Posted by Mark Labuschagne on Monday, August 23, 2010
Here's my story and my thoughts about it. I have only been to church a handful of times in the last little over a year, which is quite a departure from my previous 32 years of life, where church and ministry consumed much of my time. I have in the past, been part of many denominations, more "moves of God" than I can remember, and an ocean full of "waves of the Spirit". I considered myself a charismatic, unreligious, world changer and history maker. Everything from cutting edge rock worship music, to market place ministry, to the jungles of Africa, cell groups, prophetic art, dancing, power evangelism and everything in between. My family and the people we surrounded ourselves with, were Holy Spirit shakers, lovers of God and on-fire radicals living, breathing and doing the Gospel.
Or so was my perception of things.
I loved going to church, especially my church. I loved being a part of a community of believers that shared the same vision and goals as we did! A place that broke barriers, pushed boundaries, prophesied, preached, prayed, worshipped with abandonment, equipped their people, healed the sick, and even had an instance of raising the dead. This was it! We had arrived. Of course, there were some things, circumstances, teachings and such that popped up here and there that brought an uncertainty, a dissatisfaction, but all was quickly justified by Scripture and wise counsel. Those in authority, knew best and were readily able to prove it so.
My 16 months or so on this journey I've been traversing, has brought an interesting and complicated path to my feet. Even though this journey has come complete with a bumpy and troublesome way, and I am glad for it.
Part (or most) of this journey, which I am still on, has to do with finding God. I know that may sound strange, or even blasphemous coming from someone who was saved at 4 years old and then continued to spend my life (not just my childhood, but all my adult years as well) in church, serving the church, serving God.
But when something happens, something big, something that shakes you to your core and blows your mind totally out of whack, you find yourself in a place of like a great eclipse in mind, soul and spirit. You watch as your very life, your very heart, your whole world, your core belief systems goes into a giant systems failure. And there you are, once arrayed in the luminescence of radiant ministry, now left fumbling around an odd smoke-filled dinginess, trying to find your way through, or out or around. And your not even sure why or how it happened in the first place.
For some this may be a death of a loved one, a divorce, a financial ruin, or some other great and foreboding catastrophe. Mine started with divorce. But when you look deeper, it was not the calamity that brought you (or me) to a place of spiritual degeneration or awakening; it depends on your perception as to which you would call it - I call it an eclipse. It was churchianity that brought you to this place. What I mean is this, and please hear me out.
We all know about how churchianity drives away the teenager into rebellion…. they were not given life to cultivate a relationship with God, they were just supplied with some rules forced on them by the church that they had no interest in fulfilling. Smart kids. Fulfilling the law only brings death anyway. So absolutely, yes run from that giant pile of rubbish! Fulfilling the law does not build us a relationship with God. It keeps us from Him.
BUT. What about those who do have a relationship with the Lord? Those who love to be with Him, serve Him and do His wondrous and mighty works? There are people like that out there, of all shapes, sizes, colors, denominations, theologies, doctrines, influences and cultures. They just love the Lord. So why is there such an issue when theologies and doctrines clash? Shouldn't the main concern just be that despite the differences, we all love the Lord?
I have seen everything from name calling, to ridiculing and mocking to slander and gossiping and even a modern version of excommunication. All because someone didn't agree doctrinally, or didn't follow some regulations they were told they needed to achieve, or did not acquiesce to a teaching that was served up on a Sunday morning. What happens is, through some calamity in a person's life, the response to that circumstance from the church can many times negatively impact the already suffering believer. And the elements that play the roles in this tapestry of spiritual ruination? Faith - or misplaced faith. Control. Self preservation. These three things follow a form that goes something like this: (And I believe misplaced faith is at the root of everything else).
Misplaced faith is the key factor in the perceived de-evolvement (and ultimately you can look back and see it was really an evolvement) of one's relationship with God. It gives you a distorted view of who God is. It causes you to try to earn God's approval…. but it can be very sneaky. We all may say, "YES, God loves us all!" but in the back of our minds we think things like:
"The reason this bad thing is happening to is because I must have done something wrong (God is punishing me)"- or even more subtly, "God's blessings are blocked because of a sin in my life. I will be more blessed the more I please God (which is by doing something - like tithing, giving, joining a ministry, making some sort of self-sacrifice, have enough faith, etc.)".
Other misplaced faith ideas we hold on to include very common thoughts like:
If I really have faith, that person would be healed.
The more money I sow, the more blessings I get in return.
I must submit to authority over me in order to be right with God or to please God.
Real faith keeps away problems and pain.
To truly trust in God, means He does everything and I do nothing (as in, I don't go to work because I fully trust God an He will provide everything).
I am just a sinner, unworthy of God's forgiveness.
And when 1 plus 1 doesn't equal 2, we get devastated. How do we comprehend when we have "done everything right", yet things don't turn out like we were promised? And so and so over there, who I know is sleeping with his girlfriend, is totally blessed and prospering! What happens when the effect doesn't equal the cause? It can be more than some people can bear. Most of the time it wont happen right away… it may take two, three, four or more times before it becomes too much. But if you continue to misplace your faith, and not get the return you are expecting, it will frustrate you to no end. Some will get fed up and leave God altogether, and others will just try harder, constantly worried about what they are doing wrong and gradually become angry, afraid or, disillusioned. This will end up sabotaging your relationship with God.
I remember on numerous occasions, "having faith" for our finances. This is such a tricky, grey area. One I am still working out. But it seemed, no matter which way we tried to "have faith" for money, our big financial breakthrough never happened. I can look back now and see that our misplaced faith, generated a cause and effect attitude in us towards this and other situations as well.
Another instance was my marriage. For years and years I "did all the right things". I forgave, I submitted, I prayed, I counseled with the pastors… but the marriage didn't heal and change didn't take place.
I have observed that this misplaced faith can be quite toxic. It eats away at us, at our relationship with Him, at our worth and righteousness. We begin to feel we have failed in some way. Done something wrong. This is NOT what God wants for us.
Control comes in many forms… outright control we usually instantly recognize. When a person is controlling in a violent way, its obvious to everyone. But the captivating controller is another creature entirely. Usually this person is a pastor, husband or elder or someone in "authority". Taking advantage of your misplaced faith, he uses that to produce an action in you, that benefits him or the church. Through your (misplaced) faith and using Scripture and the prophetic "word of the Lord", this person gains your trust and your loyalty. You belong, are accepted, are loved… as long as you pay in your tithe, attend the prayer meeting/outreach, obey your spiritual heads, agree with the teachings and don't stir up anything among the congregation. Oh, you can be equipped for ministry, teach classes, be on the worship team, but just make sure you don't question anything and stay in the slot given to you…because thats how the wheels continuously turn so smoothly. So don't make things get bumpy, by getting out of your place. Sometimes church members are even discouraged from receiving teaching or impartation from other ministries beside their own pastor or pastor approved ministries. This is because the pastor is afraid they might receive something that rocks the boat.
Some people actually function well under control…. then they don't have to think for themselves, or be responsible for making decisions. It can be a relief to some people, because they no longer have to worry that they are doing the right thing, or correctly following the ways of the Lord. They shift the responsibility for their life from themselves to the person who is deemed as in authority over them. This is most common with wives to their husbands, but is also rampant with congregations to their pastors. Firstly, no one can have the responsibility of telling us what the Lord would have us do or be and then making sure we submit to it. We no longer live in the day of the priest. The veil was ripped open as part of the work of the cross. Someone being your "priest" takes your faith off of Jesus' work on the cross and onto a person: your faith becomes misplaced.
Secondly, there is no person who is greater in the spirit than another, or over, or more spiritual, or in authority over another person. This "church government" is not a New Testament idea. It is an idea that developed later in the centuries during the time Catholicism was taking shape. 1 Cor. 12 plainly tells us that ALL gifts, ALL ministries are given by the same God and worked through the same Holy Spirit and that no gift or ministry is more important or greater than another. Galations tells us that in the spirit, there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We are all the same in Christ Jesus. And Matt 20 goes so far as to make sure we know that ruling over one another in the body of Christ, is not the way Jesus has for us. We are all joint heirs with Jesus. We, ourselves, are all solely responsible for our own thoughts, actions, beliefs, not for anyones else's or anyone else for us. Elders an deacons (and now what we call the pastor) in the church are supposed to be there to uplift, facilitate, equip, encourage and offer counsel. Not be the boss or the bully. Titus 3 is referring to obeying governmental leaders and the laws of the land. And even in that, we should never obey anything that contradicts the Nature of God, the Word of God or the witness of the Spirit within us (or our conscience).
You can only find yourself under control, if you have misplaced your faith. Put your faith back in the right position and you remove yourself out from under control.
I found myself under control in many areas… and I didn't even realize some of them until I was out from under them. Control can be extremely sneaky. My personality is first a cooperator and then an analyzer. So I always had a battle going on within me. But because I wanted to keep the peace at all costs, the cooperator side always won and I gave into things whether I agreed with them or not and even whether I realized it or not. One of the biggest tools that has been used against me in my life has been spiritual abuse and manipulation. At points, I was doing things I didn't want to do because if I was told that if I didn't, I was disobeying the Lord or His Word. And that in disobeying the Lord, I was stepping out of His "umbrella of grace" and bad things could happen to me. When I tried to surface wrongs being done to me, I was told I have a "victim spirit" and needed to be delivered from it. When I expressed concerns that things in my life and at home were't changing, I was told it was because I had unforgiveness and bitterness and it was stopping the Lord from working. Now I am not saying that this can not sometimes be true…. it can be the case in certain situations, but it was not the case with me. These were used as spiritual manipulation over me.
This is that step that some aren't so familiar with, they haven't stuck around long enough to witness this devastating spectacle. This is the one that can destroy families, relationships, lives, hearts and dreams. That "circumstance" we talked about earlier, that brings a negative response from the church, this is the time the aforementioned spiritual eclipse is most likely to take place. In my case, divorce was the catapult that flung my life into a series of injurious events and ultimately into a spiritual eclipse. Actually, let me correct that statement… it was the final breakdown of an already contravened marriage that was the catalyst. The reaction to my situation from my beloved fellow believers and spiritual leaders had the opposite effect they were hoping for. In truth, the hardness and harshness directed at me actually helped to pilot my conclusion to finally file for a dissolution of the marriage.
The reaction I was awarded for my pain, despair and confusion of an ending marriage, was one of self preservation. My misplaced faith, in faith itself, led me to a place of unhealthy submission. But when my faith (if I did all the things I was supposed to: forgive, let go, be healed, change, submit and pray) did not give me the promised outcome (my marriage would be healed, restored and renewed), I become a liability to the peace and function of the great ministry machine, instead of a reliable, well oiled, ever-turing wheel in that machine of church life and ministry. Self-preservation (church preservation, congregation preservation etc) actuates the quick discarding of liabilities. I lost not only my marriage, but my whole life-blood ministry and community of close-knit friends, families and loved ones. If my parents, my sister and a teeny tiny handful of a loving, compassionate (non church) few hadn't have been there for me, I do not know what would have become of me.
With self-preservation, you will, in some way, end being cut off, turned out, rejected and ejected from the place you once thought you were most accepted. If self preservation has kicked in, but you depart before you have a chance to be ejected, you can count on gossip, slander and malice to follow you.
Another scenario that can happen in the control and/or self-preservation stage can be the disuniting of families and friends. When a church, church leader, pastor, husband.... anyone really..... begins to feel threatened, begins to feel their "place of authority" is threatened, they will begin to disunite you with anyone who does not agree with them or who they feel may influence you in another way than they seek to influence you. This may be subtly at first: joking about the persons beliefs like in laughing and saying something to the effect of, "how can they believe that!" or "I cant believe they actually think that!". Or possibly having an attitude of "well, when they grow up spiritually a bit more, they will understand then". This pastor or leader tries to keep his illusion of authority by making himself look well revelated and full of understanding, and the other person hasn't arrived at that place yet in their spiritual growth. So then you feel less spiritual if you agree with the other person! If the one who feels their hold over you is threatened enough, they may even cause you to end a friendship or disconnect with a family member or members. This is very painful and hurtful not only to us, but to the Lord. This is the farthest thing from His heart.
So I found my self at this place of eclipse. Everything I knew to be good, true, holy, and just was suddenly ripped away. I was left with two ideas only….
1) Is this really how God is? A mean con artist? Is He really someone that would present me a deal (or contract), require me to hold up my end of the bargain and then sometimes not hold up His end? And then when brought to His attention, would justify His behavior by blaming my lack of faith? This thought outraged me. I suddenly became filled with compassion for those people labeled "rebellious" out there! Rebellion is a vastly overused Christianese word that many lazy and blame shifting people use when they don't want to take responsibility for leading others in misplaced faith. They are really just people who have recognized misplace faith and control for what it is and bailed before self-preservation kicked in.
2) Or was the God shown to me through various teachings, ministries and people, a gross misrepresentation of who He really is?
This was my eclipse. My systems failure. I began the journey that I am still trecking today. I have discovered particulars along the way, some I have liked and some I haven't. Some about God and some about people. But the best thing I have discovered is God's love.
Galations has been my anchor. Get out of your dusty mind box and read it, not in the KJV or the NIV, but in the Message or the Source…. there is a reason these translations were named liked they are. I still don't have all the answers to my own questions, or know exactly what I think about every doctrinal issue and I don't plan to for a very long time - perhaps ever. But I do know one thing; God's love is simple and never-ending. His love doesn't require anything out of you. His approval doesn't come from anything you do…. it comes from what He did. We negate the great work of the cross, by doing something to earn anything from God. When the Bible says in Heb. 11, "without faith, it is impossible to please God" it doesn't mean faith to work miracles or faith to have enough money. It is talking about the faith it takes to believe that what happened on the cross was enough; that there is nothing more to do. We are received, accepted, loved, treasured, approved of and qualified for just by believing we are.
Everyone should tuck 1 Cor. 13 deep down in the heart. Memorize, speak it, live it. The "power" versus come just before in 1 Cor. 12. They speak of gifts, ministries, power, the body of Christ. But so many forget the short but ultra-powerful statement that bridges chapter 12 to 13: "And now I show you a more excellent way". And that way is love. Because all of chapter 12 doesn't mean a single solitary thing without chapter 13. I adore how The Message puts this verse... "So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love".
Recently I heard someone say that the reason they were on the earth was to teach and preach, save the lost and heal the sick. This sounds very noble and spiritual… but its not true. It's a sign of misplaced faith. We were created and put on this earth to enjoy God, the world he gave us, be loved by Him and be in relationship with Him. When we believe that our purpose in life is to do works, then we begin to have a works mentality. We may start off doing these works because we want to serve the Lord (and thats great), but if we aren't careful, soon our faith is placed in the works rather than in God. They become compulsory, and you even come to a place where you feel ashamed that you did not preach to the lady in the store, or pray for that person to be healed. Then fear enters. Fear that God is upset with you, or disappointed in you, and now your car broke down because of it. If there is a controlling authority over you, they will use this to further their ministry, by getting you to spin your wheel in the machine even harder, to "fulfill your destiny" and please God.
The movie "The Matrix" has been used by many as a parable for becoming a Christian… when you were in the world, you were asleep, existing in a false reality (natural world), and when you get saved, your eyes are opened and you are awakened to the real world (spiritual world). Though I can see truth in this, it can again be a misplaced faith that will lead you away from God's love and not towards it. In this movie, Neo, who is awakened to the real world, goes through a series of tests and conflicts, some he wins, some he looses, until when he has done enough, believed enough, he finally arrives at a place of magnificent destiny and power. Sounds inspiring, doesn't it? But be careful here; trial, conflict, tests, are not given for us to pass and become a greater, more loved, more powerful Christian. Passing them does not grant us special sanctions from God to be able to preform greater feats of spirituality. Neither does fasting, I might mention. So when you make it through some difficult times, and you don't suddenly have (or earn) the breakthrough in your finances, or the healing in your body, or become a super-Christian, it is not because you didn't have enough faith, it is because you have misplaced your faith.
When you've done all that your leaders (or husband) requires, been faithful, been submissive, but the miracle you've been praying for still doesn't come through, you have just been submitting to pointless and often damaging control through misplaced faith.
Faith is believing God and what He has done. Real faith, takes the pressure off, not adds more on.
You might at this point ask, how do I have faith then for finances, healing, miracles? There isn't a formula to give you. It's just simple faith in a simple Gospel. We over think and over complicate things so much, that it is more difficult for us to just simply have simple faith than an intricate set of rules and delicate balance we desperately, (but failingly) try to live.
If you begin this journey like I have, be prepared. Prepared for people to call you crazy, call you rebellious and question all of your choices and decisions. People will "pray and intercede" for you and may even call, write or email you teachings, Bible versus, and their 2 cents. It is nature (unfortunately) for people to jump to conclusions, believe the worst, gossip and "think they know something" when they really don't get it at all. Take it all with a grain of salt and continue seeking the Jesus you are looking for.
I love Gal 5:6… "The only thing that counts, is faith expressing itself through love". It has become my motto. It sums up so clearly and simply what our lives are about. To understand anything else the Bible has to say about faith or love, we need to first understand this verse. So that's my journey, to understand and live this verse. Because everything else comes from that. And no matter what you believe, what denomination you are, what religion you are, or no religion at all, I think we can all agree that what counts is "faith expressing itself through love".