Stories from a strip club

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Some of you know that I frequent a strip club in town.

But only on Sundays, when we are there to sing praises to God and to hear stories of how Jesus has radically wrecked a life.

And in so doing, I get to hang out with folk that I wouldn’t normally be with. It’s amazing how some social circles never connect in any way. Until God opens a door. And so, at The Manor, on a Sunday afternoon, I sit and share lunch with someone who shares a piece of their life story with me.

The story I heard this week broke my heart. So much pain and anger festered inside this person. He had believed in God, before he was violated for two years by a man of the cloth. And after that, all his God-belief turned to God-hate and Church-hate and everything-else-hate. Because that’s what you feel after you are hurt in that kind of way. When your body (and your spirit) is broken into, like a house that is burgled. What is taken? Your innocence, your trust, love, your self-worth… the list goes on.

In his story of bullying father and abusive clergy I saw a very wounded heart and a severely crippled spirit, and I felt a fury rise up within me. Although God did not hate the sinner, (for I don’t believe it is in his nature to hate people – sin, yes, but people, no) I am certain that He hated what had happened. He hated the choice that was made, the trust that was betrayed, the darkness that intruded. In truth, it is likely that the perpetrator had also suffered a heart wound in their life. A cycle perpetuates. And it goes right back to what happened in a garden.

A serpent whispers, “Did God really say….?”

And they ate … and they fell.

All because they believed a lie, a slight warping of Truth that was so subtle that they mistrusted God for a moment and then…. it was too late.

On and on it goes over the centuries… the subtle lies, the deceptions that are whispered into our naïve ears… and we believe the father of lies and what he says about God the Father.

“Why didn’t God protect you from that horrible situation?” he whispers cunningly. “If God really loved you, He would have done something. He abandoned you in your hour of greatest need…. what kind of a ‘Father’ is that anyway?”

We believe the father of lies over the Father who loves us.

We believe him and his lies over the Father who loved us enough to shed his glorious body, come to earth himself and live his life among the dust and dirt of the world and finally allow himself to be tortured and strung out on a cross to die?

What kind of twisted logic is that anyway? To choose to believe someone who lies for a living… and then blame the someone who actually gave his very life for us?

But it is the same thing that happened in that garden. And we are still falling for those lies today.  Just like Adam and Eve did.

When we hurt, we build walls. Instead of giving our pain to the One who can deal with it, we bury it, deep inside where no one will find it. The problem is that the pain we have buried still lives on, and like a glowing ember it grows over the years. Life hands us trouble, trials, and more hurt, and the initial lie is reinforced: God must not love me. The lie is reinforced, more pain is buried, until the embers burst forth into full-on flames of bitterness, anger, fear and fury.

There is one who comes to steal, kill and destroy (Jn.10:10). That is his mission. And he remains stealthy and furtive so that the lies he whispers sound like truths. It is his fault that there is so much wrong in the world. Yet who gets blamed for the wrongs and hurts? Why God, of course.

But why do we believe that Love personified is to blame for the hurt in our life?

1 John 4:8 says that God is love. And what {or who} is love?

1 Cor.13:4-7 describes love in this way: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Why do we believe what is whispered to our hearts in the deep darkness by one who steals hope, kills joy and destroys lives?

Is it because we do not believe what we read in the Scriptures?

God is love. And Jesus is God in the flesh.

“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”  (Jn.14:9)

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  (Col.1:15)

If we look at what Jesus did when he walked this earth, he fed the hungry, he healed the sick, the blind, the deaf and the lame, he chased the demons and the darkness out of people, he befriended women, he blessed children, and finally, he gave up his very life so that we might find our way back to our Father’s heart.

Jesus showed us what the Father is like. God the Father is kind and good and gentle and strong.

And although this world is dark, injust and sometimes downright cruel, the fact still remains that God is love. He gave us free will to choose to love him … or not. We are free to choose His way… or our own way. In our selfishness, we make choices that hurt others. But God will not force us to love him. He will not arm-twist us into choosing His way. This is why there is darkness and cruelty and hurt.

That is why this gentleman had been so wounded by another. In response, he turned away from God. He no longer thinks that God exists. He isn’t sure if there is an afterlife. He lives in fear of death. He lives in a place dark with rage and bitterness. Instead of turning towards God, towards Love, he listened to the lies. And he is a captive inside of the very walls that he built in order to protect himself from more pain.

I know that God weeps for that youngster who was wounded so many years ago. Scripture also tells me that God sings over him. And so I picture his heavenly Father, the One who can redeem anything and anyone, singing over him, his gentle love song. And I will pray that this man may be able to finally hear God’s song for him after all of these years. I will pray that his ears that have been blocked by lies and by smoldering hate will be opened by the Jesus who opens deaf ears. For I know that God, his loving Father, wants to reach into those places of hurt and pain and rage and fury and betrayal and bitterness and free him from all of that.

When Jesus began his ministry, he stood up in the temple and read from Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.

Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.

“For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

Don’t listen to lies.

Believe God and His words.

Believe Love.