Let God Redeem Your Story: Part 1Erwin W. Lutzer | August 22, 2010
Selected highlights from this sermon
Rewriting the story of your life can be done.
In today’s world, with the proliferation of pornography and broken homes, sexual abuse is almost everywhere. And millions of people are trying to handle it on their own. But there’s a better way to be free from the guilt, shame, depression and despair you may be dealing with.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer shows you, step-by-step, how you can find freedom from your painful past. Allow God into the dark places of your life, and trust Him to walk with you on your path to healing. Let Him take you to a place where you can trust again—a place where you can feel again.
Today I begin my sermon with a quiz that you can answer for yourself.
Do you find personal relationships difficult? Do you long for intimacy but are afraid when you get it? When your weaknesses are pointed out, do you become defensive, angry, blaming others, and you pull away from anyone who confronts your issues? Are you fearful of getting close to people because you don’t trust them? And do you find it difficult to trust God? Do you have unfulfilled emotional needs that no one seems to be able to fill? Have you struggled with eating disorders? Are you obsessed with exercise or diet control? Have you experienced many sexual struggles, sexual identity confusion, fear of the opposite sex, same sex attraction, or sexual obsessions? Are you angry with yourself and use anger to push others away? Have you wrestled with self-destructive behavior such as slashing your wrists, carving your skin, or pulling out your hair? Do you wrestle with control issues, always wanting to control the people and circumstances next to you? Do you have a problem with anger, rage, and intense hostility? Are you living with a secret and you are afraid somebody will find it out? Do you struggle with dissociative disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder? Are you aware of an evil presence that brings distraction, confusion, and hopelessness?
If you have answered, “yes” to one or more of those questions it is possible that you were abused as a child—probably sexually abused.
Recently my wife and I were with some parents—wonderful Christians in Christian work. They told us their story. Their oldest daughter was having a lesbian lifestyle. How did that happen? Well, years later, far after the abuse occurred, it was discovered that an aunt of theirs had sexually abused all of their daughters, including fourteen or fifteen other nieces and nephews. The other daughters did not go into lesbianism, but they struggle with intimacy in marriage, and they’ve got all kinds of issues, but the parents didn’t know about it till years later.
Another story is of a young man in a Christian school, and he was going to stay with one of the families in the school, and the parents thought it was a great idea because they had kids that are his own age. He didn’t want to go there. The parents were going on vacation and said, “You are going to stay there.” He cried but he didn’t tell them why. The father of that home was abusing him. That, of course, caused his life to spin out of control. He attempted suicide, got involved in homosexuality and other things that he struggled with.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, is sexual abuse on the rise?” The answer is yes for a number of reasons. First of all, the proliferation of pornography, but also the broken homes of our society. You have blended families and now you have step-sisters and step-brothers who look at each other differently, and of course, even within blood families you find sexual abuse of various kinds, and so that’s the world in which we live. Children are vulnerable because they have no one to pay attention to them. They are very vulnerable because they might like the attention even though it is destructive attention, and so it is as our homes are being broken up and you have step-fathers abusing step-daughters. We live in a world where it is almost everywhere.
You see, sexual abuse distorts our view of sexuality where everything then is encased in shame, and there is no understanding to bring wholeness to the situation. It encourages promiscuity because a girl who is sexually molested is twice as likely to become pregnant before marriage, and there are reasons for that. You can connect your own dots. And so today’s message is dealing with this very important topic. And by the way, why didn’t the children tell? Well, the answer is number one they thought to themselves, “Probably if we went to Mom and Dad and said, ‘Do you know what my uncle is doing?’” Mom and Dad might not have believed them, unfortunately.
Parents, I need to say something to you with clarity that I hope you never forget. If your child even makes a suggestion that something improper is going on, you had better take it seriously. I know that that there have been instances where there have been false accusations oftentimes because children have been asked questions in an improper way, but you must believe what a child is saying. They usually do not make up their stories. Parents, listen! You must take every child who is five or six years old, and once they begin to be with others say to them, “If anybody ever touches you improperly (and then you could perhaps go into some detail depending on the age of the child), you come to us. If they threaten you, you come to us immediately. Don’t walk. You run, and we will welcome you and accept you, and love you and deal with the issue.” Every child needs to be taught that in today’s world where you have sexual predators roaming our streets and in our homes. They have to be taught that.
Another reason, of course, is guilt. They may feel guilty. Maybe they enjoyed it. There might be some satisfaction that comes to them as a result of all of this stimulation. I’m thinking of a young woman who was abused by her grandfather. He introduced her to sexuality, but later on, you know, she enjoyed it, and so, of course, he blamed her for it. You have to understand the profile of an abuser, and I’ll give you more details about that next time in the second message in the series, even though it is so critical to understand right here that there is hope for abusers too, as we shall learn in this message, and in the next one. And so what we need to do is to realize that God has to have an answer for this, and He does.
There’s only one passage I want you to turn to today, and it is Psalm 147. What a beautiful promise is thrown into God’s Word. I say “thrown.” It shows up here in Psalm 147. It’s talking about the exiles of Jerusalem, and it says in verse 2, “The Lord builds up Jerusalem. He gathers the outcasts of Israel (and now notice this) and He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars. He gives to all of them their names.” What does that have to do with the binding up of your wounds? The Psalmist is emphasizing the fact that we are dealing with a God who can do a lot of impossible things, and if God knows stars and names them, do you think He has forgotten your name, your address and what happened to you? Not a chance, and so when I go through this message today I want you to know that you can invite God to go into dark places with you. You don’t have to go alone, because the Bible says that the love of God is ever with us and nothing can separate us from His love, even the things that were so maliciously and directly done against you by those who should have been protecting you. You can go to dark places with God.
Now, I need to warn you that when God heals our wounds and binds them up, He also has to touch our wounds if He is going to bind them. Some of you are going to find this message difficult. Some of you will want to leave. I have no doubt you’ll want to stand up and say, “I can’t take this.” I encourage you not to, but if you have to cry, you can just begin to cry where you are if you cry quietly. If the people next to you don’t understand, you bring them to me later and I’ll straighten them out on a few things. Okay? Let’s make that deal. We’re going to be very relaxed today. We’re going to let the Holy Spirit of God do whatever He wants to do. Some of you, of course, your abuse has been your calling card. It has justified your anger and your control of others. Having been sinned against, your sin against others is justified and you say, “I might not be ready to give this up. I am being identified by my abuse and I prefer that identity.” If that’s you, I want you to listen to this message, because I’d love to convince you otherwise, but actually I can’t force you to do anything.
As a matter of fact, I’m going to give you the path that you need to follow but I can’t make you follow it, and you can’t follow it just because you listen to this message, however important the message is. You’re going to have to follow it beyond this message, and in ways that I shall outline, but in the end, I pray for your wholeness. I pray that captives shall be set free. Those of you who are dealing even with demonic issues of anger and control and blaming and vengeance, we want God to set you free too. As a matter of fact, we believe that today He is going to.
You came to church and thought it would just be an ordinary day. You didn’t know that God had a surprise for you when you walked in here this morning.
Now here’s what we’re going to do. After the message I am going to be giving an invitation. For those of you who would like to have a little bit more instruction from me I am going to counsel you as a group, and then we have some prayer partners prepared who are willing to pray with you and I shall explain that a little later on. What’s necessary for you to know is that nobody is forced to do anything here. Some of you say, “There’s no way that I can go forward to be prayed for.” We understand that, but there are others of you who might say to yourself, “Pastor Lutzer, I have just been waiting for this chance to finally have some further counseling and also to simply have a safe atmosphere where I can pray,” because that’s what I’m going to give you an opportunity to do if you come forward. So you be thinking in this message as to whether or not you want to be among those for whom we will have some special instruction and prayer. And of course, even though I am talking about sexual abuse, some of you are dealing with other issues. You are recovering from infidelity in your marriage, or maybe it wasn’t sexual abuse, but it was verbal and physical abuse. In a sense, we all have to follow the same path, don’t we? Are you ready for the journey? Do you want God today to set you free?
Father, do it we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The number one step in the journey is the past must be acknowledged. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, why? Let bygones be bygones.” Well, that’s understandable, but if your past is intruding into your relationships, and if you find yourself being angry and defensive, and perhaps may be an abuser, because you were abused, you had better face up to what happened to you. After all, it is the truth that sets you free and not a false reality that you are living as if to say this wasn’t serious. Of course, it was serious. Some of you know how really serious it was. And so what you need to do is to challenge your past. You need to walk in there with God and say, “All right, once and for all I am going to stare down and find out what happened and deal with what happened.” You know, you are only as neurotic as your darkest secrets, and if there is a dark part of you where the Holy Spirit of God has never been allowed to enter—I know He indwells you as a Christian—and you have said to yourself, “There’s a dark part of me and I don’t want to have to deal with it,” I’m saying, “It’s time to shed light on that dark part because light brings healing.”
Somebody has said that darkness produces good mushrooms, but not very good flowers,” and I want your soul to be producing flowers and not being caught up in simply the darkness that you have, and the truth and the light makes you free. If you walk in the light as He is in the light, now there is something that all of us need to do, and especially those whose past continues to haunt them and define them. And by the way, for many of you, when I talk about these descriptions, you don’t get it because you don’t know how difficult you are to live with, do you? Those around you might, but you have justified it. You have given explanation for it, and you are perfectly fine, thank you, but maybe the Holy Spirit will show you what I need to learn. I’m not fine. You’re not fine. I’m not okay. You’re not okay. God is okay and He’s going to help all of us become better, okay. Is that okay? (applause)
So you have to acknowledge the past. You have to challenge that, and secondly, you mourn the loss. You see, when a child has been abused, the child basically shuts down his or her emotions. They just go on autopilot, and as a result they need to feel again. They need to be able to be able to feel again and not just simply be a robot going through emotions because they were not allowed to express their emotions as a child. Even if they were caught crying they might be beaten. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” One of the things that mourning does is it puts you back in touch with reality and your feelings. Somebody said to me that one of the problems with an abused child is there is no place for him or her to cry. And they need to be able to cry, and you even as an adult need to be able to cry.
Here’s what I find when I read the Psalms, and I encourage you to read them often. Oftentimes David will complain to God very honestly. He’ll just let it all hang out. “God, where are you? I need you. Things are so bad. Why don’t you show up for me?” He’ll just pour out his soul and he’ll just lay it all out, and at the end of the Psalm, he says, “Nevertheless, I will still hope in thee.” You’re saying, “Where in the world does that come from?”
My friend, grief does two things. First of all, it reminds us that there are some scars that will never be taken away permanently until we get to heaven. Grief reminds us of that, and that’s why we cry over what has been done, and it can’t be undone. But there’s something else that grief does, and that is it gives us hope. And if there’s no way for you to really express your grief and to pour out your soul before God, read the book of Lamentations. Lamentations is a book that was written by Jeremiah. It is filled with tears over the destruction of Jerusalem. I wish I had time this morning to take you there and to show you how all of his innards are spilled out there in his tears. There’s nothing wrong with grieving the loss. If you lose an arm, you grieve. If you lose your childhood, you grieve. Grieve over what could have been. Don’t be afraid of grief. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus.
Third, and this is absolutely crucial. Of course, everything that I am saying today is crucial, but third, you must understand grace. Now I’m going to speak to those of you who were abused. This is your tendency. Your tendency is to so focus on the sins of others that you overlook your own, and no matter how your sins might be pointed out, you are continually saying, “Yeah, but I didn’t do that,” and so your focus is on somebody else’s sin. At this point, I am talking about your own because we are all sinners, and if you have been sinning against others because you have been sinned against, you and I have a lot to forgive. I have a lot that God has to forgive, and I suspect that you do too. But when it comes to forgiveness people make one huge mistake. What is the major mistake when it comes to forgiveness? It is thinking that they have to become worthy of it. “If I could just be worthy of it and tell God, ‘Well, you know I’m bad, but I’m not as bad as so and so.’ If I could just do that maybe then I’d experience forgiveness.” You come to God like that and you’ll continue your obsessions because that’s not the basis of forgiveness. The interesting thing is that in the New Testament forgiveness is totally a free gift independent of your performance. That is what grace is. It is totally undeserved. It is the kind of gift that God gives to us, and that’s our calling card when we want to knock on the door of heaven.
When you get onto a plane, the flight attendant doesn’t say, “Well, now are you worthy to fly? Have you had a good day? Have you had your devotions today?” That’s not what the flight attendants are interested in. What they want to know is that the ticket is your authenticity, and God says, “You have Jesus who died in your place, and that is the answer to your neurosis and your guilt.” Whether you are an abuser or abused, the answer is the same. Jesus died for horrendous sinners. That’s the answer. In fact, the Bible says very clearly that we are justified by His blood; we are redeemed by His blood, and then, don’t you like this? Revelation 1:7 says, “Now unto him who washed us from our sins with His own blood.” It’s all a gift. You come to God exactly as you are. Luther was absolutely right when he said, “Oh Jesus, I am Thy sin. Thou art my righteousness.”
Once you understand that Jesus died in your place, if you were abused as a child, even if you felt guilt because you participated or of the way in which you participated, the answer is the same for you. It’s the same for all of us because there is only one way to be freed forever, and that is to accept the work that Jesus did and receive it by faith and by grace.
Do you know what I’ve been praying for you this week? I’ve been praying that you will feel the forgiveness of God to the very depths of your being so that you don’t have to live in that purgatory of despair wondering where you live with God; that you will feel it deeply. And as for those of you who are abusers, you too can receive that grace, though I am going to have more to say to you in the next message, and the next message in this series is about a woman whose story was not redeemed. By the way, I wish I could take credit for the title of this series. It was given to me. Rebecca and I were having lunch with a couple that began an organization for those who are abused, and she said, “We just help people to let God redeem their story,” And I said, “What a fantastic title this is.” Let God redeem your story, and so next time we’ll talk about somebody who didn’t let God redeem her story and what we can learn about our own story being redeemed.
You’ve got to understand grace. God’s reach is as far as sin reaches, and where sin abounds, grace abounds more, and you sin, and God can keep up grace to cover it, and you must grab that or you will never have the settled assurance, “I stand in the presence of God forgiven.” Isn’t that great that we stand in the presence of God forgiven? (applause)
Next is a little bit more difficult. You must now practice forgiveness. Now that you’ve understood it, you’ve got to practice it. I wish that I could say that your abuser is going to come to you and say, “Oh, would you forgive me for the terrible things I’ve done?” Oh, I tell you, that doesn’t happen very often. As we shall see next time, abusers justify, rationalize, and deny, so what are you going to do? That’s my question. Are you going to hang on to your desire for revenge? Are you going to say to yourself, “I am owed justice”? My friend, always remember that being willing to give up your revenge and your anger is not in any way a minimizing of the sin that has been given to you and happened to you. The Bible just simply tells us to commit it to God. “Vengeance is mine,” God says. “I will repay,” says the Lord. And so what you need to do is you really need to get rid of that. Someone has said that holding on to your revenge is something like you drinking poison and then expecting your abuser to die. Well, he or she is not going to be affected by the fact that you are drinking poison. You will be.
I know that forgiveness is both an act and a process. It is not something that you just say casually. You say you forgive as an act and then you begin to live it out, and when it comes back you affirm its forgiveness. You say, “I’m not going to keep revisiting this and going back to this because I have forgiven. God knows and in the process the healing continues.” But do not live with bitterness. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and evil-speaking be put away from you,” the Apostle Paul says, “and be tender-hearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake forgave you.” Your abuser probably will not ask for it, but you need to be free and give it to God and pour it out at the foot of the cross.
So we have to practice forgiveness. Next, we have to rewrite our story. There’s a woman who wrote a book about this. She used the beatitudes to rewrite her story. Now let me give you some information here that’s transforming. All the information actually that I’m giving to you today is transforming, but what you need to do is to reprogram your mind that just plays the same tape over and over and over again. Have you ever had the old records? There was a groove in them and they just used to play the same lines over and over and over again. You young people, this is just to explain that there was a time when people actually used records. I know that dates me, but I even remember it, and the vengeance, the anger, the justification for your behavior is all there being played over and over again. You need to reprogram your mind and you do it through the washing of water through the Word so that you are reading the Psalms, you are memorizing Scripture. You are saying to yourself, “I will no longer be defined by what happened to me. I will be defined because I belong to Jesus. I belong to a new family. I have a Father in heaven who understands and who has compassion, and I will believe that. (For some of you that’s difficult to believe, but God has His purposes in all things as to what happened to you.) I am going to believe that and begin to think of myself and have my mind renewed by the Word of God so that I begin to think different thoughts and be reprogrammed.” The Word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit and the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart. By it we are healed. By it we are instructed. By it we are given hope.
If you’re languishing today because of your past and you are not reading the Word of God and cleansing your mind and meditating and memorizing on things that are positive and helpful and that help you to understand who you really are in Christ, no wonder you continue in your neurosis because your mind needs to be renewed. Do that for six weeks, two months, three months and you’ll begin to notice a remarkable difference, and do you know what? The people that you live with will even notice a difference because when we are changed, remember we impact others by that change.
Finally (and there’s more than could be said), you have to establish healthy relationships. You see, you have to establish healthy relationships because, you know, you do need a safe place, a place where you can trust again, a place where you can feel again, and that’s what you need. You really do.
And, you know, those of you who are battling specifically evil spirits because of what has happened to you and there’s this struggle within you and there’s a presence there, let me remind you that evil has been decisively defeated, thanks to Jesus (applause) who disarmed all principalities and powers and made a show of them openly triumphing over them in it and saying, “Here’s the victory.”
I love this illustration. The serpent has been taken, and just imagine a serpent and you are taking the heel of your boot and you are just taking his head and you are just grinding it like that into the gravel. That’s what Jesus did when He died on the cross. If you think you have to be bound, you are believing a lie. Jesus won that victory for you too. We’re not asking you to do the impossible here. We are asking you to simply believe the impossible, and God will do it.
People need to be validated. I wrote two books. Actually it’s more than that, but I wrote one entitled, Dorie, the Girl Nobody Loved. Dorie Van Stone came into our lives. She became a close friend and I wrote her story. When I wrote up that story, she had not told me that she was sexually abused in the orphanage in California. She had only told me about all the abuse in the foster homes, because she couldn’t handle that yet. When we wrote the second book, No Place to Cry, she confessed to me what happened in the orphanage. I turned away and had to get my handkerchief out and take my glasses off because I couldn’t stop the tears that were beginning to drip onto my cheeks.
I forgot about that. After all, I was doing a book with her and so that was just part of the discussion. Years later she said, “You know, the fact that you felt so deeply and those tears helped me just a little bit more on my journey toward wholeness.” Somebody validated what happened to her and took it seriously. And I’m not saying for a moment that I was able to feel what she felt as a child. I could visualize it, but I didn’t have that kind of a childhood. I went to bed without crying at night. She cried virtually every night. And so what we need to do is to validate people.
Now here is what we’re going to do. In a few moments I’m going to give an invitation as I mentioned, and we’re going to ask you to come here, and I’m going to be standing up here and I want to shake hands with everybody who comes down today, and I don’t know whether or not it’s going to be a lot of people or a few people or no people. Hey, it’s all up to God. This isn’t our business. It’s God’s business. Whatever he wants to do, that’s what we want to be available to do. And then some members of the pastoral staff, and Mary Whelchel, are going to be up here with me and they are going to direct all those who come into a counseling room behind me. And if more come we have more prayer partners—elders for the men, and deaconesses for the —and I’m going to invite them to come as well, depending on the response that we see today, because I have no idea how this is going to turn out. And then afterwards—immediately after I have been shaking hands and giving some instruction as we sing the last song, I am going to be walking off into the counseling room to give you a few more suggestions of how to come to God, and then open it up just for you to pray. You have to talk to God, and you can just pray for as long as you want to pray, though I will be ending it shortly after giving you enough time, depending on how we sense the Spirit working. And then before you leave, I want you to talk to a prayer partner. The prayer partners do not have any wisdom to impart to you, except encouragement. They are there primarily to simply validate you, to hear as much of your story as you are willing to tell them (bits and pieces) or as little as you are willing to share, or none. They are there though for you because what they want to do is to individually pray for you. And we want everybody who comes forward to have been prayed for.
But before we sing together I have one more story and that is the story of Samantha. Samantha is 45 years old. She is an expert musician. She’s beautiful but has a whole lot of difficulties in relationships. She is sexually confused. The fact is that Samantha was abused by her father. She is emotionally totally shut down. She is just basically a robot. A counselor said, “Samantha, I need to help you to get in touch with your feelings because after all, you know you do have feelings.” The counselor got Samantha to find and bring a picture when she was three years old, and the counselor said, “This was before the abuse began.” She said, “Yes, the abuse began when I was about five.” He said, “Write a poem about you there as a three-year old.” This is what Samantha wrote:
Who will cry for this little girl?
Who will quiet her tears of pain?
Who will reach for this little girl?
Who will shelter her from the rain?
Please won’t you hold me and just let me cry,
Say words of comfort and wipe my sad eyes?
Please won’t you play or just spend some time,
Because being with me would be very fine.
I hear words of anger
And I try to hide,
But the words are so cutting,
And they hurt deep inside.
I long for attention,
And for someone to care.
I feel like that’s bad
So I hide in despair.
I’ve learned to be strong
But I feel very weak
Oh Lord, help me find
The wholeness I seek.
I don’t pretend today to say that all that you have to do is to come forward. For many of you it’s a beginning. For others of you who are on your journey it’s another step toward wholeness, but I pray for the wholeness that you will seek.
Are you ready? Let’s pray. Let’s sing. I’ll be here. Pastor Hutz is going to close the service today because I want to be with those who come forward.
Father, take these brief words and do with them as You will but we pray that the captive shall be free today and that this terrible sin will not only be forgiven but there might be healing in people’s souls. We pray these things in Jesus’ blessed name. Amen.