We Become Like the Master we Choose

Psa 115:4-9 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. (5) They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. (6) They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. (7) They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. (8) Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. (9) O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.

Here is a very important theme the Bible teaches numbers of times. We become like the master we choose. Those who make mute, blind, deaf gods will progressively become mute, blind, and deaf themselves. I suppose this is another way of saying idolaters are becoming lifeless just like the chunk of wood or metal they carved into a god.

Now, I want to be very clear that in this article I am NOT talking about domestic abuse victims who want to be free but simply cannot do so immediately. There children, finances, dangers and so on that have to be considered. And in so many cases the victim is on her own, having been rejected even by her “church.” I understand completely.

But here I want to talk about a kind of person who is a target of abuse, but who knowingly and willfully chooses to yield to their abuser, to in a way “ally” with him and to remain with him even though the victim has a plain avenue of escape. I have known enough of these people to know that they do exist.

Now, when we willingly choose a master, Scripture tells us that we will increasingly become like that master. When we make the right choice and choose Christ and follow Him, we are on the road to becoming like Christ. This is called sanctification. We will have ears to hear His Word (His sheep know His voice). We will have eyes to see things as they really are. We will be able to speak His truth and recognize the enemy’s lies. His life flows more and more into and through us.

On the other hand, if we choose an evil master…. You can complete the sentence. Our ability to see and hear and speak truth will grow weaker and weaker and weaker until one day it is no more.

Isa 44:15-20 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. (16) Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” (17) And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (18) They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. (19) No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” (20) He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

Choosing to yield to and remain with an abuser or some other evil person rather than to obey the Lord and “come out from among them,” is to choose another god. This is why, for instance, Jesus said more than once that if we love even father or mother more than Him, if He calls us to follow Him but we delay and run back to the wicked “just for now,” then we cannot be His disciple. That means, we cannot be saved. It is a looking back to Sodom – remember Lot’s wife.

I have seen victims of abuse watch their children being abused by a wicked spouse. In so many of your cases, as you have told me, that was the defining moment. They realized that they cannot permit this any longer. Their love for their children drove them to leave. But the kind of person I am speaking of here sees the thing happening – even to the children – and yet remains with the wicked one even when the door is open for them to make an exit. I suppose they have swallowed the kool-aid of false teaching – “well, you know it’s always better for the children to have two parents.” Or something like that. But for whatever reason, they stay. And the kids, who have no choice, are stuck there too.

It is never, ever better to choose your abuser as your master.

Mat 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

I have wondered about some of the abuse victims I have known who have shut down. You cannot ever really know what is going on with them because they won’t talk. They will even defend their abuser and refuse to hear truth. We all were at a similar point early on I am sure, but as the Lord shone more and more of the light of His truth in us, our spiritual hearing and sight switched on and pow! There it was. Once we were blind but now we see. But in these type of people I am thinking about here, that light switch seems to have been shut off for good. And like their abuser, they will hate the light.

Do not go down that path. Do not give in and and choose your abuser as your master. It is a path that will lead to nothing good, a road that leads into ever increasing darkness and ends in the death of your soul. We become like the master we choose.

What Does a Real Church Look Like?

1 Kings 19:11-14 ESV  And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  (12)  And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  (13)  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  (14)  He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

The lesson Elijah (and all of us) had to learn is this – just because we cannot see a hurricane, earthquake, or blazing fire of activity it does not mean that the Lord is not present and working. Elijah had seen God’s fire from heaven at Mt. Carmel, but now Jezebel was out to kill him and no heavenly inferno seems to be coming down on her. Elijah fled.

Now, we all know that many if not most local churches today are favorite venues for evil to oppress victims. Most of you have been through it yourself. The wicked are embraced and the oppressed are shown the door. It is quite typical for a domestic abuser to “serve the Lord” in a church where everyone believes he is a fine saintly man whose wife just pushed his buttons and then, poor man, she deserted him.

So it is very important that we see things as the Lord sees them and specifically here in this article I want to talk about the question, what does a real church look like? Or, I suppose it could be stated in the negative, what does a true church NOT look like?

Most professing Christians think they have the answer to these questions – but I am sure that they do not. They will answer, “a true church is a church that preaches the Word, exercises the sacraments, practices church discipline, and is shepherded by pastors and elders.’ That is the formal answer. But….what are most people really looking for “in a church”?

Recently I was looking on social media where I came across a church that belongs to the home missions organization I used to belong to. I spent some time looking around the site, especially at all the pictures they had posted there. And I was, I don’t know, I guess you could say “triggered.” What I mean is, I found myself as an outsider now looking in on a world I used to be part of. And what was that world like? Well, it was a world of activity. Of busy-ness. A world of full-range Sunday school classes, of choirs and solos, of committees and men and women’s ministries. There were summer picnics, campouts, and conferences. People standing up and giving their testimony of how they came to faith in Christ. There were connections with other churches and pastors and special services featuring a visiting speaker or music group. There was a mid-week or Sunday night youth group. It was a very active, busy, event-filled place, and everyone in it called it, the church.

I lived in that world and was a pastor in that world for years. It was a place where the hurricane, earthquake, and fire were sought. Why? Because everyone believed that unless they saw the Lord’s working, nothing was happening. So the pastor was expected to “produce.” When he couldn’t, people complained or grumbled or even left the place because, as they said, the Spirit wasn’t working there.

So I want to tell you something – I was triggered when I looked at those pictures because…I now know that in that world, the Lord wasn’t present at all. How do I know? Because behind the scenes, in the back of all that “holy busy-ness,” evil lurked. Most of the Christians there, weren’t. There was constant bickering and friction. In reality, regardless of all that activity, people were not truly coming to know Christ. And evildoers were tolerated, in the name of “grace.” Very, very few actually knew the Lord. As a result, it was a setting for the oppressed to be further oppressed and for oppressors to wear their Christian disguise.

I know now that the true church, a real church, is a remnant. I know that the Lord is always working in amazing ways, but like a gentle breeze that few even notice. The fact is, we walk by faith and not by sight. All of those programs and activities and “doings” that most professing Christians crave in a church are in fact after all plain old expressions of the flesh seeking gratification. And if anyone might doubt this, just read Revelation 2-3 and compare the church at Smyrna with the church at Laodicea.

Image Maintenance is Idolatry

When there is sin in the church, we panic.  I believe that this is one of the reasons churches and pastors so often give terrible counsel to victims of abuse. We are the Church!  We are Christians!  We aren’t supposed to sin!  This is a disaster, and it is up to us to fix it lest “Christ’s Name” be tarnished.  I put “Christ’s Name” in quotes because I really think that if we would all be honest, we would have to admit that it is really more about our own image maintenance than it is about Christ’s glory.

Whenever we as individuals or as a church set out to put on a mask, set up an image of ourselves that really isn’t true, we are headed for big trouble.  I saw  a lady yesterday in the big city that was in just such a trap.  She wasn’t unattractive, but she had gone to extravagant lengths to look 20 years younger. Elaborate makeup, painstaking hairstyle, carefully selected younger-generation wardrobe, and hanging on the arm of a man at least 20 years her junior.  Why did I notice?  Because I could see it in her look.  She was trying sooooo hard to find self-worth in all of these things, and I knew it wasn’t going to work.  By watching how the man behaved toward her, I would not be at all surprised if she has gotten herself tied up with an abuser.  Oh, what a charmer he was!  Before he is done with her, I wonder how much of her money and her life he will have taken?  Images are dangerous.  They lead us into serious error.  They are a lie in picture form.

As pastors, as churches, we often construct images — names for ourselves — reputations.  But they are not consistent with who we really are.  And when something happens that is not consistent with the image we crave — like the appearance of sin in the church — well, we launch into a defense and damage-control mode.  And NOTHING good is going to come out of that.  Nothing!

So, for example, when a woman who is being abused by her husband comes to her pastor or to one of us for help and relates to us what is happening, I can tell you what the dynamic is that so easily and readily kicks into gear.  Image protection.  Damage control.  “Oh, no! This kind of thing can’t happen here! We have to fix this.  You can’t divorce.  It makes us….er, Christ, look bad!  No, you must be exaggerating.  Let’s sit down and talk this out.”

And so they talk, perhaps.  But nothing changes.  Except maybe for the worse. So the wife says she is leaving.  “No!  God hates divorce!  You can’t.  This is your calling, to persevere and suffer for the glory of God.”  But what is really going on, so often?  We don’t want our own spotless image soiled with word getting around that such a thing happened in our church.  That our people are somehow less than perfect and might even be capable of …. sin!”

And what then happens to the victim?  She is the whistleblower.  Have you ever read the story of a whistleblower?  Someone who exposes corruption in government or some big business or a giant religious organization?  What generally happens to whistleblowers?  They are slandered, they are fired (ex-communicated), and sometimes they are even killed.  The Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest whistleblower of all!  He exposed sin and corruption – and they killed Him for it.  Governments have some laws in place to protect whistleblowers.  Churches do not.  Abuse victims become a threat to the image. And all too often, their churches respond to them with efforts that, frankly, are designed for nothing else than to make them shut up about it.

This sounds so harsh, doesn’t it?  I can hear voices out there saying “You are so negative!  This is way too judgmental.”  Honestly, I wish that is all there was to it because then I could just repent of saying these things and come to my senses and realize that none of this is happening after all.  But it is.  Witness after witness after witness has come forward and told the story of what happened to them at the hands of their churches when they blew the whistle on their abuser.  Shut up, admit you are wrong, or get out.

Why?  Do we actually believe that our churches are incapable of having hidden sin operating within and among them?  Do we think that no wolf in wool could possibly ever be found in our pews?  Are we so naive that we refuse to admit that there could well be a marriage in our church that is not at all what it appears to be?  Or that a member of our church is in fact a hypocrite who is merely putting on a saintly facade while at home he is the devil incarnate? Does our Lord tell us anything different in His Word?  Has He not given us repeated instructions and warnings about this very kind of thing, and even told us how to handle it?  Does He not, in fact, bless us when we expose these things and deal with them as He has told us to?  Where in the world in Scripture do we ever find that the body of Christ has to keep up an image of perfection?

I can remember a number of years ago talking to the leaders of a church of some 300 people.  The pastor had hit the road with the church secretary, both of them abandoning their spouses.  Immediately not only the church leaders, but especially the denominational representative charged into a campaign of image maintenance and public relations damage control.  I remember asking them if they had handled this sin biblically.   The absconding couple were in no way repentant.  So how were they handled?  They were informed that they were terminated from employment and given the suggestion that they seek counseling.   Then, all of the efforts of the church leadership and denomination from that point on were aimed at getting any tarnish off the image.   I asked the denominational representative if the church intended to obey Christ’s instruction and follow the church discipline process — not only for the good of the church, but for that of the pastor and secretary as well.  He accused me of being too quick to run to judgment.  Well, guess what?  They never did implement church discipline.  As a church, they never acknowledged that just perhaps their own pride had played a part in this whole sorry mess.  They just wanted to get back to “normal.”   But normal there had never been good.  It still isn’t to this day.  The image reigns.

And it reigns in many if not most of our churches today.  Wherever there is an image, there is idolatry.  And where idolatry prevails, Jesus is not present.