Friday, February 28, 2014



            In my first pastorate, I had a woman in the congregation with a constant sourpuss outlook on life and was continually critical of me.  After I got to know her, I discovered that she had an alcoholic father who abused her in childhood.  It was not a stretch for me to see that her problem with my authority had to do with the sheer fact that I was her pastor, her leader, and she had major problems with authority figures.

            What do you do with insecure people?  It helps to understand the pathology behind such persons, because a church leader cannot always take things personally since the issues are not always of a personal nature.  The person who is raised in such a way that they are insecure almost always misinterprets life.  The reason they do this is that they evaluate almost everything and everybody from the perspective of their past.  Thus, nothing, and I mean literally nothing, can bring security to such a person from the outside.  The cure must come from within through the work of the Holy Spirit impressing the redemptive events of Jesus to the individual, thus creating an assurance of pardon and security that is supernatural.

            Insecurity will cause a person to have an exaggerated need for evidence of security.  Yet those needs cannot be met by anyone or anything in that they are not a part of reality and fact, but tend to be irrational.  This makes decision-making for the insecure person difficult if not impossible.  When such needs are not met in life, the insecure person is hurt again (unconsciously reminding them of their past hurts) and they, therefore, lash out against those people that they feel could and even should meet their needs for security and love.

            Insecurity causes a person to set up “tests” to prove they are loved and accepted by others.  People intuitively sense these “tests” and their true character, and, understandably, retreat from the insecure person.  This, then, is misinterpreted by the insecure person as rejection, and the problem is deepened.  Insecurity inevitably causes a person to almost obsessively sift through the past and examine the present looking for evidence of security or insecurity.  Events, words, body language, and relationships are evaluated over and over.  The old battles are continually being fought with a constant stream of misinterpretation.

            Insecurity, then, only breeds more insecurity and the insecure person either cannot or will not take initiative to settle anything.  Such a person, for sure, cannot reconcile the past without help.  In the place of genuine assistance, some insecure people try to do everything perfectly to compensate for their feelings of inadequacy.  On the other hand, there are those who simply give up and live a passive existence.  They feel so unloved and rejected that they stop trying, so as to not feel the sting of inadequacy and frustration anymore.

            Which brings me back to my very insecure parishioner – she was highly critical because everyone failed her “tests” and they were unceremoniously labeled as uncaring.  She really believed that others could change her life and her world if they just cared enough to do so.  So, this troubled woman lived with all kinds of “if only’s.”  If only they would call me every day…. If only they would come and visit more often….  If only they would listen better….  If only they would pay more attention to me….  The problem is that even if others would do such things, the “test” would only become bigger and bigger until it is unbearable for the person trying to help.  The helper then drops-out of the insecure person’s life all together, only reinforcing the feelings of the insecure person.

            Do you have insecure people in your church?  Are you an insecure person?  The problem of insecurity will not be resolved apart from going back and reconciling the past (see a previous post on this).  Real change comes from the inside-out.  The truth is that all of us as fallen individuals have some degree of insecurity inside of us.  It can only be dealt with by making daily affirmations of truth based in Holy Scripture given by God, so that our security lies solely in being people created in the image of God and forgiven through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Anything less than this does not bring assurance, comfort, and genuine spiritual healing.  By His wounds we are healed.  As we approach the season of Lent and anticipate Holy Week, there is no better time than in these next weeks to take a healthy introspective look upon our lives and find our ultimate value in Christ alone.  “It is finished” was his cry.  Let it be ours as well.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Praying the Psalms


            Historically, the Old Testament psalms have been the church’s prayer book.  The medieval church so valued constant prayer that many people in the middle ages made substantial donations to monasteries so that monks and nuns, largely freed from manual labor, could become "professional" pray-ers on behalf of the rest of society. Many of them lived a life of prayer, praying day and night.  Most Benedictine monks and nuns chanted all 150 psalms once a week in a cycle of seven daily "hours." The first thing required of them was learning to read, if they did not already know how to. Next, they had to memorize the Psalms, which might take anywhere from six months to two years.

            In the New Testament book of Acts, when the original apostles were put in a position to clarify what their most sacred obligations were, they decided that they must give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).  The New Testament writers pray and quote the psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament.

            The best introduction there is to the psalms is to begin praying them because the psalms teach us how to pray.  The psalms are meant to be prayed and fully engrafted into the life of the believer.  Learning the psalms means praying them, and praying them means praying them over and over again.

            If you are not yet convinced why we ought to pray the psalms, let me offer some more reasons:

1.  Through praying the psalms we learn the promises of God and how to pray relying on those promises.  It is both appropriate and necessary to take God’s promises, remind God of them, and look for God to fulfill them.

2.  We learn how to pray together as a community, and not just as individuals.

3.  We discover that the heart cannot pray by itself because we often need to pray contrary to our hearts.  I am a believer and an advocate of pouring out our hearts to God; yet doing that in and of itself does not teach us to pray.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor who was part of the resistance to Hitler in the last century said, “The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”  The reason for this is because our hearts can be very deceitful, but if we can tether our hearts to God’s Word, we can pour out both our praise and lament according to biblical truth and not to things never promised to us.
            What is more, if we make it a practice to always follow our hearts, we may find ourselves only praying when we feel like it.  It is a common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; as if it were of no use to read the scriptures when we do not enjoy them, and as if it were no use to pray when we have no spirit of prayer. The truth is that, in order to enjoy the Word, we ought to continue to read it, and the way to obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying. The less we read the Word of God, the less we desire to read it, and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray.

4.  Praying the psalms teaches us to speak to God with confidence and joy, just like a small child boldly asking for what she wants in wonderful anticipation of getting it.

5.  Praying the psalms provides direction for our lives; it is the GPS for our souls.

6.  When we pray the psalms we join a praise and prayer team that has been going on for thousands of years by believers across the ages in all kinds of cultures.  They serve as a great cloud of witnesses testifying to the power of God to sustain and grow our faith, hope, and love.

7.  And maybe most importantly, in praying the psalms we discover the heart of God and adopt his heart as our heart.  When praying according to God’s Word and God’s Way, we get to know who God is and discover the prayers that he delights to answer.

            In other words, we bring our own situations and experiences to the psalms and permit the psalms to reshape our thoughts and our prayers.  This forms us into God’s people by re-directing our lives with God’s promises and plans.  The psalms are meant to transform us.  Repeated exposure to God’s Word and daily praying his Word through the psalms (even if it is small) will change the way we live our lives and will change the way the world works.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Learning and Teaching God's Word

Christians often refer to the Bible as God’s Word.  By that reference we mean that God has graciously revealed himself to us through this Book, the Holy Scriptures.  The ancient Hebrews referred to the first five books of the Old Testament as the Law of the Lord or the Torah.  The Jewish people understood God as a great, high and holy Being who graciously accommodated or communicated to us on our level by giving the Law.  Just as a parent coos and babbles and speaks in a very different way to a baby in a crib, so God speaks to us in a manner that we can understand his care and concern and love for us.  Just as an infant can in no way understand an adult conversation taking place, so God is a being well above our comprehension and we have no ability to understand anything he says unless he graciously and lovingly bends down to speak to us on our level.

            God’s Law, his Torah, was the curriculum for Israel’s religious instruction.  The law of the Lord is meant to be a behavior pattern, to be embodied in the lives of God’s people through both teachers and parents who learn God’s Word and, in turn, pass it along to children and others outside the faith so as to provide our guide for how to live in God’s world.  God’s law is an extension of God’s grace, and we are to gratefully accept the grace of God expressed in God’s Word.  We are to ingest it, eat it, reflect on it, dwell with it in order to know God and be the people God wants us to be.

            There are several other Hebrew words that come from this root word of law, Torah, in the Hebrew language.  A teacher is a “moreh.”  A parent is a “horeh.”  Parents and teachers are to be living guides in the way of God’s Word.  The Hebrew word for teaching is “yarah.”  In other words, the moreh’s and the horeh’s are to yarah the Torah.  Parents and teachers are to point and lead others into the ways of the Lord.  The fifth book of the Law, Deuteronomy, makes it clear how parents, mentors, teachers, and influencers are to pass on God’s Word:

Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NIV).

            In other words, God’s Law or God’s Word is to be as familiar to us as our back door and it is to be in front of us all the time.  Let me put this Deuteronomy passage in a modern spin to help us understand a bit better what our privilege is when it comes to God’s Word:

Attention, Church!  God, our God! God the one and only!  Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that is in you; love him with all you’ve got!  Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children.  In order to do this, talk about God’s Word at home when you are eating supper together and when you are working or playing with each other.  Start your day with God’s Word when you get up, and end your day with God’s Word when you go to bed at night.  Put God’s Word on your refrigerator and your car’s dashboard; have it on your smartphones and let it be available to you anywhere and anytime.  Use every opportunity you have to incessantly chatter about God’s Holy Word.

            Someone may say, “That’s pretty radical – I don’t need to do all that!”  Then I would say you are missing out on living a blessed life because people are blessed when they walk according to God’s Word and keep God’s Law in front of them and seek God through his Word with all their heart. 

            Eleanor Turnbull, a veteran missionary to Haiti, collected and translated some simple but powerful prayers of the Christians who live in the Haitian mountains. Here are four prayers that they pray every day.  Take note of their high view of God, and their longing to know God’s Word:  “Our Great Physician, Your word is like alcohol.  When poured on an infected wound, it burns and stings, but only then can it kill germs.  If it doesn't burn, it doesn't do any good.”  “Father, we are all hungry baby birds this morning.  Our heart-mouths are gaping wide, waiting for you to fill us.”  “Father, a cold wind seems to have chilled us.  Wrap us in the blanket of your Word and warm us up.”  “Lord, we find your Word like cabbage.  As we pull down the leaves, we get closer to the heart.  And as we get closer to the heart, it is sweeter.”

            Let’s not be so busy, pre-occupied, or worried that we push God’s Word to the margins of our lives as only a Sunday activity.  Let’s take the time to carefully look at it and let God speak to us through it. Let’s be intentional about connecting with the God who has so graciously given us his guide for grateful living.  Let’s lay solid plans to catechize people into the basics of faith and holy living in the church.  May your efforts both honor God and build up Christ’s church.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Mind of Christ

            The classic comic book villain is a tragic story of misplaced power.  Take, for example, the Fantastic Four’s arch-enemy “Dr. Doom.”  Victor von Doom was born to gypsy parents in Europe whom were killed when Victor was very young.  His entire growth was marked by the machinations of evil men.  Victor became a scientific genius, motivated by a desire to change the world and make it a place free from the kind of upbringing he experienced.  But the more Victor grew in intellect and power, the more he discovered he did not have enough control of the world to effect real change.  While working on an invention that he believed could free his mother’s lost soul from the netherworld, the machine literally blew up in his face and “Dr. Doom” was born – an iron masked man signifying his new iron stance toward the world and covering both the actual and emotional scars on his face.  Dr. Doom returned to Europe, took over his native Latveria and sought to, in essence, destroy the world and remake it in his own image.

            A serious God-complex for sure!  Yet without the mind of Jesus Christ even our best attempts to make a difference in this world not only fall short, but actually damage others.  We absolutely and totally need the mind of Christ.  The Spirit of God works through the Word of God.  16th century pastor and theologian, John Calvin, repeatedly instructed and encouraged his Geneva congregation to not separate the Word of God from the Spirit of God because it is the Holy Spirit who illumines truth to us.  It is the Spirit who joins us to Christ and assures us of salvation and grows us in confidence through the Scriptures.  Calvin, who I am convinced was a genius, did not, like Dr. Doom, rely on his intellect or abilities but insisted we need the Spirit’s witness in order to mature as followers of Jesus.

            We gain the mind of Christ when our minds are filled with God’s Holy Word.  So, we must be careful about what we put into our minds.  In order to have the mind of Christ, we must receive the Spirit of God through believing that Jesus died on the cross in order to save me from my unmanageable life and circumstances.  We need to be immersed in the Word of God.  When we believe we have the power to change within us, we simply use the Word of God as the frosting on top of the cake or the extra sugar on top of the cookie – it makes things better but I really did all the work of baking.  Instead, we need to be like pickles – absolutely and totally and completely immersed in salt water.  Cucumbers do not become pickles by sprinkling some salt and vinegar on the top – cucumbers become pickles by being soaked in the stuff.  We need the mind of Christ, and to have the mind of Christ we need to be soaked in the Word of God because the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to bring lasting spiritual truth into our lives.  In other words, there is no real change apart from God’s Word.  Wisdom for our lives comes through the Spirit of God using the Word of God.

            It is a mystery to us how this actually happens. Pastor H.B. London recalls an experience he had with a young couple with their first child at the hospital.  “I stood by helplessly as one doctor spoke.  "Your baby has died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. We want to give you a chance to hold your child before we take her." I watched this young couple; their shoulders shook with emotion as they held their firstborn for the last time.  My mind raced to find something to say to the shocked young couple. I wanted to tell them that everything would be okay, but that wasn't true. Their baby was gone. I began, with words that were broken and slow, "I don't know why this awful loss has to come to you. But I know God loves you as if you were the only ones in the whole world to love. If you accept his love…if you believe he does love you, you'll make it. If you don't, you won't." Those were the only words I had for them. They seemed awfully empty at the time.  I choked back my own emotions while they tried valiantly to cling to their faith. But something happened in that hospital room. Neither the couple nor I had words to erase the pain. A Holy Presence invaded that place. God joined the three of us. Just as in the Old Testament story of the fiery furnace, when God himself came to comfort Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we felt in the fiery trial of suffering an assurance that God was caring for us.  One day, after coming to Focus on the Family, I received a letter with a picture of this young couple holding a beautiful baby. They wrote:  H. B., you probably don't think we heard you when you encouraged us to cling to the love of God when our baby died. But we heard you clearly. So we have believed over and over that God loves us as if we were the only ones to love. We have learned to live in the love of God. We quote your words to each other often. The Lord is gracious. Notice in the picture we are holding a beautiful new baby—God's special gift to us. We don't understand why we lost our first child. We still hurt when we think about it, but we have come to rely on God’s Word and God’s Spirit….”

Some tough situations are mysteries beyond our comprehension, are greater than our answers, and bigger than our attempts to change our circumstances. They are mysteries that stretch our faith and force us to turn and cry out to God and Christ’s church for help because we are powerless to manage our lives and our emotions.

We absolutely and totally need the Holy Spirit of God.  We absolutely and totally need the mind of Christ.  Without them we are lost, but with them we experience the saving power of Jesus and his cross to deal with everything in our lives.  Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, February 10, 2014

We Need the Holy Spirit

Orthodox Christianity holds to the great Three-in-One of God – God is indivisibly One and at the same time a Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit.  Christians typically have no problem expressing their prayers and devotion to the Persons of the Father and the Son.  However, when it comes to the Spirit, this Person of the Holy Trinity is often referred to as an “it” or a “force.”  Yet, the Holy Spirit is as much God and as much a Person as our heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

We absolutely and totally need the Holy Spirit of God.  Without the Spirit’s help, Jesus is merely looked at by people as one of thousands of individuals crucified in history, and only an example of one who was martyred for his faith.  But Jesus was infinitely more than that.  He is the Son of God.  He is the Savior of the world.  Through Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension people can be redeemed from empty lives, saved from destructive life-patterns, and given the kind of security and purpose to life that God intended from the beginning of the world for people to possess.  It is the Spirit of God that takes these redemptive events of Jesus and applies them to our lives.  Apart from the Holy Spirit, we are lost because we are completely unable to see the genuine spiritual truth about the cross of Jesus Christ unless God the Holy Spirit breaks into our lives and does an intervention showing us our denial about how we are really doing and our delusions about who we really are (1 Corinthians 2:1-16).

            Admitting that we absolutely and totally need the Holy Spirit of God means that the power of Christianity and the Christian life does not reside with me or you; power rests only with Jesus Christ and him crucified with the Spirit witnessing to us of this truth.  In other words, we are powerless.  I realize that this is not a popular message, especially in Western society.  We Americans are powerless?  That sounds ridiculous to a particularly can-do kind of people.  We have done fairly well, thank you very much; we have a couple of cars, a house, a job, and a family.  After all, we worked hard and we did it.  But the thing is that any worldly success and getting the things we want may lead us to the delusion that we have the power to do what we want.

            “Oh, sure,” we might reason, “we have problems just like everybody else.  After all, we cannot control everything.”  But we are not powerless just because we have difficult circumstances and a few problem people in our lives.  “God will step in a take-over where I leave off, right?”  Wrong.  Apart from the Holy Spirit of God, we are totally unable to become Christians and live the Christian life.  If we think we manage our lives just fine, with some help from God, then we may be in denial about how much we actually place ourselves at the center of the world and believe we should be able to deal with whatever comes in life.  When our constant response to adverse situations or the realization that we are not handling something well is to try and fix ourselves, we are living the delusion that we have the power to change.

            When our first reaction is to search Google to find answers to our problems; when we persistently deal privately with our personal issues; when we expect that our willpower should be enough; or, when we passively resign ourselves to mediocre lives because we have tried to change or be different; then, we are feeding the delusion that we do not really need the Holy Spirit of God but instead feed the idea that more effort or information is what we need in order to find the power to overcome whatever is in my life that needs overcoming.  What we are left with in this approach is more knowledge, but even more discouragement because what we actually need more than anything in this world is the Holy Spirit of God applying the work of Jesus Christ to our lives so that we can truly live the power of a victorious life.

            Unfortunately, it typically takes a tragedy or crisis to break our delusion of power – a bad marriage, a family member’s addiction, a runaway child, a terminal illness, a bankruptcy, or a death.  How bad do you and I need to hurt before we will admit that we are not managing our lives well at all, and that the real power to change resides with the Holy Spirit and not me?  Instead of expending enormous amounts of energy trying to keep up appearances of being in control and having power, let’s admit that we are compulsive about looking good to others and ask for help because we are really powerless.

            Power is in the cross of Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit testifying to us of God’s great grace.  The Apostle Paul believed this with all his heart.  Although he was a very intelligent and learned person, he did not rely on his abilities but rather trusted in proclaiming the power of Jesus and him crucified.  The cross of Jesus is not just an historical event, but an ongoing reality for us to experience victory over all the brokenness of this world and all the mess we have made of things putting ourselves at the center of the universe.  We need the Holy Spirit of God to intervene and apply Christ’s finished work to us. 

            That means that it is not enough for churches and Christian organizations to engage in strategic planning and mission statements, although these are important and have their place.  What all God’s people need is the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit more than anything else.  It is the Spirit that we must rely on to truly do the work of ministry and live the Christian life.  Learning to discern the Spirit’s guidance is not just a nice thing, but is essential for every church and each believer.  Soli Deo Gloria.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Reconcile the Past

            The Bible exhorts the believer in Jesus to live according to the truth.  When we fail to do so we suffer spiritual loss.  We are told to confess and reject all sinful patterns of past behavior and not allow these to influence us today (Titus 2:12; 1 Peter 1:14, 18).  Neglecting such spiritual responsibility will inevitably cause repercussions in other areas of life – emotional, mental and physical.  When the Apostle Paul said “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” he could say that because he had come to terms with and reconciled his own terrible past (Philippians 3:4-13).

            It is both helpful and necessary to go back into one’s life and deal with the past on the basis of biblical truth.  When we do so, we are seeking to honor God and obey his Word.  Ask the Lord to turn his searchlight of truth on you and your past.  Trust God to bring to your remembrance all those times which you need to reconcile.  Make a choice before God to be as honest as you possibly can.  The following are some suggestions from a former professor and mentor, the late Dr. Victor Matthews, (put in my own words) to carefully follow:

1.      Start with your earliest memories as a child.  Write out (reject the temptation to just think about it or talk it out) every time you sinned or were hurt.  Be complete, name the people involved, state what happened, do not try and protect yourself or other people and do not fantasize and let your thoughts run amok.

2.      Evaluate each past event on the basis of truth.  If you sinned, then confess it to God truthfully and receive his forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9).  If you were hurt by someone, and it was their fault, then state “so and so should not have done that to me.”  When you have finished writing out the event, then deliberately stop and completely forgive the person(s) (Mark 11:25-26).  If you were at fault in some way, then confess that to God, as well.

3.      Resist the temptation to hurry with this process!  Do not generalize by putting many events into one.  Be specific and take the time necessary to get in touch with what the Holy Spirit of God is trying to help you connect with.  This practice of reconciling the past is not introspection, so do not indulge in self-pity, self-criticism, or develop a martyr syndrome.

4.      When you have finished each event and have confessed and/or forgiven the person(s) then do two things, and these are absolutely vital to bringing closure to past hurtful events:

--Make an affirmation that Satan, the Accuser, may no longer use what you have written out against you.  Make this statement and say it with flavor:  “In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ I take this event away from Satan and declare that he may not use it against me anymore!” (Ephesians 4:27; 5:11; 6:14).

--Choose to receive the healing the Lord Jesus died to provide for those who believe in him and live according to his Word (Isaiah 53:5).  Make this statement and say it with sincerity and conviction:  “Now that I have made this right with you, heavenly Father, I receive the healing you have provided for me through the cross of Jesus Christ.”

When you have finished your work (and, by the way, do not overlook the anger and/or grudges you may have against God) then count it finished.  After all, when Jesus said “it is finished!” he meant what he said.  Reconciling the past means leaning into the finished work of Jesus for our complete healing.  If and when you think of the bad event in your past, then firmly state:  “I have dealt with that truthfully and it is settled.”  Whenever you sin from this point forward, confess it, receive forgiveness, and make the affirmations of truth.  In doing so we are living by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.  Amen and amen.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

False Guilt versus Godly Sorrow

            In many ways pastors and church leaders are in the guilt business.  No, I am not talking about ministerial dopes using guilt as a tool to get congregants to serve in the church’s programs.  Instead, I mean that preachers, teachers, and leaders traffic in dealing with people who either feel a false sense of shame, or have godly sorrow.  Knowing the difference between the two is critical to having a church ministry that is truly helping people and is life-giving, or a ministry that just gins-up worldly sorrow and produces spiritual death (2 Corinthians 7:10).

            Because we live in a fallen world everyone exhibits tendencies toward false guilt at times in their lives.  We can all identify with these dynamics of worldly sorrow that leads to nowhere:  taking responsibility for others; being so concerned for helping others that there is a failure to take care of oneself; self-hatred; martyr syndrome; hopelessness and a victim mentality; over-emphasizing what you have done wrong.  In other words, there is plenty of true guilt to have in this life without scrambling to create the kind of guilt and sorrow that God himself does not level on us.  Heaping unnecessary guilt on ourselves or others is just plain egregious and goes against Christ’s gospel of grace.

            But that does not mean we should never feel guilty; it is just that we need to experience the right kind of guilt.  There are plenty of lists in the New Testament about what sinful behavior and speech really is, and we ought to stick with those things rather than add our separate list of the terrible ten or nasty nine which do not appear in Scripture.  For example, Paul said to the Galatian church that the acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and the like (Galatians 5:19-21).  Let’s be struck to the heart about gossiping about another person, slandering a fellow brother or sister in Christ, or viewing pornography rather than worrying about why someone failed to say “hi” to me in the hallway.

            Before mentioning Paul’s description of what godly sorrow is really like, let’s acknowledge that there are people who avoid true guilt at all costs.  When confronted with the truth, an avoider of godly sorrow will be characterized by one or more of the following:  defensiveness; rationalizing the behavior or speech; making excuses; blaming others; feeling threatened and switching the focus on the other.  In short, worldly sorrow does not take responsibility but sticks with the delusion that they caught a bad break or that others pushed them to it.  The avoider of responsibility may go on and on about how unfair life has been to them or even shed tears in order to receive empathy when they really have no intention of changing.  When a person gives you a blank affect when telling you what they have done wrong and exhibits no indication of wanting to face the consequences of their actions, beware!  They want you to agree with them.

            According to the Apostle Paul, godly sorrow produces several things (2 Corinthians 7:11).  It creates earnestness to hear the truth about how your actions wounded another with a sincerity to listen and care for those you have hurt.  True guilt is an eagerness to make amends and understands the person(s) they hurt need time to forgive.  Godly sorrow brings indignation – a real sense of understanding how bad the actions or words were that wounded another.  Godly sorrow is alarmed at the reality that you have and still could easily harden your heart and continue to abuse another.  Godly sorrow knows how easy it is to fall back into destructive patterns that damage others, and invites accountability and help.  Godly sorrow has a longing to restore broken relationships and desires proper boundaries so as to not hurt the other again.  Godly sorrow has a deep concern for anyone touched by the abuse.  In short, godly sorrow is the willingness to face any and all consequences that helps others feel safe.

            We all need to begin identifying and dealing with our own destructive patterns.  We must actively listen by welcoming confrontation and input from others; taking responsibility to remember what others tell us; telling others the truth about how we use them to help enable us in our sinful patterns; stopping the belief that hiding truth protects others; telling yourself the truth; and, being honest about your feelings even if they expose that you are in a terrible place.

            Every one of us has had both false guilt and avoided true guilt.  We will tend, however, to be dominant with one or the other.  It is essential to determine which we tend toward.  Most people who heap false guilt upon themselves constantly want to blame themselves.  Most avoiders of true guilt want to see themselves as struggling with false guilt.  This really cannot be done alone because, the Scripture tells us, the heart is deceitful.  This is why belonging to a church family and getting involved in the church’s ministries is essential for us – because we need one another in order to become the people God wants us to be.  And church leaders must have a solid sense of when they are talking with people who exhibit signs of genuine repentance and when they are trying to be manipulated into feeling empathy for an abuser.

            By God’s grace the church of Jesus Christ will grow together into maturity as we commit ourselves to helping one another face the truth and consequences about ourselves.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.