deut. 7:7-8; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:26-27; Eph. 1:4-5; Rom. 8:29-39). But this does not mean that we are passive in our election – we are actively persevering in our faith, in our holiness, in our “walking across the floor” of this life. And soon, we’ll be on the other side.

Ok – now go ahead and sing that great song and put one foot in front of the other and get on with godly living! Keep walking and singing Christian – you’re almost home.

And yes, I know that Winter asks the Lord a little later for one last opportunity to do some magic. But I love to see reindeer fly – so I’m ok with it.