Abuse is no laughing matter

I’m not a Dallas Cowboys fan. I’m a long-suffering Minnesota Vikings fan. But I have become a fan of a player on the Cowboys: Jason Witten.

Jason is now a big tough professional football player, but often in his childhood he was a scared little boy. His father – who himself is the size of a football player – was abusive. He didn’t physically abuse Jason, but Jason suffered emotional abuse as he fearfully watched and heard his mother and two older brothers being yelled at and hit. He’d hide in the bathroom and wonder when it was going to stop. Jason and his mother and brothers escaped from their father when he was 11, but the painful memories remain.

Tragically those who were victims of abuse at times become abusers themselves. Jason has gone against that trend. He has started a foundation to help victims of domestic abuse. A big part of the foundation’s work is to try to connect victims of abuse with positive role models so that children can see that not all men are angry and scary.

During a recent profile on TV about Jason they interviewed his father. It was a rather strange and uncomfortable interview. The father admitted making mistakes but denied being abusive. He said he didn’t know why all his family said such things. He tried to describe what had happened as just having some disagreements. It seems to be a case of the one who inflicted pain having no clue as to the depth of pain he caused.

Sometimes those of us who haven’t suffered abuse fail to grasp how hard and painful it is for those who have been abused, and how difficult it is to deal with the memories.

I think I find humor in a lot of things and I’m somewhat quick to laugh. Sometimes I’ve laughed when I probably shouldn’t have. I still regret a piano recital incident. But I don’t think it’s ever funny when a man abuses a woman.

There is a video going around the internet that shows President Trump hitting a golf ball and then tries to make it appear that the ball hit Hillary Clinton and knocked her straight to the floor. The other video shows President Trump throwing a football with a similar ending of Clinton being knocked down. No matter what your political views; no matter if you agree with the one throwing the ball and disagree with the one being hit; I don’t think watching a man hit a woman on the back of her head with a ball and violently knock her down should ever be something we laugh at. Of course the videos didn’t really happen, but still, should we find something like that funny?

The Bible calls us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20). Attacking others, inflicting pain on others, abusing others is not at all the way of Christ. We are to be gentle, building others up and not knocking them down. The Lord calls for leaders who are “not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome” (I Timothy 3:3).

In the Lord we have hope that the day will come when all the anger and attacking and abuse of today will be no more. “I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders” (Isaiah 60:18). By faith in Christ we can look forward to the day when the painful, frightening sounds of violence will be heard no more.

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Set free from worrying about what they think

I recently posted on Facebook some pictures from a concert I went to. I heard the Christian group For King and Country. The pictures show that there were a lot of lights and color and a variety of instruments. There were drums and guitars and a whole lot of noise. People have various tastes in music and this might not have been everybody’s favorite, but I really enjoyed it.

After I posted the pictures I thought of how some years ago, if it became known that a pastor went to a concert like this, it would have provoked some discussion and some people would have been a bit concerned. Some things change over time and now I don’t think it’s too big a deal. It doesn’t matter much to me at all whether it is or not.

It’s easy to become a prisoner in the court of public opinion. Oh, how we worry about what people think. “Will people think this tie is too wild? Will they think I’m a bum if I don’t wear a tie? If I drive a nice car will people think I’m wasteful with my money? If I drive a junker will they think I’m not very successful? If I buy something at the deli and bring to the church potluck will people think I’m lazy? If I make something will people like it?”

Worry about what people think can influence our actions and cause much stress. Sometimes new paths of adventure aren’t explored, new attempts at serving aren’t tried, and new friendships aren’t developed because of concern over the opinions of others. People keep doing the safe and familiar because they’re afraid of what others might think if they try something new.

Jesus wants to set us free from all that. We can be set free to sincerely serve God and people. We’re free to seek to do what is right, not just what is popular. Because we’re loved by God and chosen by Him, we’re free to fail in our attempts at service. We’re free to worship the Lord. We’re free to enjoy God’s good and gracious gifts. We’re free to give up the pursuit of trying to please the crowd. Instead we can focus on pleasing the Lord.

In the Gospels we see Jesus truly loving people, but not worrying about what they think of Him. It was the religious leaders who cared a great deal about what people thought of them. Some believed in Jesus but wouldn’t confess their faith because of fear of the crowd. “… for they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43). Jesus didn’t worry about what people might think if they saw Him speaking words of kindness to a prostitute, touching a leper or eating a meal in the home of a tax collector. He didn’t worry if people thought, “He shouldn’t hang out with people like that.” They muttered, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner'” (Luke 19:7). Their mutterings didn’t matter to Jesus. He knew how fickle public opinion can be. On Palm Sunday a crowd hailed Him as king. On Good Friday another crowd yelled, “Crucify him!”

The opinions of people bounce up and down. Worrying about what they think is like riding a roller coaster that isn’t nearly as fun as those in an amusement park. We love people and serve them, but we know sometimes our service will please them and sometimes it won’t. Our main concern is pleasing God and following His leading. What pleases God doesn’t change. Believing in Jesus, trusting Him and loving Him, pleases the Lord. His opinion is we’re His beloved children when we have faith in Jesus. That’s the opinion that matters most.

What a sky!

The sky was amazing tonight. It wasn’t just in one spot. There were things happening all over the place. There were different shapes and colors of clouds almost everywhere you looked. Straight gray clouds and their tails were floating along in the west. Some puffy, dark gray clouds were hanging out in the north. Lower in the sky some bright pink clouds were glowing. There were various shades of pink and red and orange in other spots of the sky as well. Some light blue and some darker blue was painted across other parts of the sky. There were spots where the light was shining bright and some dark spots just a little bit over.

I was thinking of trying to take some pictures, but there was so much going on, so much beauty, so many interesting things to see all over the place, I didn’t know where to begin. So I decided not to take any pictures, but just enjoy the art show God was putting on.

I’m afraid some people probably missed tonight’s art show. Maybe they were busy being productive. Or they were looking at their phone. We can get so busy doing that which we think has to be done right now, we miss out on what God is doing. We live under the tyranny of that which tries to convince us it’s urgent and necessary. Most of the time it’ll be okay if we pause for a moment, lift up our eyes and spend some time in awe and wonder at what God has done.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). Tonight the skies proclaimed God’s wondrous beauty and glorious creativity. Thank you, Lord, for painting another masterpiece.

The gentle Lord loves us all

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It may seem strange to think of Wii bowling when visiting the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, but that’s what happened to me last month. Dachau is one of the camps where the Nazis in the 1930s and ‘40s imprisoned, tortured and killed many. Wii bowling is a video game. Around 10 years ago I was playing Wii bowling at some friends’ house. I was watching the TV and not my hand as I made the motion of throwing a bowling ball, while using a remote. I didn’t see the little girl as she stepped in front of my hand just as my arm was going forward. My hand with the remote in it hit her right on the side of the head. She started to cry and bleed a little bit, and I felt terrible.

After some tears and a wet cloth and some kisses and hugs from her mom, she was okay and back to smiling and playing. It didn’t go quite so easy for me. The others who were there that night said Sierra would recover much quicker than I would from the incident, and they were right. I never played Wii bowling again, and I don’t expect I ever will. It’ll just bring back bad memories of me causing pain to sweet little Sierra.

IMG_9661When I was at Dachau I thought of how terrible it felt to cause pain to that little girl and I wondered: how in the world could those people who ran this prison inflict such horrendous pain on so many other human beings? It seems inconceivable, and yet it happened. The human heart, when it wanders far from God, is capable of all kinds of wickedness. Sadly, evil can get such a hold on a person that inflicting pain on others no longer bothers them. In some sick way they enjoy it.

I remembered Dachau when reading the tragic news of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. People calling themselves white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched and spewed forth hateful rhetoric. It appears one of the neo-Nazis purposefully drove a car into a crowd of people who opposed them, killing one person and injuring others. You go to Dachau, you read of what the Nazis did, and you shudder to think that anyone would want to be a neo-Nazi.

I also shudder when groups like white supremacists claim to be Christian. One of the first key issues the New Testament church had to deal with was the Jews feeling superior to the non-Jews and believing God only cared about them. The Holy Spirit did a powerful work to make it convincingly clear to the leaders of the early church that God loves every human being equally. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. He wants each person to come to faith in Him, no matter the color of their skin or their ethnic origin. Peter declared in Acts 10:34: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.” It is totally contrary to the message of Christ to say one race is more favored by God than others.

It is also totally contrary to the way Jesus does things to believe it is okay to use violence on those with whom you differ. Jesus wants to heal, not hurt. He wants to build up people, not tear them down. He is such a beautiful contrast to the harsh, nasty, violent spirit that seems to be so prevalent in our day. In Matthew 12 it says of Him: “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break.” A bruised reed symbolizes a person who is hurting and struggling, bruised by the trials of life. Jesus is gentle with that kind of person. He wants to lovingly and carefully heal their wounded soul.

The world thinks, if you’re attacked, hitting them back harder than they hit you is a sign of strength. It isn’t. Treating each person with respect and as valuable, no matter who they are; choosing humble service over revenge and gentleness over violence: that’s true strength.

Battle over big things

Some things are worth fighting for, and some things aren’t. On a recent trip to Germany our group was reminded of some men who fought battles over things that were worth fighting for. We visited sites that were significant in the life of Martin Luther. The man who led the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s battled over things that truly mattered. He caused an uproar in the church because people were not being taught the truth about how their sins could be forgiven. They were being misled about how they could be in a right relationship with God. Luther courageously charged into battle over truths that were of eternal importance.

On the trip we visited the Wartburg Castle where Luther was hid away for almost a year. While there he translated the Bible into the common German so that the common man could read it. Doing the translation was a challenge, but getting the Bible into a language people could understand was a battle worth taking on.

We visited Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s house, which is now a museum. Bonhoeffer was one of the first pastors in Germany who spoke out against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Bonhoeffer could have stayed in the safety of the United States or England during World War 2, but he chose to return to Germany to pastor and serve his people. Some in Germany knew Hitler was evil, but they didn’t have the courage to speak out against him. They ran from the battle. Their bodies stayed safe but their souls were full of guilt. Bonhoeffer took on the battle. He died a martyr’s death at the hands of the Nazis, but his soul was at peace, by God’s grace.

Luther and Bonhoeffer took on challenges that were worth the struggle. Sadly many get involved in battles that are pointless. Some fight a “valiant struggle” to make sure silk flowers don’t appear in the church sanctuary during a worship service. The Bible is pretty quiet about silk flowers. Some battle over carpet color or what brand of coffee to serve. Does it really matter?

“No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs” (II Timothy 2:4). We pray for wisdom to discern what are “civilian affairs” that should not distract us. We pray we would not fall into the trap of letting minor matters became the cause of major disputes. Let us be willing to not get our way and lose out on the insignificant issues. Let us instead be the type of people President Theodore Roosevelt described: a man “… who spends himself in a worthy cause.”

Jesus knows what battles matter. People wanted Him to take on the Roman Empire. He didn’t get involved in that battle. He came to take on sin and death. That is the battle He fought and won. Because He won the battle that mattered, we don’t get too worked up about the unimportant disputes. We devote our time and energies to the big challenges: proclaiming the good news of Jesus, building up God’s church and loving people.

Trusting the right fort to protect our soul

Kids like to build forts. Adults like to build forts too, but we don’t build forts made of bricks and concrete. The materials we use might be a lot of good works we do, thinking we’re protecting ourselves from facing consequences for our sin. Or it can be a fortress built by putting on an act and telling everybody we’re doing great. We might fill up our schedule with all kinds of things that keep us busy in an effort to build a wall that keeps us from facing our fears and hurts.

We all need a fortress, but not the ones we build. We need the fortress built by the Lord. In our recent vacation Bible school the good news was shared that in this scary world we can find a fortress. We can run to God. He protects us and keeps us safe. “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:5-6).

At times we hide behind the false fortress of our own strength. We don’t want to let other people in. We’re afraid they’ll see the real us and all our weaknesses and shortcomings. If they see that, they may not like us. So we build the fort.

We might have all kinds of things we want to keep hidden behind a fortress. It may be a past we’re ashamed of, weakness we don’t want to admit, hurts and pains we try to ignore and bury deep in our soul. We build a fortress around these things. The walls we build prevent others from getting into our lives and getting close.

The apostle Paul was willing to tear down walls and let others into his life. “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange – I speak as to my children – open wide your hearts also. … Make room for us in your hearts” (II Corinthians 6:11-13, 7:2).

When we are secure that God is our fortress, we find freedom to take down the false fortresses we try to build. God keeps our soul safe. Our fears fade and we can let others in and let them know who we really are.

9780310344759_4I recently read the book, “No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending” by Esther Fleece. I appreciated the book and would recommend it for you to read. The author suffered through a terrible childhood and it caused her to build a lot of forts around her soul. She was trying to protect herself from getting hurt again. She tried to pretend she was over the pain and everything was fine. She hadn’t been truly loved growing up and it caused her to doubt people would love her if they learned of her weakness and hurt. But then the good news of Jesus broke down the forts she had made. She realized God knew her completely and still loved her. His true love and grace was a fortress she could count on. She could take down the forts of faking fine and trying to work hard to earn people’s respect and affection. She found security and welcome in the mighty fortress of Jesus’ love.

Each of us can find rest for the soul and everlasting love in the fortress of God’s grace.

Who knows how the ride ends?

Recently somebody brought to church some big cardboard boxes that had been folded flat. They’re going to be used for decorating for vacation Bible school. We wanted them downstairs. Sliding them down the staircase seemed a whole lot more fun than carrying them down. The thought of riding the cardboard down the stairs was considered. There have been times when I maybe would have done that. Doing those things when I was a kid resulted in me having to explain to my mom how I got the bruise and why it was the same shape as the indentation on the wall. This time I looked down at the pretty solid door to the furnace room that is close to the bottom of the stairs and thought it would maybe be best to just slide the cardboard down the stairs without a rider.

Too often in life we don’t look ahead to consider what might result from our decisions and where things might end. Sometimes the beginning looks fun so we hop on the ride without thinking about where it’s going. The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). Some rides start fun but they don’t end well.

It is hard for us to know how things are going to end. It’s great to know that God knows. He sees ahead to the ending. He is aware if there is trouble up ahead. Sometimes I have started down a path and it seemed like God was putting obstacles in my way that frustrated me. Looking back I can see that God was being gracious. He has stopped me from making some bad decisions I wanted to make and got in the way of me going on rides that would have ended in disaster. The Lord has graciously protected me from me.

The Bible assures us that “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (I John 3:20). He knows if a decision we’re about to make will lead to danger. He knows if the path we’re on is full of potholes and problems. He knows how to guide us and protect us. He knows which direction leads to trouble and which one leads to joy. He knows when it’s okay to hop on that ride and when we shouldn’t. We can trust in God’s loving and wise care.