Don’t be a Wackaroo

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Have you ever been so angry you threw something against a wall or smashed it on the floor?

Sadly, I have and most of you probably have as well.

It’s a human problem that dates back to the days of Cain and Abel. Cain was so jealous and angry with Abel that he killed him, probably with a rock or club to the head.

Some of you may be saying there is a big difference between smashing something against a wall and killing someone.

You would be right; there is a big difference…in consequence.

To read more go to Missio Dei Fellowship

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Do Not Worry

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Three times in 10 verses Jesus tells us not to worry. (Matt. 6:25-34)

So, why do I worry from time to time and what do I worry about?

Read more at Missio Dei Fellowship…

 

Lying to Self by Misinterpreting the Facts (Matt 7:1-5, 12)

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Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9-10 ESV)

This was my passage one morning some time ago in my devotional. In the author’s commentary (Tabletalk Magazine) on the passage he said this:

“Each of us is prone to different sins, but if there is one transgression that we all have committed, it is the sin of lying…The great man of letters Mark Twain was surely on to something when he said, ‘A man is never more truthful than he acknowledges himself a liar.”’

I found this to be an alarming statement since I consider myself to be an honest person. This is not to say I’ve never lied. Certainly I have I just don’t remember when. Or do I? Oh yes, there was that time back in 1977 when I told this whopper. Or was it in 1971 when I was bragging about something?

If you are like me, and you are, then you’ll minimize your lying to a few select occurrences way back in your past and like me, consider yourself an honest person. We’re so blind to the depth of our sin and so anxious to appear righteous that we are hopeless minimizers of our own problems. Here’s what the commentator said next:

“Twain’s statement, no doubt unintentional on his part, captures an essential biblical truth: ‘All men are liars’ (Psa. 116:11) Born in Adam, we come into this world with a view of truth that winks at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit.”

Think about that for a second-we will wink at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit. Ouch!

We like to confine those kinds of tactics to politicians but the fact is we all do it!

Each of us lives out our lives not on the basis of facts, but on how we chose to interpret facts. In other words, our perception of the facts becomes our reality. Consider an example with tragic consequences:

I once counseled a couple where the woman was convinced her husband was cheating on her. The situation was complicated by the fact that early in the marriage (some 25 years before) he had done so. He had repented she had forgiven him when it had happened.

Fact: The husband cheated on his wife 25 years prior.

Fact: The husband had repented.

Fact: The wife had forgiven him.

They both agreed to the facts and until the last year or two the incident seemed to be regulated to their distant past.

What happened is that this poor gal began to interpret various current circumstances as evidence that he once again was cheating on her.

When he worked overtime, it was because he was with another woman. Never mind his check stub showed overtime and he could produce witnesses that he indeed was at work when he said he was.

When something was out of place in their home it was because some other woman had been there to mess things up. The husband’s denials fell on death ears.

The woman would not even listen their adult son who told his beloved mother she was acting irrationally.

In this woman’s mind all types of circumstantial “facts” led her to conclude the husband was cheating on her again. She really believed she had figured it all out and had become a prosecuting attorney determined to be proven right.

The poor woman had worked herself into a “suspicion frenzy” and was driving herself crazy and her husband as well. There was nothing the poor guy could do to prove his loyalty or put her mind at ease. Her perception was her reality. Her interpretation was the only interpretation.

“Born in Adam, we come into this world with a view of truth that winks at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit.”

I felt a great deal of sympathy for them both. The one time victim of adultery had become the victimizer with a heart of bitterness that blinded her to alternative interpretations of circumstances.

What she wanted; what she desired, no demanded, in her heart was an absolute guarantee that her husband had not cheated again and would not.

The husband even produced a hand written statement repenting again of the first offense, swearing he had not repeated the offense and committing himself to her alone.

She would accept this and did not accept my counsel that at some point she just had to trust God explaining to her that we all are fallible and that speaking in absolutes from a human point of view does not recognize the weaknesses of our own hearts-even hers.

I further explained that we are so messed up we do not realize that even when we have facts we will twist the interpretation of those facts for the sake of our own benefit.

The poor woman did not understand this. She did not recognize that she had turned herself over to serving an idol of security. The normal desire to want security from her husband had turned into an absolute demand fueled by his long-ago infidelity. She could not or would not grasp that she had become a slave to her idol and looked to that idol as “her savior.”

Jesus dealt with the issue of judging righteously in Matthew 7:1-5:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5, ESV)

Sadly, the poor woman would not apply this passage nor any other and left counseling convinced that I was involved in the conspiracy.

“Born in Adam, we come into this world with a view of truth that winks at the twisting of facts for the sake of personal benefit.”

This is an important truth. Jesus summed up what our attitude should be when interpreting the facts:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12 ESV)

Idolatry by Another Name Part 2

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John MacArthur attacked the problem of incorrectly classifying addictions and compulsive behaviors as diseases over twenty years ago in his book The Vanishing Conscience:

Perhaps the most prevalent means of escaping blame is by classifying every human failing as some kind of disease. Drunkards and drug addicts can check into clinics for treatment of their “chemical dependencies.” Children who habitually defy authority can escape condemnation by being labeled “hyperactive”or having ADD (attention deficiency disorder). Gluttons are no longer blameworthy; they suffer from an “eating disorder.” Even the man who throws away his family’s livelihood to pay for prostitutes is supposed to be an object of compassionate understanding; he is “addicted to sex.”

These days everything wrong with humanity is likely to be explained as an illness. What we used to call sin is more easily diagnosed as a whole array of disabilities. All kinds of immorality and evil conduct are now identified as symptoms of this or that psychological illness. Criminal behavior, various perverse passions, and every imaginable addiction have all been made excusable by the crusade to label them medical afflictions. Even commonplace problems, such as emotional weakness, depression, and anxiety are also almost universally defined as quasi-medical, rather than spiritual, afflictions. MacArthur, J., F. Jr. (1994). The Vanishing Conscience (Electronic ed., pp. 23–24). Dallas: Word Pub.

Slavery

Slavery

As I noted in my blog post titled, “Are Addictions Diseases” it should not surprise us that the world uses medical sounding language for addictions and bad habits. The world starts with the theories and ideas of men and arrives at the forgone conclusion that addictions must be diseases. Recovery programs of varying sorts then become the abuser’s best hope.

It should surprise us that the church often starts with the same presuppositions as the world does rather than to look at addictions and life dominating sin through the lens of Scripture.

Mark Shaw in his book, “The Heart of Addiction” gives us the biblical names for chemical addiction and substance abuse:

Chemical addiction problems and excessive substance abuse really have two biblical names: one is a general name and the other is more specific. In general, “idolatry” is the proper biblical name for substance abuse problems whether you consider yourself a drunkard, binge drinker, drug addict, substance abuser, or whatever name you wish to call it. The problem is biblically labeled as the sin of idolatry and it is a heart problem from within one’s sinful nature. Webster’s Dictionary defines “idol” as “a person or thing too much loved, admired or honored.” The substance abuser seeks to please himself with his “god of choice” above pleasing God… Shaw, Mark E., (2008), The Heart of Addiction-A Biblical Perspective (pp. viii-ix) Bemidji: FOCUS Publishing

Shaw writes from the perspective of a biblical counselor with a great deal of expertise in the field of drug and alcohol abuse. Yet, in the Scriptures the definition of idolatry is anything a person is enslaved by; not just drugs or alcohol. Idolatry may feel like a disease beyond a person’s control but in reality it’s slavery; it is slavery to a person’s god of choice whether it be pleasure, comfort, control, affirmation or anything else craved and worshipped other than the one true God.

The person is so enslaved they believe they can control the idol because they get something they want from the idol (pleasure, control, affirmation, and power, to name a few) but in reality the idol controls them in a vicious cycle.

There are four examples of the word “idolatry” in the ESV version of the Bible in the New Testament:

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14 ESV)

Much could be said about verses 1-13 as to why Paul concludes this particular line of thought as to why the Corinthians should flee from idols but perhaps verse 11 offers the best reason.

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV)

In verses 1-13 Paul makes reference to Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and despite the fact that Christ was with them in spiritual form (vs 4) their cravings were their undoing and God was not pleased with them and all but a few perished in the wilderness. The idols were not the ones made of stone or wood but rather the idols that reside in the heart.

Breaking free from that which enslaves.

Breaking free from that which enslaves.

Paul’s warning to flee from the gods that can enslave us via our own cravings (James 1:13-15) is hard-hitting. Paul is telling New Testament Christians to not follow the example of the people who perished in the wilderness. Calling an addiction disease or any other life-dominating sin a disease does not serve the person because it creates a victim mentality that says, “I can’t help it.”

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

In Galatians 5:19-21 Paul lists idolatry as a “catch all” for the types of things that enslave us. He makes it clear in verse 21 that a person who is enslaved to these things he lists will not inherit the kingdom of God. It’s a significant warning and it does not serve a person to classify their idolatry as a disease simply because it may feel like a disease and thus believe they cannot control their cravings whatever they might be. Paul is clear that if we are controlled by idols via our own desires (see James 1:13-15) we will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. [6] On account of these the wrath of God is coming (Colossians 3:5-6 ESV)

Each one of the sins listed takes place in the heart before they become behaviors. A good example is Matt. 5:27-28 in Jesus’ warning against adultery. He identifies the issue primarily as a heart issue rather than “a change the behavior” issue. The person who refuses to repent of their controlling idols has more in common with the unbelievers who do not know the true God and whom will experience God’s wrath.

In each of the three verses cited above the use of the word idolatry conveys a significant warning. By calling controlling idols “diseases” and giving life dominating sin a medical sounding label gives the person a false sense of security that simply is not biblical. That Christian churches often take the psychology route and use the world’s terminology to soften sin and turn it into a disease should concern anyone who belongs to such a church. Do not soft pedal that which God condemns.

The last use of the word “idolatry” is found in 1 Peter 4:3:

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, [2] so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. [3] For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.(1 Peter 4:1-3 ESV)

It’s interesting that in two of the Scripture examples the word “passion” or “passions” is used. In Scripture the word always means something bad as opposed to how we use the word “passion” or “passionate” as in, “he or she is passionate about his or her work.”

We use the word usually in a positive sense while Scripture equates the term with evil desires, cravings of the heart or otherwise in a negative sense.

All desires are not evil. They become evil when they become demands.

For example, the person who is passionate about their work may be craving affirmation and if they don’t get it they may act out angrily or vindictively. By the same token a person who is passionate about the work may be perfectionistic and may hold others to an unreasonable standard if they are in a position of authority over them.

In the passage Peter simply calls the little gods that can control our hearts examples of “lawless idolatry.”

Lawless obviously means “without law” or lack of restraint. A biblical writer never equates life dominating sin with kid gloves and infers some kind of mental illness or sickness.

Instead the Bible calls for repentance and victory over life dominating idols:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

Verse 11 gives genuine hope from that which can enslave us while the disease model can only offer coping devices. The consequences of ignoring what the Bible says about idolatry and issues of the heart are too terrible to contemplate. A person should know where their church stands on these issues for it reveals what the leadership really thinks about the Bible and the sufficiency of Scripture to deal with idolatry and the issues of the heart.

Idolatry by Another Name Part 1

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After I posted Are Addictions Diseases and received some feedback, I was curious as to how many bad habits are listed as addictions and therefore diseases if you follow the popular medical model of addictions.

I found a website (http://www.addictionz.com/addictions.htm) out of British Columbia that listed addictions. I was stunned by the number listed and even more stunned when I read on the website that the list was only partial.

The list is organized alphabetically and within it you can find the usual addictions we’ve become accustomed to, like alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, shopping, tobacco and caffeine.

The list is so broad you can also find coin collecting because according to the website coin collecting is; usually a nice hobby but any hobby can become a compulsion in the hands of a multiple addict.

Here are some more samples from the website that I bet most people never thought of:

  • Art
    • Getting high to produce better art is common. Also the lifestyle of an impoverished artist can be addictive.
    • Collecting art one cannot afford may create adrenalin like compulsive shopping or gambling.
  • Imagination
    • A good characteristic in most cases, but a luxury for an early recovering addict … and a self-destructive minefield for a practicing addict.
    • Living in “your head” is common amongst all addicts
    • One statistic is that addicts do approximately 80,000 words of self-talk per day – so this addicted ‘ head ‘ is a very busy place
    • One saying in 12 step programs is that the head is like ‘a dangerous neighborhood, do not go there alone’
    • The lack of reliable structure in today’s daily life leaves a lot of room for imaginative research
  • Religion
    • It is wise to examine ones attitudes in all areas.

Clearly the authors of the website are willing to list everything and anything as being addictive or compulsive.

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The use of the word compulsive (under the subtitle of Art above) is revealing because the word compulsive means “compelling” as if the person has little or no choice. Furthermore, the word compulsive leads us to a minor distinction between addiction and compulsive behavior.

The Oxford Dictionary defines Compulsive this way:

1. Resulting from or relating to an irresistible urge, especially one that is against one’s conscious wishes: “compulsive eating”

Synonyms: irresistible · uncontrollable · compelling · overwhelming · urgent · obsessive · obsessive · obsessional · addictive · uncontrollable

2. Irresistibly interesting or exciting; compelling: “this play is compulsive viewing”

Synonyms: fascinating · compelling · gripping · riveting · engrossing · enthralling · captivating

Both definitions use the word “irresistible” while the first definition uses the synonym “uncontrollable.” Both words are self-explanatory and imply that a person has no choice.

Now let’s look at WIKI’s definition of compulsive behavior:

Compulsive behavior is defined as performing an act persistently and repetitively without it necessarily leading to an actual reward or pleasure. [1] Compulsive behaviors could be an attempt to make obsessions go away. [2] The act is usually a small, restricted and repetitive behavior, yet not disturbing in a pathological way. [1] Compulsive behaviors are a need to reduce apprehension caused by internal feelings a person wants to abstain or control. [3] A major cause of the compulsive behaviors is said to be obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). [2][4] The main idea of compulsive behavior is that the likely excessive activity is not connected to the purpose it appears to be directed to. [1] Furthermore, there are many different types of compulsive behaviors including, shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling, trichotillomania and picking skin, checking, counting, washing, sex, and more. Also, there are cultural examples of compulsive behavior.

Now let’s compare the WIKI definition of compulsive behavior with the WIKI article on addiction derived from the DSM-V:

Addiction is a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences;[6] it can be thought of as a disease or biological process leading to such behaviors.[1][7] The two properties that characterize all addictive stimuli are that they are (positively) reinforcing (i.e., they increase the likelihood that a person will seek repeated exposure to them) and intrinsically rewarding (i.e., they activate the brain’s “reward pathways”, and are therefore perceived as being something positive or desirable).[1][2][5] ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral and drug addictions.[8][9][10]

alcoholism

And…

Potential addictions can include, but are not limited to, exercise addiction, food addiction, drug addiction, computer addiction, sex addiction and gambling addiction. Currently, only substance addictions and gambling addiction are recognized by the DSM-5, which uses physical dependence and the associated withdrawal syndrome to identify an addictive state. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addiction)

And…

The official list of addictions can be found in the DSM-5, psychology’s Bible (http://www.myaddiction.com/addiction_categories.html) where the following are addiction classified as medical disorders:

Alcohol Addiction, Ambien Addiction, Amphetamine Addiction, Benzodiazepine Addiction, Caffeine Addiction, Cocaine Addiction, Crack Addiction, Eating Disorders, Ecstasy Addiction, Gambling Addiction, Heroin Addiction, Hydrocodone Addiction, Internet Addiction, Marijuana Addiction, Meth Addiction, Nicotine Addiction, Opioid Addiction, Percocet Addiction, Oxycontin Addiction, Pornography Addiction, Prescription Drug Addiction, Ritalin Addiction, Sex Addiction, Shopping Addiction, Smoking Addiction, Sugar Addiction, Teens and Addiction, Video Game Addiction, Work Addiction, Xanax Addiction

From these definitions one can deduce the psychology community and the vast majority of Americans believe there are addictions (compulsions) that are behavioral and addictions that are chemical (addicted to drugs or alcohol) and result in physical dependence. The commonality is the perceived “reward system.” In other words we do these things habitually because there is a pleasant pay off even if the consequences can be quite negative.

(In a 1990 survey 87% of Americans believed the disease model of addictions.)

We can also observe there is some level of debate between those who believe certain behaviors are genuine addictions and others who categorize the same things as compulsive behaviors and would therefore fall under the heading of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder rather than a genuine addiction.

The DSM-V is the latest edition of the DSM and in each upgrade the list of disorders and addictions has multiplied. This accounts for the assumption of what is called the medical model of addictions and compulsive behaviors. What that means is if I have a behavioral addiction or a chemical addiction the critical component is: ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral and drug addictions.

In other words, addictions and compulsive behaviors are connected to DNA via gene transcription factors.

I should point out that even within the psychological community there is some level of disagreement between those who emphasize choice (minority) and those that emphasize the disease model.

What is the Bible-believing Christian to make of this trend that classifies everything as an addiction or compulsive behavior and is treated as a disease? I’ll discuss that issue in Part 2.

How Counseling is Discipleship_Personal Experience

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Is it true that if you “feel blue” you must be sick?

Allow me to explain.

I recently had  knee replacement surgery and will have to have at some point the other knee replaced.

The surgery involved a two-day hospital stay and follow-up visits to the surgeon’s office. In each case I’ve been asked questions regarding my mental health.

“Are you depressed?”

“Do you feel threatened in any way at home?”

“Are you having trouble sleeping?” (a question that usually relates to anxiety)

“How is your stress level?”

The questions are certainly well-meaning since one’s mental state can have an effect on the healing process. The question regarding depression is especially revealing.

If I were to answer in the affirmative that I was depressed the chances are the surgeon would have prescribed an anti-depressant to go along with my handful of post-op meds.

I knew what they were trying to do (help me) so I answered that I was fine which is not true; yet not a lie.

When medical people ask if you are depressed they tend to equate “feeling blue” with clinical depression.  In other words, if you exhibit or confess to “x” number of symptoms you are awarded a depression label.

What I have experienced is what I’ll call “normal discouragement.”

And what would I be discouraged about?

The therapy associated with knee replacement surgery is painful-real painful. The patient, for his or her own good is forced to bend and extend muscles that are in rebellion to the process. When forced, they scream out in pain and I confess to being brought to tears on more than one occasion.

The cycle of therapy and rest is repeated each and every day more than once per day and each day you feel like you are starting over. That is discouraging since progress seems slow.

What else is discouraging is that my wife has to help me dress. It’s minor but never-the-less discouraging to need help in such a simple task.

I’m also useless around the house. My wife works full-time so the division of labor between us has always been fair and not holding up my end discourages me.

The same is true regarding my ministry. Between therapy and doses of pain killers one is not inclined to produce anything useful much less coherent. Hopefully this blog is the exception!

The total of these circumstances and more, result in feelings of discouragement since I am anxious to recover and get back to normal.

I believe that my reaction of discouragement is a “normal” response to the circumstance of major surgery. I further believe to call normal discouragement “depression” medicalizes something that does not need a prescription to cope with. Yet, that is exactly where the process could have ended up had I confessed to depression.

Since I am a Bible-believing Christian, my prescription for my discouragement is different.

There is a battle for my mind going on. One side of the battle says lay in bed, take my pain pills, avoid the more hurtful therapy, and if push comes to shove, settle for a disability.

The other side of the battle says follow the doctor’s therapeutic instructions, press on regardless of the pain because in the long run it will help, and do whatever I can to help around the house as I recover.

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Biblically speaking, in my current state, my job is recovery and the side of the battle that says “these are the things you can do to do your job, do them as onto the Lord (Col. 3:23).

This is not always easy but battles rarely are.

Furthermore, there is prayer. There are a great many people who remember me in prayer. My small group leader asked me Sunday how I was doing with discouragement. He used the right word and so my small group prays not only for healing which is important but  more importantly that I remain faithful to the battle for my mind and that I grow in Christ through the trial of recovery.

Third, there is the recognition that my wife wishes to serve me. and As she helps me struggle we make jokes and walk down this path together as we’ve had for the past 40 years through thick and thin. Her assists help me with my pride because there simply are times we need help.

And finally there is an attitude of gratitude that I must fight for.

My church is incredibly supportive including my friend and Sr. Pastor. There is no pressure, just encouragement to press on in recovery.

There is gratitude for having the insurance for the surgery. There is gratitude for having a top-notch surgeon and hospital staff.

There is gratitude that our sovereign God has providentially arranged all these things for my good (Rom. 8:28-29).

In other words, I do not need meds or psychological counseling; I need discipleship. I need to use biblical tools to fight “normal discouragement” as I recover.

What I’ve said here is nothing new to biblical counselors.

It is interesting to see that even secular psychologists and therapists are recognizing the danger in medicalizing normal responses to unpleasant circumstances.

The below link to How to Avoid the Damage caused by Psychological Labeling by Mark Tyrrell is helpful. While I do not agree with every point, it is refreshing to see therapists and psychologists saying something about the over medicalizing of the downers that occur in all of our lives.

It isn’t true that if you “feel blue” then you must be sick.

http://www.uncommon-knowledge.co.uk/articles/uncommon-hypnosis/avoid-damage-caused-by-psychological-labelling.html

Beyond Redemption_P4 What do the Scriptures say?

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A thought provoking and excellent read and a real tribute to a man who had to over come the emotion of ministering to war criminals for the sake of the gospel.

A thought provoking and excellent read and a real tribute to a man who had to over come the emotion of ministering to war criminals for the sake of the gospel.

A number of years ago I counseled a man in the church I was serving in.

The man had a burden for his father who was dying in a VA Hospital. The son’s burden was that the father would respond to the gospel even as he lay dying.

The dying man was a World War 2 veteran and had lived a life apart from Christ. According to the son the son’s childhood had been a living hell with frequent beatings, drunkenness and spousal abuse. The father had few friends and had alienated all of his family. Now, he lay dying from cancer.

The father was hated by nearly everyone who knew him and when he finally passed away only six people showed up at the funeral which was held in a VA Chapel. One of the people who came didn’t even know the deceased and just wanted to honor a veteran in some way. The other person who did not know the deceased was me and my job was to give a short message to a very small crowd of five.

The father, in some sense was a war criminal, guilty not necessarily of war crimes but guilty of some pretty horrible crimes against his family and many others. He was not a nice man without any perceived redeeming qualities what-so-ever.

Death by hanging was the fate of many tried by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

Death by hanging was the fate of many tried by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

When I counseled the son (prior to the father’s passing) my text was the same as the one that resonated with Pastor Gerecke when he was asked to minister to the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43 ESV)

As we can see from the text Jesus was crucified between two criminals usually identified as thieves or robbers. Robbery suggests murder and capital punishment as opposed to petty thievery that would not require the death penalty.

Most of the Nuremberg defendants believed they would be hung while the two thieves knew for a fact they would die because they were already on the gallows so-to-speak as represented by the crosses they already hung on.

The parallel between the two sets of condemned men is obvious.

Are men facing death for their crimes capable of genuine repentance and the forgiveness of their sins?

Let’s examine the text to see if there is any evidence that the thief’s conversion was genuine.

The first observation we can make from the text is that Jesus assured the thief that on the very day he would be with Jesus in Paradise. That is compelling textual evidence that the thief was truly converted but there is more.

The parallel text in Matthew indicates that at first both thieves mocked Christ (Matt. 27:44).

At some point the second robber stopped mocking Jesus and instead asked for salvation. If you were to read the rest of the story you would see that certain signs and wonders would follow this incident.

The second robber made his request for salvation before any of the signs and wonders took place thus indicating something else convinced him to repent.

We can also note that the text records that everyone around the crosses were mocking Jesus; the crowd, the soldiers, the robbers, the scribes and Pharisees, everyone. To repent and ask Jesus for salvation would mean the robber had to swim against the tide of popular opinion and the mockery of the Savior.

The second robber also rebuked the first for not fearing God. The second robber clearly recognized Jesus’ innocence and it suggests a recognition of Jesus’ deity. The rebuke of the first robber was for being irreverent. In other words the second robber went from being a mocker himself to someone defending Jesus in a very short time. What could explain this apart from a genuine change of heart?

Remember what Pastor Gerecke had said about his former SS Lt. Colonel who played the organ at the worship services. He said of the man, “the simple Gospel of the Cross had changed his heart.” So it was with the second robber.

This is a key point. For any of the Nuremberg defendants to be genuine about repentance they would, like the robber, have to realize that Jesus was innocent of everything and that he was indeed God who was dying for the genuine crimes of others!

The second robber asks Jesus to remember him in His kingdom thus recognizing that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Jesus grants him the request; the guilty dying for the innocent and the innocent paying for the guilty party’s sins.

As the first robber and others mocked Jesus by telling Jesus to come off the cross and thus do a miracle (he saved others and cannot save himself) the second robber recognized Jesus did not have to come off the cross to save anyone because Jesus simply had the authority to save.

Furthermore, the second robber noted his own guilt and the fact he deserved death. He asked Jesus for salvation on the basis of mercy and grace with nothing to offer in return. No good works, no self-justification, no excuses. He just relied upon Jesus mercy and grace which is all we have to appeal to in salvation.

Luke does not say what changed the second robber’s mind at that late hour. In order to discover that answer we have to look elsewhere in the Bible.

In John Chapter Three Jesus told Nicodemus that the process of being born again is a mysterious working of the Holy Spirit-the results are evident, but the process is unseen. The second robber showed evidence of a changed heart. I think all would agree, but what changed his heart?

In Acts 16 Luke writes of the conversion of a woman named Lydia. Luke writes, “the Lord opened her heart to believe.”

And so it is with all who believe, you, me, a robber on a cross, a Nazi about to be hung. Salvation belongs to the Lord declared the prophet Jonah (Jonah 2:9) meaning that salvation is a sovereign work of God from start to finish just as it is the secret work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men that we can only see the results of.

We judge people by the scope and magnitude of their sins and thus minimize our own by comparison.

I’m not as bad as that father who beat his wife and children.

I’m not as bad as the drunk next door.

I’m not as bad as the pornographer, the robber or murderer and certainly not as bad as any Nazi.

All of those statements may be true from a human, self-righteous point of view with the person making the statements never realizing that they have within themselves the capacity for every one of those heinous sins.

The old statement, that there by the grace of God go I rings true.

The words of James come to mind:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
(James 2:10 ESV)

While we may differ in the scope and extent of sin Scripture in an individual’s life is quite clear that all far short of the glory of God.

 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
[11] no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
[12] All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
[13] “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
[14] “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
[15] “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
[16] in their paths are ruin and misery,
[17] and the way of peace they have not known.”
[18] “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:10-18 ESV)

There simply isn’t any wiggle room. All are guilty and all without Christ will perish according to God’s Word (Rom. 6:23)

Consider the apostle’s Peter’s first sermon:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24 ESV)

Peter is informing those hearing the sermon that they are guilty, either implicitly or complicity in killing the Son of God even though they had ample proof of his deity.

The Holy Spirit is active in the hearts of the crowd and they respond:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37-39 ESV)

Jesus died on the Cross for sinners like you and me as well as the worst of the worst. Even the apostle Paul thought himself as the worst of sinners before he received Christ:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)

Paul considered himself the foremost among sinners because he persecuted the church and was complicit in the murder of Stephen.

He goes on:

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16 ESV)

Paul was an example of God’s mercy and grace. Once a hard-hearted Pharisee that persecuted the church in the hopes that people would not believe; now the apostle to the Gentiles (anyone not a Jew) preaching the good news that anyone no matter what they have done can be saved.

Paul himself is blown away by what he is saying and he exclaims the wonder of it all like this:

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17 ESV)

Pastor Gerecke recognized these truths. Once more he recognized that these truths could apply to even the worst of the Nazi war criminals and so he agreed to work with them.

On a human level it’s nearly incomprehensible that some of these men could be forgiven by God for their crimes but we forget that God forgave the apostle Paul and the crowd that repented at Peter’s first sermon. God’s ways are not our ways and we should rejoice in that for it should give us, the foremost of sinners hope that we have a Savior who can and does save even the worst of the worst.

This side of heaven we will never know who among the Nazis at Nuremberg was genuinely repentant. All we have is Pastor Gerecke’s testimony and what he believed about men who believed they were about to die.

And that perhaps is the greatest take-away from Pastor Gerecke’s mission to the Nazis, all die, all had an opportunity to repent and seek forgiveness; some did, some maybe and others clearly did not.

Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS)

Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS)

The question then becomes what do we do with our sin because we too will die.

Thank God for his mercy and grace to all those who truly repent and believe upon Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

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