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Reclaiming The Family

A Destructive Secret

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | May 22, 2005

Selected highlights from this sermon

Domestic abuse is an epidemic. We hear about spousal abuse, child abuse, even of children releasing rage by opening fire in a classroom.

The cycle of rage that starts with feelings of abandonment and inferiority continues from generation to generation. But that cycle can be broken.

In this message, Pastor Lutzer gives us the profile of an abuser—how their charming exterior is hiding a violent, destructive secret. He also provides hope for the victim, but also for the abuser.

This message is not just for the abused and the abusers, it is for everyone. Learn to recognize the signs of abuse so that you may be used by God to provide hope, healing and help to those in need.

I want to dedicate today’s message to a woman who wrote me a letter which arrived on my desk this week. I will read only a few of the sentences. She says, “I’m looking forward to your sermon on abuse because I was a victim of extreme abuse. I cannot tell you all the horror I went through. I didn’t dare leave because if he would have found me he would have killed me or abused the girls. We were, believe it or not,” and then she lists a well known and respected denomination. “And yet I couldn’t tell anyone. I did go for some professional treatment a few years after he died. However, the whole subject of abuse frightens me. I look forward to your sermon on Sunday.”

So this dear lady, this message is dedicated to you and to thousands of others like you who could have written a letter much like this one.

Today we continue our series on the family. The title is, “A Destructive Secret.” The secret is domestic abuse. It is covered up and people don’t know that it’s there or they don’t think it’s there. But it is, and it is everywhere. It was C. Everet Coupe who many years ago when he was surgeon general of the United States said, “Domestic abuse is our number one health issue in America. One third of all women who go to the ER for treatment are there because of abuse.”

But that of course is only the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands and thousands who would never go to an ER even though abuse occurs in their home. It is an epidemic. The reason it is getting worse is that the more broken homes and the more abuse there is, the more there is a tendency, though it isn’t necessary as we shall see, to reproduce that abuse in your home. So like a snowball rolling down a hill we live in a society that is filled with violence and abuse.

My text today is the fourth chapter of the book of Ephesians. The Bible always has the most accurate diagnosis of the human heart. There are many people who come to saving faith in Jesus Christ because they read the Bible and they say, “The Bible so correctly tells the story about my own heart.” Ephesians four, verse thirty-one says, “Let all bitterness, wrath and anger, clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”

There are two words in verse thirty-one for anger. The word “wrath” in Greek is the word “thumos.” This is the kind of anger that just lashes out. It shouts and it is violent; it puts its fists through walls. Then when it is over usually the person who does all this is calm and wonders what all the fuss is about. “Why is anybody upset about what I did? I mean, yeah, I had this little outburst. But I’m over it and everything should be okay.”

The other word which is translated “anger” is “orge.” It is a controlled anger that in many ways is even more devastating. If the first kind of anger is the anger of a pit bull who loves to run and tear and rip, this is the anger perhaps of a cobra that likes to think through the way it is going to get its victim. It thinks through revenge without emotion. Without a twinge of conscience it plots how it is going to get even or how it is going to get its way.

These are the two kinds of anger. The Bible says, “Put it away, let it not happen, set it aside and have a tender heart.” What I’m going to do today is a little unusual. Normally I go directly to the text and stay there. Today I am going to spend some time on analysis. Then after we’ve spent some time on analysis of course we are going to go to the scriptures, which is the fount of every single answer to the human dilemma.

There are some myths about angry people, whether a “thumos” anger or “orge.” Myth number one is, “It can’t happen here. It is not in our church. It’s not in Christian homes.” I want you to know it is everywhere. It’s in the homes of the rich and the poor, it’s in the inner city and out in the suburbs, it’s in the homes of Christians and non-Christians. You might be surprised where you find domestic abuse. It is here, and many of you listening could right now stand up and testify that I am right.

The second myth is that the victims can stop the battering if only they changed. If you only become a loving wife the abuse will end. Well, becoming a loving wife often changes your husband. But sometimes it does not. Children who are abused think, “If I could just be different then mom and dad wouldn’t get so mad and my dad wouldn’t beat me.” Perhaps he will change, but not necessarily. When it comes to abuse the problem is the abuser.

Third, if an abuser wants to change he can. He just goes through this experience and then he promises he is not going to do it again and you might as well believe him. Well, something like you believe an alcoholic who tells you he’s just had his last drink. It is his last only for a little while. The roots of rage go deep. Unless it is dealt with in a biblical and good way the roots will remain.

The next myth is that abuse is a problem with women and children. Well, yes it is primarily. But there are men who have been abused as boys. There are also women married to men who abuse their husbands. There is that side of the equation, too. However, in this message I will speak primarily about men being the abusers.

What is the profile of an abuser? According to Sandra Scott in her book, Charmers and Con Artists, you have two kinds of people. The charmer wins women easily because they are drawn to him. He sees himself as special and he makes you feel special. But when you get to know him, which is usually during the honeymoon, you discover that he believes that he is a victim and that life hasn’t been fair to him. He has kept this skillfully hidden, and that’s why before you marry you should know very well the person you are marrying. He feels he deserves better than what he is getting and he doesn’t believe that the rules that apply to others apply to him. He is narcissistic - that’s a good word that is so descriptive.

I was in a car a couple of weeks ago being taken to the airport by a husband and wife whose daughter-in-law was divorcing their son. They gave me one little bit of information and I could tell that she was narcissistic. I began to describe the narcissus system. They couldn’t believe it and said, “As far as we are concerned you must have met this person.” I said, “No, I’ve not met her. I just study human nature.

Because the charmer is narcissistic they have no compassion. A man can beat his son and the son can cry for mercy and it matters not. They have turned off their consciences. They become incapable - that’s a strong word. At this point they are incapable of genuine sympathy and weeping with those whom they make weep.

Yet because he is so skilled in lying and deception and has all these things worked out the charmer comes to the church and everybody loves him. He’ll do anything for you, remember? People don’t understand that the reason he’s so nice and willing to sacrifice on your behalf is because he needs to continue to feed this hero image that he believes he has. He gets it through the affirmation of others.

A woman married to a man like that, bless her heart, she can’t go to anybody to tell the destructive secret. After all, no one will believe her because she’s married to the man that all the other women in church wish they were married to. “He would never do something like that.” I’ve known women who have died with the secret believing that no one would believe them.

Now there are charmers that are the real deal, by the way. They do exist out there, so just relax a little bit. I want to say at this point, “I dare you to find one.” But, they are out there.

A con artist is more manipulative and they have a better understanding of what they are doing and so forth. We could go into all that. However, the bottom line is that the person refuses all responsibility. They are incapable basically at this point. I am not letting them off the hook, but they have so insulated themselves with denial that they have no sense of responsibility for what they are doing. They say, “You made me hit you. It’s your fault that I took you and spanked you and whipped you. It’s your fault, you see.” They are so narcissistic they are unable to even understand who they are.

Some of the characteristics of these people are that they have strict rules without emotion, they exact extreme punishment, and they have mood swings like Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde.

Women by the way can be narcissistic as well. Sometimes a man comes home and he wonders what he is going to meet. Is he going to meet the happy woman that he thought he married or is he going to meet the woman who gets so angry at the slightest little thing that it is absolutely unpredictable as to what she might do? There is no cause and effect relationship that makes any sense. It is totally irrational. Is she the woman that when the company leaves she becomes angry but while the company is there she is hospitable and sweet? So you have that kind of personality - unable to handle rejection.

You also have men who see themselves as worthy of trust. If you don’t trust them they become victims. “What do you mean you don’t trust me? It hurts me to think that you would never trust me.” They want to lay a guilt trip on you when in fact there is no reason under God’s blue sky as to why you should trust them. They’ve given you plenty of reasons not to trust them. But they begin to go into the victim mentality. They say, “Look at what you are doing to me. You should feel guilty for it.”

They also pride themselves in the strictness of religion. Always beware of a very judgmental spirit. Often time’s people that are very strict are hiding something. They pride themselves in the strictness of religion yet they are out of touch with their own sinfulness and their own pain. You’ll notice what our text says. It says that we should, “Be kind one to another,” and then it says “tenderhearted.” If there’s anything that can be said about an abuser it is simply this: he has lost his tender heart. He has a very hard heart.

What are the types of abuse? Let me list them very quickly. Of course what an abuser wants is strict control. He wants to make sure that everything that is under his sphere of influence is done the way he sees that it should be done, with no negotiation that is really meaningful. There is intimidation by the way he looks, by the way he acts and his gestures. He destroys personal property. There are abusers who will kill a pet and then they say, “What I did to the animal I will do to you. You’re next unless you shape up!”

There is emotional abuse, belittling, name-calling, humiliation and using shame. They put other people down because their whole idea is, “If I can put you down and make you a pigmy,” so to speak, “then I’m exalting myself and you just have to know that in my presence you are scum. Just look at me and look what I’ve done!” Some people speak to their children this way, destroying their whole sense of well-being and self worth.

There is also isolation and control. I remember a woman telling me that her husband would go to her car every morning before he left for work and write down exactly what the mileage was to the last one-tenth of a mile. You know there are those little gadgets that tell you right to the tenth of a mile. He would come back in the evening and she would have to give an account for every single mile she drove.

There is economic control. Men like this say, “I keep the money in this house and if you want any you come to me. I just want you to know where the money in this house comes from. And you better give an account as to how you spent every last penny!” Maybe he calls her on the phone several times a day so that he knows exactly what she’s up to, what she is doing and what’s happening. After all, he is in control.

You also have abusing male privilege. He uses the Bible to justify treating his wife as if she were a servant. “I’m the head of the home and God put me here. This world is crooked and God has asked me to straighten it out and I’m here to make sure it’s going to be straight. You’d better do it the way I want and you speak when spoken to and when I want you to. You need to learn submission, lady.”

There is physical abuse or violence, throwing his wife against the wall, slapping, or beating the children in anger.

What shall we say about sexual abuse? And yes, wives can also be sexually abused in a marriage by a determined, self-absorbed man. Then there is child abuse of all different kinds.

Remember this: in the mind of someone like this everything is totally justified. His roots go down very, very deeply in the soil of rage and he is convinced that what he is doing is absolutely right. As I mentioned earlier, he feels the world is out of shape and sees himself as possibly the last arrow left that is really, really straight.

Furthermore, his conscience has been deadened. In his mind what he is saying is, “When I was growing up I had my own pain. Why should I worry about the pain of anyone else? I’ve got my own agenda. Who was there for me when I was growing up?” Rather than allowing his past pain to humble him and make him tenderhearted it has done the opposite. It has made him very hard-hearted and very indifferent to the plight of those who are in need.

Well, I’ve given you a brief outline of abuse. You say, “Well what really is the cause? Why are there people like this?” Almost always it goes back to childhood. They have huge abandonment issues. They feel like they were abandoned and therefore have the right to mistreat others. They of course don’t think of it as mistreatment. If the child has been abused he grows up feeling powerless. He thinks to himself, “Someday when I am stronger than my dad and those around me I am going to find some weak person,” he may not be thinking of that consciously, “and I will show them a thing of two. I will show them who the boss is.”

I can’t emphasize too strongly that just because you were abused as a child does not mean you have to turn out that way. In fact, the whole purpose of this message and the following messages is to break the curse. But without help from God, without seeking help at all you have a tendency to recreate what happened to you. And so it goes from family to family. One quarter of all baby girls born this year will be abused sexually by a father or mother maybe, an uncle, a babysitter or someone else. It’s out there, it’s terrible and it’s everywhere.

Even if there isn’t abuse in the home all you have to do is grow up with a sense of inferiority and now you want to prove who is boss. Take Cain in the Old Testament. I don’t think that Adam and Eve abused Cain and Able. What was Cain’s problem? It was a first born characteristic, certainly. Here’s this brother of his who is acceptable to God and he offers a more acceptable sacrifice. Cain says, “Wait a moment! I worked at my sacrifice, too. It’s the product of hard work.”

Furthermore, maybe Adam and Eve began to favor Able just a little bit because he seemed to be more compliant. What Cain is saying is, “I can’t stand this anymore. I can’t put up with somebody like that who is making me look bad. What I am going to do is to show who is boss here.” And he did show who the boss was by killing him.

Study the profile of all of the children in our schools who have committed murder or taken guns to school and blown people away. You’ll always find the sense of powerlessness, the sense of humiliation, the sense of being put down. They say, “I didn’t get a right shake in life. Others are up there and they don’t deserve what they’re getting. If they don’t deserve it then I deserve it all the more.”

Obviously I am not absolving them of responsibility. I am just saying it is this feeling that causes the deep rage that turns into the two kinds of anger that the Bible speaks of. The violent anger that says, “I’m going to get it off my chest,” or the cunning kind of anger where you are going to plot revenge. You think of all those students who for weeks plot the murder that they are going to commit. They pride themselves of being fully in control.

The question of course at this point is, “What is the answer?” Wouldn’t it be terrible if the message ended here? Wouldn’t it be awful if I said, “Well, that’s all I have to say today. Go out and have a good day. Enjoy a brunch and then go home.” What is the answer?

Paul Hegstrom in his book, Angry Men and Women who Love Them, tells his own story. Here he is nine years old and he is molested by a man in the neighborhood. Paul himself grew up in a Christian home and his father was a pastor. But this boy now has this terrible secret and he cannot share it with his parents because you just don’t talk about things like that, right?

Parents, I say this with love, wake up! Your kids should be able to talk about such things. You should tell them, “No matter what happens, no matter what anybody does to you, the first person that you tell is us. No matter how he intimidates you or tells you he is going to kill you, you always come to us first about everything!”

So here is a nine year old boy and what does he do? He makes up a story and he says to his mother, “If David down the street was molested,” (he may have used a different word but he got the point across,) “what would you say about him?” His mother said, “Oh, if that were to happen to him he would be a marked boy and you couldn’t play with him. You must realize that he would know what no boy at his age should ever know. He would not be a boy that you would want to play with.” She does not know that David in the story is her own son at the age of nine.

He grows up living with this destructive secret and he begins to develop in his words, “The Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde personality.” He woos and wins a beautiful woman by the name of Judy. Judy has no idea and she thinks he is prince charming. Remember, someone like that is going to hold back who he really is until he has his victim trapped. She gets married and on the honeymoon he suddenly becomes violent and angry. She’s saying, “Boy, I hope this was an anomaly,” but it isn’t. So she puts up with it for awhile and then they get divorced.

For three and a half years he goes for counseling. After that they got remarried and the book that he wrote was written fifteen years after the second time they were married. He said in the book that to the glory of God not once in fifteen years has there ever been any abuse in his home and in his family.

So the question is this: how do you get from point A to point B? I can’t summarize the whole book, but I shall speak biblically. Jesus said, “The truth sets you free.”

Let’s change the scenario with that little boy. Let’s suppose that nine year old boy, having experienced what happened would have been able to go to his mom and dad and say, “Mom and dad you won’t believe what this man did, but this happened.” What if he had told them the whole story?

A couple of things might have happened. First of all, the man would have received some consequences for his pedophilia. But secondly, if the parents would have affirmed him and said, “You are precious to God and the reason Jesus died is because of the scars and the guilt. The condemnation that you feel is not from God. That’s just your own way to process this. There’s forgiveness and there is healing.” Think of how different his life would have ended up? But when you can’t tell your secret, you don’t know what to do with it alone. So the truth sets us free.

First of all, truth about ourselves sets us free. I speak now to those of you who are abusers. You need to face the truth in your own heart and realize that your abandonment issues and your pain are much deeper than you ever realized. You may have dealt with it superficially. But in the presence of God what you need to do is say, “Search me oh God and know my heart, try me and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Expose to me, oh God, those things that I have hidden from you. Expose those sins that exist, sins of rejection, anger, rage, and the deep feeling that I have been done an injustice. Help me to uncover all that in the name of Jesus.”

That’s why counseling sometimes is very important. If the counselor is wise, in the presence of God, the scriptures and the Holy Spirit, the counselor can help you surface things that are in your heart that you don’t even realize are there until you begin to talk it through with someone. The roots often can go very deep. So you need to know some truth about yourself.

Secondly, you need to know some truth about others. The reason God gives us the body of Christ is so that we can share our pain. We have to say “no” to the kind of shame that would hold us bound. Here I speak now to mothers. Please take this from my heart to yours, would you? If there is abuse going on in your home by your husband or anyone else and you say to yourself, “I have to play the game because I can’t split up the family, etc,” that is a wrong move. Let me tell you why. I remember a young woman saying, “I can forgive the evil things that my father did to me. I cannot forgive my mother who knew it was going on and did nothing.” I encourage you today in Jesus name, do something!

That’s why in our bulletin today there is a confidential hotline that the women of this church have set up. These women who will answer that phone will not only be confidential, but they will know how to instruct you. They are trained. If you feel you can’t go to anyone else, call that hotline. Find out what your options are and get help. Do not allow your children to be destroyed and say nothing. I don’t know how I can say it more clearly than that.

The body of Jesus Christ exists for all of our benefits. In telling our secrets and in going for help we find out that others have gone through what we’ve gone through and their situation was far worse. Yet there was hope and healing and help, as we see in the life of Adori Vanstone. Hope, healing, and help is contagious in the presence of others. So you have to know something about others.

And in the process God is going to give you the grace to fulfill this verse of scripture: “Be tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” There is going to have to be a way in which you lay it all down. Lay down the bitterness, the sense of injustice and the rage that you feel because of the injustice you’ve experienced. Remember that.

Finally, and most important, I want you today to see a brand new picture of God. I want you to see God as a knowing God. To the woman who says to me, “Pastor Lutzer, did Jesus see the abuse that I had as a child?” The answer is, “Yes, Jesus saw it.” “Well why didn’t he intervene?” I can’t answer that completely. But what if he wanted to use you as an example of redemptive grace? What if he wanted to use you as an example of somebody who went through all this horror and yet believes in Jesus and believes in the healing of the emotions through Christ? I don’t have a complete answer but I know he saw it. You need to have a new vision of a seeing, knowing God.

You also need a new vision of a caring God. The scripture says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” How does he do it? Does he put a Band-Aid here and a Band-Aid there? No, what he wants us to do is to go in the inside of us as we lay all of our burdens at his feet and all of our unanswered questions. Then we can receive from him the grace that he promises to the destitute and to the needy.

I also want you to be introduced today to a feeling God. You see, what someone is saying today as they are listening to this message is, “It’s wonderful that God knows and it’s even wonderful that God cares. What I’d really like to know is has he ever felt what I’ve felt?” And the answer most assuredly is that in Jesus he has. Jesus was abused. “Surely he hath born our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised,” we could say abused, “for our iniquities; the chastisement that would give us peace fell upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.”

There will be physical healing, yes, someday in the future when we get our resurrected bodies. There is healing for our emotions right now. Yes, he bore our griefs and he carried our sorrows. The scripture assures us that he is one who is deeply touched by the feelings of our infirmities. At the grave of Lazarus Jesus wept. And if you had looked at his tears and analyzed them they’d have been human tears that he wept for those who were in mourning.

He is touched by your grief today. And yet he is not only able to be touched and to stand by but he is there to help you work through the pain so that you can say, “This is past and healing has begun.” Scars remain, but a scar means that the wound is no longer open. It is healing. He heals our broken hearts.

I invite you today to come to Jesus as somebody who’s never trusted him as Savior. He’ll give you the two things nobody else can: the forgiveness of sin and also the acceptance. You don’t have to be this person who says, “I’m making my own way in the world.” He’ll give you the acceptance that your heart craves in the presence of God. Jesus will do that for you for those who have never trusted in Him.

For those who have trusted him but there is a corner of your lives that has never really been opened, there are secrets perhaps that are too deep to ever share, would you expose it all to the one who said, “Come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” In his presence it’s safe to cry. In his presence you have acceptance through him.

Would you join me as we pray? “Father, in Jesus name, who are we to get into the human heart? Who are we able to see within, to see the hidden pain and the secrets and the deep disappointment in others? Parents who should have protected their children violated them. Husbands who are to love their wives as Christ loved the church acted as lords over them.”

“We ask today in Jesus name, would you bring healing to all that have heard this message? Would you bring healing to our families? We pray that this destructive secret may be a secret no longer. Help those Father who are terrified of this message because they don’t know where to go for help. Help them to know that there are women in this church who have experienced deep hurt in their own lives who are willing to help them through the hotline we’ve provided for them. We ask that many Lord shall take advantage of your people and that in your blessed presence the healing may begin, in Jesus name, Amen.”

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