Of Trust

I saw the news about Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini yesterday.  To make a long story short- they were a Christian couple in ministry.  He was arrested for sharing the Gospel and held (and tortured) in Iran for 4 years.  His wife, Naghmeh, campaigned tirelessly for his release.  It was a big deal to the Christian evangelical community.  So he finally gets released and…she gets a restraining order against him basically as soon as he steps off the plane.  Turns out, there had been years of abuse behind the scenes.  A lot of the tireless work she had done for him had been under emotional coercion.

It is sad and disappointing, but not really all that shocking to me.

I’ve been stewing on this post for a long time.  A post about how we can’t put our trust in people.  Seeing this story really motivated me to write it.

I have my own story to share.  It’s a tale of a crazy ex step-dad.  We’ll call him C.P.

C.P. came into our lives when we really needed him.  My mom was losing her battle with alcoholism.  He was a recovering addict, bursting at the seems with charisma and passion for Jesus.  He shared his testimony with any and everyone and couldn’t talk about Jesus without tears.

He was instrumental in helping my mom get sober.  He took a real interest in my life.  We had great talks about God and he spoke some great things into my life.  I thought he was the mentor I had been hoping and praying for.

Sometime after they got married in a very rushed fashion, C.P. quit his good paying job to focus on writing a book about recovery.  Things started to get weird.  We found out he had been married like 5 times and that one wife had died under mysterious circumstances.

At this time I know God was really preparing my heart for the disappointment and chaos that was about to be unleashed.  God was whispering to my heart that I couldn’t put my trust in man, I could only ultimately look to him.

C.P. (ironically while writing his book about freedom from addiction) was abusing pills and became increasingly erratic.  A lot of horrible things happened but we’ll just say that it ended in divorce because my mom’s life was in danger.

C.P. released his book (which was really as garbled and erratic as his life) and started a new life at break neck speed.  Videos of him sharing his testimony at his new church surfaced within a couple months.

I want to make it clear that I have forgiven this man.  He was charging forward into life, leaving complete chaos and destruction in his wake- because he refused to look inward.  When things got hard he would blame everyone else and look for the next wife, the next church.  He couldn’t stop.  So instead of being still long enough to do an honest inventory and get the deep healing he needed, he just kept running.  He was running from the pain of his past and trying to numb the pain inside, but pain has a way of demanding to be dealt with.  We tend to continue to perpetuate that which we don’t face.

We tried to confront him at one point and he was pacing and sweating and ultimately took off because he couldn’t (wouldn’t) face the truth.  It was his life, in a nutshell.

It could have shipwrecked my faith but it didn’t.  It was such an important lesson to me.

“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” Psalm 146:4

People can provide so much to us- love, encouragement, companionship…all that.  But people are going to fail.  People are going to let us down.  Churches and organizations too, because they are run by people.  Even the best of us still struggle daily with our fallen sin nature.  You show me someone living victoriously in Christ, and I can guarantee that person has struggles in the dark that they need to overcome (every.single.day.) to live that outwardly victorious life.

The danger in hitching our faith wagon to a person or organization is in that they could possibly go off the rails and take us with them into a ditch.

We can (and should!) go to church and look up to people further along in the faith than us.  But we need to be so careful to know that our faith is in God.  Not our church.  Not our Pastor.  Not our mentor.  Because God is the only one capable of being perfectly what we need him to be.  He is the only one who will never fail.

Not only that but when we put these ‘super-Christians’ on a pedestal we absolve ourselves of the call on our lives.  Like, “they have it goin’ on because there is special favor on their lives.  I could never be like that.”  The truth is that God does not show favoritism. Acts 10:34  If that person is rocking it in the faith department it’s because they have taken the steps to get there.  The invitation goes out to all.  It’s up to us to answer, and to what extant.

We can have it to.  You can be as close to God as you want to be.  You don’t have to settle for a second hand faith.  God wants to be real to you too, he wants to move as powerfully in your life as say a Beth Moore or John Bevere.  There are no favorites.  And that means when people we admire screw up royally, it doesn’t have to wreck out faith.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Hebrews 4:14

People change.  Circumstances change.  Our churches may change.  But…

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

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Spotting Spiritual Abuse

My first run in with alternative *christian* religion was as a brand new believer.  I was hanging out with my soon to be husband; Tim and my sister.  The door rang and a couple young men introduced themselves as members of a church, something to do with saints and Jesus Christ.  I excitedly let them in.  Tim was motioning ‘no’ to me but I didn’t understand why.

I had really no clue that they were mormons- or even what mormons believed.  We sat down and I was hearing them out.  Tim, of course, knew a lot that I didn’t and started grilling them with tough questions.  I was just wondering why he was being rude to these nice young christian guys.

After they left Tim explained that they went door to door and present themelves as a form of christianity but what they really believe is completely contrary to biblical christian doctrine.  When you get to the higher levels you find out about the planets to be populated, becoming a God yourself, and of course- the special underwear that you need to wear.

That event and many other run-ins peaked my interest in cults, especially those that are based off of a false Christ- like the J.W.’s and Mormons.  In case you think I am being narrow minded or whatever- consider this.  Both of these two religions reject the inherit diety of Jesus Christ.  Mormons say Jesus attained godhood through obeying his own gospel.  J.W.’s reject that Jesus was God at all.

One young J.W. women I talked to extensively revealed to me that her hope was basically to survive the apocalypse without sinning and then she might be admitted into heaven.  She wasn’t one of the supposed 144,000 special chosen ones who get a pass.  It sounded desperately sad to me.  Sad and dead wrong.  “For God does not show favoritism.” Romans 2:11

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FDLS: A Man and his Wives

I honestly could go on and on about the horribly false teachings within just these two groups but I won’t.  The point is- there are many false teachers, religions, and dangerous cults out there and we need to have a basic knowledge of them.  These false religions are so dangerous because they aggresively recruit.  They prey on people’s inherent need to belong and find answers.  Then once you are in they exercise a growing level of control over every aspect of your life.  And finally and worst of all- they are leading people to hell with their false promise of exclusive salvation.

Salvation isn’t complicated.  It goes something like this- the Holy Spirit starts to stir your heart and woo you.  You realize you need forgiveness and saving.  You believe and repent of your sins.  Boom.  Saved.  If it sounds too simple- well check out the thief on the cross.  Luke 23 records this un-named thief crying out, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”  Jesus replied, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”  All the thief had done was to cry out, as an act of faith, and he was saved.  No time for penence.  No religious affiliation.  No tithing.  Just a desperate plea and simple faith.  And that was enough.

We get problems when people don’t accept that salvation is truly grace working through our faith; God’s provision meeting our desperate need.  When people add in hoops to jump through, ‘special extra-biblical revelations’, or even/especially the law.  Throw in a charismatic (nutjob) leader and his *exclusively correct* interpretation of scripture and you have all the makings of a cult.

The first church Tim and I went to was a non-demoninational church that had gotten caught up in the ‘prosperity’ gospel.  When the congregation was encouraged to ‘sow generous seeds’ with credit cards we realized it was time to switch churches.

There are no perfect churches, because they are filled with imperfect people, of course.  But a church should be a safe place to grow in your faith with other believers.  Churches should be like a family.  And the leadership should be approachable and open to criticism.  Most importantly, the scripture needs to be taught by a Holy Spirit led Pastor who genuinely cares for those under his care.

It angers me that people seeking God would be so twarthed, hurt, manipulated or used.  So many have been wounded, brainwashed, isolated, and even killed- such as in the Jonestown massacre.

Our best defense is certainly asking the Holy Spirit for guidance.  Jesus promised to send him to help, comfort, teach, advocate, and guide us into the truth always. John 14:16  The Holy Spirit actually indwells every believer and is the down payment, the promise of our salvation.  Jesus told us that we don’t need anyone to tell us how to think or feel or make our decisions.  We can have direct access to the Heaveny Father and be enabled to understand scripture for ourselves because we are indwelt with the Spirit of God himself.  ““But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…” John 16:13  That promise is for ALL believers.  Not a select few who want to gain power over others.

Here is a list of ten warning signs for a cult from http://www.cultwatch.com/cultic-warning-signs.html

  • Single charismatic leader.
  • People always seeming constantly happy and enthusiastic. Especially if you discover that they have been told to act that way for the potential new recruits.
  • Instant friends.
  • If you are told who you can or cannot talk to or associate with.
  • They hide what they teach.
  • Say they are the only true group, or the best so why go anywhere else.
  • Hyped meetings, get you to meetings rather than share with you.
  • Experiential rather than logical.
  • Asking for money for the next level.
  • Some cults travel door to door during times when women are home alone. They, and this is rather sexist, think that women are easier to recruit and once they have the woman then it will be easier to snare the husband or partner.
  • Saying that they have to make people pay for it because otherwise they will not appreciate it. This is of course a very silly reason, plenty of people are able to appreciate things which they did not pay for.
  • They do not allow their teachings or practices to be questioned. If you question, then automatically the group assumes that something is wrong with you. It can never be the case that anything is wrong with the group’s practices or teachings. Often they will try to shut you down by accusing you of having a “bad attitude”.
  • They will push you to obey by using guilt. They will demand complete “submission” to the group, its leaders and its teachings. They will do this by making you feel absolutely rotten about yourself. They will ridicule you and attack any weakness you might have (or invent weaknesses you might have if they can’t find any). Their goal is to break your will by causing you mental anguish.

Interestingly, a lot of pyramind MLM companies have a lot of the same charactersitics.  Not all cults are religions.  But most are, because people do have a driving need to find truth, answers, connection and God.  Even if a church doesn’t necessarily meet the criteria to be a cult, there can still be spiritual abuse going on.  If there is coercion of any kind, run the other way.  If your church is becoming more legalist and less about grace, run the other way.  If you feel major warning tugs in your spirirt, run the other way.  Abuse could also come in the form of an unhealthy, predatory relationship between a mentor and impressionable believer.

Christianity is primarily a personal religion.  You can’t be saved by belonging to a group.  Your pastor can’t save you.  It is that personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ that saves you.  Church is just a wonderful added bonus (or should be!) to help you find that sense of community and grow in your faith.

I think ultimately the goal of a cult is to steal that.  To steal the joy and freedom that is available in Jesus Christ.  To ensnare people to a counterfeit faith that destroys their lives and ultimately leads them to hell.

I am so sorry if you have been hurt by a religious group.  But please don’t give up on seeking God.  Many people, claiming to speak for Him, have horribly represented Him.  The Bible says that God is love and that Jesus is the way.  People let us down, but God does not.

Importance of Community

bekerI am 100% introvert.  Not by choice, by design.  I love people but my natural tendency is towards a ‘lone wolf’ approach to life.  I hate asking for help.  I don’t want to burden anyone.

‘Downward spiral’ sounds a bit intense but I’ve definitely been struggling.  I haven’t gotten much time with God and the voice of the enemy has been so loud and persistent.  The downward pull of life has gotten me adrift.  And then my tendency is to isolate (at least I my head) and that makes me an even easier target.

(me and my good friend, who is always encouraging and blessing people- Becky)

So church this morning was a huge blessing to me.  My pastor had the exact message I needed.  (coincidence?  um no) I went up for the altar call and a woman shared a word from God with me (again, exactly what I needed to hear to gather courage and strength for the battle).  I went in feeling really defeated and left feeling encouraged and loved.

Getting a big hug, literally and figuratively, from the body of Christ is exactly what I needed.  I am so glad that the Kingdom of God is built on love and relationships.  We are a body, a family, all knit and bound together in love.

I am just thankful today for the faithful church.  The people who show up to be the hands and feet (and hugs!) of Christ.  You know who you are!  I love you and appreciate you so much.

“I Felt God”

20150617_185056_resized This is my son, Michael.  He is ten and he loves reading and video games.  His step-dad and I have tried hard to raise him right.  The first song he learned was ‘Jesus Loves Me’.  There’s been lots of prayers for a covering of grace because we have made so many mistakes, you know?  It has been a tough road at times.  Michael is super bright, funny and a natural leader but he also has aspergers syndrome.  That kid is as stubborn as a goat. 😉  He is too smart for his own good, for sure.  Thankfully, one thing (the most important thing) has sunken in.  His faith in God.

Last Sunday, as he often does, he got himself kicked out of children’s church.  So he sat by me through the service, doodling on an offering envelope.  About halfway through he started listening and quietly asking me questions.  When Pastor Al gave the altar call, Michael wanted to go.  I went up to the altar with him and stood behind him, quietly praying.  Pastor Al prayed over Michael and we went back to our chairs.

“I felt God.  He is here in the room.”  Michael said quietly.  “It felt like he was filling me up with his happiness.”

You can and should teach your kids about Jesus but nothing comes close to that first-hand encounter.  God only has children, not grandchildren, right?  So years of prayer and teaching culminated in Michael’s first real encounter with the living God.  I am grateful and pray that it is only the first of many.  Cause, as Michael said, he was born for this. 

Week Mashup

I am slowly getting all my ducks in a row to start online school in late June.  I get overwhelmed with all the steps and everything but I am pressing on.  😉  I feel 100% confident that this is what I want to do.  Getting started is just the hardest part.  I am really excited to start this new chapter in my life.

We switched Gabe (my 6 year old with eczema) over to goat milk and I started using homemade laundry detergent.  Recipe here-  http://wellnessmama.com/462/homemade-laundry-detergent/  We are seeing some improvements in his skin.  I also think the warmer weather, and his skin being exposed to fresh air and sunshine, is helping too.

My Mom got really sad news this Sunday.  The head pastor at her church has been committing adultery and was fired.  I’ve gone to church with mom many times and met this pastor.  It is a thriving, Spirit-filled church.  He (IMO) is a man of God that loved his family and his church but made this horrible mistake.  I’m sad but I learned a tough lesson year ago that we have to have our hope resting on Jesus alone, because people will us down.  No one is perfect.  We never get so holy that we are totally immune to a disastrous fall.  We all have our weaknesses and the enemy knows them well.  Especially for those in leadership, we all have a giant bulls-eye on our backs and we need to always be walking closely with God and alert to the schemes of the enemy.  It is just a tragedy.  His adult children and obviously his wife are devastated.  The church is left without it’s beloved Pastor.  It was definitely a major victory for the enemy.  But thankfully, we know that with God, we can get knocked down- but we don’t have to stay down.  “Crushed but not destroyed.”  I’m praying for healing and restoration for him and his family.

20150518_173507_resized In happier news- my ‘baby’ Shiloh turned 3 on the 18th.  This is the last week of school for my boys.  Yikes!  I know it doesn’t sound good but I dread summer.  Three kids running around and being LOUD all day is going to be an adjustment.  For someone who values peace and quiet it is stressful.  Thankfully my over-the-top generous mom bought us a trampoline with an enclosure.  🙂  That should help keep them busy and entertained this summer!  And provide me with ample opportunity to develop those elusive fruits of the spirit- patience, kindness, looonnngg-suffering, etc. 😉

One Spirit

“So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent.  Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.

 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp.  A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”  Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.” Numbers 11:24-30 glorycloud-1

In Numbers 11 we see the people start grumbling against God- who had miraculously delivered then from oppressive bondage in Egypt..who’s presence was visible among the people.  Can you imagine?  Strolling our of your tent (or ducking, I guess) and visibly being able to see the glory of God in the form of a cloud or pillar of fire over the tent of meeting- 24/7.  I would like to think my heart and faith would be rock solid.  But I suppose human nature, being what it is, will always find fault.

The people whined for meat.  For fish.  For the leeeeekkkkss and the onions that they ate in Egypt.  Seriously?  I think I would personally take sweet, buttery manna cakes from HEAVEN over stinky fish and garlic breath.  People were actually ditching camp to go back to Egypt.  Nice.

God understandably is furious.  Moses is just plain burnt out.  He complains to God that he can’t take the burden of this people anymore.  That is where we open in scripture.  God graciously pours the Spirit of leadership he has given Moses onto the 70 elders as well.

I am personally encouraged that it is possible to be in the center of God’s will (as Moses surely was) and filled with the Holy Spirit but still wrestling with doubts, discouragement, and human nature.  God responded to Moses with quiet compassion.  He didn’t rebuke him.  No one ever said being in God’s will was easy.  Moses was complaining but God saw his heart, and provided much needed help to share the burden of leading this huge group of people through a rough time of transition.

I find Moses’ answer to Joshua; who was upset that these two men were prophesying and potentially a threat (in Joshua’s mind) to Moses’ authority, very interesting.  The scenario is very similar to the passage in Luke 9- John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.”

Moses exclaimed, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” and “are you jealous for my sake?”  Like we are not in competition here, people.  There is enough blessing, anointing, and the Holy Spirit to go around.  The more people filled with the fullness of Christ, the better.  The kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this World.  Leadership in the kingdom is about humility and servanthood. Mark 9:35 It is about seeking His glory, not self-exultation.  Moses, something of a Christ prototype, was not threatened by God pouring out his spirit on others.  He knew it was a good thing.

That is my prayer today.  That the Spirit would do a fresh move in churches across the nation.  God knows we need it.  We need to stop bickering over details.  “he who is not against you is for you.”  Jesus is going to look a little different on all of us.  As long as we agree on foundational doctrines, can’t we agree to disagree about details not pertinent to salvation?

Side note- We need to hold the Word of God as our absolute truth.  When certain denominations, churches, leaders reject the Word and start worshipping a ‘Jesus’ remade in their own image we absolutely need to stand against that.

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Philippians 2:1-2