Rebuilding trust


 

  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)

The recent series I posted on Abuse or Church Discipline comes from trying to work through my own current experience with church discipline. Three weeks ago my church elders sent me an email dismissing me from the congregation and ending all contact with the church body. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand and process this and I still am deeply confused about what has occurred.

Last summer I moved to a new town to join a newer church plant that was starting. It has been started by a nationally known ministry leader so I am cautious about what I say. First, I do not want to hurt his reputation or the reputation of the other elders or the planting church. However, there is a second hesitation, based on my pastor’s reputation who would believe me? Third, I still care very deeply for my pastor and hope that something can be repaired because I would like he and his family in my life.

I was abused in a church four and a half years ago. I have struggled to work through fears, insecurities, PTSD, trust for church leaders, and working through all sorts of issues around trusting my own judgment. After the abuse I have actually come to trust others more than myself, but at the same time am extremely cautious about being abused and manipulated because of that. So, I came here with cautions, but I was very honest with my pastor about what I had been through, my feelings and fears, my struggles with things at the new church, etc. Over time he started pushing on several issues. I now understand that he was trying to be a pastor and speak into my life, but at the time it came across as confrontational and as if he didn’t understand. I felt my boundaries were crossed and I started backing away because I was feeling unsafe and misunderstood. As I backed off he pressed further.

In April he became very direct and said that I needed to meet with he and an elder. I didn’t understand why, asked if sin was involved, and was told that I just needed to meet with them. It was the worst possible time for me as I was in the process of being laid off from work due to the economy, dealing with family issues, under huge stress due to a project at work, traveling due to work, etc. Emails escalated until he gave me an ultimatum that I had to give them a time I could meet or they would not communicate further, and I had already been told that if I was unwilling to meet that I was unsubmissive and would not be allowed to continue to be a part of the church. I felt cornered with no option but to meet with them. I did at their request, and through a two hour meeting they tried to address the communication struggles and why I had backed off from the pastor. I was told I had a huge fear issue in my life and was running away from God because I was not willing to communicate with them as my elders. They told me they felt I was unsubmissive and unteachable and I needed to change my attitude. I told them I wanted to but I was confused, didn’t understand how to change, and while I had come to this church to learn and grow I was overwhelmed and confused.  By the end of the conversation I was in trauma and later that afternoon/evening it was so bad I probably should have been hospitalized as I was near suicide, completely distraught, and under spiritual attack. However the elders were unavailable to assist and I had been told I could not turn to others in the church for assistance.

It was about five weeks before I contacted the elders again and expressed that I wanted to close the loop on things and move forward. They had not contacted me during that time to see how I was doing or if I needed anything even though they knew I had been in crisis. We went back and forth a few times on email because they wanted to meet and I wanted to be sure I understood why since the last meeting had been so devastating for me. I was waiting to hear what time would work for them when I received this email.

We have come to a conclusion with regard to your relationship with ________. Your actions and words are in no way acceptable for a believer.  You have twisted truth in order that you can have control.  You are not teachable and you show absolutely no signs of submission to the Lord or an understanding of the gospel. And, now you have sought to drive a wedge of disunity within our body.  If you don’t understand this and are confused by it, this just further demonstrates your twisting of truth.  We suggest you consider the other church relationship examples in your life that have not ended well.  The constant in all of these cases has been your involvement.  We have spoken with everyone whom you have developed relationships with at ________ and we have explained the process leading up to this conclusion.

You are no longer welcome to associate with anyone involved in ________.  You also need to know that no one at ________ will pursue communication with you or respond to any communication from you.

A response to this letter will not be opened.

________ Elders

After receiving message I went to the pastor’s house and asked to talk, he told me he would not speak with me and we were through. He said information had been expressed to my counselor, but after speaking with my counselor the information was little more than this email message.

It has been three weeks. Both my counselor and I have asked to meet with the elders but so far we have not received a response. No one from the church has reached out to me. I am unsure if I am even safe to go to another church as I have been labeled as a false believer and a threat to God’s church, and based on my pastor’s reputation no church really should accept me into their church.

I still don’t know how to process this whole situation. It appears I have been removed from the church because of the fears and struggles I have in trusting church leaders, a lack of understanding regarding elders roles and submission, and twisted understandings of God and scripture (which likely stems from poor teaching and previous abuse in my life).

I am not against church discipline, in fact the more I learn about it I think if it is done right it is probably the most loving thing we can do to people, but I wasn’t walked through a clear process, and the resulting decision to remove me from the church and cut me off both from the church body and possibly from other church relations leaves me feeling as if my pastor has communicated that I deserve to spend eternity in hell and there is no hope of repentance or change in my life.

Life is hard right now. I am still unemployed, have no church, have no local friends, and spend my days wondering if I can ever be in right relationship with God and restored to God’s church. God is showing me a lot of things and teaching me through this but trying to sort through it and not lose hope is a daily battle.

My heart is to hear God’s truth in the middle of this. Have I walked in sin? Absolutely, but I want to recognize what I have done and change. I desire a right relationship with God and others. Have the elders done something wrong? Maybe. There definitely were other options of how they could have walked this out, but they addressed sin and had a heart desiring to see me change and to protect the church body. I can’t be upset at them for that.

What comes next in this process of recovery? Trust God and believe in his word.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29)

dont_quit

I recently was listening to a podcast by Francis Chan of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. He shared a story of an encounter where he met a man on an airplane who started telling him about the spiritual journey he had recently been on, a journey that was causing him to feel disillusioned by the hypocrisy he was seeing and experiencing from people who call themselves Christians.

 

Francis said, “The more I listen to you honestly the more angry I get. I just get so angry when people do that, and you’ve got to understand that those are the exact people that Jesus just couldn’t stand. When someone comes under the guise of being a religious leader and then takes advantage of someone else or uses someone else, man it is so so ugly in God’s sight. You’ve got to see the way Jesus just reamed on these people who did that.” The man proceeded to say he was done with it. Francis’ responded, “You can’t do that. Don’t do that. The church needs people like you. You are the exact type of guy I would like to have in my church because you are real and you can’t stand the hypocrisy. You can’t stand someone coming in and putting on a smile, and a lot of us have done that. I have done that. You can’t stand the dishonesty and you want to confront it. Those are the very people we need in the church, but what happens is those are the people who get frustrated with they church and they go ‘forget the church they are a bunch of hypocrites’ and they leave. But you are the one that I want to stay, and let’s get the hypocrisy out, because that’s the stuff that Jesus couldn’t stand either. “

 

Jesus did hate the hypocrisy that was found in the religious leaders, religious activities, and the unfaithfulness of those who claimed to be like God. If you are disappointed, frustrated, and grieved over the brokenness of our Christian circles and churches you are not alone. There are some leaders and churches out there that are honestly seeking to be faithful. They will have times they don’t hit the mark, but they need those of us who have been hurt, disillusioned, and are fed up with the lies and hypocrisy.

 

Don’t give up! Hang in there and keep sharing your heart and your story. You are a voice that God can use to call people closer to him and who he can use to call out the hypocrisy and unfaithfulness in his Church. Let him use you!

Eight months ago I stopped posting on this site. My reasons for that had to do with the integrity I desire to have as person and as a Christian. I started this site with an honest desire to help people to heal and trust, to restore their hearts and find their way back to the body of Christ. Last spring I felt I needed to walk away from the church I had been attending. This was the church I had tried to become a part of after being abused in a church. The devastation and failure I felt left me feeling I had nothing to share with you about how to heal and restore heart.

Today I can tell you that has changed. Seven months ago God led me to start a new journey. I honestly went before God and told him I desired to not only heal, but to do and become whatever he felt I needed the most. With a step of great faith I asked him to lead me to wherever he would take me on this journey. I was led to start communicating with a church planter, and since last spring I have packed up my life, moved to a different part of the United States, and started a new life. I am restoring my trust, faith, and heart. I am learning to have a hope in Christ and a new vision and understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

I am going to start posting on this site again. I don’t know how regularly, but I want to make one commitment to you as a reader. It is fully my heart and intention to only post on this site with authenticity and integrity. I don’t have an agenda, and I do not want to mislead or give anyone false information or false hope. The recovery process from any level of abuse, trauma, or disillusionment is difficult and painful. I want to be a part of that journey with you, and to help point you toward resources and truths that may guide and support you along that journey.

If I can do anything for you, or provide you with information on something specific about this topic please let me know.

One of the things that has been most helpful to me is finding people who understand what I have experienced, and resources that speak into my story or can help me to process what I have been through. Spiritual Abuse is something that is not widely talked about, and where it is talked about it is often thought of in relation to cults, closed communities, or controlling environments. Abuse can happen in any environment and can be delivered by people that appear to be loving, kind, and normal by most people’s standards.

The books below are some resources I have found that have helped me along my journey. Each one has it’s own message that speaks into some side of the issue. No single resource can speak into every situation but by using different resources and looking for what applies to your situation you can find help. Please know you are not alone on this journey. There are people who understand and who want to help.

  Toxic Faith: Expriencing Healing from Painful Spiritual Abuse

  Toxic Churches: Restoration from Spiritual Abuse

  Bring ‘Em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for Those Wounded by the Church

  Faithquake: Rebuilding Your Faith After Tragedy Strikes

  Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive

  Who Can You Trust?: Overcoming Betrayal and Fear

  Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People

  The Wounded Spirit

  Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Pathway to Joy

  Hiding from Love: How to Change the Withdrawal Patterns That Isolate and Imprison You

   Get Out of That Pit: Straight Talk About God’s Deliverance

  Total Forgiveness Experience: A Study Guide To Repairing Relationships

  Connecting: Healing for Ourselves and Our Relationships a Radical New Vision 

Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual AbuseThe Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse

How To Mend A Broken Heart How To Mend A Broken Heart

Seabiscuit is one of my favorite movies because it represents such a real image of life. I am not a horse racing fan, but the overall message of hope and promise in the movie really touches me. It is a story about three men and a horse who are all banged up and broken. Like us, these men and this horse have walked through hardships and they show the scars and pain of that. Seabiscuit had been bought and sold repeatedly, had failed to perform, and had taken to heart that failure and worthlessness. He was actually trained to lose so he would help others win. He was frightened, bruised, and defiant until trainer Tom Smith and jockey Red Pollack come along.

Here are some quotes from Tom about Seabiscuit.
Tom Smith: “You don’t throw away a whole life just ’cause it’s banged up a little.”
Tom Smith: “You don’t throw away a whole life just because it has a few bumps.”
Tom Smith: “He just needs to learn how to be a horse, again.”
Tom Smith: “He’s so beat up it’s hard to tell what he’s like. He’s forgotten what he was born to do. He just needs to learn how to be a horse again.”

All of us get beaten up, bruised and damaged in the course of life. We need to believe that we are not defined by that. We may be misunderstood and mishandled, we may even loose our way for a time, but God has created us with purpose. God doesn’t “throw away a whole life just ’cause it’s banged up a little.” He believes our lives are worth redeeming. He believe we are worth a second chance and a little help. We may have to learn how to be a man/woman again, but he is willing to walk through that with us.

George Eliot says, “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” Trust God for a new future, a future where you relearn, renew, and are restored to your true worth. If you have forgotten what you were born to do, you need to relearn, and God can teach you. Let him speak into your life. Let him show you how He sees you. It will change your life.

A couple sermons that share more about Seabiscuit and how the movie speaks about God’s ’s love:
Seabiscuit: From the Series—God at the Box Office http://theaterchurch.com/evotional/article/seabiscuit
Sailing Through the Storms of Life: Seabiscuit http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon.asp?SermonID=116000

I have a huge caring heart for others, especially those who have experienced pain, suffering, and loss. Not only do I care about people, but I also care about animals. At one time I strongly considered becoming a vetrinarian. I have supported a large animal sanctuary and care organization called Best Friends. They are located in Utah. As I was reading their latest newsletter I was reminded of how traumatized animals and traumatized people are in need of very similar care. Many of the animals Best Friends receives have been physcially, emotionally, or psychologically affected by disaster, abuse, neglect, or accidental trauma. They help animals that have no other hope and who are labeled as “beyond help”. How often are people, even in our churches told similar things?

Here are some tips they provided for rescuers. I think they apply for both animals and humans.

  • Think of every animal/person as an individual – don’t make assumptions and give them all the time you can
  • Ignore all bad behavior – don’t react to bad behavior
  • Go slow – distract them and help them focus on something else
  • “Can’t see me!” – a physical barrier or not being in the center of attention may provide comfort or a sense of security
  • Get help from another animal/person – a companion may provide support and comfort
  • Get help from volunteers – the needs are great, it takes many people to provide the best care and support
  • Relationship –  there is a need to open up to relationship – we are not designed to go through life alone

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