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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual abuse’

I have often said that telling a story is more effective than arguing a point, and this film, Paradise Recovered, demonstrates this to be true.  It shows a young woman who believes in her church as the very voice of God.  She devoutly obeys every teaching, even looking for a part-time job so she can financially support “the work”, in addition to her position as a live-in nanny to her pastor’s family.  As the picture of perfection begins to crumble, she finds a new friendship at work that challenges her to the core.

The depiction of spiritually abusive religion in this movie represents an interesting composite of various cults as well as some mainstream Christian belief and practice.  As I have maintained here repeatedly, the cults do not have a monopoly on legalism. The injured lambs leaving the cults often find the same spiritual illnesses in evangelical churches.  How can doctrinal orthodoxy produce the same fruit as a heretical cult?  Rightly dissected doctrine by itself (whatever that is) doesn’t affect the heart.  It only creates a mind that knows it’s right.   And we all know where that leads.

Fruits of love come from abiding in the vine – a genuine spiritual experience in Jesus.  The only head-knowledge that produces the fruit of love is the mind of Christ.  Jesus didn’t write a list of doctrines, however useful we may find them.  He lived and died for love.  He spoke truth, but drew people to love God and one another as the highest aim.  Much of Christian religion attempts to wash the outside of the cup.

I found the most poignant scene at the beginning of this film.  Esther, the main character, tries to tell the pastor’s little girl a Bible story with the same felt characters I grew up with in Sabbath School.  She tells her the story of the Good Samaritan with the Law as the focus, not love.  (How we teach our children… topic for a different post).  The little girl squirms and says, “I don’t like this story.  I want to hear about baby Moses.”   How many adults have I known, and how long was I also of this opinion?  We would have never admitted it, but our lives and words professed this:  Jesus, we don’t want to hear you.  Let Moses speak to us instead.

Fear, control, performance-focused thinking,  Jesus-plus-something teaching – these all come naturally to us.  To truly believe and ingest the truth about what Jesus has done feels so unnatural.  He defies logic and we like justice that we have something to do with, not the kind that takes us out of the equation.   Freedom can be terrifying as well, as this young woman in the movie finds out.  I identified with her brief return to the confines and security of the church, even after the abusive treatment.  She said, “I miss God.”  She had not yet experienced Him apart from her church culture.  Just as an abused wife may repeatedly return to her husband because she “loves” him, she possibly has not yet known genuine love.

Someone recently commented to me that we should not worry ourselves over hypocrites in any belief system – no matter what it is.   But I find a problem deeper than hypocrisy.  In dysfunctional families, as well as churches, we find the ability to compartmentalize thinking so that opposing ideals do not touch one another and conflict.  To the greater degree we do this in our own lives, as well as in religious communities, we find various forms of insanity.  The goal of mental, spiritual, and emotional health is to integrate truth into every aspect of our hearts and minds.  That truth, is a Person.  He is Jesus.  Knowing Him, abiding in Him, and allowing Him to fill us up with Himself – isn’t the focus of legalistic Christian practice or teaching.  Instead, we become no different than the Pharisees that sought to promote themselves above the Man who would set the people free.

Some may find this movie uncomfortable in some ways, and challenging, but I hope it gives some the courage to be free, in Christ alone.

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…is why Jesus came.  He turned Mission Impossible into Mission Accomplished.  We were in chains we could not break, both of our own making, and to men’s idea of who God is, and what He wants.

So why don’t we want freedom?  Why do we find endless ways to move back under the hard service of bondage to ideas, people, and systems?  Anything which implies we have to work hard for God’s blessing has us running to buy the book, video, and see the live performance to learn more.   The cults have these principles down to a science.  But mainstream, every-day Christians deceive themselves so often into the same mindsets.  When they do, they lose the one precious truth that makes Jesus different among all other gods.  Unconditional Love based on His Grace alone.  We say we believe in Grace, then proceed to focus on what we believe WE have to do… not for our salvation of course.  No, that would be legalistic.  But obviously we can’t just rest.  We have to work.  We must keep telling ourselves and others what we need to be doing.  We have to hold up our end of the stick or there is shame, defeat, humiliation, falling out of favor with Dad and losing His approval and blessing.  We must work hard not to fail.  At what?

You name it!

….marriage, health, finances, reading the Bible every day, praying our prayer list every day, inviting five friends to church each month, making sure the stranger on the street knows he is a sinner, giving our exact tithe to the church, attending church every week, keeping a high Christian standard of appearances, charity, staying positive no matter how much grief you experience….. I’m sure you could finish out this list for me if you’ve spent any amount of time in Christian circles.  I have held high expectations of myself and others often.

One week I walked into the church we attended and received a bulletin with the morning’s message boldly printed on the front, with great graphic illustrations:  “Never Stop Working!”   My heart sank instantly.  The message  played out as I feared,  “We must strive hard to maintain this Christian life or we will surely fail. We can’t get lazy!”  I still have the church bulletin as a souvenir.  The pastor, who had asked the man to speak, shouted loud “Amens” from the back of the room.  A few months later, the speaker of this great sermon fell into extreme disgrace by his own actions.  Maybe now he knows the joy of following Jesus (as opposed to the duty), His real grace, and the power of it.  I do pray so.  But the sermon left me in shock.  Like Bono asks in a song, “How can you stand next to the truth and not see it?”  I know we all have.

My personal unfavorite is the strange idea (with its origin in mystical, metaphysical practices – future post content), that Jesus wants you to say the right faith words and think the right faith thoughts so He can bless you. Or even further, that your own words are so powerful, that you are a co-creator with God and faith is the substance that will give you sorcery-level control over your own physical realm.    This is  a hugely popular form of legalism in the church.  The formula is “right words” + “enough faith” = healing, wealth, peace and love.   This religion needs its own name.  Jesus didn’t come to be our Santa Claus, or teach us how to be our own genie in a bottle.  He asked us to follow Him, yet he said HIS burden is light.  Everything I have described above, is not a light burden at all and reveals the truth about our greatest desires.

The churches who pride themselves in rejecting false teaching such as this prosperity gospel, often require church members to enter into a covenant in order to join!  One I visited even had the members stand and read it out loud together every week.  I was so thankful to just be visiting.  I couldn’t imagine the pressure to live up to what they were speaking every week.  I speculate it leads to a great deal of striving for appearances, because no one can live up to these covenants.  Doesn’t Mt. Sinai teach us anything?  Why do we want so badly to be in bondage?  Why can’t we realize our promises always fail?  Don’t we see in the beautiful Good News of Jesus that only HE keeps a Covenant?  He is the author, and the finisher… the only real Promise.  He needs to go on TV and say, “I’m the Promiser around here!”  🙂    Then maybe we would get it.

I have a friend who was held in the bonds of an abusive marriage for many years, partly because of the belief that it was her responsibility to uphold a sacred covenant.  When she finally broke free, she was riddled with fear and guilt that God, her loving Father, would disprove and be unpleased with her escape.  Her husband and church both impressed on her the importance of the marriage covenant, even though he had tried to kill her.  She started a blog called A Covenant Broken about her healing journey, which I find incredibly enlightening.  Her experience with man-made, covenant-based thinking, reminded me so much of our journey too, and different types of abuse that take place because of it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I HATE divorce.  Broken marriages, (the love is broken or the covenant would not be) caused so much pain for me and now for my oldest daughter too.  But you can’t uphold that which is already broken.

Any spiritual teaching or practice that puts the responsibility on the human to perform, sustain, uphold, or create that which is good, is distinctly not from Christ, no matter how Christian people want to make it sound, or how much Scripture they want to pull out of context.  There are as many forms of legalism as there are churches.  I beg you, turn off the TV preacher, put down the best-selling fad book, and just read Jesus for awhile.

Jesus did not come to bind us into performance-based covenants with him or anyone else.  I can’t begin to fathom the damage done to so many people by continuing to hold on to these misconceptions.  And they sound so logical to us, especially as self-sufficient Americans who are taught we are not supposed to need any help.  Our pride depends on being able to WORK at something.  We also feel obliged to make sure everyone else knows what they should be doing also. I can gripe, because I’ve done it, and am still repenting of it!

Below is an excerpt from a book I read recently on healing from sexual abuse.  I was jumping for joy to see a Christian author speaking of real grace, because it’s when we are in the hardest valleys of our lives, that fellow Christians sometimes put the heaviest burdens on us.  We must obviously have the formula wrong, or we wouldn’t be having such a hard time right? More faith, more obedience, more prayer, more whatever..

I leave you here with her words and rejoice that Jesus keeps teaching me, there is nothing I can do.  I can only be a branch and let Him make fruit.  Jesus + nothing = everything!

Q:  Since I began working on my abuse issues I’ve had trouble in my relationship with God.  It is difficult for me to pray, read my Bible, and attend church.  I really love the Lord, but find such an emptiness in pursuing anything spiritual.  Am I doing something wrong?

A:  My heart goes out to you as I remember so well those times in my own healing journey. It often seemed that God was no where to be found and that the Word of God no longer nourished me as it once had.  Do not despair.  This too shall pass!

I have discovered in my own walks with God that there are times we go through our own wilderness experience even as many of God’s choicest vessels in Scripture did.  I am convinced that it is during these times our hearts are opened up and we are faced with ourselves.  It has been through these dark times that many of the distortions and faulty beliefs I have unknowingly held about God and myself have been exposed to the light of His truth.  I am not sure exactly why or how this happens, but I see it throughout the Scripture – in Job’s life, in David’s psalms, and in the life of King Hezekiah:  “God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know what was in his heart” (2 Chron. 32:31).  I really believe that God already knows what is in our hearts, even when we do not.  He allows these barren times to help us grapple with our motives and our deepest desries and to examine where our treasures really lie.

Many victims of abuse who go through this lack of zeal feel extremely guilty and fear impending punishment from God.  I believe God actually ordains many of these times in our lives to help us gain perspective and realize there is NOTHING we can do to gain more of God’s favor or love than what Christ already did on the cross.  He wants to free us from the performance mentality and the legalism that has ensnared so many of His children.”  (emphasis mine)
From “Door of Hope – Recognizing and Resolving the Pains of Your Past” by Jan Frank

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