The Power to Change

It’s God’s kindness alone that gives us real power to change.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
Titus 3:3‭-‬8 ESV

I have to confess, most of the time I get frustrated if I think others are telling me what to do.

I’ve heard Steve Brown say he likes to argue with stop signs, and I know just what he means.

It’s not that I want to be difficult and resist those who want to motivate me towards positive changes.

It’s that I don’t like the pressure I feel when someone tells me what to do.

Lately, I have been trying to understand what is behind this frustration I feel.

Don’t we go to church and small groups to encourage one another to do good works?

Don’t we need the encouraging directives of others to help us bring about positive changes in our lives?

Maybe these directives are indeed what some need to bring about positive change, but to me they can just feel like another weight added to an already heavy load.

After a couple of days this past week of mental pain and questioning if I really was just a rebellious Christian who didn’t want to obey, I spent some time praying. God in His kindness answered me and helped me to understand what was really going on.

For most of my life there was an unspoken rule in my house.

Don’t do anything that will make your parents unhappy.

Life at home was like walking through a mine field, and I never knew when I might trip on a live wire causing everything to blow up.

Dan Allender says in his book The Wounded Heart that abuse victims often blame themselves when abuse occurs, because this gives them a false sense of control over what happened to them. It is too much for a child’s mind to fathom that a parent would choose to harm them. This means they have no control over the bad that happens to them, so they look for control wherever they can find it., and blaming themselves is where many do.

My own false sense of control came by embracing an identity full of self-contempt.

My pastor pointed out recently how he believed that Satan often uses sexual abuse to imprint shameful lies on a person’s soul. His words struck a chord with me.

I had no doubt that It’s all your fault is the lie that Satan had imprinted on my soul long ago.

Taking responsibility for everything that happens in one’s life is a load that becomes increasingly heavier as we become older. Sooner or later it becomes too heavy to carry anymore. It’s then that Satan comes in and whispers another lie, You can’t do anything right. You are powerless to change anything that happens to you.

When I became a Christian in my twenties, I embraced my identity as a child of God and felt free for the first time in my life. I was motivated to go to church, read the Bible, share my faith, and encourage others to do the same. I began to believe finally that I wasn’t a total screw up. But then things in the church that involved people I was close to began to spiral out of control. Even though the circumstances were out of my control, I began to question if I had done something wrong. When an angry family member pointed out that I was to blame for some of the chaos, I began to believe the lie again that it was my fault.

Transformation is a process in our lives. As I look back on my early days as a Christian, I know that what God started in my life then was real. I truly belonged to Him. But there were still so many losses that I hadn’t grieved, so much darkness that needed to be brought into the light. Also, a lot of death that needed to happen so that I could truly experience life.

When I started to believe that everything that went wrong in the church was my fault, the lie that I was powerless over my life and choices began to take root. When an abusive leader told me that I belonged to him, I found what I thought was relief. It felt like a cup of cold water in the desert, until he became a drug that sucked every bit of life out of me. But thank God His kindness called me back out into the light.

I still struggle with confusion over how a Christian could make the choice to stay in an abusive relationship for ten years and live a double life. But nevertheless, I did. I wonder sometimes was there anything surrounding all the circumstances that led me towards making that choice that could have made a difference? What could have stopped me from believing such a lie about myself? Did I need more people giving positive directives? Did I need more encouragement to do the right thing? Did I have the power within myself to change? Aren’t these the question most of us ask ourselves when we sit in church on Sunday morning, especially when one has experienced many painful consequences of sin?

More than anything else I want to tap into the source that brings about true change in my life. I never want to go back to the deadened life that I lived. I never want to embrace the lie again that everything is my fault. I never want to believe that it’s all up to me to change my life and fail miserably again. I know that I cannot do it on my own.

Neil Anderson said a long time ago, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The truth is sometimes people give advice because they really do care. And if I run everytime I feel like someone is trying to tell me what to do, my world will become a very lonely place. I know that part of my healing journey is sticking around and letting others care about me even when some of the things they do or say might cause me discomfort or pain. This is not to say that anyone should stay in an environment that is abusive. We should always flee those kinds of environments. I’m talking about learning to trust others again after one has experienced imense hurt and betrayal.

However, I think it’s important that those who are in ministry realize in the times that we live in where so many have been hurt by the church, that there are a lot of other people who are just like me, who have been abused and are carrying a heavy load of responsibility for what happened to them. We need loads lifted, not added. We need to know that what happened to us is not our fault. We need to know that we are loved by God and others even when we don’t know how to take your advice.

It’s God’s kindness alone that gives us real power to change.

Steve Brown also likes to say that Christians are like porcupines huddled together in a storm. If we stay together we will get hurt. But if we leave, we miss an opportunity to be loved.

Dear God, help us to stay and to love one another.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8 ESV

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Romans 7:10‭-‬25 ESV

The Role of a Pastor

I think it’s important for me see the truth about what really happened that day in my former pastor’s office, so that I can be clear on other’s roles in ministry in my life.  I also believe it’s important that it be clear, so that I can know what my role is as a minister of God’s spirit to those around me as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what really happened on a spiritual level when I sought my former pastor for guidance about what God was doing in my life and was later spiritually abused. Recently, having become a part of another church that is starting to feel like a place where I belong is raising all sorts of questions in my mind. There’s still much confusion, even after all my writing and seeking the truth, about what parts of those moments in my former pastor’s office might have actually been something God was doing in my life. Sometimes I wonder if God was involved at all, and am really confused and question my own ability to trust God’s spirit in me. Because of spiritual abuse, I have much ambivalence about God’s work in my life. I question what is about me and what is about Him. I question who is serving Jesus and who is serving themselves. This keeps me in a lot of chaos. Thus the reason spiritual abuse is so harmful. It does damage to one’s soul.

Last week in a coversation with my therapist, we discussed an email exchange I had shared with her between myself, the pastor of the current church we’ve been attending and a female deacon. Because of my past history, I was too afraid to email the pastor without someone else being copied due to the fact the relationship with my former pastor began through email. On a side note, I want to say that I think that many times God places us back in situations similar to one’s we’ve been in before, not as a test, but rather to reveal to us how far we’ve come. I realized reading the email from the pastor that I was encouraged very much, but his words didn’t have the same power over me that my former pastor’s words did. My therapist made the statement that she felt the communication between myself and my new pastor seemed really good to her. However, when she used the words my pastor, I immediately reacted to what she said, and corrected her by adamantly saying he’s not my pastor. I prefer to call him by his first name. Being the good therapist that she is, she wanted to know where this reaction was coming from. She asked, “How do you define the role of a pastor?” She encouraged me to think about this. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

I think it’s important for me see the truth about what really happened that day in my former pastor’s office, so that I can be clear on other’s roles in ministry in my life. I also believe it’s important that it be clear, so that I can know what my role is as a minister of God’s spirit to those around me as well.

Last week the pastor’s mother of the church we’ve been attending asked me if I’d like to help serve communion at church. I was taken aback. I haven’t been at this church for very long, and I had a preconceived notion that this means I cannot serve in any capacity. However, clearly this church does not have this expectation. I was honored to be asked, but also very humbled.

Communion is something sacred that’s totally about God. But can I be honest? Initially, I wanted to make it about me. I wanted to think about how the church I was previously a part of did not allow women to serve communion. Only male elders were allowed to serve. I even made a joke to the same deacon I’d emailed, who I knew would understand, that I sure would like for those old boys to see me participating. But just as soon as the words came off my tongue, I corrected myself as I realized it was communion I was talking about. Then I followed up with, “Are you sure if I serve that it won’t start thundering outside?” She smiled at me and said, “I am quite sure.”

Being in the role of someone who gives another what God intends for them to receive, is an honored place indeed. But if I really think about, I recognize that serving communion is just one example of this. Actually, everything we do as children of God is giving to others what God wants them to have. But as human beings many times we miss this mark and make it more about us.

It’s so easy for me to place a pastor in a position of importance that in someway causes me to think he’s closer to God than I am. As a Christian raised in the south, men themselves in my mind were in a position of authority over me. Of course being a victim of multiple occurrences of sexual abuse throughout my life, caused me to feel like everyone was more important than me. I believed that I brought out the worst in people, and that the only thing I could give others was a curse. So it’s easy to understand why when I walked in my former pastor’s office and he hugged me and told me that he loved me that it was like receiving a tall, cold glass of water to my parched soul. In my mind he was good, he was close to God. In some way I thought this made me better, too. Actually, I recognize now that he represented God to me. But all that was ever supposed to happen in his office that day was for me to receive from God what He wanted me to have. And it wasn’t that I belonged to the pastor. It was that I belonged to God.

I suspect somewhere it did thunder that day when my former pastor took what God wanted me to have and used it for himself. Even though a pastor’s role does not make him any better or more important than any other child of God, it’s crucial that he take his role seriously, as he has the opportunity to make a huge impact on another’s life. He can bring much good or do much bad.

As I have thought about the role of a pastor, I’m recognizing that part of God’s plan is for me to have one, but I see this role totally different from how I did before. And I’m so very thankful for all God has healed in my life.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Ephesians 4:11‭-‬16 NLT

Jesus, Make us One

Only when our hearts are able to connect again, do we begin to feel it heal.

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
John 17:20‭-‬21 NLT

In a world that is divided over just about everything, true connection stands out. But scrolling through my social media most days, I am disappointed and disheartened. It seems that we are more likely to unite over the things that we are against than the things that we are for. Even in the church, there is division over just about everything.

Where is the oneness Jesus prayed that we would have?

Where are the people who belong to God and each other?

From my earliest memory, I have always felt a sense of disconnection and a desire to belong. I have not felt comfortable in my own skin. I have especially not felt comfortable around other people. In the residential treatment center where I work, I have learned that these feelings are an outward symptom that are signaling me to pay attention to a deeper issue, a core issue of loss that resulted from being given up for adoption by my biological mother. The mother who carried me around in her womb for nine months, the person whose heart beat soothed me, delivered me out of the comfort of her womb and into a strange place where I’d never hear her heartbeat again. And then after spending a few moments in her arms, a nurse took me away from her to be raised by a stranger. What goes through a child’s mind when a loss like this occurs? Somewhere deep inside I developed a belief that there must have been something wrong with me for my own mother not to want me. To soothe this deep wound of rejection, I have searched desperately for somewhere to belong; someone or something to fill loss inside.

At this same treatment center where I work, I see the same desire in the eyes of kids who have been abandoned by their parents. They have no place to call home. Some of them are so kind it will cause your heart to melt. They are eager to please, because they think if they just do everything right somehow they will be loved. Some of them fight tooth and nail to keep people from getting close. They’ve experienced loss and they have decided it’s best to keep others out.

God created humanity with a deep need for connection and belonging. Our hearts cannot feel whole until they have experienced the love of another. Left alone our hearts become cold, hard and lifeless. When we suffer betrayal and losses of those in our lives we believe that we belonged to, there is a bloody and painful separation that we must grieve. Only when our hearts are able to connect again, do we begin to feel it heal. I believe Jesus prayed for His disciples to belong to one another, because not only do we need these connections for survival, but also when we belong to one another we send out a strong message to the world that Jesus is alive and there is real hope, belonging and connection in Him. We also invite others in to be a part.

If you have read any of my blogs, you know that I am a survivor of sexual abuse from my former pastor. My need for belonging caused me to give away my heart to someone who was not capable of loving me and give me what I really needed. All he could do was take what he thought he needed for himself. All I could do was the same. What I believed was love caused me to do things I promised I never would. I lost myself completely and forgot who God told me I was. For the past four years, I’ve been healing from this abuse. I’ve spent much time writing about what happened in an effort to understand how everything went so wrong.

I became a Christian in my 20’s. I experienced God in a powerful way right after my adopted father died. Suppressed memories of sexual abuse from this same man caused me to have so much anxiety I could barely sit still. My insides felt like they would shake apart until I talked to the doctor I worked for about it. He was a man who loved God and who cared about me in the right way. He prescribed medication for the anxiety and also shared with me about his own struggles. He encouraged me to read a few chapters in the book of Romans. That day after I went home and started to read, I met my Father who loved me, assured me that He always had. I felt like I belonged for the first time in my life. I could not get enough of God in the months that followed. I felt alive for the first time ever.

But then life began to happen. My husband’s family that I believed was stable began to fall apart. Secrets came to light and masks began to fall off. I began to question everything, even my faith in God. The church we were apart of was in the middle of the mess. The young adult Sunday school class we had started even began to fall apart. I discovered much of my life had been built on the sinking sand of false hope in people who were not who I thought they were. We left the church seeking refuge, but what we found in another church was even worse.

One might wonder why in the world I have not given up on the church after all I have seen happen? Many who have experienced abuse in the church have turned tail and run away in an effort to to keep themselves safe. No one can blame them either. Safety is another core human need. God calls us to protect ourselves and one another.

I suppose my need for belonging outweighs my need for safety. Maybe it’s irrational, but it’s true nonetheless. God placed in my heart a desire to pray for the church to experience oneness early on in my Christian walk. I don’t understand it, but I love the church deeply. I want to see her thrive and grow and reveal the love of Jesus. But I have seen it fail at this more than succeed. I don’t know why I haven’t given up.

Maybe it’s because in the most desperate moments of my life I’ve experienced this belonging through the love of others who have held onto the same hope. On the darkest of days, we’ve held hands and prayed and wept together. We’ve reminded one another that we are not alone. In a world that is divided over just about everything, true connection stands out.

I have not given up on the church. Jesus hasn’t either. Now more than ever the world needs to see our love for one another. In a divided world where the love of so many has grown cold, even in the church, true connection and love stands out.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.
Isaiah 9:2 NLT

Recently, I watched this talk given by Lisa Bevere on men and women serving together in the church. I was greatly encouraged by what she had to say. I believe the church desperately needs to listen, especially with so much sexual abuse being exposed in the church. I believe if we as a church want to truly reveal the love of Jesus to the world, we will stop running from abuse and trying to deny it is happening. We will work together as men and women to find solutions of how to protect one another. We will stop adding more rules that keep men and women more disconnected and stop assuming that all men are after sex and all women are after men to seduce them and steal their positions. I’m so very tired of the blaming. I’m so longing for restoration, unity, and peace.

Jesus, make us one.

I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”
John 17:22‭-‬26 NLT

Being Vulnerable

When it’s all said and done the most redeeming thing we can do with our pain is to share it with others, because within each of our stories told truthfully we reveal the glory of the Gospel and the beauty of a glorious God who came to rescue us from ourselves.

Vulnerable easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally; open to attack, harm, or damage

Everytime I tell my story to another person,  I open myself up to the possibility of being hurt again.  I run a great risk that others won’t understand and will judge me. And that reality literally terrifies me.

As I said in my last blog, we all long for connection.  We have a yearning that gnaws away at our souls to belong. When we don’t have these connections our hearts feel starved, and in our desperation we sometimes  look for relief in places that are harmful to us.

Last week I emailed one of the few Christian friends in ministry that I’m not afraid to be vulnerable with, and asked him to pray that 2016 would be the year that our family finds others in the body of Christ to connect with.  He said that connecting with others in the body of Christ is just in our DNA, and assured me that he’d pray for this.

I’m very thankful to God that He answered my prayer miraculously last year for connection and compelled an amazing lady in the community to invite me to lunch.  I say miraculous,  because she’s been through some things that have caused her to be compassionate and very accepting towards me.  The ability to be vulnerable with her and not be judged has been a priceless treasure. As a result of being vulnerable with one another and our same faith in Christ, we share a connection that has satisfied in a healthy way much of the desperation in my soul.

But other members of my family have not been so fortunate.  They still haven’t made any connections outside of our family unit, and there’s been a void, especially in our kids lives, where church fellowship used to be.  They are attending a youth group for an hour a week and are slowly building relationships there, but it’s sorely lacking from the strong friendships they had in our previous church.  My husband still doesn’t trust anyone except maybe our counselors, but that’s just not the same as a friend.

When I think of all the damage that was caused by the relationship with our former pastor the pain is excruciating and almost unbearable.   A couple of days ago, out of the blue, a memory of my desperation and the self-destructive relationship I had with him popped into my mind in glaring technicolor. I still cannot believe that I did the things I did. My first reaction was great shame and regret. My next reaction was to embrace the righteousness of Christ that assures me I am forgiven and loved.  Only because of Him, can I look in the mirror after the choices I’ve made. I cannot express enough how very thankful I am for His forgiveness.  I’m also exceedingly thankful He placed it on my husband’s heart to forgive me, because I know I couldn’t have survived this last year without him.  Even though the reality of what happened has caused him excruciating pain, we’ve learned through it all to be more vulnerable with one another that we ever have,  and our connection has actually become stronger.

Steve Brown likes to say that our sin is our best friend if we know that we have it. I’d like to add a little to what he said. Our sin is our best friend if we know that we have it and know what to do with it!  I constantly have to take mine to the cross.  Otherwise,  the reality of my sin will crush me and cause me to be self-destructive by either putting myself under so much pressure to make up for my sin by performing well, or I’ll punish myself with more self-destructive behavior.  And by the way, performing well for long just isn’t possible for me, and my default mode for failure is, you got it, going back to self-destructive behaviors.  So these days I run with my sins and reminders of my past sins to Jesus.  I cannot afford to allow shame to have one iota of space or it’ll consume me.  Part of running to Jesus, many times involves being vulberable and confessing to another Christian.  And that’s the whole point of this blog. Vulnerability within a community is crucial to our spiritual growth.

But here’s the problem with those of us who’ve experienced spiritual abuse, being vulnerable is crucial for our healing, but it has also proven to be dangerous to our souls. Because depending on who you are vulnerable with determines whether you will be helped or harmed.  Every member of our family was vulnerable to our former pastor.  Not only did we go to him with our problems and prayer requests, but we also had his family over to our house on a regular basis.  They were not only members of our church,  but also members of our family.  We even opened presents together at Christmas, so as much as we know we need connection and fellowship with other Christians, we also know that the pain of this is going to take a long time to overcome.

I read an article last week in Relevant magazine about things not to say to someone who has been hurt by the church. It was a very helpful and encouraging article for me to read, because the author understood where we had been.  I found myself wishing he lived in my community and attended a church here, because maybe he’d be someone we could connect with. 

Being vulnerable with another Christian reveals a deep need to be understood.  One of the most painful realities of my last church experience with being vulnerable was that I was not only misunderstood, but was harmed more, as were the rest of my family.  Confessing to my church leaders initially caused them to say that they forgave me, but later resulted in me feeling like I was dragged in front of the church to confess, even though it literally wasn’t me that was dragged, but only an edited version of my confession, it was every bit as painful.  I was told the church meeting was held for the cause of protecting the church from gossip.  Heaven forbid others in the church and community see the full truth of how broken and desperate others in the church really are and how unlike Jesus we really can be.  It’s much better to water it down and make the stories more palatable.  It’s also much better to expose the “sinners” in the camp, so the overall church’s reputation can be protected. 

I confess to you writing about this still makes me very angry.  My inner church lady is whispering “you know you need to forgive, so a root of bitterness won’t take over.”  Why do these thoughts come up? Because I’ve heard this kind of thing so many times before in church, and I admit I’ve probably even said it myself.  Certainly forgiveness is crucial for our emotional, physical and spiritual health, and  I don’t want a root of bitterness to grow.   I want God to root every single one out! That’s why I’m writing this.   But inner church lady can we really be honest with one another?  Did you tell me that because you legitimately wanted to help me, or was the messiness of my story making you uncomfortable?   Are you possibly giving advice that makes you feel like you’ve fixed me, so you can feel better about yourself?  Easy answers for others problems often makes us feel like we can control our own problems with easy answers. But the truth is there’s nothing easy about the desires of our hearts. They are desperately wicked. They are like ticking time bombs waiting to explode when Jesus isn’t in control, and even then our flesh fights viciously, with the enemy of our souls on its side, to have its own way.  Paul cried out in the midst of his own battle with his sinful nature, Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death!
Romans 7:24 ESV

And if we aren’t willing to see this reality in our own lives we are in a very dangerous place.  I know, because I’ve been there and still go to this place when the pain of my own sin is just too much to bear; the place is called denial.

I can assure you that part of my victorious Christian life plan did not involve an abusive and inappropriate relationship with my pastor.   Before I met him, I had a quiet time regularly and was reading Jonathan Edwards, Henry Blackaby, and Beth Moore and praying for a revival.  I wanted to know God.  I wanted to be like Jesus.  I felt His presence so much that I’d fall on my face before Him.  I thought I’d always feel this way.  I didn’t ever want to leave His side.  Before things fell apart, I was that church lady giving advice, and I can see clearly now I was desperately fighting the reality of my sin nature. Does that scare you?  If it doesn’t, it should. And I hope in your fear that you run to Jesus,  because His love, not denial, is the only solution for that. I’ve been learning the hard way that denial is no longer a safe place for me. My own sin has taught me that. My new reality is life in my sinful human flesh is like walking in a mine field, ever aware of my need for Jesus to hug me when the bombs go off, and to pray He’ll lead me around the triggers so they won’t go off!  The  Christian life is about absolute and total dependence on Him, and it doesn’t guarantee that we won’t mess it up along the way.  Though that’s been a most difficult reality for me to accept, I remind myself that He promises absolutely none of it will be wasted; especially the really bad stuff.

Though being vulnerable has brought me tremendous harm, it’s also brought me tremendous healing,  and I really do long for a church family where it’s safe to be vulnerable.  So please pray with me for that.   I hope that my vulnerability with you here has been helpful.  It has certainly helped me to write it.   When it’s all said and done the most redeeming thing we can do with our pain is to share it with others, because within each of our stories told truthfully we reveal the glory of the Gospel and the beauty of a glorious God who came to rescue us from ourselves.  When we water down our sins, we water down our needs. When we live in denial we put off meeting the One who loves us in ways wildly beyond our comprehension.  By the same token, when we don’t hear all that others are trying to say without trying to fix it, we miss an opportunity to truly represent Jesus who loves us with enduring patience when we are at our absolute worst. 

Peter is one of my favorite disciples, because I can relate to him so very well.  One day he was walking on sunshine,  feeling top of the world, because Jesus told him that he was the rock that He was going to build His church on.  I’ve heard people in the church explain away why Peter failed.  His pride took over, he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the circumstances,  yada, yada, yada.  All these things are true, but they’ve missed the point…in his failures Peter learned more about Jesus than he ever did in his successes,  and his story taught us so very much!

“Simon, Simon, behold,  Satan demanded to have you,  that he might sift you like wheat,  but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

Luke 22:31-34 ESV

And Peter learned just like I have, that it’s not about what we can do in our own strength,  but rather the strength and ability we find in knowing that He loves us when we fail miserably. 

Peter recognized his desperate need for Jesus and followed Him, because he’d learned there was no where else he could go except failure in his own strength. 

Thank you, Peter, for being human, being vulnerable, and strengthening us with your story.   May we do the same with our own stories!

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-69 ESV

What I Wish Others in Ministry Knew about Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse is an issue that’s making the headlines across a lot of magazines and newspaper articles today, but far too often it’s easy to conclude an “us and them” mentality, and assume after the shock of what we have read wears off that it won’t or isn’t happening in our church.

The church is full of broken people, so we shouldn’t be surprised it’s happening all around us. Rather, we should expect it and be prepared.

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
Proverbs 22:3 ESV

My former pastor wasn’t prepared that one day he’d be brought up on spiritual abuse charges when he began counseling me.  I certainly never planned to be the one to bring him up on charges.  I just wanted his help in what was a very confusing time in my life.  

My family had recently become members of the church he pastored.   He was an excellent teacher who appeared very wise.  My husband and I had come out of a recent bad church experience where leadership had fallen weak in dealing with serious issues.  We were drawn immediately to this pastor’s outward strength, grit and ability to lead the church well. 

In early 2004, I did what many church members do and sent an email to my pastor asking for help.   I’d been struggling for a long time with confusing  memories of childhood sexual abuse.  I was desperate for answers, and someone who would understand and care enough to listen. 

From my perspective, this pastor really seemed to care.  He answered my emails in a timely manner, and eventually after communicating that way for a short time, he began to call me.  

During the course of one of our phone conversations, the pastor communicated to me how much he’d started to to care about me,  and what an encouragement I was to him. He said we shared a soul connection. 

I didn’t expect the reaction I had to his words.  I didn’t understand at the time my own desperation and longing for connection and attention.  I believed he was God’s gift of an earthly father who was providing all the things that had been lacking in my relationship with my own father. 

What I didn’t understand was the powerful flood of emotions my relationship with this pastor awakened in me.  He became all I could think about day and night.   The only thing that comes close to describing what I felt was a story of addiction to cocaine I heard a former youth pastor tell me.  He said after the first snort of coke he was so exhilarated he couldn’t wait until his next hit. His journey took him to an actual prison.  I had no idea I was headed to a destiny not so different.

Then a few months later things spiraled even further out of control when, my pastor confessed to me that he would marry me if circumstances were such that he could.  Up until this time,  I’d looked up to him as a father figure. This news shocked and exhilarated all at the same time. I was ashamed but rejoicing; hating myself and feeling more special than I ever had.  I was the woman who brought out the worst in my pastor,  but also the woman he was willing risk everything for.  The little girl who’d told this pastor her most terrible secrets, and who’d hoped she would be free of all of her shame, curled up in the dark corners of my subconscious and began to cry. Self-contempt and ambivalence took over my heart and mind in a consuming flood. I became powerless to think clearly as the rush of conflicting emotions caused me dissociate.  I came to believe I couldn’t live without this man, and I swore I’d never tell a soul.

He (Jesus) also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?  A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.
Luke 6:39-40 ESV

And ten years later, we were still in a ditch all  tangled up in a mess of lies and secrets we were keeping from our families and the church. 

The lies had so wrapped so tightly around my heart over the years until I came to the place that I  knew if they were not cut away that I would die.  After many years of struggling with the Lord(He so desperately wanted me to be free!), I finally confessed the truth to another pastor.

To make a long story short, my abusive pastor, who’d recently retired, was deposed from the ministry, and a public meeting was held at the church with my elders and the new pastor of the church giving a brief and edited explanation of what had occurred. Rather than calling what happened spiritual abuse and treating me as a victim, they gave my name and the pastor’s names to the congregation.  Many walked away from the meeting thinking only an unfortunate affair had occurred. 

Since that time, our family has moved away from that town and withdrawn our membership from that church.  We’ve  been in counseling now for over a year since.  It has a very confusing and difficult time for our family, and one that I believe could have been prevented with more education in the church on ways to prevent spiritual abuse. 

As I said initially,  we are all broken human beings and spiritual abuse isn’t something we can afford to stick our heads in the sand and pretend it won’t happen to us.  In a world where one in every four women are sexually abused, and one in every six men are, there are many victims in churches desperately seeking help, many times from the pastor.  The pastor needs to be prepared when victims come. It is my hope that my story can be one of the ways pastors and church leaders can learn.

I don’t know the reasons why my pastor did what he did, but I can guess some. Maybe he was overworked, burned out, feeling underappreciated, lonely and desperate much like I was. Maybe his own longing for connection caused him to make terrible choices just like me. 

God doesn’t intend for us to live the Christian life alone.  We need one another.  We need love, understanding,  and others who will listen and not judge. We need those who recognize their own brokenness and who will humbly come alongside of us as wounded healers when we fall and help pick us up again.  We need someone who will sit with us in our sorrow,  not be shocked by our sin, who’ll remind us where our righteousness comes from (not our goodness but Jesus!), and who will love us like Jesus does.  Victims of abuse need this.  Pastors need this. Because when we don’t have these kinds of connections in our lives, we look for them in places where we will only do more damage to our souls and others around us.

I think the best place to start is by just being honest about our needs and our brokenness, and to stop pretending we are a perfect church, rather than a desperate church who needs a perfect Jesus. Maybe if we do this we will stop being so shocked by one another’s sins.  Maybe others will find courage to be honest when they hear us being honest. Maybe in our vulnerability we will find connection and learn how to really love like Jesus. His love will never fail even when we do.

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19 MSG

Inappropriate Relationships

“An act of love doesn’t cause lives to be torn apart, people to be thrown into pain, and children to be emotionally burdened for life. We may think it’s love or that our careless, destructive behaviors are justified, but what passes for “love” in most inappropriate relationships is a combination of hormones and a desperate need for our egos to be validated.”

Thankful to Sharon Hersh for giving me a voice in this interview for Key Life Ministries.  A must hear for anyone in the ministry.

http://www.keylife.org/articles/key-life-pastors-chat-with-sharon-hersh

Also thankful for Steve Brown’s heart on how the church handles these issues.

http://www.keylife.org/articles/the-warrior-is-a-child