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Archive for December, 2009

Another blog post from the archives that gives insight about what was happening when I left, with insight as to why things may have happened that are now alleged. 

Not long ago, I left my church. I struggled with the decision for quite awhile before leaving. Several things pushed me to the final decision, but one in particular prompted an immediate move.
Since leaving, I have wavered a bit a few times. It was difficult to tell a few people I was quitting, especially since I still believe most of the fundamental doctrines of the group I was part of for so long. It’s also been difficult to talk with a few of them since then, when they asked me to come back. There are things that I miss about church, enjoyable things that have quite a pull for me. And I feel badly for dropping my obligations to certain people and activities. Some people are very hurt and sad that I’m gone, and that is hard, too.

Since leaving, I’ve been able to look at the situation from a few steps away. There were good things about that church. Friends and activities that I miss.

Last night I read something, and my reaction surprised me. It was a list of warning signs that a person might be in a potentially abusive environment. I had read the list before, and thought there were a few things that might fit my experience, but… Last night I reread the list, and was shocked.

I haven’t been thinking much about what happened there lately. I’ve needed to focus on gaining strength and healing and looking back wouldn’t have done that. Last night, reading that list, I realized how many excuses I had made for certain actions and attitudes I’d faced. Guess I just caught it at the right time. I’d read one point, and start thinking, “yeah, they do that, but it’s just because…” and would catch myself doing it. Then I would consider what I’ve learned of grace and love since then, and realize there is simply no valid excuse for lying, vainglory, backbiting, gossip, favoritism, authoritarianism, putting others down, or cutting others off.

I knew those things happened long before I left. But they were really little things, opposed to “staying in THE truth.” Surely I could overlook the constant bragging from the pulpit. I could forgive the liars and backbiters and gossips for the harsh things they said, and I could forget the horrible rebukes of the pastor (without giving me a chance to explain) because surely he was just frustrated by something else. Maybe by being the scapegoat I was helping-I could take the rebukes, while someone else might backslide over being called those awful names and being misjudged. People who were shunned surely deserved shunning, and it must be for their good… even when it was me and I knew I’d done nothing wrong. Maybe God knew something about me that I didn’t. Maybe if I went through this one more thing, I’d finally be accepted and loved, too. And if I could finally gain the pastor’s affection, perhaps I could someday hope God would really love me, too.

Over time, I came to the realization that the Bible clearly speaks against most of these things. But still, it was “THE truth”… Only after stepping away and looking back at it, could I realize that those behaviors are never acceptable. If the pastor is a “man of God,” still, by the same or better token, that makes me a “child of God.” God’s love is unconditional. I’m not sure how far to take that concept yet, but I do know that God doesn’t stop loving a person when they walk out the doors of a church. We should praise Him, and not praise the pastor or any other leader more. Being in church doesn’t show our Christianity. We are not known as Christians for our attendance at a certain place or our dress or our ability to overlook negative situations, but, as Jesus said, John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

If there is no love in a church, or if there is little love there, and God is love (1 John 4:7-8) then, no matter how much shouting and dancing and running is happening, there is, by finishing the equation, not much God there. Beloved, let us love one another. (1 Jn 4:7)

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I’ve been reminded that anyone can read these blogs, and I know that some people from my former church would misunderstand some of what I’ve written. Please at least read this entry, if you ever think you’ve found me here.

For everyone else who might read, if you find yourself in a good place, be thankful. If you have been hurt, there is a place you can find strength and healing. You are not alone.

It grieves me that people from my former church would think I “backslid”. There is nothing in my past to go back to, so in leaving, I can’t have “backslid”. It disturbs me that you (former church family) can’t know what happened that required me to leave, but if I were to tell you I would quite possibly hurt you. That isn’t my intent, so I’ve chosen not to discuss what happened.

If anyone from my former church reads these and knows who I am, please understand, I don’t want to put any doubts in your minds. These blogs are to help put faith back in my mind, not to put doubt in yours. So if any of you from my former church are reading, please understand that I love you and I love God. I didn’t want to leave your church, but I didn’t have another option that would allow me to keep my integrity.

I wrote a fairwell letter but never sent it to some of my closest friends in church. If any of you happen to read this and think you know who I am, please read it and consider what I’ve said:

There isn’t an easy way to say this, but I have to say goodbye. I’ve wept to consider leaving good people like you. I wanted to say goodbye personally, but doing that could cause conflict for you. I can’t say why I’m leaving, but please understand-I didn’t feel there was any other choice. 

Your kindness, thoughtfulness, smiles, and encouragement have meant a lot to me. Thank you. I’ve been told several times that my only reasons for staying were carnal ones. That’s not true. I stayed here because of my faith in God, and because of a few good friends like you. Just because I stop coming to a certain building doesn’t mean the end of our friendship in my eyes. 

Please understand that whether we can talk and visit or not, I am grateful for the good memories we share. I know leaving will cause you conflict and heartache-I know, because it has caused me conflict and heartache too. I wish I could have stayed, but I want you to know that my line and door are always open. I still consider you friends, I will always remember you with love.

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I was so happy to get to go to a real Christmas service last night. It was beautiful. I didn’t know anyone, and didn’t understand quite all the ceremonies (Advent wreaths would take quite a bit of explaining…) but just getting to go and enjoy the Christmas music was good. Sure, the music was contemporary and that surprised me. But they sang my favorite (Mary Did You Know) and a few others. It was just all around fun, and everyone was very friendly.

The last song, as each of us lit a small candle, was Go Light Your World. Its an older song, and I’ve always liked it. Last night it seemed written specifically for my situation (with church).

I have heard so often that we need to be a light and a witness to those in the world. In all the years I was in church after joining the workforce, though, I rarely had the opportunity to invite anyone to church. And with 15-20 hours of church a week, I certainly didn’t have time to do anything with people who should have been witnessed to. There just wasn’t time. Sure, I went door knocking. I handed out invitation cards. But is this really what being a witness means? When does it say Paul or Peter or Phillip gave them a church invitation and said, “our service is at 10:00 Sunday”?
The Apostles didn’t witness by passing out invitations or tracts. The didn’t door knock. They simply lived. Most of their preaching was done outdoors or one on one. They tried speaking in the synagogues, but they weren’t heard there. So they loved, they gave, they did for others. What better witness could a person have?

Jesus often reached out and touched the person he was healing. Maybe he was giving us a hint. A person must be witnessed to before God can heal their heart. To truly witness, we must reach out to the person. And to reach a person, we first must touch their life in some way. But to touch them, we must spend time among them. If we are too busy with church to help a sick neighbor or to spend time with a child, are we serving church or serving God? Will he say “well done, you’ve got perfect church attendance, you sang in the choir and cleaned the church regularly,” or “well done, thou good and faithful servant. As oft as you’ve done it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.”?

I was afraid to leave church for years partly because I would ask myself what in the world I would do if someone wanted God and I couldn’t take them to church. Yet in years of church attendance, I rarely brought anyone. How can you reach someone you’re too busy to meet, after all? Then too, I’ve often heard that we need to come to church to stay spiritual. I wonder… wouldn’t we actually be more like Jesus if we did what he would do?

Light Your World
Carry your candle
Run to the darkness
Seek out the hopeless, deceived and torn
Hold out your candle
For all to see it
Take your candle and go light your world

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I’m a country girl from way back. Rumor has it my family is related to Daniel Boone, the man who continuously moved west, opening new territory because he needed “elbow room” and because, so the story goes, he felt that if he could see the smoke from his neighbor’s chimney, they were just too close.

Whether we were related or not, I can empathize with “Old Boone”. Driving down the highway, I tense if a car is closer than three car lengths ahead or behind me. I hug the shoulder, especially when being passed-being less than a car width away from another driver is just uncomfortable to me.

Walking or standing, there is an imaginary buffer zone we keep around us, called personal space. Some people don’t need much. Others need a lot. I’m one of the ‘a lot’ people. I can understand if someone reaches out to shake my hand. But I’ll meet them half way. The cashier who hands me cash and casually brushes my hand in the exchange disturbs me, because she unwittingly entered my space. Warn me about those frontal hugs, please. I much prefer shoulder to shoulder hugs. Even then, I need to mentally prepare for a few seconds before contact.

In the malls and on the streets, and especially at church, people constantly invade my space. I’ve watched others pile together like puppies, and I laugh at their antics. But I prefer to stay on the outskirts of such activities. Fun? Oh, yes. But put me in the middle and I’ll act like a cat over a bucket of water.

Friends begin to realize that my personal space zone is pretty broad. They are careful to stay out of this space, or to give fair warning before entering it. I’m grateful and much more comfortable for their understanding.

Spiritually, I need space too. Room to grow and react in. Space to be myself, to live up to my potential and to realize my dreams. Too many rules, and I begin to feel stifled. It isn’t that the rules are bad. I can even enjoy them at times, and I understand why others might need or enjoy them. But I need to be given the opportunity to decide which I will follow, and to grow into them on my own.

Having people to be accountable can also be great, but again, people need to warn me before they step in my spiritual space. I don’t care to be watched and hovered over. I need people to trust me and allow me some independence. Perhaps I’m like the teenager who never questioned parental authority. Still, if the parents don’t give me a chance to grow up, I will find a way to grow around the restrictions and overcome them, even if it means distancing myself from them. Like the tree next to a barbed wire fence, I’ll either move the fence or I’ll make the fence a part of me, but I will grow, whether the fence or the farmer want me to or not.

We need boundaries to grow, but we also need space. The amount of space we need can change through the years. But we all need some amount. The sooner we recognize and respect our space and others’ the sooner we can become what we are meant to be.

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Its been hard for me, knowing that people will refuse to remain friends if I “backslide”. But I haven’t backslid. I have simply stopped going to a certain building a few times a week. If I had a friend that told me they wouldn’t talk to me unless I shopped in Walmart, I wouldn’t consider that person much of a friend. Same with these now-I’m still there for them if they want me, but its their choice whether to express friendship to me or not. I’m not responsible for their actions. My decision was simply to stop going to a certain place. I didn’t walk out on God or them, but just did what was best for me. Now its their choice what they do. Doesn’t make losing them easier, but it would have been harder to lose God, and that’s where I was headed.

Relationships in the church seemed so shallow. I always thought it was just me, that I couldn’t connect, maybe I was less spiritual or just shallow myself. More than likely those were not the reasons for shallow relationships though.

In the church, we were told that getting hurt in church was worse than most hurts in the world, because the church was our “family” and we were “so close”. I wasn’t close to them though. Not the way I was to family and friends growing up. To me being close means being able to laugh with people, to play games, to just be together without wondering if they would think I was “carnal”. Closeness to someone means being able to relax around them, to “let your hair down” and just be yourself.

Its nice to think I might meet some people that aren’t weighing every word I say, judging every move. I need friends. The kind of friends who are there at your roughest times to pick you back up, to love you. They are simply there. They seem to know when you need that encouraging word, that helping hand, that smile or hug. And they give it without hesitation, no matter what you’ve done or what others have said. I want friends like that, and I want to be a friend like that. Have I got some friends like that? I’m working on it. True friendships take time. But they’re worth it.

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Though this post from 2009 is not about the current legal issues at Faith Tabernacle in a way, it is in another because it shows the mindset and the experiences that could lead to what happened in the years after I left. Apparently things were already happening in 2009 and had been for at least a year. The things I list as disturbing in part lead to the backdrop for the scenes that later hit headlines.

Got a text message earlier that I needed to talk to the pastor, from another saint. And tonight an all saints meeting was called, rather than regular service. I’m nervous as to what might happen in a way.

Over the past few years, I’ve looked at several of the various oddities within this church, the conservative movement I was a part of, and Pentecost as a whole. No one would answer my questions for a long time. The answer was always to go ask the pastor. When I asked the pastor I was told that I was rebellious or thought I was smarter than him. I was expected to accept what was preached as gospel, and never look to the gospel or the God of the gospel for answers beyond the pulpit.

I hope these are anomalies-that they are not common in Pentecost. But the more I have read, the more I realize that I’m not alone in my experiences.

For a long time I refused to consider leaving the church, because they preached Jesus name baptism, Holy Ghost, and holiness of dress. But questions about other teachings started creeping into my mind. After two separate incidents, a year apart, when I was accused and charged guilty of something without being given a chance to explain (or in the second case to even know what they were talking about), I started looking into the scriptures more thoroughly. I stopped reading the Bible, but if something seemed strange, I’d reference the passage and read it in several versions if need be.

Several things began to disturb me:
the belief that the pastor was always right, and that he could not be questioned.
the concept that if the pastor said to do something, it must be done.
preference of one person over another.
letting down on standards held for decades, while still arguing that others (who used the same reasons for letting down on other things) were wrong
making women lesser saints
Not allowing women to be as involved
catch phrases that demanded a shout
rebukes for not shouting on catch phrases, or not shouting enough.
Meaningless songs with a few words repeated over and over and over and…

Its sad, really. I didn’t want to leave, and I never thought I would stop believing certain things. I’ve wondered if I would have been better off if I’d left months or years ago when the problems started. I miss my church friends, but there weren’t that many of them. I miss church activities to a degree. But I’m not sad to leave.

I wonder what will happen now, where I’ll go or what I’ll do. Will there be a church I feel comfortable in? Where? When? Should I take time off from church or plow back into it? Should I go to a oneness church or just let that go? Will I ever be able to marry now that I’ve left? Will I put too much emphasis on a new pastor, following the old, ingrained rules?

There are no answers to these questions, but I’m satisfied. At first after leaving (its only been a week) I crammed on books about exit and spiritual abuse. I don’t feel like doing that now. Maybe I should-I’ve been told it takes years to work through the problems. Maybe I just wasn’t treated that badly, or maybe its just that somewhere I still believe that I’m not leaving God just because I walk out the doors of a particular church.

In that particular way, I feel miles ahead of the ministers and saints I’ve talked to. Almost all of them think I need a pastor and need this church. Not so. I need God. And my pastor is not my god, and my church is not my god. My God fills the universe, but also stepped into time and was crucified to a cross… and rose again. His grace is sufficient, and I’ll trust Him.

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Perfection

There is a concept in the church I’m from that we can live above sin. If we sin after we come to God, we are told, we are, at best, living beneath our privileges. Sin doesn’t have control of our lives now, therefore we shouldn’t sin.

I have several issues with these thoughts, but there is one that really gets me. Perfection. The five fold ministry is for “the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry.” So we are to be brought to perfection or maturity. But what is perfect? What is mature? Simple (they say). Don’t cut your hair, don’t put on makeup, don’t wear pants, always wear long sleeves, don’t wear jewelry (including wedding bands or bracelet watches). Don’t go on a date without a chaperone, or hold hands or kiss until you’re married. Don’t lie. Respect the ministry, never talk bad about the man of God or his family, and never question what a leader says. Don’t wear hairbows, don’t wear anything in your hair that doesn’t match your hair color. Don’t wear red, don’t wear certain shoes, don’t wear denim to church, don’t wear denim jackets or caps ever. Sit like a lady. Stay submissive. Learn when to clap and shout and run, and always do these at the right times. Don’t be out after midnight, don’t fellowship nonApostolics, don’t drink or chew or cuss or swear….

The list goes on and on. Is that perfection? Following a list of proscribed do’s and don’ts? Is that maturity? Or is perfection-is maturity-accepting ourselves and others as we are, while still becoming more like Jesus? What happened to love? Was it perfected right out of the church? Am I immature because I doubt these types of restraints in my 30s? Are others more mature because they watch to see when I make a mistake and immediately report it to the pastor (and gossip about it in the meantime)? Is the pastor in a place of spiritual perfection and maturity when he yells that I have a women’s lib spirit, because I supposedly broke one of these rules?

Perfection, maturity, is so far beyond any list of do’s and don’ts. I fear we’ve missed it. When I start to do something and stop to think, “if someone saw…”, rather than considering how Jesus would think or just being able to relax and enjoy myself in some small way, that is anything but maturity, spiritual or otherwise.

If lists of rules were perfection, the Pharisees and Jesus would have been great friends, I suppose. But they weren’t. It was Jesus who said “ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and forget the weightier matters of the law… these ought ye have done, and not to leave the other undone”. It was Jesus who said “he that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” Jesus stepped beyond the rules and touched the heart.

God calls us, as Christians, beyond a list of rules. We are called by Him into a place of trust and faith and love. We desire to do our best for him, but our best isn’t anymore dependent upon the man made rules than Jesus’ was. How often did Jesus heal on the sabbath? Touch a leper?

Jesus stepped beyond rules, and he calls us to do the same. It is a step of faith. Rules are simple to follow, but real love isn’t always. After all, love healed, but it also allowed crucifixion. Can we reconcile that love in our hearts?

Ez 26:36 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

Rules can be followed by a heart of stone. Love can only be followed by a heart made soft by the touch of Jesus. By his love. And its in His love that we can be, and are, made “perfect.”

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