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Ambition is ecclesiastical lust—Daniel Noonan

In modern day Christendom, the idea of being called to the ministry has undergone a change—at least for many. Because of this change, which at first is subtle in a person, the seeds of religious abusiveness find fertile ground.

In the early church and in the Scriptures, being called to the ministry meant a person was summoned to serve others, regardless of how those being served would respond. Because the person chosen was serving the Lord, while serving others, fulfillment came from being faithful to God without other worldly aspirations.

By the nature of the office, a minister is the servant of others, or, at least, that’s what the person is supposed to be. In this generation, however, being a servant is no longer the norm. It has flip-flopped. Now, in many instances, it is the minister who is served and not the other way around.

Because of the minister’s skill and calling, many of God’s chosen have been elevated to a class above those to whom they have been called to serve. This reversal of positions has become so entrenched that ministers have become celebrities, adored and venerated by their followers similar to public personalities. This transformation has become so accepted that few realize how far it has drifted from the original model.

Part of the problem is that the terminology hasn’t changed. Ministers still obsequiously refer to themselves as servants but, in their hearts, many are anything but. Often, their self-serving ways lead to abusiveness. When someone gets in their way, the offending person is castigated and discarded—maligned by “God’s servant.” This kind of treatment has become so routine that those who have been called to serve have been responsible for abusing millions of God’s sheep.

If you want to discern falsehood from truth by recognizing spiritual abuse, join me in this prayer:

Father,

As the years progress,

I often hear people talk

About how much they trust You,

But their pronouncements seem no deeper

Than those of a fickle lover.

Lacking tangibility and depth,

Their affirmations, which flow mellifluously

From their self-serving mouths,

Have selfish and egotistical motives

That seem devoid of worthwhile substance.

Such loyalty to You has not been forged

By adversity and weathered by hardship.

Their trust seems shallow and juvenile,

Rather than strong, resilient, and steadfast.

Believing that whining and demanding

Will gain favor rather than genuine humility,

They come before You with hearts

That are petulant and peevish, lacking gratitude.

I understand this perspective completely,

Having spent decades of my life

Coming before You in precisely

The same self-serving, self-centered way—

Never understanding, never acknowledging

That You know what is best for me.

I concede my effrontery and selfishness.

I have foolishly thought that my way

Was better than Yours, but I have been wrong.

I have wanted my way, believing that

When You have refused to grant it,

That You were distant and detached—

Unloving, uncaring, and rigid.

I was wrong about that, too.

You do know what’s best for me,

Regardless of what that might be.

After years of pursuing frivolity,

I understand the error of my ways.

I wish I had understood it sooner,

But I lacked the maturity to do so.

Now, as wisdom has settled within me,

I bow me knee and acknowledge willingly,

You give and take away;

You give and take away;

You give and take away;

Blessed be Your name.

Amen.

Jack Watts


God’s Touch Changes Everything

 

Refer to Step 10: I choose to believe God still has a purpose for my life—a purpose for good and not evil.

 

Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.

—George Sand

 

Salvation is easy. It doesn’t require a thing from either you or me, other than the acceptance of a free gift. Providing the gift is God’s part. He did it all, which is what love, mercy, and grace, are all about. That He loved you at your most unlovely moment is the essence of Christianity. It’s what makes Christianity truly unique and special.

That God was willing to reach down, touch you in your vulnerability, and lift you up is what makes having a relationship with Him so desirable. Once that happens, regardless of what anyone might tell you differently, you are a child of God’s and always will be.

At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be about. Unfortunately, people tend to forget the tenderness of their own experience, choosing instead to regiment a dynamic relationship, which can never be accomplished successfully. Through their efforts, they make Christianity hard, rigid, unyielding, and unforgiving. They try and make a deeply personal experience into something cold, austere, and systematic.

If a Christian is smug and self-righteous, legalistic and condemning, haughty and judgmental, then how attractive can that be? Not very! Most people run from anything that is so unappealing. Who can blame them?

You recognize the kind of people I’m describing, don’t you—the heartlessly religious who are never wrong about anything? Sadly, Christianity has far too many people like these. They call women, who have aborted their babies, murderers, forgetting that they, too, were no better.

The self-righteous lift up a version of Christ that is not in the New Testament—not even close, and yet these are the people most feared in churches. These are the people who are eager to share their exacting, unyielding opinions, which they expect everyone to accept. Their bitter sting keeps many from embracing God’s love, acceptance, and mercy.

That’s why being in recovery has such value. You’ve had to lean on God more completely than most. If you display love, joy, long suffering, and a genuine concern for those in need, then you are lifting up Christ the way you’re meant to. That’s very attractive to hurting, desperate people, searching for answers. If you’re smug and self-righteous, however, you will also have a great impact for God—a negative impact. Like many things, the choice is yours, as are the consequences.

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that o one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Recovery Begins Where You Are


It’s okay to be exactly where you are, regardless of where that might be. It doesn’t do any good to pretend you are something you’re not, either. That never works. You’re only fooling yourself. Remember, denial of the truth is never an appropriate option in recovery, so it’s time to stop self-defeating behaviors.

Instead, be real, and be honest. Tell God exactly where you are in each area of your life, being completely forthright. You can’t be where you aren’t, and pretending something is real, when it isn’t, makes you a phony. Nobody wants to be a phony, right?

The Lord certainly doesn’t expect anything from you other than you coming to Him just as you are. Remember, you’ll never get out of the hole you’re in until you stop digging. The best place to start is by being candid about your situation. You could say:

Lord, I want to do Your will, but most of the time I don’t know what that is. Right now—this very minute, I put myself into Your hands—totally and completely. I choose to believe the changes You are making in me will transform me into the person You want me to be. Please, help me keep my heart and my eyes focused upon You. I know that if I do, I will not be disappointed.

Even if you are in the deepest, darkest emotional pit of your life, or if you are involved in self-defeating behavior that threatens to destroy you, He will join You there. Once he comes, He will never leave you.

After you have opened yourself up like this, thank God for everything He will do to make you into the person He wants you to be. Then, hold on to your seat because it is going to be a wild ride.

When you consider your downward slide, remember, God’s goal is to fill your life with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control. Join me in this prayer now, and refer to it whenever you feel the walls closing on you.

Lord,

Having been wounded at the core of my being,

I have stopped seeking You—

Stopped praying, stopped looking to You

For wisdom, guidance, and discernment.

I haven’t wanted anything to do with You.

I’ve been so angry, so hurt, and so humiliated.

In my pain, I have acted in ways I’m ashamed to admit.

I have wanted to keep them secret—to hide them

From You and from everybody else.

I didn’t want to become like this—

To become the person that I am,

But my sins have gone over my head,

And I am unable to control them,

Which I foolishly believed I could.

They control me, and I know it.

I can no longer hide the truth from You.

I am weary of hanging my head in shame,

Of churning anger and bitter resentment in my heart.

I don’t want the wounds from my abuse

To control my future, as they have my past.

To change my behavior, I will need Your help.

Lord, I am in a deep pit—

Where there is no easy way to escape.

I have routinely blamed others for my plight,

Choosing to embrace the role of being a victim,

Convincing myself that I have been faultless,

But I can no longer accept my delusions.

I have to admit the truth to You and to myself.

I need Your help, Father. Without You,

My life will have neither meaning nor value.

At the core of my being, I know this is true.

Help me end my self-defeating behavior,

So that I can once again be clean.

Restore my strength and a clear mind to me.

Thank You, Lord, amen.

Jack Watts


CHRIST GETS TO THE HEART OF THE ISSUE:

Do you remember the episode where Jesus asked the crippled man by the pool if he wanted to be made whole? I know now that Jesus wasn’t asking if he wanted to be healed of his physical malady but to be made whole, which included soul issues also. But at that time, I recall being appalled that Jesus would ask such a question. Who wouldn’t want to be well?! But I realized that Jesus’ approach was appropriate.

The man’s response told the entire story. “I don’t have anybody to help me get into the pool.” Can you hear the whine in his voice? He was blaming others for his situation. He wasn’t taking any personal responsibility. But Jesus didn’t enter into his self-pity.

He didn’t say, “Aw, that’s terrible. How do you feel about that?” He didn’t play the blame-game with the guy. He didn’t turn to the others and say, “What’s wrong with you people that you don’t help this man?” And Jesus didn’t put the responsibility on any other entity. He didn’t say, “Poor baby, let’s find a government agency to take care of you for the rest of your life.”

What did Jesus do? He addressed the man himself and said, “Get up.” In other words, do something for yourself. He also told him to take his bed with him and move on. Get out of that bed of affliction, of self-pity, of blame, of past failures. Do something to help yourself and get on with life. This revelation helped me have the courage to extricate myself from a toxic relationship and move on. Occasionally I find myself needing to be asked, “Do you want to be made whole?” Sometimes I don’t immediately appreciate the underlying rebuke, but the answer is always a resounding, “YES INDEED. Let’s do this!

GUEST POST BY: Ginny Sue Barden Bridges


Refer to Step 1: I acknowledge that my life is shipwrecked and not where I want it to be.

On the surface, the first step may appear to be the simplest in any type of recovery. All you have to do is recognize your situation accurately and acknowledge it. That’s simple, right?

In one sense, it is the easiest step, but for more people than not, it’s by far the most difficult. This is because you have to “admit” you’re not okay the way you are; you need help. For nearly everybody, especially believers who think they should “have it all together,” acknowledging they do not, can be the most difficult thing in the world. Facing reality often is.

For nearly everybody, it takes substantial time and enormous heartache to be willing to seek help. This just seems to be part of human nature. But this is what is required—seeking and accepting help. You have to admit you are not all right the way you are, and you will not be all right without getting the help you need.

Step 1 is about denial—about lying to yourself, believing the lie, and insisting it is true. Denial is the false belief—maintained steadfastly—that you have everything under control, when you clearly do not. It is the inability to look at life and say, “How have I allowed myself to become like this?” Those in denial insist:

  • I’m fine.
  • I’m okay the way I am.
  • There’s nothing wrong with me.
  • I don’t need help.
  • Leave me alone!

 

Denial can be more pervasive for those who have been religiously abused than for alcoholics or drug addicts. The reason is simple: you are never put in jail for driving under the influence of being abused. This kind of devastation is primarily internal. It’s in your heart and in your soul, where the destruction manifests itself in negative emotions and attitudes. Shame, bitterness, resentment, hatred, and revenge are its fruits.

Unlike the effects of alcoholism, you will not develop cirrhosis of the liver—just hardheartedness, which can be equally devastating. This is why it’s so difficult for many to admit their lives are shipwrecked. They can’t see the destruction from the outside, but it’s there—just below the surface, poised to wreak havoc in their lives.

This is certainly no way to live, nor is it God’s Will for your life to have so little meaning. So, if you’re ready to be done with the high price of low living by lying to yourself, please quiet your heart and join me in this prayer of surrender.

 

Father,

I’m not where I want to be—

Not even close.

I’m not the person I want to be—

Nor the person I’m capable of being.

Even worse, the gap between the two

Is increasing, rather than diminishing.

If I’m being honest with myself,

Which I routinely try to avoid,

I constantly and repeatedly excuse

My poor behavior and my poor attitude.

I don’t like myself the way I am.

I’m a pathetic substitute for what I should be—

For what I know You want me to be.

 

But it’s even worse than this.

Nearly everyone who knows me well

Recognizes that my life is shipwrecked.

I may look acceptable to casual observers,

But to those who know me—

To those who know what I’m capable of being,

I’m certain they don’t like what they see.

How could they? Neither do I.

My intimacy with You has evaporated,

Even though I pretend that it hasn’t.

Father, I know who I am,

And I acknowledge this to You.

I will no longer pretend to be what I am not.

I have traveled the wrong road for so long

I’m not certain I can ever

Follow the correct path again,

But I want to more than anything.

Admitting this truth to You frightens me.

I have refused to face the truth for so long,

But I am now willing to do so.

I know I can’t change on my own.

Without Your help, I have no chance at all.

Will You meet me on my journey?

Will You hold my hand and touch my heart?

Will You be there for me and not leave me behind?

Will You, Father? Will You?

Without Your help I will never make it on my own.

I come to You humbly, in Christ’s precious Name.

—Amen

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!(Romans 7:24-25a)

 

 


The single greatest enemy to our recovery is the state of our minds. Because we have been abused, typically we feel defeated and worthless, which is exactly the message our abusers want us to receive. It’s probably one of the reasons why they abused us in the first place. Although it’s normal to have feelings of worthlessness as a result of these experiences, it’s self-defeating to internalize them and make them part of who you are.

If you want to be a whole person—valuable to yourself and to others—you must renew your mind and reject what your abuser has said about you. Don’t internalize it. If you already have, make a commitment to renew your mind immediately. The way to do this is simple: accept that God loves you and desires your recovery.

The solution is easy, but summoning the courage and the will to transform your mind may be the most difficult thing you ever do. Plus, it’s not a one-time decision. You have to do it every day—sometimes every hour. It’s hard, but the value of making the effort is incalculable.

If you make the commitment and persevere, over time and slowly, you’ll change and become everything God ever intended you to be. If you don’t, you’ll wallow in mediocrity and self-pity for years, perhaps decades. The choice is yours. Renew your mind, or continue to internalize the lies that others have said about you as the truth.

If your desire is to renew your mind and develop godly character qualities, join me in this prayer:

Father,

The darkness has lifted—

Darkness permitted by You

To refine my character,

Purging each of my foolish ways

And making me more like

The person I’m supposed to be—

The person I’ve always wanted to be.

In the midst of my despair,

When at night I longed for the day,

And in the daytime desired it to be evening,

When sorrows made it difficult to breathe,

You were always there beside me,

Even when I was certain You were not.

As fear relentlessly rattled every aspect of me,

You continued transforming who I would become.

Ever mindful of my frailties and weaknesses,

You purged, pruned and cleansed from within.

Then, one day, as I awaited my overwhelming gloom

To return, which had become my daily routine,

It was gone—vanished like it had never been there—

Leaving me stronger, more resilient, and far wiser,

As my mind was renewed from the inside out.

My purpose returned to me, along with my smile.

I embraced life with renewed enthusiasm—

No longer chained to my heartache,

No longer imprisoned by my distress.

Father, thank You for purging my shame

And feelings of worthlessness from me.

Thank You for restoring me to wholeness, amen.

Jack Watts

 


Taking Ownership of Your Problems

 

 

Refer to Step 3: I accept that the responsibility for getting back on track is mine and no one else’s.

 

Take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing: there is no one to blame.

—Erica Jong

 

In the many years I have been a Christian—some walking with the Lord and some not—I’ve noticed that a large number of believers have an incorrect perspective on life. They attribute their difficulties, especially their interpersonal conflicts, to the Devil. They will say something like, “Satan really has a hold on that person’s life,” or “The Enemy has really been coming against me in this situation.”

Because the Scriptures teach that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of wickedness, conflicts assume a cosmic significance, which often isn’t there. Occasionally, there may be some truth to it, but my experience tells me that most of the problems come from the people themselves and not from forces of darkness. It’s easy to blame the Devil for everything. It absolves the person of taking responsibility for his or her own actions.

For your recovery to work the way it should, you must accept the responsibility for your actions and not take the easy way out of blaming Satan for them. It simply doesn’t work, and in most cases, it isn’t true. When a problem manifests itself, you must always look for your part in it, and the sooner the better. If you’re being honest, you’ll usually find it.

If you’ve been foolish, admit it. Don’t deflect; don’t rationalize; and don’t project your problems onto another. Repudiate the darkness immediately and come to the light. Finally, do whatever is necessary to make amends to the one you’ve offended.

It’s natural to want to avoid the responsibility for your actions, but as a child of God, your behavior must be different. If you’re to become as useful as you desire, looking to the Lord first has to become your engrained response. When difficulties come, as they always do, your reaction is what determines your growth and how valuable your recovery will be.

 

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10)

Jack Watts

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