Freedom for the Captives
Welcome to part 2 of our honest discussion about abuse. If you didn’t catch last week, I hope you go online for that message, because we learned what God says to people who have endured abuse. In a country where 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will be victims of severe physical violence and many others are victimized by emotional or verbal or sexual or spiritual abuse, we learned that God hates abuse, God loves people who have been abused, God himself was abused, and God is coming soon to end abuse. I hope those truths helped many of you to heal in some small or miraculously big way. Now, today, I want to speak not to those of you who have been abused but rather to those of you who have been abusive,
those of you who have a pattern of using force and fear to maintain power and control. Since the good news of Jesus draws all kinds of sinners—the proud, the impure, the gossips, the worriers, the attention-seekers, and the addicts—I assume that abusive people show up too.
Today, I want to speak specifically to you.
There is a man in prison who often writes a pastor. He’s a guy who now knows Jesus, loves his Savior, and can’t wait to finish his time, a man who laments his past, is working hard on his faith in the present, and longs for his future to be different, a worshiper of Jesus who wants to worship Jesus in a church. One day the pastor looked his pen-pal up online and saw his legal history. The words “assault of a minor” and “repeated” and “felony” grabbed his attention and broke his heart. Abuse, abuse of the worst kind, was part of his story. So, what would Jesus do? If a guy like that was in the crowd and wanted to follow Jesus? And what should we do? If he’s released, should we lock the doors? Warn the parents? Forgive and forget? Something else? Saying “everyone is welcome” is easy, but when everyone includes everyone, what then? Today, I want to tell you the four things I would tell him, the four things I would say to any abusive person who knocked on our church’s door, the four things I would say to you if
I knew that abuse was part of your story. Here’s the first thing I would say—Look at you. I need you (and God wants you) to take a long look at you. To realize how you might be using fear or force to maintain power and control. Depending how you grew up, how your dad treated your mom, how your mom spoke to your dad, how the adults in your life treated you, you might not even know what abuse looks like. So, here are a list of questions to help you look at you. Do you have a pattern of getting angry when your partner or children don’t do what you
want? Do you express that anger by name-calling, threatening looks, physical threats, or physical acts like breaking things or hurting pets? Do you blame those outbursts on alcohol, drugs, or someone else’s behavior? Do you force your partner to spend time with you and forbid them from spending time with friends and family? Do you get jealous or nervous when they do? Do you check their texts, read their personal emails, or control the finances so they have nothing unless you allow it? Do you force them to be intimate with you? Do you ever use the Bible to get what you want, telling him he has to forgive you no matter how much you belittle him and she has to submit to you because you are the head of the household? Do people seem nervous around you? Afraid of you? Afraid to contradict you? If that’s a
pattern of your behavior, that’s abuse. And God hates that. David, who was himself threatened and abused by King Saul, wrote, “The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.” The biggest issue with your anger isn’t that it might get you in legal trouble or cost you a little control at home. The biggest issue is that it makes God hate you. Hate. You. No one who continues on your path, living in this
sin, hurting people God loves will end up loved by God. So, before you have to stand before our Father, holding a history of hurting his children, look at you.
Second, look at Him. Look at Jesus. Because Jesus is not done with you yet. Even if every one of those questions slapped you in the conscience, Jesus is not done with you yet. If you’re still alive and breathing, praise the Lord, because Jesus is waiting and willing. Give up control. Put your power trip down. Repent. He is willing to call you friend. Matthew 10—“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” One of the 12 was Simon the Zealot. A zealot, in Jesus’ day, was a violent man. The zealots hated that the Romans had control, so they used a pattern of fear and force to take it back. The zealots were ancient terrorists, and yet Jesus invited him to follow a God like him. And he wasn’t the last. The Apostle Paul, the guy who wrote half the New Testament, said this about himself, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” Paul was violent. People feared his anger and cringed when he came to their homes, but he came to Jesus. He confessed his sins, was baptized, and was immersed by grace and love.
Simon and Paul and you can be saved because Jesus forgave abusers. Remember our Savior hanging on the cross. After being slapped and spit on, mocked and nailed to the tree, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them.” He still says that. For you. When Jesus hung on the cross, suffering for sins, he suffered for us all. And all includes you. Abuse is ugly, but Jesus took that ugliness to the cross. When you look to Jesus, when you change your mind about power and control and call Jesus your Lord, God stops hating you and starts calling you his own dear child. Look at him. Look at Jesus. With me, with us, look at Jesus. There will still be consequences, but when you look at Jesus, there is no condemnation. So, look at him.
Third, I want you to look at them. Look at the people God has placed in our community who can help you. Now that you know how much God hates abusers and how far Jesus went to forgive abusers, what will you do? How will you change? It is very possible that the abuse didn’t start with you, that you learned to yell and scream and control from your father or your mother or your mom’s boyfriend. Sometimes there are generational sins that families get stuck in, ways they pass on to their children’s children. Maybe that’s why the abuse started and you don’t know what healthy looks like. So, look at them. Look at the professionals whom God has blessed with the wisdom to help you escape the cycle. After we’re done, look up thehotline.org, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, which is filled with exactly what you need. Get help at Christian Family Solutions, a professional counseling agency
trained to help you deal with anger and other issues. Or look at them, the people right here. We may not be trained professionals, but confessing your sins, bringing the truth into the light, and asking for help is the first step to a different, a better tomorrow. Get help. You might be the first generation in your family in a long time to break the cycle, to break free from the chain. Take a next step. And now, fourth and finally, look at me. I am happy that you are here. I have prayed for you to be here. I begged God, after last week, that you would come back here, so if you’re still here—thank you. Angels rejoice when sinners repent, and I plan to join them at their party. So, let me say this as clearly as I can— you are welcome here. Even with a past, even with a legal record, you are welcome here. We have no plans to pick and choose which sinners can come. This is not a country club with a minimum morality requirement. This is the church and sinners are welcome. In Jesus’ day, the worst people in town were
tax collectors and prostitutes, but Jesus called them to repent and follow him. In our day, the categories are different, but the call is the same—the black sheep of our city can be saved, can be changed, as they repent and follow Jesus. That is why you are welcome here.
AND—look at me—as we welcome you, we will welcome you with wisdom. With boundaries that bless you and him and her and them. In other words, depending on your story, things might be a bit different for you. We don’t let the gambling addict be the church treasurer. That’s wisdom. We don’t tempt alcoholics by having them buy the wine for communion. That’s wisdom. And we don’t let abusive people alone in situations where abuse can happen. So, yes, we require background checks. Yes, we will communicate with parole offices and craft a personal plan that meets and exceeds the requirements of the law. No, I don’t care if you don’t like that. Because I do care about you. And us. I imagine that’s hard to hear. If you have a history of craving power and control, those rules take all of it away from you. But that is what love looks like and we love you. We want you to get better. And this is the path to better. Please don’t run. Please don’t push back. Humble yourself and God will exalt you.
There was another man in jail that a pastor met through a member of his church and when he got out, he wondered if he would be welcome at the church. The church leaders discussed it for a long time, working with his parole officer, and pouring over the issue in prayer, thinking of this precious soul craving a Christian community and the children at the church they loved. Eventually, they said “Yes, we’d love to have you here, but there would be boundaries, restrictions, other people who would need to know.” And this guy—to his immense credit—said, “The more people who know, the better. The more accountable I will be.”
He humbled himself, gave up the power and the control, submitted himself to the boundaries we created, and God exalted him. God lifted him up and gave him a church home. Even better, God brought him to a place where he would hear, week after week, something that the world would never tell him— that he was forgiven, saved, and loved through Jesus. The same can happen to you. Look at me...the same can happen to you. I pray that it does.