7 SIGNS OF SPIRITUAL ABUSE

Abuse is hardest to handle when you had good reason to trust those who abuse you–like parents or pastors. Jesus delivered His strongest words to the spiritual leaders of His day who were fleecing sheep instead of feeding them. Unfortunately, it is common in all kinds of churches. Check out these signs.

ELITISM.

Some church leaders don’t mix with others because they consider themselves better. Arrogance plays into abuse: “I need to do what God tells me to do.” And the cronies listen up.  “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  You don’t want to be supporting someone God is coming against. Blind and naive loyalists do.

SECRECY.

If you don’t know where the money is going, and a leader doesn’t want to tell you, leave. He has issues. The books should be open to any mature inquiry. If you don’t get answers to financial or other legitimate questions, and your opinion doesn’t count but your offering does, don’t stick around.

LACK OF TRANSPARENCY.

Vulnerability releases grace. Hiding behind a reputation releases suspicion. Don’t trust someone who doesn’t respect others enough to walk in the light. Koinonia is not possible with pastors who do not exhibit humility and honesty. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). Fellowship happens with the open and broken.

FAVORITISM.

Abusers have friends. If you are not one of them, you may need another family. This one could be sick unto death. They have their in-groups. You will be glad you’re not in it when you see signs of a sick family system that gives privilege to insiders and scoffs at outsiders.

TOP-DOWN LEADERSHIP.

Jesus taught servant leadership–from the bottom up. Abusers like the view from the top; strong on legalism, weak on grace. They expect things from others they don’t do themselves, and they are blind to their own hypocrisy. Then again, they may know they are hypocrites. But they won’t tell you.

MISSING FRUIT.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing still acts like a wolf. If you see glaring weaknesses in a spiritual leader, like harshness, anger, or sensuality, you don’t have a worthy shepherd. He needs to deal with his issues and surrender leadership. If he excuses bad habits, don’t you. He doesn’t understand grace, and he will abuse his position.

NO ACCOUNTABILITY.

Independent ministries can be training stations for lone rangers. Find out who your leader is subject to. If he says, “God,” someone should suggest he find a person with skin on. But trying to correct abusers seldom works. They don’t want your opinion. They talk about unity, but they are after uniformity. Unity requires diversity. Uniformity requires keeping your mouth shut. Plenty of healthy churches around. This doesn’t sound like one of them!

THE POWER OF UNOFFENDABLE LOVE

“Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

“ABOVE ALL.” Love is the preeminent virtue. Let’s excel in it. “HOLD UNFAILING.”  If you don’t know what to do in a situation, ask, “What would love do?” Paul already told us that “love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:8). Hey, I could succeed every time–by loving!

“YOUR LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER.” This is one of 59 “one anothers” in the Bible. Peter directs our love toward people, toward “one another.” Pretty simply–not always easy.

“SINCE LOVE COVERS A MULTITUDE OF SINS.” Peter learned how to live above offense, covering rather than correcting. Some people feel an obligation to uncover the sins of others. Peter recommends the opposite. Unoffendable people are non-judgmental, easy to live with, full of understanding. People who cover sins are full of grace rather than trying to make people feel guilty, like I sometimes did as a young man when preaching.

“He who covers over an offense promotes love…” (Proverbs 17:9). It takes the power of the Spirit to be consistently unoffendable. Solomon also wisely said, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Proverbs 10:12). One more: “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). People who need to comment on every offense are really busy getting offended. Takes a lot of time to be offended, less time to cover them.

Paul calls us to “lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). To forbear is to endure, refrain from. People who forbear keep their mouth shut. Some open theirs with every grievance. They don’t have a clue about unoffendable love.

Unoffendable Christians

.know that they need forgiveness, so they extend it to others

.show the love of Christ to those who don’t deserve it

.are champions of grace, which makes them fun to be around

.choose to look past peoples’ faults to their future

.put courage in (while others are draining it out)

.know that mercy triumphs over judgment

Jesus was full of grace and truth, but what rubbed off on people was grace: “Of his fulness we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Amazing that the Holy One of Israel saw into the depths of the human heart and yet beamed out grace and covered over offenses. Two examples: when the woman caught in adultery was about to be stoned, Jesus was declaring, “Neither do I condemn you.” The one Man who could have sent her into a Christ-less eternity lifted guilt and shame with one personal proclamation.

Another woman may have felt shame when Jesus revealed her brokenness: “You have had five husbands…” By the end of the conversation she was drinking from living water, feeling acceptance from the Prophet of Israel. Her vulnerability back in town brought the single most effective evangelistic campaign of Christ’s earthly ministry, because He chose to “cover a multitude of sins.”

Broken people expect shame when they mess up. They are surprised when grace is extended instead of judgment. It’s hardest (and best) to do with the people we know–parents, siblings, children, bosses, co-workers. What would it be like if both spouses were unoffendable?

LEARNING TO ENCOURAGE

…like Jesus. What did the resurrected Christ do when He paid a visit to the disciples, hiding behind locked doors? He could have said, “Way to desert me at my darkest hour.” Instead of a complaint a commission:  “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” They had lost their “sent,” but Jesus restored it without blasting them. He appeared personally to Peter, not to rebuke but to reinstate. It worked.

Two years before, John the Baptist was arrested for coming against Herod, and he never saw daylight again. Looking at life from a dungeon was difficult, and doubts rose to the surface. Jesus responded not by criticizing His forerunner and friend but by affirming the man who boldly led the charge: “Among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11). How kind.

When Jesus was baptized, God spoke from heaven and said, “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). It was like the proud Father could not keep silent. At the transfiguration, the Father spoke to the disciples, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). It must have been encouraging to the Son, a man, to hear these thunderous words from the sky. Enabled Him to keep encouraging others.

Christ’s encouragement to people often came during times of tension, when it was most needed. The disciples were grumbling about the woman who wasted the perfume on Jesus. He responded, “She has done a beautiful thing to me…She has anointed my body beforehand for burying. And truly, I say to you wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:6-9). Quite a remarkable statement.

Simon, a Pharisee, judged the woman under his breath who crashed the party at his home. And he judged Jesus, who should have known that she was a sinner. Jesus took up the challenge and said, “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet…Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:44-47).  Ouch! Imagine what that meant to the sinner woman!

When Martha complained to Jesus about Mary, He said, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). I hope Mary didn’t go to Martha later and said, “See, I was right.”

It must have been deeply satisfying after working hard and taking big risks to hear the boss say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). I want to encourage people like Jesus did! Don’t you?  The way you can tell if people need it is to find out if they are breathing. If they are, they need it!

 

3 PROBLEMS WITH EXPECTATIONS

 

  1.  EXPECTATIONS ARISE OUT OF STRENGTHS.

 

We expect what we are good at, what we have grace for, what God has worked in us. To place it on another person and especially our spouse, is unfair and lacks grace. It turns into a demand. It works with the merit system, not the mercy system. A true servant completes what another person lacks rather than placing unkind expectations upon him or her.

When you say that something is not fair, what you are asking for is justice. And justice operates in a legal system, not in an atmosphere of grace. You end up competing with one another rather than completing one another, the opposite of a Christ-centered marriage. We are called to lay down our lives, not to impose expectations in areas that we function well in.

  1.  EXPECTATIONS DEMONSTRATE PRIDE.

We are telling our partner to be like us, to perform the way we do. Wait a minute. Don’t opposites attract? Don’t we want someone who is different, who comes to the marriage with strengths that we lack, so we can serve one another, so the other person’s weaknesses can be accommodated because we have the appropriate strengths? But to expect our partner to be like us, to perform as we do–hey, are you sure you want to be married? (Crazy–found myself doing it early in our marriage).

Wouldn’t you rather be the answer to your spouse’s dream than create a nightmare? What does your spouse long for? Does he or she have a dream yet to be fulfilled? What if your strengths were able to facilitate that dream coming true? You would be loved the rest of your life for your kindness. If, on the other hand, your expectation turns into a demand, you are killing the dream– and maybe the marriage. Good luck!

  1.  EXPECTATIONS SEE THE RELATIONSHIP THROUGH SELFISH EYES.

It’s all about you, not the team. You become a victim, not a victor. You can only talk about what you need, what you want, what you deserve (whoa! That is a word for people under the law).

A legal system will deteriorate quickly, because it removes service from the relationship and inserts the law–this is what you must do for me. This is what I need from you. This is how you can make me happy. Can you hear how self-centered that is? Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…” not enjoy himself, coddle himself, or serve himself. Demand is at the opposite end of discipleship. It does not belong in a marriage. That is why I say, “Write down all your expectations, then throw them away.”

Turn civil rights into civil responsibilities. And his or her responsibilities do NOT become your rights. We don’t meet at the table of negotiation and say, “I’ll do this if you will do that.” We simply agree to go the way of the cross. And if our partner is struggling at some point to go that way, we choose to serve even more, to take up our cross rather than demanding that he or she takes up his or hers. It is the Christlike way. And it makes the marriage a romance, like the Romance of the Ages! Grace instead of law, mercy instead of merit!

3 TRUTHS FROM THE CARPENTER ANTS

I googled it. We had them in our kitchen–lots of them! Put out little bottle-cap mixtures of powdered sugar and boric acid. They are attracted to the sugar and contaminated by the acid. They carry it back to their village under the house. If we only kill the thirty that scurried to the darkness when I lifted the cutting board, we haven’t dealt with the other five hundred who are reproducing more ants. What they don’t know is that they spread the poison that eliminates the tribe.

So I told Joe, whom I mentor, about the ants. In his closing prayer he said, “Father, keep us from being lured by sugar and getting poisoned by a plan of the enemy, and not only endangering ourselves but those we connect with.” Amen, Joe!

My friend’s perceptive prayer revealed three lessons:

1. Satan operates through deception. He doesn’t tell us what he is doing. He hopes to trick us as I was tricking the ants. What he doesn’t want us to realize is that “the wages of sin is death”–every time. There are not some sins that are safe; sin is dangerous. Period. The father who wonders why his Christian daughter ran away from home with a creep was deceived into thinking that he was needed more at work in the evenings than eating and having fun with his family. The sin of neglect planted seeds of destruction that  shredded his family. Satan won.

2. Sin is pleasurable–for a moment.  Moses wisely chose “abuse with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25). This Scripture says two things about sin: a) It is pleasurable, and b) the pleasure does not last. It “fleets.” Moses could have had his choice of any princess at the palace. He was the adopted grandson of the richest king in the world. He didn’t fall for the trap. It would have eliminated him from being one of the most powerful and influential people to ever walk the planet. The ability to entice the ants leads to their demise. Way to resist, Moses!

3. Winning means warring. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood,” but we wrestle. We put up a fight, and though it is not physical, it can be an all-out war. The minefield is the mind. The stronger we say “yes” to the love of God with consistency, the more convincing will be our “no” against the onslaught of the enemy, which often looks like immediate pleasure. Moses was given the lure, but he was able to say a convincing “no.” What a winner!

The plan worked. The carpenter ants are mostly gone. Yay! Dear young adult, dear retired man: do not let the strong attraction of sin take you out–and maybe others with you. Fight the fight of faith. Short-term pain means long-term gain. It was true for Moses–and it is true for you! A young Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose!”

THE TOUGHEST COMMAND IN THE BIBLE

You choose the one you think is hardest to obey.

“Be holy in all your conduct” (I Peter 1:15). He expands it by saying, “since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (16, quoted from Leviticus 11:44). In other words, “Be like God.” Okay, I’ll give it my best shot.

“Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). Anything?  I get tripped up, and before I even realize it, I am worrying. I learned it early in life. So did you. We did it five thousand times by the time we were ten. How do I unlearn what is so much a part of my life? I know how to worry without even thinking.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:1). I could handle, “Rejoice in the Lord sometimes.” “Always” takes it to the unattainable. Not always sure I want to rejoice always. Don’t I need a little time once in a while to be grouchy? “Always” is totally unreasonable. (Maybe that’s why it’s in the Book).

“Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). Right! I can imitate my father, who was a gentle man. I can imitate my mother who was always gracious to people. But to imitate the Creator, that’s a tough one. He is kind to people who curse in His face. He waters their garden and shines the sun on their backyard party.

Did I omit one of your favorite impossibilities? How about, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Really? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Yeah, right! The opposite of our natural inclination. Here’s a tough one: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Try that out for a day.  Or “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14). Waiting is easy–when we want to.

Here’s the point:  Every command is impossible. Would God command us to do something that we don’t need Him to accomplish? Then He would be teaching us independence rather than submission. James said powerfully, “Submit to God.” The only way we can keep His commands is by submitting ourselves to Him and relying on the strength of the Spirit within. They cannot happen apart from the powerful working of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The Christian life is a supernatural life. It is simply not doable in the natural. No other religion incorporates grace. They are all “do it yourself” religions. Christianity demands the divine. Sad that sometimes people get the idea that we are supposed to pull this off by will power. How frustrating can you get! It’s laughable; go ahead–be like God. These commands run absolutely opposite our human inclination. But our good God reproduces Himself in us, enabling us to obey and do the impossible. Call it grace–from start to finish!

7 WAYS TO RAISE CHAMPIONS

Karen and I thank God that our children love the Lord, love us, love each other, and love themselves. We see them raising children and doing a better job than we did. We also thank the community of faith that certainly helped raise our kids. Others got through to them when we couldn’t. Karen and I recently reflected on some of things we did to shape our children. Here goes:

WE ATE DINNER TOGETHER.

We worked hard to make it fun and interesting. I often came with questions that we would discuss, like “What was your funnest vacation?” “What has been your most difficult life test?” Talking sometimes lasted longer than the meal.

WE WORSHIPED TOGETHER.

Both of us learned from parents that bringing the family together for prayer and scripture was a non-negotiable. I don’t remember them resisting it, because we tried to make it interesting. Sometimes we succeeded. They learned to pray early and are now teaching their kids.

SUNDAY WAS A NON-NEGOTIABLE.

I learned that as a boy when I skipped church–once! Never again.

DISCIPLINE HAD A PURPOSE BEYOND PUNISHMENT.

We knew that God’s correction didn’t feel good, but it communicated love. We tried to do the same. Hey, it worked–usually.

WE TOLD THEM THEY WERE SERVANTS,

not rock-stars. Servants work hard. They concentrate on their responsibilities, not their rights. I told them to do the dishes at their friend’s house. I modeled it for them when we stayed at someone’s home. They knew we would be cleaning the garage or working in the yard. When they said that they worked harder than the kids down the street, I asked them if they knew why. They answered, “No.” I responded, “Because you don’t live down the street.”

WE LAUGHED A LOT.

Still do. You might hear us on the deck some evening when they are here. We love being together. They would rather be with their now extended family than with anyone else (I think). At least it looks that way to Karen and me. Some of us will be together on the North Shore in October for several days of fun, maybe three-wheeling (or snowmobiling?). They even travel together–to Greece, Ireland, California.

WE LEARNED VULNERABILITY.

Didn’t happen at first. I was a recovering Pharisee and had not discovered the joy of weakness. By the time I did, our kids were learning it as well. Andrew wrote his siblings in 2013, asking forgiveness for not being the elder brother he wanted to be. Two weeks later Gabriel wrote and asked forgiveness for goofing off too much and for giving more advice than affirmation. Vulnerability releases grace. Gabriel caught it. Wouldn’t have happened had not Andrew led the way. Then one night the kids got up from dinner to play a game. Somehow I convinced them to “talk” instead. We gathered in the family room. Here’s what I heard coming out of my mouth: “I’d like you to share with me where I have failed you as a father.” You’d think they would have waited for a few seconds. They started right in. Difficult for dad, but it turned into a two-week healing time with another meeting as a follow-up. I wish every dad could have two meetings like what we had.