Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Burning Bridges

Good, lasting friendships are important. I have contact with many people whose friendships I have enjoyed for over 40 years. It has also been of the utmost importance to me to do all I could to maintain these friendships, which included doing any mending that was necessary to make sure that bond stayed intact. My husband is the same way. Neither of us likes to burn bridges, and we have both endeavored, to the best of our ability, to maintain good communication with all our friends, regardless of our differences.

We found this to be quite challenging at our former church, however, and for a variety of reasons. Friendship was not emphasized, but rather discouraged at this church. It was often belittled from the pulpit as having minimal value. Being people with many friends which we cherished, we could not understand the motive behind this view. Now we do. One of the reasons was that the pastor and his family members used their friends to accomplish what they needed, then discarded them when they were no longer beneficial. Sometimes you weren't totally thrown out, but you just dropped a few rungs down the ladder. Then someone bigger and better would replace you. Sometimes the bridge between you and the pastor or his family was burned completely. The more money and influence you had, the better a "friend" you were to them. We didn't just imagine this, we watched it take place for over 20 years, and it is still going on. It was very hurtful to us as well as many others who went to church there. So a person who has never experienced true friendship would certainly not endorse it.

Friendships also open lines of communication between people. The communication at our former church was always very strained and uncomfortable because you could not express your opinion if it differed with the leadership, particularly with the pastor. You were then labeled as a gossip and/or troublemaker. So when you got together with your friends you had to act like you were happy about whatever was going on at the church, even if you weren't. Because of this, friendships were often not trusting ones, and many ended. In retrospect, we believe that the leadership feared strong friendships among the congregation because then everyone would get together and discuss the true absurdity of the many situations that we encountered. One time, the pastor was very unkind and critical in some remarks he made to me. He overstepped his bounds to the point where my family should have left the church. I confided in a "friend" about what he said to me and it got back to him. He then accused me of putting a friendship before the "word." The irony of that was that nothing he said to me came from the Bible and he was not acting anything like Jesus would have. It would have been a help to me if he had. Sadly, I bought what he said and stayed for many more years.

We also observed the burning of many bridges in the leadership's relationship with other ministers. It was actually difficult to keep up with who was on the approved list or who just got moved to the black list. Much of it was politically motivated, such as, who was in this camp and that camp. There was much division between ministers who were supposed to share the same goal.

I Corinthians 3:4-8 in the Amplified says:
4. For when one says, I belong to Paul, and another, I belong to Apollos, are you not [proving yourselves] ordinary (unchanged) men?
5. What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Ministering servants [not heads of parties] through whom you believed, even as the Lord appointed to each his task:

6. I planted, Apollos watered, but God [all the while] was making it grow and [He] gave the increase.
7. So neither he who plants is anything nor he who waters, but [only] God Who makes it grow and become greater.
8. He who plants and he who waters are equal (one in aim, of the same importance and esteem), yet each shall receive his own reward (wages), according to his own labor.

This scripture was completely ignored. There were not only different camps, but different hierarchies of ministers within each camp, with all kinds of bridges being irreparably burned between them. It did not give us a very good taste of what ministry was supposed to be.

When it came to the point where we realized that we could no longer stay in this church, we attempted to formulate a plan for a smooth departure, only to have the bridge burned to a cinder behind us. We should have known that it was inevitable that after watching so many bridges being burned at this church that the same thing would eventually happen to us as well. Remember that bridges can be burned from either side. Burning bridges is a deliberate way of preventing anyone from returning. Maybe they realized that once someone saw the truth from the other side, they didn't want them coming back. Although it is not the best, sometimes you cannot prevent bridges from being burned. In this particular case, we are not interested in ever crossing that bridge again, and would discourage anyone else from doing the same.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 in the NIV says:
9. Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
10. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!

Do all you can to repair and maintain the bridges that join you with friends. Don't let anyone stand between you and your friends, especially a crazy pastor.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Stand up to the Bully

Mark 9:42 "... if you give one of these simple, childlike believers a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you'll soon wish you hadn't. You'd be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck."

Did you ever encounter a bully during your childhood years? I think that most everyone probably has. The bully kid was usually intimidating because of his larger stature, big talk, or because he had a cadre of would-be usurpers behind him who were staring you down, ready to back him up. Does any of this bring back unpleasant childhood memories for you? I mistakenly thought I was all through with bullies once I had grown up, but I and many others ended up having to deal with a grown up version of one for many years.

The definition of a bully is, "a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people." To bully someone is to "intimidate with threats and by an overbearing, swaggering demeanor; to act the part of a bully toward." Sometimes a bully can also try to get the best of you emotionally. Emotional bullying is "when someone tries to gain control by making others feel angry or afraid. It is characterized by verbal abuse such as name-calling, sarcasm, incessant teasing, threatening, mocking, putting down, belittling, ignoring, and lying. Also known as adult and workplace bullying, emotional bullying also includes such abuse as exclusion from a group, tormenting, ganging up on others, or humiliation.”

This bullying trait can be quite problematic in a church setting, particularly if the role of the bully is played by the pastor, which we saw in our former church. The pastor constantly demanded the respect of the congregation. If he (and his family) did not receive the homage he believed he deserved, then threats, belittling criticism, teasing, and mocking would ensue. Sometimes this abuse was for no apparent reason. Just always at your expense. And woe be unto you if you attempted to retaliate. Staff members were treated in this manner for years, and were often ridiculed from the pulpit. These staff members, who looked to him as their role model, would, in turn, bully the volunteer helps people. This bullying spirit was taken on by certain staff and board members who, for years, have served as henchmen for the pastor. They have appeared at people's homes and businesses, made threats, or attempted to get information. Under the guise of being unhappy themselves, they have pulled criticisms out of people to use against them later. Just how many brownie points are worth hurting so many people? What exactly is it that they are gaining? One step out of line and their accumulated brownie points will immediately go into a negative zone.

Word of Faith ministers seem to have adapted an overinflated opinion of self-importance. This is a nationwide epidemic that people, including ourselves, have bought into for years. Many of these ministers are also bullies. Sometimes I watch televangelists for the sheer pleasure of now being able to see them and their false teaching in a different light. There is also a tremendous gross-out factor that draws me in as well. I watched one preach on Hosea 4:6, which reads, "My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge." We've heard that one a few times, huh? This televangelist bully proceeded to use this scripture to tell everyone in the TV and studio audience just how ignorant he thought they were. He called them stupid several times and said that their stupidity was what was destroying them. He then had people in the audience look at one another and proclaim how ignorant they were. The sad part about it was that everyone laughed uncomfortably and went along with it. So, this dude with his big hair came in and insulted people instead of helping them, and then lined his greedy pockets with their hard earned money. It is really frustrating to watch good people be so deceived. A common practice among Word of Faith ministers is to take a scripture, put their obnoxious and often inaccurate twist on it, and then say, "Don't blame me for saying it! God said it!" What I say to that is, "Don't you blame God for your stinking bad manners."

I found a great quote that says,"Bullies seldom execute the threats they deal in." This is so true. A good friend of mine told me that if you stand up to a bully, he will back down. I am so grateful to God that we now have that freedom. Don't let yourself be bullied by anyone, particularly in a church setting. I don't care who they are or what title they hold. Know who you are in Christ and let that be your confidence. Placing your confidence in a man instead of God will always lead you down the wrong road.

Jeremiah 22:13 "Doom to him who builds palaces but bullies people, who makes a fine house but destroys lives, Who cheats his workers and won't pay them for their work, Who says, 'I'll build me an elaborate mansion with spacious rooms and fancy windows. I'll bring in rare and expensive woods and the latest in interior decor.' So, that makes you a king— living in a fancy palace? Your father got along just fine, didn't he? He did what was right and treated people fairly, And things went well with him. He stuck up for the down-and-out, And things went well for Judah. Isn't this what it means to know me?" God's Decree! "But you're blind and brainless. All you think about is yourself, Taking advantage of the weak, bulldozing your way, bullying victims."

Ezekiel 34:1 [ When the Sheep Get Scattered ] God's Message came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherd-leaders of Israel. Yes, prophesy! Tell those shepherds, 'God, the Master, says: Doom to you shepherds of Israel, feeding your own mouths! Aren't shepherds supposed to feed sheep? You drink the milk, you make clothes from the wool, you roast the lambs, but you don't feed the sheep. You don't build up the weak ones, don't heal the sick, don't doctor the injured, don't go after the strays, don't look for the lost. You bully and badger them. And now they're scattered every which way because there was no shepherd—scattered and easy pickings for wolves and coyotes. Scattered—my sheep!—exposed and vulnerable across mountains and hills. My sheep scattered all over the world, and no one out looking for them!

- V

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Kingdom of Wordland (Chapter Four)

A Mass Exodus...

The King and his son were away in a distant land to the north when the announcement was made about the Great Banquet. The King’s daughter made a special request that all of the loyal subjects bring a gift for the King far and above anything that had ever been done before. This was in addition to the special tax that was imposed on all who desired to attend the banquet. The Princess even shed tears that day. Most all of the Wordlanders present were shocked by this appeal.

On the same day as this appeal, the Minister of Benevolence tried to restore the spirit of the Wordlanders by telling of a recent visit to a land far to the south. He had just returned from taking food to a neighboring nation that had recently suffered a national calamity. He spoke of the need for the Wordlanders to get involved in efforts like these to reach out to the needy. He also mentioned that the King had commissioned him to this position, and that the King had asked him to present this to the people. But this helped very little. The Wordlanders began to see a different picture of the King and his family. Many had questions about some of the King’s ambitions and motives, but none dared to voice them because they greatly feared him.

That was about to change. When the Prince returned later that week he called together the royal staff. Prince Devoid went on a royal fulmination. He spoke as one with great anger and arrogance. He questioned the staff and asked them as to their disposition regarding the announced gala and the new tax. No one felt the liberty to respond to the Prince until the Minister of Benevolence stood up. Having just returned from a land of great need, he could see the great avarice which motivated the banquet. He spoke of how beneficial a tax like this would be if it were given to the poor instead of for the King’s benefit. He mentioned that many in Wordland could not afford this tax and would feel slighted because they could not attend the banquet. There was much unrest that day, but among the royal staff the abundance of silence spoke many volumes.

The King returned the following week amongst many rumors. The Benevolence Minister was shown very little regard, and after nearly a quarter century of service, was dismissed on the spot by Prince Devoid. The King never had the courage to face the Minister of Benevolence. It was later reported that he was not in the royal palace during the minister's dismissal, but he was actually seen passing by in the corridor several times.

Because of the many rumors which surrounded him, Prince Devoid was sent westward with his family to serve the Duke of Falsehoods. This duke's title was bestowed upon him as a favor. He did not go through any of the needed requirements to earn it, like most of the dukes did.

Over the weeks and months that followed, the King became very angry and indignant. He began to make many strange statements, one of which was likening the former Minister of Benevolence to a court jester. He also likened unpaid taxes to a flaming arrow that would sear the flesh and hair of his loyal subjects. He began to be suspicious of many of his other ministers and squires. One in particular, Randolf the Brave, was one of the King's loyal helpers for many years. Randolf, because of his close association with the King, was privy to much information. Because he was a man of proven character, many Wordlanders went to him for counsel. Although the King labeled him as a man of insignificance, Randolph was able to help many. Randolph and others were later banished from the Kingdom.

During these days in Wordland, many rumors of malfeasance began to circulate. People seemed to be willing to ask the questions that before had seemed unspeakable. It were as if a great spell that had controlled the people had been broken. Scores of subjects began to venture out from Wordland. They now were free to follow their own hearts and personal interests. In spite of many curses that were continually being pronounced on these people, they were now walking in a new found joy and freedom. There were old friendships that were restored, and great peace now ruled these people. It was learned that many of the Wordlanders that had left many years earlier were living a much better life than before. They were quick to help those who were now leaving.

To this day, Wordland still exists, although not to the level of its former glory. There are still loyal subjects that have stayed to help the King. However, the joy and peace that was once there does not seem to remain.

If you ever meet a former Wordlander, they will tell you that they are now better than before and have learned many valuable lessons. They will also tell you that their hope has been restored and that they will continue to live happily ever after.

May you be one who lives happily ever after as well.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Kingdom of Wordland (Chapter Three)

The Big Move...

Although there had been some dark days for the Wordlanders, a renewed hope came in the form of a message from one of the great prophets of the west. He sent a message to the King that the best was yet to come. He said that all of the great things that the King had done would soon be rewarded and all of their troubles would be over. So as to encourage the people, the King published this message over and over for his loyal subjects to hear. Each time they heard the message they would rejoice because the great prophet from the west had given them hope.

During this time in Wordland, the King appointed his son, Prince Devoid, to the position of Vice King. He would now be in a place to help his father. He was to oversee all of the management of the finances and the royal staff. Although Prince Devoid had no experience and had never proven himself in this position, the King assured the people that it would help to move Wordland to a higher plane. They were soon told that all of the taxes and tariffs that had been paid were being used efficiently because Prince Devoid was such a wise manager. The royal family surely seemed to be blessed during those days in Wordland. They were now able to live in some of the finest palaces in the known land.

Wordland had seen so much growth in the past years that the land that they were dwelling in began to feel too small and worn. The King met with the people and showed them a vision of a land which he had seen that would be a good place to grow. He told them that it was now time to launch out and possess that new land. He asked the people to bring in all of their gold and silver so that they could acquire this land, and build a new royal castle. All of the people were excited and began to bring in gold by the carts full. Prince Devoid was making sure that all of the gold and silver was being well protected.

After several years of hard work, it was time to make the big move to the new Kingdom. With great fanfare, that historic day came. How proud it made them to have come from such humble beginnings and to now be in such a grand place! It seemed that the castle had become so important that the King began to neglect the people that had helped him to build it. Now that Prince Devoid was overseeing all of the daily operations of the Kingdom, the King could now travel even more that he did before.

The new place appeared to be the finest yet, but something was missing. Where was the unity that they once had? Where was the hope that the people once had? Where had all of the resources gone to help the needy people? The people found themselves doing more and more to please their King, but their efforts seemed without purpose.

The King became gloomy because the people did not seem to be paying him the homage that they once had. The ones close to the King decided that they would throw several banquets and feasts in the King’s honor. They were sure that this would help bring joy back to the King and to all the people of Wordland. The great banquet would come at the end of the year and it would be the grandest that anyone had ever seen. This event would feature the King and all of his accomplishments, and it would have to be the most lavish that there had ever been. They wanted to invite other kings from all around the land to this feast. The question was, how would they pay for such an affair? They decided to levy a tax on the people, and only those who were willing to pay this tax would be allowed to attend the feast. They also said that all who attended would be required to wear the finest apparel.

When the people learned of this tax, they were outraged, but were afraid to tell the King. It was a very high tax, and the people would have to pay it during a time when there were other tariffs due. Many discussed their misgivings among themselves, and word of this got back to the King.

To Be Continued


Monday, May 5, 2008

The Kingdom of Wordland (Chapter Two)

Trouble Brews for the Wordlanders...

At this time some people did not like the change that they saw in their King. They were told that the King knew all things and was not to be questioned. Some of those people did not like the King’s response and decided to leave the Kingdom. When these people told the King that they were leaving, he warned them that great evil would come upon them and their families if they left. He told them that they were only safe from the great evil one if they remained behind the walls of his Kingdom. Many people began to leave in spite of the great dangers that were outside of the Kingdom walls. It was reported that some who left had faced an untimely death. This is the first time that any Wordlanders were bold enough to venture outside of the walls of Wordland. At this time, a decree came down from the King that any and all outcasts were to be shunned.

The King pronounced a blessing of health on all of the loyal subjects and told them that they were in a land that was free from plagues and diseases. The King continued to prosper and threw many great feasts for all of the other kings with whom he had become close. It seemed that all of the small people had become servants to the King instead of his being servant to them. The King did not seem to have time to spend with the people because he was now busy trying to expand his Kingdom.

One day, a dark spirit fell on Wordland. In spite of the great words of protection that had been spoken by the King, many people came down with the great plague. The King continued to speak words of health, but others became ill as well. Although the people were told that they were in a safe place which was free of this plague, there were some that died. After that, other evils fell on some of the people. There were many in the kingdom who became fearful and troubled. The King stood his ground and told the people that all was well.

Over the next several days, the people waited for the King to present them with a message of comfort. Many asked the King to explain what had happened. They were disillusioned because they had been taught that things like these would never fall on the positive speaking Wordlanders. The only response that came forward was that some things were too great for them to understand.

The King continued to prosper and began to formulate plans as to how he could get his son, Prince Devoid, to help him run the Kingdom.

To Be Continued...


The Kingdom of Wordland (Chapter One)

In The Beginning

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there were a people that lived in the Kingdom of Wordland. These Wordlanders were, at one time, a happy people who worked together to build a place that would spread the good news that they had come to find. In the beginning, this was a small group of people with modest means and hearts that were true. They started out with a leader that lived and worked among them. He was a simple man who was very grateful to the people. He would take time to teach the people and help them deal with the issues that they each faced. The leader at this time dressed and lived a humble life like the rest of the people.

The Wordlanders would come together many times each week to listen to the man teach the truths that he had learned. The leader told them of a place far to the west that he had visited where he learned these teachings. In that city there were people who lived in a state of near perfection where no one ever got sick and or lacked for anything. If there was anything that they needed, all that they had to do was to say it and it would manifest. As the leader began to teach this message, the people began to long to know more about it and dreamed of their visit to this city, which was called Mecca.

Each week, when the people came together they would make great merriment. They would gather with the minstrels and sing and dance. They would celebrate and shout of the things that they had not yet seen, but were told that one day they would have.

As more and more people came to this small place, they began to grow. The leader began to have other great leaders visit his people, and one day the great teacher from Mecca came to visit. As the small group continued to grow they realized that they needed to find a larger place so that more people could come to see this great work. And one day they did. They moved to a much larger place that was greater than anything they could imagine. The leader told them not to worry because he could help them believe for anything.

All was well, and everyone was happy. The leader began to travel out and spend time with others like him. The people were excited to hear that he was known among the great leaders of Mecca. They were told that their leader was a man of importance and they began to see him in a different light. One day their leader returned from Mecca and told the people that he had just learned of a new teaching from the great prophet. No longer was he to spend time close to the people and be their servant, but he now held a special place and was to be addressed as their King. From that day forward, no one was to address the leader by any other title but King.

During this time in Wordland, the Kingdom began to grow. Many people were happy, but they began to see a change in their newly proclaimed King. He no longer lived among the people. He no longer dressed or drove chariots like the people. No longer was he available to help the people with their problems. He also began to talk about how important it was to accumulate fine things, and that the Kingdom of Wordland was the greatest Kingdom in all of the known world. This also must mean that he was the greatest King in all the world. One day he told the people that he was the King of the Kingdom that all of the other Kings wished that they could be King of. Oh how proud that made all of the people and the King’s family!

To be continued.....