I’m currently teaching my way through the book of Mark in the New Testament at my church. I want to pass along something about God’s love that many people seem to miss.
When Jesus was baptized, his Father revealed a big part of his heart by what he said. If I had to imagine what God might say to Jesus in that moment, it would be something like, “I have called you to save the world. It will require all that you have, but I send you forth!” That’s a very functional message and it shows a bit of who I am: task oriented.
But to the contrary, Jesus’ Father wasn’t task oriented at all. He was very relational and affirming, saying:
“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Can God’s Love Allow Suffering?
What’s striking to me is what follows:
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. Mark 1:12,13
God immediately put Jesus in a place of suffering, isolation, and temptation. The mention of the wild animals just added to the scary and unpredictable nature of being in the wilderness.
It’s hard for many people to grasp that God allows suffering. In their mind, suffering negates the possibility of God’s love for them. They are convinced that if God loves them he will never allow them to suffer. When bad things happen they are quick to question and doubt God’s love, if not his very existence. Their faith rises and falls on their circumstances. They feel close to God when things are good. They feel far from God when things are bad.
What we have to remember is that we live in a broken world. Someday God will set all things right. He will judge the wicked and reward the righteous. There will be no more death or sickness. All suffering will cease. Until then, his only promise is to be WITH US in our suffering, not rescue us from all suffering.
God’s Love Does Not Guarantee We Will Not Suffer
When Jesus walked the earth his healings and miracles were not guarantees that all believers would experience these things on earth. They were only a promise of the hope Jesus offered his believers who followed him to the end of time. His miracles were a snapshot of heaven to come.
It’s in these hard times that we see the reality of God the most. God wants to prove his faithfulness to us and have us prove to ourselves that, with his help, we can face anything.
Notice how the text above ends by saying that angels attended Jesus. That means they served him or supported him during his temptations so he could overcome the temptations.
It’s in these hard times that we see the reality of God the most. God wants to prove his faithfulness to us and have us prove to ourselves that, with his help, we can face anything.
If you are going through a hard time, trust that Jesus is with you to comfort you, guide you, and sustain you through it. He has even sent his angels to support you.
It’s not often that my wife joins me on stage but this past Sunday I invited her to help me talk about how to prevent marital meltdowns. We had a doozy of a meltdown a few years back and thankfully we found our way to overcome it and other marriage problems we had. Below is the video of our talk along with the outline and a few notes.
I hope you find some help from our experiences. As I said in the video below, this is our story. It’s not THE STANDARD that all people should follow. So take it for what it’s worth and apply to your relationships what makes sense for you.
Jesus and the apostles call us to healthy relationships.
There was often disunity in the early church. The New Testament writers constantly called believers to love and unity. This was a sign of true faith. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians dealt with the problem of disunity and called them to “make every effort” to restore the unity of the Spirit.
Aha moments that helped us overcome our marriage problems:
it was okay, and even good, to be different from each other. (Not wrong, just different). We found that we different in these four area:
Gender: Lisa is more relational and I’m more oriented toward achievement.
Love Language: Lisa needs touch and I need quality time.
Family experience: Lisa came from a laid back team oriented fun household. Me, not so much.
Personality: I am a BIG picture person (spare me the details) while Lisa is a small picture person who LOVES details.
to not assume the worst intentions and get defensive before we understand one another. We learned that we would often read too much into words and facial expressions.
that we had different ideas of a successful marriage and needed to agree on a common goal. My achievement orientation left Lisa feeling emotionally abandoned. This caused a huge meltdown in our marriage that took hard work to recover from.
Divorce-Proofing Our Marriage
We committed to:
never divorce but always find a way back to unity. This commitment put Lisa’s feet to the fire when she lost trust in me. It forced her to trust God to work a miracle.
keep God first in our personal lives as well as in marriage. To give up on marriage meant being hypocrites as believers. Putting God first forced us to deal with our stuff until we could find unity.
work on the marriage.
work on personal growth.
create touchpoints that would bring us together. Touch points are the daily, weekly, and annual things we do to make sure we are spending quality time together.
If you know someone who might find help with their marriage problems from our video, please share it with them or through social media. My book STUCK also deals with many of the issues that we touched on in our talk, looking at anger and how to forgive what feels unforgivable.
This post is totally personal and has nothing to do with what I normally write about. But so many people have benefited from what I’ve learned about light therapy, I thought I should tell more people, and this is an easy way to do it.
Intense Fatigue and Depression
Three years ago in March, on a Sunday before I got up to speak at church, I found myself very tired and a bit weepy…sad about nothing. I didn’t think much about it, but throughout the week the tiredness grew and it became more of a heavy fatigue. I felt like I had lead in my veins, a sack of bricks on my back, and I felt like crying. I had no motivation. It got so bad that for a couple of Sundays I spoke sitting down, too light-headed and fatigued to stand.
I went to the doctor, got my blood tested, and found… nothing. It’s VERY frustrating to not know what’s wrong with you.
The fatigue stayed with me through May and then it vanished. End of story, I thought. But then the following February the same thing happened. Same symptoms. Same trip to the doctor with no solutions. It went away again in the summer.
Could Light Therapy Help?
I asked a doctor friend if this could be S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). He had no idea but he suggested trying light therapy, just in case. By now it was summer and I had no symptoms, so I had to wait to see if the symptoms would return come winter.
In November of 2016 I started using a therapy lamp every day for 30 minutes. I didn’t get any fatigue but I also didn’t know if that was a coincidence or because the light therapy helped. The only way to find out was to stop the treatment and see what happened.
I quickly found out. Whenever I lapsed using the light therapy, fatigue and depression settled in like a thick fog. Two days of light therapy would cause it to lift. I’ve got to tell you, this was GOOD NEWS.The fatigue and depression had become so debilitating I was concerned about my ability to continue as a pastor. People were starting to worry about me.
My S.A.D. Is Progressing
The first year my fatigue/depression began in March. The next year it was February. This year it started in November, catching me by surprise. I wasn’t sure if the symptoms were even from S.A.D. since it was so early in winter, but light therapy helped again.
My S.A.D. symptoms are definitely progressing: I”ve had to increase my time in front of the lamp from 30 to 45 minutes. If the need goes beyond an hour or beyond November, then I think I need to move south!
Is Light Therapy for You?
In the Northland where I live (Wisconsin) light sensitivity is an issue. But I’ve lived here all my life, so I never thought it would affect me. For whatever reason, things changed.
I mentioned my light therapy in a sermon one day last year and I was surprised how many people could relate to my symptoms and have since purchased a therapy lamp. I seem to be preaching a new kind of gospel these days. Like I said, so many people have been helped by my story, I wanted to reach more people in hopes of helping them too.
If you are reading this nodding your head, relating to my symptoms, I encourage you to give light therapy a try. There are a variety of lamps at a variety of prices, but the one I bought works well and it was only $55 at the time of this post. You can follow this link to see a big selection of lightsor just do a google search for light therapy lamps. Get one that has at 10,000 LUX or more and has a big screen.
Keeping faith is not always easy. There are plenty of reasons to give up on church and God. I’m currently reading a variety of history books that sadly tell the story of a corrupt and hypocritical church. I’ve struggled thinking that this is part of my spiritual heritage.
When Church Hurts More Than it Heals…
I didn’t set out to read about the church. I love history and I just followed a variety of interests I have:
I’m headed to Mexico City in a few months and so I am reading La Capital, a history of Mexico City.
Our church supports a medical clinic in the Republic of Congo and so I picked up a book on the history of Congo (Congo: the Epic History)
Someone mentioned that The Poisonwood Bible was a good read so I put it on backorder at my library. I had no idea what it was about. But it came in the other day and, coincidentally, it tells of a missionary family who travelled to Congo in the 60’s.
I have some German ancestry and so I started listening to the historical fiction book: The Castle of Kings that relates the history of Germany in the 1500’s.
On the other side of my family I have pietist English pastors. In doing a little research I came to learn that one of them was linked to the Salem witch trials That led me to read a book chronicling the trials.
I’m reading all these books simultaneously and they all share one thing in common: a very sad story of a corrupt church that did much more harm than good. In each instance the church used its power to gain control over people to their detriment.
Add to these readings the weekly emails I get from people who have read my book, Broken Trust (about toxic faith and spiritual abuse), and a recent politician declaring his candidacy as ordained of God, and it’s all very disheartening.
I Don’t Need That
It saddens me to be a part of something that I believe in so much (the church) yet has such an ugly history of hurting people. Honestly, if I wasn’t fully embedded in such a positive church community it would be very easy for me to step back and say, “I don’t need that. There must be something about organized religion that is inherently wrong.”
Many people have come to that conclusion. In fact, if you’ve read my books, I came to that conclusion many years ago, causing me to quit church all together for a season. It was only through a series of events that I came back to church and ended up in ministry.
I find it ironic that I’m a pastor because I hold organized religion with such a high degree of suspicion and even contempt. I’ve seen the dark side. I’ve heard too many stories of hurt. It would be easy for me to walk away from the church. But thankfully I’ve seen the good side as well. I know so many people of faith who exhibit true devotion to God, great character, and inspiring generosity,
Why I Won’t Give Up On Church
I’m indebted to these people and the church I’m a part of (Cedarbrook). They are what make me stay in the church. They are what make it all worth my time and effort. They help me to believe that God’s people can actually come together to do good. I see it every day.
I agree with Bill Hybels who has famously said that “the church is the hope of the world.” But I say that knowing that many people scoff at such an idea based on their experience with the church. They would say that the church is the scourge of the world and we’d all be a lot better off without it. There are websites and Facebook pages dedicated to exposing the abuses of the church. I get that, better than you might think.
It’s important to realize there are two “churches” out there…one that is called and directed by God to reveal his nature and serve others and one that uses the idea of God to manipulate others for its own gain (I don’t believe everyone in this second church realizes what they are doing. They have just been fed a self-serving “gospel” and they don’t know any better. It empowers them in an unholy way and they accept it, not knowing that it’s contrary to who God is. Graciously, God still moves in their lives, but not as much as he could.)
If you are a believer in God, I hope you won’t give up on church but seek to find a healthy church and join it. If you can’t find one, then be a part of creating it. Don’t give up. The world needs to see the kingdom of God in action. If we give up…then the world truly has no hope.
If you are not a believer I hope you will not judge all believers based on the evil you’ve seen. Please keep an open mind that there might be people out there who haven’t turned to faith out of ignorance or use religion for personal gain.
Choosing to Not Give Up on Church
It’s tempting to write off religion as corrupt foolishness, but I know better. I’ve seen too much good…too many changed lives. I will continue to believe that God is calling his people together to do good in 2018 and the days ahead. I hope you will do the same.
Now that I’ve released my latest book, Broken Trust, I regularly hear from people stuck in an abusive church or who have just left an abusive church. One question I often get is: What do I do about the friends I leave behind at my former church? I feel so responsible for them. I don’t want to leave them “to the wolves.”
Leaving an Abusive Church
Leaving your friends is one of the hardest parts of leaving an abusive church and it’s what causes many people to stay (when they should leave). When I left an abusive church I didn’t know what to do about my friends who stayed. I wanted to rescue them. And they kept asking me why I was leaving and encouraging me to just stay.
Then I read some advice that said the best thing you can do is have NO contact with friends from your previous church. At first I thought it was terrible advice. It sounded extreme. But over time I realized the wisdom of it. When you stay in contact with people at your former church it only adds unnecessary drama to your life and the lives of your friends. There are the continual updates about “what they did/said this week” and it only leads to gossip and confusion.
You Can’t Decide For Your Friends
It’s important to let people make up their own minds on whether to stay in their abusive church or leave it. You can’t make that decision for them. Their experience isn’t your experience. You need to respect that.
If you compel your friends to leave, they may resent you and eventually return. Then suddenly YOU are the bad guy. But if you leave and stop communicating with them, that makes a powerful statement. It shows your friends how serious this is to you. It also gives them the freedom to hear from God on their own, without your influence. You have to trust that if God spoke to you about leaving the abuse, he can speak to your friends as well.
What To Tell Your Friends
There is no recipe that “works” in this situation. It’s like a divorce. You are just trying to make the best of a very bad situation. Personally, I would tell my friends that stay in the abusive church something like this:
“Friend, I’m leaving the church for these reasons (list). I don’t want to sway you to leave and I’m not going to defend my reasons for leaving. I’m sorry to have to say this but I’m not going to be in contact with you for an extended period of time. I don’t want to cause any dissension in the church or be a stumbling block in your faith. I leave you to make up your own mind. For this reason, it’s best that we don’t talk for a season until we are all settled on what’s right for us. I love you. I’ll be praying for you and the church. I’ll miss you. I’m not doing this to hurt you. I believe it’s the best for everyone.”
I understand that this is hard, but there’s nothing easy about an abusive church. I believe that drawing these firm boundaries are necessary. You may not agree with this approach. That’s fine. Let me know what you have found that has worked better for you.
If you are looking for practical answers to help you to deal with an abusive church situation you might want to check out Broken Trust and read the reviews from people who have already read it.
Forgiveness is one of the most spiritual acts you can do. Nothing makes you more like God than when you forgive. But a question I often get is: “Why can’t I forgive? I tried and it didn’t work.”
Why Can’t I Forgive?
There are many reasons why forgiveness doesn’t “work.” As I’ve said in other posts, and in my book STUCK,we often have a wrong conception of what forgiveness is. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting, excusing, trusting, reunion, conditional, or a feeling.
Another reason we can’t forgive is we try to do it on our own. We don’t include God in the process…and it IS a process. Again, I outline this process in my book STUCK. From admitting your anger, to grieving your loss, to reframing your offender, and more, God needs to be a part of every step. It’s a great lesson in prayer, asking God to help you with each step.
Why Can’t I Forgive? The Secret to Forgiveness
But there is a simple mistake many people make that prevents them from ever forgiving: they put their focus on what THEY are trying to do (forgive) and not what GOD wants to do in them.
Let me explain. The average forgiver knows they need to forgive to honor God and move on with their life. But the problem is, they are so hurt, when they think of forgiving their offender, all they can do is think about how they were offended. They barely make it out of the gate before they get thrown off their game.
Look at the wedge in this circle. The wedge represents the loss in your life. This is what was taken from you. Most people want their offender to put back what they took. In some rare cases they might be able to do that. But even then, there is still the hurt that they did it in the first place.
In most cases your offender either doesn’t want to restore what they took or they are unable to. Yet you keep expecting something from them: restoration, repentance, humility, a sincere apology, etc. That’s probably not going to happen, and so it just makes it really hard to forgive them.
Instead, what you need to do is bring your loss to God. Rather than focusing on your offender and what you want from them, ask God to fill up your loss. Ask HIM to restore you. This might sound simplistic, but it is the secret to your being able to forgive and move on.
You see, as long as you feel the loss, you will suffer lack. You will be deficient, and deficient people aren’t forgivers. Forgiveness is a generous act and generosity comes out of the overflow of your life. You will never overflow with forgiveness by focusing on your loss or your offender. But if you ask God to fill up your losses, he will do that and more. Then you will be able to offer forgiveness and move on with your life.
Why Can’t I Forgive? God’s fullness is the answer.
The apostle Paul prayed that we might be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19). That’s what it takes to forgive others. And when you are filled to God’s fullness, Paul says that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
The truth is, you CAN forgive. You just need to put your focus in the right place.
If you download and read Broken Trust, would you be so kind as to review it on the Amazon page? Books live and die by their reviews. The more reviews a book has, and the better the rating, the more the book pops up in Amazon search.
People are saying good things about Broken Trust!
I’m pleased at the response the book has gotten after just three weeks. Here are two examples:
One of the best books I have read on how to process and deal with broken trust in churches by those in authority…It has practical applications on how to move forward in your life and finding peace that passes all understanding in your situation! This is a must read for you if you have undeserved hurt by other Christians and leaders. R.C.
I wish I had found a book like this 25 years ago. Remy does a great job unraveling the mystery behind spiritual abuse, toxic churches and how these churches cloak abuse under the guise of spirituality. Almost every page of the book I was thinking, “that’s my situation exactly” or “that has happened to me”. People are just now beginning to understand what makes these abusers tick. Thank you Remy for filling in the blanks and helping me connect the dots. M.U.
Free Book on Spiritual Abuse
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