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Archive for the ‘From the Archives: Journaling a Departure and an Awakening’ Category

On my way to Missouri last weekend, I heard Hank Hanegraff on the radio responding to a question about suicide:
“First of all, you can’t say that suicide is the unforgivable sin, because no single act is an unforgivable sin. The unforgivable sin is a continual ongoing rejection of forgiveness. And those who refuse forgiveness through Christ will spend eternity separated from his love and grace. Those who sincerely desire forgiveness can be absolutely certain that God will never spurn them…”

I’ve heard that anyone who killed themselves would die with unrepented sin in their lives and go straight to hell. I was taught that blasphemy was the unforgivable sin and was taught that even joking about tongues (kidding around and imitating someone, for instance) might be blasphemy and shouldn’t be risked, because no one knows where God might draw the line and strike down.

Both these concepts show a judgmental, angry God, not an Abba Father. So Hank’s statement really stood out to me, like this:
“First of all, you can’t say that suicide is the unforgivable sin, because no single act is an unforgivable sinThe unforgivable sin is a continual ongoing rejection of forgiveness. And those who refuse forgiveness through Christ will spend eternity separated from his love and grace. Those who sincerely desire forgiveness can be absolutely certain that God will never spurn them...”

This helped me a lot. I don’t have to be afraid that I might make a mistake and then die in a car wreck before I could ask forgiveness of whatever it was and go to hell. I don’t have to be scared that I might accidentally blaspheme the Holy Ghost by shouting “in the flesh” or uttering some syllables in imitation of tongues when it was really just me. I don’t have to run around all day muttering “forgive me, oh, God, I’m sorry. Forgive me!” in order to insure salvation. Wow, what a relief.

Then I got home, and someone gave me some books. One of the books was The Shack. I’ve been avoiding that one. It was preached against at my former church. Really, really bad book, right up there with Christianity without the Cross. Duh. I should have known by that alone that I should definitely read it! There are some good points in it… including a discussion about how God is often viewed as judgmental and wrathful, but Jesus is looked at as Savior. That people pray to God when they want revenge or expect anger and judgment, and pray to Jesus when they want forgiveness. And as I read that I realized how few times I heard Jesus preached at my former church, unless it was as an image of the ultimate sacrifice and the wrath and judgment of God!! Jesus is God in flesh, and Pentecostals are supposed to be oneness, but the ones I knew still focused on an all-powerful God ready to squash us at any moment, rather than on the Savior who had made a way for us, and done what we couldn’t do!

Anyway, I’m still working through this thing called grace. That was a whole lot to think on in just one week. Grace is kind of going to be a quantum leap for me, since I never was really taught about grace as a child or an adult. But I’m beginning to really like the sound of it!

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I woke up this morning after a vivid dream that I’d gone back to my former church. Apparently in the dream I was working a different job and two different people from other churches had come into my workplace and asked directions to the church. I gave them to them, amused that they didn’t realize I used to attend, even though I was dressed just like them.

For whatever reason, I knew they’d be serving a meal that night before church so I decided to sneak in just to eat. Most everyone had eaten by the time I arrived. They asked me to help serve dessert, not recognizing me. So I did. The entire building was different in the dream, but several things were the same. As people started to realize who I was, I could sense their fear. The unasked question was, “Did you ask the pastor if you could come?” They’d shy away from me, afraid to acknowledge me or meet my eyes once they recognized me. And yet there was a little hesitant hope in their eyes that I’d “pray through”. Then the pastor came in. Things were tense-would he recognize me? If so, he’d be furious that I’d come. I left at that point, satisfied I’d gotten my answer, and that nothing had changed. I walked the long way back to the car, watching the parking lot fill and people rush in, hurried and focused on that building. I walked, enjoying a starless night, at peace.

I haven’t been looking for any answers. I know what would happen if I tried to go back or attend anything they led. But it was odd. The fear and tension were thick. I wasn’t afraid, but they were. And they weren’t afraid of God or afraid for me, they were afraid the pastor would find out. They were afraid of his anger and his temper on themselves for not saying anything if they knew I was there without permission. Afraid he’d think they had something to do with me being there. And in the dream I knew the reason I wouldn’t go back even to visit-a totally unbiblical attitude toward the pastor and the pastor’s expectation that someone who’d left had to call and ask permission to return. (There is a rule at church that if you leave, you must ask special permission to even come to a wedding or funeral.) It had to do with his temper and the anger that he expressed so often, that tension in the air, the fear that he’d blame someone for wrongdoing when they’d simply been kind, gentle or compassionate.

It was strange. The dream didn’t make me sad or angry, it was just there. But it was strange because the fear, the tense caution, and the rules on returning were so clear and solid in an otherwise whispy dream. It’s the first time that I’ve dreamed about church in years that I felt a calm reassurance when I woke up.

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People from my former church were out in droves today, and even late last night, at the “carnal-val” (as my former pastor would call it) downtown. It has really irked me that he repeatedly had people stand if they went even for an hour and rebuked them for going-even the ones that just went to get some good BBQ! For a couple of years I’ve either snuck over there when I didn’t think I’d see anyone or I’d stay away, even though I enjoy it. Well, this year I could go to the whole thing. And saw droves of Pentecostals-even young teens walking around by themselves after 11:00 at night… which I wouldn’t recommend in or out of church.

I had reached maximum frustration levels when a bunch of them came to a Christian show and some walked out-from the front row-as the man was giving his testimony. But when one of the women from that church came up to me (she’s actually pretty nice and didn’t mean any harm) and started telling me that the church was involved in the Fourth celebration, having two yard sales at people’s houses, and a bake sale at Walmart, and something else too, I think. (I wasn’t paying much attention, but a yard sale or bake sale didn’t make them a part of anything.) I said, “oh, wow, they’re everywhere.” She looked at me and said, “Where do you go to church now?”

Now granted, she probably was sincerely curious. She probably didn’t intend to get any other answer than the name of some church. But I kind of grinned and told her, “I do go. But I won’t say where. You know how it is. ‘Garbage goes to the garbage can.’ And no matter what people may say about me, I will NOT let someone call a good church a trash can, just because I go there.” She started to say it wouldn’t happen, then changed her mind and changed the subject. She was still friendly, but did change the subject to the weather.

(My former pastor gets up and announces, when someone leaves and goes to another church, that he’s found another “trash can” for the “garbage” to go to.)

I hope she’ll think about it. Because really, when they talk bad about others just because the “others” love, welcome and accept people and they don’t, they are telling on themselves.

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I just had an interesting thought. In my first Pentecostal chuch, there was a whole lot of singing about sacrifice.

I will Give You All
“God spoke to Abraham and said, give your only son, to offer as a sacrifice to the one you love. Lord if you ask of me to give, the very thing that I love the best, give me the courage and the strength to be willing to say yes”

I want to Live the Way You Want Me to Live
“I want to live, the way, you want me to live. I want to give, until there’s just no more to give. I want to love, love til there’s just no more love. I could never, ever outlove the Lord”

Songs like that. And in most churches I was familiar with there was a lot of talk about “sacrificial offerings”, “sacrificial giving”, “giving everything to Jesus”, “giving Jesus your very best”, “dying daily”, “crucifying the flesh”, “putting the flesh under subjection”, and so forth. They asked often enough in my former church if we were willing to die for Jesus that I even had a nightmare that incorporated that question.

There was a lot of talk about sacrifice, giving, and such, but little talk of love and Jesus’ sacrifice for us (unless it was to say we needed to do the same for Him). Can you imagine thinking of your spouse only in terms of what you should give, how obligated you are to him/her, how much you will have to give up for him/her, and how bad it will be for you if you don’t?!?! That’s not love at all. Dedication, maybe. Obligation, absolutely. Fear, probably. But it isn’t love.

I got ahold of a CD about a year and a half or so before I left. There was a song on it that said
“Just to draw close to thee, that’s where I long to be, let me hide myself in your heart to find my destiny. Every step I take, is one less step I need, to be in your presence, and close to thee.”
Another said
“There is none like You. No one else can touch my heart like you do. I can search through all eternity, Lord, and find there is none like you.
Your mercies flow like a river wide, and healing comes from your hand. Suffering children are safe in your arms. There is none like you…”

When things got bad at church, I’d close my eyes and start singing one of those to myself. I’d sing my own song to God and remember that what I was seeing and hearing didn’t reflect Who the Bible said God was.

Those are still some of my favorite songs today. God gave me strength and peace through them when I needed it most.

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1 Cor 5:5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

I’ve had this verse used against me quite a bit now. No, I haven’t fornicated or committed any other sin that shocked even people who are not in the church, like this passage discusses. I am not one, as verses 10-11 indicate, who is “…covetous, or extortioners, or …idolaters…” or “a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner.”

Above that, this verse is not discussing walking past the person as though they don’t exist, giving them a whithering look as you pass them in public, refusing to accept change from them at the store or buying anything of theirs at a yard sale or even applying with their company… it isn’t talking about being RUDE in other words. The verse tells the church to deliver the person who does the things listed above (idolatry, fornication, drunkenness, extortion, covetousness, or railing (abuse)) to Satan (in other words to put them outside the safety and support of the church)… not to act like the devil themselves!!!

God never approves of rudeness and outright cruelty, selfrighteousness or pride. Read what Paul wrote in NLT: “Then you must cast this man out of the church and into Satan’s hands, so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved when the Lord returns. How terrible that you should boast about your spirituality, and yet you let this sort of thing go on. Don’t you realize that if even one person is allowed to go on sinning, soon all will be affected? Remove this wicked person from among you so that you can stay pure.”

God in no way condones the rudeness that many people have allowed through these verses. Paul is simply telling the church to stop bragging how righteous they are, when they “associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler.” (v 11, NLT) He goes on to tell them that while a person is unrepentant they shouldn’t be considered a brother or sister. He doesn’t say the person should be counted as less than a heathen, or should never be able to come to church again, just that they should stop counting that man as a Christian as long as he is unrepentant.

Think about the bolded and the list in v 11 for a minute. If we are not to fellowship people who claim to be Christians and do the things listed above, and if we could be affected by those things if we allow them to continue in our midst, is it wrong to leave a church where these things are allowed to continue, and even encouraged?

I don’t advocate throwing people out of churches if they have these problems. But after having had this verse used on me more than once, I have to believe that if it is ever used, it should only be used as it was in this passage. This was an extreme case, for a widely known sin. The action wasn’t recommended for something people guessed might have happened, but for something that was well known both in and out of that body of believers. If a church believes in removing someone from fellowship based on this passage, they can remove the person from the support of the church without removing them from the pews, and without being rude. We can help the swindlers without putting them over the offering, the drunkards without putting money for their next bottle in their hands, the sexually immoral without allowing them to teach our Sunday School classes, and the railers and abusers without putting them behind our pulpits. Paul isn’t talking about banning anyone from all Christian contact or treating a person rudely, he is simply saying not to give that person the full benefits of true Christian fellowship. Separating him or putting him out of the church at that time didn’t mean casting him off a pew or out of a building. There weren’t pews or churches to throw him off of or out of. It simply meant to stop counting him as a complete part of the church until he repented.

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I don’t ever want to go back to where I was, but I’m not sure how to go forward either. It seems that I’m stuck between worlds, sometimes… not fitting in with groups that are talking about the latest movies, fads, and music, yet not having any desire to go back to the group that I’ve left. And not fitting anywhere else either.

I’m not angry, and I refuse to be angry, at a group at large. Individuals, yes, and even churches that allow abuse. But not an organization as a whole. It seems like a lot fo people go hunting a battle to fight. Enough battles have found me; I don’t need to go looking for any.

There are some good people in UPC and Oneness churches. There are some good teachings. There are also some bad people that manipulate others and encourage the kinds of preaching and teaching that hurt others. But the ones who hurt me repeatedly labelled me as “one of those kind” and I will not do the same to them, as a whole. It’s hard not to, sometimes. But I never want to become like the ones I left because of. I don’t want to repay hurt for hurt or wound for wound. I don’t want to retaliate, I want to heal.

Most people who read that won’t really understand what I’m saying. But I’m glad for those who do. I get tired of hearing negative talk about others. That kind of talk wears me down, it wears me out. But there are so much better things to talk about and to experience.

I have good memories of the last 20 years. They weren’t wasted years; they were learning years. I don’t want them back, but I won’t throw them away, either.

So sometimes I feel like I’m in limbo… and I ask, ‘Where do I go from here?’

Someone from my former church called me tonight. She started asking how I was and where I was going to church and what I would do in the future. The answer is simply, “I don’t know.” Not back. Not back to the UPC or any Pentecostal church. But at the same time, I’m not sure where, yet. At work, I’ve jokingly told employees that the company doesn’t state all the job requirements up front… and then asked if they have a crystal ball and a 28 hour day. Sometimes I need those things, myself. God is the only one Who knows the future. I don’t know where I go from here… just that I’m going forward.

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I have heard way too many times that basically God just dumps trials and tests on us as Christians, because “he that the Lord loveth he chasteneth,” and “the trying of our faith worketh patience.”

God is NOT responsible for people’s lies, gossip, spite, malice, and so forth. God is NOT the author of confusion. So He doesn’t tell people to do those things to us, nor does He decide to “put us through” those types of “trials”. When people backbite, gossip, slander, or abuse people, those aren’t trials God has put on us. That isn’t God testing us, that’s people sinning against us! I don’t care who does them. It can be the pastor’s pet, his family, or him, it can be someone who talks in tongues daily or hourly, but when they do those things, it’s still not of God. It’s still sin.

It seems like the last few years people in churches I’ve been to have stopped blaming the devil and started blaming God for all the hurt they cause others. When will they ever take responsibility for their actions?

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