Of Zombies, Hearing God, Paul Emerson, and Anabaptist Eyeglasses

Last week, I wrote probably the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. I told the story of visiting a church, and realizing that the pastor was preaching a dead sermon. I said that he was a zombie—a walking dead man—and that his church was a zombie church. I also called Paul Emerson, a prominent preacher in the moderately-conservative Mennonite church, a zombie.

And now, I would like to tell all those who were offended by that post: I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t share God’s words without offending you.

However, not in the least am I sorry that I called anyone a zombie.

The Problem in the Church Today

We have a problem today. If someone gets up and shares something that God has given them—a function that the Bible calls prophecy—and it doesn’t fit with what people want to believe, they shoot it down and ignore it.

I had people tell me that I shouldn’t talk about church leadership that way.

I had people question my ability to hear God’s voice.

I had people who didn’t think I knew what I was talking about.

I have been a Christian for over 20 years. I have seen a lot of things go on within the church in those 20+ years. Folks, the American church is dead.

You ask me: is my church dead? Worse yet, am I dead? Am I one of those zombies that you’re talking about?

I will put it bluntly. If you don’t know whether you are alive or dead, or if you don’t know whether your church is alive or dead, the answer is probably yes, you or your church are a zombie, or at least on the way to being dead unless you or your church make some changes.

Few people question if they are physically alive. The answer is obvious. You know if you are alive. You are walking around, breathing, carrying on conversations.

However, we do have a problem. There are many churches and people who think they are alive, but are not. They are the walking dead. They are zombies. And that’s where prophecy comes in.

Prophecy

Follow after love, and earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)

But if all prophesy, and someone unbelieving or unlearned comes in, he is reproved by all, and he is judged by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed. So he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

But he who prophesies speaks to men for their edification, exhortation, and consolation. (1 Corinthians 14:3)

When God wants to talk to someone, He will generally do it one of two ways. Either He will speak directly to that person, or He will send a prophet. He gives His words to the prophet, and sends the prophet to whoever needs to hear from Him.

This is exactly what God did with the Apostle John in Revelation 3. The church in the city of Sardis was dead. They were a zombie church, appearing to be alive, but actually dead. So Jesus wrote them a letter by the hand of His servant John, and sent it to them:

And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars:

I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:1-6)

I don’t know what happened when the church of Sardis received their letter. Can you imagine getting a letter from Jesus, telling you that your church was dead? I hope that they took heed and repented.

Likewise, today, God is still speaking through His prophets. He is sending His prophets to the dead church, telling them to repent. The door of repentance is still open, folks! This isn’t the end! On the contrary, if people will take heed to the prophets and repent, it will be the beginning of new life!

But many people are telling the prophets to shut up.

Hearing from God

One problem we have is that there are many false prophets in the world, and many people who have not heard from God, yet claim that they have. Therefore, many people are skeptical of those who claim to have heard God’s voice and received a message from Him.

Just because there are some false prophets, should we throw out all prophecy? No way! How absurd! Instead, we each need to be hearing God’s voice so that we can recognize when someone is a false prophet. Wait. Everybody needs to hear God’s voice?

Yes. Jesus said:

“Most certainly I tell you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and doesn’t come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Most certainly, I tell you, the hour comes, and now is, when the dead will hear the Son of God’s voice; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:24-25)

This does not mean that we hear Jesus’ word one time and come to life. We have to believe on God, not just once, but our entire Christian life. Likewise, “hears”, in the Greek, is in the present, active tense, indicating that it should be ongoing.

The Jews therefore came around him and said to him, “How long will you hold us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you don’t believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, these testify about me. But you don’t believe, because you are not of my sheep, as I told you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:24-27)

When Jesus speaks, His sheep recognize His voice and follow Him. They believe Him because they recognize His voice.

From Genesis to Revelation, we have record of God speaking to people and leading them, over and over again. Why would we think that He has stopped, or that the Bible is the only guide we need in life? Make no mistake: the Bible is God’s Word, wholly inspired by Him. It is infallible and inerrant. We can totally trust whatever we find in it.

But the Bible doesn’t tell you who to marry. Yet, marriage is a decision that can affect the course of history—literally. Imagine if George Washington’s dad had married someone else. Or if Adolph Hitler’s mom had married someone else. If it’s such an important decision, why would we rely on our own feelings and desires? I would sure like some help from the One who knows the future!

Will we make mistakes sometimes? Sure. Will we think that God is speaking when He is not, or miss His leading when He does speak? Sure. I have experienced these things myself. But that is okay! That is part of the learning process! All it means is that we need to continue asking God to teach us to know His voice.

If you would like more in-depth study on hearing God’s voice, I recommend that you read a series of blog posts by Rosina Schmucker at Arabah Rejoice.

Is There Something Wrong With an Academic Sermon?

But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things. (1 Corinthians 2:12-13)

God wants us to teach by His Spirit, in the words that He teaches us to say. He does not want us to use human wisdom to teach others. That is fleshly and does not profit. As Jesus said:

It is the spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and are life. (John 6:63)

An academic sermon is a fleshly, carnal sermon. It comes not from the spirit, but from the flesh. It is based on the fleshly wisdom of men instead of the spiritual wisdom of God. The words of the flesh do not profit us. The spiritual words of Jesus give life. Therefore, if we want to speak life-giving words to others, they must be the words of Jesus, not our own.

Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual discerns all things, and he himself is judged by no one. (1 Corinthians 2:14-15)

Zombie preachers and teachers have told everyone that the only way to judge a message is academically. Don’t go by feelings or impressions. If you can’t find anything wrong with the message academically, then there’s nothing wrong with it.

However, God says that the things of His Spirit are spiritually discerned. We have to be guided by the Holy Spirit in our judgment of a message. A spiritual man discerns spiritually whether or not a message is coming from God.

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone thinks that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He has taken the wise in their craftiness.” And again, “The Lord knows the reasoning of the wise, that it is worthless.” Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come. All are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)

This passage further explains why a zombie sermon is not only problematic, but disobedience to God. God tells us that this world’s wisdom is foolishness with Him, and that a worldly-wise person needs to become a fool so that he may become wise before God. A person can be highly educated, but lack God’s wisdom.

Paul Emerson

Paul-Emerson
Paul Emerson

In case you didn’t know, besides being a former pastor at Calvary Mennonite Fellowship near Harrisonburg, VA, Paul Emerson is also the former moderator of Biblical Mennonite Alliance (BMA), a group of Mennonite churches that I used to be part of. He currently is Principal at Elnora Bible Institute, the Bible school of BMA, as well as the editor of The Sword and Trumpet and The FCM Informer (the newsletter of the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites, of which he is also the Executive Director).

And I believe that God led me to write these words in the previous article: “Folks, I’m not going to ‘pretty it up’: Paul Emerson is a zombie preacher.”

How dare I say that!?

Over the last 15+ years, I have listened to Paul Emerson speak. I have read his writings in the Biblical Mennonite Alliance Newsletter. I have read the publications that he has edited. And I have been disturbed. Just yesterday, I read yet another article that he wrote, and I’m even more disturbed. You will read part of it later.

But first, I’d like to share a comment that my dad, who is personally acquainted with Emerson, wrote on the previous “Zombie Church” post:

I want to state that what Joel stated about Paul Emerson is true. I have known Mr. Emerson for many years.

George Brunk I handed his mantle and the editorship of the Sword and Trumpet to his son George Brunk II. George Brunk II handed his mantle to Paul Emerson – the pastorate at Calvary Mennonite, the editorship of the Sword and Trumpet, and leadership in the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites.

The false teachings and false gospel of these men have negatively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of people. The failures and errors of their teachings are greater and broader in scope than what you have any idea is happening. Sin is running rampant in secret in pious “godly” Mennonite homes, even in the lives of men of renown in the church…

God has been revealing these things to me and I have been in shock that these things are true and that Mennonites are doing them. I will be sharing with you what God has been revealing to me in my book that hopefully will be coming out later this year titled – The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.

As an example of the sin that Dad is referring to, I bring up another piece of evidence: a survey from a Mennonite blog called Radi-Call.

In 2015, Radi-Call ran a survey about media usage, targeting young, conservative Anabaptist people. It was a voluntary online survey, taken by about 250 young people, pretty well evenly split between men and women. 56% were from BMA Mennonite churches.

Here are the results about porn usage:

MEN

WOMEN

SCMC-Men's-Chorus-2016Folks, this is the fruit of the teaching of Emerson and others like him. It isn’t working! To help you visualize these results, take a look at this picture from the Mennonite Shenandoah Christian Music Camp in Ohio, 2016.

It’s sobering to realize that of the 46 men you see in this picture, only 12 of them, statistically, have never been involved in habitual porn usage. It doesn’t mean that they don’t pick up porn once in a while or struggle with lust. It just means that they have not had a habitual problem. In fact, the true numbers are probably even worse, because this was a voluntary Web survey, not a random-sample phone survey. It’s amazing, in fact, that 74% percent of men were willing to admit that they had, or had had, a porn problem, including 4% who admitted to using porn that day!

Can we blame Paul Emerson for the porn usage of young men in a Mennonite conference that he helped to found, and headed up for 10 years? While he may not be directly responsible, it shows that his philosophies, doctrines, and principles have not helped give young men the victory over porn.

Training More Zombies

In a recent issue of Sword and Trumpet, Emerson wrote the following:

In order to properly practice Biblical nonconformity, it is probably best to imagine the putting on of a pair of eye glasses that filter everything through the Biblical Anabaptist perspective. This thought may aggravate some who are attempting to free themselves from what they call Anabaptist slavery. These are they who desire credibility within the larger evangelical community. The true disciple of Christ is exclusively desiring credibility with the Lord. Nothing else really matters. If, as we believe, Anabaptism is the correct perspective from which to see the world, said eye glasses are in order…

In direct proportion to the loss of practical nonconformity, the whole testimony of Anabaptism will be lost.

This is how error is perpetuated. Jesus has never called us to view the world through an Anabaptist lens! Instead, we are to be led by God in our interaction with the world.

Especially if you are an Anabaptist, this may seem like a small difference. But here’s the thing: even if the Anabaptist perspective is 100% correct, we must not seek to view the world from an Anabaptist perspective! Why? Because then, instead of following Jesus, we are following Anabaptism. In order to follow Jesus, we must listen to Him, not follow Anabaptism or any other denomination, group, or teacher:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

Friends, the quote above from the Sword and Trumpet is the path to spiritual death and zombie-hood.

Jesus Speaks to the Zombie Churches Today

At the beginning, we read Jesus’ words to a zombie church. Let’s go back and review them for the answer of “So what do we do?”:

Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee…

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:2-3, 6)

New Recording: “For God So Loved”

To go with my final post in the “Learning to Know Our Father” series, I felt God leading me to record the song He gave me a couple years ago, “For God So Loved”. This song is really my personal testimony of coming to know God in new and deeper way. From the sheet music page:

I was raised in the Mennonite Church and the Advanced Training Institute homeschool program, both of which confused my view of God and left me without a real understanding of His love and grace. People looking on thought that I was a very Godly young man, on fire for the Lord, but under the surface, Jesus wasn’t really in charge of my life. I struggled to make necessary changes in my life, but with little success. My dad wasn’t sure if I would ever become the man that God wanted me to be.

Finally, I realized that I could not ever correct my life in my own strength, and I began to seek God’s grace and power to become who He wanted me to be. In October, 2014, I finally surrendered my life 100% to Christ. He began to reveal Himself, His Word, His love and His grace in a new way to me. A couple months later, He gave me this song.

Download MP3

Sheet Music and Lyrics

For more songs that God has given me, see the Sheet Music page.

Learning to Know Our Father, Part 5: Responding to God’s Love

In our study of God’s love so far, we’ve seen that God is love, and that He doesn’t want us to be afraid of Him. We’ve seen that we need to understand His nature, including His love, in order to not be afraid of Him. We also need to glorify Him and seek His help, so that He has the opportunity to demonstrate His love for us. And when we don’t understand His love, we need to ask Him to show us what His love is really like.

As we learn to know our Father better, and His love fills our hearts and lives, how do we respond to that love? And how can we find others who truly love Him?

Since God is love, part of the evidence of His love in our lives is when we have love for each other.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us. (1 John 4:10-12)

You would think, perhaps, that God would say, “Since I have loved you this much, you ought to love Me in return.” But instead He says, “Love one another.”

Jesus says, “Because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40) When God adopts us into His family, we become brothers of Jesus. In fact, Jesus dwells with each of God’s children, and so, when we show love to one of God’s children, we are showing love to God!

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is loving God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5)

I used to read these verses and believe that it was my job to keep God’s commands on my own, with His help. I thought that anyone who was saved got as much help from God to keep His commands as any other Christian. In other words, I believed that all Christians, including myself, were receiving God’s help to obey Him, and if I had trouble following Him, I needed to try harder.

Brothers and sisters, it doesn’t work that way, for two reasons. One is that some of us need more help than others, and some of us need help in different areas than others—for example, overcoming an addiction. The second reason is that God doesn’t help us unless we allow Him to do so.

God is not a control freak. He does not force us to do what He wants us to do. Nor does He force us to accept His help. He definitely gives us guidance, changes circumstances, and works all things together for good. But He knows that, if He were to control us into doing the right thing, it would not lead us to truly love Him. We would just be robots.

Forcing people to do the right thing can actually be detrimental. When a person has a personal drive to do something, they will work with a will and try to accomplish the task. However, if someone forces them to do it, or bribes them to do it with some sort of reward/punishment system, it kills the person’s inward drive. This, I believe, is one reason why some homeschool families have fallen apart, despite looking so good when the children were young. Because the well-meaning parents tried to control their teenagers into doing the right thing, it actually turned their children against the parents and against the “right thing”.

Spiritually abusive systems, which stress human effort to achieve a man-made standard, prevent us from receiving God’s love and help, while loading us down with guilt and shame over our inability to follow God (and the pile of human commands the system gives us). This is one reason why you may have to change your beliefs about God and His nature in order to receive His love. If you’re always trying to live the Christian life on your own, God never has a chance to demonstrate His love to you!

The truth is that, when we put our faith in God, realizing that on our own strength we will never measure up to His standards, He gives us the victory to overcome the world and keep His commandments.

Jesus said, “One who has my commandments, and keeps them, that person is one who loves me. One who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will reveal myself to him.” (John 14:21) In other words, when we love God, we will naturally want to keep His commands. I used to think this was run in reverse: you keep God’s commands, and then He loves you.

The truth is that we love God because He first loved us. If we don’t know the love of God, we will not love Him in return. If we think He is just a hard taskmaster who is burdening us down with a grievous load, we will never love Him, and we will despise the very commands we are endeavoring to keep.

What Jesus is saying is that, when we know God, receive His love in our hearts, and love Him in return, we will also love His words and keep them. This is not a “if you really loved me, you would do…” guilt trip.

God is love. Therefore, without God, we will never have true love. Moreover, since we cannot manufacture God, we also cannot manufacture love. If you find yourself unable to love others properly, don’t just “try harder” to love them. That will never work. Ask God to fill you with His love and give you love for others!

So what does that look like? What are loving actions, anyway? We already saw part of the answer to that question earlier: God’s commands explain what loving actions are. They were written in love, and they are our guidelines for walking in love. Someone who claims to love Jesus, yet fails to obey Him, does not love both Jesus and his fellow men.

Not only that, though, God shows us from day to day how to love one another:

But concerning brotherly love, you have no need that one write to you. For you yourselves are taught by God to love one another… (1 Thessalonians 4:9)

With God’s love ruling in our hearts, He will teach us how to love one another. He will guide us how to help one another in the most beneficial way. He will show us areas where we lack love for one another or are treating one another unlovingly.

Remember, love for one another is the result of God’s love first dwelling within our hearts, and then overflowing in love for others. It is not something that you can create on your own!

If you would like to study God’s love some more, I recommend the free e-book He Loves Me! by Wayne Jacobsen. I do not endorse this book completely; I believe that Jacobsen downplays the fear of God too much. God does tell us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), and unless we recognize that He is also holy, just, righteous, and all-powerful, as well as loving, we will not serve Him or even love Him as we ought. However, I recommend this e-book for those who have heard much about the fear of God, yet do not understand the love of God. It will help to shift your thinking in the proper direction.

God’s blessings to you as you learn to know Him!

Photo © Can Stock Photo Inc. / grace1221

Report: Live Man Goes to Zombie Church, and Learns a Lesson

I went to church yesterday.

That may sound like an obvious choice for a Christian on a Sunday morning, but I usually worship at home with my family. This Sunday, however, God led me to attend church elsewhere. I settled on Parkway Community Church in Frederick, MD, a church I had driven past many times, but never attended.

The people were friendly. The singing consisted mostly of hymns and Gospel songs instead of fluff-and-nonsense praise and worship songs, accompanied by piano, keyboard and drums. The pastor led the singing, since both the song leader and assistant song leader were on vacation. Then, after prayer-and-praise time, and taking up the collection, it was time for the sermon.

This reporter has been in many churches and heard many sermons over the years. The sermon today was like many that I have heard before. The pastor preached on Matthew 11:25-30:

At that time, Jesus answered, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in your sight. All things have been delivered to me by my Father. No one knows the Son, except the Father; neither does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and he to whom the Son desires to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)

As the pastor, Dr. Howard Zurley, preached his sermon, I felt as though something was wrong. But I couldn’t pinpoint it. For the most part, everything he said was accurate. Indeed, Jesus reaches out to those who labor and are heavily burdened. Indeed, Jesus gives us rest. Indeed, Jesus’ yoke is lighter than the yoke of bondage to sin, and those who wear it receive the reward of Heaven. Indeed, too, Jesus has told us to “Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)

It was accurate—nothing that I could say was heresy or falsehood. And yet, the pastor seemed to be going on and on without really saying anything.

And then God showed me the answer: the pastor understood the Bible academically, and was preaching a message that was Biblical, yet he was not guided by God. To put it succinctly, the pastor knew about Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus. He had years of Bible knowledge and could put one verse with another to form a sound message. But he didn’t really understand the yoke of Christ that he was preaching about.

As I left the church, I felt grieved in my spirit. To be honest, it wasn’t as though this was the first time I had experienced such a message. But this time, God had showed me His perspective and crystallized my understanding in a new way.

At the beginning of the sermon, a man from the congregation read the pastor’s text. But he started with verse 24 instead verse 25: “But I tell you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, on the Day of Judgment, than for you.” He stopped, confused, realizing that this was not what the pastor would be preaching about that day.

That was not a mistake. That was God’s message to the congregation today. I know because He told me so. The pastor should have been calling his congregation to repentance before Jesus Christ.

Sadly, I don’t believe there is hope for this church. I do believe that there are sincere believers in Christ who attend there, who will not be part of the harsh judgment prophesied this morning. But they are not part of a living church. They are part of a zombie church—a church led and attended by the walking dead.

ZombiesZombie Christians don’t realize that they’re dead. Like Lazarus, they have been unwrapped and set free. Unlike Lazarus, they have not been raised to life. Or maybe they have died again, yet haven’t been buried. They are walking around, going to church, playing Christian music on the radio, slapping Christian fish symbols on the back of their cars, even going to seminary and getting Doctor of Divinity degrees, but they do not have the life of Christ living within them.

Their sermons are more or less Biblically accurate, yet an atheist could preach them, with about the same impact—because the sermon does not require a personal relationship with Christ. It is not the result of walking with Christ and learning from Him, but the result of academic study of the Word. They take the living words of Jesus and turn them into a dead sermon.

I wish that this was an isolated case. It is not. As I drove home, I realized that Sunday, in America, is not a happy day for God. Certainly, there are living churches and living Christians in whom God rejoices and is glorified. But America is filled with zombie Christians and zombie churches, who preach empty messages and sing empty songs, and grieve the heart of the One who they think that they know.

I had a similar experience listening to Paul Emerson preach at Calvary Mennonite Fellowship in Virginia.  At the time, I didn’t realize everything that I do now, but I sensed that something was wrong. The message was dead. Everything he said was true and good, yet it lacked the power of the Spirit of God. Now I understand. Folks, I’m not going to “pretty it up”: Paul Emerson is a zombie preacher.

It brings me no joy to share this message with you. I was planning to conclude the series on the love of God, but He led me to interrupt it with this report. I wish that I could offer hope and change. And as long as there is physical life, the door is still open for repentance. Some will repent. But many, just as in the days of Jesus’ time on earth, will see God’s mighty works, but fail to yield themselves to Him.

“You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades. For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until today. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, on the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matthew 11:23-24)

Learning to Know Our Father, Part 4: How to Understand God’s Love

As we saw in the last post in this series, when we don’t understand God’s love, it keeps us from having a great relationship with God. The love of God is the basis for our love for Him and others. Since He is love, if we don’t know His love, we don’t know Him.

You may be like me, however, and come from a spiritually abusive background where God’s love was distorted, minimized, and ignored. On the other hand, you may come from a background where God’s love meant that “everything goes” and God doesn’t care what you do. Reading the Bible, though, we see that God is neither a harsh dictator nor a soft fuzzy teddy bear.

So we realize that we don’t really know what God’s love is all about. Maybe, you know in your head that God loves you, that He sent Jesus to die for you because He loved you, blah, blah, blah—but you don’t know that love, from personal experience, even though you’ve been a Christian for years. This was my experience.

What do you do?

When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he included a beautiful prayer for them that I believe gives us an answer.

For this cause, I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that you may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strengthened to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, and to know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be the glory in the assembly and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

“Ask, and it will be given to you,” Jesus said. If you want to know the love of God, then ask Him to show it to you, and help you to comprehend it. Wow! Isn’t that simple?

I know. It sounds trite. But it’s true! It may not happen right away, but if you come to God in faith, He will show His love to you. Otherwise, He would be a liar!

I will warn you that in order to understand God’s love, you may have to give up some of your pre-conceived notions of what He is like. Sometimes, we believe things about God that prevent us from understanding His true nature and entering into a full relationship with Him. When you understand His love, you may find that some of your beliefs are wrong and have to change. But it will be for the better.

God further tells us that He is able to go exceedingly abundantly above anything we can ask or think to show His love to us and to help us to understand His love. Stop and think about that a moment. Imagine this: Whatever you can imagine—is the first level. God can surpass that imagination. But God can do even more than that. In fact, He can do abundantly more that you can imagine. But He can even surpass that level and do exceedingly more abundantly than anything you can ask or think: “exceedingly—abundantly—above—all that we ask or think.” Wow! That is how powerful God is! And that is how far He can go to reveal His love to you.

I believe that we should also follow Paul’s example in these verses and pray for others as well, that they, too, would know the mind-boggling love of Christ. We should pray, even for those who are seasoned Christians, that God would continue to reveal Himself to them and lead them into an ever-closer walk with Him.

Before we leave this passage, I would like to point out that part of being filled with all the fullness of God is to know the incredible, mind-boggling love of Christ. “…to know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19) This, again, shows why it’s so important to know and understand Christ’s love—so that we can be filled even more with Him!

In the next part, we’ll conclude by looking at what we are to do with God’s love.

Sexual Abuse in Amish-Mennonite Churches in Kansas

A guest post from my father, Myron Horst.

This is Myron, Joel’s Dad. I am an investigative researcher, researching sexual abuse and sexual abuse cover-up in Amish and Mennonite churches. Recently a person posted several comments on Joel’s post “Jesus Loves the Strippers, Too.” In the comments, this person stated that there are a significant number of sexual abuse cases in the Amish-Mennonite churches in Hutchinson, KS, and that some of the sexual abusers were well known men.

Afterward, members of the Amish-Mennonite churches in Kansas contacted the person that had commented on Joel’s blog and as a result, this person asked that all of the comments be removed. Joel removed the comments.

From some of my previous research, studies would show that there is a high degree of likelihood that what this person said is true and the first response of a church should be to investigate the allegations to find out if they are true or not. One should be slow to jump to the assumption that the informant is making up a false accusation.

As a researcher, I have found that the sexual abuse rate in many Amish and conservative Mennonite churches is as high, or higher than the rest of society. In some plain communities, sexual abuse is rampant.

The following are some excerpts from my upcoming book, The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment:

How often do reports of abuse turn out to be false?

One of the big problems that many sexual abuse victims have is getting other people to believe them that they were sexually abused. It is not uncommon for church leaders to wrongly accuse them of lying and making up an accusation. So what are the statistics on the prevalence of false sexual abuse reports?

In the research article ‘False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute Non-Stranger Sexual Assault’, the authors share research that shows that false allegations of child sexual abuse by children are rare. The studies show it is in the 2% – 8% range, and most likely closer to 2%. http://ndaa.org/pdf/the_voice_vol_3_no_1_2009.pdf

I suspect that in conservative Christian homes, because of the teachings against lying, the rate of false sexual abuse reports is probably much less than 2%. In addition, it would be difficult for them to make it up without sexual experience. Most conservative children have been sheltered from sexually explicit TV shows, movies, and vulgar talk. Many are naive about sex and what their sexual organs are all about.

People Tend to Understate Rather than Overstate the Extent of Any Abuse Experienced

The Leadership Council’s webpage on child abuse and interpersonal violence states:

Research with children whose sexual abuse has been proven has shown that people tend to minimize and deny abuse, not exaggerate or over-report such incidents…

The “gold standard” study in this area comes from Sweden. This case involved a lone perpetrator who pled guilty after videotapes of his abuse of ten children were found by authorities. Because of these detailed videotape recordings, researchers knew exactly what happened to these children and were able to compare it to what the children told investigators when they interviewed. The researchers found there was a significant tendency among the children to deny or minimize their experiences. Some children simply did not want to disclose their experiences, some had difficulties remembering them, and one child lacked adequate concepts to understand and describe them. Despite the fact that some of the interviews included leading questions, there were no false allegations…

Some people believe that recantations are a sure sign that a child lied about the abuse. However, a recent study found that pressure from family members play a significant role in recantations.

The ‘Men Against Abuse Now’ website, whose mission is to lead men in joining women to free the world of men’s violence against women states:

Only about 2% of all rape and related sex charges are determined to be false, the same percentage as for other felonies (FBI). So while they do happen, and they are very problematic when they do, people claim that allegations are false far more frequently than they are and far more frequently than for other crimes.  Put another way, we are much more likely to disbelieve a woman if she says she was raped than if she says she was robbed, but for no good reason.

On a related note, only about 40% of rapes are ever reported to the police, and this is partly because victims know that if their claim becomes public, their every behavior will be scrutinized, they will be shamed for their sexual history, and they will be labeled as lunatic, psychotic, paranoid, and manipulative.  Just because someone does not report their crime does not mean it did not happen.

The thing to remember when you hear a sexual abuse allegation is that it is likely true. People are more likely to understate the extent of what happened than to make a false allegation.

It is many times more likely for the sexual predator or for church leaders to make a false charge that the victim or victims have made up a false allegation because they have their reputation to defend. By crying “false allegation” it puts the victim on the defensive and sheds doubt on the allegation. The ones covering up the abuse usually are persons who are trusted and are held in high respect, and people tend to make the mistake of believing the denial.

When multiple people bring an accusation of sexual abuse and the one accused of being a molester denies it happening, one side or the other is lying. Who has the most incentive to lie – the sexual molester or the victim? There are cases where there are false allegations of sexual abuse, but they are rare.

Chester Weaver, a Beachy-Amish Mennonite from LaGrange County, Ind., who grew up in Lancaster Mennonite Conference, delivered a sober message to attendees of the 11th Anabaptist Identity Conference on March 10-12, 2016. He said that if plain communities don’t deal with sexual abuse among them, the state will step in to deal with the problem, and some freedoms may be lost.

The Mennonite World Review article reporting on the conference states:

Several hundred people from plain Anabaptist groups — many of them Old Order Amish — listened as Weaver highlighted public exposés of “the darker side” of Amish communities, including sexual abuse, illegal drug use and drunkenness.

He said this negative publicity is causing some to call for an overturning of the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case Wisconsin v. Yoder, which granted the Amish an exemption from the state’s compulsory education requirement to attend public schools until age 16.

 


 

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Learning to Know Our Father, Part 3: Digging Deeper into God’s Love

Last time, we saw that God is love. Wow! Imagine being in a relationship with someone who is not only loving and full of love, but is love itself! We never have to doubt whether something was for our good, or whether God cares about us, or whether He still loves us. God is love.

This can raise a multitude of questions, however. For example, if God loves us so much, and says that when we love one another, we put each other first, why does He tell us to put Him first and glorify Him? If He loved us, wouldn’t He seek to glorify us? Is he some sort of self-centered, narcissistic, arrogant god who only cares about what He can get out of His followers?

No way! Not at all! God wants us to glorify Him so that we understand His love. If we think that we are self-made people, we will fail to understand how much He loves us. When we recognize how much God has done for us, and how He is working in our everyday lives, we will better understand His love.

You see, God does an incredible amount for us. The Bible tells us that “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) In His love, God does many things that we do not even know about.

Ironically, in fact, when we fail to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, God is not able to demonstrate His love to us by providing for our needs. When we try to do things on our own, God is not able to help us. In order to truly experience His love, grace, and power, we have to glorify Him! Just as we cannot help those who will not accept help, God is unable to fully demonstrate His love toward us until we allow Him to do so.

God tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

It is only because God loved us and sent His Son to die and rise again for us that we can follow Him and live for Him in the way that He wants us to. We cannot boast about how well we serve God, because we are only able to serve Him because He, in His love, gives us His grace to enable us to do what is pleasing to Him.

God didn’t have to send Jesus to die for us. He wasn’t duty-bound to rescue His creation. He could have just figured that if we were so rebellious, we could burn in Hell. See if He cared!

Don’t fall for Satan’s lie that God owes you something. God doesn’t owe anything to you. He’s done so much for you already. It is only because of His love that He continues giving His grace and power, helping us in our difficulties, seeking us when we go astray, leading us into an ever-closer relationship to Himself.

Returning to 1 John 4, we read:

We know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. In this love has been made perfect among us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment. He who fears is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:16-19)

It’s very important to understand God’s love so that we do not live in fear of Him. If we live in fear of God—that is, that we are afraid of Him, afraid to die, afraid of His judgment, afraid that we’ll make a small misstep and be brutally disciplined—it shows that we do not understand God’s love and/or are not in a right relationship with Him. We need to seek to be made perfect in love.

How do we become perfect in love? Part of it, at least, comes from God dwelling in us, and us dwelling in God and His love. In His love, God works in our hearts, if we allow Him to do so, and fills us with His love. As He does so, two things happen: we know His love (in other words, we experience His love), and His power enables us to do what is righteous and loving so that we do not have to fear His judgment.

God loved us when we did not love Him. God does not ask us to love Him, and then if we love Him enough, He’ll love us in return. On the contrary, He loved us while we were still sinners, and He asks us to love Him in return.

God says that the reason that we love Him is because He loved us first. This is why Satan wants to deceive us about God’s love and distort God’s love in any way possible. If Satan can prevent us from knowing God’s love, we will not love God in return. This is why it is crucial that we understand God’s love and know what our Father is really like!

There is an incredible phrase in this passage: “As He is, so are we in this world.” In other words, with God dwelling in us, we become like Him! Whoa! Did God really say that? Yes, He did!

Talking about “understanding God’s love” makes it sound very academic and sterile. The reality is simply that we need to really know our Father. However, we sometimes struggle to understand or really accept the many incredible things He has revealed about Himself in His Word. So what’s the answer?

Stay tuned.

Photo by fady habib via flickr