Archive for August, 2008

Refer to STEP 1: I recognized that where I am in life is not where I want to be. My life was shipwrecked.

Throughout Scripture we are taught to welcome strangers, clothe the naked, and to give ourselves to all those in need. Jesus teaches us that what we do for the “least of these” is what we do for Him. The church is tasked to be the voice for the voiceless and a defender of the afflicted. When it works, it’s beautiful to behold, but when it doesn’t, dysfunction ensues.

Most of the dysfunction results from fallen man behaving like fallen mankind. Sometimes it’s much worse than this, however, and that’s when abusiveness becomes a problem. Because many Christians are young and naïveté, they accept beliefs that contradict God’s Word. When they ask their trusted leaders to explain what’s happening, the explanations often contradict sound teaching. Does this sound familiar?

When this happens, you should run, but that’s not what happens, is it? Instead, you re-sell yourself about what’s happening, making the error a cherished belief instead of what it is—error. That’s where the problem begins.

Not knowing the Scriptures well makes many easy targets for abusive leaders who know the Word well enough to distort it. Because of this, it’s easy to abuse young, trusting new believers. The end result is a shipwrecked life for each person who falls victim to the abuser. Has this been your experience?

Recovering from a situation where you trusted an abusive authority figure completely is very difficult. Your soul is burned with scar tissue covering the wound, and you become skeptical and jaded for a long time. Recognizing that this is where you are , however, is the first step to recovery.

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Refer to STEP 1: I recognized that where I am in life is not where I want to be. My life was shipwrecked.

Long-suffering is one of the fruits of the Spirit of God—the one abusive people love the most. They don’t practice it themselves; that’s not their style. But they do require it of you. It’s one of the ways they use to control you—to manipulate you into accepting their behavior when things don’t add up. As they impose their will on you, which you know intuitively to be wrong, they tell you good Christians practice patience and long-suffering. To justify aberrant behavior, they tell you the ends justify the means. Accepting this with grace as a long-suffering Christian is your responsibility, and if you don’t, you’re chided for it. Does this sound familiar?

If it does, you’re not alone. It happens frequently, and this is not what long-suffering is—not even close. If you submit to what is wrong and call it right, your life will become shipwrecked. It’s abusiveness—plain and simple, which robs you emotionally, financially, and morally. Remember, there’s no right way to do a wrong thing, regardless of how persuasive your abuser may be.

When long-suffering comes from God, it builds your character, establishes you as a person of faith, and allows you to grow spiritually. It makes your difficulty become your delight, and it always points someone who observes your situation to Christ. It’s the best form of witnessing there is; nothing compares to it. When it’s counterfeited, however, it ends in destruction, shipwrecking your life.

How can you tell the difference between the two? By comparing the reality of what’s happening with God’s Word—that’s how. If what’s happening doesn’t make sense with what the Scriptures teach, it’s wrong and nothing can make it right other than abandoning it. Worst of all, it’s like an emotional cul-de-sac. The further you get in, the longer it will take to get back on the right road.

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The potential for tapping this resource is staggering. That’s why Pushing Jesus has been created; to help wounded Christians find their way back home—back home to Christ. Most evangelical churches are consumed with saving the lost, but when it comes to those who have been used, abused, and discarded; virtually no effort is made to bring them back to the fold. By keeping those who have been abused out of sight, the abusers hope to keep them out of mind as well. For some churches, it’s like speed dating—always looking for the next conquest, while never stopping to look at the carnage left behind. I know this is hard, but I believe it is true.

In a desperate act of denial, many church leaders refuse to admit a problem exists with abuse in the church—let alone that millions have been “milled,” ground down to nothing, and dismissed unceremoniously. The devastation on those cast aside is incalculable. Someone needs to provide a safe place for abused Christians to come and heal. Pushing Jesus is such a place—a place where their voice can be heard, their perspective validated, and their wounds healed.

Pushing Jesus is for the sheep that are lost.

The church may wish the abused would just go away and never be seen again, but that’s not what the Lord wishes. Having been abused Himself; He has a special heart for these people and eagerly seeks a restored relationship with them. Again, this is why Pushing Jesus has been written.

(Continued Tomorrow.)

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As European nations celebrate the victory of secularism at the expense of their Christian heritage, Americans—at least a substantial number of them, cling to the belief that we remain a Christian nation. To validate this assertion, they point to statistics, which show that 55 percent of Americans are church members. To them, this proves we are still a Christian nation.

There’s only one problem with this: It isn’t true—not even close. These statistics count people who should not be counted—millions of them. For example, the largest church in America isn’t Roman Catholicism; it’s lapsed Catholics—those who were born in the Church but have abandoned it as adults. The largest Protestant church isn’t Southern Baptist; it’s disenfranchised evangelicals. There may be anywhere from 20-to-30 million of them—people with a Christian heritage who no longer find the church relevant.

Within this group are those who have been abused by the church–spiritually, financially, socially, or morally. It’s a huge subset–people who know the Lord but remain at arms length, fearful of further abuse.

In my opinion, this group of disenfranchised evangelicals and lapsed Catholics has strategic importance for the Kingdom of God. Most of them know the Lord as their Savior or at least have substantial “God awareness.” Instead of being an asset, however, these multiplied millions are a liability to themselves and others, as they lead angry, bitter, lives, estranged from God and fellow believers.

(Continued tomorrow.)

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Refer to STEP 4: I came to believe that God understood my wounded-ness, and He alone could heal me. I chose to accept as true what God has said about Himself. He is good and can be trusted. I recognized that God is not the abuser—people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to do in recovery from religious abuse is to separate God from the abuse. When abuse occurs, you’re shocked, wounded, disoriented, and offended. Within a short period of time, this offense is extended to God. It’s almost inevitable. In righteous indignation, you rail against Him:

  • How could You let this happen to me?
  • I didn’t deserve this?
  • I believed You, and You let me down?
  • I’ll never trust You again?

Because your pain is so acute, reality is obscured and anger toward God seems justified—even warranted. When this happens, however, you’ve “thrown the baby out with the bath water.”

By blaming God, you deprive yourself of your most valuable asset in recovery, and you will never heal emotionally without Him. At very best, you’ll be a limited, marginal person—like a car running on half its cylinders. You’ll never be everything you’re supposed to be in life without repairing this essential relationship. That’s why Step 4 is so critical.

Take a moment and think about this. Christ was abused, humiliated, tortured, and murdered, wasn’t He? More importantly, He was innocent—completely innocent when He suffered His abuse. He didn’t deserve it—not any of it. Now, let me ask you this: Who can understand abuse better than someone who has also been abused? No one, of course.

That’s what Christ did. He was abused just like you were. He suffered as an innocent man, which allows Him to understand your wounded-ness, your anger, your frustration, and your despair. He “feels your pain” and loves you exactly the way you are, regardless of the circumstances.

If you want to become whole, you need to make a conscious decision to believe what God says about Himself to be true—all of it. He loves you and wants your life to have value and purpose. He didn’t abuse you, and He isn’t pleased with those who did—that’s for sure.

As you think about Step 4 this week, make a conscious effort to divorce God from the abuse. He’s not responsible for it; He didn’t cause it. Accepting this as true is your best way to achieve full recovery, and it’s the specific purpose of Step 4.

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Refer to STEP 2: I refused to continue living my life pursuing self-defeating behavior.

In the aftermath of spiritual abuse, your eyes become opened. You see things differently. It’s like the blinders have been removed, and you see the direction you’ve been traveling is not where you thought you were going. Todo has pulled back the curtain, revealing the fraud you considered to be the great and powerful Wizard of Oz.

At this point, you become cynical and nothing spiritual seems real any longer. When this happens, you can either fritter away years, or you can redouble your effort to develop your relationship with Christ rather than with some of His misguided people.

Having your eyes opened is a good thing. Nothing good comes from blindness. In order to be of maximum use, you needed to have your eyes opened. What needs to change is your perspective. When you realize that God allowed your abuse to get you to a better place—a place where you could trust Him, you can bow your knee and be thankful. When you look at it this way, you can be thankful. Cynicism will leave you, and you will be much less likely to be fooled again.

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Refer to STEP 6: I abandoned my desire to spread hatred because of my pain and anger, and chose to relinquish my right to be self-absorbed.

You can’t work for your salvation; it’s free. There’s nothing you can do to save yourself, but you have to “work out” your salvation.

When I was first victimized by religious abuse, I was hurt, angry, confused, and purposeless for a long time. When I realized I was not getting any better by wallowing in self pity, I knew I had to make some changes. I would never become who I was supposed to be by living in bitterness—and nobody was going to help me. I had to do it myself.

That’s when I started working on myself. Realizing Christ was not the problem but the solution, I looked to Him, and the words He spoke, as my source of courage, of inspiration, and of purpose. I had to rethink every aspect of my life, changing nearly everything. At first, I resented it but, after a while, I chose to embrace it instead.

I had a vision for what my life would be, but God’s purpose was different. Becoming who He wanted me to be has been a lot of work, and continues to be. By looking to God for the future, rather than blaming Him for the past, I chose life over the debilitating half-life of bitterness.

I worked out a new purpose for life—a rewarding, fulfilling one. Christ saved my soul, but I did the recovery work—with His help—to make a new life—a life of value.

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I had a very interesting experience today. While checking the stats on Pushing Jesus, I noticed that someone from China read the blog today. When I clicked on the link, my entry came up in Mandarin. When I saw it, it was a profoundly humbling experience. Religious abuse is ubiquitous.

Many people wonder why I do this. The short answer, which is the only one that counts, is I do it because I believe the Lord wants me to do it. But, there’s another reason, too.

Nobody else is doing it, and it feels like few care about those of us who have been “milled”—ground by legalism and abuse so that little is left. We’re not important. Churches and ministries have a passion for the lost—for those who don’t know Jesus.

My passion is for reaching out to the abused, the dispossessed, the crushed—metaphorically, the people who didn’t make the team and never were invited to the “cool” parties. God loves us as much as the prom queens and the quarterbacks. He wants us healed, standing proudly as His beloved children. We count; we have value; we have a purpose.

In the last six months, I’ve written 170 entries, which average about 300 words each. It’s a lot of work, and I don’t get a dime for it. It costs me, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know what I’m talking about, and I can help the people the church has used, abused, and discarded.

Nobody wants to acknowledge we exist—let alone admit there are millions of us. But there are. You know it, and I know it.

When I’m done, all I want is for the lord to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Until that time, you can count on me to keep telling the truth—boldly and confidently. I have to; it’s who I am.

Jack Watts

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Refer to STEP 4: I came to believe that God understood my wounded-ness, and He alone could heal me. I chose to accept as true what God has said about Himself. He is good and can be trusted. I recognized that God is not the abuser—people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

One of most prevalent emotions in the aftermath of abuse is dread—fear and dread of the future. When your world comes crashing down around you, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it, anxiety inevitably overtakes you.

Instead of looking to God, who promises to never leave or forsake you, fear of the future consumes you. You abandon your robust, positive outlook on life and shrink into a corner, becoming a nonentity—even to yourself. For you, God is nowhere to be found. It’s as if He doesn’t even exist.

When this happens—and it’s inevitable that it will; you have two choices. You can embrace your fears and become a bitter, timid, wounded person for years; or you can reject your circumstances and believe what God has said to be true. In tribulation, slander, misunderstanding, or whatever else has you trapped by fear; God has promised to never leave you or forsake you.

  • It’s either true or it isn’t.
  • God is either capable of keeping His promises or He isn’t.
  • He either has a future planned for you, which will serve His purposes, or He doesn’t.

What will you accept as true? The choice is yours. Is God bigger than your problems or not. If you choose to believe God, your battle is still uphill, but the end result is assured. You can take it to the bank—God keeps His promises.

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Refer to STEP 2: I refused to continue living my life pursuing self-defeating behavior.

After you’ve experienced religious abuse, life changes—permanently. It’s never the same again—no matter how much you want it to be. Sorry, but it’s just not possible. You can’t return to a life of naïveté and innocence.

Because this is not an option, many throw in the towel and abandon Christ, Christianity, and a life filled with purpose, choosing to live half-lives of informed bitterness instead. Having experienced abuse at the hands of a trusted religious leader, many refuse to make themselves vulnerable again. By hardening their heart through cynicism and contempt, they protect themselves from further abuse.

At least, they think they do, but they are wrong. By remaining bitter, they are actually validating their abuse. It holds them a prisoner of the past and a hostage for the future. They become stuck, unable to move emotionally or spiritually—trapped in a joyless life.

Is this where you are? If it is, in those moments of internal candor, you know it’s true, don’t you?

The good news is there is a way out—a way to become all that, in the deepest recesses of your heart, you know you are meant to be. God is still there for you waiting to reestablish you at a level you can’t imagine. Having been wounded, like His Son, you can experience the abundant life He promised you when you first believed. But this time, you’ll have your eyes wide open.

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Refer to STEP 2: I refused to continue living my life pursuing self-defeating behavior.

Being victimized by abuse seems unreal when it first occurs. Those abused say to themselves, This isn’t really happening. It can’t be. To most, it seems surreal. It’s almost always unexpected. That’s what makes it such a violation of your person—of your soul.

It’s almost like someone is pointing a gun in your face—but not exactly. It’s more like a knife, which cuts your soul and leaves you bleeding emotionally—with a wound that seems like it will never heal.

Soon enough, every aspect of the abuse becomes real, however, as the reality comes crashing down on you, producing pain in every fiber of your being. Because the pain is often unbearable—and the wrong so acute, the anger that comes from it consumes you, making you lash out at your abuser.

But that’s not all. Because the abuse is often completely unjustified, you often lashes out at God as well, don’t you? You blame Him for it, even though it hurts Him as much as it did you. You ask:

  • Why would You let this happen to me?
  • I didn’t deserve this?
  • If You would allow this happen, I don’t want anything to do with You ever again.
  • Christians are hypocrites. I’ll never have anything to do with them again.

God has heard it all many times. All of these reactions are normal—even typical; but if you allow any to rule your life, you’ll never be all that God intended for you to be. You’ll be a half person, living out your years in ignominy and bitterness. God doesn’t want that for you, but you have to want it as well.

If you’re willing to go to any lengths to get out of the pit you’re in, recovery can begin—but not before. It takes effort—real effort. Are you ready to begin. If so, make the commitment—make it today.

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Refer to STEP 1: I recognized that where I am in life is not where I want to be. My life was shipwrecked.

Few things are as difficult as the time following religious abuse. After the initial shock, which can last anywhere from a few days to several months, a wave of bitterness overcomes you and remains until you make a conscious decision to not allow it to rule your life. Most people go to elaborate lengths to convince others they are not bitter.

Worst of all, they try and convince themselves that they are not bitter—usually with a great deal of success. That’s how powerful denial is. No recovery is possible as long as the abusee is in this mental state—it’s not possible. If you’re bitter, you have to come clean about it.

Here’s what happens. When someone mentions how bitter you are, it’s usually met with an angry response of denial, which in an ironic way, is a good barometer of the depth of the wound. The greater the anger and self-righteous denial, the deeper the wound and the bitterness—it’s that simple.

Take a minute and reflect back about your abuse. Has anyone ever told you how bitter you are about a problem? If so, how did you respond? Did you admit the truth, or were you angry? If you were hostile, how hostile were you? It’s a great measuring stick, isn’t it?

By the way, many people have learned to control their emotions masterfully. Perhaps you responded calmly on the outside but were offended and enraged on the inside? When it comes to bitterness and denial, your emotional state on the inside is the only important thing—not the outside.

Take a moment before God and get honest with yourself. It’s required before any healing can begin. Without soul-searching honesty, you’ll never start to heal—never.

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Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

Refer to STEP 8: I shared my experience with a trusted friend and confessed to God the exact state of my heart.

When you know someone at the deepest level–including all of their faults and failures–and still love them, then you are getting very near to the heart of God. After all, that’s how He loves you, isn’t it?

Think of this:

  • Is there anything you’ve ever done that God doesn’t know about?
  • Is there any sin you’ve ever committed or will ever commit that He hasn’t already paid the price for?
  • Can you do anything that will make Him love you less?
  • Can anything separate you from the love of God?

All of these questions are rhetorical, obviously–regardless of how you feel about yourself. God loves you no matter what, and that’s exactly the way He wants us to love one another–selflessly and unconditionally.

By the time you’re ready to interact with another at the level of sharing your deepest wounds and hurts, the fruits of God’s Spirit will be evident in your life, even to casual observers. You won’t be able to help it–Christlike-ness will permeate your being and you will become a person of value.

Now, let me ask you this. Can anything in life be more rewarding or more fulfilling than this? I think not. It’s what makes life worth living–not a new house, a new car, or a new Rolex.

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Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

Refer to STEP 8:
I shared my experience with a trusted friend and confessed to God the exact state of my heart.

If you want to get to know someone–really know them, start praying for them; but pray for them based on what you know after they have bared their soul to you in confession. This is intimacy the way God intended it to be–being one in spirit. It’s different than being one in the flesh and has no down side to it.

You’ll find your prayers have depth and are on-target about the deep things the person really needs–not trivial materialistic things. People routinely ask me to pray for this and that, and most of the requests they make are not prayers at all; they’re directives. “Ask God to give me this job;” or “Ask God to get my child into . . . .”

You get the picture.

When someone confesses the heartfelt needs of their soul, however, you learn to pray differently. You pray for them to develop the character qualities necessary to grow, to heal, or to persevere. These are real prayers–the kind that touch the heart of God. Plus, these are prayers that are answered. Continually asking God for material possessions is as wearisome to Him, as kids in the back seat on a long trip constantly asking, “Are we there yet?” is wearisome to you.

This is where real growth comes from–praying for character-logical changes. Try it and you’ll see for yourself

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Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

Refer to STEP 8: I shared my experience with a trusted friend and confessed to God the exact state of my heart.

After you’ve confessed your sins to a trusted friend–or after someone has unburdened their soul to you, prayer is the next thing mentioned in the Bible verse. That’s not an accident.

When someone exposes themselves at their deepest level, becoming completely transparent, knowing how to pray for them becomes easy. You can pray for what they really need and what God really wants for them–deep character qualities that make the person useful in life. That’s why confession is so important. It strengthens the person who makes the confession and the person listening as well.

It heals both of them, strengthening each at the inner core. And it makes prayer truly meaningful. Because confession has become so rare among our generation of Christians, most of our prayers are like a spoiled two-year-old who demands things from his parents. “God give me a new car . . . a new house . . . and, while you’re at it, a new spouse.” We want new things, different things, better things.

God, on the other hand, is interested in redeeming people–hurt, wounded, disillusioned people like you and me. Confession and prayer is how He does it, and it’s definitely essential for any type of recovery. There’s no way to circumvent it. You have to come clean before you can become whole.

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