Influence on Wheels

I have written before about the importance of conversations with children.  Moms or dads who do the school run each day have prime time with their kids if they recognize it.

I have been the primary school driver, and there are many great memories (and some not so great) of conversations that have taken place in my van through the years. I mention the not-so-great ones, as conversations with kids are not always all sweetness and light. The teen years come to mind. In any event, if you’re listening, you can hear what’s going on in the minds of your kids.

Emily, our youngest, begins talking before she’s even fully in the door of the car at pick up.  She is full of information about her day. She opens her lunch box to retrieve whatever leftovers she can find to assuage her after-school hunger and she then begins to update me on the state of the Third Grade.

Who played with whom at recess, what books she chose on library day, the song they are singing in music class (would you like to hear it, Mom?), those are just a few of the items she shares while munching a half eaten cookie or carrot from lunch.

But if I listen well to what she is saying, I can pick up on some important things. This morning Em shared with me that the teacher has a poster on the wall of the classroom. “It says ‘Do All Things in Love.’ And then, Mom, it listed things you can do to show love.” The teacher who placed that poster up on the bulletin board may not realize it, but  her classroom decoration had an influence on our daughter. It gave us fodder for conversation as we drove down the road on the way to school this morning.

“There was a girl that nobody was playing with,” Em announced the other day. “I went to talk to her.”  Another conversation started that reinforced the right thing that Emily did. “Someday, that might be you without anyone to play with,” I added. Em nodded. She gets it.

Our culture is tremendously noisy.  Media of all kinds can pervade our lives. I have  antipathy for radio noise running in the background in the car or at home. My mom never had radios or TV’s blaring night and day. In fact, it was rarely on at all.  I feel the same way about it. Not only does it clutter up your mind and thinking (I’m not good at shutting it out), but it robs you of conversation time with your children, particularly as you travel.

Each moment with kids is precious, because it is fleeting. I have two kids in their 30’s now, and one nearly 30! Two are already 21. Childhood is a terribly brief time. Children’s character is formed through everyday conversation where values are inculcated, and hopefully, reinforced by what they see at home. Someone is influencing your child’s character and view of the world. Is it you?

Children are hard-wired to sort out what they learn about the world from their parents. We can help them through the increasingly ugly culture they are growing up in by seizing each opportunity we are given  to underscore truth, in love, in their minds. These truths serve as an anchor for their thinking–bedrock upon which to build their lives. Two apt metaphors.

This is also a reason to seek wisdom from God – the source of ALL wisdom and truth–as we attempt to guide our children. These times are perplexing and treacherous. Lives can be so easily shipwrecked with the lying siren song of the world playing in our children’s ears, forever drawing them to the dangerous rocks.

It’s our job as Christian parents to continually point to the beacon of light that will guide our children through this life. God’s Word is the piercing beam of light that will warn of the jagged rocks that endanger them. It cuts through the fog and darkness like a laser.  “Danger here! Watch out! Go this way instead!”

With a new school year upon us, I intend to make the most of our travel chats. Whether listening or speaking, it’s a daily opportunity not to be missed!

 

 

It Wouldn’t Sell Today

I came across this prayer book my husband Tom’s parents gave him at Confirmation many years ago. Tom had underlined several of the lines in the prayers in key places. These are the old ways, the simple, non-flashy truths of Christianity. These kinds of prayer books wouldn’t sell well today.  Publishers know  the evangelical  public isn’t looking for this kind of thing. But the state of churches and what passes for Christianity in general is a sad reflection of that.

Real Ministry – A Second Look

I have written much in the last few years about our skewed sense of what comprises “ministry” in the evangelical and fundamentalist world.  The results of this warped view of ministry are all around us.

People praise the “sacrifice” of ministry leaders, many of which are in leadership for their own purposes. Raw ambition resulting in workaholism and often cloaked in robes of “serving the Lord” has done much damage to families and to faith. In many cases, real “sacrifice” for these “full time ministry” people would mean turning the lights off and going home to their families and neighbors, not acquiring bigger and better tools to “serve the Lord.”

Also, people praise and follow “discernment” and “worldview” leaders “serving the Lord” in “full time ministry” (yes, a lot of quote marks and for good reason.) Many of these same individuals live  dysfunctional and unhealthy lives behind the scenes of their “full time service.” One of my online colleagues committed suicide in the midst of his obsession with  “warning about deception.” The idea that he should shut down his writing online and deal with his personal demons was a bridge too far. In the end, he chose to take his own life instead, leaving confusion and despair in his wake. So much for the power of Christ he had been promoting.  This had a big impact on me.

In the years I spent growing up in evangelicalism, there was a distinctly superior view of those in “full time Christian service”, as opposed to those who worked a secular job and came home to their families.  Missionaries who dragged their children through years of deputation (raising enough money to go to a far flung place) were viewed as higher level Christians than those going to their job of selling insurance or cars or what have you and raising their children at home. The tragedies (sexual abuse making big headlines in recent years)  in the lives of some missionary children left in MK boarding schools while Mom and Dad won the naives to Jesus is a prime illustration of wrong priorities. If you make a family, it’s your job to take care of those children, people. Really, it is.  If you don’t want to, stay single.  Families come with responsibility.

I am not opposed to those who work full time in some form of Christian service. But I believe  we are long, long overdue for a return to the doctrine of vocation. Luther and the Reformation presented a far different view than the medieval Roman church that emphasized the clergy/laity distinction. The  life of the full time “religious” was viewed as far superior to those just raising a family. Just raising a family. Think about that.

The view that true ministry is most often found in day to day life is something I have come to resoundingly support. I have personally seen the fallout from  a distorted view of ministry, particularly when families are neglected or misused in the process of purportedly serving God.

We need a return to this understanding that the unseen, quiet service to others is perhaps even more a form of ministry than standing on corners with bullhorns  or hosting your own religious  talk show, or holding conferences, endlessly talking about deception and false teachers.  There is a place for sincere concern, but even recent harm of other Christians online and on the airwaves serves as a stark reminder of how we need a return to humble service of others as our primary service to God—service in our homes to our own families, to our neighbors,  and anyone God brings on our path in the course of a day.

This excellent words by T. Austin-Sparks (one of my favorites lately) points this out. It was written a long time ago (Sparks died in 1971) , but his writing has the sweetness of truth in it.

I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee…(Revelation 2:19-20)

Oh, that we should get some better idea of what the service of the Lord is than that it is platforms and pulpits and open-air meetings. Beloved, service for the Lord is just as important when it is rendering some kindly act of helpful service to some rather depressed child of God in the ordinary domestic things of daily life; just as valuable as getting on the platform and giving a message. You see it is strengthening the hands of the Lord’s children, it is coming in to check the crushing overweight of the adversary, coming alongside to lift up the testimony in some life or home where the enemy is trying to crush the testimony out – and the testimony is something maintained in domestic relationships, in family life, private life. There are too many who want to give up their domestic service and go to Bible College, failing to recognize that that service there may be just as valuable to the Lord as their going out to the mission field. It is spiritual, not technical, not organized, and you may be as much a priest of the Lord in going round to some home tomorrow where the enemy is pressing in, and giving a practical hand in helping with the washing, as you may be a priest in standing on the platform….

There are many priests of God whose voices have never been heard in public, who have never been seen in a public way, who are unknown, hidden very often in the assembly and yet in secret history fulfilling a most valuable ministry. Get adjusted over this thing. We have to come to the point where we deliberately decide as to whether the Lord is worthy of this, and abandon ourselves to it because of our appreciation of Him, the Master. You see, this servant abandons himself freely, voluntarily, for all time to the service of his master because he has come to love his master.

By T. Austin-Sparks from: The Servant and Service of the Lord

 

 

Two in the Shadows

The summer is waning. The light is different now on sunny days here in Southeastern Wisconsin Wisconsin. It has the feel of September, even if it’s still August.  The air has been cool and crisp. Absolutely lovely.

After dinner,, Tom and I  have gotten in the pattern this summer of taking walks. Our youngest, Emily, rides ahead on her scooter or bike, and we talk a bit while we stroll the neighborhood. The walks aren’t always long.   We have a short route and a longer route we take when so inclined.

I see us in our lengthening shadows, the two of us. I like holding Tom’s hand.  It’s a feeling of being safe and loved.  I tell Tom what’s going on in my world, and he tells me what’s on his mind. I save up small tidbits from the day to tell him about when he gets home. Nothing usually big, but something I know he’ll appreciate.  We don’t usually talk about anything political. Things are so vile in our country that it pollutes our time together to even discuss it.

Our home has a small porch.   We’ve made good use of it since moving here. It’s big enough for a couple of chairs, and we sit and watch the world go by after our walks.  The scene is peaceful. We don’t always need to chat. Companionable silence is a beautiful thing where we can hear the wind chimes in the Magnolia tree and watch the birds.

Soon the leaves will be turning colors, and the air will have a nip in it. I will miss our times on the porch. We recently replaced our love seat at home with a new one. It is exceedingly comfortable. When evenings “draw in” as they used to say, we will sit there for our chats with a log on the fire. The weather changes, but the need to reconnect  at the end of the day does not.

I can’t stand TV or even DVD movies. Tom and I have never been able to connect over that. My hearing troubles long ago shut down that kind of thing, even with good hearing aids.  Articulation gets lost. One thing this does is give us time to just talk and be together without the intrusion of media.  No distraction.

I know that marriage counselors have various strategies for couples  who have relationship troubles.   Many lose that feeling of connectedness with the various pressures exerted on families today, and they don’t even realize it is happening. Tom and I have raised (almost) six children together, and have been through many a difficult season in our lives Some years, it  has felt like it was raining crises. But one thing I highly recommend is just sitting and talking. Listening and being listened to in kindness.  Our loved ones all face battles, external and internal. Every one of us does. A lot of therapists would be put out of business if couples could learn the value of talking and listening, without judgment or impatience. It has a healing effect like  no other.

The country and world increasingly look like a violent insane asylum. Whatever comes, I know that those evening walks with Tom will always be embedded in my heart. Feeling his warm hand holding mine, seeing our shadows together, watching our little girl, her legs growing longer all the time, riding ahead on her scooter.

These times can’t be recovered. We pass this way, we spend each day only once. Every hour is precious.  Every walk.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Walk Away

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD.  ~ Jeremiah 2:31

Just walk away
Just say goodbye
Don’t turn around now you may see me cry
I mustn’t fall apart
Or show my broken heart…

~ Just Walk Away, Celine Dion

Sheep – Christians – are being scattered everywhere in our times. It doesn’t matter the stripe or label of church calling itself by the name “Christian.”  The steps and front walk of many of these places are covered with the invisible footprints  and tears of those departing, never to come back.

It doesn’t matter whether the “pastor” or “shepherd” of the flock wears cargo shorts and a Sponge Bob t-shirt or elaborate vestments with gold thread. The effect is the same. It doesn’t matter whether the musicians perform rap, funk and groove, Getty songs or  sacred works by Bach and Palestrina.  Too many are heading for the exits.

The sheep are being scattered any number of ways. Whether it’s  a superfluity of gaggatory self-help sermons (what is the point?), political rants of one kind or another, blatant apostasy, legalism of one brand or another, pride-filled intellectualism or doctrinal strip-tease (Hey, get a load of this, baby, look how much of so and so I can quote from memory!), or, underlying all of the above, a total absence of Christian love and concern. In any event,  the sheep are getting scattered to the four winds.

No church could possibly be perfect. That would end the moment we walk in. But, I suppose it isn’t too much to ask that people actually care about one another, not too unreasonable to think that a stranger in the midst should be embraced rather than shunned for any meaningful interaction. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that someone staunch the bleeding on a fellow sheep when it’s been made apparent. Normally, shepherds would be concerned at the sight of an injury, or at least would assign an assistant to cleanse the wound and patch it up. Normally.

The exodus.  Scattered, sad sheep headed down the drive without an earthly shepherd to visit a hospital bed, to stop by a home where there is clearly suffering or spiritual crisis. Traveling to a symposium or conference? Not a problem for these faux shepherds.  Traveling anywhere that asks for their vast knowledge?  Not too much. Traveling to a troubled household where there is pain? No. I’ve seen it firsthand. I’ve lived it.  Scatterers. They don’t care.

These days, the comfort comes to the scattered sheep where they can huddle together for warmth and encouragement The Scatterer Shepherds make themselves irrelevant. Needs get met in other ways.  They have to be. Broken sheep to broken sheep. That’s where most of it takes place.  Most Scatterers don’t even notice the departing. They are on to their next project. Doubling down in their spiritual malpractice–complacent, prideful and wicked, every one of them.

Woe is a strong word. In the original language, it was meant to be a curse. Woe to those who scatter the sheep of my flock, says the Lord. That’s how seriously God takes the scatterers.

This post is to remember the scattered sheep. The ones who once were hopeful that they had found a real shepherd, only to be disappointed. Again. The ones who limp away in the night, and nobody cares or even notices they are gone.

 At the end of the drive
Don’t look back.
There was nothing there to keep you,
No love to call you back.
Not a single person, not a single sad heart
will notice you are gone.
Don’t even bother to cry.
They are not worth a single tear.
Walk away. Just walk away.

Ghosting In the Machine

This post has nothing to do with Gilbert Ryle, or Arthur Koestler, or the English rock band, The Police. It has to do with something that goes on among Christians far too often within the “machine” we call the “church.”

Benjamin Corey at Patheos has an excellent piece on the practice of Christian “ghosting.” The term refers to  the act of cutting people out of your life overnight without a second glance behind you. If you’ve been “ghosted”, you cease to exist to those involved.

Corey’s article describes how this happened to him in his church fellowship and what the fallout was for him and his family. Once you are labeled, those who disagree with you on any number of issues can then discard you with ease. In many churches, there is no concept of co-existing with those who have divergent views. I’m not talking about views on cardinal doctrine, I am talking about things like gun ownership, length of hair on either gender, clothing choices, types of music listened to, education or vaccines—that sort of thing. Oh, and people will ghost you on secondary or tertiary doctrinal issues as well, like age at baptism, Christian “Sabbath” keeping, election and predestination, etc. etc.

I spoke once, this was about 12 years ago, to a family in the UK. They had helped to found a church in North America that became very large. Their family suffered a terrible wrong at the hands of one of the church members. Because the victimizer was a family member of an elder, the wagons were circled, the perpetrator was protected, and the church family, of one accord, turned on the victim with blame. Both parents took turns on the phone describing the horror of going from church founders,  beloved members of a church community, to pariahs. To be seen at a local mall and to have backs turned on you, people who once supposedly loved and cared for you is devastating. The couple and their family ended up leaving to return to their home in the UK.  It was a multi-layered tragedy., the fallout of which continued through the years in their family.

Lack of love and respect for others within what calls itself Christianity is a recurring theme at this blog. Daily, I am reminded of the damage done when sinful conduct towards others not only goes on, but is even passed off as piety. “We separated from the terrible compromisers!” Or, “We removed the leaven from among us!”  Actually, you attempted to cover the stench of your spiritual rot with the more powerful stench of your sanctimony.  But don’t let that get in the way of your act, ghosters.

The absence of a conscience on these matters is the hallmark of our times.  I often ask myself if those who have “ghosted” our family ever have a thought in the night of what they did.  Do they ever lie awake and feel an ounce of shame? What excuses do they tell themselves to justify what they did when we had done nothing to them? I can say with confidence that they don’t think of it.  If you have love, it compels you to right wrongs. If you fear the Lord in the right way, you can’t leave things unsettled for years on end. Shame, the right kind of shame you feel when you’ve done something bad to someone else, has to kick in at some point, and it makes you yearn for things to be right. That’s if you have a conscience.

It’s odd how the verse in Scripture about the loss of natural affection in the Last Days is frequently used by fundamentalist Christians  to describe things like aborting or otherwise abusing a child, a parent against child, a child against parent. We see this all over the headlines. But the most blatant loss of natural affection for each other as believers is ignored. That’s also a sign of the perilous times the Scriptures speak of.  No shame in treating your fellow Christians badly. No conscience on things that matter most—being right with other people around you.

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again.  The moaning about the exodus of young adults from evangelical and fundamental churches misses the most obvious cause for the departure. The forms of religion continue – but the power of God is gone. Where God’s power is, there is forgiveness. There is love for each other that is not easily wiped out. There is the right kind of tolerance–tolerance that allows the Holy Spirit to do the work in the lives of others,  tolerance that accepts differences of opinion, that doesn’t sit back and judge the motives and tastes of fellow Christians as though we alone have it right on every single issue.

You can mark it down. Wherever there is humility and reconciliation, that is where the Lord is present. Most churches today, I don’t care what stripe or label they claim, are operating by the power of the flesh. That includes many churches that thunder against the moral issues in the world while ignoring the weightier matters of cannibalism within their own ranks. That is why the landscape spiritually is so bleak. Hearts softened by the living Lord are moved to forgive.  They are moved with genuine concern, not about church growth—but about the well being of people.  That’s where healing is. That’s where joy is. And that’s the kind of living Christianity that will attract rather than repel.

The Hope Blog is Ten Years Old

It was  ten years ago today (July 15, 2007) that I began this personal blog on WordPress.  Within two hours, I had 4,000 unique visitors. I was publishing a busy news and comment blog as a part of the issues program I produced and co-hosted,  and when it crashed unexpectedly due to a technical problem, the ensuing silence of several days allowed me to put together  the personal blog I had long wanted.

My primary site was down, but a co-blogger in that field told readers what had happened to my site and directed them to the brand new Hope Blog. That’s why things were so busy that first day.

Looking back in your life, have you changed much in ten years? Is it good change or not so good change?  I reflect today on  the good changes and lessons learned over the last decade. It’s also interesting to look at ways we have stayed the same. In certain ways, i have stayed the same.

How have I changed? Here are a few ways.

I am  far less trusting of people than I was ten years ago. Like the saying goes, I never trust words, sometimes question actions , but I never doubt patterns.  Not anymore. I am wiser about people. I’ve learned to listen to my instincts  far more than I used to.

I have changed in that I have witnessed, firsthand, God’s providence in caring for our family.  Tom and I have lived this, especially over the last six years since our lives were turned upside down. We went from theory to seeing first hand the miracles God did to provide all our needs, something He continues to do. We were also blessed by the love of those God used to provide for us when we were without employment, overnight, with a family to care for and a mortgage to pay.

I have changed in that I no longer have any interest in much of what passes for “discernment” ministry.  So much I could say here, but I think my first point on my list pretty well covers it.  I think one of my adult sons summed it up well when he said, “Any ministry that is based only on pointing out the error of others is, by nature, imbalanced and unhealthy.” My son was absolutely right, and this is the world that I operated in for so very long.  It’s not opposing error that is wrong. But when that’s 90 percent of what you do, you have a mentally and spiritually unhealthy situation.

I care far less about the opinions of others than I did ten years ago.  Due to the many different denominations, viewpoints, agendas. I was constantly in contact with through Christian talk radio, I felt I had to please everyone, sometimes leading to ludicrous situations.  Twenty-three years of trying to please everyone. Too often, I never pleased anybody, and my in box would overflow with outraged listeners telling me where I had gone wrong. I even had more than one show up at the studios to “rebuke” me for promoting this cause or guest or author. It was madness.

It’s only now, years later, that I am able to say, without embarrassment, this is who I am. If you disagree, that is certainly your right to do so, but I am not changing to please you. I love God, I want to be the woman  that God made me to be, not a clone of somebody else. That may displease some people who watch from afar, but I won’t lose a wink of sleep over it. I feel a freedom that I never used to have before. By losing pretty much everybody from our former lives ,  God was able to give me something far better. The people now in our lives are those we choose to spend time with, not opportunists, users, pharisees and ministry idolaters who will leave tread marks from their “ministry” bus all over your face when you’re no longer useful. We have the dearest neighbors. Unlike those we used to work with, they love us, and we have had numerous chances to show love right back. Emily is the family ambassador, smiling and waving at all who walk or drive by.

I have stayed the same in ways. Tom and I just celebrated 22 years of marriage.  In his quiet way, he has done more to strengthen my faith in the Lord through tough  times than a lot of those thundering about this or that from pulpits or microphones.  Tom lives what he believes every single day, and his family, co-workers  and neighbors have  seen it. I love him even more than the day we married.

My faith in the Lord is not only still there, it has been strengthened. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever. Great is the Lord’s faithfulness, the one who lifts up our heads in the midst of incredible sadness. I will not join the many who spew blasphemy and curses because they were targeted by someone for abuse. Those engaging in evil will answer for it at the Court of No Appeal.  We may have been targets, but we don’t have to be victims. Love really is greater than hate. Nothing can grow in the soil of hate.  But when love is the soil, what beauty can grow from it!

It’s expensive to maintain files of ten years. I’m paying annually for extra space needed on WordPress. I may drop the blog  archives and retool the site at some point in the near future. There is much more I could improve on this site. But I’m not interested in “growing my brand.”  I have no brand. I just have this site to share my thoughts  and talk about my Savior and my family. Thank you for stopping by. and for the encouragement you send. Even if a handful read what I share, you are worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Churches “Gray Out”

Some people have an unusually sharp sense of when something in an atmosphere is wrong. I mean seriously wrong. I’m not talking about some psychic ability, I am talking about an emotional radar that picks up on currents and undercurrents more quickly than many others do. When I was a child, my mom used to say that there was no fooling me when it came to these things. It was an ability to sense things going on that were not immediately obvious to others.

Years later, I’ve done a lot of reading about Empaths, those with an emotional radar on high alert. Empaths tend to absorb the emotional atmosphere of a group of people, a place very quickly. It can be helpful in life, but it can also be exhausting when things are troubled.

There is much more to this personality type, but this is one aspect of it.  I think it applies also to sensitivity to the spiritual atmosphere in places, as well.  It’s called discernment.  I will give one example.  Thirty-odd years ago, as a teen, I was attending a church with my family. It was a small church that was a split of a split. The church was reportedly going through some turmoil, but it went over my head as far as what the problem was exactly.

I hated the place. I hated being there, and I couldn’t say why. One of the unhappy church people was in charge of “children’s church” that ran during service time for the kids. I was roped into playing the old upright piano for the handful of kids she was leading. Eager to please, I was shocked to see the music she set before me just as the singing was to begin. Not being a very solid sight reader, I stumbled and hit several wrong notes. I was unprepared for the music she was using and had not had a chance to practice.

The sour look on the leader’s sharp face pretty much let me know that I had been an epic disappointment. It makes me laugh now, but at the time, I felt terrible. Lacking a great deal in confidence, I was apparently  a total failure as Children’s Church pianist.

I slunk off home that day, vowing to never ever again make such  a fool of myself and upset a church lady, especially that church lady who clearly disliked me. A few days later, one of my parents informed me that she had been most displeased with my performance and they had been informed that I was not needed in the future. My parents were disgusted with the church lady as well. I was relieved that my brief career as Children’s Church pianist was over.

Things worsened at the church, and every time I sat through the service, I had the uncanny sense that I had left a world of color.  This sounds strange, and it was strange. Over the years since then, I have called it “graying out.”  In these situations, it’s as though my eyes see things in gray and white, not in living color anymore.

I started resisting going, and various complaints kept me home altogether. My parents didn’t seem to mind. I developed a strange revulsion for the place. Then came word of something bizarre going on at the church. The pastor confided that strange things were occurring in the building. The piano in the sanctuary late one night began to play by itself., he said. In the dark. He believed it was some occult phenomenon due to the ugliness going on among the handful of church people, one of which was an angry pianist.  He claimed that strange chanting had been heard under his office windows. The pastor had been a missionary in South America prior to pastoring in the US. He was a devout Christian trying to hold the church together. He said things were dark spiritually at this church.  He resigned soon after, and he and and his family left the state. The church folded soon after that. Mercifully.

This “graying out” in the atmosphere I have experienced many times since.  I believe that God uses this sense as a warning about unhealthy places. It’s not something I disregard anymore.

As Christians, we are taught to believe the best in a situation, have patience, and to not hastily judge a person or circumstance. All of this is true, but when there is clearly the sense that something is wrong, it is worth stepping back and carefully evaluating a relationship or situation to decide what it is that we are sensing. The times I have ignored this have been serious mistakes.

When a room  or when a church “grays out” and the color and vibrancy is gone, something vital is missing. Life in the truest sense is being suppressed and repressed by something. Maybe it’s pride, maybe it’s un-forgiveness and grudge holding. maybe it’s a powerful spirit of control that robs the atmosphere of color and oxygen.  Where the Lord truly is, there is a spirit of liberty, not control. Where love is, pride can’t rule and reign. Where forgiveness is, there is vibrant life and every color imaginable. There’s joy. No “graying out.”

A lot of churches in America are “graying out.” The forms remain, but the God that is being claimed has long ago left the premises. Those exceptional churches where humility and Christ-likeness reign are few and far between. Never take that for granted if you have one.  The love of Christ is life-giving. People grow in healthy ways. There is a freedom and respect for boundaries, and an atmosphere of hope. What a difference the Lord’s presence makes. All gray is gone, and the spirit of heaviness disappears like dew in the morning sun.

The ‘Can’t Talk’ Rule – Red Flags in Abusive Churches

At a time when spiritual abuse in churches is epidemic, being able to spot it when it occurs is crucial. I’ve written a number of posts on this topic, and time and again, I am reminded of why understanding how abusive church leaders operate is important. Abusive leaders all tend to operate with the same play book. The difference between a secular abusive environment and one that is religious is that abusers in high places of a church have some extra tools in their control toolbox to bludgeon those under them into submission. Throughout history, on a grand scale or on a small scale, you can see how corrupt religious leaders make full use of speaking for God in order to consolidate and wield their power. It’s how they roll.

One of the hallmarks of this kind of corruption in churches is the application of the “Can’t Talk Rule.” This rule is best explained by authors David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen in their book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. (See image below.)

That book is just one of the many that spells out, in clearest terms, how these pastors and church boards operate. They fear exposure. More than anything else, these corrupt, prideful leaders fear having the harm they do to others laid bare to the public. The only recourse they see, like so many before them, is to try to crush talk. Spiritual manipulation of a congregation is easy enough. Call it gossip. Call it sin. Rebuke those who speak up for innocent people run off from the church and characterize the cries of those being injured as also being gossip and malicious undermining of church “authority.” It’s all so very easy to do.

Meanwhile, those members who value friendship, history and comfort over what is right and true smugly inform those who are deeply troubled over spiritual leadership that is biblically off the rails that they choose not to get involved. These are the abuse enablers who contribute to the destruction of reputations, faith and families.

The good news is that when a church engages in this conduct – a sign of desperation – they cannot succeed in their growth plans for very long. If churches looked to the political scene alone, they would see that corruption always becomes public eventually. Rot on the inside of any leadership always makes its way outward. It’s only a matter of time. Tick Tock. Those pastors and leaders who behave like crime families should not expect anything but a revolving door of members and staff. Anyone with an ounce of discernment should hit the road when they see this happening. There’s always a reason for it.

Abuser-Enabling Pastors: A Vital Question

This post from Crying Out for Justice is spot on. A warm thank you to Jeff Crippen for writing it. Over and over again, I have heard the stories of those affected by abuse-enabling pastors and churches. The churches themselves are abuse systems far too often. The testimony of the targets is disregarded and disbelieved in these places. The abuser is believed, backed up, enabled, and strengthened in harming.  It’s worth looking more closely at this.

The post from Crying Out for Justice asks the question, “Where are all these abuser enabling pastors coming from?” I add my own. question: “Why are secular counselors more often equipped to identify evil and provide help to those being abused than these pastors who claim to speak for the Lord?”

Yes, I believe seminaries are not adequately preparing pastors to  recognize evil when they see it, and when there are so many books that spell out, exactly, how it operates in people, there is no excuse for not knowing these things.  Evil doesn’t normally come billowing clouds of sulfur in the form of a red devil with a pitchfork and a tail. It comes beautifully, deceptively and with a tongue that can spin clever lies.

I believe something else as well. The lack of love in pastors and churches blinds them and prevents discernment from the Lord. When you have two people with two vastly different stories, how do  pastors know who is lying and manipulating in a counseling session? Wouldn’t you think that the real presence of the Holy Spirit would allow the truth to be seen? If these were men of prayer doing the counseling, wouldn’t the indwelling of the Lord in their thoughts show clearly the truth in the testimony of the abused and help them spot the smoke blown by the liar? The absence of discernment from the Lord is the hallmark of our times.

Pastors are not only enabling abuse. They sometimes are the abusive ones. As our culture spins more and more out of control, and  we see more and more churches that long ago lost their first love, if they ever had it,  there are a growing number of abusive pastors  with fawning, sycophant followers who refuse to see their malignant narcissistic leadership for what it is.

There is no denominational corner on this. These abusive and corrupt leadership structures exist in churches across the spectrum. Seeker big box monstrosities are just as likely to have an abusive pastor as a dried up little doctrinal sermon club/church. The common denominator is sin unchecked and the the ensuing absence of love that means an absence of discernment from the Lord.

No pastoral training is complete without warnings from teachers and professors about how evil operates . Knowing the enemy’s devices is absolutely essential. Without that knowledge, pastors, tragically, can end up enabling  evil and further harming those already abused, resulting in lasting damage to the faith and families in their care.