Monday, February 15, 2016

The Gospel Confronts Addicts and Cynics

(this is another chapter in a book called The Gospel Confrontation) 

This chapter is  a result of working with Rev. Bill Delvaux, Head of a Bible Department at a Nashville Christian School from 2004 to 2010.  Bill's teaching and ministry was a huge inspiration to me and pushed my relationship with Christ more into the heart and less about the head.

Bill categorizes people, for ministry purposes, as addicts or cynics- using the parable of the prodigal son (actually 2 sons) as a backdrop (Luke 15). He says that we tend to find ourselves as either the addict, filling the heart,- or the cynic, killing the heart. He has a great series of teachings about the heart and the route out of both conditions.

Though I am using similar language and passages, I am going to approach the confrontation of the gospel to the cynic and addict in a little different way, not opposing Bill's points, but affirming his ministry of which I am a benefactor. 

John Calvin is often quoted as saying, "the human heart is an idol factory." Throughout Scripture, man is shown to elevate things of the world, even good things, and place them in such high regard and dependency that they become god replacements.

Is there a difference in the idolator and the addict? The Book of Romans paints a clear picture of our default mode. Paul's argument is that we know God is there by way of His creation- but in hardness of heart, without a spirit of gratitude, man 'exchanges' the truth and glory of the true God and worships the creature. This is a downward spiral where God actually allows man to follow these foolish and dark desires, growing ever more dishonorable and impure and foolish. God gives man over to his pursuits and the consequence is built into the activity itself.

The idolator becomes an addict- a heart that has a capacity for eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11) has to have more and more. Before long the desire has become the master and man its prisoner. An addict is an idolator who has become a slave to his idol of preference.

Do some people have a more addictive personality than others? It seems so- but the degree of addiction is often linked to the power of a heart's capacity for passion. The addict's heart is still alive and hungry while the cynic has almost silenced his heart in callous anger or despair. The addict is an unregulated heart- wide and burning- needing more and more with a payoff of less and less.

The best addicts learn to juggle the addictions in such a way to prevent social indignation. Over the years I have registered a few quotes in my mind that connect to this maze of misery. "We have an infinite appetite for distraction" and "A life of activity can be confused as a life of meaning".

The difference between a heroin addict and a golf addict may not be as different at the heart level as we might initially believe. Obviously, there are huge differences to how it plays out in society and the recovery of each or the penalty of each is different- but all addictions have at the core what God chastised His people about in Jeremiah 2:12. "My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water; to make for themselves broken wells which hold no water."

We think we know the addict. We have stories of friends or family members who have experienced the ravages of alcohol addiction or heroin addiction. We understand the high cost of these lifestyles, including death. That is being experienced too often these days. My brother was another victim of an overdose just a few months ago- the pain and heartache is real! Too many funerals and too many lives are being ruined- people complain about the 'failed' war on drugs.... we did not start the war. The drugs declared war on us and we are fighting now for our very survival.

But is the gospel a route out? Is it that good? How does the message of new life in Christ help the addict? How does the confrontation play out?

In the case of the addict, we are praying for a miracle that can come only from God Himself. An addict has years of gospel rejection working against him. The addict has taken the good things of God and his common grace and said' "I don't want God, I don't need God- to me He is only an expedient." And the issue is that God will never allow Himself to be an expedient. He allows for the withdrawal of light and the heart of the addict refuses to seek help. C.S. Lewis said it well, "Hell is a prison with doors that are locked from the inside."

The addict is a prisoner and the chains are heavy. The evil one compounds the issue by keeping the fog thick and deceptive. In the early stages there are great highs and encouraging companions. The party is fun and intense. The hook is set before the junkie knows it- and the mind is too cloudy for reason.

I read the heart of the problem recently in the Book of Isaiah:

He (the idolator) feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (Isaiah 44:20 ESV)

Trying to help an addict is as frustrating as trying to convince a crazy person that the imaginary people he sees everyday are not real.

My experience with the addict though has uncovered a more hideous problem. An addict's worst habit is lying. Successful addicts lie so well that they even deceive themselves. Because gospel confrontation begins in truth telling, the addict is often DOA when it comes to true recovery.

Attempts to quit seem useless. If an addict has spent years numbing pain- then as the pain comes in- it creates panic and retreating from the reality of that existence is life and death.

See what I mean?.... the rescue of an addict is always a miracle. But miracles DO HAPPEN!

The route out always begins with a realization that reflects reality. Luke 15:17 "But when he (the prodigal) came to himself, he said....". How do we pray for the addict? We cry out to God to have him come to himself. He needs the fog to lift. He needs a flicker. He needs to see himself as he is. And the picture is never pretty- it can be dark and devastating.

Have you ever watched the show, 'Intervention'? It is always interesting to me that when the loved ones join together with one stern voice of love- the addict has a breakthrough of reality... this is it.. this is serious. Sure, it can result in anger or denial- but a well thought out, guided by professionals, supported by loved ones, intervention can be that 'awakening' that allows a gospel confrontation.

I was in a men's group many years ago. You know what a men's group is? It is where a few men meet together and after 6 months they start telling the truth.

So in this group, we finally started getting real. And it happened. One day- a successful businessman, father of young boys, a leader in the church and community- came to himself. "I'm addicted to online pornography."

Every man in that group was changed in that one transparent disclosure- and the gospel of Christ was ready to set the captive free. 

It was a rather easy process- he allowed us to be his accountability partners. He told us his M.O. How and where and when and we set a game plan to 'help'. 

6 weeks later, he had a believable testimony to the power of Christ to end an area that was killing him spiritually and robbing his life and marriage of joy.

What was the key? In his case it was two things: 1) The admission/confession to a group of brothers who loved him without condemnation and 2) the powerful message of forgiveness through the cross of Christ.

He explained that as his sin became more frequent he found that Satan had equipped it with a 'stinger' of shame and regret. It wasn't long before he was getting further into his addiction because of shame. He felt Satan telling him- "you are a worthless hypocrite"- and "God is through with you- in a short time, He is going to destroy you". He believed the lies and his guilt drove him deeper into the activity.

This is the 'worldly sorrow' that the Apostle Paul writes of in 2 Corinthians 7. It is a terrible existence. The addict feels shame, hurt, guilt. He wants out. The addiction is no longer stimulating, it is not fun, it is a burden. He can't tell anyone. So without hope or help he turns once again to the addiction. More and more. Less and less relief. He is a slave.

But then a gospel confrontation happens. Does God care? Is it too late? Is my sin too great?

II Corinthians 7: 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Then the Holy Spirit confirms the message of grace. The cross is proof of God's love. 

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The addict's most sincere prayer: "Help me God, I'm in trouble."

And recovery begins. Sure, a long up and down process, but God stands by His promises.

Our friend still had some slip ups. He went back a few times. He did this off and on for a year or two. But the gospel had taken Satan's stinger out. He would fall and get up quicker. God's Word begin to teach him to see with new eyes.

The greatest testimony of deliverance was when my friend stated, "I'm so saddened by the industry of pornography. It is so fake. I hate what it does to women. I hate what it has done to society. I hate that it has cheapened something beautiful that was created by God. I want to share the gospel to others, I want others to hear my story, I want others to find newness in Christ!"

I can share these testimonies of victory over and over- there are peple out there who are living miracles- but their lives are daily battles.

A lot of heroin addicts die when they relapse because their bodies aren't able to handle the purity of the current drugs on the street..... after years of being sober. Addicts need to understand that the longer they stay clean... the more deadly the return can be.
Does the saved addict still suffer consequences? Sadly, yes. There is always a cost.  
The old saying goes: 

Sin will take you further than you want to go. 
It will keep you longer than you want to stay,
and it will cost you more than you want to pay

But the reality is that the message of Christ is so good that joy overcomes the loss. And once the truth takes root, the addict can agree with the puritan, Thomas Chalmers- There really is "The expulsive power of a new affection." Once you experience the depth of Christ's love, you gladly participate in the new 'exchange' where Christ takes your sin and you take His righteousness. 

He has set the captive free! It makes you break into singing and praise!

The addict needs to feel that he is forgiven. He has to be Holy Spirit invaded with the promise of God's unconditional love. The addict approaches the throne of grace already broken by his powerlessness over addiction.



The cynic is a different story. He has varying degrees of pride covering the access to his heart. His heart is protected within a fortress of complex self protective mechanisms.
The cynic has to be broken by God's wrath before he can be healed with God's love.

An addict that is healed is a true miracle. The cynic is even more miraculous- it's just that we never see it. Why? I think it is because we do a wonderful job selling God's love- but we never feel the pressure of His holiness and wrath. The 'good Lord' is an easy sell- the angry God is intolerable.

Go throughout the body of Christ today and your heart will be warmed with teary-eyed former addicts who are washed in the blood. But be careful, there are a number of unrepentant cynics walking the halls of a lot of churches who might rip you to shreds if you get out of line.

Who is the cynic? Where do we find him? And how does the gospel confront this pervasive heart type in our culture today?

Luke 15:17 “When he (The lost/prodigal son) finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
 20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
 22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
 28 The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
 31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!

For years and years I have pondered this parable and the one immediately after it (The dishonest manager) and find some immediate observations. The beginning of the parable (There was a man who had 2 sons)- the all important middle (But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him), and the abrupt ending (unhappy elder brother).

I also noticed what is written after the stories are done- "The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him."

Do you see an ebb and flow of God's heart..? Compassion for the humble.. the downtrodden (Psalm 34:18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.) and harshness for the arrogant (I Peter 5:5 God resists the proud).

When I speak of the cynic- it is a rather large category that I will deal with in later chapters. It is a person who spoils and hardens by degrees. Anger to bitterness to hatred to callous skepticism. The cynic can be a moralist, a religious zealot, a proud Pharisee, a jaded venomous sarcastic critic, a bitter old fool, or a mocking young bully.

Remember Psalm 1? Blessed is the man who:
Walks not... in the council of the wicked
nor stands... in the way of sinners
nor sits.. in the seat of scoffers.

Walking-standing-sitting indicates a pattern that gets well worn over time until a person is thoroughly tracked for destruction.

Even our sinful human hearts show compassion for the humble addict and contempt for the arrogant oppressor. Do our hearts hint at God's heart as well?

Everything I have written in this chapter seems so harsh. But I can tell you from personal experience- a cold heart is only made alive by grieving or brokeness. 

My story leans more to the cynic and less to the addict. Early in life I did all I could to avoid shame. It drove me to be the best. I had to be the strongest, the toughest, the best. I craved adult adulation and attention and I achieved acceptance by 'winning'. An unintended consequence of this quest was to shut my heart down. I avoided any pain of loss by vowing to never feel hurt or loneliness. I would hurt others on the way to 'victory' but felt no pity. On the outside I was the high achieving all-american boy.. on the inside I was a cold, calculating, manipulative machine.

The gospel was important to me and I did find a conversion experience going into my junior year of high school. But it was mostly a head decision, a logical choice made to win the ultimate end game. 

I believe the conversion was real... I was forgiven... but God knew He was going to have to break me to make me. It wasn't until I got married that I realized how cold my love was for others. All my effort to be excellent doesn't work to keep a relationship healthy. Any problems in my marriage was that my wife was broken and needed fixing so she could operate according to my plan.

Thanks be to God that I began to see her hurt and it helped me find a brokenness in spirit- she wasn't the problem. In fact, I was lucky that she was persevering in spite of my cold demeanor and quiet insecurity. I was helped when she let me have it from time to time- to this day, I am so thankful that I did not marry a mouse- God knew I needed someone to look me in the eye and say, ' This isn't easy to say- but you are selfish- and worst of all- you never seem to care."

Going through trials, enduring in prayer, and finding healing in the pain has helped me come a long way. I still have a tendency to withdraw into a shell- but my faithful friend of 26 years knows how to creatively draw me out. And that understanding of gospel forgiveness keeps us renewed inside!

But there are some tragic stories out there. Sadly, the addict sometimes evolves into a cynic. After years of addictive behavior- the years take their toll. The young party boy is now hurting. The dancing is now straight shots at a lonely bar. No more wine, women, and song. But there is no humility, there is only a bitterness. There is an anger at God while seeds of disappointment turn the addict's heart to stone. He sees himself as a victim and is mad at the world. This is Satan's most fiendish trap of all. 

But to that man all alone, it is OK to grieve. Romans 6 asks "What benefit therefore are the things which you are now ashamed? The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ." It is never too late- when you feel that God has finally broken you- reach out to Him and watch Him rescue you in deeper love and acceptance than you ever imagined!

Remember that we prayed for the addict to 'come to his senses'. The prayer for the cynic is almost sadistic..."Lord, you are going to have to break him." Now, we have to be SO CAREFUL here. It is up to God to sovereignly introduce the pain. A cynical heart has almost no feeling at all. So God orchestrates pain to produce mourning. (Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn.)

Pain is a tool in the hand of The Surgeon.

When you talk of good news to a cynic- the seeds are bouncing off of a hard rock. It is a hard cold winter and the heart has no use for that seed of God's Word.

So what does God do? He crushes it. It is the same tough love He portrays in Christ. Isaiah 53- "It pleased the Lord to CRUSH him.

Now here is where we do the cynics such a dis-service. It would be better for us to deliver the warning and pray that sinners would repent from such terrible news. We need to read the passages of warning and judgement- especially the wrath that is coming on the oppressive ones in the world.

Instead, we bounce little cotton balls of "The good Lord" off of the cold, dead hearted cynics- we sit back and wring our hands, we hide behind a shrug and say "Oh Well God's will"- we watch the skeptics eat our children for dinner because a word about 'Hell" might offend them.

Then God crushes them to dust and they have a right to say, "Why didn't you tell me?".

For every sermon about God's love... for every kind word about free grace- there ought to be an equal treatment about God's wrath on sin. In Romans, the greek word is "Orge' and it literally means God has revealed His ANGER toward unrighteousness. His judgement stands firm and unassuaged by EVERYTHING except the blood of His Son.

Does God hate sin? Look at the cross! Does God love sinners? Look at the cross! But to only share one side of the story actually waters down the significance of the story.

Why is the gospel so uncompelling to our young people today? We have taught that God is a big Santa Claus, this life is fun on the beach, they are born sick, but a Jesus shot will cure their ills. "Just be a good boy and the good Lord will make your dreams come true!"

The Biblical view is that God is the Holy Creator of the Universe. He is Holy and will destroy all that is aligned against Him. Life is a war against deadly enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. And man is born dead meat- aligned as an enemy- but the crushing death of Jesus Christ stands as a covering for sin and rebellion. Nothing insignificant about that story!

Peter Ditzel uses this story as illustration:

Suppose all of the citizens of a certain city in a certain kingdom wickedly rebel against their king. The king then brings his forces to reestablish his kingdom in the city, lays siege to the city, and conquers it. The conquering king sends his herald to announce his terms of peace to the citizens of the city. The herald tells them that, without exception, every one of the citizens of the city deserve death for rebelling against the king. But he also has good news. Any citizen who repents of his rebellion, submits to the king, and pledges his allegiance to him will receive the king's free and undeserved pardon.

Be clear on this point. Any citizen who repents, submits to the king, and pledges his allegiance to him still deserves death for rebellion. The law does not take repentance into account. Only a free and undeserved pardon from the king will save. Several citizens grasp the grace that the king has offered, and they repent, submit to the king, and pledge their allegiance to him. Their repentance, submission, and pledge of allegiance do not buy them the king's pardon as it cannot be bought. The punishment for rebellion is death, and the law does not take into account repentance, submission, and a pledge of allegiance. Turning from wrong and doing what is right, and submitting and showing allegiance to the king are merely what is expected of all citizens. It is what they should have been doing all along. By doing these things, they do not obligate the king. By doing these things, they have not paid for their pardon. By doing these things, they have not fulfilled a condition that legally results in their pardon. They could very well do these things and still be executed. The king would legally be in the right if he still executed them. The king's pardon is completely free and undeserved.

This is very similar to the situation between God and humanity. Humanity is in wicked rebellion against God. Everyone deserves eternal death. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, God has conquered the world (the Greek word translated "overcome" in John 16:33 means "subdued" or "conquered"). God has sent His heralds into the world to announce His terms of peace. These terms are: Everyone deserves eternal death for rebellion. But those who turn from their wickedness, believe on Jesus as their Savior, and submit to Him as their Lord, He will freely pardon. Nothing they do can make them deserve this pardon. They should have been doing these things all along. The law makes no provision for repentance, belief, and submission to reverse a sentence of death. These things are not conditions of the law that, if met, will earn pardon. Nevertheless, those who repent, believe, and submit will receive the free and unmerited pardon of God.

But, you may ask, if God will only pardon those who repent, believe, and submit, isn't that really a works salvation? No, it is not because the law makes no provision for these works to merit anything. They count for nothing. Besides, God gives repentance, belief, and submission as a gift to us. I say "a gift" because repentance, belief, and submission are really just aspects of the same thing. When we believe or trust in Jesus as our Savior, we are turning from our rebellious ways and submitting to Him. The Bible usually calls it faith, belief, or trust (all the same Greek word), but sometimes breaks it down finer into repentance, belief, and submission to Jesus as Lord. So, God gives us this gift which merits nothing with Him but through which we receive His pardon or salvation and which, by the way, also identifies to us who we are—His elect.
I hope this makes clearer that there is really no contradiction between being saved totally by grace through faith and needing to repent and submit to Jesus as our Lord.

I appeal to anyone out there who is weary of this glorious gospel. Don't be too cool to care or too casual to respond. Cry out to God to help you humble yourself under His mighty hand. At that point drink in His good grace. If you continue to oppose Him, it may not be pretty. Stop judging others in your self righteous indignation... ask God to help you find a heart to receive all things and people with thanksgiving! Don't be a cynic- find an attitude of gratitude! This is the fruit of the gospel.

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