Thursday, December 31, 2009

The heart of a protector

A while ago, I took an online personality test and the results were amazingly accurate. They showed that I'm an Introvert, Sensing, Feeling and Judging. (ISFJ) My personality was described as a protector or a defender. When I saw the results, I immediately thought, "Wow! That's me!" This is a personality trait that I've come to recognize.

I tend to have compassion for the underdog and I immediately want to rescue them from hurt. I hate to see anyone or anything abused which is why I try to promote online groups like "The Animal Rescue Site" and "Not One Sparrow" which focus on animal rights. This has also led to a passion to inform people about the damage caused by spiritual abuse. I've never been one to march and protest but I do share online about those issues that have become important to me.

Being a protector is a wonderful characteristic but, like all personality traits, it also has its downside. After many years of struggling with this, I'm finally beginning to accept the fact that I can't rescue everyone.

A number of years ago, I was involved in a spiritually abusive church. Even after I became aware of what was happening, I stayed and a large part of the reason why was because of my desire to rescue the pastor and to see him set free. Also, I wanted to protect the people from his abuse. I finally left but I felt guilty for many years feeling like I had failed God. I've since come to understand that I left because it was time. God had accomplished in me all that he wanted to accomplish and it was just time to leave.

Since I've become involved with online groups, I've once again seen this trait surface. Unless properly moderated, online groups tend to become extremely abusive. I was a member of two groups that became abusive and I finally had to terminate my membership. Even after I left, I would check in daily out of curiosity. Finally, in order to maintain my sanity, I had to drastically limit even that. I've found that I have to be extremely careful because seeing the abuse and feeling helpless to stop it is emotionally draining for me.

I stayed in both groups longer than I should have because I wanted to protect the other members. Worry and concern for their welfare was tearing me apart emotionally. Putting some distance between me and those abusive groups has helped me tremendously.

I’ve come to believe that it’s impossible to bypass leadership. They control all the cards and there’s nothing I can do to change them or the abusive system from the inside. The truth is each member is free to choose . . . they can stay or they can leave. It’s really up to them. I know people can be so emotionally beaten down that it’s hard to make decisions but ultimately, it’s up to them to take responsibility for their own rescue.

Because of my personality, I’m having to learn to put limits on myself. The bottom line is do I really trust God? Do I really believe that he loves them and will take care of them? While I can be a friend to some, I can’t rescue the world and the truth is that it's really God's responsibility and not mine.

Do we trust God to take care of our friends. They have a spiritual journey they have to walk themselves, just them and God. We can't be expected to rescue everyone. By doing so, we may circumvent the very avenue that God will provide for their escape. Let God be God. Pray, have faith, rest and take comfort in His faithfulness.” (Pigs in the Pulpit – p.287)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I appreciate all of you who read the rambling thoughts that I post here. Some of you add comments and some of you don't but I hope what I share has been an encouragement to you as you're learning to forget the former things and walk in the new things that God has given you. I look forward to continuing this journey with you in the new year.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Range Wars

Recently, hubby and I watched a television program about The Range Wars that took place in Wyoming during the late 1800’s. Cattle barons had taken over government lands as grazing land for their herds and, when The Homestead Act was passed, these lands were given to private individuals by the government. These homesteaders built fences around their property and, at times, rustled cattle from the large cattle owners. Eventually, this resulted in what became known as The Range Wars.

In an attempt to drive out the homesteaders and to stop the flood of settlers, the cattle owners lynched a couple of homesteaders and then hired assassins to kill the rest. For a while, it looked like the cattle owners had won since they had powerful allies. The local newspapers twisted their reporting to support them and, at one point, the President got involved and helped to free a group of assassins. The deck seemed stacked against the homesteaders and it looked like the cattle owners were sure to win. Of course, we know today that their victory was short lived. Homesteaders continued to settle the entire West and eventually the old way of life ended.

I began to think about how we tend to fight change. When our way of life is threatened, we’ll fight to maintain the status quo but often all we accomplish is to postpone the inevitable. When a group is firmly entrenched with power and money on its side, it’ll do anything it can to preserve its way of life This in my opinion is what I see happening in the modern day church.

George Barna in his book “Revolution” concluded that "The number of Christians attending local church in the USA is declining rapidly. Today, 70% of Christians attend traditional churches, but this will sink to 30-35% in 20 years." He further predicted that "The number of followers of Jesus who do not attend a local church will grow from 30% to 70% in the next 20 years."

That can be scary statistics for those who are firmly entrenched in the current system of institutional church. Like the cattle barons, they often resort to extreme measure. While they can’t hire assassins to physically kill those who are leaving, they do use the power of the press to twist their reporting to frighten believers by calling them rebellious and telling them the dangers that await them if they leave the fold. Magazines like Charisma that support their way of life have devoted major portions of some issues to describing the danger in an attempt to scare those who leave.

I believe the popularity of the internet has been a major catalyst for these changes and I also believe that despite all attempts to stop them, these changes will accelerate and continue to grow until the old way of life is ended. As happened after the range wars, the cattle barons still continued to raise cattle but their power and their ability to control their environment dramatically decreased. I believe we’ll always have some form of institutional church. Some people enjoy them and thrive in that environment. However, I believe over time, we’ll begin to see more and more believers who are thriving outside of an organized structure.

Eventually, it became obvious to the cattle barons that they were fighting a losing battle and that their only option was to coexist with the settlers. I think the church is faced with the same decision. There’s room for both groups, however, conditions will continue to change. As Jesus is building his Church, he will place some members outside of a local body and they will thrive there. Others, he’ll continue to send into an institutional system. I think the key for us is to remember that it’s his Church and he can build it anyway he wants. Our responsibility is to find the method that works best for us and to not look down on others who have chosen another method.

I love the variety of the church that we have today. I still go on Sunday mornings and have no desire to stop going. However, the vast majority of my friends don’t go. I love the richness of our fellowship as we share life from our different perspectives.

It’s a great day to be a member of the Church. No longer do we have to be bound to a religion that requires us to conform to an outward standard for acceptance. We’ve now been given the freedom to decide how we’re going to relate to the Church that Jesus is building and I’m thankful that I can freely follow him wherever and however he leads.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Letter from Meredith

I received the following email after I was interviewed by Jim Robbins on his Good and Noble Heart podcast. Meredith shared her experiences in an abusive church and I believe many of us can relate to what she went through.

She has graciously agreed to allow me to post it here. My hope is that as you read her story, you'll be encouraged to move more deeply into the love and freedom that God has given to us.

Hi Aida,

Jim Robbins suggested that I write you and share some of my experiences with you regarding spiritual abuse. I listened to your interview on Jim's site yesterday and you were just great. Like you, I have survived abusive churches and am super well and have learned a lot from the experiences.

I told Jim I would share my response to your interview in an e-mail. There are a lot of similarities in our experiences. I think this kind of abuse follows the grand design for this kind of thing. The thing that I am most interested in lately is the particular special abuse heaped on women in these situations.

Thanks for letting Jim interview you.

The following is my response on Jim's site to your interview.

Thanks!

Meredith

Hi Jim,

Great interview with Aida! She is amazing!

Having been though spiritual abuse myself...and I think many have---even more than realize it...She brought up a lot of points that resonated with my experience.

Submission--- Ha ha ha This is a BIG one, and something that I was very much criticized for. In fact I was labelled rebellious. These religious leaders do exactly what Aida says. The speak about submission and state that we are to unquestionably follow leadership and even if they ask you to do something wrong, you have to do it and God will bless you, otherwise you will be cursed. (I never bought that one.) And Jim, you are so right, this is a very cult-like. I remember leaving a church and the pastor insisted upon a meeting with me and I told him that it was starting to feel cult-like there. He said "we've been called that before..." I got chills.


Vested interest in ignorance---- Yes! Aida said that well! It is unbelievable that a church leader could know the truth or part of it and still withhold it. But they do. In these instances I assume that they are not who they say they are, because that behavior is not a product of goodness. They do this so that they have people around to do things and finance the church. Guilt is a good motivator to get people to do things...tithe, volunteer time, keep them in the church....

Upheaval---- Aida's experience matches mine. If something is going well, it is ended. And also it seems that the pastor will throw his support behind a class or project that is unfruitful or a complete failure. If someone complains that they do not want to participate in it. He will state that that person is not spiritually astute enough to understand its value. They want to keep people down not enlighten and free them.

Conformity--- I could go on forever on this. Originality and alternative views on scripture are demonized. If the pastor wants you at a particular meeting and you tell him you cannot then he will freeze you out and bring it up at a later date. I just have to tell this... There was a tea party at the church on a Sunday. Services were held Saturdays. They had me there virtually every afternoon after work/ school to "help" with things. I needed one day out of the week to do laundry and rest. I was approached by someone who asked if it was okay of they changed me from one table to another for the day of the tea party. I told them I did not RSVP and I should not be on any seating charts at all. I asked who said I would be there and no one answered but everyone was irrate. I told them that I had already been there 6 days and I need to rest. (Bad answer.) Well, I got calls from 3 people in leadership questioning why I wasn't going to the dumb tea party. I still refused and they were further angered..... I was respectful in my refusal and couldn't understand what the big deal was. That was the beginning of my bad reputation....:0)

But I agree with Aida that the experience does make us richer even though it is incredibly painful at the time. I too would not be the person I am today and wouldn't have understood any of this.

Meredith

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pigs in the Pulpit

Written by J. Michael Wittman, "Pigs in the Pulpit" is the story of his family's journey to freedom after years in what he describes as a cult-like group. As I've said in previous posts, spiritual abuse is a subject that has been swept under the rug by the institutional church. No one wants to talk about it. Well, J. Michael Wittman is talking about it and I admire his candor.

As long as it remains a hidden topic, multitudes of sincere believers will be hurt and victimized. Anyone who has read my blog knows that I'm passionate about seeing the captives set free so I'm thankful for books like this one that are exposing the truth about spiritual abuse.
This is a captivating story of how the author and his family were ensnared in abusive systems for over 17 years. He describes his initial experience of "love bombing" and how that led to allegiance to two different groups and leaders that were controlling and abusive. In the early stages, there was "a systematic tearing down of my will, my conscience and my character, so that I would be more susceptible to being controlled."
Those who haven't been involved in these types of groups wonder why anyone would stay. However, one of the characteristics of mind control is that people find it difficult to leave even after they begin to see what's happening. The tentacles of mind control are strong and not easily broken. The author clearly describes the struggle he and his family went through before they finally were able to break free.
Even after leaving, however, the road to healing and normalcy is often long and difficult. In my opinion, the last chapter of the book is one of the best. In it, the author gives ten suggestions that will aid in the transition to normalcy. Even though I've been outside of an abusive group for many years, I found his suggestions helpful.
Reading this book was painful at times since I could relate to the author's pain and humiliation. However, in my opinion, he's done a wonderful job of describing the horrors of what he endured. Until people are willing to speak out, others will continue to be victimized. and I'm glad he's chosen to tell his story.
Although the story was riveting, it was sometimes difficult to wade through the many unimportant descriptive details. However, I still believe it's an excellent resource for anyone struggling to break free from an oppressive religious system.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sin and shame part 2: The solution

In an earlier post, I discussed the fact that it’s our shame and not sin that causes a separation between us and God. To get the background, you might want to read that post before reading this one. The comments were really good so I think it would be helpful to read them as well.

Although there had been a barrier, God in his love and mercy, has provided a solution and that solution is the cross. Jesus bore our sins on the cross but more importantly . . . he bore our shame. Shame and sin were nailed to the cross so there’s no longer any separation between God and us. Now, we can enjoy unbroken fellowship with him.

Since I’ve grown in the security of God’s love, I no longer spend a lot of time worrying about sin. To be honest, I rarely think about it. This actually concerned me more than the actual sin itself. However, I’ve since come to understand that an over concern with sin is a shame based behavior that Jesus dealt with on the cross. Because shame has been removed, sin should no longer be the focus of our attention. Now that I’m free, my attention can be focused on God and his love.

When I blow it, I don’t have to run from him in shame. Instead, I can go to him confident that I’m loved and accepted. Love (God) is patient. He understands our humanness and that at times, we may even be stubborn and want our own way. Yet, he still loves us.

As I’m learning to live more deeply in his love, God’s healing those broken places in my life that have caused me to sin. Now, I can stop beating myself over the head when I miss it. Instead . . . I can accept my humanness and live free from shame knowing that I’m fully loved and accepted by God.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Good and Noble Heart podcast

Recently, I was a guest on Jim Robbins' The Good and Noble Heart podcast. Jim is a good friend and we had a blast as we discussed a number of different topics including my journey from the bondage of religious thinking to freedom in Christ.

Part of my journey included being involved in an abusive religious system. Since I've experienced the pain of spiritual abuse, my heart is to see others set free from this oppressive bondage. Jim has also had some experience with spiritual abuse so we were both able to share what we've learned from our different but still very similar experiences.

To hear this podcast, follow this link. I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sin and shame part 1: Why are you hiding?

For years, I believed that sin caused a separation between God and me. I was taught that God is righteous and holy and can’t bear to look on sin so when I sin, he turns away from me. In order to be restored to a right relationship with him, I had to repent and ask for his forgiveness. Then, I could live in his forgiveness until the next time I sinned and then the process began again.

Recently, my understanding of this has changed. In the garden, after Adam and Eve had sinned by eating the fruit God had told them not to eat, he didn’t turn away from them. Instead, he came looking for them as he had always done. However, now instead of greeting him, they hid from him. When they didn’t immediately come to him, he called out to them and they finally responded. They told him that they had hidden because they were naked. Shame because of their naked condition had caused them to hide from God.

This story and many others show us that God never turns away from us even when we sin. However, because of shame, we turn away from him. So, it’s obvious that shame, not sin is what causes this separation.

In the story of the loving father and his prodigal son, the father saw his son coming home when he was a long way off. He didn’t wait for his son to come to him and ask his forgiveness. Instead, before the boy could say a word, he ran to him, hugged him and kissed him. He immediately restored him fully as a son with all of the rights and privileges of a son because, in his eyes, there had never been a separation. The separation only existed in his son’s heart.

Jesus also told a story about a shepherd who left his 99 sheep to look for one lost sheep. He didn't wait for the sheep to come to him with its head hanging down in shame. Instead, he went looking for it until he found it. Then, he joyfully put it on his shoulders and carried it home.

Religion has taught us that because of his holiness, fellowship with God is broken until we've repented. This tradition has caused a lot of insecurity and fear because we're never quite sure if we've offended him. We've been told that we're out from under his umbrella of protection until we repent. So, if we don't quickly repent, all sorts of terrible things can happen to us and our family.

This picture of an easily offended God is in my opinion despicable. The description of love given by the apostle Paul says that love is not easily angered and it keeps no record of wrongs. In other words, love is not easily offended. Since God is love, then it stands to reason that he's not easily offended either.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I've been crowned!

My good friend, Leonard, has been sending caps to some of his friends who he feels have encouraged him in his grace walk and I've been privileged to have received one of his Reese's caps.

Leonard, who loves to study the meaning of words, told me that Reese's means zealous. He also asked me to take a picture wearing the cap and to send it to him. Since he promised not to draw a mustache on it, I agreed. (Those of you who know Leonard, know that it's best to confirm these things before agreeing.)

My other good friend, Ron, was also crowned and has posted his picture on his blog. Following his courageous example, I'm also posting my picture crowned with a Reese's cap. So, here it is . . . !

Monday, November 9, 2009

A life changing truth!

I posted on Amazon.com the following review of "Recover Your Good Heart" by Jim Robbins. Jim is a good friend who is gifted in many ways. As you may recall, he designed the beautiful header on my blog.

I've talked a lot about Jim's book but I've never done an actual review. I hope you enjoy my review and will decide to order a copy and read it for yourselves.

"God is more interested in teaching you to live from your new (and good) heart than he is in pressuring you to be a good Christian."

This compelling statement from the back cover of “Recover Your Good Heart” beautifully describes the essence of what Jesus meant when he said that he came to give us abundant life.

We’ve been told that our hearts are wicked. As a result, we spend our lives striving to please a god who is always watching, ready to mete out punishment whenever we fail. This is a scary god who can’t be trusted so we end up hiding, afraid of his wrath. What a sad picture of Christianity today!

Jim Robbins totally dispels this lie. We’re not just worms in the dust waiting for God to pour out his wrath on us. NO! The truth is that we’ve been given a new heart which is filled with God’s life so now we’re his children and he’s eager to pour out a continuous flow of love and grace on us.

Jim, in a style that’s clear and simple to understand, describes the truth about our good and noble heart. Included in the book are stories of people who have been bound by shame and guilt because they’ve believed that no matter what they did, it was never good enough. As they learned the truth about their good hearts and began to live in that reality, their lives were dramatically changed.

I highly recommend this book . As Jim said, "It’s time to set your good heart free . . . " and that’s exactly what I believe will happen for those who read this book and accept the truth that they now have a good heart.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The essence of community

I've just finished reading "The Secret Lives of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd. Set in South Carolina in 1964 just after the passage of the civil rights bill, it tells the story of Lily Owens a troubled teenager who finds healing and hope in a loving community of caring women. Although not written for a christian audience, I believe it gives us a wonderful picture of how God intended for community to function and how a safe community can be an instrument to help bring healing and wholeness.

At the end of the book, the author shares some of her thoughts regarding the book. One of the questions she was asked is "How does having a sisterhood of women make a difference?" Although her answer was given regarding a community of women, it would also be the same for all communities . . . those made up of men or those made up of men and women.

Here is an excerpt from the answer she gave. Her answer in my opinion describes the essence of true community.

When women bond together in a community in such a way that "sisterhood" is created, it gives them an accepting and intimate forum to tell their stories and have them heard and validated by others. The community not only helps to heal their circumstance, but encourages them to grow into their larger destiny. This is what happened to Lily. She found a sanctuary of women where she could tell her story , and have it heard and validated --an act that allowed her not only to bear her sorrow but transform it.

What a wonderful thing it would be if we could all find such a loving caring community.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Preorder: The Misunderstood God

"Is there more to God than meets the religious eye? From the publishers of The Shack comes a provocative book that further unveils the unfathomable love and grace of God. Author Darin Hufford takes God's claim to be love itself and holds it up against God's own definition of love in one of the most beloved passages of the Bible --1 Corinthians 13. Scripture calls him the God of love, but religion often portrays him with the vindictive personality of the devil. Which one is he and how can we be sure? If you've ever struggled to understand the nature of God, this book will help you see that God is truly the definition of love." (ad campaign by Windblown Media)

Scheduled to be released November 2, "The Misunderstood God" is now available for preorder. To read my previous post about "The Misunderstood God," follow this link.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New look

I'm sure you've noticed the new look on my blog. I don't want anyone to think that I'm that creative. The new look is due to the creative genius of Jim Robbins. Jim is a very gifted author, musician and teacher. He's also very knowledgeable about computers and their workings so when he offered to create a header for my blog, I immediately took him up on it.

I'm definitely challenged when it comes to computers so I'm fortunate to have a friend who knows what he's doing. Jim is a gem. He worked on this all afternoon to get it to fit right but I'm thrilled with the results. He also inspired me to make some additional changes in color and the font.

As I said, Jim is also a gifted author. If you haven't read his book, Recover Your Good Heart, you're missing a treat. Also, if you're on Facebook, Jim just started a new community called The Good and Noble Heart Community. It was formerly a group but it now has its own page so I hope you'll join us there for some good conversation.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mind Control

I found this article posted on Cultwatch describing the mind control that is used by abusive groups. My desire is to see people free from the ravages of spiritual abuse and I believe this article will inform and perhaps lead some to take steps towards their freedom.

To read it, follow this link.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A safe place

My last post was a review of the newly released book "Bo's Cafe." Some great comments were posted as Bruce McNicol, one of the authors, shared about the importance of having "a safe place." His comments as well as the discussion helped me to clarify my thoughts regarding safe places.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about safe places as they pertain to online groups. The question I've been pondering is: What is a safe place and is it really possible to have one? Relationships are messy and online ones where we may not know the people involved can be particularly messy.

In my involvement with online groups, I've seen a very disturbing trend develop as the volume of arguing and anger increases. This is true even of groups that have been formed for christians to share and discuss their beliefs. Because of the level of rancor, some groups have become, in my opinion, spiritually abusive. Anyone who expresses a thought outside of the accepted belief of the most vocal is subject to name calling and harassment of the worst kind. These abusive groups are usually unmoderated since moderated groups don't tend to experience this type of chaos and abuse.

Watching this happen has caused me to wonder . . . Is it realistic to expect these types of groups to be environments where everyone behaves? Should there be moderation to ensure proper behavior or is that setting up an unrealistic, unnatural environment? As I thought about these questions, I began to compare two groups that that I've been involved with - one is abusive and the other one has a spirit of love that permeates all of the conversations.

One of the responders to my post said that a safe place is not necessarily a "comfy" place and, as Bruce further elaborated on that statement, I began to see things more clearly. He said, "a safe place is not a soft place. An environment of grace is a place where the truth will flow most freely, the truth about who I am, how I'm doing, and how we're doing."

That's exciting! "A safe place" is a place where the members can open up and be vulnerable without being attacked. However, it will definitely not be a comfortable place because we'll give other members freedom to lovingly delve into those areas of our lives that we've done our best to keep hidden even from ourselves.

Like a wound that has been lanced to let out the infection, delving into those hidden places can be painful, messy and at times ugly. However, if we want to be healed, we need to submit to the pain and allow our community of friends to help us struggle through to freedom. I believe the only way this will work is if the group is free from abuse. Hurting members will not open up if instead of gentle lancing to bring healing, their wound is scratched and further torn open through abuse.

Some of us don't have a local community that we meet with in a face to face relationship. Our only community is online. Therefore, if we're to get beyond the hurts of the past, we need to find a safe place where we can be open and honest without fearing abuse.

This conversation regarding safe places has really excited me as I see the potential in the life of a believer where one exists. Like the authors, I hope we'll begin to see more safe places rise up - both in our local communities and online.

If you'd like to read my post reviewing "Bo's Cafe," follow this link. I invite you to share any thoughts you might have that will help us further process this concept of "a safe place."


Wouldn't it be great if we all had one?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Memory - Three Tenors

This is one of my favorite videos. I love this song and I love how they do it. Besides, I think their accents are cute.


Monday, September 28, 2009

"Bo's Cafe" blog tour

I was quite surprised when I opened my inbox last week and found an email from Bruce McNicol, one of the authors of “Bo’s Café,” asking if I’d be interested in being part of a blog tour for their book which was starting today. I happily agreed which was definitely an act of faith since at that time, I didn’t even have a copy of the book. It was on order but I didn’t receive it until a few days later. When I did receive it, excitedly and expectantly, I immediately began reading. I’ve since finished the book and enjoyed it very much.

“Bo’s Café” is a fictional account of events in the life of Steven Kerner, a high powered business executive, who is struggling in his marriage and in his career. His life changes when he meets a man named Andy and begins to meet with a group of folks at a restaurant called Bo’s Café. Through a developing friendship with Andy and this group, he finds authentic community and a safe place to be open and vulnerable.

I really didn’t know what to expect when I started reading. To be honest, I found the group that met at the café to be irritating and I don’t think that I would enjoy spending time with such a zany group of characters but I loved the fact that they weren’t perfect. They were a group of very flawed individuals who were willing to openly discuss their flaws.

This is in contrast to our religious world, where we’re always very careful to pretend that we have it all together. We never allow others to see who we really are.

Here’s a quote from the book. Lindsey says, “Sometimes at church it feels like the ones who look all cleaned up are the admired ones. If you dare let someone know something wrong about you, it’s like you’re suddenly a second-class citizen, part of the leper group. You know what I mean? Who would dare let anyone in with those stakes.” (Bo’s Café page 214)

People schooled in religion won’t let us see their hurts and their flaws so, when we struggle, we’re left feeling like we’re failures and that God is disappointed with us. “Bo’s Café” gives me hope that even with all of my imperfections, I can still be a source of encouragement to others and that’s it’s best accomplished by letting them see my imperfections and allowing them to help me struggle through them.

There are times when I struggle because I feel like I’m not doing anything. Fortunately, I’ve gotten past the feeling that I need to run out and do something . . . anything! However, I do sometimes feel down when I think about the classes I’m not teaching and about the groups I’m not speaking to.

This book reinforced an important truth that I know but I can’t always see clearly . . . and that’s the importance of one on one relationships. Speaking in front of a group may give me a temporary high but that’s nothing compared to the joy of walking through the twists and turns of life with someone in the unity of relationship.

“Bo’s Café” is a book that will definitely challenge and affect your thinking regarding community and authentic relationships. I believe it will also answer some questions we’ve all had regarding what a grace filled life looks like.

Bruce, John and Bill, I’ve enjoyed your book but I do have a question. In the book, several times you had Andy tell Steven that he wants to protect him. To be honest, the use of the word “protect” made me uncomfortable. It sounded too much like the religious concept of a “covering.”

My question is: Why did you choose the word “protect” to describe Andy’s relationship with Steven and what did you mean by it?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Butterfly

From time to time, I hope to add posts written by guest bloggers. Some of my friends don't have blogs of their own but they've got a word to share that I believe needs to be heard so I want my blog to be a place where they can share what's on their heart.

If you haven't already done so, I suggest that you read the poem I recently posted that was written by Brett. I know it'll encourage you on your journey to healing and freedom.

Today's guest blogger is Sandy, a friend who has written a beautiful post describing how even the simplest of things can be a reminder of God's love and grace. I know you'll enjoy what she has to share.

Butterfly

A dear friend of mine recently gave me a really cool gift. When I opened the gift box I found an opaque white butterfly etched within a glass display, resting on a flower also etched within the display. There was a stand included for the display to rest on. I immediately thought to myself, “Wow, how pretty!” Later, when batteries were installed and the power was turned on I really saw something beautifully displayed.

A variety of colors began illuminating and passing through the butterfly. Green. Red. Blue. Pink. Yellow. There were moments when the colors overlapped causing a mixture of colors to cross over the butterfly. The butterfly didn’t move. It just rested on the flower, secure on the firm stand. To me, this is a beautiful picture of the believer’s true identity in Christ.

Colors pass through my life. Sometimes things change rapidly and/or there are many things happening all at the same time so many colors are moving through my life all at the same time. These “colors” can be seen as emotions, circumstances, people effecting my life, etc.; anything that might hinder my view. With the state our economy is in right now, I think a lot of folks are experiencing a lot of different “colors” in their lives.

I see the stand as the Rock of Ages, the batteries as His Life within me supplying the power, and the flower as the beauty of His grace. When I think of the butterfly resting despite all the different “colors” passing through, it brings comfort to me, and a reminder that who I am and what I have as a child of the living God is what is real, what is true. Emotions, circumstances, people, etc., are but passing entities. I can feel the emotions and then let them go, I can deal with people and circumstances the best I can, but most importantly I hold on the truth that His grace is more than sufficient for me regardless of what life brings, and that I am a butterfly continuing to learn true rest in His amazing Grace!

Sandy

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Surviving Spiritual Abuse

I just added on my sidebar the links to two videos on the topic, "Surviving Spiritual Abuse." The speaker is Dr. Stephen Arterburn, author of "Toxic Faith." Dr. Arterburn answers a series of questions related to what is spiritual abuse and how to be free from its affects.

These are great resources for anyone who has been victimized by spiritual abuse. If this applies to you or someone you know, I suggest checking out these videos. You can also view them by following this link and this link.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Heavenly Deception - previous post

A few days ago, I posted a poem written by brettact2. The poem is a description of his journey from spiritual abuse to freedom in Christ. I’m sure many who have been victimized by spiritual abuse can relate to the hurt and the struggles that he describes.

Brett has graciously agreed to make himself available to dialogue with anyone who would like to share their thoughts and their questions. So, if you’ve been touched by the raw honesty of his poem, feel free to add your comments.

Freedom is available to you and I know Brett would love to hear your story and encourage you on your journey to freedom.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Heavenly Deception

The following poem was posted on The Free Believers Network forum. The author who calls himself brettact2 wrote this poem describing his journey out of “a one true church personality cult 30 years ago.”

Because of my experience with spiritual abuse, this poem touched me deeply and I believe anyone who has been victimized will be able to relate to what was said. I asked Brett if I could post it here because it clearly describes the confusion and guilt that we experience as our eyes are opened. I believe understanding our emotions and knowing that it’s okay will help in the healing of those who are still struggling.

May you be encouraged as you read Brett’s words.

Heavenly Deception

There is so much Lord,
That is claimed in Your name,
For which we are ashamed.

Truth whispered from ear to ear;
Prized, hidden, cloaked,
Disguised from the world;
For we are one of the chosen few,
Initiates into the mysteries of time,
And the world laughs at us.

The works of man feel soo good-
Discipline, love, acceptance,
Unity in uniformity,
Common belief,
With no grief, no pain-
We’re anesthetized,
So we believe everyone else is insane
Living in vain,
While we're mindless -
Drugged out, washed out,
Unable to know our feelings & doubts,
Because we know Truth,
We're in the Family,
We're his 'children'
And must express the reality thereof;
Perfectly loyal, without fear, doubt,
Or equivocation.
Just claim emancipation,
As we sink deeper,
And deeper,
Thru mere participation,
Into mindless submission,
Performing the deception,
Ordained of god,
To advance the Work,
Amongst all these clods.
Heavenly Deception -
In the name of Truth.

We sit back,
Having it all pat,
Swallowing Satan's con:
Surface religion.
Tired of his standard brands,
We searched for truth, peace & love.
He offered us suitable facsimiles,
(Empty & hollow,
The only level deception survives at)
Just prior to our reality confrontation;
Plucked out of the rat race,
Placed into Satan's deceptive grace.

But then the moment comes,
The true moment of truth,
When we see
From the simple gut level values of our conscious,
That what the group speaks,
To its members
And the world,
Don't match.
The moment of confrontation -
When we find politics preempts truth.

"God, what do I do?
This group teaches the truth,
The fruits are good,
But God,
This is hypocrisy,
Help me Lord!
I want to believe!
I want to belong!
I want to serve You,
I want to do what is right!
Help me God,
Show me how to reconcile the two,
Maybe this…
Or maybe that…
But it doesn't fit!
It just doesn't fit.

Lord, why aren't you answering me?
Can You?
Maybe they don't reconcile -
But they've got to -
What they preach and write is so true -
I've put so much into this organization -
They can't be hypocrites,
Can they?…
Why not?
Why do they have to be different from other men?
Why can't money, power & fame
Get to them,
Making religion one big game?
God!!
Help me!!!
I don't want to think these thoughts,
I don't want to believe this to be true,
I want to believe in You,
I want to do Your work,
And they're doing it.
God!
Help me!!
I can't figure this out!
Its driving me mad!
Help me!!!

Then more information came pouring in,
Confusing me more,
Friends desperately bombarding me with questions and facts;
The dilemma worsens;
I can't hold on,
But I must,
They are God's chosen,
The true church,
The only way to eternal life.

"I just want peace Lord,
I don't want anything new in my life;
I just want to sit home.
Leave me alone everyone,
I'm busy hanging on to the truth;
Please, don't change anything in my world,
I'm just barely in it now.
Oh Lord, I can't wait till the day I die'
Thoughtless death,
Sweet death,
Please come to me."

But it didn't.
Instead, You sent a message,
You reminded me of our first meeting,
How You convicted me to search for the Truth,
Showed me to judge honestly.


Thank You Lord,
For renewing my faith in You to see me through.
Be with me as I study YOUR Word,
Let me not take sides,
Nor make artificial standards to measure by,
But seek the Truth,
Which shall make me free;
If I am free
I am free totally.

There is so much Lord,
That's destroying people in these cults;
Use me to help them,
To help pluck them out of the fire somehow,
As You have plucked me,
Saved me from deception's misery.
Come Lord Jesus,
To save us all from ourselves.
Come.


Brett

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Living Word

"Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee."

This Old Testament scripture has been used to promote the practice of scripture memorization. That might have been helpful under the Old Covenant since believers didn't have daily access to the scriptures. The only time they got to hear them read is when they went to the synagogue on the sabbath.

Today, however, we live under a new covenant. We no longer need to go to a building in order to hear the word of God read because he now lives in us. Jesus is the Word of God and, when he comes to live in us, he sets us free from sin. As we become more aware of his life in us, our tendency to sin diminishes.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Honest Look at Friendships

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships and relationships and I’ve come to believe there’s a difference between the two.

On Facebook, we have a long list of people that we call friends yet we probably never communicate with the vast majority of them. A few days ago, someone posted their status on my home page and I thought, “Who are they???” Then, I realized that person is one of my “friends”. Obviously, it isn’t much of a friendship since I have no idea who she is.

I believe "friend" is a word that’s been cheapened through overuse. We tend to toss that word around casually and call people friends that we hardly ever talk to. I believe the reason for that is because we have a desire to belong and to be accepted. In our introvert promoting society, we tend to look at having many friends as defining our worth. As a result, introverts are made to feel like there’s something wrong with us because we tend to have few friends.

Proverbs 18:24 says “A man of many friends may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Friendships are meant to be deep. Friendship is a heart connection between two people that can’t be broken and the connection goes both ways. I believe a true friendship is mutual with both people working to develop and maintain it.

If only one person is making the effort, the relationship is one-sided and is not a real friendship in my opinion. That’s not to say, however, that we need to end those relationships. I believe one-sided relationships can have great value since they tend to keep us other people focused rather than ME focused. However, we need to understand that there is a difference between a friendship and a one-sided relationship. This is important to know in order to avoid being hurt or hurting others.

The problem with confusing a one sided relationship with a true friendship is that we begin to have expectations of the other person that they cannot or will not fill. Instead of accepting the relationship for what it is, we struggle to make it what we want it to be and we tend to develop a needs based relationship where we want the other person to meet our needs. The result is hurt and anger as we try to manipulate the other person to fit into the box we’ve created for them.

Jesus said that friends lay down their lives for each other and Proverbs says that a friend is close, sometimes closer than family members.

True friendship can only exist with a few people. I believe it’s impossible to have that depth of friendship with a lot of people. Developing friendships require time, thought and effort and, if we try to expand our friendships to include everyone we come in contact with, the results will be superficial relationships and a lot of frustration as we fail to live up to our promises.

Relationships are important and I value those people who have passed through my life, enriched it and then continued passing through. Others, however, have stayed to develop a heart connection and these are the friendships that I treasure.

To read more about friendships, check out this post by David Backus and one of my older post.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why I still go

As some of you know, I still go to an institutional church on Sunday mornings. The believers I spend time with are a wonderful group of people who call themselves Presbyterians. I attend the Sunday morning service regularly but I don’t go to any of the regularly scheduled programs although I may attend a special event if I want to.

About 12 years ago, God began to set me free from a religious mindset. As I became more and more aware of my identity in Christ and what he had accomplished for me by his death, burial and resurrection, I started to see the church differently.

I now understand that the church is not a building or a denomination but it’s a people who have been energized by the life of God. Also, fellowship is not a group of believers sitting in a building listening to a lecture about the Bible. Fellowship is a sharing of lives which can take place any time believers come together.

As I began to understand the truth of the gospel, my involvement in the organized church grew less and less but I never actually stopped going.

Those of you who have stopped going understand the stress you experience anytime you’re asked THE question . . . “Where do you go to church?” There’s always pressure to come up with an answer that won’t generate the infamous Hebrews 10:25 response.

Those of us who still go and can name a place have our own stresses too. I can feel a knot in my chest every time I’m asked where I go to church. Although church is a part of my life, it’s a relatively unimportant part. So, as a result, I struggle to find the right balance in my answer.

Then, I’m faced with another dilemma. There’s a tendency for some believers who have left the system to bash the institutional church. Before I continue, let me say that this isn’t a problem with those who comment on my blog and it isn't a problem with other believers that I’ve connected with through online groups such as the Free Believers forum.

However, I have seen this tendency on other online groups that I frequent. In conversations, those of us who attend are sometimes challenged about our participation. Comments are made and the result is that believers who understand grace but still attend are considered to be fraternizing with the enemy and are made to feel guilty.

At times, I’ve wondered myself why I still attend since I get nothing out of the sermon and don’t particularly enjoy the other parts of the service. I wonder what’s wrong with me that I haven’t gotten fed up and left. So, when talking to those who have left, unless I know them well, I’m always careful to come up with a good excuse for why I still attend.

Recently, I received an email from a friend who has been in a similar situation. He was going for family reasons but recently made the decision that "enough is enough" and it was finally time to make a break.

As I thought about what he shared, I began to see my own situation more clearly. I had to be honest with myself. The bottom line is . . . I go because I want to. I enjoy being around people even when I don’t actively interact with them. Laurie Helgoe in her book, “Introvert Power” talks about this desire of introverts to be alone among people and it’s true in my life. When I’m home alone for too long, I tend to get depressed so I do better emotionally if I’m around people even if we never talk. I can drift off into my own thoughts and do just fine.

So, I go Sunday mornings and pay no attention to what happens on stage. If I feel like singing, I do. If I don’t feel like singing, I don’t. I don’t raise my arms or clap when they tell me unless I feel like it. When the lecture starts, I tune out. I either look out the window that’s across the room or I watch the people and enjoy them.

As a free believer, God has restored to me choice and I’m now free to make my own decisions and to relate to him in a way that's natural. Of course, I’m not talking about freedom to sin but in the nitty gritty decisions of life, I’m free to choose. As far as church is concerned, I’m free to go and I’m free to not go. The decision is entirely mine.

I don’t know what the future holds. There may come a day when I decide that “enough is enough” but for now, I understand that it’s just not time for me to leave. If that time ever comes, I’ll know it and then I’ll leave but, until then, I have the freedom to go because I want to and I don’t have to feel guilty because I do.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Elders

Believers who have been hurt by the religious system have a tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water when it comes to leadership in the church. Because many of us have been hurt by abusive and controlling leaders, the tendency is to get into a ditch on the other side of the road and to say that all leadership is under the Old Covenant and the need for human leaders ended under the New Covenant.

I think this teaching is as false as the system of leadership promoted by the institutional church. I really believe God intended for his church to have leaders. As I was thinking about this a while ago, I decided to put some thoughts down but I never posted them. I was trying to decide if I should post them when I read Bino’s latest post. I thought what he said went along well with what I had written so I decided to post what I had written and incorporate a few new thoughts.

In the institutional church, leadership is provided by a pastor with the assistance of a board of elders. In that type of system, it’s easy to determine who are the leaders . . . they’re the ones with the title.

However, this wasn’t the method used by the early church. According to Frank Viola, “The Christians themselves led the church under Christ’s direct headship. Leaders were organic, untitled, and were recognized by their service and spiritual maturity rather than by a title or office.” (Pagan Christianity, page 110)

In any group of believers, over time, it’ll become obvious who the elders are. They’re the ones who are serving and encouraging the others. They’re the ones that the other members go to for advice and encouragement. True elders don’t need a title and they don’t go around saying that they’re elders. They just live it without a lot of fanfare.

Eldership was never meant to be a position filled by a congregational election. Elders were supposed to develop as the members of the church grew in relationship. In this healthy, loving environment, elders would just naturally begin to function as elders.

The institutional church with its emphasis on titles and positions actually hinders the raising up of elders. In these systems, the work of ministry is done by those who have the position of pastor or elder. People are encouraged to go to the one with the title even if that person lacks wisdom and maturity. The true elder, the one who is mature and has wisdom, is often overlooked.

As the church leaves the building, I’m seeing elders begin to function in some of the online groups I’m involved with. As relationships grow, the elders in the group become apparent as they humbly move out to serve the others. This is the normal and healthy way the church is supposed to function. Led by this type of organic leadership, members will mature and the church will move forward as Christ intended.

In his comments, Bino posted a more complete list of the characteristics of a true leader. For those who don’t normally read comments, I’ll post his list here since I think the points he makes are very good and worth noting. He said,

"In my mind, a true leader:

-will serve people rather than control or manipulate
-will trust the Holy Spirit in each believer to do the leading and living.
-encourage people to question, challenge and debate various spiritual issues, doctrines etc
-do not force their opinion on others.
-give people freedom to make their own decisions as they are lead by Holy Spirit.
-tolerate diversity.
-promotes transparency and authenticity.
-admits his fleshly imperfection, weakness etc.
-willing to do more listening than preaching.
-will be humble, and have an attitude of a servant of God.
-do not act like they have a special hot line with God.
-believes that God has no partiality.
-encourages total freedom in Christ, teaches freedom from any kind of law.
-will not have an attitude of "I am in charge".
-accepts and loves people as they are, not as they should be.
-will not be a behavior modification therapist, rather point people to their righteous identity in Christ because of what Jesus did."

To read his complete post, follow this link.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Breaking the Facebook Habit

I held out for a long time. I had absolutely no desire to have a Facebook but several months ago due to a number of unusual circumstances, I decided to give it a try and I immediately became hooked. As my list of friends grew, the number of status reports on my home page increased each day. I found myself reading what everybody had eaten for breakfast. I read about someone’s run to the grocery store to buy milk. I got daily reports from runners who were training for a marathon. Interspersed among all of this chatter, I found an occasional blog or quote that encouraged me.

The only thing I didn’t realize was that all of this focus on chit chat was robbing me of something I needed desperately . . . my blogging friends. As Facebook consumed more of my time, I found myself reading less of the blogs that I had grown to love and that had encouraged me on my journey.

I didn’t realize there was a problem until recently when loneliness once again began to be my companion. About a year and a half ago, when I connected with a group of bloggers, I noticed that loneliness was no longer a problem. I felt a strong and deep connection with them that totally displaced the loneliness. Yet, recently, it seems like I can’t shake it.

Facebook has it’s good points but, I’ve discovered that it doesn’t satisfy my need for close relationships such as I had experienced through blogging. I find it hard to develop deep relationships on Facebook and I want to re-connect with all of my friends and again experience the friendships I once had. So, I’ve made a decision. I don’t plan to quit Facebook but blogging comes first and, if there’s time left over, then I’ll check out Facebook.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Heart's Code

I just started reading "The Heart's Code" by Paul Pearsall. Before his death in 2007, Dr. Pearsall was a scientist who had come to believe that “the human heart, not the brain, holds the secrets that link body, mind, and spirit.” He believed that the heart has its own intelligence and speaks to us through what he describes as “the heart’s code” and he also believed that our cells have memory. Dr. Pearsall had come to these conclusions through research and clinical studies as well as through his own personal experience of almost dying of cancer. As he was dealing with the illness, he learned how to tap into the healing wisdom of his heart.

So far, I’m finding it a fascinating read and, although I haven’t gotten very far, I’m finding much that’s in agreement with my understanding of the heart. I’ve come to believe God wants us to be led by our hearts and not our heads and that there should be a union between heart and head where the head supports the heart as it leads.

Rather than trying to put what was written into my own words, I’m going to let the book speak for itself by posting a few quotes from it.

“Our ancestors knew that the heart had energy – a powerful energy – and that it conveyed deep wisdom. However, as the human species developed its brain, it began to lose sight of its heart. At this point in history as we venture into space, create global communication, and invent all sorts of technological tools and toys, we are poised to destroy ourselves, our children, and everything around us. Have we simply lost our minds, or have we lost something deeper? Have we lost our hearts?” (Foreword as written by Dr. Gary E. R. Schwartz and Dr. Linda G. S. Russek)

“The Heart’s Code points the way to a new revolution in our thinking. Metaphorically, the heart is the sun, the pulsing, energetic center of our biophysical “solar” system, and the brain is the earth, one of the most important planets in our biophysical system. One implication of the energy cardiology/cardio-energetic revolution is the radical (meaning “root”) idea that energetically, the brain revolves around the heart, not the other way around.” (Foreword)

“An objective of this book is to offer the possibility of putting more heart into our life by learning to quiet the restless, passionate brain so it may listen for the code of the gentler, more loving heart capable of reminding it that it is supposed to not only fulfill a biological evolutionary imperative but also be an instrument for refinement and expression of the soul.” (page 16)

As Dr. Pearsall explained, this science of energy cardiology is still in the beginning stages and has not been fully accepted by all members of the scientific community. However, like Dr. Pearsall, I believe this may be an important first step in the union of the spiritual and the scientific. For years, I have believed that true science will never contradict the truths of God. If there’s a discrepancy, then either the scientific data is being misinterpreted or the spiritual is being misinterpreted. As God has begun speaking to us about the truths of our good and noble heart, it appears that science is moving closer to agreement with that truth.

In the foreword, I found the following quote by Marcel Proust which I think wonderfully describes the journey I’m on. He said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” I’m thankful that God is giving me new eyes to see what has always been there.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The law and sin

Although I’ve known that the Bible says that the law excites and activates sin, I’ve never understood why. Recently, I was listening to a teaching series by Darin Hufford called The Sin Series. It was then that I finally got my answer. Rather than try to explain, I’ve decided to post a few quotes from the series. As you read, be aware that when Darin speaks of “the beast”, he is using that term to refer to sin.

“The reason sin gets power from the law is because the law is anti-choice.”

“The law overrides choice. It forces you to do the right thing so the beast rises up.”

“The law doesn’t take choice into account. It doesn’t even consider choice.”

“So, when the law comes and takes choice away, the beast rises up and goes crazy.”

“Every time you put yourself under the law, the beast rises.”

By putting ourselves under the law, choice is removed and the desire to rebel begins to grow. In order to maintain control, leaders in a law based religious system will promote fear to stop rebellion among its members hoping that fear of the consequences will be greater than the desire for freedom of choice.

However, in Christ there is an answer.

“Christ gives you a new name which is more powerful than the old one and, if you believe it, it restores to you choice.”

Monday, July 13, 2009

The desires of our hearts

Darin Hufford, in a recent podcast said, “The more you get somebody away from their heart, the more they can be controlled.”


Religion is all about conformity. We’re taught that there’s only one way to do it. Our christian life is all mapped out by a set of rules that we’re expected to follow and our standing in the church is determined by how well we keep the rules. The result is a powerless religion that leaves us shamed and frustrated.


The truth is that Jesus came to set us free from a performance based religion. He came to bring us into a relationship with our Father that is alive and fulfilling and he does this through the desires he places in our hearts.


In religion, we’re taught that the heart is deceitfully wicked. That’s an Old Testament verse that was spoken to a group of believers who didn’t have the life of God in their hearts. Today, Jesus lives in our hearts and we’ve been given a new heart which Jim Robbins describes as our “good and noble hearts.”


Religion has taught us that we can’t trust our hearts. Yet, God wants to lead us through our good and noble hearts. Because of that false teaching, we’ve shut ourselves away from our hearts. The result is that we’ve lost the ability to hear our hearts and to be led by them. Instead, we now depend on external voices to give us direction.


We pore over the Bible looking for a verse that will tell us what to do. We go to church, notebook in hand, hoping the sermon will finally give us the answer we seek. Yet, all the time, the answer is in our hearts but we won’t go there because we’re afraid of being deceived.


For years, that’s how I lived my life. I didn’t even know that I could listen to my heart and I actually didn’t even know how to listen. God is now bringing me to a place where I’m learning to hear my heart and to trust its voice. Teachers like Darin Hufford and Jim Robbins have been instrumental in helping me grow in this area of my life.


I’m currently reading a book entitled “Introvert Power” by Laurie Helgoe. Although the focus of the book is to encourage introverts and to teach us how to live successfully in an extrovert world, I’m finding that the author is also showing me how to tap into and recognize the desires of my heart and to flow with them. This book has taken me to a level of freedom that I’ve only dreamed about.


This has been an exciting journey and, the last few years, God has completely re-shaped my life as a believer. Today, it looks totally different than it used to look. The changes in me have been so dramatic that I’m no longer totally uncomfortable with allowing God to lead me into new and uncharted territory. Years ago, as I started this journey into the unknown, he spoke the following scripture to my heart and today, I’m seeing it fulfilled as I follow the desires of my heart.


"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 43:18-19)