Really Good News

The following is an adaptation of a message preached by Benny Phillips called “Hope for the Bruised and Exhausted”, preached from Isaiah 42:1-4. It was first printed on the Redeemer Church of Lake Nona blog. 

In the lands around Palestine reeds grow in abundance, particularly along the edges of the Jordan River. They have fragile, hollow stems and are easily knocked over by the wind, rough waters or animals that come to the water’s edge to drink. Once a reed is broken, it can’t be fixed. Whereas other plants may repair themselves, reeds cannot.

099Like reeds, people can become bruised, hurt, knocked over, easily. We can be knocked over by life, broken relationships, disease and sickness, by the thoughtlessness and carelessness of other people. There are many people that are bruised, broken, and hurting, all around us, living next door, shopping where we shop, playing where we play.

Jesus came to have an impact, not on reeds but on people. He did not come to break a person who was already bruised or knock down a person who was already bent low with the difficulties of life. Unlike a reed, which cannot be fixed, Jesusis able to bind up our broken lives. He gives us new strength, and applies healing salve to our damaged lives. He came softly and gently to mend the broken reeds of the world.

Jesus did this throughout his ministry. The leper of Matthew chapter 8 was a bruised reed. He was diseased, cast off by society, shunned by everyone, destined to a slow and terrible death. But Jesus came and touched him and his life was forever changed!

The demon-possessed man in that same chapter of Matthew 8 was also a bruised reed. He was living among the tombstones, naked, tormented, cast out by society. But Jesus came and touched him and his life was forever changed!

The woman caught in adultery was a bruised reed. She was about to be cast away by society, stoned for her sin, and they would have been justified in their stoning according to the laws of their day. But Jesus came and touched her and her life was forever changed!

The woman with the flow of blood was a bruised reed. She was in pain, weak, weary, an outcast from society. She thought she would touch Jesus, but instead, Jesus touched her in a way that she never dared hope. Like the others, her was forever changed!

I have been a bruised reed, angry and bitter, hurting and depressed until Jesus came and touched me and my life has been forever changed. Jesus is the answer for the bruised reeds in our world. He is the answer for those who are bruised, broken, hurting, cast aside by society.

Jesus changes lives. Has he healed you?

Kristin’s Story

On Friday I mentioned I had a story for you. It’s a story about what “speaking [gospel] truth in love” (Eph 4:15-16) can look like in real life.

Last Thursday we had Community Group (our church’s small group ministry) in our home. This is not the group we typically attend. In fact, it was our first time with them since our new church started them two months ago. Benny opened the meeting by reviewing the purpose of our groups: to grow in biblical fellowship by learning how to incarnate the love and hope of Christ to one another. After some brief comments he asked if anyone in the group had anything happening in their lives for which they wanted help.

After a brief pause, Kristin (not her real name) spoke up. Because she is new to both Christianity and to the group, I was impressed by her humility and the obvious grace she had witnessed in the group the prior time she had attended. Who would so easily open up their life to a group of people she doesn’t know well — unless she had witnessed the compassionate care she now desired to personally experience?

Kristin humbly shared concerns and disappointments about her marriage to Scott (who wasn’t present) but did so without putting him in a bad light. She started by communicating her eagerness to focus on her own weaknesses because she understands the only person she has any control over changing is herself. I didn’t know this young woman, but I was already inspired.

As she described weaknesses in how she and Scott communicate, my heart was warmed when Benny and other men in the room identified with Scott. This prevented Scott from being “the bad guy” as several husbands empathized with his responses and thinking, and wives admitted they struggled similarly to Kristin. What grace.

Group members also asked helpful, compassionate questions about her struggles. She responded to each with gut-level honesty. As a young woman expecting her second child in less than two years, it became apparent that she is in a tough season. Martial strife and anger, pregnancy nausea, fatigue, and financial stress are taking their toll on this new Christian.

“Sometimes I get so upset I just have to leave. So I go outside, sit in my car and read my Bible. And God leads me to something that helps me to know what needs to be fixed in me. I can’t fix my husband but I know God can fix me.”

How inspiring that such a young Christian facing weighty challenges could be so open and have such a healthy dose of self-suspicion! She is also running to God, rather than becoming bitter that becoming a Christian didn’t solve all her problems. Amazing. Individuals in the room communicated how inspired they were by her humility. Even her honesty wasn’t without an understanding disposition toward a husband toward whom she regularly struggles with disappointment and anger.

Then someone asked Kristin if she felt God’s biggest priority was to “fix” her.

You see, Kristin grew up in a religious system where doing or praying the “right” thing was a focus. That night she wanted to know what she needed to do to change. Her desire to focus on herself rather than her husband is impressive, but the fact is their marriage is hard. They are both suffering from patterns of sin in themselves and their spouse. They’re weary. Frustrated. Angry. Disappointed. Financially strapped. Young and inexperienced. And another baby is coming soon.

When someone asked Kristen what one thing she most wanted to see change in her marriage she said, “Our communication. Even when we’re sitting together on the couch watching TV I feel alone. I just want him to listen to me. To care about what I’m saying. To understand what I’m going through. But my overreactions and anger aren’t helping. I understand why he doesn’t want to talk to me sometimes because our conversations start with me being angry.”

A woman in the room went back to Kristin saying she needed to be “fixed” by God.

“Kristin,” she began, “You obviously see that your angry outbursts and over reactions to situations are hurting yourself and your marriage. And you’re right. But God is helping you to see this and it’s an evidence of His grace that you have eyes to see the affects your sin patterns are having. Yet I’m not sure God’s priority right now is to fix you. I think what might be most important to Him is for you to know He loves you.”

Kristin needed to hear that what she is looking for — attention, affection, a listening ear, comfort, companionship — will never ultimately come from Scott. Yes, Scott needs to grow. By God’s grace, he will learn how to more tenderly care for his wife. But chances are that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Two of the ladies (representing me, too!) were able to share how common her and Scott’s struggles are by admitting similar temptations to anger and criticalness.

And even if Scott changes, God is the only One who will always love her; always be available to listen to her; always care about what she says; always accept her. Because of His death on the cross, she is forever loved and cherished, even though she gets angry and has become bitter toward her husband.

As these thoughts were shared, Kristin began to cry.

“I came tonight hoping I could get help. I thought that people would tell me I need to stop nagging and being so angry at Scott, which is true. But God is saying He loves me even though I’m sinning so much? That just makes me love Him more.”

Oh, the hope that gospel truth brings.

Speaking the truth in love to Kristin means telling her the whole truth. The gospel truth. It’s true that her pattern of sinful anger and bitterness is eating away at her love for Scott (like his sins are equally hurting their marriage). It’s true that she needs to change. But it’s also true that God loves her. He looks on her with favor, acceptance and tender care. He is never angry or frustrated or wearied by her talking or impatient or selfish. And His power is at work in her to help her to go from seeing her sin to experiencing real and lasting change.

Scott will never be God to her. There is only One who is capable of loving her endlessly and perfectly.

As peace settled onto Kristin, one of the guys spoke up. He shared that unlike Scott (and other husbands in the room…smile) God always wants to hear her talk and that she didn’t need special prayers to communicate with Him. “Just talk to Him like you did to us. Pour out your heart to Him and He will always listen. Don’t feel you have to say it the ‘right’ way.”

“How did you know what I was thinking?!?!?” she exclaimed. “I was just going to ask for prayers I can pray to have this kind of relationship with God.”

Oh, how I love the active presence of the Spirit of God when His people gather.

I know this post has been long. Thank you for your patience. But it’s not enough to read about “speaking the truth in love.” Kristin’s story shows us what speaking gospel truth to one another can look like in a real person’s real life circumstances.

As Tim Keller says, “The gospel is that you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.”

Yes. That’s the gospel. And I saw it in action last Thursday night.

Is Kristin’s story your story?

Meet Dan and Myra

Dan and Myra (not their real names) were young, in love and eager to get married. People wondered if they were rushing it, but they just knew it was right. Plus, Myra’s parents were going through some tough times in their marriage and were selfishly putting their daughter in the middle of it. Dan’s mother loved Myra, and suggested they go ahead and get married soon rather than waiting until their planned date nearly a year away. Her son could marry the first girl he had brought home that Mom liked, and Myra’s parents could focus on the problems in their relationship. There were no complaints from the young couple about moving their wedding to just three months away.

They had a lovely wedding, then moved out-of-state for school. Within months, things started moving down hill…

Myra was deeply discouraged. They were arguing regularly, especially after Dan’s addiction to nicotine — which he had promised was no longer an issue — was exposed. His hiding and lies coupled with her fearful, condescending attitudes were eating away at love. She was homesick and tormented with “should we have listened to the don’t-rush-things advice” questions, while Dan wrestled with feeling insecure and ashamed of his willingness to deceive his wife over cigarettes. He wanted to believe her when she said the issue wasn’t cigarettes but trust; he hated the hurt in her eyes but didn’t understand why she was making such a big deal about it.

What happened?

There’s no easy answer to that question. But one thing is common: Completely understandable (and even biblically commanded!) desires for understanding, honesty, respect, affection and being valued by another often morph into demands that must be met…or else. Dan and Myra’s disappointments cascaded downward in a common journey through unmet expectations to the unknowing end of punishing one another for unfilled desires. Their once-passionate desire for each other became now-passionate hurt, anger, disappointment and hopelessness that things would ever change. They had good times together but the culture of their marriage was becoming sour.

Living in a city with no friends and family didn’t make it easy. But what would they have heard if they had opened up to others? Here are some things they, like others, would likely have heard:

  • “Wow. That’s just not right, Myra. He’s being a jerk. You can’t trust a man who started lying to you this soon! It’s time to lay down the law with him before he starts lying about other things.”
  • “Dan, I know how you feel and let me know if you wanna see a counselor. We did, and she really helped my wife to get a clue about how tough she was making it on us.”
  • “I’m not gonna watch you keep having to deal with this, honey. Your dad and I want you to know you’re always welcome here if you decide you need a break.”
  • “Oh, you two will be just fine. Every marriage and ups and downs. Just be patient and everything will work out.”
  • “Yeah, the same thing happened to me. You were just too young to get married. You hadn’t grown up enough to know what you really wanted. But if you end up hanging it up, you’re still young enough to find someone else.”

What Dan and Myra and every suffering person in conflict needs isn’t “fix it” advice but hope. You see, they wanted to stay married; to walk out the covenant they made; to have their spouse listen and take their concerns seriously; to believe they could work through their problems and actually have a better marriage in the end. And a part of each of them knew the responsibility for their problems was shared.

Hope acknowledges there are problems and sin patterns and weariness. Hope says:

  • He/She needs to change.
  • I’ve been wronged. Hurt. Overlooked. Disregarded. Not taken seriously. Unappreciated. Used.
  • This relationship is damaged. Broken. Frustrating.
  • I’m tired. Unmotivated. Angry. Fearful. Done.
  • But, wait…there is Someone Who was tempted to feel all things things and more.
  • And my spouse (or friend, sibling, parent, child, co-worker) probably feels those same things. too. I’m not the only one hurting in this situation.

Hope doesn’t pretend things are okay because when things are going well we don’t really “need” hope, right? We need hope when things are hopeless. And hope, by definition, means I really think what I desire may actually happen.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines hope this way: “A desire of some good, accompanied with at least a slight expectation of obtaining it, or a belief that it is obtainable. Hope differs from wish and desire in this, that it implies some expectation of obtaining the good desired, or the possibility of possessing it. Hope therefore always gives pleasure or joy; whereas wish and desire may produce or be accompanied with pain and anxiety.”

Dan and Myra learned that unmet wishes and desires had led to pain and anxiety in their relationship; which resulted in punishing one another with hurtful actions, unkindness, trivializing each other’s pain, and withdrawal.

Thirty-eight years later Dan and Myra are still married.  Only their real names are Benny and Sheree. The early years of our marriage are a confusing mixture of prized and hurtful memories. We were alone with no books or Christian teaching on marriage; no wise counselors; no married friends who understood.

But we had a Helper who sustained us with grace and hope.

When no one else is there, He is. When strife and sin damages relationships, the One who hung on the cross to bridge the impossible-to-close cavern between a holy God and sinful man lives to declare, “There is no relationship that I do not have the power to reconcile.”

Benny and I still disagree and hurt each other. But we’ve learned a lot from Dan and Myra about communication, comfort, honesty, humility and patience. The thing we’ve learned most about, though, is hope. When Christ died and then rose again, He proved that relationships can be healed and reconciled…however many times are needed.

And we’ve needed that hope over and over for four decades. He lied to me recently and I reacted with angry self-righteousness. Dan and Myra live on but they are weaker; quicker to ask forgiveness; more humble; and much more deeply in love.

All because He said “it is finished” so he could start and complete a good work in us.

That good work continues.