My Story of Spiritual Abuse -Updated

Eric Starkey Web

This post had been deleted from my blog for a few years. I have reposted this story to my blog because to “delete” this experience, is to deny who I am -and who I have become. This experience has profoundly shaped who I am and will affect me for the rest of my life. I do not say this with the mindset of a victim, but rather as a survivor who is a few years down the road of recovery.

Before I repost my story, here are a few bullet point thoughts I wanted to share:

I deleted this post because I was trying to divorce myself from my past.  I wanted to fully heal and I did not want others to judge me based on this experience or my response to it. Honestly, I did not want to be seen as a trouble maker and just wanted to put “distance” between myself and this season of my life.

While I strongly disagree with the theology and practices of this pastor and church, I forgive them. I am not bitter. I would be willing to discuss these issues with anyone from this church, including the pastor. I am at a point where I have recovered personally and am wanting to draw attention to the larger problem.

There are churches like this all over the country.  Some very large and very successful. While “my story” is personal to me, my disagreement with spiritual abuse and the twisted theology that supports it spans across multiple churches, denominations and even religions.

-Some people want to be a part of churches where spiritual abuse is openly practiced. While I do not completely understand this phenomena, I must accept that reality.  This is why spiritually abusive churches survive, and many even thrive.

-My wife and I have been away from this type of church for approximately seven years and our lives have not fallen apart. As a matter of fact while the road has been rocky at times, we have thrived since “leaving the covering” of our spiritually abusive pastor.  We openly disagreed with this abusive pastor and we are still here.  In other words, lightning did not strike us.

The pastor who I am speaking of in this post has never agreed to meet with me face to face to discuss my accusations against him. In fact, at the very end of our communication he actively dodged meeting with me.  The fact of the matter is if he would have responded to me as Jesus commanded, I would have never written the original blog post. We were very close friends for over 10 years, he was the best man at my wedding, I was one of his right hand men in ministry for over six years –and yet he never felt the need for us to engage in reconciliation.  However, I must admit that there is not much for us to say to each other at this point.  Our differences are rooted in our theology.  In short, we have very different opinions of what God looks like.  I believe God looks like and interacts with us like Jesus did in the gospels.  His views are a bit different.  This is a theological conversation / argument that has been raging since Jesus walked this Earth.  It is very highly unlikely that the two of us could settle it.  Years ago, my naivety gave me hope that somehow we could magically reconcile. Reality and a few more years of earned wisdom have dispelled my child-like naivety. Since then, I have focused my efforts on rebuilding my church life with those in which I am in theological agreement with.

I reported the spiritual abuse to the group of pastors who oversees the abusive pastor.  I supplied them with email documentation that clearly demonstrated the abuse and with references of other pastors who I was in relationship with.  They never spoke with me,  they never spoke with the pastors that I gave as references and they issued a letter basically telling me to “Shut up.”  In return, I washed my hands of the situation and voluntarily surrendered my ordination.  Spiritually abusive pastors will tell you, SUBMIT TO AUTHORITY!  However, I respectfully ask “What are we supposed to do when those in authority are a part of the problem? -or cover the problem up?”  Most, if not all, of the good revolutions and good reformations that have taken place would not have happened if we had blindly followed the advice of abusive leaders who stood in the way of positive godly change.

Below is the original version of my story posted four years ago. I updated a few details. However, the content remains the same and I stand by it. –This is my story:

My Experience with Spiritual Abuse  -originally posted 8/2012

Spiritual Abuse

Hello, my name is Eric and I was a victim of spiritual abuse.

Writing this post is one of final steps that I am taking towards the completion of my healing in this long and painful journey. The abuse started when I was approximately twenty years old.  I did not fully understand that I had been spiritually abused until recently -in the past 12 to 24 months.  I am thirty-five years old now and I have decided to openly share my story.

To begin to understand what spiritual abuse is and how it affects a person, we must first define it.  The following definition and description came from Wikipedia:

Spiritual abuse is a serious form of abuse which occurs when a person in religious authority or a person with a unique spiritual practice misleads and maltreats another person in the name of God or church or in the mystery of any spiritual concept. Spiritual abuse often refers to an abuser using spiritual or religious rank in taking advantage of the victim’s spirituality (mentality and passion on spiritual matters) by putting the victim in a state of unquestioning obedience to an abusive authority.

Spiritual abuse is the maltreatment of a person in the name of God, faith, religion, or church, whether habitual or not, and includes any of the following:

-Psychological and emotional abuse

-Any act by deeds or words that demean, humiliate or shame the natural worth and dignity of a person as a human being

-Submission to spiritual authority without any right to disagree; intimidation

-Unreasonable control of a person’s basic right to make a choice on spiritual matters

-False accusation and repeated criticism by negatively labeling a person as disobedient, rebellious, lacking faith, demonized, apostate, enemy of the church or God

-Prevention from practicing faith

-Isolation or separation from family and friends due to religious affiliation

-Exclusivity; dismissal of an outsider’s criticism and labeling an outsider as of the devil

-Withholding information and giving of information only to a selected few

-Conformity to a dangerous or unnatural religious view and practice

-Hostility that includes shunning, (relational aggression, parental alienation) and persecution

Despite the comparative frequency of spiritual abuse, those types of behavior and actions which are today classified as spiritual abuse can be seen to be prohibited in the major texts and scriptures of numerous religious traditions. Indeed, in the Christian Bible, spiritually abusive behavior is condemned as being one of the worst forms of sin due to its capacity to diminish or even to destroy an individual’s relationship with God.

As I think back on my relationship with the pastor who abused me, I can remember what should have been one of the first “red flags”.  I was 19 years old and the pastor was around 25.  I had just surrendered to my calling into the ministry in the church that he was pastoring.  We were having a conversation regarding someone who he considered to be “a problem church member” that was not submitting to his authority. It was one of his extended family members, this made the situation even more difficult for him to handle.  I remember him telling me, “Paul should respect me; Paul should honor me!  I am the pastor!  When I tell Paul to jump; he should just ask me, ‘How high?’” Paul was a retired man in his early seventies; the young pastor was in his mid-twenties.

When I began to follow the pastor who abused me, I would have bet my life that something like this would NEVER happen to me.  I have always had a strong and independent personality and I was convinced that this pastor was a sincere man who really loved God.  I still believe that, in his mind, he still loves God and people. -In a way, he too is a victim of his own spiritual abuse.  I was a faithful follower for well over ten years.  During that time he was the primary influence in my life.  Furthermore, I believe that since he took me under his wing at such a young and vulnerable age, I was impacted by the spiritual abuse in a more profound way.  

For much of my time under him, I hung on every word that he said. In a lot of ways he began to control my life.  For most of those years I was on staff at a church we had planted and had the “honor” of being considered one of his closest confidants.  The fact that I got so close to him is what finally allowed me to eventually realize that he was spiritually abusing me, and others.  Over time, I began to have trouble reconciling his behavior with what he was preaching and teaching from the pulpit.  His sermons sounded so good…  and so right, but what I observed from the fruits of his life began to contradict his sermons.  Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.”  Keep in mind, drawing a large crowd and growing a large church was not the good fruit Jesus was talking about.  There have been many, many people throughout human history who were talented enough to draw large crowds, but whose lives were not producing the fruits that Jesus spoke of.  

The contrast between his actions and the entirety of the teachings of Christ is what finally brought me to the point of understanding what was actually happening.  I must admit that it was a very long and confusing process.  I can still listen to his sermons to this day and be tempted to think that everything is “just in my head.”  This is just part of the deception of “spiritual abuse.”   I have wrestled with writing this blog post for some time; the deception that surrounds everyone involved in a situation like this is what finally motivated me to complete this post and make it public.

It is very embarrassing to admit this, but my mind really got messed up while I was under this man’s influence.  I remember really wanting to leave the church multiple times but slipping deeper and deeper into it all at the same time.  By the time I was in my late twenties, I began to question this man to his face in private meetings regarding the decisions he was making. Reasonable questions mainly regarding the diversification of church government and the simple fact that I wanted to leave the church.  Every time I would question him the conversations would get more intense. We could never agree to disagree; he was adamant that I always see it his way and conform to his way of thinking.  And He would make me feel like I was going against God when I questioned him.  I loved God with all my heart and the last thing I wanted to do was rebel against Him, so I would end up cowering to the abusive pastor every time.  

In the last few years that I was under him, there were many times when I was in emotional agony; there are simply no other words to describe how I felt.  I would go for long walks trying to sort things out.  I would lie in bed at night and wrestle with why things were the way they were.  I would work very long hours at the church attempting to prove my loyalty to my pastor and God.  I guess deep down, I was still attempting to seek acceptance from him.  I was looking for a “pat on the back.”  I needed a “pat on the back” from him.  It all sounds so “sick” now as I think back on those days.

I tried to leave the church many times, but he always was able to talk me out of it.  I had been on part-time staff working full time hours.  Between the church and my full time secular job I was working well over 80 hours per week some weeks.  I almost always worked 60+ hours every week. I remember just wanting out. By that time, I had a career outside of the church but somehow he was able to keep me in the flock.  I never understood how he managed that until I learned about what spiritual abuse is and how it affects the abused person.

Finally in 2005 after a major building project, I was completely burnt out.  I had run myself down so much physically that I was literally physically sick.  I remember staying sick for well over a month.  I approached the pastor and explained that I could not keep working the schedule that I had been working.  I still remember the meeting; he was so emotionless and cold as I described my condition.  He agreed to “allow me” to back off.  By this time I was not a stupid kid anymore; I knew that if I took my hands off of all the things in the church that I had been doing that it would begin to unravel.  So, I did. After just a few months things were beginning to unravel and he was forced to put me on staff full-time.  Well, he got my wife and I both full-time at the full-time pay for one person -without any benefits or health insurance.  I left a promising and successful secular career to become full-time at this church.  Why? I think that decision illustrates what spiritual abuse can do to a person’s decision making abilities.  Looking back on it now I think, WHAT WAS I THINKING!?!  –But at the time, it seemed to make perfect sense.  I thought becoming full-time at the church would solve all of the problems.  And the sick fact was that I did desire to be closer to the person who was abusing me.  Plus, there was the glamor of being in full-time ministry, right? Somehow in my warped mind, my wife and I becoming full-time at the church made perfect sense, so I quit my secular job.

Within a few months it was obvious that I made an awful decision.  After we became full-time, he thought he owned us!  The abyss between what he said from behind the pulpit and what I observed by watching him became simply un- reconcilable.  During this time, I began to lose respect for him. BUT, my mind was still warped.  I did not understand what spiritual abuse was and I was not aware of the dynamics that were happening inside the church and inside my own mind.  I was hurt, confused and in emotional turmoil.  But, I still felt a need to submit to him, to honor him, to be loyal to him and most importantly to protect and defend him.  –Even though I was beginning to lose respect for him.  Yes, I was a mess!

The breaking point was in a meeting in late of 2005.  My wife and I (and others) had worked our backsides off preparing for a harvest festival that was to be held at the church.  We had literally worked 70 to 80 hour weeks in the few weeks leading up to the festival.  It was a BIG production that required a lot of work.  In addition, the board members of the church had decided to hold a pastor’s appreciation dinner to honor the pastor on the prior Sunday.  The other associate pastor and I coached the board members through putting the dinner together.  All in all, my wife and I thought the dinner went well. The following Monday the pastor held a meeting with the other associate pastor and I. He verbally wore us out.  I cannot remember all of the specifics of the meeting.  I remember him saying that he wished we would have just given “him” a check for the money that was spent on the pastor’s appreciation dinner rather than having the dinner.  He also said that he felt “dishonored” by the dinner.  In addition, he scolded the other pastor and me for our work habits even though we were both working over forty hours per week.  Even my emotionally warped mind knew something was terribly wrong with this unhealthy church environment.  I had never been treated so poorly by a supervisor, much less my pastor.  I went home that day and told my wife we were leaving.  From that day forward I began to plot our way out.

I knew when the pastor found out that we were leaving that he would do whatever he could to stop us.  I also knew that when he realized that he was not able to stop us that he would do his best to cut us off from our church family and He did.  There were meetings held behind our backs.  He told the staff and the church board that he knew we were going to fail on our next ministry endeavor.  The night that it was announced to the church that we were leaving, we were not even allowed to be in the room.  STILL, my mind was warped; I did not fully understand what was going on. He did everything he needed to do to make our departure look “OK” publicly, but what happened in private was a different story.   I went along with everything and never uttered a single negative word against him to anyone in the church.  I “honored” him throughout the entire process.

This man who had called himself one of my best friends, and “my spiritual father” quickly kicked us to the curb.  When he found out that we wanted to plant another church, he gave me six weeks to get out.  As a matter of fact, I was vacated out of my office within a few weeks and forced to use the sound booth in the youth building for an office the last month I was on staff.  He would have kicked us out sooner, but he needed us to wrap some things up and train others to do what we were doing. We also had a big Easter drama planned and I was the only one who knew how to operate all of the sound and video equipment.  Keep in mind that I had faithfully served him for over six years in the current church working full time hours at very part time pay for over five of those years.  None of that mattered; I was no longer useful to him.  On my last day in the office, he did not even get up from behind his desk when I left. No embrace, no handshake, absolutely nothing but coldness. Even after everything that had happened, I was still absolutely stunned and deeply hurt. –But still making excuses for him.

Our way out of the abusive situation was church planting.  We moved 725 miles away to plant a church in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Moving away was the best decision we could have ever made. We decided to move because I did not want to plant a church locally.  I knew it would be a mess if I did.  I also just wanted to get away from the situation; there was so much hurt and confusion.  Keep in mind even at this point, I still honored this man.  I still defended this man.  In the year after we moved to Indiana, people from my former church would call me and complain to me about the things he was doing and I would STILL defend this pastor.  I would still make excuses for him.  The reason why I would never publicly address the situation or acknowledge the problems were because I still believed that God was using him and directing him.  I did not want to have a rebellious spirit.   I was also still praying and hoping that he would see his errors and repent.  I truly believed that he eventually would.

How did I come to the realization that I had been spiritually abused?  That’s a good question.  When we left the abusive situation, we had no idea we were being spiritually abused.  In fact, we did not even know what spiritual abuse was.  I guess back then, if someone would have asked me what spiritual abuse was, I would have thought it happened only in extreme cult cases like David Koresh or Jim Jones. Obviously our situation was not nearly as extreme.  I would have never connected myself to spiritual abuse.  I was too smart and too strong to be a victim of something like that.  Yeah, right…  My first clue was a conversation that I had with the pastor of the church in Indiana that “mothered” our new church plant.  I remember telling him in a conversation that he was my “new “pastor and therefore I was submitting my ministry and church plant to him.  (Not submitting to the church, but to him personally.) I remember the look on his face after I said that.  He had a puzzled look and did not quite know what to say.  We moved on to other conversation, but I remember that awkward moment; it stuck in my head for some time.

As with all of us who follow Jesus, I was not perfect either and God was leading me through a process to break my pride and arrogance and to bring me to a place of deeper surrender to Him.  He used my church planting experience to break me down and to deliver me from my arrogance and pride.  In the midst of that process, I began to build relationships with other pastors at God’s direction.  I began attending a weekly pastors’ prayer group, having lunch with other pastors and attending and then working in spiritual retreats called “Emmaus Walks.”  The more I got around more experienced and healthy pastors, the more I began to realize that things “weren’t right” in me and in my past.  I began to address these things as God brought them up in my spirit.  

During this season of my life, I wanted nothing more than to completely surrender my life and ministry to God.  As I began to deal with my own spiritual “unhealthiness,” it became apparent to me that I had learned these behaviors from my former pastor.  After all, he had started “mentoring” me when I was 18 and he had declared himself my “spiritual father.”  I addressed him on a few different occasions; once by phone and another time by letter.  My hopes were for repentance (on both sides) and complete restoration; the results of my attempts were completely the opposite.  My attempts at communication were private; his responses were made publicly from behind his bully pulpit.

Through this process I realized that I still had an unhealthy emotional connection with this man.  After everything that had happened, I still yearned for the relationship to be reconciled.  I realized that my emotions and my spirit had been damaged by this unhealthy relationship and church experience.  I did not know what to call it, but I knew something was not right in me.  It only took about thirty minutes of research one evening to learn the name of what had happened to my wife and me, “spiritual abuse.”  

At that point I began to stop making excuses for my former pastor and I began to look at the reality of the situation. That process did not happen overnight. It probably took me a full year to completely come to terms with the fact that we had been spiritually abused.  The reality is that we were taken advantage of.  Our love for God and His people was exploited by a selfish incomplete man who manipulates people to get what he wants.  He does not truly love the sheep; he uses the sheep.  He may say he loves them; he may even think that he loves them, but his actions prove different.  Love is not proven by words; it is demonstrated in actions –as Jesus did on the cross.

Our former pastor took advantage of two young kids who loved God and him very much.  The problem was that our relationship with God grew to the point where we were able to begin to see what he was doing, to us and many others.  When we became a threat, he had to dispose of us as quickly as possible.  –After the first time I seriously questioned him in a specific but very respectful way without backing down, (on the phone from Indiana) he never made a single attempt to communicate with me again. I was focused on restoration and he was worried about disposing of us as quickly as possible.  I was still defending him and he had already started assassinating my character to protect his.

Obviously, I have had to work though un-forgiveness and bitterness with this situation.  I must confess that I experienced a season of deep bitterness.  When I realized the full reality of what had happened, I was very bitter.  I felt like the bitterness was eating me up on the inside.  I have never had cancer before, but bitterness has to be something close to it, an emotional cancer eating away at your heart.   I knew it was wrong to feel that way; I knew it was sin, but the bitterness was there anyway and I had to deal with it.  Thankfully, God, in His sovereign grace, had surrounded me with a wonderful wife & kids and new friends in Indiana who really did love me.  God used those wonderful people in conjunction with a Christian counselor to help me work through the bitterness.  I will not say it was easy, but we got through it.  And I am soooooooo thankful.  It feels so good to be healed and free; words simply cannot express how good it feels.

Our lives have changed so much over the past five years; if you have read prior entries in my blog I think it is obvious. We are almost completely different people.  Here is a quick summary:

  • We have become spiritually healthy; we have never been closer to God.
  • We have become emotionally healthy; we have learned much better boundaries in our relationships.
  • We have become physically healthy; I have lost over 100 pounds and Amy has lost over 50 pounds.
  • Our marriage and family life has never been healthier.
  • We have become financially healthy; long story, but just trust me!
  • We are free to be who God created us to be; we no longer strive to conform to what people want us to be.
  • We are enjoying fruitful ministry, on God’s terms as He leads and we love it!
  • We are doing things that we never dreamed we would do!!! -I recently started an itinerate preaching and teaching ministry that is going very well and Amy is back in school working towards becoming a Physician’s Assistant. (Amy eventually felt prompted to return to teaching school in 2014 -after completing her pre-med classes with a 3.42 GPA.  I also completed my bachelors degree in 2014.)  *Education was not encouraged by our former pastor and church. -I wonder why???

So if everything is going great for us and we are no longer bitter, why write this blog post?

One of the primary characteristics of spiritual abuse is the fact that few people openly talk about it.  It is NOT a sin to talk about it.  It is NOT a sin to expose it.   It is NOT a sin to refuse to be abused.  It is NOT a sin to stand up for yourself.  The spiritual abuser is the perpetrator; not the person who is being abused.

I wrote this post because I wanted those of you who are struggling with this type of abuse to know that you are not alone.  My wife and I struggled with this, for so long.  We did not have anyone to talk to, for so long.  We thought we were the problem, for so long. We cowered in fear, shame and confusion, for so long. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

The complication and confusion associated with this type of abuse is simply amazing.  As I said earlier, I can still listen to some (not all) of this man’s sermons and doubt that the abuse ever took place.  He is such a gifted preacher and he sincerely means what he is saying in regards to loving God and loving people.  However, there most definitely is a disconnect between his sermons and some of his actions. If you look closely, his ministry is littered with the broken relationships to prove it.

As my wife says, “Lies are still lies no matter how loudly they are being shouted from a bully pulpit and no matter how many people in the audience believe them.”  You are not alone and there are godly loving pastors and godly loving churches out there that will love you and minister to you in the way that Jesus instructed. They may not present you with a dog and pony show every Sunday morning, but they will love you and minister to you. If you are one who has been spiritually abused, is being spiritually abused or is at risk of being spiritually abused, my prayer is that you would realize just how much God loves you.  He loved you so much that he sent His Son to die in your place on the cross.  And, the God who loves YOU that much does not want you to be taken advantage of or spiritually abused by anyone.  Spiritual abuse is not God’s will for your life!

No Pain, No Gain: the story of my first painful morning run, my weight loss and a few other thoughts.

No Pain, No Gain: the story of my first painful morning run, my weight loss and a few other thoughts.

(Edited on 2/11/2015)

(Re-edited on 7/16/2016

The blog post below was written over 9 years ago (May of 2007) on my old blog. It would be an understatement to say that I was a different person then: spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. This blog post is important to me because I wrote it at the beginning of a long season of transformation in my life.  The person who wrote this post was very different from the person editing it now.  I think the “old Eric” would be both afraid and proud of the Eric who writes this update.  -Afraid of him because he would eventually put most of the old Eric’s dreams to death… -And proud of him because he had the courage to do so.  Both Erics would agree, this blog post is a watermark in my life.

It seems that as with physical activity, for any positive change that we attempt to make in our lives there are “negative” forces that come against us. –Often those “negative forces” are causes of pain, sometimes great pain. With weight loss and physical fitness, the pain is physical. However, there are other times when the pain can present itself in different forms. I truly believe that there is a lesson to be learned in “not running” from the pain. From my experiences, I have found that great benefit can be found by confronting, enduring, and at times even submitting to the pain created by making a positive change. I have lost track of the physical aches and pains that I have experienced over the past nine years as I attempt to stay physically active; something is always sore. BUT, the results that I see in my body and in the way I feel far outweigh any ache or pain that I have experienced as a result of working out and becoming more “healthy.”

I believe there is no “happily ever after” when it comes to our health.  Staying healthy has not been easy; especially since moving back to south Louisiana.  As of right now, I weight around 225 pounds -roughly what I weighted when I graduated high school.  I have been as heavy as 315 pounds and as light as 200 pounds.  This has been a journey; a journey of ups, downs and hard decisions. -A decision to get out of the bed at 5:45am in the morning to go workout, a decision to NOT go to the Chinese buffet for lunch, an overall decision to eat healthy food and live a more active lifestyle. -AND many, many decisions to get “back on the wagon” after I had fallen off.  But the “painful” decisions do pay off and the results are worth every ounce of pain caused by the “negative” forces that came and still come against me.

The most humbling realization that I have had to come to terms with is the fact that I STILL struggle in my relationship with food. I know that there is the potential for me to “fall off the wagon” at any moment and go back to my old lifestyle. I HATE that fact, but I am learning to come to terms with it and deal/cope with it. I wish I could say, “I have obtained total victory over my relationship with food.” But, I would be lying. This is probably a struggle that I will have for the rest of my life. I can honestly say that I think I have a “hint” of what it feels like to be an alcoholic, drug addict, etc. The alcoholics and drug addicts may get the most attention, but we all know there are a number of things that we can be addicted to; and yes food is ABSOLUTELY one of those things among many, many others.

-And do not be quick to judge me or someone else who is struggling with their vise because chances are, you may have your own vise that you need to keep in check OR that you need to get in check.

We live in a society that runs from pain. We intoxicate ourselves with “painkillers.”  Food is the potential painkiller for me; just as physical fitness, alcohol, drugs or even sex can be a painkiller for someone else.  In the midst of the pain, and all of our assortments of our painkillers, there is a Man named Jesus who commands us to pick up our crosses and follow Him.  Has it ever occurred to you that He commands us to deal with the “pain” of life by bearing “our own” crosses? But, maybe that is the whole point of taking up our crosses? If we stare the pain down, endure it, and face it, then maybe that is how we can overcome it. (When I first wrote this, I had no idea of the depths this nugget of wisdom would take me to.)

My weight loss is the most noticeable change in my life only because it is a physical change. God has made more profound changes in me in these past nine years that cannot be seen with the naked eye. ALL of those changes required me to deal with the pain of facing situations and coming against negative forces as I made positive changes. Often times the pain caused by those changes seemed simply unbearable, and I mean that literally. There were times when I wondered if I could handle the cross I was bearing… -the cross that God refused to take from me. In the end, when God finally weaned me off painkillers and refused to give me anymore, I faced the pain. I endured the pain. And then I overcame the pain. It was not pretty. It was not fun. –But I am so glad that I did it. –And He ***proved*** His faithfulness to me in the process. –No pain, No Gain.

We often look for a painless gospel; I have found that it simply does not exist. Therefore, when we attempt to fashion a “painless gospel” it is counterfeit and therefore a “cross-less gospel” and a “power-less gospel.” Then, we wonder why we do not see the power and hand of God revealed or lives transformed.  Our Christ-less gospel becomes empty and dead religion -full of judgemental people and lifeless rules.

My blog post from nine years ago is below. I weighed approximately 310 pounds at that time.  It is also worth noting that I first attempted this “change” in May of 2007. It was not until the end of that August that Amy and I made the health changes permanent. In other words, I FAILED and fell back into my old routine for 3 additional months after I wrote this post.  -The only person who truly fails, is the one who stops trying.

No Pain, No Gain…

During the past few weeks I have been making some lifestyle changes. My latest change that I added yesterday was jogging every morning. I got up at 5:15 (a.m. that is) and walked/jogged for 30 minutes. I was not naive going into this; I knew it would be difficult and painful at first. When I started yesterday, it was not that bad. I walked for about 1/2 mile to warm (and wake!) myself up and then I jogged for 1/2 a mile. I then repeated that routine again. My first morning jog woke me up and stimulated my mind and body. Then… this morning happened. When my alarm clock went off, my legs immediately made me aware of their condition. I had not jogged in over 10 years! Overnight my muscles must have went into shock or something. My whole lower body was very sore.

Even though my aching legs contested, I forced myself out of the bed. As I headed out the door, I was determined to at least walk for 30 minutes and stay committed to my new routine. After I walked my first half mile and painfully loosened my muscles up a bit, I decided to continue my jogging and repeated the same walking/jogging routine I had completed yesterday. By the time I made it to the second 1/2 mile of jogging, it was really tough and painful, but I made it.

After I finished, I completed my regular morning routines and went to work. When I got out of my truck at City Hall, I realized that my legs were very, very sore. To make matters worse, I had a large blister on one of my heels- I’ll spare you the gory details but let’s just say it was a bad blister. I found myself almost limping up the stairs to my second floor office, in pain the entire time. Every time I had to leave my desk today, it was very painful. Honestly, this was probably the most pain that I have felt in years.

A strange thing happened to me during the day as I limped around in pain. In an odd sort of way, the pain I was feeling fueled my determination to stay committed to my new routine. You see, I knew I was feeling the pain because I am out of shape. The very pain that I was feeling reminded me of the process that was taking place in my body. The muscles in my legs were being torn down and rebuilt- better and stronger, my metabolism was increasing, and my heart rate would begin to drop. The sometimes EXTREME pain I was feeling served as a reminder that I was on my way to being a healthier person- thus a better husband, father, and pastor. Therefore, I found myself driven by it.

Then, this thought hit me. “What if those of us who have committed to the journey of following Jesus viewed pain the same way?” What if instead of running from the pain and discomforts we sometimes experience as we follow Jesus, we embraced them. What if we realized that during the times of our pain, discomfort and sacrifice, he is actually crucifying our flesh, imparting life to our spirits, building our characters, and teaching us a different way to live. Though this process may be painful, it is necessary… and good.

What if, rather than running from this pain, discomfort and sacrifice, we embraced it? What if we allowed ourselves to be driven by it? Just a thought…


What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?


Some time ago, I received a question via private Facebook message that made me stop and ponder.  The person said something like, “I think I might be in an unhealthy church environment right now.  But before I leave, how am I supposed to know what a ‘healthy’ church looks like?”  I answered her question the best I could at the time.  However, I still found myself pondering that important question.  I even threw it out at our local pastor’s prayer group.  I dare say that their response was very similar to my own.  As I was, they were caught a bit off guard by such a simple but direct question.

I think the hesitance of a seasoned pastor to quickly answer this question is caused by the need to reflect on past experiences and current situations.  As we reflect and evaluate, we find ourselves asking more questions like: What is the Biblical definition of a healthy church?  What does “healthy” look like? And probably the most important question for each of us, “Is my church healthy?”

I will be the very first to say that I certainly do not have all the answers.  However, I am willing to ask the hard questions and I am willing to wrestle with answering them.  I think there is definite value in the wrestling and reflecting.  So… in my wrestling and reflecting this is what I have come up with so far.  I have tried to keep my thoughts as simple and concise as possible.

Here are my reflections on what a healthy church looks like:

  • A healthy church is centered around authentic relationships that have real depth. These relationships extend beyond Sunday mornings.  Authentic relationships require time, trust, love, communication and grace.
  • A healthy church practices discipleship and realizes that discipleship is much more than a sermon, class, or a program. Authentic discipleship requires authentic relationships.  I like to say, real discipleship happens when “life rubs up against life.”  This is how Jesus did discipleship.
  • A healthy church experiences organic evangelism.  Organic evangelism happens because the Christians who make up the church are maturing and are naturally reaching out to those around them.  This is not because of a top notch evangelism campaign or a flashy church sign, it is simply natural.  Keep in mind, this growth does not need to be explosive -and it is probably better if it is not.  Some of the best church growth is… s-l-o-w.  That large oak tree in your back yard did not get there over night, -but the weeds around it may have.  Think about that.
  • A healthy church has a plurality of New Testament leadership.  Call them elders, deacons, or just “the leadership team.”  The label that is used does not matter.  What matters is: there is more than one or two of them, they are clearly biblically qualified, are gifted to be elders, take the role very seriously, are in authentic relationship with each other and are accountable to each other.  BTW, you cannot be accountable to someone you are not in authentic transparent relationship with.
  • A healthy church is diverse.  Diverse in its people. Diverse in age.  Diverse in opinions.  Diverse in experience. Diverse in it’s creativity.  And diverse in the expressions of the people who form the church.  God made us all different; if he wanted us all to be the same, he would have made us robots.  I believe a healthy church celebrates the diversity of its people rather than forcing everyone to be the same.
  • A healthy church is governed by Grace AND Truth.  If all we focus on is the grace of God, then “anything goes” and our sin nature reigns. If all we focus on is the law and rules, we become legalistic pharisees who are constantly casting stones at each other. I have seen both extremes and neither one is healthy or God honoring.  However, if we allow the Holy Spirit to govern us by grace AND truth a beautiful thing happens.  -We begin to be transformed into who God created us to be. The theological termed used to describe this process is called “sanctification.”  Sanctification naturally happens in healthy churches as well as healthy people.
  • And obviously, a healthy church is a group of people who are in relationship with God.  Meaning than that prayer, the Word and worship are practical parts of their everyday lives and continuously steer them along the journey of following Jesus.


What Does Authentic Love Look Like?


What does authentic love look like?  What does God’s love really look like?  What should our love for each other look like?  Does the Church actually have a Superpower?

The video below answers these questions and more.  In the end, I do believe that the Church possesses an unstoppable Superpower.  All we have to do is access it via our love for each other.


It's all about you

It is really not about “them,” it is about “you.

When you choose to return evil for the evil that was done to you, it is about you.

When you choose to slander because you were slandered, it is about you.

When you choose to hold on to bitterness and refuse to forgive, it is about you.

When you choose to commit petty theft because others are thieves, it is about you.

When you choose to hate entire groups of people because of the murderous actions of a few, it is about you.

When you choose to take unethical shortcuts because others are taking shortcuts, it is about you.

When you choose to judge -and show no mercy, it is about you.

When you choose prejudice, it is about you.

When you choose to remain ignorant, it is about you.

When you pass by an open door because of fear, it is about you.

When you choose to follow the crowd even though deep down inside you know the crowd is wrong, it is about you.

When you refuse to say, “I was wrong.” even when you know you were wrong, it is about you.

When you allow yourself to be negative because everyone else is being negative, it is about you.

When you refuse to show any compassion to “strangers,” it is about you.

When you walk away from an opportunity to make the world a better place -because others are walking away, it is about you.

When you say, “It is just too hard.” because others are saying the same, it is about you.

When you choose to not love your neighbor, it is about you.

When you make excuses -even very good ones, it is about you.

When you refuse to love the “unlovable,” it is about you.

When your children, loved ones and others with whom you may have influence watch you do the above things; it is about them.

And when I do these things, it is about me -and my loved ones.

The moment by moment choices we all make, make us who we are.  And the ripple effects from those choices make infinite impacts on those around us.

-May we choose to be wise, gracious people who truly embrace God’s Kingdom.

What Does God Look Like?


I can remember being asked “What does God look like?” as a child in Sunday School.  Glimpses of the pictures we drew as children come to mind: an old man with a beard, crayon rays of light zig-zagging out of the clouds, lopsided crosses -and then a simple stick figure of Jesus.

So what does God actually look like??? -These question marks punctuate a profound theological question. As Christians, if we allow ourselves the freedom to respond with the simple child-like faith that God calls us to, we find the answer.  Our God looks like Jesus. Whenever we have a question about God’s character or His posture towards humanity, all we need to do is look to Jesus as our divine reference point. Famous preachers, our own religious preferences and even trusted denominational doctrines are not reliable points of reference for what God looks like; only His Son is qualified to show us the Father.

As St. John said in John 1:17-18:

“For the law was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

Jesus has made God (the Father) “known” to us. In other words, we KNOW exactly what God looks like; He looks just like Jesus.

  • So… Jesus eating a meal at a DESPISED tax collector’s house, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus taking the time to speak to that MESSED UP half-breed woman at the well, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus confronting and REBUKING legalistic religious leaders, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus attending a wedding CELEBRATION and turning water into wine, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus WEEPING over Israel’s rebellion, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus chasing the MONEY CHANGERS out of the temple, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus REFUSING to stone the woman caught in the “very act” of adultery, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus being CONCERNED about the practical needs of people and feeding the five thousand, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus distancing Himself from FICKLE crowds seeking a sign, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus not being afraid to speak the TRUTH (in love,) was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus FORGIVING the Roman soldiers while they were crucifying Him, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus pursuing the disciples who DESERTED Him (at the cross) would also be, Jesus making the Father’s heart known to us.
  • And finally… “the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us” would be, EMMANUEL declaring God the Father and making His Kingdom known to us -by way of a baby in a manger.

Jesus is what God looks like. Do not make the tragic mistake of cherry picking versus from the Bible and then saying, “God said!”  NO; that is simply incorrect.  JESUS is what the entire Bible has to say, in perfect context with human history. The Bible tells us a vivid story of humanity desperately in need of a Savior. The sole purpose of the Bible is to point us to God’s Son; the True Infallible Word of God.  If we cannot reconcile a religious teaching directly to Jesus, caution flags should fly up in our hearts and minds.  There is no biblical character or contemporary religious figure with the authority to critique or tweak Jesus’ teachings and actions.

We must learn to reconcile ourselves back to Jesus and His teachings.  Jesus is what God looks like -and Jesus is what God has to say to us as we prepare to celebrate His birth.  Merry Christmas!

What does “Real Freedom” look like?


“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  -Jesus

While Jesus has never let me down on this “journey to freedom,” He has led me down some unplanned paths over mountains, through valleys and across rivers that I thought were absolutely impassable. And so, I have discovered this elusive thing called “freedom” to a greater extent -in the most unexpected places.  I am often pleasantly surprised when I catch a glimpse of what lies on the other side of the hill I have been climbing.  You think you are “free,” and then He takes you to that new place that He has never shown you because you were not ready to see it yet.  -Before “that moment,” you could not yet handle the experience and you did not have the capacity to truly appreciate it.  Just a few years before you would have sped over the crest of that hilltop -not fully appreciating the view and perspective He wanted you to see at that beautiful summit.

But now, you stop at the top of the hill and you inhale a deep breath. You take in God’s wonderful scenery and you appreciate the majesty of it all.  You savor all of the new insights that you gain from that view. -And then, from this view you are reminded that there are countless others who are struggling down their own paths to freedom and you feel a great sense of responsibility to help them.  So it is with the Kingdom of God.

So what does true freedom look like? Freedom from child abuse, alcohol & drug abuse, spousal abuse, divorce, obesity, a traumatic health event, a soured romantic relationship, sexual abuse, dysfunctional family relationships, spiritual abuse, abandonment… and I know I have to be leaving dozens of others off this list.  Freedom has many perspectives; it all depends on the chains that are binding us…

All of these wounding agents have at least two commonalities that link every single one of us together. -Regardless of where our place is in society, we all get wounded and we all need healing.  The “sickness of sin” has infected us all.  We all need freedom.

So what does freedom look like???  Well, I can tell you this: it is NOT a magic pill, a magic prayer to Jesus or a single session with a counselor, therapist or even your pastor.  IT’S JUST NOT THAT! And if someone tells you that, even with a well-meaning heart, they are simply wrong. Freedom is not found in those places. -At least not in those places alone.

To my wife and I, freedom has been a process. Though at times I desperately searched for the fast forward button to speed up that process, it simply was not there.  Real freedom is a godly phenomenon that takes place over time. Freedom has been a process of time and relationships for us.  And when I say relationships, I mean with common everyday people that God put in our lives. Some relationships are very short lived, -and some are long.  But regardless, as we follow Jesus on this search for freedom, He will lead us down paths that intersect with just the right people.  And sometimes we have no clue what is actually happening. -While we are busy focusing on the ordinary, the Spirit of God is working on the extraordinary the entire time.  You see, God knows that we need each other.

Then… that moment comes when we realize that we are indeed becoming more -and more free… We find ourselves experiencing a level of freedom that we never even knew existed.  We smile, a few tears roll down our checks and we think to ourselves, “This must be what ‘Real Freedom’ looks like.”