Sunday, June 29, 2008

My sidebar

For those of you who haven't looked at my sidebar in a while, I've made some changes. I've added a list of "Spiritual abuse resources" and I'm sure I'll be adding more in the future.

Also, one of my friends has started a new blog which I've listed under "Great blogs." She's got some phenonemal thoughts and has a humorous way of presenting them. I've been blessed and encouraged by what she has to say.

Also, I've added a couple of quotes by Darin Hufford. There's a lot of wisdom in what he has to say and I find myself going back and chewing on them a little more.

There may be a few other changes but those are the major one. I hope you'll check them out.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Spiritual Abuse Resources

I've added a section on my sidebar listing several resources that are helpful for victims of spiritual abuse. I've listed a few and will be adding more within the next few days. I would encourage anyone who has been victimized by spiritual abuse to check these out. Healing is available but it is a process. There is help out there and, even though I know it's hard, don't allow shame or guilt to hold you back any longer. Father wants you free and I believe these resources can help you begin that walk to freedom.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Disney World Adventure

Well, here it is . . . the long awaited blog regarding my Walt Disney World vacation. I think you're supposed to hear a drum roll at this point. I promised Amy that I would post something but I'm sure she didn't realize she would have to wait this long.

Sunday morning, June 15th, my husband and I started the seven hour trip to Disney World. We made good time until we got to Jacksonville where a rain storm similar to the one Noah experienced hit. (Sorry, Joel, I didn't mean to talk about rain but maybe you can just ignore this part.) Anyway, at times, we could barely see the taillight ahead of us but nothing stops hubby so we continued to plow ahead. Charlie drove the entire trip there and back. That's probably because I've been told my driving makes people car sick. As a result, when on trips, I'm usually confined to passenger status. That works well since it allows me to read and do crossword puzzles. I'm also given the important responsibility of reading the map.

A couple of months prior to our vacation, we had made reservations at a Disney resort named Coronado Springs. This resort has a Mexican/Southwestern theme and being of Puerto Rican descent, I was immediately drawn to the Hispanic atmosphere. Another plus was that it's the most spread out of the Disney resorts. Having just joined TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly), I was excited about the extra walking opportunities. The grounds were beautiful and I loved the walk. It was a great resort which I would recommend to anyone. Although the rooms were small and unimpressive, the beautiful grounds and delicious food more than made up for their lack. Of course, we didn't stay in the rooms long enough to feel claustrophobic.

We ate at several Disney restaurants but my favorite was Crystal Palace where we got to meet Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore. I thought it would be irritating to have those characters walking around and disturbing our dinner but, instead, it was a lot of fun and made for a memorable evening. None of these stars has let fame go to their heads and they're quick to give a hug and are willing to pose for endless pictures. I was impressed by their humility in spite of their mega-star status.

The negative about the trip was, of course, the crowds and the heat. It also rained for several days so it was impossible to do much with my hair. The curls kept coming back and doing their own thing in spite of my best efforts at taming them. The heat was so bad that, at one point on Monday, I thought I was going to pass out. That's when I figured out that in Florida, it's best to drink LOTS and LOTS of water and make LOTS and LOTS of trips to the bathroom. I've learned to scope out places for the nearest potty as soon as possible upon arrival.

The positive about the trip was the wonderful people I got to meet. Everyone was friendly and willing to talk to strangers. It was almost a family atmosphere but three people stand out.

The first one was a man who gave out the bottles of water and juices at Coronado Springs. He was one of the few American born people who worked there. His name tag said he was from New Rochelle, New York. I had walked over to his stand to get the two bottles to which we were entitled under our meal plan. Well, he and I started talking and a two minute trip turned into a 10 or 15 minute visit. Hubby is used to this so he waited patiently at our table for my return along with the appropriate juice bottles. The juice server was the one who told me that the old Yankee Stadium was closing that week and that the Yankees were moving into their new stadium. Having been raised in the New York/New Jersey area, this was quite a surprise. Talking to him, made me feel at home since at times I still miss N. J.

The second memorable person was a blonde two year old beauty I met at Crystal Palace. She and her family were sitting in the booth next to ours. Our tables were separated by a divider so she could turn around and lean over the divider to visit with me. We quickly became great friends and her father said that they needed to take me with them since she would listen to me. At one point, her father told her to eat her broccoli and she ignored him but, when I told her, she quickly shoved the entire piece into her mouth and it was gone in no time. She was a cute angel that made my dinner at Crystal Palace special.

The third person was a woman who served us during breakfast at Coronado Springs. Her name was Emma and she was Hispanic but, since she didn't have her country on her name tag, I don't know where she was from. I love going to Mexican restaurants because I get to practice my lousy Spanish. I'm always careful to warn them that, "Yo hablo espanol muy malo" so that they don't expect great Spanish conversation from me. I only spoke to Emma twice and have no idea regarding her position spiritually but there was an immediate knitting of our hearts. She called me "mi amor" which means "my love", a common Spanish expression of endearment. I doubt I'll ever see her again but I feel like she was a special gift that Daddy sent to me.

I really enjoyed our trip to Disney World. There were some great times and there were some not so great times but, overall, it was a special time of great memories.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Darin Hufford blog

Darin Hufford has just posted a blog entitled "Into the Wild" that is phenomenal. I know I say that about everything he teaches but this one is, in my opinion, one of his best.

Darin's description of living as a free believer in the wild is as follows. "It's that "NATURAL" part that I want to get at. When I talk about living in the wild as a Christian, some people immediately associate that with some sort of vicious, drooling beast that lives alone in a cave and lashes out, mauling everything crossing its path. Wild does not mean rabid. It simply means free. Free to be what you will. Even a flower can be wild. I cannot stress the importance of this in the life of a Christian. Institutionalism has done everything to insure that this freedom is never realized in the heart of one Christian. That wild essence must be strangled because the heart in which it dwells will naturally demand freedom. Know this: until a Christian is free from organized and planned religion, he or she will never really know what it means to be a Christian. They'll just sit in their pews week after week, like stuffed humans with matted fur and a hollow look in their eyes. Many will not even know that they're missing anything. They'll drink when they're told and they'll eat and fellowship upon command without having the slightest idea what true Christianity is all about. This caging of the natural is perhaps most heartbreaking of all."

Darin has emphasized over and over again that living free in the wild is not about whether or not you're involved in a church. It's about living free to be who Father has created you to be without all of the rules and obligations that modern day Christianity has put on us.

To read the blog in its entirety, follow this link.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

When you can't leave (Spiritual abuse: part 2)

It's been a while since I posted part 1 but here at last is part 2. I'll still be using "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" as my source. Following the pattern set up by the authors, in part 1, I focused on "the unhealthy dynamics that dictate how people function within spiritually abusive systems." In this post, I'll discuss "the dynamics that create walls around abusive systems."

"Certain characteristics of spiritually abusive systems make it immensely difficult for people caught up in them to leave. Because of the focus on religious performance, things look good to those on the outside. The system acts like a "spiritual magnet" pulling in people from the outside. Inside, however, the system acts like a black hole with spiritual gravity so strong it is very hard for people to get out."

Following are listed those characteristics that create an inward pull that keep people trapped in abusive systems. These are taken from chapter 6.

"The following characteristics are what make these abusive spiritual systems so difficult to escape:

5. Paranoia. In a place where authority is grasped and legislated, not simply demonstrated, persecution sensitivity builds a case for keeping everything within the system. Why? Because of the evil, dangerous, or unspiritual people outside of the system who are trying to weaken or destroy "us." This mentality builds a strong wall or bunker around the abusive system, isolates the abusers from scrutiny and accountability, and makes it more difficult for people to leave - because they will then be outsiders too.

6. Misplaced Loyalty. A misplaced sense of loyalty is fostered and even demanded. We're not talking about loyalty to Christ, but about loyalty to a given organization, church, or leader.

Once again, because authority is assumed or legislated (and therefore not real) following must be legislated as well. A common way this is accomplished is by setting up a system where disloyalty to or disagreement with the leadership is construed as the same thing as disobeying God.

There are three factors that come into play here. First, leadership projects a "we alone are right" mentality which permeates the system. The second factor is the use of scare tactics. The third method is the threat of humiliation.This is done by public shaming, exposing, or threatening to remove people from the group.

7. Secretive. When you see people in a religious system being secretive - watch out. People don't hide what is appropriate; they hide what is inappropriate.

Conclusion. When these characteristics exist in a church or Christian family system, the result will be spiritual abuse. It will be a closed system, with rigid boundaries that prevent people from leaving."

In my blogs on spiritual abuse, I've only touched on the highlights. I really recommend studying this topic further by reading this book or studying any of the other resources available. In a previous blog, I recommended some of these additional resources.

I don't know that I'll be adding any more to this series but then originally I wasn't planning on writing a series on this topic. What I've discovered is that this is a broad topic that has affected and is still affecting a multitude of people. It's heartbreaking that the gospel that was meant to be bring freedom and joy has instead been used to enslave and devastate.

Spiritual abuse can thrive only in the darkness of lies and deceit. My hope is that as the shame is removed and people begin to discuss this type of abuse, those that are still bound will be set free and healed of the negative affects and begin to enjoy the freedom that is available in Christ.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm back!!

Those of you who read my blog regularly have probably noticed that I've been unusually quiet this week. Well, Charlie and I have just returned from the land of heat, sweat and exhaustion, otherwise known as Disney World. We left early Sunday morning and returned about an hour ago. The going price for internet access was almost $10.00 for 24 hours. I thought about you and missed all of you but I knew hubby would never agree to pay that price just so I could communicate with my online friends. Also, I tend to be somewhat cheap so I decided I'd better go cold turkey.

If you've emailed me or made any comments on my blog, I'll respond as soon as I can. I'm sorry for the delay. I also plan to post part 2 of How to recognize spiritual abuse. Hopefully, I'll get that posted in a day or so.

It was a great vacation but it's good to be back.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Spiritual Abuse video

Nicole has posted a video on her blog which explains spiritual abuse. I can relate to all that the speaker has said. I invite you to check it out. If you've been abused spiritually, I believe the information provided will be helpful in setting you free. If you need someone who will walk with you on your journey to freedom, I'm available as is Nicole. Also, check out The Best Parts and A Voice in the Desert.

Create in Me a Clean Heart - Keith Green

This is a beautiful song and Keith Green does a great job singing it. I've been in churches where we've sung this beautiful song as a prayer.

The only problem is this is taken from an Old Covenant scripture which has absolutely nothing to do with us today as New Covenant believers. In Christ, our hearts are already clean. We don't have to beg God to do it; he's already done it. We've been given his Holy Spirit who now dwells in us. He's promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Therefore, he would NEVER take his Holy Spirit from us.

Religion has taught us that God will only strive with us for so long (another Old Covenant verse) and then he washes his hands of us in anger and disgust. That can't be further from the truth. If we're in Christ, we're his children and he will NEVER turn his back on us. His love is not based on what we do or don't do. It's based on a never changing relationship.

In the comment section of his blog on Tithing, Joel made some really profound statements regarding the difference between the New and the Old Covenants. He said:

"I've come to a place where I see that the New Covenant is not a matter of "Old Covenant Part 2." In other words, as I look at Old Covenant principles, I'm not trying to interpret them in New Covenant ways or trying to apply them to the New Covenant at all.

The Old Covenant is obsolete (Heb 8:13). The Old Covenant failed because man never could and never did keep his part. The New Covenant is not a matter of a new ways to keep the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is something completely different, and it's based not on man trying to keep principles, but rather man relying on God's faithfulness, grace and love. It's essentially based upon a covenant between Father and Son, and they both have kept their parts. We are the beneficiaries of the covenant, not the keepers of it."

We've got to realize that, as New Covenant believers, our relationship to the Old Covenant is over. There is no longer any relationship. We can't take the prayers prayed by Old Covenant believers such as David and Jabez and pray them today. They no longer apply to us.

Father has given us a better covenant with better promises so why do we keep going back to the old? It's time for us to stop clinging to the Old Covenant which has failed and learn to live in the New Covenant and experience the fullness of life that we've been given.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

How to recognize spiritual abuse: part 1

In a previous post, I discussed the hurt and devastation that is the result of spiritual abuse. Nicki, in her comments, asked what are the symptoms of spiritual abuse. I wasn't planning on writing a second blog about it but I realized this is a very important topic that needs to be discussed. Describing the indicators would be too long for a comment so I decided to post another blog. Also, I think believers need to be aware of the signs for their own sakes as well as for the sake of family and friends.

I'll be quoting from "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" by David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen. This is one of the books that Father used to bring healing to me after my experience with spiritual abuse so I highly recommend it. For additional resources, check out Tracy's blog.

The authors have taken two chapters to describe these unhealthy dynamics. As they explained:

"There are certain characteristics that can be observed in all spiritually abusive systems. This chapter will focus on the unhealthy dynamics that dictate how people will function within spiritually abusive systems. In the following chapter, we will talk about the dynamics that create walls around abusive systems, making it difficult for people to get out."

In order to avoid making this blog too long, I've decided to divide it into two posts following the chapter division that the authors have set up. The following is taken from chapter 5, the first of the two chapters.

"Relationships between people in spiritually abusive systems are dictated by the following dynamics:

1. Power-Posturing. Power-posturing simply means that leaders spend a lot of time focused on their own authority and reminding others of it, as well. This is necessary because their spiritual authority isn't real - based on genuine godly character - it is postured.

2. Performance Preoccupation. In abusive spiritual systems, power is postured and authority is legislated. Therefore, these systems are preoccupied with the performance of their members. Obedience and submission are two important words often used.

3. Unspoken Rules. In abusive spiritual systems, people's lives are controlled from the outside in by rules, spoken and unspoken. Unspoken rules are those that govern unhealthy churches or families but are not said out loud. Because they are not said out loud, you don't find out that they're there until you break them.

The most powerful of all unspoken rules in the abusive system is what we have already termed the "can't-talk" rule. The "can't-talk" has this thinking behind it: "The real problem cannot be exposed because then it would have to be dealt with and things would have to change; so it must be protected behind walls of silence (neglect) or by assault (legalistic attack). If you speak the problem out loud, you are the problem. In some way you must be silenced or eliminated."

4. Lack of Balance. The fourth characteristic of a spiritually abusive system is an unbalanced approach to living out the truth of the Christian life. This shows itself in two extremes:

Extreme Objectivism. The first extreme is an empirical approach to life, which elevates objective truth to the exclusion of valid subjective experience. This is seen in religious systems where even though the Holy Spirit's work might be acknowledged theologically, on a practical level it would be suspect, or denied.

Extreme Subjectivism. The other manifestation of lack of balance is seen in an extremely subjective approach to the Christian life . . . In this system, people can't know or understand truths (even if they really do understand or know them) until the leaders "receive them by spiritual revelation from the Lord" and "impart" them to the people."

As I'm sure you can tell, a spiritually abusive system is characterized by control. The people lose their freedom to think and act and all power is centered in one person or group of people who wield this power without regard for the well being of the people.

In part 2, I'll continue with a description of the characteristics of spiritually abusive systems that make it difficult for people to leave.

Prayers needed for a friend

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I refer to another blogger named Joel often. Well, for those who don't know him, Joel lives in Iowa right in the middle of the flooding and the tornadoes that are ravishing the state. His last blog stated that he and his family are safe but tired. The conditions in the state are far from stable so as the Lord leads, please pray for Joel and his family as well as the people of Iowa.

Great resources to learn more about tithing

In a previous blog post, I recommended a book named "Tithing: Low-Realm, Obsolete & Defunct" which explains the truth about tithing. I forgot that it's available online to be read for free. It's a great little book which not only explains how the Old Testament law of tithing has been dressed up and falsely taught to New Testament believers but it contains some wonderful truths about our position as sons and daughters. To read this book online, follow this link.

Joel has also posted a blog with some additional information about tithing which I think you'll find helpful.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse is an experience which has brought hurt to many believers. Since I've been a victim of spiritual abuse, I can speak from personal experience about how devastating this experience is as well as how difficult the healing process is. Unfortunately, there are many who are still wounded and struggling years after their experience.

This is a topic that needs to be discussed openly and boldly. For those who would be interested in a more in depth discussion of the topic, check out A Voice in the Desert. I haven't read this blog but it looks like it might be helpful for those needing to connect with someone who shares deeply from her own personal experience.

For those who have been victimized by this cruel experience, I want to encourage you that there is healing. You don't have to continue to live with shame and guilt. Father loves you and has never been disappointed in you. He's always loved you and He wants you to know that it wasn't your fault. You were a victim but now it's time to get beyond that victim mentality and begin to see yourself as a son or daughter of a God who loves you more than you'll ever know so rise up and begin your journey to wholeness today. Healing is possible. I can attest to that fact from personal experience.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Being alone

If you're someone who has struggled with feelings of loneliness, maybe this blog post will be an encouragement to you. Feelings of loneliness are a major problem for those of us who are learning how to live outside of the confines of religion. I've heard many free believers complain about the lack of face to face friendships and the loneliness that they feel. This leaves us wondering why there are some who are enjoying fellowship with like minded friends while we're all alone. At times, these thoughts leave us feeling like God has favorites and we're not one of them.

These are feelings and thoughts that I've struggled with at times but instead of dealing with them, I've pushed them down because after all God doesn't have favorites. We all know that. We've been taught that he's no respecter of persons. However, if we're honest, those feelings never really go away. They just stay hidden only to pop up again at a later date.

Recently, I've had two online friends send me emails in which they discussed their aloneness. As I answered them, it seems as though Father was reaching into my heart to reveal some things to me about aloneness vs. loneliness and where I stand in regards to these two experiences of life.

I have struggled with loneliness ever since I can remember. Of course, once I began to pull out of religion, those feelings got worse. At least while I was actively involved in the institution, there was a facade of relationship. However, as I began to distance myself from those activities, those relationships disappeared pretty quickly. This only resulted in intensifying the feeling of loneliness.

A few days ago, I realized that I haven't felt lonely in awhile. That surprised me since I probably now spend more time alone than I ever have before. The difference is that now these alone times are very enjoyable. It seems that Father is bringing me to a place of peace and contentment.

This all began about a year ago when a friend posted a link to an article about introverts. As I read the description, I was shocked to realize that I'm an introvert. Since I love to talk and am sociable, I've always thought that I was an extrovert. However, one of the main characteristics of an introvert is the need and desire for alone time. Well, that describes me perfectly. As I came to understand what makes introverts tick, I began to allow myself the freedom to be an introvert and to pull away when necessary in order to recharge with some alone time.

In January of this year, I started this blog. A couple of months prior to that I had connected with an awesome group of bloggers. The interaction through blogging and commenting on their blogs has become for me a very satisfying expression of the relationships that I had been seeking.

As I thought about the email conversations with my two friends, I knew Father was wanting me to "press into what I have." I have these wonderful online relationships that have come through blogging as well as through several online groups that I'm a part of. I knew Father was telling me to develop these relationships and not worry about the ones that I don't have. Wow! That has brought me great peace as I'm learning to let go of what I don't have in order to enjoy what I do have.

I've heard Darin Hufford say that Father answers the prayers of our heart and not the prayers of our mouths. An important reason why our prayers seemingly go unanswered is because what's in our heart is the opposite of what our mouth is saying. Darin has emphasized the importance of knowing what's in our heart and I believe the answer to my aloneness lies in understanding the desires of my heart.

The truth is I enjoy being by myself. I'm a thinker and can easily get lost in my own thoughts. Also, I love to read and be alone with a good book. Although I want fellowship with like thinking believers, the online relationships I've made have more than satisfied that need without sacrificing my need for privacy.

That's not to say that I don't jump at the chance to connect with people face to face. What it means is that I no longer desperately seek to find someone I can talk to or to spend time with. If the opportunity presents itself, I take it but if it doesn't, I'm at peace. Also, I'm now able to initiate times of fellowship without the desperation I felt at one time.

Even though I've prayed for fellowship with my mouth, I'm satisfied with aloneness because Father is answering the prayers of my heart.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Learning to Give Out in the Wild

I was thinking yesterday about giving and the giving pattern I've developed. When I was actively involved in an institution, deciding where to give and how much was easy because I didn't have to decide. The institution told me where to give and how much to give. The first 10% of my paycheck always went to the local storehouse. The "local storehouse" is christianese for the institution where I was a member.

This 10% was always figured based on my gross income, never on my net. Giving to the local storehouse was considered to be the same thing as giving to God. If we used our net income to determine how much we were going to give, that was a sin because we were actually giving the government the first fruits of our income thereby putting them before God. Of course, God is a jealous God and would get back at us by causing us to lose our job or by giving us a cut in pay until we learned our lesson, repented and began to give him all the money that he was entitled to. After all, we are just stewards of our finances so everything belongs to him and not to us. This method of giving is called paying our tithe. It's payment due to God similar to paying our electric bill.

The tithe, however, was only the beginning of our giving. Our church leaders would periodically decide that there were special opportunities for us to give to God. The most common opportunity was to give to a building program. Some churches really made it easy on us, they would even take a used car or another item of value as a donation. They could then sell this donation and use that money for their special project. We were excited because we knew that we had pleased God with our giving. The only problem is that his pleasure is short lived so we had better make sure our tithe is up to date or he may whack us.

This all sounds right until we come into this message of God's grace. Then, we begin to learn the truth about what giving to God really means. As difficult as it is to believe, we know it's true because it connects with what has been in our heart all along. The first thing Father began to reveal to me was the truth about tithing.

Tithing is an Old Testament concept and is definitely scriptural. The problem is that nowhere in the Bible are New Testament believers told that we are required to tithe. The only reference to tithing is in the letter to the Hebrews. The purpose of that letter is to prove that the New Covenant we live under is a better covenant with better promises. In it, there's a very short reference to tithing used to explain that the priesthood under the New Covenant is better than the priesthood under the Old Covenant. It was not meant to instruct us to pay our tithes. Nowhere else in all of the New Testament letters is tithing mentioned. Surely if it is as important as we are led to believe, it would be a common topic.

In these New Testament days, we have the life of God in us. That was not true before the coming of Christ. The law, which includes instructions about tithing, was put into effect to bring us to Christ. Now that we're in him, our relationship to the law is ended. That includes the law of the tithe. We're no longer required to tithe and we're not robbing God if we don't.

The biggest danger I see with this false teaching is that it robs us of relationship. When I was tithing, I just plunked the money in the offering plate and didn't even think about it. After all, the tithe belonged to God and I didn't want to rob him of what was his. The result is that this produces Christians who have no concept of what it means to give since it becomes a trained behavior.

As we venture out of the system, things change. Now, there is no storehouse where we can put our tithe. Now, we have to decide for ourselves about where to give and how much to give and we find that we don't know. Like all of the institutional practices, the tradition of tithing has robbed us of our ability to hear from God. With no one to tell us where to give and how much to give, we don't know what to do so our giving pretty much stops.

This time of transition was the most difficult for me. During this period, which by the way I'm still in, I stopped doing most of what I was doing before and that included going into my prayer closet and Bible reading as well as tithing. When a pendulum is swinging, it goes from one side to another before it finds its mid spot and stops swinging.

That's true for us too as we learn how to live this life free of the religious constraints of the tithe. Our giving will slow down considerably and may even stop. In time, however, as we re-connect with our hearts we'll learn what it means to be a cheerful giver.

In 2 Corinthians 9:7 Paul says, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

When I was bound by the law of the tithe, my giving was far from cheerful. I gave reluctantly because I was giving under compulsion. Now, as a free believer, I'm learning to re-connect with my heart and, when I give it's with enthusiasm because I'm following what's in my heart instead of giving because this is what I'm told to do.

Malachi 3 has been used to blackmail God's people into giving. I want to encourage anyone who is struggling with guilt because of this false teaching to understand that our Father loves you and does not require you to pay him for his love. It's a free gift because you're his child. Learn to re-connect with your heart and give however your heart leads and you'll discover the joys of being a cheerful giver.

(If you would like to know more about this topic, I recommend reading "Tithing: Low-Realm, Obsolete and Defunct" by Matthew E. Narramore.)