I just learned with sadness of the passing of Dr. Bernard Nathanson. Nathanson’s life was a bit reminiscent of that of Paul of Tarsus. In the early 1970s, he pioneered the ushering in of unlimited abortion in the United States. As this compelling and eloquent obituary states, he personally performed thousands of abortions, including that of his own unborn child. Say what you will, Nathanson was not in it merely for the money. He believed in what he was doing.
But at the appointed hour, truth unbidden barged in on Nathanson’s life. When he finally saw an ultrasound of a live abortion, a moment which he later immortalized in the Silent Scream movie, he realized the moral horror of what he had done. Unable to deny the truth, Nathanson turned completely around and became a forceful advocate on behalf of human life.
And more than that, his awakening opened up for him an issue he had previously been closed to – his own compelling need for forgiveness from a God he knew was morally perfect. Jesus said that everyone who seeks finds. Nathanson’s crushing weight of sin drove him to the only assurance of forgiveness we are given, Jesus.
While Nathanson’s passing is the end of an era, there’s encouragement in his life for us. Our God is so big that there is no sin He will not forgive, if only we come to Him with a sincere heart and ask. Paul the great apostle persecuted the church murderously, but when he finally saw the truth, he too could not deny it, and he converted. When God forgives, He forgives completely; it is a done deal. Despite Paul’s past, God chose him and commissioned him to be His vessel:
This man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. -Acts 9:15
Later Paul would testify:
I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. -1Tim 1:16
So it is too, with so many of us, who early in our lives found the lies taught by our morally adventurous culture pleasing to our flesh, but who later discovered the terrible cost of sin, a cost that in many cases had been hidden from us.
Nathanson courageously embraced truth at great personal cost. There was a massive disruption of his professional associations and his friendships, to say nothing of his finances. For this reason, leaving his previous error behind, he went on to become a moral giant. Like Paul he earned the right to say:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. -1Cor 15:10
There is sadness in loss, but the grace of God marches on, collecting trophies such as Bernard Nathanson. He is an example for us of casting off sin and every weight of encumbrance, and pursuing grace and truth, even when it is costly to do so.
Left to Tell, by Immaculee’ Ilibagiza
A few weeks ago a sister sent me an email forward about a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, Immaculee’ Ilibagiza, and how God had preserved her through the horrors there. I did a little research and knew there was something in this story for me.
I dreaded reading this book for several reasons. I feared the exposure to evil; I have enough of that on my plate already. I feared seeing that evil in myself. I feared seeing how weak my own faith was, and how poorly I would fare in similar circumstances. And I feared recognizing the downhill societal spiral gripping our own nation in Rwanda’s story.
But my fears were misplaced. The book is clearly and effectively written, and it is very sensitive about the atrocities. It speaks of the horrors of the genocide, but it never broaches sensationalism. Very precisely, this is not a book about the genocide, per se. It is a book about God’s faithfulness in it.
Immaculee’ initially saw her country as a paradise, but as she grew up she increasingly became aware of the deep-seated racial animosity between the two main tribes of Rwanda, the Tutsis and the Hutus. There had been violent outbreaks in decades past, and as she entered college tensions again were increasing. Radio stations began openly calling for the slaughter of the Tutsi minority, and when the president of the nation was assassinated, the powder keg exploded.
What ensued was a case study in how evil can break out and overrun a land. The rubric was racism, but that was only an excuse for lust and bloodlust. Among the first victims were moderate Hutus who spoke against the genocide, including the acting Prime Minister. Radicalism was ascendant, and the center could not hold.
Neighbors, lifelong friends, and fellow church members suddenly became killers and rapists, as all civil order vanished. The nation actually came to a commercial halt, as Hutus embraced the wholesale killing of Tutsis as their full-time job.
Over that backdrop of horror, Immaculee’ tells her tale. For three months she survives by being hidden in a small bathroom with seven other women. Initially she was overcome with a paralyzing and torturous spirit of fear. She was always a believer, but now her faith came down to desperate spiritual warfare. The battle was intense. The instant she left off praying and believing, the spirit of fear and death would overwhelm her again, as the machetes of her pursuers sometimes brushed against the other side of the bathroom walls, only inches away.
Immaculee’ focused on Bible verses of faith, such as found in Mark 11. She would silently meditate for hours on the meaning of one word at a time. Literally in the valley of the shadow of death, she began to envision God’s protective hand over her. Eventually she began to have the victory of faith over fear, and she saw repeated tangible evidence that her faith was supernaturally efficacious in the real world.
“I realized that my battle to survive this war would have to be fought inside of me. everything strong and good in me – my faith, hope and courage – was vulnerable to the dark energy. If I lost my faith, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to survive. I could only rely on God to help me fight.” -Immaculee’ Ilibagiza
Eventually a new challenge presented itself, as a different darkness strove to grip her heart. This time it wasn’t fear that sought Immaculee’, it was hatred. She realized that her family most probably had been slaughtered, and she began to desire vengeance. With that dark spirit enveloping her, she soon realized that if she was going to continue with the Lord she had to let go of unforgiveness. After a struggle, light crept in and she began to see the perpetrators as the worst victims of their acts. The were misled children who indeed would be punished for their choices, unless they repented. She again reached a plateau of peace and communion with the Lord, and her faith once again became a tangible and effective force.
Even in Mark 11, where Jesus speaks of the unlimited power of faith, forgiveness is given as a requirement. We simply cannot draw down on God’s power unless we are in right relationship with Him. And that means forgiving others.
Eventually the seven women left the bathroom and found shelter in a French compound. And finally, invading Tutsi forces retook the nation and restored order.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Immaculee’, with no family and in a devastated country, has huge hurdles to overcome in order to restart her life. The story of how she believes God for miracle after miracle and makes a rich life for herself is amazing. She is Catholic, but the way she takes verses on faith and visualizes her success makes a Pentecostal feel right at home. I found the way she co-labors with God in bold, practical ways to make her visions become reality refreshing to the utmost. I learned much from her, and watched closely as she had the spiritual insight to turn down a very appealing marriage prospect because it didn’t feel spiritually right. This is a woman who has spent a lot of time in the deep presence of the Lord.
I highly recommend this book, for the way it shows God’s ability to preserve and provide in the midst of dark circumstances, and for its very clear depiction of our role in the equation. We may ask why Immaculee’ lived while so many died. We cannot know the answer, which surely involves the mysteries of God’s will, but we can know that within the context of that will God is always faithful to those who look to Him. Sometimes it takes dire circumstances indeed for that truth to be revealed to us in a meaningful personal way. Immaculee’ has written her story of how God has been faithful to her even amid great trial and loss, and that story is edifying indeed.
I was talking with a friend recently who told me of a chance she missed to avoid a whole lot of woe that has since befallen her. She felt that if she had only been stronger or wiser back then, her life would have taken a different and better course. There was a grim sense of having missed God, that now she was on her own, left to her own meager devices to solve her escalating problems and make something of her life.
I’m no stranger to feeling that way myself. Somewhere deep in the bowels of this blog I have shared how my first church rapidly went from being “on fire for God” to being just plain “on fire”, due to leadership failure. The devastation to the church was immense, but even worse was my own personal loss. I lost faith in man, in church, in myself, and ultimately even in God. I did transfer to another church, and was a very active contributor there, but my heart was no longer fully sold out for God. When serious difficulties arose in the new church, I stopped attending there as well. I had become a spiritual dropout. 1
Satan uses our mistakes, failures and missed opportunities as weapons against us, in an attempt to destroy our faith and effectiveness. For this reason, it is essential that we understand God’s perspective on these things, because His perspective is much better than ours.
We need to understand that nothing takes God by surprise. God exists outside of space and time. He is all-powerful and He knows everything – even the end before the beginning. Our trials, our failures, our falls, do not cause Him any worry. He knew they would happen, and He knows how they will end. And he also knows how to use them for our good, if we will let Him.
David Wilkerson points out that when the disciples encountered a brutal storm on the Sea of Galilee one night, it actually was Jesus who had caused their plight. Jesus had sent the disciples ahead in the boat, and then He had gone up to a mountain to pray in solitude. Surely in prayer the Son of God knew exactly what was going on on the sea below, and was in complete control of the situation even from his mountain overlook. But he let them go into the storm, and then at the right moment He showed up and calmed the sea.
As I get better perspective on my own life, I’m beginning to see that God does indeed work all things for good for those who love Him – and that He allows things to befall us in order to accomplish deep things that would not occur were we to live our lives on a smooth “business-as-usual” basis. our failings are not inherently good things, but God can and will use them for His purposes if we will turn to Him in faith.
In my case, because of the call to leadership on me, and my monumental ill-preparedness for it, I needed to experience the failing of the church. I needed to learn not to trust pastors, religious fads, man’s approval, or my own abilities. I needed a major lesson in trusting the Lord when things go wrong.
Jeremiah explains why: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” Make no mistake, trials would not be trials if they simply were little intellectual exercises. They are designed to hit us where we live, and to cause us to give ourselves to the Lord in a very real way. That church trial nearly killed me, but I found it to be true in the Lord that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
That storm brought up a treasure trove of self-righteousness, unforgiveness and bitterness issues that were beneath the surface when the waters were calmer. But when the water got choppy, the issues became visible indeed. Thus the Lord used deep offense and betrayal to lead me to the crucifixion of my flesh, the only way the negative attitudes that were killing me could be removed. As the skilled master craftsman that He is, He creatively used evil to work good.
Oh, how painful it was to go through this process, and how long it took! But if I have one regret, it is not that the evil befell me, or that I had to go through the pain to be purged – the freedom and power that resulted is too precious for me ever to give them up. No, my one regret is that it took me so long to place TOTAL, UNCONDITIONAL TRUST in the Lord in the darkest hours of the trial, when nothing made sense. The Divine fellowship and spiritual growth that I missed! It is in the dark hours that our greatest opportunity for advancement is presented, and they are to be cherished.
The Lord has dealt with me exactly as was needed, including exercising infinite patience while I found my way back to Him, in order to bless me with His maximum blessing. He has used my weaknesses, my flaws, my lack, to guide me into situations where turning to Him was the only possible way out. And that is exactly what had to happen, for at the time I was not capable of doing better. Despite ourselves, He is going to perfect that which concerns us, and He uses our weaknesses to do it.
If you are racked by regret or remorse regarding past decisions, now is the time to put them to rest for good. Paul told the men of Athens: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). He explained to Timothy, regarding his own violent past: “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief” ( 1Tim 1:13). And peppered throughout the New Testament (and even the Old) there is plenty of support for Paul’s assertion that ignorance mitigates culpability:
Sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. -Rom 5:13
These verses and others teach that God is categorically unconcerned with the failings of our past, except as He can use them to help build us and others up now. It is absolutely crucial that we stand on the Word in this matter, because satan wants to devour us.
We do not confess our sins in the manner of pagans who scourge their backs – as if they could even begin to pay for their own sins or prove their worthiness of God’s forgiveness. It took the holy Blood of the Son of God to redeem Creation. We could never earn our own salvation. We confess in simple childlike faith that He will forgive and cleanse, just as according to 1Jn 1.9.
The time is short, and opportunities are precious. God wants each one of us free and empowered to fully represent His Kingdom of grace, truth and love. Let’s get all our issues behind us, and in faith let’s press forward into the glorious destiny the Lord still has for us – for all of us.
1. John Bevere deals with this “cruise-a-matic” phenomenon, which he calls “spiritual vagabonds”, in his book The Bait of satan. While that book is a powerful warning about letting offense keep you from God’s purposes, it is seriously flawed in placing responsibility on the person offended to reconcile with an unrepentant authority figure).
Update, 7/8/10: I’m adding a link to a powerful video about a modern-day Mary Magdalene from The Stranger series. Here is Part One; you can cycle to the other two parts from there.
An excellent message received via the ElijahList, dealing with different ways we can be hurt, and how to find the power to overcome and turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
In Betrayal – “I Love You”
While He was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss Him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”—Luke 22:47-48
“Beloved one, I am Love that will not let you go. To those of you who have walked in the pain of betrayal from dear ones you have trusted and loved, I release the grace to overcome such pain and crushing disappointment. My Love is more than you will ever need to forgive betrayal. Reach deep inside of Me and find a place of forgiveness from which to draw upon. Rest your souls in Me. Let Me cover the scars of betrayal with the healing power of My love. Be not battle weary, but allow Me to kiss away the effects of the lies, the greed and the fear from others that led to your betrayal.
“You have shared in My cup of suffering, so that you might also share in My cup of Joy. My heart overflows with love for you. My love is freedom, My love is unchanging and all-powerful in the pulling down of strongholds that would keep you from flowing fully in My grace. My love is your storehouse in times of great need. Child of My heart, I love you; betrayal is overcome by the Cross.”
In Denial – “I Love You”
When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. -John 19:30
When Jesus cried out, “It is finished”, He wasn’t saying that His personal ordeal was over. He was proclaiming that the task He had been sent to perform had been accomplished. All the suffering and sin of lost man had been poured out on Him, and now the price of our redemption had been eternally secured. The doorway to heaven had been opened, and we had gained the right to become partakers of the Divine nature.
And when Jesus gave up His spirit, He was not overcome by death. In the Greek, paradidomi means “to give into the hands of another; to deliver to one something to keep, use, or take care of; to permit, allow”. And it is recorded in the active tense, meaning that Jesus’ spirit didn’t just leave Him; His task being done, Jesus dismissed His own spirit into the hands of the Father.
Think of that. All during His passion, Jesus was in complete control. Every tearing of flesh by the lictor’s whip, every driving of thorns into his head, each nail, each unending agony of heaving breath while on the Cross – at any time, Jesus could have ended it at will, with one word (see Mt 26.53). He endured the unspeakable agony of not only the physical pain, but far worse, the righteous wrath due our separation from God.
He did it all to free us from the captivity of satan, sin and death, and to reconcile us to Himself forever. As has been written, it wasn’t the nails, it was Jesus’ love that held Him on the Cross – and when He was on the Cross, we were on His mind.
Via HotAir.com, here’s an update on the Jenny Sanford story. She just announced she is divorcing her adulterous husband. In Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation, I used her example to illustrate the critical Biblical difference between these two concepts. While we must forgive, reconciliation depends on repentance.
Sanford’s statement today, and the video interview, illustrates grace and class once again. She tried repeatedly to reconcile – true reconciliation does not violate moral principles. She delayed going public with the divorce news so that it wouldn’t influence the impeachment proceedings active against her husband. She admits the pain she experienced, but she draws a line between being a victim and rooting her identity in victimhood, the latter being satan’s enfeebling trap (see Jeremiah’s Complaint). Root your identity in God, and life’s blows will not keep you down.
“Life is pain, princess; anyone who says differently is trying to sell you something”. That nugget is from the classic The Princess Bride. While it is true that we should expect pain, we have the option to respond to life’s challenges and overcome with truth and grace. When we do, we are free. God is glorified in and through us, His purposes for us are restored and we know the joy of His presence. And once our attitudes are out of the way, if any wrong was done to us, God is more free to work repentance into the wrongdoer (Job 42.7; Mat 16.19).
Jenny’s statement and video follow.
I reworked my post from last April, concerning how the difficult passage in Hebrews 6 is really about restoring, rather than condemning, fallen Christians, and I think it now speaks more directly and powerfully to the issue. This is one of the hardest passages in the Bible. It’s easy to misunderstand where the author is coming from, and to fall into a sense of condemnation that can have disastrous consequences.
So if you’ve wondered about what Hebrews 6 is getting at when it says that it’s impossible to renew someone who has fallen away, give the updated piece a read: Hebrews6: Restoration for Fallen Christians/