Saturday, June 21, 2008

It's Okay To Get Counsel

I have had certain times in my life when I have just needed to talk to someone. There were times I went to my former pastor for counsel and I would enter the appointment so nervous I could hardly speak. I would leave feeling so dumb and inadequate and I would say to myself, "I'm never going to do that again!" I asked the pastor one time why people get so nervous and get their words all fumbled up when they try to talk to the him. I was told it was because of the anointing on him. During my questioning phase, this scenario came up to me and I had to ask myself the question, "Would the Holy Spirit really make me feel this way? Does His presence make you feel nervous? After all, isn't He the Comforter?"

If you feel like you need to talk to someone, it's okay. Don't feel for one minute that it makes you weak or needy to need counsel. Proverbs 11:14 says, "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety." You can always talk to Jesus and find your answers in the Bible. There are also counselors, pastors, and friends who will listen to you and be kind and compassionate.

If you have been in a hurtful situation, don't hold it all in and become bitter. That will only hurt you. Find someone to talk to about it. I also encourage you to do some research of your own. It will make you feel better to read about others who have been through the same situation. It shows you that you are not crazy and you are not alone. I read a great book by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen called 'The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.' (Don't let that title scare you. You will be amazed at what's in there.)

I also want to encourage you to forgive the people who have wronged you. I know that is easier said than done, but at least try to make that your goal. I read something in a book the other day that helped me so much and I want to share it with you. It was a new way for me to look at forgiveness.

"Forgiveness does not require you to pretend that what a person did never happened and it in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. Forgiveness does not excuse anything. Forgiveness is not about forgetting. Forgiveness releases you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and ability to love fully and openly. Don't let the anger and pain and loss you feel prevent you from forgiving. You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realized that you have forgiven completely." (William P. Young)

I hope the things I have shared are helpful and will bring some light to these matters. It's so important that our eyes be open to things that have hurt us so we will never find ourselves in these situations again. But we must also do whatever it takes to start moving past these things. I know these are things that will take time and we can't just "get over them" as easily as some would make you think. I know the emotions you are having. One day you are upset and want to cry. The next day you are mad - mad at those who have hurt you and also mad at yourself for staying in the situation for so long. Talk to someone, if you need to. If you still have questions, do whatever it takes to get your answers. Start by sincerely asking God what the truth is and what His will for your life is. And then forgive those who have hurt you so you can move on with your life. That doesn't mean you have to embrace them. Just forgive them. This will take time, so don't be hard on yourself when you have hard days.

It will be hard not to focus on the abuse you have been through, but try to focus on the fact that we have a wonderful life ahead of us - filled with God, love, and friendship. God wants us to walk in freedom and He wants us to know that what really matters in life is loving Him and loving people.

*My saying is based upon Matthew 22:37-39, "Jesus said, You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself."

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Few More Questions

*Shouldn't a church be the one place people can relax and know that when they come inside they will be treated with love and respect? Have rules been more important than people?

*Are people's needs beeing met - spiritually, emotionally, physically, and socially? Are there some hearts that have been broken because they were not reached out to in their time of need? Aren't we supposed to discern the Lord's body? Aren't our christian brothers and sisters the Lord's body?

*Are the members and the leadership looking inward instead of looking outward? Are they focused on themselves instead of focusing on others? Is the focus being placed on reaching out? Is the focus being placed on the love of God? Is the focus being placed on what really matters?

*Do people have the freedom to truly be themselves?

Galatians 5:1 says, "Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

More Questions

*Is it wrong to have questions? Are people just supposed to conform, even if they don't agree with something? Have we been too quick to just believe what we have been told rather than look into these things for ourselves and find out what God is really saying to us?

*Is it right for churches to have and "us verses them" mentality? Aren't we all striving for the same goal - reaching people for Jesus? Shouldn't leaders in the church be pulling for other churches that are helping people, rather than hoping they don't make it? Isn't it wrong for a pastor to put down all other churches and say that his church is the only church that is right? Isn't that a cult?

I heard about a church the other day that bought land and is in the beginning stages of building. Another church right up the road offered to send men from their church to help clear the land or help any way they could. That is true Christianity! It's realizing that we should be trying to reach a community for Jesus and not caring who gets the credit. It sounds like to me those men know what really matters - loving God and loving people.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Everyone Needs Compassion

I woke up this morning thinking about all the people who have been hurt by a church and a pastor they trusted. It made me really sad. I thought about different ones and their situations and none of them deserved to be hurt because they are good people. I was visiting a church this morning and as they began to sing a song all I could do was cry. The words really hit home for me. Here are the words to the song....

Everyone needs compassion
A love that's never failing
Let mercy fall on me

Everyone needs forgiveness
The kindness of a Savior
The hope of nations

Savior He can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save
Forever author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave

Take me as You find me
All my fears and failures
Fill my life again
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in
Now I surrender

As I listened to the words of that song I felt that we had been without compassion and kindness for so long. I thought about all the people I know who are hurt and how they needed compassion in their situations, but didn't get it. I looked at all the precious people standing in this church I was visiting and I see so clearly that what really matters in life is loving God and loving people.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What is a Shepherd?

As I was trying to work my way through the questions, I had several sleepless nights. You have to understand when you have been in a church for so long (over 20 years), making the decision to leave is not easy. One particular night, my train of thoughts led me to wonder if the Bible had anything to say about pastors. After a couple of hours, I finally got out of bed and got my Bible. I sat there in the floor and didn't know where to look, but then I had a light bulb moment. Who is the greatest Shepherd to ever live? It is Jesus! I pulled out my 10 pound commentary and looked up some scriptures out of John. This is what I found.....

Jesus the Great Shepherd
*He doesn't drive the sheep
*He puts the sheep before himself
*He knows the sheep
*He acquaints himself with the sheep and this knowledge notes affection
*He knows the sheep under their many infirmities
*He knows them with a favorable eye
*He takes cognizance (notice) of their state and concerns himself for them
*He has a tender and affectionate regard for them and is continually mindful of them
*He visits graciously and has communion with them
*He approves and accepts them

I copied this word for word and tucked it away in my notepad. Would it be safe to assume that earthly pastors should use Jesus as their example? This list didn't describe the experience I have had for the past 22 years. I think the last statement on the list hit home the most because I somehow have felt over the years that I just didn't measure up. I have never been a trouble maker and I've always tried to please, but I still have felt that eyes have been rolled behind my back many times. As I sat there and pondered on these things, I felt hurt and disappointed, but also a feeling of comfort came to me as I thought, "If Jesus accepts me the way I am then maybe I don't have to strive so hard to measure up in the eyes of someone else."

I guess somehow over the years maybe I had the impression that Jesus sometimes had bad days. I had sure seen the wrath of my pastor many times. I know now that Jesus cares for His sheep and doesn't neglect them. I always want to remember that He can be trusted and what really matters in life is that we love Him and love people.

Some of My Questions

Many questions came to me over a period of several weeks in my own quiet time. I want to share some of them with you.

My Questions:
*Have we or our children gotten the impression that God is hard instead of loving because of the harsh attitudes of the pastor? Is it possible that some dear, precious, innocent people have gotten a distorted view of who God is because of harsh talk from the pulpit? Do people get the impression that when a minister calls someone a bad name from the pulpit that perhaps God would do the same, because after all if the man of God does it, then would God do it too?

*Have we gotten our focus off of God and on a man or a church because the pastor continually tells us to follow him? Have we been given the impression that we won't make it if we don't stick with a certain church or pastor? Have we thought that we wouldn't go places or experience revival if we left the church? Have we forgotten that it is God who causes us to prosper in life and not a man or a church?

*Have we or our children gotten the impression that if we leave the church something bad will happen to us? Have we been given the impression that we will just be wiped out if we leave the church? Isn't God loving and long suffering? Isn't He looking to bring people into His kingdom rather than be so quick to allow them to be wiped out? Where does it say in the Bible that if you leave a church the curse will come on you? Wouldn't that be fear motivating you instead of the love of God?

*Doesn't God want His children to be in unity? Is it okay with God that there is such division among people who stay at the church and people who leave? Aren't we all going to be together in heaven anyway? How can it be love to shun someone, especially when they haven't done anything wrong? Where is God in that? Isn't He total and complete love? Doesn't faith work by love? If you are cutting another Christian out of your life for no reason other than they left a church, is your faith going to work?

*Have we gotten the impression that it is all about money? Have people gotten their minds on getting more stuff instead of what it truly means to serve God? Have we given money many times out of obligation instead of giving out of a cheerful heart because we love God? Have church leaders manipulated people into giving? Have we lost our focus about what really matters in life?

The answers to my questions are clear to me now. I know that God is total and complete love and that He would never do anything to hurt anyone. I want my children to grow up knowing that their God is loving and merciful. I want my children to grow up knowing that what really matters in life is loving God and loving people.

Don't Push The Questions Aside

If anything you see or hear raises a question within you, don't discount it. Questions come for a reason. Too many times we overlook the simple nudges we feel in our hearts. You may not be able to even put your finger on what it is, but if something doesn't seem right, then it probably isn't.

I am smart enough to know that no church is perfect. I have quoted that phrase many times over the years, but if there are things going on that are not right, you can't ignore them any longer. I pushed questions aside for way too long and my family was really hurt because of it. It doesn't matter WHO it is. (That includes the pastor!) If it's not right, it's not right!

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Glimpse of Truth

It isn't easy for me to try to describe a situation I was in at a place I called my church. I want to be careful and kind with my words, and my intention is not to hurt anyone. I have found in my research that what I have experienced is very common and what I am describing goes on in many churches across the world. I could call what I experienced many things, but the two words that are the easiest to swallow at this time are control and manipulation. I mainly blame myself because I am the one who made the choice to stay as long as I did, but I thought I was doing the right thing. Innocent people are being hurt and most of the time they don't even know it. People are so trusting, they just accept anything because it comes from behind a pulpit. I hope the things I share will be a wake-up call for some the way it became one for me. I don't want anyone else to be hurt or experience confusion the way I did.

I will not be able to start at the beginning of my journey. I have to start near the end and work my way back because that's the way it unfolded for me. I spent many years of my life serving, giving of my time and money, and being completely committed to my church. I am a very normal person. I have a great family and many friends. If you would have ever used the words controlled or manipulated to describe a situation I was in, I would have thought it was absurd. There were hundreds of people at my church who I loved and respected. Many nationally known ministers had preached there and the church was assumed to be well respected. But now I see. How did I not see it before?

A string of events happened that caused many to leave the church, but we decided to stay and support the church. We were making every effort to keep our focus on the positive things of the church, but one day a ray of light broke through and I got a glimpse of truth. It was like I had blinders on for all those years, but now I could see. I began to look back and remember things that I had accepted even though I had questions. I remembered certain ways me and my children had been treated. I began to ask myself, "Why was that okay with me?" I had noticed things over the years that didn't seem right to me, but I had always pushed the questions aside. Now I was beginning to see that certain things were not okay and should have never been okay with me.

I have always been the kind of person who just wants to do things right. I want to please God and be a blessing to others. The questions I began to have scared me, but they made me feel free all at the same time. I simply said to God, "If I am wrong in any of these questions I am asking I will stop and forget them because I want to do what is right, but if what I am beginning to see is right then I have to know without a shadow of doubt." I meant that prayer so sincerely and I knew that God was going to show me the truth.

I got a notepad and began to write my questions down. I began to cry because hurts from over the years that I had pushed down began to surface. I continued to write things down daily as they came to me and I filled two notepads with thoughts and questions. It got to the point where it was becoming harder for me to attend my church. Every time I went I would hear something else that confirmed we were not in a place of truth and freedom. The day came when I knew I could not go back.

I began to reevaluate my life and do a lot of soul searching. I went back and remembered when I first accepted the Lord. The love of God flooded my soul and I truly loved everyone. I had the right perspective on life. Looking back now over the past years of being in this controlling church, I had lost that perspective. Where was the love and compassion for others? What attitudes were being formed in my children? Were we living out the true purpose for our lives?

Revelation 2:5 says, "Remember the heights from which you have fallen and return to your first love." That is what me and my family are doing. We have our focus back. We have come to realize that what really matters in life is simply loving God and loving people.