Courage to Hear the Hard Stuff
II Kings 5:1-14 or Isaiah 66:10-14, Psalm 30 or Psalm 66:1-9, Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Sometimes I grieve for our church. I grieve because we have decided that some things that the Father has to say to us aren’t worth our attention. I understand that way of thinking. I wanted to reject the condemnations that I had heard from enemy, and so I rejected anything that smacked of condemnation. What I lacked at the time was the ability to tell the difference between the enemy’s condemnations and the Father’s discipline or correction.
It is absolutely true that we live in the Grace of the Lord Jesus. It is absolutely true that we are heirs of the Promise, that there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But this does NOT mean that we do not need correcting. It does not mean that we do not need to hear how we have fallen, how we continue to fail when we seek to walk in our own strength. It does not mean that we can read the Word of God selectively. Yes, we must read carefully, and learn to read the Scriptures with Jesus as our lens, as the plumb line against which all our discernments of God’s will in Scripture must be tested (see II Corinthians, chapter 2) but we have taken to reading even Jesus’ words and actions in Scripture selectively!
The readings on which I based this week’s thoughts are just the most recent example of this.
If I am to write to you about “Hearing the Father’s Voice,” then I have to encourage you to listen to the parts of his voice that make you squirm, not just the parts that make you feel warm and comfortable. Yes, His voice is always caring, and always has in it His desire for us as He seeks to draw us to Himself. There is comfort in that, even when He corrects us. Perhaps there is more comfort in those times than any other, if we will hear Him. This does not mean, though, that He will refrain from pointing out to us the ways that we are walking that lead us away from Him, that lead us into the realms of death. The Father may have conquered all of that in Jesus, He may hold us in His hand in eternity, but He is not willing that we should live even another minute in the thrall of death in the present.
And so He gives us His guidance, His correction, His discipline, as gift, when we walk away from Him.
But our church, or at least those who have selected our readings for us, have often decided that we don’t need to hear that. They pick and choose our readings for us to protect us from anything that might make us squirm. Surely any sentence that begins with the words “Woe to you…” cannot be Gospel! Heaven forbid! Jesus would never speak that way to us!
Yet, He does! Our Gospel text for today cleverly omits it, makes it seem as though Jesus breezes from the rejection of His disciples and their message of the Kingdom to His reassurance, “Don’t worry, it’s not you they’re rejecting, it’s me…” Yes, He says that those who reject the disciple (those who come in His name) reject Him, and in rejecting Him they also reject the One who sent Him, but he doesn’t do that to make the disciples feel better about being rejected. He says it to explain why things will become so intolerable for those cities/places that reject the message and demonstrations of the Kingdom. (The part left out of the selected reading.)
Here is the reading as it really stands:
After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades. He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”
Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
For some reason or other, the creators of our cycle of readings determined that these words of Jesus weren’t worthy of our notice. They might upset us, I suppose. Something like that. I grieve for our church. Not just ours, but all those churches that now use this “Revised Common Lectionary.”
Jesus grieves over His people here. He doesn’t condemn. He cries “Woe!” over His children, whose choices will bring them greater woes than those known in the great and terrible cities of Tyre and Sidon, cities whose economic and social sinfulness were well known to Jesus’ hearers. Worse than Tyre and Sidon? You mean it’ll be worse for those who reject You than for Sodom?
“But we can’t say that in church! Someone might start accusing someone else! Someone might start pointing fingers! The children of God, the Body of Christ can’t be trusted with these words!”
“And what if they do as Jesus intended, and take them to heart? What if they start looking at themselves to see how they may have rejected Jesus’ gift of the Kingdom? We can’t have that! People might start to feel guilty! They might not leave church happy!”
Sometimes I think we don’t trust ourselves with words like this because we don’t really believe in the power of His forgiveness. We don’t want to make people “feel bad” because we as a church no longer believe that we have any real relief to offer them. We don’t want to risk introducing words that might lead some to condemn others because we don’t believe that they can be taught to receive forgiveness before they look beyond their own failings. We don’t have any experience of the power of the Cross to deliver us from any of that, and so it’s probably better to avoid words like those above in italics.
And because we don’t believe in the power of God to save us from condemnation, because we haven’t been taught to separate condemnation (the enemy’s overlay on the Word) from the Father’s gracious correction, we lose out on the gifts that can be ours, the Wisdom and the Truth that He offers.
The fact is that the message of the Kingdom makes it harder on those who turn away than on those who have never heard it. There is some little bit of truth in the old adage, “Ignorance is bliss.” It is a lot easier to live in a way that does violence to God and to each other when we don’t know how much we are loved by God, when we can still convince ourselves that our choices really don’t affect anyone else. But Jesus has sent his disciples into the countryside not just with a message, but with demonstrations of the power of the Kingdom to free us from the principalities and powers that have governed our choices up to now. We can no longer quite believe that we don’t have any choice, that the old ways are the only ways. This new knowledge begins to eat at us, to make us more and more and more uncomfortable. Some of us redouble our efforts to make the old ways work, and things get even worse for the cities in which the demonstrations of the power of the Kingdom have been seen.
Yes, it can actually be worse for a city, a county, a nation that knows the power of the Gospel and says, “No” than for the city or county or nation that has never seen.
And yes, a lot of the turmoil in our own lives can be traced to the fact that we’ve heard of the Kingdom, (though many of us have not really seen any demonstrations of its power) and so our lives of slavery and poverty have become increasingly intolerable to us. We have these deep-seated dissatisfactions with the present. We keep voting in someone new to fix things, but nothing really changes. We’ve pretty much given up on government, on the UN. All that’s left is despair.
But that isn’t all that’s left. Jesus says as much. The response to the revelation of the Kingdom isn’t despair, it is repentance. Repentance in dust and ashes. Not because we’re worthless, not because we’re worthy of condemnation, but because humbling ourselves before God, declaring our powerlessness to effect any real change is the very avenue by which we open ourselves to His power to bring change, to demonstrate the power of the Kingdom.
We have a tendency, like those folks from the “good towns” who rejected Jesus’ disciples, to think that because we go to church, we don’t stand in need of radical repentance. We continue to walk in the old ways because we think we’ve done all there is to do. But we haven’t humbled ourselves in sackcloth and ashes. We haven’t cried out to God in our helplessness for a demonstration of His power, His renewal.
Hearing His Voice sometimes means hearing the Word that calls us to repentance, to a humbling of ourselves in sackcloth and ashes. In that repentance lies the opportunity for the demonstration of the power of the Kingdom. And in that opportunity lies not only the opportunity to see the demonstration of the power of the Kingdom, but to participate in the demonstration, to show forth the power of the Kingdom, the power of repentance.
Condemnation vs. Discipline
You and I have not been taught how to discern the difference between a word spoken in condemnation, and a word of discipline. Because we grew up fearing our parents’ wrath, almost all discipline carries with it for us the overtones of anger and punishment. You and I need to read Hebrews. Often.
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:5-8)
It’s actually pretty easy to tell the difference between the enemy’s accusations and the Father’s correction. One tells us what we are because of what we’ve done (bad), the other tells us what we’ve really done and what it cost. Now, it doesn’t feel good to be told that my actions have caused a horrible wound somewhere in my Father’s creation. But the feeling I have (once I’ve separated out the overlay of accusation) isn’t guilt. But that’s for tomorrow.
Today, make a decision to listen to your Father’s voice, and not that of the enemy. You won’t succeed much at first, but make the decision anyways. Then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I know that You have chosen me to be Your child, Your son or daughter. I know that You cannot stand by and watch as I damage my brothers and sisters, but I can’t really tell the difference yet between Your voice and the enemy’s. Please, help me to hear You, so that I can begin to accept Your correction for what it is, a gift.
In Jesus’ Name,
Guilt vs. Godly Sorrow
One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between the Father’s correction and the enemy’s accusation is to watch your own feelings. The Father’s voice does not cause us to feel “guilty.” How could it? His Son died to remove that guilt! And yet we often do feel “guilty” because the enemy is very skilled at overlaying the Father’s Word with a layer of accusation.
But we can track the enemy’s work in us by using our feelings as a kind of spiritual Geiger counter. If we feel guilty, it is the enemy’s work in us. If we feel what I have been taught to call “Godly sorrow,” then it is conviction, a call to repentance from the Father. It really is okay to feel sad for what we’ve done or what we find ourselves doing. How can we not when we discover that we have trampled so precious a love as this? But that sadness is not “guilt.”
Today, begin to notice your response to being corrected by others. Does it incur a sense of guilt? The enemy is layering the words you hear with his condemnation. (Of course, some people may actually accuse you, but that is another lesson for another day.) Begin to notice the difference in you between sorrow and guilt, then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I really am sorry, sorrowful that I have not lived into the fullness of the love You have poured out on me. Help me today to treasure those tears, and to reject the sting of death, of guilt, when the enemy tries to sneak that in alongside Your word to me.
In Jesus’ Name,
In order to learn to hear the difference between the Father’s voice and the accusations of the enemy, I had to learn what the Father’s voice sounded like. I didn’t know. I needed to train my ear to hear a sound for which I had no frame of reference. I needed to spend time in the Father’s presence, listening to Him sing over me, laugh over me, comfort me, claim me. I had to learn to ask Him to speak His comfort into my life because I was terrified to do that. Either I’d be disappointed, or worse, I’d be laughed at. I hope you don’t have those impediments to overcome!
Still, an important piece of separating out the Father’s correction from the voices of condemnation is just learning what He sounds like.
Today, determine to spend some time each day, every day, letting Him sing over you as on a day of festival. Hear His lullaby, His call to waken, His soothing when the world has scraped up your skin. Decide to do it every day, and then give yourself a little room to fail on that. Then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, please speak Your comfort into my life, so that I can come to know and trust Your voice when You speak things to me I’m afraid to hear.
In Jesus’ Name,
One of the enemy’s most successful traps for me when I first started to become aware of all that the Father had in store for me was the accusation of “lost time.” So many years “wasted” getting to this point. If only I’d had the courage to go down this road when I was younger!
I don’t know for sure if it’s right to say it in such an absolute way, but I’m going to risk it. Beware of ALL feelings of “regret.” This isn’t the same as sadness for the consequences of my sin, that is appropriate (once). This is a longing for “what might have been.” It is filled with “if only’s.” I think I can say with confidence that the Father is not in this. Ever.
Today, take a long look back at your life up to this point, and let your regrets have a voice. Then let the Father silence them. Pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, You have brought me to this place at this time, Your time. Help me not to give any more time or energy to the “what if’s” and “if only’s.” Help me to look forward into Your future.
In Jesus’ Name,
It is certainly true that the Father does not want me to go back and pick up some old sin that He has helped me to lay down and worry it to death like a dog with a pig’s ear. Doing that is a sort of sin in itself, a denial of the power of Jesus’ Blood to cleanse me of that which I have confessed. But that doesn’t mean I will ever get to the point of having nothing more to confess!
I’m pretty sure that my Father will continue to reveal my sinfulness to me for as long I live. Not to punish me, but so that I will always, always place my trust in His mercy and not in my righteousness. He wants me to boast of nothing but the Cross of Jesus.
But sometimes I get tired of discovering new sin in myself. This tiredness is also the result of an accusation that is as insidious as any I have to deal with. The accusation goes something like this, “You know, you really should have gotten farther than this. You shouldn’t still be this broken.” I don’t really hear that whisper, but it manifests itself in me when I get frustrated with myself. God’s reminder to me of my sinful nature is necessary lest I lose track of just how Wonderful He Is.
Today, resolve to allow the Father to search you and show you your sin as often as He needs to in order to keep you soft toward Him and your brothers and sisters. Then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I praise You that You have not called the perfect to Your service, but You have perfected those You called through the Blood of Jesus. I thank You that You only remind me of my sin for the sake of Your mercy. Help me to continue to place all my trust in the Cross.
In Jesus’ Name,
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