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Archive for November, 2012

I prayed through in a church where TV “in the home” was preached against. However, the pastor admitted to having gone to friends’ homes to watch TV as a kid. He also allowed the saints to have a VCR and monitor. He even eventually got one. I watched more PG movies in the 6 months after I got in church than I had in the world. Many of us would also go to places like Walmart and watch movies there.

Later, another pastor ended up teaching against TV, video, moving pictures, monitors-I wasn’t even sure it was acceptable to go to a play. So here is what’s funny to me: There could be no VCRs, movies, or TV. Sometimes youtube was also preached against. But at least some would watch videoclips online at work regularly. Several e-mailed me videoclips, too. And video games that look exactly like cartoons were never taught against at all.

I’m a very visual person. To me, video is an art form, if done tastefully. But I didn’t watch a movie or TV for years because it was “wrong”. Not biblically wrong, pastorally wrong.

I don’t have a pastor now. Yesterday I checked out three videos from the library. Last night was the first time in my life I’d ever watched a video in my own home. And I cried. I don’t even know why. It wasn’t that I felt guilty. Maybe I was so relieved to be able to chose to do something just for the enjoyment of it. It was a beautiful movie. And it felt so nice to be able to just do something for the fun of it!

I’ve heard video preached against because we remember so much of what we see. However, we must remember that not everything we see is bad.

Do we truly remember more of a video than we do of real life? It may seem that way at first, but in reality, we haven’t-it’s just that in real life we remember snapshots of scenes. The best movies are simply limited to a well-directed series of these types of snapshots. This creates an illusion of remembering more from the movie than real life, when in fact we are still just remembering snapshots of the best pieces of life.

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. (Ps 101:3) Obviously no verse in the Bible speaks specifically against television or movies. However, this verse has been used in many circles to show people they should not watch movies or TV. We should, indeed, be careful not to engross ourselves in anything that is wicked-book, tv, movie, everyday life… but if we used this verse to say that TV or movies on the whole were wrong, then we would need to go through life with our eyes closed. Those who walk with their eyes closed are most likely to fall.

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The following was written a month after leaving:

“When you go through a trial, if you don’t pass, you’re bound to repeat it til you get it right.”
What is the indication that someone has “passed” a trial? Does a righteous God make people repeatedly go through something, and without indicating what they have done wrong, force them to repeat the trial because they somehow unwittingly failed? What is a mark of failure or success, from a pentecostal perspective? Is it staying in church? Keeping a right attitude? Keeping a smile on your face in public even when you are dying inside? Forgiving and loving the people who hurt you?

When I was in school, we were given quizzes through a week or month. The quizzes and later our tests were scored, corrected, and returned to us. If we students reviewed our corrected quizzes, we saw the errors we had made and would learn from them. Many times, when I saw the correct answer to a question I had missed, that fact or answer would be etched in my memory. I would never make the same mistake again.

If the tests had not been scored, reviewed, or corrected, but only returned with “Pass” or “Fail” written at the top, we would not have known what we did wrong. We would not have been able to improve. We would have become frustrated by this method of grading. Any teacher who had graded this way would have been considered a very poor teacher and would probably been released from their position.

How then, in a walk with God, can people be repeatedly told they must have “failed” some test without being told what they did wrong or how to improve? What kind of teacher is God if he simply says, “You failed. Try again,” without showing us how to do better when we ask? That doesn’t make sense.

Someone might say, “all the answers are right there in the Bible-you’re just missing it.” Am I? God hasn’t opened his word and my understanding after years of the same problem?
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? (Luke 11:10-13)

God isn’t playing games with us. He doesn’t leave us to fail repeatedly without giving us the answers as to how to succeed with Him when we ask.

As a child, when I would bring some supposed wrong to my mom, I’d often here: “There are always two sides to a story,” “it takes two to tango,” or “and what did you do to her?” Mom loved me, but she raised me to understand that most things were not totally one person’s fault or another’s. If I were bullied at school, for example, she comforted me, but she also questioned where I was and why and offered solutions to avoid similar situations in the future. If I ignored her advice and walked back into the same situation again, I was at fault-not because the bully was right, but because I had not taken steps to prevent their wrong behavior toward me.

I have put that training to use in this situation. I am not totally at fault, as some in church would like to think. Nor am I not responsible at all for what happened, because I walked into the same problem more than once. That was not an issue of passing or failing a trial, that was an issue of trying too hard to make something work that just, well… didn’t. It is not my fault that I was falsely accused. It is not that God is putting me through some horrible trial repeatedly. But I allowed a wrong situation and wrong behaviors to continue, trying to be more forgiving, trying to forget their wrongful accusations and cutting words, attempting to be more submissive and obedient, trying to show that I don’t have a chip on my shoulder or that I’m not intrinsically a more wicked person than anyone else or that there isn’t anything “wrong” with me.

When the pastor would tell me that my situation was abnormal, that there was something wrong with me, that I was unforgiving or bitter or unsubmissive, I would go out of my way to attempt to be more normal, right, forgiving, or submissive, thinking he would eventually see that I wasn’t the terrible person that he apparently thought I was. He would shun me, and I would press for attention, craving the love I saw him show to others. He would be angry at me, and I would think it was my fault. I had failed again. He told me I was depressed and negative and so he didn’t want to spend time with me or have others around me. So I would try to act happy and positive, and he would tell me that I didn’t take his rebuke seriously! I finally realized there was nothing I could do to change what he thought of me. There was no way that I could “succeed” in that man’s church, not because I was not a successful person, but because I was expected to fail. It took a very long time for me to understand what had happened, and really I’m still sifting through it all.

I am not to blame. It is not my fault, and I will not continue to go through the same trial repeatedly because I somehow unwittingly fail every time. How did I come to this? Because now, people say that I failed because I quit church. Yet I never quit before. So if quitting church is the mark of failure, I have passed with flying colors many times, yet was still repeating the same “trial”! I won’t fail this test again. This time I will succeed. I will walk away from the bully and will not put myself within the bully’s reach again. And in doing that, I will succeed.

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I’m going to skip ahead a bit… I’ll get back to the story later. This is part of it, but it’s a part I see best looking back over time.

We were told those who left my former church would not be blessed. Even those who didn’t believe God would give them everything they wanted just because they shouted (yes, seriously, it was taught) would “lose their blessing”. There was a lot of emphasis on Esau and Jacob, how Jacob was blessed and Esau was cursed because he despised the birthright and such. But looking back over the last few years, I can very much say I’m blessed beyond measure. Even though I left!

Interestingly, many of the blessings I’m experiencing stem from the fact that I DID leave. I was able to save some money without feeling guilty for “hoarding God’s blessings”. Because I relocated, I sold a house that is set to lose value over the next four years. Moving allowed me to downsize dramatically and rent a smaller house, which resulted in cheaper rent, lower utility bills, and MANY fewer shopping expenses. These reductions allowed me to save more as well. At this point, I have several things I didn’t have just a few years ago.

Each time something really good has simply fallen into place, I’ve been amazed. The last year has been especially amazing. I got a job in another area and relocated. My house sold at the perfect time-right before Jordan’s arrest. I rented a small house and downsized. I have enjoyed this downsize immensely. I’ve also been thankful that even though the job hasn’t been wonderful, I was able to have it while I needed it. Selling a house from any further away would have been even more difficult and stressful. And so the last year has allowed me to sell the house, downsize, and get my bearings.

A family member e-mailed me in October or November-there was a cabin for sale, to be moved. I called the owner and wrote a check, even though I didn’t have land. He agreed to keep the cabin on his property for up to five months while I found land. Over Thanksgiving I was driving around looking for a repo that was for sale and noticed a for sale by owner sign on a house that had been severely fire damaged. I called and asked about it. It’s been a week. Tomorrow I should sign an offer on it. AND it’s closer to town, will be easier to clean up, and costs less than the other place I was looking for. My cabin may even fit perfectly on the foundation.

Some may call me backslid, but I’ve been blessed beyond measure.

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From the Archives: Anger

Within the first month after leaving, I dealt with a lot of anger at what had happened. That was alternated with fits of guilt for the anger I felt. We were told never to be angry, that anger was wrong. Since writing this, I’ve realized there’s nothing wrong with being angry. Even God is angry with some things. There’s nothing wrong or shameful about the emotion. It’s what we do with our anger that can be wrong.

From the archives: I am struggling with anger, and with guilt for the anger that I feel. Oh, the anger is well founded. I don’t think my anger is off base, unchristian, or unfounded. I have been lied to, lied on, falsely accused, and misrepresented. I’ve been discredited, shamed and humiliated, falsely accused by saints and then the pastor and informed that I cannot even speak in my own defense because doing so questions his authority. I have seen backbiting, bitterness, variance, envying, strife, contention, gossip, and lying promoted in the name of religion. And I have seen true religion negated due to these promotions. Pure religion and undefiled is this… to visit the fatherless and widows… and to keep himself unspotted from the world…

My anger is as justified as Jesus’ when he drove out the money changers in the temple. No, I’m not being haughty or proud. I am not justifying bitterness, nor am I thinking more highly of myself than I ought. I am simply stating the facts. Jesus got angry, he even made a whip and drove out the money changers, yet He was without sin. To lay sin at my feet for saying the attitudes directly spoken against in the Bible should not be ignored in the church is neither reasonable nor biblical.

I have been told multiple times that I should forgive and forget things that should not be forgotten and which the offender never repented of. According to the unspoken rules of the church, if I tell the pastor he has offended me, I will be “reproved and rebuked” and told that I have a bitter, unforgiving spirit. Further, if I call and ask to go back to church, I will be dealt with harshly for leaving. I will be expected to attend four services a week and will have little or no privacy. I will not be able to use the internet for anything but work purposes. And I will only be sitting on a pew waiting to be called out for some new false report or supposed infraction anyway.

So I’m angry. Not sinfully angry, but angry in a way that has prompted change and research on my part. Anger that has made me relook and rethink several teachings of the conservative oneness movement. Anger that has made me realize that I’d prefer to go to a church where the women wear pants and they sing the doxology than to sit in a church where brothers and sisters distrust each other, where people are judged more than they are loved and accepted, and where there are some big names and also many no names.

I’m angry. I have a right and a need to be angry. When my anger shows through in my writing, it is not because I’m a horrible backslidden reprobate. It is because there are terrible wrongs taking place under God’s name, and good people are being hurt as a result. There is no greater hypocrisy, no worse way to take God’s name in vain than to do these things “in His name” and then attempt to silence those who have been so misused.

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Confronting fears

Leaving my former church brought on a form of culture shock. It also made me face fears. First I needed to resolve that I wasn’t going to hell or going to be in a horrible car wreck or die if I wasn’t attending. I had to work through what to do about giving since we’d been taught that giving less than a certain amount of all income was “robbing God”.  I was afraid to look into what the Bible actually said, both because reading certain verses could trigger nightmares or depression and also because I was afraid that leaving might have left me open to “strong delusion”–that anything I studied now and saw differently might be the devil leading me astray since I was outside the protection of the church.

There were also new fears that arose, things I’d never dealt with before to any large degree. Joining an online discussion board left me in fear of being “found out” or “reported” to the pastor by board leadership. Going to a different church led to fears that they would be unhealthy like Faith Tabernacle. And when a church offered to let me sing in the choir or help in nursery, I would go into a whirlwind of emotion–I was afraid they were trying to “trap” me into coming more regularly, that if I agreed to help I’d be roped into more and more activities and find myself quickly overworked, that by saying no I might bring down the wrath of a new preacher… and that if I said yes to certain positions I might lead someone else astray–or worse, that if they thought it was ok to “use” me in service, members of Faith Tabernacle might start coming and volunteering to serve as well… to win people to their church.

Dealing with these was difficult. It took time, but eventually I was able to confront people and ask what they really wanted. Sometimes I might have gone to the opposite extreme of my former “submissive” stance of doing anything I was asked. I was trying to find balance. I’m still trying to find balance at times, but I am regaining my equilibrium, and my voice. It takes time, but I’ve been thankful for each person I talked to or confronted who showed grace, who really listened, who didn’t pressure me, who respected my thoughts and feelings even if they didn’t understand them. Each time I met someone like that, I healed a bit, regained some trust, learned, grew, stretched. And each time a fear was confronted, it grew a bit smaller, until it finally vanished.

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Written the first watchnight after I left, the following is interesting now from a different perspective… Did Edwin stop serving communion at Faith Tabernacle because he was concerned it would kill us, or because he knew his and/or his son’s guilt?

I’ll miss having watchnight service tonight… the old fashioned kind with footwashing and communion and worship, praying the old year out and the new year in. Its been around 5 years since I was in an old fashioned watchnight service. Those held a lot of meaning for me.

Communion, renewing commitments to God, remembering His commitment to us… footwashing, starting the new year out clean and fresh, remembering we’re called to serve… prayer and worship, ending one year and bringing the new one in with praise and prayer. We had some good services through the years. But the last few have felt pushed and contrived.

There hasn’t been footwashing or communion for several years at my former church-ever. My former pastor believes that if you take communion “unworthily”, or with sin in your life or not right with God that you will die or backslide. Not the worst I’ve heard… one pastor actually taught that if there were two people in conflict in the church, serve communion and the one that is wrong will soon leave! I guess, since he believes communion can kill people, he’s decided he doesn’t want to be responsible for serving it. I don’t know. But that understanding of communion is far from Jesus’.

There are several things horribly wrong with using communion as a judgment or condemnation. Mainly, communion is done in memory of Jesus’ sacrifice, mercy, and forgiveness. Nothing about a condemning or judgmental ‘communion’ points to these. God wants to draw us closer to him, not push us away. Communion should bind us together in love and forgiveness and unity, not bring us to look at each other questioningly. No one who gets sick within the weeks and months after communion is taken should be afraid that they did something “wrong” by taking communion. Jesus said “Do this in rememberence of me.” And that is what we should do. Remember Him.

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This article written a couple weeks after leaving discusses, in part, my reaction to reading a book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. It was the first book I read about cults, and it shocked me. I kept flipping through to see where it mentioned Faith Tabernacle. I was certain the author must have studied my former church before writing. It was only later that I realized just how much unhealthy churches have in common, even if they are completely dissimilar on doctrinal issues. 

 

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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