“An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?” Jeremiah 5:30-31
We see the Lord’s displeasure being expressed against those who operate an effort to control the people. Consumed with their own ambition, these leaders have convinced the people that their power is divine. Yet in reality, these false prophets are merely wielding their self-imposed influence for personal gain, claiming they speak for God.
“From the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace” (NAS). Jeremiah 6:13-14
A common characteristic of an abusive religious system is that the real needs of the people are lost in the never-ending quest by the leaders for personal fulfillment and happiness.
And this has been my story. Part of it anyway. You will find my whole story in detail in my first book, ”Climbing Out of the Box, My Journey Out of Sexual and Spiritual Abuse Into Freedom and Healing”
When I needed to go to work to help support my family I was told by the authorities of the church I attended that I needed to forfeit working and stay in the ministry because if I didn’t I would lose all my gifting to ever do ministry again. For years I thought my gifts would not be used again and that I was disobedient because I didn’t obey them. (Until I was shocked when I began to see my same gifts used out there in the market place..aha moment.)
A church that repeatedly told us they basically had the corner on the market of Jesus and they had the fullness of God and His gifts, where other churches did not, and that if we ever had to go elsewhere, we would miss God’s highest.
A pastor who found ministry to be a vehicle for his great gain, lying and manipulating donors to give more and more money. He actually took the offering in decorated trash cans…(not lying). The wealthy had the high positions in the church. There was the pastor who had the men of the church build his home for free labor, stating, that as Solomon had to have the temple built before he could help the people, he, too, needed to have his temple before he was free to really be a pastor.
A leader who cornered me in a room alone, threatened me, and yelled because he said I was too “perfect” to minister to women. He said I needed to dress down and quit painting my nails if I wanted women to identify with me. He also said I needed to project being poor. I was devastated.
Openly ostracized and lied about to a congregation of people to manipulate me to quit my women’s ministry outside his organization that was reaching hundreds of women. ( I didn’t quit. I left his church organization that very night.)
Innocently called into a pastor’s office alone and watching him lose his temper at me, yelling with spittle flying, finger pointed in my face, falsely accusing me of talking about him behind his back because I told a sound man I was removed from the worship team and had no idea why. I sobbed so loudly I couldn’t gain control while he stared me down with contempt until I finally got up and left.
These are all true stories, and I could go on and on but,
…now, many years later I coach so many who relate their own stories of pain and abuse at the mercy of “godly men and women”. My heart aches for them because I know this is not Jesus. This is man or woman who wants to control and the power goes to their heads.
But, this was just the beginning of my story. Upon leaving these controlling ministries after 25 years of having a church building as home and family, I went through a 5 year sabbatical where I had an encounter with Jesus such as I never had, after being in church and busy with ministry all those years.
It took me many years to be set free from the damage that was done to my spirit and to be able to enter a church building without anxiety and tears.
So don’t lose hope in the pain of loss when you know you have to make a change. Jesus promises to NEVER leave you or forsake you. Even when you are brave enough to leave and everyone is saying to just overlook the sin.
When all the control and crutches are gone guess Who is left standing?
And oh what a Man He is…never to leave us or forsake us. He will reveal Himself to you in all truth and lead you to safe places to experience the true love of God in motion, and connect with believers who really care and walk in His love in confidence.
Things to look out for in your place of church community if you suspect spiritual abuse:
Do they say you have to blindly respect and obey them, without having earned it, just because they said so and they are your leader?
Do they demand your allegiance to them as ‘proof’ that you are a follower of Jesus?
Do they use exclusive language: “We are the only church in town really following Jesus.” “Our theology is the only sound doctrine.” Everyone else is missing the “deeper” walk.
Do they shame people, without grace, if they fail to live up to the church’s expectations?
Do they quote scriptures about “not touching God’s anointed” when referring to themselves? Yet they often confront sin in others, particularly ones who bring up legitimate biblical issues. Or they have their circle of influence take on this task, silencing their critics.
Do they cultivate a dependence on one leader or leaders for spiritual insights? Personal discipleship isn’t encouraged. Often the Bible gets pushed away to the fringes unless the main leader is teaching it. And if you have an insight from God they have to approve it before you can share.
Do they demand blind service from their followers, but live prestigious, privileged lives.They live aloof from their followers and justify their material extravagance as God’s favor and approval on their ministry. Unlike Jesus’ instructions to take the last seat, they often take the first seat at events and court others to grant them privileges. They typically chase after wealth–at any cost, and often at the expense of the very people they shepherd.
Do they hold to outward performance but reject authentic spirituality. And place burdens on followers to act a certain way, dress an acceptable way, and have an acceptable lifestyle, but they often demonstrate licentiousness, greed, and uncontrolled addictions behind closed doors.
Use exclusivity for your blind allegiance to them. Followers close to the leader or leaders feel like lucky insiders. And, of course, this meant they are more spiritual than the rest of the congregation. Did you ever feel like you are exempt from the “click” of popular people in the community of believers? Everyone else is on the outside, though they long to be in that inner circle.
We are all one body in His church.
You are the church!
We need safe places to gather together and grow together and share Him together. Don’t settle for less, and be brave enough to change if the Holy Spirit is showing you that something is just not right. In fact, run!!
The longer I stayed out of my ‘loyalty’, the move abused I was in the end. You cannot fix it!! Run!
There is healing and restoration from this horrible sin for both the ones who have abused and the victims of their abuse. Remember we are all an important part of His body. We ALL have gifts, callings and talents He wants to use. We were never meant to sit in a pew looking at the backs of heads while listening to one man teach, without using our own gifts too!! No one is more important than the other.
Be set free today!!
Call me if you need help with this issue and you find yourself sunk deep into spiritual abuse and feel like you can’t get out. Go to the home page from this blog and send me a message. Or please comment below.
The virgin birth of Jesus touches me in a very female way in relating to sweet Mary as a mother. Any mother beholding those scenes of recent Jesus movies of Mary watching her beloved Son tortured and murdered on that cross can’t help but feel the deep emotions and horror that Mary felt as she watched and fell at His feet sobbing.
It really happened!
No words to describe it!
So many questions.
We don’t know much about her. We know she was young and poor and a devout believer in God. And at the time of the angels announcement of her pregnancy she is in love with Joseph.
What God asks Mary to do will change her life forever. She was just a teenager.
Gone are the happy dreams of a beautiful wedding; gone are the days of sweet anticipation; gone are the carefully-thought out plans for the wedding feast; gone are the hopes for “the most beautiful wedding to the most wonderful man who ever lived”; gone are all her girlish hopes of a quiet life in the home she would personally decorate.
She will be married, but not before rumors spread through the countryside. There will be a wedding feast, but not the way she planned. She will have a home, and it will be filled with children, but over her family will rest an uneasy cloud of dark questions.
It will all happen, but not the way she expected.
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary quite simply did not know what to make of it. It’s as if someone you’ve never seen came up to you and said, “Good news. This is your lucky day. God has chosen you for a special blessing.” How do you respond to that?
“CONGRATULATIONS! YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE A BABY!”
But that’s not the half of it. Without a pause, Gabriel proceeds to tell her something that–to use a 21st century term Mary almost certainly wouldn’t have used–blows her mind. He tells her she’s going to have a baby. And not just any baby. She’s going to give birth to the Son of God.
She only has one question, a technical matter she would like cleared up: “How can this be”, Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” This is a perfectly natural question. Mary is betrothed but not formally married. She has never had sexual relations with any man. How then can she become pregnant and bear a son?
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.”
The key point in Gabriel’s explanation is that what is about to happen to Mary will be the result of the direct intervention from God.
The Holy Spirit is the agent of the Virgin Birth; overshadowing is the means of the Virgin Birth; the Son of God is the result of the Virgin Birth.
NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD
In the history of the church, Mary has often been portrayed as a kind of misty, other-worldly figure. If you look at some of the great paintings of Mary, they make her look so peaceful and beatific that you almost forget she was a real person. But Luke makes it clear that she was very real, with very real doubts, very real questions and very real faith. Nowhere is this seen with more clarity than in Luke:
“I am the Lord’s servant”, Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
Mary said Yes. Yes to God, Yes to the impossible, Yes to the plan of God.
And all these things were just the beginning. Mary could not know what the future would hold. Before it was all over, she would experience heartache, opposition, slander, confusion, anguish, despair and loneliness.
In the end she would face the greatest pain a mother can endure when she would watch her son die on a cross. She was changed when she conceived Him through the power of the Holy Spirit, but, I believe, nothing could have prepared her for that horrific night of watching her first born baby boy, who only loved, die a tortuous death.
She would never forget it and it changed her….but, then again, not as much as three days later seeing Him come back in all of His glory!
What a story!
Mary didn’t know the full cost of saying yes that day. But having made her decision she never looked back.
When God said, “Are you willing to believe the impossible?”, Mary said, “Yes I am!” Without that Yes, there would be no Christmas.
A WOMAN GOD COULD TRUST
What about your ‘yes’?
Mary said Yes to shame and glory; she said Yes to God’s power; she said Yes to the impossible.
If somehow Mary could be here today and we could ask her, “Was it worth it?”, she would say “Yes”, I am sure of it. Because now she knows that because of her obedience we are free– because she allowed God to use her to bring our Savior.
So then, how do I relate to Mary’s example in this century? What can I learn from her today? How can I live my life through her example?
♥ She is a model of openness to great possibilities. Can I be open to great possibilities in my life? Supernatural possibilities?
♥ She is a model of faith in the face of many natural doubts. Can I believe God when the natural way of things look like there is no other way?
It’s still true that “Nothing is impossible with God”. That’s as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. It’s also true that somebody has to say Yes or else the impossible will never happen.
I have no doubt that some of you reading this…
Are carrying heavy burdens today.
And Christmas will be lonely this year.
Some of you are facing a financial crisis that looks hopeless to you right now.
Some of you are out of work and don’t have a single lead on a good job.
Some of you are looking at a marriage that seems worse than hopeless.
Some of you are estranged from members of your own family.
Some of you have children who are far away from God.
Some of you feel lonely and far away from God yourselves.
The list goes on and on. But all these things have this in common:
They seem impossible to solve by any human means. If human means would have solved your problems, they would have been solved long ago.
But, if nothing else, allow Mary’s story to revive your faith this Christmas season to the God of the impossible. He is not oblivious to your pain and your need. Live in the realm of the supernatural because we are spiritual beings.
Focus on His capabilities and not your own. He loves you and you matter!
Christmas is all about miracles. They happened 2,000 years ago; they still happen today.
*”Mary did you know, that your baby boy will someday walk on water? Mary did you know, that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters? Did you know, that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child you’ve delivered will soon deliver you.
Mary did you know, that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man? Mary did you know, that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand? Did you know, that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
Oh Mary did you know?
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again. The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.
Mary did you know, that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary did you know, that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I AM.”
*Mary Did You Know; Mark Lowry: wrote the lyrics in 1984, and the music was written in 1991 when he gave it to Buddy Greene.
My sweet 38 year old daughter was struck with a ruptured appendix 2 weeks ago. From the point she went into emergency I was with her. It was so frightening. The ER doctor sent her home on pain pills without ruling out appendicitis. It ruptured and became an extreme emergency. Everything in my life stopped and took a back seat while we sat long hours in the ER and surgery; and I prayed nonstop as she writhed in pain…and after surgery as the road to healing began in the hospital and as she went home. She needed me. It was a scary and unnerving thing to watch my child in so much pain. My life was just was put on hold. Everything took a back seat. Now that she is on the mend I now feel scattered and am having trouble getting back into things that were part of my everyday life, from writing to coaching and even exercise.
But, suddenly I realized I have grown spiritually, in finding God in the midst of the suffering. There comes a recognizable depth of character when you come out of the fire of suffering, and when you are still in it you find Him in places you’d never thought you’d be.
My dear friend Linda has been told her brain tumor is back. Her life will now be on hold while she has it removed….again. Since her last surgery, while recovering, she has obtained her Masters in Psychology, been maintaining her own practice in psychotherapy, is writing a book, and is doing a host of wonderful things God has called her to do. Now, her life will be interrupted again, indefinitely, to undergo another surgery on her brain with the outcome uncertain in earthly terms. But not to God. He knows. We are all believing for God’s divine hand to reach down and heal her swiftly and easily this time with no side effects. Linda would share with you how her suffering has put her in touch with a Savior that never leaves her. Even while her life is on hold. You can read Linda’s whole story of traveling this perilous road on her web site at: http://lindalochridge.com/brainsurgery/
I just read Michelle Cushatt’s blog this morning. She is an author, experienced keynote speaker and emcee. I love her writings and sweet spirit of thankfulness. Now after years of fighting cancer and walking in God’s healing power she has just learned the cancer is back…and her life will now go on hold for extended medical treatment once again to rid her of the invasion on her body. She is fearless and undefeatable. You can read Michelle’s story here http://michelecushatt.com/red-sea-moments/
All around me I see people going through sudden and great trials…some have been hit very suddenly and their life has taken an abrupt turn and they just feel like the wind was knocked out of them.
As I contemplated these things and wondered what God has to say in the midst of sudden trials and sudden fear I think I found truth.
The truth is, God sometimes allows us to be placed in situations (sometimes difficult, even painful ones) where we can glorify Him; where His presence and power are displayed with clarity, and where fellowship with Him is the sweetest spot we could find ourselves in.
God wants us to experience His gift of total reliance on Him…of letting go of our own pride and self sufficiency….our own power….and show us that in our own weaknesses He is made strong….tobless usby giving the gift of relying solely on Him.
In our trials we find His presence. You see, God’s blessings and healing and perseverance come with His presence. No matter what trials we face. It is His presence, His Spirit that ushers in His strength, encouragement and power…..it is what develops His character in us so that we reflect Him in all that we do.
The worst part about not being OK when a sudden change comes to our lives is that once you are there, you tend to temporarily lose your vision.
But as Michelle explained in her blog, when you run up against the Red Sea, you feel blindsided. There is no place to turn but to ask for His mercy and grace and a miracle.
You sometimes become profoundly nearsighted.
You can lose the ability to see any further than that horrible not-being-okay feeling right in front of you; to believe that outside of all of it, just beyond the fear and the sadness and the failure, there’s another place. That is where He is.
At that moment of darkness, it’s nearly impossible to see what you are capable of enduring….if you can withstand it all just a bit more, if you can weather the winds and storms and the wounds and the worry, you’ll end-up stepping into thatplace of peace, softly and securely, and you’ll feel the weightless lift of hope again.
You will gain new insight into the unchanging Jesus, while your world is turned upside down. You will see into places that never occurred to you while all was well and they’ll all seem like wonderful love letters directly from the Lover of your soul; words of truth spoken directly to your heart, telling you that life is given by Him and He has your name written right into His nail scarred hands.
I promise you He will…He is the great I AM.
But in the meantime, before you get there, I want to tell you one more important thing about where you are right now:
It’s OK to feel. He knows you are human. Tell Him your fears and worry and everything that swirls around inside of you. Talk to HIM!!
He already knows anyway. Acknowledge that. Bring Him into your journey and let Him walk with you there.
It’s alright to admit your feelings to yourself, and to say it to someone else, too. In fact, doing so isn’t admitting defeat at all. It isn’t giving-up. It’s simply consenting, to fully feeling the reality of the despair and the pain of the moment.
So that you can move on.
As you do, just remember that you won’t feel like that forever.
One day, you’ll feel well enough to share your journey with someone else who is not so well, and you’ll perpetuate the hope that He gives to you in your own suffering.
So today, friend, for what it’s worth and for whatyou’reworth (which is immeasurable), know this:
As dark as it seems, as difficult as it is, as much as it hurts…He knows right where you are and He has a plan that you sometimes just can’t see. Hold onto Him very tightly in these times.
It may seem like it but it won’t last forever. You may have to make changes…but He said, actually promised, that He would not ever leave you nor forsake you.
Take Him with you whatever comes. He only wants His very best for you and will go to battle for you as you hold on for dear life.