Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Godly Sorrow Leads to Repentance

Bonhoeffer writes in his Cost of Discipleship:
"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."
This week, Pastor Mark Driscoll published on Mars Hill Church's website a public 30 minute video on what he calls a season of learning in his life during which he is sorrowful and lamenting. Since he made this video public beyond his own church membership and many people are discussing it, even affirming it, I feel a strong need to address it. Because what Pastor Mark does in this video is one of the clearest examples I've ever seen of what the Apostle Paul calls “worldly sorrow.”
2 Corinthians 7:10 For godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly sorrow produces death.
When it comes to our personal responses to our own sin, these are the only two options. When faced with confrontation or other natural consequences of your sin, you can mourn your sin in a way that leads you to confess to God, change your direction, and repair with those you have hurt. And that response allows you to get up and go forward without regret. I've never once in my life met someone who REGRETTED bringing their sin into the light, confessing it honestly, and repairing with those they had wronged. Godly sorrow producing repentance is beautiful.

The second option when faced with painful consequences of your sin is worldly sorrow, grief and lament in response to the consequences of one's sin that does not understand and appropriate Christ's payment for it. Pastor Mark is not the first person who can (over)use Jesus' name in proper context who does not appropriate how the good news of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection speaks into the consequences of sin he is now facing at Mars Hill. Such people often want forgiveness. They want grace extended to them. And, in Christ, there is no condemnation according to Romans 8:1! Yet, the same Paul who wrote Romans 8:1 instructs us in Ephesians 5 to bring our sin into the light, because the light of Christ is a disinfectant. Expose the sin. Own the sin. Not to bring shame and condemnation but to bring restoration and healing! Any hope of “forgiveness” without clear, specific repentance is exactly what Bonhoeffer labels cheap grace. It's continuing in sin that grace may abound, to which Paul says, "God forbid!"

The indication for any one of us of godly verses worldly sorrow is summed up in one word – repentance. True repentance always starts with a specific naming of your sin, and it always includes a change in your ways. I love the definition of the Greek word for repent according to Strong – “to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins.” Godly sorrow that produces repentance will include statements along these lines – “I sinned against God and (name redacted). I have asked their forgiveness and am seeking to repair with them in the ways that I can. I am taking these steps to guard myself from doing the same in the future.” It always comes with a hearty desire to amend your ways with an abhorrence for how you sinned against God and others in the past.

I am writing this post because it is of utmost importance that people (believing and unbelieving) hearing Jesus' name understand the difference in worldly and godly sorrow. I am very grieved that Mars Hill Church uses the name of Jesus over and over in their materials (even linking to this latest video with the url jesus.to), yet the lead pastor models a worldly sorrow without repentance that Paul says leads to death. It is irresponsible (for those of us who know these things from first hand experience and are in a position to address them) to turn away as Jesus' name is used in empty, cheap ways. Thankfully, in this area, many of God's children are rising up to confront these things privately as well as publicly. This is good for the Church.

Long before Pastor Mark released this week's video, I wrote about godly verses worldly sorrow in The Gospel-Centered Woman. I felt that many women, myself included, often linger in this sorrowful place over our sin without understanding how repentance in the shadow of the cross heals and repairs. I'll close with these thoughts from the book.
Worldly sorrow is characterized by feelings of shame, pain, or embarrassment that you got caught in sin. Along with that shame, you may feel hopelessness over ever being cleansed from your sin or your ability to repair the relationship with the person you sinned against. Such worldly sorrow may be relieved by someone else doing something for you or you doing something for yourself. Maybe you seek out someone to affirm you or distract you. You may try to manipulate how others think of you and look to them to make you feel better about yourself. If one relationship is broken, you may manipulate other relationships to replace the one you harmed. 
In contrast, godly sorrow is sorrow that directs you to Christ. You do not need someone else to do something for you. You do not need to do something for yourself. Instead, you fall flat on your face before God alone, for godly sorrow points you directly to Him. Godly sorrow is relieved by repentance and faith in what Christ has already done for you. Then, resting in what God has done for you, you can lay down your attempts to justify yourself to others. You can simply ask their forgiveness and repair with those you have hurt. 
Many of us spend years of our lives mistaking worldly sorrow on a wide range of sin issues for authentic repentance and then wonder why we never change or why our relationships never heal. Feeling bad about what you have done is not the same as a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. God calls us to recognize our wrongdoing and need for forgiveness and then turn to God to forgive and correct it. We do not have to live in a perpetual state of regret and shame. Christ bore our shame and condemnation on the cross. His sacrifice for us equips us to face our sin head-on without fear that it will forever define us.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Repentance Snowball Effect

I've never had a post that I was so sure I was supposed to write that has felt as hard to finish as this one. A friend told me two weeks ago I ought to write on this, and I started it then. Yet, I feel like I'm pushing through a thick haze to get it finished. I wondered if the Spirit was hindering me. Then I remembered the Word of God, because it teaches me that the Spirit is FOR repentance. I recognize now the one who is against it, and I determined today I would overcome whatever barriers that lesser being placed in front of me, because I think the Greater One blesses us when we think on repentance.

I have harped on repentance from time to time. I wrote about not circling the wagons,

recognizing the pitfalls of self-justification,

recognizing sincere verses insincere confession,

and about our need to listen to our critics.

After years of banging my head against the wall wondering if anyone in my spiritual community believed what I did about the beauty of repentance, the flood gates have finally opened. Former and current elders are repenting without defensiveness to those they were supposed to shepherd. One former wounded church member confronted an elder, “You were the worst counselor I've ever had.” Yet the elder responded without defensiveness, “I am so sorry I failed you. Will you please forgive me?” I've seen that kind of repentance these last few weeks again and again and again. 

Here is what I note about authentic repentance – a response of true repentance does not depend on the quality of the confrontation. This has been a mistake I've made over the years. I do personally believe that I have some obligations in how I draw someone toward seeing their sin (see 2 Timothy 2:24-26 for clear teaching in Scripture on how to confront). But it is a serious mistake to believe that real repentance will be squashed if the one in sin is confronted with too much anger or passion or hurt. Because true repentance isn't primarily a transaction between accused and accuser. It's first and foremost a humbling of ourselves before GOD. That's the key to authentic repentance. Nathan confronted David about his sin. But David confesses in Psalms 51 that it is against God, and God only, that he has sinned against.

With that foundation in place, authentic repentance begins. The particular confession I have gotten to witness is that of elders recognizing that they “shepherded” sheep with a foundation of pride, fear, and intimidation that caused them ultimately to harm rather than nurture the dear ones God gave them to serve. When someone sees this first and foremost as a sin against God, there are profound results. The primary result I've seen is a humble response by repentant guys that seeks out person after person hurt by their sin and owns it in front of them.

The second thing I note is that this kind of authentic repentance
snowballs. It's breathtaking to see one guy admit his sin, then to get a phone call from another guy who admits his sin, followed up by a private message from another one, with an email from yet another, and so forth. Multiple former pastors reaching out to multiple former parishioners, with multiple instances of sincere repentance followed by multiple gifts of grace in response.

It's catching. God's kingdom comes. His will is being done. He forgives our debts as we forgive others. God's kingdom does not come without repentance, and Jesus' words, “It is finished!” ring truest in those moments of humbly admitting our sin with God first and those we've hurt in close second.

If you need to confess yet have let fear or pride stop you, may the Spirit move you forward as you see and hear of others finding freedom and healing by humbling themselves before God.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My Dad, Your Father

Father's Day can be tricky. I have many sweet beautiful friends who were utterly failed by their fathers. These friends struggle to know their heavenly Father. It's natural to cast onto our heavenly Father the characteristics of our fallen earthly fathers. How many sisters in Christ struggled to get their dad's attention? How many were completely abandoned by their fathers? Many had fathers who held them to impossible standards, whose affirmation had to be earned, and who were quick with criticism that cut their daughters to the bone. And how many have struggled not to believe those same things of God in heaven?!

I did not have that type of dad. I hesitate to post on my dad here on Father's Day, because I am sensitive to the pain that others feel around such a day. I hope that my words about my dad will be an encouragement to all of us, whether you had a dad like this or not, because the best characteristics of my dad are the ones that are true for all of us of our heavenly Father. You too have a Dad like this, better actually, though you haven't yet gotten to physically sit in His lap.

I have the best kind of dad – the kind that isn't perfect, but when the rubber meets the road, you know he is there for you. My dad taught me life lessons, particularly the importance of hard work and frugality. He lost his family farm in his early twenties, which was then turned into the city dump. That kind of thing will change you. He started with nothing, but he worked his way up until he found a way to provide for his family.

Daddy taught me to be frugal. I don't know how good a job I've done with this as an adult, but I've tried to be wise with my money. Daddy also gave his daughters opportunities he never had. He paid every last tuition payment I had for college. At the time, I took it completely for granted. But at the end of my college years, I slipped up and showed my lack of appreciation. He's not a yeller, but I figured out quickly that he didn't pay for my college to coddle a spoiled rich girl. We were not rich, but I was probably a little spoiled. He did it because he, despite his desire to learn, had to drop out of college due to finances. It took years of him paying for my private education before it dawned on me the sacrifice he made to do so and the reasons he did it.

Daddy wanted me to have opportunities he never had, but sometimes that came at a cost. I remember telling him that I was going to South Korea to teach in an international Christian school as soon as I finished working in a Christian camp away from home all summer. He got very quiet, but he never pressed me against that decision, and I always felt supported by him and my mom while I was away.

Once, I was in a stressful personal situation, and my dad offered to fly out to help me (from South Carolina to Seattle). I told him I thought I'd be OK, but I'd let him know. However, by the end of the day, it was clear I needed his help. I emailed my mom from Seattle long after they had gone to bed. Could Daddy come after all? I was hoping he might be able to find a reasonable ticket that would get him there the following week. But when I woke up the next morning, he had a ticket that put him into Seattle that night. The love he and my mom showed me as they dropped everything to make that happen still moves me to tears.

Here's what I know about my dad. He loves me. He is for me. He will do whatever he can do to help me. He's not going to buy me frivolous things, but if I need an important bill paid and can't do it myself, he's there. Most of all, he hurts when I hurt. Biblically, it's called compassion – he suffers when I suffer. And that has helped me to understand my Father in heaven in meaningful ways.

I never doubted that God would provide for me.

I never doubted that God loved me.

I never doubted that God wanted my best.

I never doubted that God was FOR me.

Sister in Christ, your own dad may not be like that at all. But your heavenly Father is! He has compassion for you, which means literally that He suffers with you. He is FOR you.
Psalm 103:13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pornography and Gospel Community

One of my elders at church taught a class Sunday on pornography. He was vulnerable and honest about his own serious struggle with pornography after being exposed to it at a very young age through sexual deviancy among the adults in his home. I found his lesson relevant to men who've struggled with pornography, women who've struggled with pornography, men who haven't struggled with pornography, and women who haven't struggled with pornography. Since that probably covers all the readers here, I thought I would share the progression of his thoughts.

1. Pornography is sin. Despite the near mainstream acceptance of pornography in many cultures (certainly here in Seattle), we need a Biblical framework for understanding the issue.
Matthew 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 
See also 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 and Galatians 5:19-21.
2. However, don’t elevate the sin above what it is – simply sin. Adam, the elder teaching this lesson, shared how in a moment of deep angst over his use of pornography yet again, he was confronted by another elder at our church. Did he have the same angst when he yelled at his wife? When he was angry with his children? The elder exhorted him to not minimize the sin, but also not to allow it a place of importance above other sins. In a twisted way (because we often do twist such things), elevating the sin of pornography can make fighting the struggle a legalistic idol and source of pride for those who struggle less than others.
Romans 1:29-32 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
3. Hate the sin, and speak truth with patience and grace to yourself and others with overcoming the struggle. Paul's words in Romans 7 don't excuse our sin, but it does explain our sin.
Romans 7:15-8:1 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Adam shared his story of his wife's response to him when he first confessed his use of pornography to her. He waited until late in the evening to tell her. Then he got up off the bed to leave the room in shame. She asked him where he was going, and he told her he figured she didn't want to be around him right now. She said, “Why would I want that? I love you!” Adam recounted with tears how her words ministered grace to him that kept him walking his struggle with pornography in the light. In contrast, he knew another man who told him his wife's response was along the lines that if she ever caught him using pornography again, she would immediately divorce him. This further pushed this man into isolation and shame when he needed to admit his sin and walk in the light with his wife. Adam pointed out how his own wife's gracious response helped him walk in the light and confess his sin, which has been key to moving forward in his struggle successfully.

There is a tension here. We need to make sure that in our patience and grace we remember that grace also means to speak truth. Consider Bonhoeffer's words in Life Together: “Reproof is unavoidable. God’s word demands it when a brother falls into open sin…Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin.”

4. If you struggle with pornography, you are not alone. Pornography is impacting all kinds of things in our culture—fashion, crushing expectations regarding physical appearance and sexual performance, and so forth. Many believe it is now the number one educator for teaching American children about sex. One survey showed 50 percent of Christian men and 20 percent of Christian women said they were addicted to pornography. 60 percent of Christian women said they struggled with lust. This is a big struggle affecting many people you know.

When Adam first introduced a class on sexual immorality during announcements at our church 10 years ago, a number of wives and girlfriends came up to him after the service to thank him for giving them the freedom to talk with their significant other whom they thought was struggling with pornography. Many men talked with him in the weeks afterwards as well, though not immediately after service. It was a widespread struggle, and one man speaking in the light gave freedom to others to join him.

5. Work out the sin and struggle in community. Adam recounted leaving work after a particularly stressful day feeling a strong desire to watch porn and masturbate. He texted another elder exactly that. That elder had struggled as well, and the power of the temptation each felt seemed to dissipate when they brought it into the light. I am thankful for a gospel-centered church that is safe for people to struggle in the light with their sin. We need to be safe places where others can be honest about their sin. No struggle with sin can be won in the dark.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 
Galatians 6:2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
6. Know that you are defined by Jesus, not your sin! Consider these truths from Scripture on how God thinks of and speaks of you regardless of your struggle.

I am God's child (John 1:12)
I am confident that God will perfect the work He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6)
I am hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3)
I am chosen before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4, 11)
I am adopted as his child (Ephesians 1:5)
I am given God's glorious grace lavishly and without restriction (Ephesians 1:5,8)
I am in Him (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:30)
I am forgiven (Ephesians 1:8; Colossians 1:14) I am included (Ephesians 1:13)
I am sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)
I am alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5)
I am raised up with Christ (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:12)
I am God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)
I am a dwelling for the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:22)
I am not alone (Hebrews 13:5)
I am His disciple (John 13:15)
I am set free (Romans 8:2; John 8:32)

7. In conclusion, hear this encouragement from Galatians whether your struggle is pornography or other sexual sins, anger, greed, or something else.
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
If you struggle, bring it into the light. And if you don't struggle, be ready to walk with those who do bring it into the light. They need safe places to be honest about the temptations they face and the sins they commit, because light heals.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Root of Bitterness at Mars Hill Church

I addressed this topic once before using Bob Bixby's notes on Hebrews 12. I want to again consider the root of bitterness from Hebrews 12 in the context of the ongoing, long term struggle at Mars Hill Church. I have relied heavily on Bob's exposition for this post.
The “Bitter Card” has trump power. Pop that baby out and you can dismiss the criticism. It’s played this way: person A has a grievance that he/she does not feel is being understood. Eventually Person A vents too often, too emotionally, or even sinfully, .... At this point, play the “Bitter Card.” This puts them on the defensive and, in the minds of the clueless, guts the bitter person's argument …. Often people who play the “Bitter Card” employ Hebrews 12:15 and warn that the bitterness could result in the defilement of many.
The bitter card has been used for years in Seattle against those with growing concerns about Mars Hill Church. I personally have feared speaking at times because of this common criticism and the shame of being possibly labeled a gossip or, worse yet, a contentious woman. A careful examination of Hebrews 12:15 has been helpful to me.
Hebrews 12:14-15 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Why would Scripture here warn against a “root of bitterness” rather than simply bitterness itself? Most agree that bitterness is a bad trait. Ephesians 4:31 teaches us to put away bitterness. Wrath, anger, clamor, bitterness – all of these are unhealthy and unhelpful forms of human speech. Yet Hebrews 12:15 is different. It isn't bitterness that is addressed but the ROOT of bitterness that defiles many. This is a darkly sinful core from which many others are defiled. When you hear bitter, angry speech among many different people, this root is what you find when you take one step back to see what they are all bitter about. Widespread public bitterness is an indicator of a root problem that is defiling many.

The context of Hebrews 12 is the slog of Christian faith after the excitement wears off as you continue enduring for the long haul. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses that has gone on before us and cheers us from the sidelines. We are also being discipled/disciplined by the Lord, as He roots out sin and transforms us into His image. Our heads droop as we endure for the long haul. Limbs are out of joint, but we are to set them straight. And we must STRIVE for peace and holiness, because without those, no one will see the Lord.

Many of the folks standing up publicly against the institutional sin at Mars Hill Church recognize the serious exhortation and warning of Hebrews 12:14-15. They may not always be obeying Ephesians 4:31, but they are obeying Hebrews 12:14's instruction to strive for peace. The word strive in this passage indicates an active fighting for something. Fighting for peace?! It is a paradox worth considering. What's clear about verses 14-15 is that you can't fight for peace AND retain the root of bitterness. That root and such peace don't coexist.

As we fight for peace, we are to guard ourselves and others against failing to obtain the grace of God. That is a phrase beyond my ability to totally understand, but whatever it is, I don't want that failure for myself or others. And the connected thought is to be diligent against the root of bitterness! This failure of grace is linked to the springing up of this root of bitterness that goes on to defile many. This root must be addressed!
The “root of bitterness” in Hebrews 12:15 could more aptly be applied to the scourge of immorality and its abuses than to the wounded, spiteful, angry, and sometimes over-the-top venting of those who have been “defiled” by it. In other words, friends, the disgruntled are more likely the “many” who have been defiled by the “root of bitterness” ... than bitter souls who ought to be dismissed for having a bad attitude. 
… While too many people get defensive and circle the wagons trying to point out the excesses of accusers, instead he/she should “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather healed” (v. 12-13). Again, this is all plural and directed to the community of faith. It simply says, “Fix the problem. Straighten the path.”
Conclusion: Please do not project sin onto all of those publicly calling Mark Driscoll and the Executive Elders at Mars Hill to repentance. Do some people sin in calling Mark to repentance? Absolutely! Are some people bitter and angry? Most certainly. If you know those people personally, should you walk with them to see the sin in their tone? I think that could be really helpful when done in love and understanding of the duress they have been under. But understand too that there is a root problem underneath the anger and bitterness of such people, and the author of Hebrews says that the Church must face that defiling root head on and address it.

Mark Driscoll has led and influenced many with serious unaddressed sins in his own life, including deep anger and bitterness. He acknowledged it publicly in Real Marriage, but the fact that 20 elders with issues from the last 2 years have newly accused him reveals that this sinful anger problem from 2007 is ongoing. He has repeatedly at various times in his ministry spoken publicly in ways that have revealed a heart that despised his church members and fellow elders. Jesus taught that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Understand that Mark's public words weren't slip ups.  They reveal his heart, and the result of these unaddressed and undisciplined sins in his life is that many, many, MANY under his care have been defiled. It is good and right that those in his community, tending to the very wounded that Mark himself joked of running over, call for his repentance and resignation. This call and confrontation can and should be done privately. But Paul teaches in I Timothy 5 that there comes a point when it can and should be done publicly as well.

God LOVED His Church, His precious bride, when He inspired Paul to write about elders in I Timothy 3 and 5. He protects His Church when He tells us that an elder must be habitually gentle, that he must have his strength under control. God is protecting His Church when He says that elders shouldn't be verbally or physically violent. God is loving His Church when He says that elders should be above reproach and respected by outsiders. He's loving His Church when He says that two or three witnesses establish the truth of an accusation against an elder. He's loving His Church when He says that elders who don't repent must be publicly rebuked.

This root of bitterness at Mars Hill through which many have been defiled MUST be addressed. Please note also my conviction that there is much grace and forgiveness for those who face their sins head on and lay down defensiveness. Jesus has paid for these things, and He can redeem and restore. I wouldn't post any of this if I didn't have this hope for both offenders and those offended through Mars Hill leadership! Repentance is a beautiful gift from God that blesses both the offender and the one offended.

I have read public letters of repentance from 5 former Mars Hill elders and heard countless stories of private weeping and restoration as others repent privately to those they harmed by their actions. An elder and his wife came to me in repentance, confessing their sins for adopting Mark's heavy handed manner and cutting off relationship for fear of reprisal at Mars Hill, and it was BEAUTIFUL. It was the glory of Jesus' death and resurrection poured out in front of me. I didn't exactly see a dove or hear an audible voice, but I clearly sensed Jesus' “It is finished” whispered around me in the wind. 

God is disciplining Mars Hill leadership right now for their good. Do not believe the lie of Satan that this is persecution.  No, it is discipline.  God is using the larger Body of Christ as hands and feet calling Mars Hill leadership to repent. A root sprang up, and many have been defiled. It must be addressed. But do not fear repentance or despise those who call for it. Because Jesus died and rose again, we can face head on that which once would have condemned us.  We can walk out on the other side cleansed and purified. Understand though that this incredible grace from God does not come cheaply.
Shall we continue in sin that grace abound?  God forbid.  Romans 6:1-2