Sunday, August 31, 2008

The More I Seek You

This worship song has really been a blessing to me and I wanted to share it with you. Sometimes we try to make spending time with the Lord complicated by thinking it has to be done a specific way, when really it's just about coming to Him and simply resting in His overwhelming love and peace.

The more I seek You
The more I find You
The more I find You
The more I love You

I want to sit at Your feet
Drink from the cup in Your hand
Lay back against You and breathe
And feel Your heartbeat

This love is so deep
It's more than I can stand
I melt in Your peace
It's overwhelming

Too Much Power

As I think back over the years of being in a controlling church, it bothers me when I think of how much power I had given to a man I called my pastor. In many ways I gave a man the place God was supposed to hold in my life. I let a man assume a place of authority that God never intended another person to have over me. We were told that because of the office our pastor held, when he spoke, it was God speaking - if we didn't listen and obey it was equivalent to disobeying God. But in the New Testament Jesus didn't talk about an office or position that He held and He never forced anyone to honor Him. He simply came and spoke the truth. God Himself doesn't even exert His power over us and He never controls, drives or pushes us. He loves us and gently leads us, and then He leaves it up to us to follow. This is the way it should be with leaders in the church, but this is not always the case.

In an article on spiritual abuse, Craig Von Buseck said, "Spiritual abuse can be difficult to detect at first if you have never encountered it. In a manipulative church, the pastor subtly positions himself to take the place of the Holy Spirit in people's lives. They may try to put undue influence on the choices that people in their congregation are making. They might try to sway some one's decision in a matter to keep them under their control, or to keep them from leaving the church."

I experienced this first hand on several occasions in my former church. One of those times stands out vividly in my mind. My husband and I had made a decision about something concerning our children that we thought was the right thing to do. We had talked about it and really felt like we were following God. I made the mistake of telling someone about what we had decided to do and the information went straight to the pastor. The following Sunday, we were called to his office after an evening service and questioned. He proceeded to tell us that we were wrong and that we were going to have to change our decision. Being the loyal church members we were, we told him that we would reverse our decision and do what he wanted us to do. We left his office feeling like we were little children that had been reprimanded and we had no choice but to obey. He used the power that he knew he had over us. We see now that we had given him too much power in our lives.

Looking back, I wish we would have said, "No, we are the parents and this is what we feel is best for our children." He should have supported our decision and trusted in our ability as parents, but he didn't. This type of thing happens over and over in controlling churches. People place the responsibility God gave them into the hands of leaders that they trust. The sad thing is, some controlling leaders don't always have the people's best interests at heart, because they care more about their own image than the people. In the situation I described above, I have a suspicion that what he wanted us to do really had nothing to do with what was best for my children. I am just thankful that everything turned out okay in the end, even though I went against my own heart. I share this example in hopes that some will see that it is okay and right to follow your own heart and not give into pressure from someone else. It's so much more important to follow God rather than a man, because God always knows what is best for you and your children.

If a minister tells you something, it should be in line with what God has already impressed upon your heart. If it doesn't line up, you should pray about it and not just jump because it's a pastor or a prophet telling you to do it. The Bible says in I John 4:1, "test the spirits," another translation says, "carefully weigh and examine what people tell you." You are responsible for you and your family and it's important that you find out what God's will is. God and His Word must come first in our lives - it comes before what anyone else says, even a pastor. Yes, God puts people in our lives to help us, but not to take over and tell us what to do. I think some people have felt beat down and have felt almost scared to step out and even make a decision on their own. Some have lost their confidence and they are scared to do anything without asking their pastor first. But you can trust your own heart because God lives there. You have the same Holy Spirit that any minister has. In fact, a minister should be happy for you and encourage you as you learn to develop confidence in your ability to hear from God, instead of trying to keep you under his thumb.

Sincere Christians have suffered much grief because they listened to a man instead of following what they really knew was right in their own heart. In his book, "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse," Jeff Von Vonderen says, "Many have innocently come under one of the various "authority" movements that periodically sweep through the church - usually variations on the same heresy, that "vision" or "guidance" must come only through a spiritual "head," which ultimately denies an individuals ability to hear from God." I think many of us have found ourselves in this place and we didn't mean to give our power over to someone else. It was something that happened over time. God never intended for one person to have control over another. In His eyes we are all equal. He doesn't love one person more than another and He wants all of us to live the same wonderful life of grace in Christ, focusing on the things that really matter - loving God and loving people.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

His Grace Is Enough

Have you ever tried to talk to your teenager while he was listening to his ipod? Sometimes I am just talking away, wondering why he isn't responding, and then I realize he can't even hear what I am saying. His mind is on what he is listening to, instead of me. It's a distraction. I believe that there are some things that have been taught that have become distractions in Christian's lives - things they are listening to have taken their minds off of what God's grace means in their lives, and they have turned their focus on doing works to earn God's approval and protection. If you are constantly thinking about "one more thing" that you have to do, I want to tell you today that God's grace is enough!

Think back to when you first got saved. You had so much greatfulness in your heart for what Jesus did for you and you couldn't wait to find out more about Him. I think most of us can say that one of the first scriptures we ever memorized was Ephesians 2:8-9. It says, "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast." I remember when I first read this verse years ago, I took a big sigh of relief because I was so glad that my salvation had nothing to do with me, except that I just receive it. Why have we allowed someone to tell us that we have to bring works back into the picture? When we put our trust in our own works, it won't get us anywhere. We must put our trust in the work that Jesus did. Galatians 3:3 says, "After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?" His grace is enough!

Think about it like this - Jesus told us to become like a little child (Matt 18:4). Has your child ever paid his way to Six Flags or Disney World? Does your child pay for their own food when you go out to eat? No! They don't pay their own way. Just as our children look to us and trust us, so are we to do with our Heavenly Father. Jesus already paid our way! His grace is enough!

I tried to figure grace out for years and I never really understood what it was all about, but as I have been thinking about these things and studying about God's love, I have finally gotten a clear picture. God loved us so much, He sent Jesus to pay the price to take us out from under the law and place us under grace. The law was a set of rules that held people in bondage. If one rule was broken, the curse would come upon them. When Jesus died on the cross, He freed us from the law and the effects of the curse. God gave us this freedom, not to allow for wrongdoing, but because He wanted us to know that He loves us and accepts us for who we are. He thinks we are awesome!

Some churches teach that you have to live up to a certain standard in order to obtain something from God. That makes people have a "law mentality." This mentality says that you have to go to church, pay your tithes, read your Bible, and confess all the right things in order to receive from God and stay away from the curse. Those things are good, but they don't make us more righteous. This wrong message forces people to get so busy trying to keep themselves in right standing with God, that they get their eyes on what they can do instead of what God's grace has already done. It's a distraction. Galatians 3:11,13 says, "So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When He hung on the cross, He took upon Himself the curse." When people constantly tell you that there are things you have to do to earn freedom from the curse, they are saying that His grace is not enough. But it is! The work Jesus did on the cross was enough! He has got you covered!

We can't allow ourselves to be distracted any more. We have to stay focused on God's grace and share this great message with the world. God has already given us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). There is NOTHING we can do to earn this. God is not a task master. He is not waiting to drop the curse down on you if you miss something you were supposed to do. No! He sits on His throne of grace and bids you to come to (Heb. 4:10). God's grace is enough! Don't let anyone tell you different!

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Description of Jesus

I have been doing a lot of reading lately while I wait in long car pool lines. A friend told me about a book he read recently called "So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore," by Jake Colsen. (I'm only in the first chapter, so I won't recommend it until I read it first.) I was hesitant to buy it because I do want to continue to go to church. I love going to church and thankfully we have found a place that my family loves and trusts. My friend told me that the book is not about quitting church altogether, but it makes some really good points about recognizing controlling situations so we won't make the same mistakes twice. As I was reading, I came across something that was very special to me. A character in the book gave a wonderful description of Jesus that I can't quit thinking about. I want to share it with you.......

"He was as gentle a man as one would ever know. He could silence detractors without ever raising His voice. He never bullied His way; never drew attention to Himself nor did He ever pretend to like what vexed His soul. He was real, to the very core. And at the core of that being was love. Wow! Did He love! We didn't even know what love was, until we saw it in Him. It was for everyone, too, even those who hated Him. He still cared for them, hoping somehow they would find a way out of their self-inflicted souls to recognize who stood among them.

And with all that love, He was completely honest. Yet even when His actions or words exposed people's motives, they didn't feel shamed. They felt safe, really safe with Him. His words conveyed not even a hint of judgment, simply an entreaty to come to God. There was no one you would trust more quickly with your deepest secrets. If someone were going to catch you at your worst moment you'd want it to be Him.

He wasted no time mocking others, nor their religious trappings. If He had something to say to them, He'd say it and move on and you would know you'd been loved more than anyone had ever loved you before. I'm not talking about mamby-pamby sentimentalism either. He loved, really loved. It didn't matter if you were Pharisee or prostitute, disciple or blind beggar, Jew, Samaritan, or Gentile. His love held itself out for any to embrace. Most did, too, when they saw Him. Though so few ended up following Him, for the few moments His presence passed by them, they tasted a freshness and power they could never deny even years later. Somehow He seemed to know everything about them, but loved them deeply all the same.

And when He hung there from that filthy cross, that love still poured down - on mocker and disillusioned friend alike. As He approached the dark chamber of death, wearied of the torture and feeling separated from His Father, He continued to drink from the cup that would finally consume our self-will and shame. There was no finer moment in all of human history. His anguish became the conduit for His life to be shared with us. This was no madman. This was God's Son, poured out to the last breath, to open full and free access for you to His Father.

Jesus wants to be your friend without any strings attached. He will care for you and if given a chance will become more real to you than your best friend, and you will cherish Him more than anything else you desire. He will give you a purpose and a fullness of life that will carry you through every stress and pain and will change you from the inside to show you what true freedom and joy really are."

Friday, August 22, 2008

So Call Me Crazy......

To give new readers a little background, I left an abusive, controlling church 3 months ago. I had been in that church for over 20 years and now I can't figure out what in the world I was thinking for all those years! I am not placing the blame on anyone but myself, because I made the decision to stay as long as I did, however there was a lot of manipulation and control going on.

When I made the decision to leave, I went through some of the most emotional days of my entire life. I had given so much of my life, time, and money to this church for many years, only to find out that 2 days after I left, I was now being called "evil." Wow, how did I go from someone they trusted to head up ministries in the church for years, to an "evil, demonic, listening to poison, crazy, goat?" (These were their words about me, not mine.) I am trying my best to move past these things and people say, "just get over it," but I figure that I can't forget about something in one day or even 3 months that took over 20 years to build. My family and I have found a new church that is awesome and I am happier than I have ever been. We are experiencing the love of God and the freedom that Jesus provided for us like never before. BUT I just have these moments when I hear something ridiculous that was said at my former church and I just want to blog away!

Anyone who has ever been in an abusive church knows that the minute you leave, you will be talked about in horrible ways, and of course, you are the one who is wrong. It is never anything that the leaders did that made you leave, it is always because you are "offended" or "hanging around and listening to the wrong people." It is because "the devil is out to steal the Word." It is never because the leaders mistreat people or do unmentionable acts. No, it's because you "let the Word leak out of you" or "you quit honoring your man of God." (Understand that I am presenting this in a totally sarcastic way.)

Something awful happened in our former church, that I will not go into, but it caused hundreds of people to leave the church. It is amazing to me that the people who left were respectable people - successful business men and women, nurses, ministers, policemen, ushers in the church, and even board members, and yet (in the mind of the leaders) it was still all of these people who were wrong and it wasn't anything the church leaders had done. The most recent words (just this week) to be spoken about the group who left (my family included) is - we are crazy! Wow, I wonder what God thinks about His children being called crazy? Anyway, it is being said that there were a couple of hundred youth who were on fire for God, (actually it was less than a hundred, I was there) and in their words, "people went crazy, acted nutty, drug their kids away from the life of God, and stomped out a move of God among the young people." Once again, the leader's spin - it was the parents fault and it wasn't the immorality that had gone on or what the leaders had done. It is always this way in controlling churches, it's always what someone else did, and it's never the fault of the leaders. They won't take responsibility for their actions and they will never admit they were wrong, even when hundreds of people know it's wrong.

In this case it had nothing to do with parents just pulling their kids away from God when they left the church. I know these people and they love their children and would never do anything to intentionally hurt the relationship their children have with God. Leaving had everything to do with following God and doing what was right! It had everything to do with people standing up and saying, "I won't take the abuse any more!"

So they can call me crazy for.......

*Leaving a place that abuses and mistreats people

*Leaving a place where the leaders place the blame on every one around and will never take responsibility for their own actions

*Leaving a place where people are called "idiots" on such a regular basis, that you begin to think that God Himself thinks everyone on the face of the earth is an idiot

*Leaving a place where no one is truly loved for who they are

*Leaving a place where no one ever feels like they can measure up in the eyes of the leaders

*Leaving a place where you are talked down to and never appreciated for all that you give

*Leaving a place where the main focus is money

*Leaving a place where rules are more important than people

*Leaving a place that doesn't reach out to the community and meet the needs of hurting people

*Leaving a place that will turn on you in a second and call you crazy when you haven't even done anything wrong

And they can call me crazy for......

*Wanting to walk in freedom

*Wanting to go to a place where me and my children will experience the love of God in our lives

*Wanting to go to a church that loves and helps people

*Wanting to go to a place where kindness is the norm, instead of the exception

*Wanting to go to a church where people care more about you than your money

*Wanting to go to a church where people don't use you, but they respect you and appreciate you for who you are

*Wanting to make my own decisions

*Wanting to regain my self-esteem that had been jerked out of me for years

*Wanting to be happy and wanting my children to be happy

*Wanting my children to be cared about and treated in a nice way

*Wanting to have fellowship with other Christians

*Wanting to go to a church that is community minded and world minded, instead of a church that is "me" minded

*Wanting to go to a church that will never call me crazy

They can call me crazy if they want to, but I call it being smart. I call it having enough self-respect not to allow myself to be controlled or hurt anymore. I call it following after the heart of God.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

There Will Come A Day

I always pause before I push the button to publish a post. I never want to come across in an unkind or unloving way. I never want to offend or hurt anyone. I sort of feel bad when I think that I've been too strong in my writings (like my last post - yikes!), but writing things out on my blog is like a detox process for me. Reading the comments people leave is like free therapy. It sure does help when you know that someone else understands what you are going through.

I try really hard each day to move past these things and think on the things that are true, just, honest, and things that are a good report (Phil. 4:8), but sometimes I forget to do that. I called a friend the other day who left an abusive church 4 years ago. I asked her, "Will there ever come a day when I don't think about this 24/7?" She said, "It stays with you for a long time, but it does get easier." Sometimes it seems that thoughts consume my mind and I feel like I will live with this forever, but I believe there will come a day when this will be a distant memory. I trust that God will lead me and guide me and help me move past this. Is anyone else having a hard time getting past these things?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's What's In a Person's Heart That Really Matters

I have heard controlling ministers describe certain churches as "flesh" churches. (If you have never heard this term, it's used in controlling churches and carries a negative connotation.) From listening to these ministers it seems that a "flesh" church is one that serves donuts, allows casual dress, and has fellowship groups. Okay, what about in Acts 2:46, where it says that people met from house to house, breaking bread, and the church was added to daily? What about in Hebrews 10:25, where it says we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together? Does it say anywhere in this verse that the assembling has to be in a church building where a formal service is conducted? I think that when people meet together and lift up the Name of Jesus, it doesn't matter if it is in a church sanctuary, a home, or even a barn! It's what's in a person's heart that really matters.

How can people think any church that is reaching the lost, teaching the Bible, loving people, and meeting needs in their communities and in the world, be a "flesh" church? To me, bashing people, using fear tactics to get people to tithe and give their money, telling people to shun other Christian brothers and sisters, and putting down other churches, is more "fleshly" than anything I've ever seen. And where does it say in the Bible that you can't be a minister or a true Christian if you don't wear a suit? I go to a church where the pastor doesn't wear a suit and I am hearing some of the best teaching I have heard in years. Some of the things that people are making such a big deal out of really don't matter at all. It's not about what a person wears, it's what's in a person's heart that really matters.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I Have Another Question

As parents, we teach our children to always be nice to their friends and neighbors. We read books to them about being nice, sharing, and helping others. We read them the 'Golden Rule' from the Bible, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." We go out of our way to correct them when they are not nice to others. We do these things as parents, because we care about our children and want things to go well with them in life. So my question is, do you think that Father God is going to tell His children, through a minister, that He doesn't want them to be nice to others?!!!!

I left my former church a few months ago and I'm still dealing with certain things. You may say, "Why do you even care what they say or what goes on there?" The truth is, I don't care what goes on, but I do still have a few friends who attend the church that will still speak to me and I know others who still have friends there as well. It seems that people are being told not to be nice to those who have left the church. I know this has gone on for a long time, but it's being talked about now like never before. Things are being said like, "Don't be nice to those who leave your church and don't even go out to dinner with them. You can be kind, but there is a difference between being nice and being kind." WHAT? I looked up the words nice and kind in the dictionary and you know what, they mean the same thing. I just can't believe it has come to this! Even worse, fear is being used to drive their point home! I can only hope that my friends won't listen to what is being said.

I have another question. What is this message going to teach the children who are there? I guess the parents might as well give up on teaching their children to be nice and kind to others, because when they go to church they will hear the opposite. I have seen some hurt children and teenagers who were "cut off" from their friends when they didn't even do anything wrong. How can this be justified in the mind of anyone, especially a Christian? I would think anyone could see that when someone tells you not to be nice to others, it goes directly against the Bible! Am I missing something? If there really is a difference in being nice and being kind, please fill me in.

While reading my new book, "The God's Honest Truth," I came across a statement today that really made me stop and think about all of this. Darin Hufford said, "Unkindness has almost become the norm of our society, and many of us have grown accustomed to its foul presence." You would expect this in the world to some degree, but not in the church. However, I think you will find that in many controlling churches, people have forgotten what kindness looks like.

One Sunday, a while back, we took a visitor to church with us. He accidentally opened the wrong door and was quickly reprimanded. It embarrassed him and he had a hard time even listening during the service. Afterwards he said, "I thought this was a church." Being treated like that did not make him want to come running back. He wanted to go to a place where people would be nice to him. I have found that many people in the business world are even nicer than some church leaders. This just should not be! Church leaders should understand that there are all types of people who will come into the church and they can't all be expected to be spiritual giants. And yet, in many cases, if people don't act perfect they are looked down on. Believe me, they take notice of what is going on and how they are treated. Guess what, the old saying, "Christians are under a microscope," is true! When Christians act in certain ways, such as being rude or not speaking to a fellow Christian, it doesn't make the world want to run to the altar to receive what they have. Can you imagine what a visitor would think if he came into a church and heard a minister telling the people not to be nice and not to go out to eat with their friends? He would run for his life! Why do some not see how far away from normal this is?

God makes it very clear that what really matters to Him is love. There's going to have to be a turn around and kindness is going to have to become the norm again. We have got to portray a clear picture of who God is. He is the kindest One of all and the very fact that He lives inside of us tells me that we can be kind to all. We must let the love of God flow from our hearts, be a light to the world, and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then and only then are people going to want what we have. And it's not just the world that we need to be nice to, there are many hurting Christians who have been hurt by controlling churches that need to see once again that their are kind Christians who will love them.

Darin also says, "The great counterfeit of kindness is manipulation." I thought that was a very interesting statement, but I as read more I understood what he was saying and it's so true. When people do nice things with the motive to get you to do something for them in return, it is not kindness, it's manipulation. This is commonplace in controlling churches and it hurts people when they find out that they were only treated in a nice way because someone wanted something from them. But true kindness is something you give with no strings attached! Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit and it defines the character of God. Kindness is the love of God in action. When we are kind, we are acting like God. The opposite is true as well, when people are not nice and kind, they are not acting like God. He is kind even when others aren't. He is kind, no matter what, and that is how He wants us to be. Listen to what God says......

"Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face Him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. If someone says, "I love God," but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And He has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters." (I John 4:7,11,17 &20)

"Kindness overrules anger, rage, depression, hopelessness, gossip, envy, strife, and just about any other terrible thing. There is a power in kindness that resists anything thrown its way. It topples over strongholds and crushes addictions. It changes the mind of stubborn people and deflates the pride of humanity. Kindness is more powerful than anything the flesh manifests. Nothing can stand up to it and everything turns into dust in its presence." - Darin Hufford

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Listen to the Tone

I have really been enjoying my new book. Some of the things I have read are so good and they express my heart exactly, so I just want to type it word for word. Darin Hufford says.......

"Over the years, I have watched a growing trend that has brought much concern to my heart. It usually happens when a preacher is relating a conversation he supposedly had with God, and when he comes to what "God said," he presents Him as being callous and coarse in His tone.

I once heard an evangelist recall a word for word conversation where God was confronting him on a matter of personal pride and supposedly God said to him, "you make me sick." Another time the story was told that God's response to a person was, "do I stutter, or are your ears flapping?" It's usually done for effect, but I feel that over time it wears on the hearts of His children. We begin to expect that this is who God is and how He relates to us.

The Bible says to speak the truth in LOVE. Truth ceases to be truth if it is spoken in any other tone than love. Tone is everything! Words speak to the head. Tone speaks to the heart. Even dogs understand this principal. Have you ever spoken words of love to a dog in an angry voice? What happens? The dog runs away and hides.

This is precisely why so many Christians are hiding today. They have been given loving words in an angry voice. Though they have memorized the words in their head, they have also memorized tone in their heart. A preacher can tell his congregation that God loves them every Sunday for a year, but if the preacher doesn't love them himself, the tone will always be contaminated. It's not enough to preach on a subject and cover all the points. Love must be at the heart of everything we do and say and the tone of love is NEVER rude."

I struggled with this for years in my former church. It seemed at the time, that certain things being said were right, but the tone they were spoken in seemed harsh many times. I can remember phrases such as "beat their brains out," and "pea-brained Christians," that were spoken in a callous or rude tone. I would have never used those phrases when talking about my children or other Christians and I cringed as they were said, but I just pushed aside the concern I had over it. I didn't realize until recently that somewhere inside I couldn't help but wonder if God acted the same way towards me. I bring this up to show that there is a danger to your spiritual well-being to sit under someone who isn't using a tone of love and building you up. Your head may get used to it, but your heart never will. You will start to act like a scared puppy and hide from God when you think He will shoot you down or criticize you. These types of actions are the total opposite of who God is. His tone is always love! Love, love, love! And that is what I always want my tone to be.

Darin said, "The only way the Bible can be properly interpreted is if the messenger knows and understands the tone of God's heart." I want to know the tone of God's heart and part of that is making sure I am protecting my heart and listening to the right things. Listen to the tone in which things are being said. If they make God seem like a mean or rude God, it's not right. If Christians or other churches are being put down, God's not in it. We must have the right picture in our hearts of who God truly is. God is love, He's always love and there is never a point when He isn't love. It's that simple.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Heart of God

Okay, so I think I have figured something out. I have always wondered why I sat in church for years and didn't seem to grow in my relationship with God. I didn't backslide in the sense of doing wrong things and I never stopped going to church. I was still reading my Bible and I did all the right things, but I didn't seem to get any closer to God. Why? I really believe it was because I didn't understand "relationship" and it was never taught at my former church. I tried to live a formula and I missed out on years of knowing who God really is. We were taught certain parts of the Word of God, but we weren't taught the heart of God. I know His Word is His heart, but I'm talking about the person that He is and His character. We were taught about the acts we needed to perform to earn things from God, but we weren't taught about the unconditional love of God. I have figured out that the person you are receiving from has to have the things you desire in your life.

I read that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Southern Baptist Association has now proven that Christianity is the fastest declining religion in America. That is sobering to hear, but do you know why that is? I think it is because people aren't hearing about who God really is. The picture that has been painted of Him is not attractive. Many churches are not teaching people about the love of God and what it means to have a relationship with God. Ministers have gotten so "deep" in their teachings and revelations, the simple things about God are being bypassed. Doesn't the Bible say that it is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance? The goodness of God is His kindness, compassion, mercy, grace, guidance, comfort, acceptance, unconditional love and the awesome relationship He wants to share with us. How are people going to really know who God is if all they hear are mixed-up teachings that have no rhyme or reason to them? One minute a minister is talking about walking in the fruit of the Spirit and ten minutes later he is bashing another Christian. How is that showing anyone the true heart of God? One minute someone teaches on God's promises and how they are a free gift, but then they tell you what you have to do to earn them. It seems that some ministers will convince you of who they want you to think God is. It is time for us to find out who God is for ourselves.

I am reading a book right now called "The God's Honest Truth" by Darin Hufford and it is changing my whole outlook on who God is. It is awesome. He says, "I do not believe that there is a person in the Bible that is more misunderstood than God. He has been misrepresented for thousands of years." I believe that. There are so many people giving their opinion of who God is and it has gotten the world confused. People are scared of God because they think He will turn on them in a second, just like other people in their lives have. I think there is so much more we can learn about God's love for us. The purpose of this book is to teach about the love of God and to understand the heart of God. As I read things that help me, I will share them with you. He said a good place to start learning about God's love is to look at Him through the light of I Corinthians 13.

"God is patient. God is kind. God does not envy. God does not boast. God is not proud. God is not rude. God is not self-seeking. God is not easily angered. God keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres."

God is patient. I want to take this first attribute of God and give a few quotes from the book. I am seeing a new picture of who God is and that He really does love me.

"God is patient with you because He understands you fully and completely. He knows every tiny little facet of your heart. God even knows the things you have long forgotten about. He knows the things that have made you the person you are today. His patience with you is not a case of God holding back His boiling anger toward you, but it is simply God knowing you so well that He doesn't even begin to lose patience. There is never a time when He loses patience with you because you aren't getting something fast enough. God has decided wholeheartedly that He will be with you for all eternity. He isn't even thinking of leaving. God has patience with you because He knows the end of your story, and He is pleased with it. It's a happy ending!"

I am so glad I read that He doesn't lose patience with me when I don't get something fast enough. The process I am walking through after leaving a controlling church has been tough. Honestly, I have been through a lot of hard times, but this ranks up at the top. I feel that I am having to rebuild my whole life. I am trying to figure out the things I am supposed to take with me and the things I am supposed to leave behind. It is a process that doesn't happen over night. I feel like I have been wounded and I am healing slowly. The one thing that is helping me the most is to focus on His love, and nothing else. I am so thankful that He is not angrily standing by while I "get over it." He is right in there with me, gently leading me. I am really starting to get a clear picture of who He is. He is not the God I thought He was. He is not the God who was modeled before me for years. He is my Father and He loves me, not based on what I do, say, or how I act. He just loves me. These are the things that really matter, not the long list of requirements that were placed on us to measure up to someone elses standard. God's standard is pure love.

I Corinthians 13 describes the true heart of the God we serve. If you have been made to believe that He is any different than this description, it's time to wash your mind clean and start over. If it is really true that Christianity is declining, there is something wrong! It's time for us to learn and understand the love of God and share it with everyone around us. That is what will make the world want to come to Him, read His book, talk to Him, and give their lives to Him.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Performance or Relationship?

In controlling churches, the leaders place more importance on what a person does, rather than who they are. This results in a performance-based relationship. These types of relationships have caused hurt and confusion to many people in the body of Christ.

Jeff Van Vonderen describes a performance-based relationship in a controlling church like this......

"How people act is more important than who they are or what is happening to them on the inside. Love and acceptance are earned by doing or not doing certain things. Living up to the standard is what earns acceptance, the result of which is acceptance or behaviors, not people. Or once the standard is reached, it is changed or moved. Kids can't be kids because children are imperfect, messy, loud and ask questions that sometimes perplex or embarrass, none of which is considered acceptable.

The effects: perfectionism, or giving up without trying; doing only things you are good at; cannot admit mistakes; procrastination; view of God as more concerned with how you act than who you are; cannot ask for help; cannot rest when tired; cannot have guilt-free fun; high need for the approval of others; sense of shame or self-righteousness; demanding of others, or you except "nothing" from them; living a double life."

I could stop right there and let this quote speak for itself, but I want to share some things I have learned. What I and many others have been through in a controlling church mirrors this description exactly.

People will go to great lengths just to be accepted and hear someone praise them for a job well done. In abusive, controlling churches people give their lives by arriving early, staying late, and serving in many areas. They are at the church almost every day of the week, even if it's to the detriment of their own family. They spend their hard earned money and put many miles on their car, all the while they don't realize they are only being used. They are rarely told they are appreciated and they almost never hear the words "thank you." I have seen it time and time again, people do a good job and anxiously await a pat on the back or a smile of approval and they never get one.

Many people have walked away from a task that they put their whole heart into, only to find out it wasn't good enough. Let me just tell you now that there will always be "one more thing" you will have to do to be accepted in a controlling church. You will spin your wheels for years and give so much of your life, but when you have been used up, you will be easily discarded. The most tragic result I have seen is that people begin to think they cannot trust God, just as they can't trust the leaders who have done such a hurtful thing to them.

Pastors and leaders have done many things that hurt people in the name of God. We were taught for years that when our pastor spoke, it was the same as God speaking. But what about the times he was unkind? Was that God? We were told to look at the gift in the man and not the man. But did that mean that all of the PG-13 services we sat in with our children were coming from God? My point is that people get confused about where to draw the line of separation between what is man and what is God. When you are told that you are not honoring God if you don't honor the man, it somehow puts God and man on the same level. Where do you draw the line? The line is drawn in Matthew 23:9 where it says, "Don't address anyone here on earth as Father, for only God in heaven is your Father." It was so refreshing to me the other day when I heard a pastor humbly say, "I am just human. I don't want to, but I will probably let you down one day. That is why you have to keep your eyes on God and never on me." Ministers should teach us to keep our focus on God and God alone, but certain leaders lead us away from this because they want our allegiance and they want all that we can do for them.

When ministers place such an importance on performance, people will begin to think that God does too. We become reluctant to go to God for fear of disappointing Him. Hebrews 4:16 says, "So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." It doesn't say that we can only come when we have performed everything in excellence. The control we have been under has caused us to go to God with our heads tucked. We have been made to feel that we can't measure up at our church, so why would it be different with God? We should know the difference, but when we sit under the control for years, it becomes hard to separate the two. It's hard to break away because enough scripture has been used to make us believe what they are saying is the truth. We must break free from this way of thinking and remember that our God is a gracious and loving Father who wants us to run to Him. He is the one who always accepts us with open arms!

I am re-learning that my relationship with God is not based on my performance! I am re-learning that His love and acceptance is not based on what I do. If we are always thinking we have to do something to earn His approval, then what about His grace? I heard someone say the other day that tithing is what brought about their healing. I emphatically asked - What about the blood of Jesus? What about the work of the cross? What part did these things play? God gave us these things freely! When we place our confidence in the things we do rather than the love God has for us, we are only performing to get something we already have!

I want to know that it is by His grace that I am accepted and there is nothing I can do to earn it. I want to give Him the glory for all the good in my life. If I do a performance and seek glory for it, it will make me prideful. It will be about what I did and not what He did. Look, I am trying to stay on my feet. Proverbs 16:18 says that pride will bring destruction and make you fall. Why would I want to fall by taking the glory that belongs to God? It's not about me. It's not about my ability - it's about His ability in me! It's all about God! It's not about what we can do to earn acceptance or approval. Because of what Jesus did - we already have it! One time I heard a pastor say, "Quit saying you are not perfect, because you will have what you say." You know what, I'm not perfect - that's why I need God in my life. I daily need His help and guidance. I want to be a humble servant who loves Him and loves people. I hate pride and Proverbs 6:17 tells me that God hates it too. I want to run as far away from pride as I can.

We were in a service last night and I turned to my husband and said, "Do you notice how they are pointing everything to Jesus?" Is your church pointing people to Jesus or to the man in charge? Is your church causing you to trust in Jesus or is it causing you to focus on your performance? If you are in a controlling church trying to measure up to a man's standard, you will never make it. Which would you rather have - performance or relationship? Come away and put your eyes back on God and let Him love you for who you are. It is a wonderful place to be. There are too many nice, loving people who will love and appreciate you for who you are. But more important than anything God loves you - for who you are! He just wants a relationship with you and there is nothing you can do to change the way He feels about you!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Think About The Children

I have shared many things over the past couple of weeks. It just keeps bubbling out. I know you may get tired of some of the things I repeat over and over, but my desire has been to help people see the dangers of controlling churches and how they can hurt people. Spiritual abuse is real and it has gone on more than I could have ever even imagined. I want to make it very clear that I am not "dwelling in the past" or "wallowing in offense." I am free from all of that! I am sharing these things to help others relate and see the signs of abuse and control. I can't stand aside and be silent while I see people being hurt. If you are noticing that your church has some of the characteristics I have talked about, I encourage you to read the articles I have links to on the side of my blog. They are very enlightening. Remaining in a controlling, abusive church will eventually hurt you. Just being there can cause you to take on the same attitudes and characteristics of the leaders and eventually it will cause you to harden your heart to the things going on around you. If you have children, you have to think about what attitudes are being formed in them and if they are learning the love of God or just learning how it feels to be controlled. Life is too short to stay in a situation that you are not happy in. I promise you - the freedom you will experience will be better than you could ever imagine. Don't be afraid that something bad will happen to you or your family if you leave. That teaching is so far off base and it is not found in the Bible. Here is what is found in the Bible.....

"God is guarding you and keeping you by His power." (I Peter 1:5)

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and He is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father's hand." (John 10:27-29)

"I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow - not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below - indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

These are the things we must base our lives on! These are the things we must teach our children! The teaching that something will happen to you if you leave is just a deception and it makes people afraid. It causes you to take your eyes off of God and put them on the church or a man. It scares children when they hear these things. They may never tell you they are afraid, but in the back of their minds they have the fear that something will happen to them or their family. I have heard that some children have voiced a fear of dying if they left their church. When they hear these things from a pulpit that you have placed them in front of, they will believe it. It will make them think that God is behind it. But He is not! He is our Protector! If you believe what they are saying it's one thing, but if you don't believe it, then why do you have your children there listening to it? As parents we must make sure that the things our children are being taught is pointing them to God and not making them afraid of Him.

Me and my children were sitting in a service where it was mentioned that there would be people who die because they left the church. It seemed that there were some that were happy about that statement. I hope I misread that observation, but I was grieved by it. When we got home I sat my children down and told them that no one should ever want anyone to die. I expressed to them strongly that God is complete love and He is long-suffereing to all of His children. He doesn't want anything bad to happen to anyone and neither do we. I felt terrible that I even had to try to correct something that I had allowed them to sit under. I am staying on this for a minute because I want you to see that what our children hear in a church service carries a lot of weight with them. You can go home and try to correct it, but it would be better if they never heard it in the first place. I have stated before that I know and understand - no church is perfect and no one will teach perfectly all the time, but fear tactics should never be used on Christians who are innocently just trying to do the right thing.

I am glad to have my children in a place of love and freedom instead of fear and control. The things my family have experienced in just the last 3 months have been awesome. My children have met lots of new friends and they are happier than I have ever seen them. They are no longer under a heavy rule that presses them into someone elses mold. Children and teenagers need rules and boundaries, but when there are rules without relationship and love they will eventually see right through it. Now that they are around loving and caring people they have the compassion for the world in their lives once again. When one of my sons was little, he used to cry for the lost in our prayer times. Over the years he lost that after being in a place of just hearing about money and what you can get from God, hearing people being called "idiots," being told to dress right and act right, and not hearing much teaching on the compassion of God for people. I was concerned about these things over the years, but I didn't see what I could do. I could tell him things at home, but in his mind he would think, "Yea, but I was told something different at church by the person you are telling me is speaking on behalf of God."

One year the young people in our church went to camp and came back "fired up" for God. They started going up to the front of the church during worship time on Sunday mornings. It used to really bless me to see them run up there as soon as the music started. They would jump during the fast songs and lift their hands during the slow songs. Usually the fire would die down a few weeks after camp, but this time it didn't. They kept it going for months. Something terrible happened that devastated the youth and even after that, they still kept going up to the front. I was really proud of them for that. One morning they were jumping up and down to a fast song and the song was stopped in the middle and they were told that jumping was not "dancing in the Spirit." They were told that if they were dancing in the Spirit there had to be a shuffle in their step. I could not believe it. I thought, "You have young people who are coming up to the front to worship, they have kept the fire going in their lives even after all they have been through, and you're about to put out the little fire they had left." My heart was so grieved. They were jumping because they loved God and wanted to praise Him. They were expressing their hearts in an action. Why would anyone want to stop them? They could be out in the world doing other things - they could be dancing in bars, they could be doing drugs, but you want to take the one thing they enjoy doing in church away from them? This is my opinion and if I'm wrong I trust God will show me, but I think that God didn't care if they jumped or had a shuffle in their step. I think He was thrilled that these teenagers wanted to praise Him and they were using their energy towards Him and I don't think He was offended by it in the least. I think He is a Father who loves His children and He was just proud that they wanted to worship Him. Why do people want to attach so many rules to everything - even to the ways people show their love for God?

My greatest desire in life has been to see my children have a real, true, everyday, heartfelt relationship with God. Not a "going through the motions because you have to" relationship. They were saved when they were little and they have walked with God, but I always wondered if they really knew the heart and character of God. I taught them at home all the time, but I didn't think it was being modeled before them at church. What was I thinking? Why did I keep them there so long? I have wised up a lot lately. The other day we were sitting in our new church and the pastor was talking about the love of God and reaching out to the world, and I whispered to my husband, "This is what I have always wanted for my children." Yes they need to hear about faith, but they have to experience the love of God too. Faith won't work without love. They have been diving into their Bibles like never before. They run downstairs with their Bibles and say, "You've got to hear this." They are learning about their relationship with God and they finally see it is more than just a set of rules that they are supposed to follow.

If you have children, especially teenagers, consider carefully what church you go to. I heard a statistic the other day that was frightening - 86% of young people will leave the church at age 18 and never come back. This tells me that churches better be thinking about these young people. They should never be an after thought. The most important thing a church can do is love these young people! They don't need someone else to tell them that they don't fit into their mold. Just love them! These things are so much more important than some of the things being taught. These things are eternal. You can have all the big houses in the world, but if young souls are being lost - what does that matter? I want so bad for young people to know the heart of God. I don't want them to get the wrong impression of who He is and not want to serve Him. I want them to know the true nature of God and that He loves them for who they are. These are the things that really matter.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Reach Out

There are people everywhere who have a story to tell. I received this heart-touching email and I asked permission to share it, because it will help us to remember that we must always be available to reach out to help our brothers and sisters in Christ. There are some churches failing miserably at their job of reaching out and loving others, and in many cases there has been more harm done than good. This is a portion of the email.....

"While I was there at the church, I was a single mother of 3 babies, and very poor. I felt like I got overlooked. I tithed and made offerings faithfully and cleaned the church's toilets and watched the members children, yet no one knew my name. No one offered any assistance to me or my children. I actually made a counseling appointment because I wanted financial advice. I was on food stamps, drove a car with no breaks, worked a minimum wage paying job, and was trying to go to college. During the appointment I was told that if I found a dollar on the ground I should tithe it. Well, I did that. I raked up every bit of change I had and sowed it. It was $6 and some change. God honored my faith and we had a service where people gave each other money and 3 people gave me money. It totaled $287. Two of the people that gave to me were people I grew up with and one was their friend. I gave $100 to another person who was financially blessed because that is what we were taught to do and I bought my kids Christmas with the rest. There were times I would be so stressed out not knowing how I would get my children's clothes, pay my power bill, etc. and I would think to myself I must be doing something wrong - maybe its because I have all these kids and I am not married. I was never "measuring up." I too have recently gotten into learning about God's unconditional love. I wasn't taught about that much.

During that time we were taking up offerings for jets, motorcycles, vacations, etc, for people in the church and other pastors. As I look back on it now, it doesn't seem right. I believe in honoring people and I gave in those offerings, but the Bible is very specific on helping the poor and fatherless. I do feel injured. I don't have hard feelings for anyone, but I have had a hard time feeling comfortable in a church. If I go to a church and the first visit is about money, I don't go back. I have been to large churches and walked in and not been acknowledged by a soul in the place. I don't mind so much about being acknowledged if the message speaks to my heart and I get fed. But there are so many people like the man wearing the hat that may be lost forever if they aren't. I feel passionately, that people need to step out on Sunday mornings and walk up and introduce themselves to someone. When they see a person there every time the church doors are open with 3 children, no husband, and visibly poor, they should reach out to them. We were not taught to do that in our church. So many people would keep giving to the already financially blessed, but nothing was said about giving to the poor and fatherless. We were taught to sow into good ground, but most people don't take the time to look on the inside of people."

I so appreciate this precious lady sharing these things with me and allowing me to post them for all to see. We must always be aware that there are people right in front of us who need a friend. One of the best things we can do for our Heavenly Father is be kind to His children. Just to let you know, she told me in another email that she has since gotten married and is doing really good. I pray that God will lead her to a church that will love her and teach her the real truth of God's Word. I pray that God will bless her life and that she will know His love like never before.

"Jesus said, For I was hungry, and you didn't feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn't give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn't invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn't give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn't visit me. They will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?' And He will answer, I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me." (Matthew 25:42-44)

If I Don't Have Love.....

The Bible says in I Corinthians 13:1-4, "If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God's secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn't love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it, but if I didn't love others, I would have gained nothing."

My version:

I can go to church every time the doors are open, but if I don't love others, it doesn't mean anything.

I can tithe every Sunday, but if I don't love others, it doesn't mean anything.

I can confess scriptures hundreds of times and read the Bible every day, but if I don't love others, it doesn't mean anything.

I can sing, shout, dance, and raise my hands, but if I don't love others, it doesn't mean anything.

I can walk in excellence and have the nicest, cleanest home or church building in town, but if I don't love others, what does it matter?

I can teach the best sermon on faith that anyone has ever heard, but if I don't love others, it doesn't mean anything.

I can drive the most expensive car and live in the biggest house in town, but if I don't love others, it doesn't mean anything.

I can fly around the country and attend every church conference that's held, but if I don't love others, I will be wasting my money.

I can dress nice and have a smile on my face, but if I don't have love, it's just a show.

I can rub elbows with the most famous people in the world, but if I don't love others, it won't get me anywhere.

I can be pretty or handsome, popular, well-educated, successful, rich, admired and even followed by many, but if I don't love others, these things mean nothing.

I can boast of my many achievements, but if I don't have love, I have accomplished nothing.

I can say that I love others, but if I truly don't love others, the words mean nothing.

If I love others I will share the gospel with them. If I love others I will give to them when they are in need. If I love others I will give them my time. If I love others I will be a friend to them. If I love others I won't be so focused on myself that I let opportunities to serve them pass me by. When it comes right down to it, if I love God and love people I am doing something that really matters.

I pray that we will be able to comprehend how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God's love is, and that we will experience His love today, so we can truly love others. (Ephesians 3:18-19)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

God's Love Letter

I found this video today and I had to share it with you. It goes right along with my post on 'God Cares.' It shows the awesomeness of God's love for us.

New Links

I added some new links today under 'Even More Helpful Articles.' I continue to be amazed at the similarities in the information out there and the experiences I have had. Check out this new material. I have also added some great links to Bible study helps. I hope these things will be a help to you.

God Cares!

I recently found a blog named A Former Leader's Journey, written by a sweet lady named Barb. She wrote a great post this morning titled 'On Forgiveness.' I emailed her to thank her for her time and for her writings because she has really helped me. In her return email, she made some very helpful remarks that I want to share with you. This is what she said.....

"The most helpful thing has been to not "require" myself to "do" anything. I've really started to understand God's grace and His character. In just understanding Him and gazing at Him I have found my heart soften in so many areas. Forgiveness is naturally springing up and I'm not making it happen. My advice to anyone in our situation is to start to understand the heart of our Father. Study about grace. We will be conformed into His image. Unfortunately if the image we have of Him is warped, our lives will reflect that."

I too have been studying on God's love and grace. In the past, I had begun to wonder what the true nature of God was because of the way the men of God in my life portrayed Him. Some of the ways they talked and acted didn't seem to model His love. But studying on His love and character has made me "return to my first love" (Revelation 2:4). I will never again take my eyes off of Him and what He has done for me. I will focus on His great love for me. I really matter to Him! You really matter to Him! He really does care about us - deeply! His grace, love, and mercy are never ending toward us! I know we hear these things often, but if we take the time to really think about what it means, it will change us.

God loves us so much - He knows every hair on our head! He loves us so much - He knows our every thought! He loves us so much - He told us that we could cast ALL our cares on Him! He loves us so much - He promised He would never leave us! He loved us so much - He sent Jesus to die for us! He forgave our sins! He wrote our names in heaven! He did all of this for you and me!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Joy of Salvation

When I first began writing my blog, I had only been gone from my church for just a few weeks. I have come a long way in these last few months and I am seeing more and more truth every day. I want to thank everyone for the kind comments you have left and the support you have been to me. Thank you Jimmy, for all the books you have sent my way - it means a lot to know you have thought about me.

While sitting in my new church yesterday, I had such a sense of gratefulness to God for leading me away from bondage and into freedom. The pastor talked about 3 simple things - prayer, praise, and the Bible. He shared how each one will draw you closer to God and make your relationship with Him stronger. Over the past many years of being in a controlling church that was governed by a strict standard, my relationship with God had suffered greatly. Somewhere along the way I lost the joy of my salvation.

I was saved at the age of 15 and there was truly a change in my life. I became a different person. A great love come into my heart for everyone around me and I had a peace come into my heart that I had never had before. I told all of my friends what had happened to me and invited them to church. One by one they all got saved and started walking with the Lord. Jesus quickly became my best friend and I had a true relationship with my heavenly Father. What happened?

When I first began attending my former church I was young and naive. I trusted and looked up to the leadership. I thought all preachers were holy and that I was supposed to respect and obey them. I was hearing new things and becoming aware that there was much more to the Christian life than I ever imagined - so I thought. In learning new things about faith, I also learned that in this church there were rules you were expected to follow. Many of the rules were unspoken, but I learned them quickly by watching what happened to others if they were broken. The big rule that everyone learned early on was that the pastor was in charge and you are to do what you are told and not question. I developed a fear of the pastor and I never wanted to displease him. I began to place more stock in what he thought about me than I did what God thought of me. I was so busy focusing on what I was and wasn't supposed to do, I allowed myself to drift away from my relationship with God. I am not ashamed to admit this because if I don't acknowledge the truth, then I can't change.

Little by little the excitement I had when I first got saved slipped away. It became hard for me to share my faith with others and invite them to church because I never wanted them to experience the difficulties I was having. I did step out and invite my brother and his wife to come. My brother was newly saved and I was thrilled that he agreed to come to church. He called me one Saturday and told me that he had driven to a park and hiked to the top of the mountain to pray. He shared how he experienced the presence of God and how he knew that God had heard his prayers. It was precious to me and I could relate, because when I was newly saved as a teenager, I would walk to the lake near my house and sit on the dock and pray. I would always feel God's presence. Soon after my brother's call, he came to church and something happened that broke my heart. I kid you not, the pastor began to talk about these "dummies" who think that they have to go up to a top of a mountain to hear from God. To this day I can feel the same feelings I felt that day. All I could do was think of how my brother's feelings must be hurt. I was afraid my brother thought that I had told the pastor what he had shared with me about going to the mountain. Of course I had not told and I couldn't even believe what had happened. He left the church soon after that and now I see that it was the best thing he could have done. He has a very special relationship with God and loves to help people.

We were told all the time to bring visitors to church, but after something like this I was afraid that someone else would be hurt. As Christians, we are supposed to want to share our faith and invite people to church. I did when I was first saved all the time, but I lost the enthusiasm for doing this over the years. I knew that people would be met at the door with rules that were impossible to follow.

Things happen subtly and gradually in controlling churches. The first time you hear certain things it may shock you, but you are conditioned to keep quiet and accept all that comes your way. You say to yourself, "They tell me this is the best church in the world, so where else would I go? I know certain things don't seem right, but maybe it will stop. Perhaps God will speak to him and he will correct it. After all, he is the pastor and he knows more than me. Who am I to question? I am the one who is probably out of line. I better just go along with what he says. Why? Because he's the pastor, that's why." How many people have said these same things to themselves, not realizing they were going against their own heart? How many times have we not invited people to church because of what we were afraid would happen, and yet we sat there week after week, talking ourselves into staying? It's dangerous to push away your own heart's desires to serve a man or a church. It can cost you years of having a true relationship with God.

As I listened to the pastor at my new church talk about the simplicity of prayer yesterday, I realized that I had pretty much "spiritually thrown up my hands on prayer" in the past. I just couldn't see how it would work for me. My friend over at Clarity Rediscovered did a great job describing the rules that the church placed on prayer. If we didn't say something just right, then our prayers wouldn't work. We were told that God didn't want to hear our problems, and all He wanted to hear was the Word. I got so confused because I heard others say that I could talk to God about anything. What was I supposed to do? The simplicity that I once walked in when praying was clouded by rules that contradicted themselves. I lost the joy of sitting down with my Father and sharing my life. I was afraid I would do something wrong.

The same is true for praise. Our church was so focused on singing the right words that we lost the whole point of what praise is. D wrote a good post over at Loving Jesus, Leaving Church on her experience in praise and worship. The songs at my former church were carefully selected. We were never allowed to sing anything that talked about trials we were going through or hurts that we had experienced. All the songs had to be about how God would bless us and what He could do for us. I got so focused on singing confessions of faith that I lost the joy of singing adoration to Him. I loved Hillsongs music and the songs always made me want to worship, but our church wouldn't sing them because they thought there were too many wrong words and phrases in them. I thought so hard about praying and singing the right things, I couldn't even think about Him. (Can you see how the frustration comes by trying to follow the unattainable guidelines of a controlling church?)

Relationship is what Christianity is all about. Many people who are trapped in these controlling systems are merely going through the motions. Relationship is replaced by a long list of rules and regulations that you must follow to be accepted. The leaders talk about how people don't need to get under the spirit of religion, when that is the very thing they are under. How people act is more important than what's really going on in a person's life. We can spend so many years of our life trying to measure up to and please a man, that we lose our relationship with God. For years I tried to measure up, follow the rules, keep the standard of excellence, pray the right things, confess the right scriptures, give to the right ministers, worship the right way, keep up the right appearance, sit in the right seat, say amen in the right place, and submit to every word that came from the pastor, but I was letting my relationship with God get buried under this pile of rules.

There was talk of freedom, but true freedom would have never been attained as long as I was in this place. I was in a meeting one day and I heard a church leader say, "We are not going to give the people what they want. We are going to give them what they need and they don't even know what they need." It seemed that this leader was saying that we were too dumb to think for ourselves - that we were too dumb to even know what we want or need. Why wouldn't they give the people what they wanted? Why wouldn't they want to make it a happy place for these people who gave so much of their time and lives to serve them? Why did the leaders pride themselves in the fact that you had to be "tough" to attend this church? Why did they want so much control over good people who were just trying to be a blessing to them? When I heard that statement I knew it wasn't right, but once again I talked myself into believing I had to accept it. Once again, I put my hopes, dreams, and any hope of ever having a voice on the back burner - way in the back. After being in this place for so long, I was slowly drying up on the inside. You would have never known by looking at me on the outside and I didn't even know until a short time ago. I had been in such a thick fog - I couldn't even see it.

It is by the grace of God that the light came to me. I am so thankful - words cannot express my gratitude to God for setting me free. God is restoring the joy of my salvation day by day and I have begun to trust in prayer again. The Christian life was never meant to be hard and burdensome. Our salvation is meant to be enjoyed and shared with others. God wants us to be so happy that others see and want what we have. Matthew 5:13 says, "You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor?" We are the salt of the earth and we can't allow anyone to make us lose our happiness for God. I am back to a place where I want to share my faith with others again, but I also have a new resolve to help as many as I can to stay away from hurtful experiences like the one I have been through.

As I sat in my new church yesterday, I thought about how I would be excited to invite anyone to come visit with me. There is love and freedom there and people are happy! There are not a bunch of rules - you can wear what you want and they even have free donuts and coffee! Some would call this "seeker friendly" - I call this freedom! I call it loving people! I went to a fellowship group last night and had the best time bowling and eating Mexican food. My children had a large group of friends over last night and had a Bible study. Even though we still have some things to work through, we are the happiest we have ever been. God never meant for us to live under the control of someone else. When I first got saved Colossians 3:23 was one of my favorite scriputres. It says, "And whatsoever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord, and not to men." Never again will I let someone else take the place of my precious heavenly Father.

For all who have been in this situation, my prayer is,"Restore unto us the joy of thy salvation." (Psalm 51:12)