Rebuilding trust


On Monday afternoon I was finally able to meet face to face with the pastor and an elder from my church to hear the charges that had been made against me and to seek a path to reconciliation. Despite as much preparation as I think I could have done in the word and prayer, and despite prayer cover from some people … the meeting did not go that well.

We need to learn to thank the Lord for closed doors just as much as we do for open doors. The reason God closes doors is because He has not prepared anything over there for us. If he didn’t close the wrong door we would never find our way to the right door. Even when we don’t realize it, God directs our paths through the closing and opening of doors. When one door closes, it forces us to change our course. Another door closes; it forces us to change our course yet again. Then finally, we find the open door and walk right into our blessing.  (http://sweetnostalgia.wordpress.com/2007/08/28/behind-closed-doors/)

In summary I was dismissed from the church not under “church discipline” but due to a pattern of behavior they did not view as matching the words and actions of a believer. They deemed I was a non-believer who was exhibiting a lack of submission and was at risk of causing division in the church. Since I was deemed a non-believer they did not follow Matthew 18 and did not take the issue to the church. I was informed that I have been “churched” and can talk the talk but that my ongoing questions regarding clarity of communication from the church leaders showed lack of submission. They felt my communication toward the leaders showed intentional twisting of words and creation of miscommunication and drama so that I would have control. I asked if there was any noted miscommunication with others besides the pastor and was told that as far as he was aware the issue was limited to him but of course he was not privy to all other communication.

Part of why I was told I was a non-believer was that I have struggled with some sin over an extended period of time. (I did not recognize it as sin until June when God started revealing it to me, but that was not addressed. This sin is unbelief, a small view of God, walking in victimization, doubting the power of God, etc. due to the spiritual abuse I experienced 4-1/2 years ago.) As they are firm believers in Lordship Salvation they believe that no true believer can fall into an extended period of sin, be taken bondage or captive by sin, or have an ongoing struggle where victory is not seen. I asked them about this directly and since they were deeming me as a non-believer I asked if they would help me right then to become a believer and be right before God because I desire to spend eternity as part of God’s family. The pastor told me it was too much to deal with right then and he would just leave that to the counselor to address at a different time. Even when I asked a second time to deal with it right then I was told no. (There was still 30 minutes left in the meeting.)

The pastor and elder came across to me with a defensive and unopen tone, and I witnessed absolutely no desire to reconcile or heal the relationship. They were quite angry that I had defied their communication to not “associate” with anyone from the church as I had emailed/mailed a group of people to express my repentance for my wrong actions and lack of faith and shared what God had been doing in my life. It was clearly communicated at the meeting that they desire absolutely no further contact from me directly and expect me to not communicate anything to anyone else in the church community. My counselor is allowed to contact the pastor and maybe in the future there will be some room for a path to reconcile fully with God’s family but at this time they believe they have no responsibility to me and washed their hands of any responsibility to see me reconciled or restored to God’s family.

Even two days later I am still not sure what I am thinking and feeling after this meeting. The most important things for me are 1) To have assurance that I am saved 2) to know that the relationship with this church and everyone that is attending there is now completely closed 3) to know that no matter how I move forward they will not restore me openly to God’s family and I will not receive their blessing no matter what life and walk I have with God.

I am very sad and grieved for those leaders and that church. I pray that God deals with the issues and shakes the church so that it will be purified and their leaders will move forward in Godly ways.

  1. The pastor and elder will need to stand before God to give account for why they turned away someone who came to them earnestly seeking a true walk with God.
  2. The pastor and elders deemed me as an unbeliever and therefore judged me. At this time no-one else in my life agrees with this assessment and I have honestly gone to others trying to take the stance that maybe I was not a believer and needed to address that issue. If I was a believer they will have to give account for their judgement and rejection.
  3. They are missing God’s heart which is expressed all over the Bible, but is summarized here in Isaiah 61:1b “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners”. Also, Matthew 15 clearly shows God’s heart for the lost and how he pursues after them, looks for them, and welcomes and rejoices them when one that was lost comes home. Whether I am just dealing with my sin and repenting, or honestly moving forward with a brand new true relationship with God doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I am now standing in a healthy and right relationship with God and they were unwilling to even listen to or see that. Even if the decision to remove me was correct, they are missing the heart of accepting a repentant person and seeking to help them walk forward in a right relationship with God.
  4. They have lead an entire church community to cut off contact with another believer and to walk in disunity and brokenness within God’s family.
  5. They clearly articulated they are in a “protective mode” at the church right now and in saying that they openly showed that protecting their body and the unity of that individual local church is more important than God’s gospel and the unity and peace within his larger church and unity between his people.
  6. The pastor and elder showed lack of faith that God can change a person’s life.

Although I am saddened and grieving for God’s church I have forgiven these leaders and freely release them into God’s hands. They are not my enemy and I harbor no anger or bitterness to them. They are my brothers in Christ, and I love them deeply, extend grace and forgiveness to them, and will continue to uplift them in prayer and walk in unity and peace with them to the best of my ability. The door is open for the day they desire to reconcile and I pray that God will move them to that place in their walk with him. I honestly believe that no sin or issue is too big for God to overcome and I place this in his hands to resolve. God, I move forward in love, hope, and promise toward the future you intend for me. Lead me to where you want me next and show me the path to integrity, unity, peace, wholeness, holiness, and righteousness as I move there.

I was looking back this morning to a message that an elder of the church sent me about three months ago when I asked for direction regarding how to deal with the struggles I was facing. In that message he said, “The most loving way I think I can put this is that your problem is that you don’t understand the gospel like you should.” “Those of us that have come to know Christ aren’t afraid of our past because it got nailed to the cross, we aren’t afraid of our future because the resurrection was an amazing prelude to our future, and we live in the present with confidence because we are currently adopted children of God that are protected by a loving Father and literally have God in us.” “Your view of yourself and the church desperately needs to be through the eyes of God, not human eyes.  Pain and trials are not your enemy, but are instead a means to you looking more and more like Jesus Christ.”

This left me thinking back to all that God has taught me and changed over the last three months. When I received this message it didn’t make any sense to me at all, and in a way I was offended because he didn’t offer me help but sent me right back to the pastor that I was not communicating well with. Now that I have walked this journey though I realize how my mind was so darkened and deluded. I didn’t have the belief in God to be big enough to do the things the elder mentioned. I had limited God so much and was doubting the power of the gospel.

This week has been a time of dramatic shift for me. My heart is really softening, the healing has gone so deep into it now that most of the old wounds are covered and healed. I have found such joy and freedom that I can barely keep from smiling, and joy is just bubbling out of me. I feel such anticipation and am looking for places where I can share with others about all that God has done in my life because I want to testify to him!

My church dropped me when I really needed them most, but God is faithful and he refused to let me fall. Instead of leaving me alone to suffer and to be left at the hands of Satan, he came along side, healed, cured, grew, blessed, and filled me to overflowing. I see nothing in God’s word that refers to dropping people completely. There are references to cutting others off from fellowship for the purpose of causing them to repent, but as I have voiced in other posts the heart needs to be that people are still reaching out and trying to get the sinner to repent. I am sad that my elders will have to stand before God to give account for their decision to reject me and turn the entire church against me. I have forgiven them and am asking God to forgive them and show them mercy for this when the time comes.

The journey back to restored trust in the church and spiritual leaders is not easy, but I have learned this summer that if we stop doing it under our power and turn completely to God that he will give us a heart, love, and desire for those relationships like never before. I think I will soon be ready to return to a church and give this another try. I know with all that I am that it will be different this time because God has changed me so deeply. Thank you for being so amazing Father!

The pastor and an elder from my church have agreed to meet with me and my counselor. The meeting will occur on July 27th.

I am very thankful for God’s favor in providing this opportunity and excited to see what he does.  I will be praying for God to prepare our hearts, open our minds, and bring healing and hope that only he can bring.  I know this conversation will only be the first step if true reconciliation is to occur, but I am encouraged that a door is opening to take a step in the right direction. God’s heart is for reconciliation and restoration and he specializing in raising things from the dead so I have complete faith that he can work amazing miracles during this time. It is now my responsibility to spend the next two weeks diligently working on all that I need to do to prepare my heart, soul, and life for that meeting so that I am open as possible to hear, receive, and give all that is needed.

 

  Have you ever participated in a remodeling project? A building project? Either way they are hard work. A few years ago a friend/co-worker and her husband decided that the best way to plan for their retirement was to remodel their 2200 square foot home. Their children were now out of the house and all of their neighbors had larger homes so remodeling their home which was located on 3 acres of property would add a great deal of value, especially in the real estate market that was starting to soar. Over the next two years they worked, and worked, and worked to complete there 4600 square foot home. They called it a remodel, but by the time they were finished not only had their address changed because their driveway was now on a different road, but they had replaced everything except the foundation slab and one beam. 

I started reading a book this week called Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life by Jeff VanVonderen and Dale & Juanita Ryan. In that book they talk about rebuilding and how we may try to remodel when we need more. “We understand the desperate desire to solve the problem by adding a fresh coat of paint or doing a minor remodel. Maybe even adding a room. But please, God, let it be something less drastic than tearing down and rebuilding. Unfortunately, if the problem is with our spiritual foundations, then anything less than demolition and rebuilding would probably be a waste of time – like the proverbial rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic.”

“Those of us who have built on an unstable foundation have done so unintentionally. We probably began our spiritual lives with the most solid piece of ground we could find, and we started building, hoping for the best. Some of us were tempted by a nice view or what seemed like a prime location. Some of us built our spiritual lives on land we inherited from our parents. Most of us probably built our spiritual homes in whatever was the most convenient spot, without first thoroughly examining the soil.”

What has your spiritual life been built on? Is it time for a spiritual remodel or rebuild?

One of the dangers that comes from spiritual abuse and broken trust with spiritual leaders is a distortion of our ability to discern what is safe, true, and healthy.

For example, God’s word tells us to “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”(Hebrews 13:17). However authors Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton in their book Toxic Faith advise people of several beliefs that might be toxic. “Toxic belief #4: All ministers are men and women of god and can be trusted.” “Authority figures can provide tremendous relief to person’s needing counsel and advice. A single person living alone may feel secure in trusting a pastor. Looking to that person for authority is okay as long as there remains a high degree of discernment about what that person demands or how he or she directs.”

How are  we to know who is safe, where to turn, or what to believe?

First and foremost I think we have to choose what our source of truth is: God or man. If you believe that God is your source of truth and you believe that the Bible is his Word to us and it contains no errors then we can trust it for direction for our lives. The process of learning to understand it and apply it to our lives will take time and work but knowing you can trust it brings peace, hope, and confidence. It can build our faith.

We also need to fully know and understand the full gospel message. If we only believe or understand portions of it we will not have the wisdom to discern what is truth and what comes from God.

“The contemporary church has the idea that salvation is only the granting of eternal life, not necessarily the liberation of the center from the bondage of his iniquity.  We tell people the God loves them and as a wonderful plan for their lives, but that is only half the truth.  God also hates sin and will punish unrepentant sinners with eternal torment.  No gospel presentation is complete if it avoids or conceals those facts.  Any message that fails to define and confront the severity of personal sin is a deficient gospel.” (The Gospel According to Jesus by John F. MacArthur)

” The most important thing I can teach him is that, even though he’s being raised in a Christian family and is leading a moral life, he’s a sinner who desperately needs the substitutionary death of Christ for God’s forgiveness. And so for years I’ve been teaching him the gospel, day by day. I tell him that he’s a sinner just like his dad, and that sin is his most serious problem. I put it in words that his young mind can understand, but I don’t ignore or minimize the seriousness of sin. Through his actions and attitudes he has rebelled against his Maker. And this great God is perfectly holy and must respond with fierce opposition to sin. He must punish it. Some might find it surprising that I would teach a young boy about God’s wrath toward sin. But I find it surprising that any loving person would withhold his truth from another person they love. Because only when we understand God’s wrath toward sin can we realize that we need to be saved from it. Only when we hear the bad news that God, through His Son, has provided salvation and full, continuing forgiveness of our sins. Only those who are aware of God’s wrath are amazed at God’s grace.”

It is my hope that you are coming to know God, and know his full truth so that you can be aware of not only your need for him, but his amazing grace. As we know that we can trust in him and then you will find the discernment you need.

Don’t depend on your own knowledge and wisdom or the wisdom of man. Turn to God and let him bring you the discernment you need to know where to walk and who/how to truth. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)

Choosing Direction?

choices

I started this blog with a heart to not only work through my own process but also to assist others on the journey to restore trust toward the church and spiritual leaders. Four and a half years ago I was abused in a church. That situation changed my life and has left me impacted in many ways, some of which I have just been realizing recently as my current church has pushed me to deal with the issues in my life.

If you have been through a damaging situation with a church, church leaders, a small group, etc. I grieve for you because the impacts on your faith, your understanding of God and the world, and your life can be deep. However, I want to encourage, motivate, and strengthen you to get back into the game and keep trying.

After my abuse I was told it typically takes people 4-7 years to return to church, and some never do. Many people walk with wounds from their situation for their life. After what God has been showing me recently I have a response to what I was told … NO! Those statistics and the heart behind sharing them is all about continuing to walk in the pain and brokenness and not allowing God to heal and protect you. God created the universe and raised his son from the dead. Do you think he can’t change your situation? I didn’t, and for over four years I have walked doubting that I would ever be healed, that a new life was available, and that God could truly heal me. (Forgive me Lord!)

Now, please don’t read into what I am saying because I do believe that God will often have us go through a time of healing and will work a process in our lives. I believe he is fully capable of healing each of us in an instant, but what I typically see is that he chooses to do that as a journey. I don’t know if that is due to our lack of faith or because he is teaching us things through the process but either way we will be healed as we have faith in him, trust in his healing, turn to him, and lean on him. Four the last four years I have depended on the faith and understandings of others. I have doubted God, and I have not allowed him to heal and renew me.

Friend, if you need and desire God to do a healing work in your life tell him, trust him, lean on him, and turn to no one other than him for that healing. Don’t walk the path I have. I wish someone had come to me four years ago and showed me the error in my thinking, my lack of faith, and the way my heart was turning hard toward God, his church, and his people. I have lived with such lack of faith, fear, and under such oppression. God is now setting me free and liberating me. I feel as if years of bondage and oppression are lifting and I am being renewed. I said earlier this week that I had a long and hard journey ahead, I no longer think it will be hard but it will be easy as I submit and follow my Lord. I have given him control and access to my life like never before and I am seeing the incredible benefits of that.

Have you ever read the book Hinds Feet on High Places? Let him take you to your high place to find healing!

For anyone who has been placed under church discipline, especially to a level where they have been placed under restriction or removed from a church body a key question is if they will ever be restored. Is there a biblical process for this? Will God even allow it?

God’s heart is to provide opportunity for all to return to him, but there needs to be genuine repentance. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 So the question arises as to what is genuine repentance, how can leaders be certain that it is genuine, and what steps need to take place for restoration?

First church leaders need to reach a point of forgiveness and have an openness to restore the person fully if they do walk through genuine repentance. Repentance is not a one time demonstration of sorrow, but a process that begins with demonstrated attitude and actions on the part of the offender.  If significant offenses occurred the offender must recognize that reconciliation is a process and it will take time and clearly demonstrated change. Restoration to a specific church body may not even be possible depending on the damage that has occurred, but restoration to the family of God should always be possible if genuine repentance and a willingness to undergo a restoration process is present.

Evidence of repentance includes:

  • Acknowledgement of sin and accurate view of himself as a sinner. Accepts full responsibility for his actions. (1 John 1:5-22, James 4:7-10, Proverbs 28:13a, Luke 15:17)
  • Ceasing all activity tied to that which he was disciplined for or at least seeking help to do this if there are life-long patterns. Communicates deep hatred for his sin (not a light attitude) and actively demonstrates an unreserved turn from it to Christ and his holiness. (Proverbs 28:13, Galatians 6:1, James 5:19-20, 1 Samuel 7:3)
  • Makes a commitment to fix heart on God and honor commitment regardless of circumstances or discipline (1 Samuel 7:3)
  • Does not conceal any further sinful behavior. (Proverbs 28:13)
  • Demonstration of genuine sorrow, a genuine change of heart, and a real concern over the harm he has caused to the glory of God and to others (2 Cor 7:8-11, Psalm 51:17, 1 Samuel 7:2)
  • Confession of sin for what it is. Does not have a defensive attitude. (1 John 1:9, 2 Cor 7:10)
  • Seeks out forgiveness and restitution (Luke 19:1-10, Phil 18-19, Matthew 5:23-24)
  • Submits to accountability from leaders and others. (Hebrews 13:17)
  • Does not resent doubts about his sincerity. (Job 33:3, Romans 12:9, 1 Thess. 5:21, 1 John 3:24)
  • Manifesting fruit of repentance (Matt 3:7-8, Luke 3:8-14, Galatians 5:22)
  • Life begins to be characterized by service to God (or at least a desire for it if they are still restricted). Service is rendered to God not to others or self. (1 Samuel 7:3)

Restoration includes:

  • Involvement of the entire church body (Galatians 6:1-2)
  • Forgiveness by God and the church (Luke 17:1-4, Matt 18:21-35)
  • Comfort and help by fellow believers (2 Cor. 2:8-11)
  • Encouraging them to return to involvement with ministry (Luke 22:31-32)

Key considerations to make regarding the timing of starting the restoration process:

  • The attitude of the offender
  • The depth of the sin and betrayal and impact on the church
  • The pattern of the offense (e.g. often repeated offense or life-long pattern)

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