Changed Lives: Dennis

Changed Lives (final)

Homosexuality. This word brings up strong feelings in almost all of us. It is most certainly not a neutral word. And, with all of the changes over the past twenty or so years, this word–this subject–now affects almost all of us in one way or another.

Years ago, I had a youth group leader named Dennis. He was a wonderful, super-talented guy that everybody loved. Little did I know of his secret struggle with homosexuality. A few months ago, I found out not only about this struggle but about his victory over it through the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I listened to his testimony, I was compelled to ask him if I could share his story here and he kindly said yes! I believe this is the perfect time to share it. What better way is there to contemplate the Lord’s sacrifice and victory over death than to hear the victorious story of what God has done, through the cross and resurrection, in a man who had little hope for ever experiencing victory? Because of God’s gift of salvation, Denny has experienced victory over sin in an incredible and powerful way. I am so thankful that he is willing to share his story at a time when it is increasingly unpopular to do so. Please pray for Denny as he strives to bring hope to others caught up in this sin.

Here is his story–

It’s one of the more familiar scenes in scripture. A crowd gathered around a tomb as Jesus calls out –

LAZARUS COME OUT! You can almost feel the crowd holding their breath watching. Some are excited.  Some are fearful. Many are skeptical. Many of the religious leaders were frankly angry. They were already plotting to kill Jesus, so the last thing they needed was a major miracle. Jesus’s words echo off the stone.

We don’t know how long they waited in silence, but you can bet that when Lazarus appeared from the darkness of his tomb, there was noise. First a collective gasp. Screams of shock turning to cries of joy.  This was one major party. There was such a commotion that Jesus had to remind them to unwrap the man. Let him loose! Unwrap the grave cloths. Jesus had given Lazarus new life….but the remnants of death were making it difficult for him to move. He needed help.

Hang on to that image of Lazarus stumbling out of his tomb wrapped in grave cloths, and jump ahead to the Church in Corinth where there was a major problem. There were lots of walking dead folk. Lawsuits, incest, gossip, you name it. Things were a mess.

So the Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:8-10–

No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

There were LOTS of problems with the Church in Corinth.  And smack in the middle of Paul’s letter of warning is the word: Homosexuals. (Okay, there I’ve said THE WORD, let’s all take a deep breath!)

Same Sex Attraction. GAY.

It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper or listen to a news report these days without getting bombarded with that particular word?

Let me continue reading from First Corinthians 6:9-11 because I didn’t finish Paul’s thought.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

I love that past tense: WERE.

My journey begins mid-way through the last Century. My parents were extremely young when I was born, the first of six kids. I was raised in a devoutly Christian home that included Sunday school, church, and mid-week prayer meetings. At the feet of my grandmother, I heard stories about my great-Uncle’s missionary work in China. She’d also tell me about her prayers for me. She firmly believed that God had a ministry for me. In high school, my friends were all part of Youth for Christ. I worshipped frequently at my girlfriend’s church as well as my own. Following graduation from high school, I attended the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University. The course of my life was set. Nice Christian family. Check. High school diploma. Check. College degree–then marry my high school sweetheart—then have two kids– and a dog.

Let’s back up. That’s only part of the story. While I may have been called to new life in Christ, I was still wearing grave cloths.

During my early formative years with Dad away at work, I was primarily raised by my grandma, my mom, and my female aunts. I don’t remember EVER having a male friend prior to entering first grade. Simple fact, there were no boys my age living nearby. (Hey, this was the 1950’s where, for entertainment, my cousins and I used to spend summer evenings counting cars going back and forth from Lititz to Lancaster! True story. We are talking way rural.)

But, as a young boy, my battle with homosexuality began. As I grew into a young teenager, things worsened as I discovered gay porn magazines and from there it went downhill. At one point I went to a youth pastor and told him about my sexuality. (I think it is safe to say that most Bible colleges weren’t teaching students how to counsel homosexuals at that time.) He blanched, blushed, and suggested prayer. I went to the Billy Graham exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1965 and talked to a counselor. His advice? That I take a nice girl to the prom and all would work itself out!

My sexual encounters continued even in the heart of the Bible Belt, Greenville, South Carolina, while I was in college. Indeed, they escalated.

The winter of my senior year I left Bob Jones – disillusioned–and returned to Lancaster. I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do next. The little game plan that I thought I had was clearly not happening.

If you grew up in this era (late 60s and 70s), you probably weren’t aware that any of this was going on. Did you know that in the 1970s homosexuals were persecuted just for being homosexuals? They were called names, attacked on the streets, and even arrested just by having this label. But in 1969, that all started to change with the riot of homosexual men and women against the NYC police at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Times were changing and I realized that I was not the only disillusioned young man in America.

This movement eventually made its way to Lancaster county and made me more comfortable with my label of “homosexual”. Fueled by alcohol and any number of drugs, anonymous sex became routine.  I was running around with Lancaster’s movers and shakers.

By the time I was 21, I was totally disenchanted with anything that had to do with the Church. I was designing interiors and window displays for Watt & Shand and other major department stores. I was running around with the theater crowd from a local college. If you were part of the cool straight crowd, you had to have token black and/or gay friends. For nearly seven years, my life was one long party waking up next to nameless people, sometimes wondering how I’d even gotten there.

One night one of my best friends asked me: “Do you think we’ll ever be able to forget the things we were taught from the Bible when we were kids?” His family were pioneers at Calvary Church and I can tell you point blank, that even then–while high on drugs and alcohol — I KNEW without a doubt that God was still there. I can also tell you that I knew my parents and grandparents were praying for me regularly – even if they didn’t know the depths to which I had fallen.

One Memorial Day after a day of drinking and drugs, I fell apart–mentally, physically, and spiritually.  Late that night I called my Dad. It’s the first time in my life I ever remember asking him for help. He told me that he was coming to get me. He picked me up at my apartment on West King Street, but instead of taking me home, I discovered that he was taking me to the hospital. When we got to the parking lot, I got out of the car and started running. My dad took after me. Grabbed me, knocking me to the ground.  I remember his words as vividly as if he were standing here now:  “YOU ARE MY SON, AND I’M NOT LETTING GO.”

He wasn’t the only FATHER not letting me go.

During my few weeks in the psych ward, I met Jerry Young, a young pastor who had just started a church in Lititz. He gave me an invitation to visit his church and left. Nothing came of it until two years later, the last Sunday evening, October 1974, while I was on my way to work. I had been serving drinks part-time at a mixed gay/straight private club and I simply pulled my car to the side of the road.

“Jesus, I am so tired of this. You know my life is a mess. Please change my life.”

If repent means to turn around, in this case, it was quite literal. I turned my car around and went to that little church in Lititz.

If this were Bethany, the crowd would start roaring because Foreman was stumbling out of the grave much like Lazarus! Stumbling being the key word. There were years and years of addictive grave clothes in the way.

Slowly I began to see God at work in my life. Through the ministry of that church I began to grow. God also provided a way for me to return to college and get my degree. Thank you, Grace College!

Unfortunately, it was around this time that I received some of the worst counsel I’ve ever had. A trusted leader told me: “Do NOT share your same-sex struggles with anyone in the church because they won’t understand.” (And, you should know that when word got out that I was starting to share my life story at various churches, I’ve had similar counsel!) Week after week I would hear testimonies from men healed from alcoholism and/or drug addiction. I’d hear about a marriage that was healed after major infidelity. I heard testimonies from men who had spent time in prison. All the while white-knuckling my temptations and usually failing, all the while hearing the prevailing message of the time: ONCE GAY, ALWAYS GAY. Gay is different. It is abhorrent to God. It’s the end of the downward spiral. You cannot change.

This is important: Jesus had breathed NEW life into me, but I was deeply entangled in grave clothes, and I didn’t know how to extricate myself. I wanted freedom to dance. I believed God’s Word–I just wasn’t sure of how to get free from my addictive lifestyle! And – remember – I had been told I shouldn’t ask anyone for help.

I finally decided to try a Christian counselor. After 6 months, he confessed that he didn’t know anything about homosexuality. What?!!! It took 6 months to figure that out?! I went to another Christian counselor and after several months realized that he was hitting on me!!!!

How do you handle that?

You know, it’s fairly easy for someone to say, “Just stop what you are doing!” But when we think about other struggles and addictions—whether they be food, gossip, or shopping; alcohol, cigarettes, or prescription drugs—we know it just isn’t that simple.

Here was the dilemma: I had asked Jesus to save me. And He had! But I still had very strong sexual urges and I didn’t know what to do with them. Plus, I’d been told not to discuss my sexuality with anyone in the Church. And So I opted to live two very distinct lifestyles. One in complete secrecy.

So take a deep breath, everyone….here we go….

In my mid-30’s I began working at a local church and became a licensed pastor. In 1993, I received a Youth Sponsor of the Year Award. At the same time, I was living completely in sin in my secret life. In August 1999, I was one of two individuals nominated for National Youth Pastor of the Year by my denomination. I am NOT saying this to brag, but because, less than 4 months later, on December 9 of the same year, I was arrested in a sting operation for trying to pick up an undercover policeman.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. Galatians 6:7

I came face to face with the fact that what I had sowed, I was now reaping.

In a moment, I lost everything. My career. My friends. My church family. My NAME. My integrity.

Breathing was difficult. I didn’t want to live. One evening while driving home, I began to see each telephone pole as a target. I wanted to die and yet something—the Holy Spirit?–urged me to pull the car over. Storm clouds were gathering as I pulled into a parking lot along the road. Slowly as I got out of my car, I saw a rainbow and God’s Word wrapped around my heart, “I will NEVER leave you or forsake you.”

Call it what you will– you are entitled to be skeptical– but I don’t think I’d be here were it not for that experience.

Under Church Discipline and given oversight by a three-man ‘restoration’ team, I was reminded from Hebrews 12:5 and 6–

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

I went into hiding mode.

It took one little girl from my former youth group named Ashley to help me begin again. She placed a tape of Christian music in my mailbox. “Jesus, Lamb of God, worthy is Your Name…bearing my sin, my cross, my shame…Jesus, YOU are my all in all.” I played that tape written by Dennis Jernigan constantly as I drove to the only job I could find– working the 3-11 shift at a local mini-market. For nearly two years, I just existed.

Earlier I stated that on December 9, I lost everything. Not true. I discovered just how incredibly much God loves me. Even though I was a hot mess of raw nerves, God’s Spirit was there. Jesus was so near, He was palpable. While I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, I wouldn’t trade that dark time for anything because I was beginning to understand how deeply God loves His fallen children.

Another job opened at a bank about a thirty minute drive from my home. One Sunday afternoon, one of the clients stopped by and said, “Denny, I don’t know you other than from banking here, but I just sense that you need prayer. Would you mind if I prayed for you?” Yeah. Right in the middle of a grocery store! Candid Camera time?! It wasn’t too much longer before he began to disciple/mentor me. Jesus was beginning to use people I barely knew to start unwrapping the grave clothes.

Steve admitted that he never struggled with homosexuality, but he pointed me to a counseling ministry, DaySeven, in Lancaster. Through that organization, I was encouraged to attend a conference for men and women coming out of the gay lifestyle. I went kicking and screaming to that conference.

The very first night, the worship leader opened with “Jesus, Lamb of God, Worthy is Your Name….bearing my sin…”  Would you believe it? Dennis Jernigan, the writer of many of the most popular worship songs of the time, had come out of the gay lifestyle! (His testimony is available online and I highly recommend it!)

Jesus said I AM the resurrection and life. It is one thing to trust God for our salvation. I’d done that, but I was still struggling with this huge addictive sin nature.

About five years ago, I realized that it was essential that I become part of a church family again. I’d stayed at my former church thinking that it was important for those from my former youth group to witness God’s restoration. But after a while it became quite clear that if I stayed I would be a spectator.  And so I began to search for a new church. God faithfully led me to a church where I can serve Him.

So, here I am: One who identified as being gay for most of my life. There is something ironic about the fact that I ‘came out’ as a gay man at a time when you could get beat up, arrested, or killed if anyone thought you were a homosexual and at a time when you didn’t mention homosexuality in churches.  Now here I am ‘coming out as EX-gay’ at a time when the tide has turned. It is now politically incorrect to even hint that the gay lifestyle is wrong. Counselors who teach that homosexuality is a sin and point to the way out can lose their credentials. Church after church is using terms like “affirming” when discussing same-sex relationships. The gay community has flexed its muscle and they would not be happy to see me here. Within the past month, I was the target of a Facebook/Twitter hate campaign because of my stance. Some would say that my testimony can be equated with hate crimes.

But guess what? The religious leaders in Jesus’ day didn’t just want to see Jesus dead, they also wanted Lazarus silenced. In John 12:9 we read—

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

Two years ago, I was asked by a young pastor (one of the men from my former youth group) to come speak at his church. At that time, I stated:

“I’m not here this morning to get into the politics of gay marriage. I’m afraid that ship has sailed. Little did any of us realize how quickly the Supreme Court would move to legalize same sex weddings.

And so I am here to offer HOPE to anyone here who is struggling with same-sex feelings. To offer hope to men or women who may be involved in same-sex relationships or to those of you who have friends or family members caught up in the lifestyle. And it is a lifestyle. It is a community.”

So, now you know my story. Dead in sin, and when finally recognizing Jesus voice calling, “FOREMAN, COME OUT of that tomb,” struggling with the remnants of the grave, entangled in grave cloths and told to be silent. BUT here I stand, not the FACE of Gay men…but the face of ONE sinner saved by God’s Grace and still in the process of untangling.

So what have I learned in the journey that has led to sharing my story in churches? I have one simple premise:  GOD’S WORD IS TRUE.

The Bible is a love story.

A loving Father God creates man and woman in his image according to Genesis 1. A loving Father God creates man and woman uniquely designed to complement each other and form a perfect union.

You know the story. A perfect garden and a horrific fall. SIN enters the picture and we are left with the heart-wrenching picture of Father God calling out: “Where are you, Adam?!”

The proponents of Homosexual Rights would like ME to believe I was born gay. Okay, I’ll go this far. I was born into a fallen world. Hey, gang, I have some news for you: We are ALL born with sin NATURES.  David reminds us in Psalm 51:5: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

How many of you had to teach your kids how to be disobedient? After learning the words Mama and DaDa, isn’t one of their first words NO? Their disobedience usually followed by the word “MINE,” as they discover the sin of being self-centered!

So, yeah, we are all born with sin-natures. We are also born with the need to be LOVED.  Andy Comisky writes:  “Our longings for love become sinful when we take them into our own hands and say, ‘this is how I’m going to meet my own needs; they are mine and I am going to meet them any way that I can and want.”

When I was growing up, there was a popular song that stated: “Silence is Golden.” But I beg to differ! Silence is a prison that can cripple. The church that is appalled over what is happening with the Gay Movement was completely silent about it when it mattered and, because of this, I—and many like me—were led to believe we were hopeless and beyond redemption.

We need to re-look at ROMANS 1:16a

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…

I needed to know that I could be saved, too! That my sins had not taken me beyond salvation! The irony in all of this is that many of these same churches were using the Book of Romans or the Romans Road in reaching the lost. Hey, I was one of the LOST! I needed to hear the rest of that book. Romans is priceless because it offers HOPE! I needed to hear that God’s kindness leads to repentance!

I want to share two important things to consider if this subject is one you, a family member, or a friend are battling–

1. The Bible is God’s Word. It is TRUTH. I grew up believing that. I still believe that. That belief, that FAITH – sometimes buried in the darkness of my tomb-like existence – was still there. I couldn’t shake it.

Listen carefully, because I believe this is absolutely necessary for healing from ANY sin: God’s Word is True. When I hear gay activists say, “The Bible doesn’t really mean that loving relationships between two men or two women is a sin,” I get very nervous. It sounds remarkably similar to the line the serpent gave to Eve when he was tempting her to eat the fruit: “Did God really say you can’t eat…”  Does God really say that homosexuality is a sin? YES. So, for me, the first step toward healing was that I BELIEVED WHAT GOD SAYS. For the sake of the souls of men and women bound by the sin of homosexuality, we dare not let go of the truth of God’s Word.

2. Coming Out is a BIG deal for gays. For those of you who don’t know what that term means, Coming Out means that I’m basically announcing to the world and my family that I am a homosexual. Every gay organization encourages men and women to come out. The feeling is that when people recognize their brothers, sisters, and friends are gay and NORMAL, it will open up other doors. And if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention during the past 50 years. Good grief, if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention the past Two YEARS! I have lived long enough to see a world where homosexuality wasn’t discussed in polite society, to a world where you can rarely see a newspaper or TV show where gay issues are not presented on a regular basis. On a recent Today show, the cast of Will and Grace were interviewed and they stated bluntly that they were proud that they had introduced gay men to American households, making homosexuality acceptable to millions. And even within the past year those that believe that homosexuality is a sin are not only in the minority but are ostracized and called names.

You are witnessing a continuation of my healing. There was a time when being OUT was important to me. As a Believer, I’m NOT going back in the closet, I AM COMING OUT of the bondage of homosexuality. And being separate. I am coming out of sin and living in the Light of Truth. I can no longer be silent! Returning to the Book of Romans I’m learning the importance of speaking out! Scripture says—

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified. IT IS WITH YOUR MOUTH THAT YOU CONFESS AND ARE SAVED!

As I started to heal, I also came face to face with the truth that my sin had affected others. My sins – and your sins – are never without impact upon the greater body around us. No sin is only personal.

I have been forgiven by a loving, merciful Heavenly Father, but the fact remains that when my homosexuality was exposed in a very public way in 1999, my sin was no longer personal. It had a HUGE negative effect on a congregation.

From that moment, it was absolutely clear to me that my repentance and restoration had to be played out in full view of that congregation, particularly the kids in my youth group. I had to take responsibility for the God-designed boundaries I had broken. It is one of the reasons I am eager to share my story whenever I can.

CS Lewis makes a strong statement when he says: “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sins. Mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of sin. The guilt is washed out not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ.”

Brothers and Sisters, we desperately need each other. James reminds us—

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16a)

And now I’m going to let you in on the ‘secret’ of my healing.

I’ve always loved the stories of the Exodus and God’s dealing with the Nation of Israel. I remember reading and scratching my head, baffled by the way Israel would see God do monumentally amazing things–like parting the Red Sea, for example, and then watch as the people built a golden calf to worship! What?! Id’ read that God would provide manna, and then, after a few days, the people would complain, “It was better in Egypt. At least there we had onions and garlic.”  And time after time, there was the issue of IDOLATRY.

It’s a term we rarely use today. We don’t use it, because for most of us, when we say ‘IDOL’ we immediately think of statues made of stone or wood. Objects. But the reality is that IDOLATRY is divinizing what is not God. And here is where I must return to Romans 1:25—

…who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.

And as a result: perversion and death–the due penalty for our idolatry.

In I Samuel 15:23 we read, “Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and arrogance (pride) like the evil of idolatry.”

When I identified myself as gay, my life was devoted to sensuality. It had become my idol.

Let me re-read that I Samuel passage: Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and ARROGANCE like the evil of idolatry.

I was worshipping the wrong thing. While at the same time growing more and more frustrated with God because He didn’t seem to be healing me. And then one day it dawned on me! The greatest idol in my life wasn’t sensuality or homosexuality—it was ME!

I had spent so much time focusing on the sin of homosexuality, that it had become the end all be all.  Subconsciously I had started to believe that if I could stop being a homosexual, I would be perfect. Did you get that? I was so focused on homosexuality, I truly thought that if that were gone, everything else would be resolved. Saying that out loud only underscores how ludicrous that is!

In essence, I was saying, if it weren’t for the homosexuality and pornography, I wouldn’t need God. I had forgotten other areas of my life like negativity, gossip, over-eating and not taking care of my physical body, lying, cheating, coveting the latest car, driving through an upscale local development and wishing one of those homes would be mine, and the list goes on.

In other words, without homosexuality in my life, I thought I didn’t need JESUS.

And that leads me to my conclusion and my salvation. JESUS.

Don’t be deceived by all the hype out there. We ALL need Jesus.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9-10)

And that is what some of you WERE.

That is what I WAS.

 But I was washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

One of my favorite worship songs puts it this way:

There is love that came for us, humbled to a sinner’s cross.
You broke my shame and sinfulness.  You rose again victorious
Faithfulness none can deny!
Through the storm and through the fire,
there is truth that sets me free: Jesus Christ who lives in me!
Jesus, You are stronger, You are stronger. 
Sin is broken, You have saved me. 
It is written, Christ is risen! 
Jesus You are Lord of all
No beginning and no end – You are my hope and my defense.
You came to seek and save the lost. 
You paid it all upon the cross
You are stronger, You are stronger,
Sin is broken! You have saved me!!
So let Your name be lifted higher, JESUS, YOU are Lord of all!

 

DForemanDennis L. Foreman (chaplain, teacher) is available to share his story.

 

 

 

 

 

Changed Lives: Jan

Changed Lives (final)

Last year I started a series called Changed Lives. The goal of this series is to show how Jesus Christ is changing lives one life at a time. He is radically saving us and then transforming us into His likeness and using our trials for His glory and to further His kingdom. It is my greatest hope that this series will remind you that Jesus is still changing people! Several months have gone by since I brought you the last testimony but today I finally have another one to share. This one is by my dear friend, Jan. This story is a bit different than the others, as you will see. You may want to grab a tissue.

I met Jan around ten years ago when her oldest daughter and my youngest daughter were on a travel soccer team together. We quickly connected due to our like-minded faith in Christ. A year or so later, they started coming to our church and we became friends with the whole family. A few years ago, the unthinkable happened to this family. I have watched Jan face this unforeseen and unexpected hardship with strength and fortitude that could only come from God. I remember having a conversation with her sometime in the middle of all of this. She told me how she was continuing to listen to John MacArthur sermons on rides to and from work. She kept feeding herself good spiritual food through it all. This made an impact on me. So often our human tendency is to withdraw from solid spiritual food when bad things happen.

Even though, in many ways, Jan continues to travel in dark, unknown territory, I see her continue to trust God through it all. Please pray for Jan and her daughters as they continue their journey of getting used to a new normal. I believe her story will not only inspire you but will also challenge your faith. I know it is her greatest desire that God use this for His glory and I believe that He will do so.

Here is Jan’s story–

July 2016

The morning sky is a beautiful blue and the air is crisp and refreshing. It is a joy to experience such a day in the middle of July. We look up from where we are standing to see a peaceful field, swaying trees in the horizon, and orange lilies in full bloom. But the tears blur our vision and as we stand there with our arms around each other, we wonder if we will ever heal. I recall Michael W. Smith’s lyrics “There is strength within the sorrow, there is beauty in the tears, and You meet us in our mourning, with a love that casts out fear…You’re teaching us to trust”.  I wonder if Lydia, 17, and Naomi, 13, are trusting more. Or do they, like me, only feel the pain? I’m not sure. There is only a grave marker there; the tombstone is not in yet. Some things are just not that important and I figure it can wait.

November 2011

Family Photo from 2013

Walt Disney World. The “vacation of a lifetime” so we have been told. My husband, Doug, and I had never experienced Disney but, for some reason, we wanted to make sure our family would experience it at least one time. We were in a transition period in our lives and it felt like a vacation to Disney would complete one item we had on our bucket list.

I had worked at The Hershey Company for 20 years and had resigned just nine months earlier.  Doug had completed his training and certification in Massage Therapy and was starting a business with another massage therapist while also working for a Chiropractor. Since Lydia, our oldest, was born Doug had been the stay-at-home dad and I was the working mom. (Maybe a better explanation is that I was the bread-winner, since all moms work). It was a good plan for us as Doug was a wonderful dad. He was a typical Type B personality and nothing seemed to bother him. He enjoyed his time with the girls at home, even home-schooling both girls (which was my preference, not his). We had an easy marriage, always supporting each other’s goals and dreams.

Our transition period was the plan for me to stay at home with the girls in their junior high and senior high school years while Doug went back into the workforce. We were all set for that change. Hershey had eliminated my position so I took advantage of a severance package. I felt like God had given me the gift of an extra and early year at home! Honestly, this was a huge step of faith for me as Doug had not yet graduated from massage school at that time. But I truly believed that this was what God was calling me to do. “Do you trust me?” seemed to be what He was asking. There were three specific happenings that led us to make the confident decision that it was time to come home. I would even classify them as “miracles”.

Miracle #1 At a 48th birthday dinner for Doug he announced that he knows what he wants to do in life. I am stunned. After being together for a little over 30 years, Doug finally knows what he wants to do? To give you a little more insight into this, you should know that we started dating when I was in 10th grade and Doug was a senior. He never went to school beyond 12th grade because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. The topic came up no less than 50 times in our years together but the answer was always the same: “I don’t know.” So this truly was a miracle.

Miracle #2 As we explored several schools for him to attend, it didn’t occur to me until later that Doug had not been in school for 30 years. He would need to take an entrance exam to get into the school. Since he was a quarterback and point guard and not an academic scholar, this would prove to be a challenge. He took the test and came close to passing, but, unfortunately, he didn’t pass. But since the economy was tight, admissions were low, and he was studying to be a massage therapist, they told us that they would “wave the entrance exam and see how he does”.  Miracle #2 complete.

Miracle #3 If this is not a miracle then I will classify it as a strong sign from God that this was the direction we were to take. After working for Hershey for almost 20 years, there was only one position that I had interviewed for. Every other move, promotion, or change was a tap on the shoulder. If they asked me to do something, I said yes. That included a move half-way across the country to Arkansas for 3 years. And then another yes when they wanted me to head up a project in the home office and another move 1,200 miles back. I always said yes and there was always a position ahead. But this time was different. As I walked into my boss’s office the human resources person was present. He began to tell me that the position I was in was being eliminated but that they created another job that I could apply for. Actually, the job description was what I was already doing. It was a simple choice, really: Just interview for the other job and continue with my Hershey career. Or was it a gift from God to trust where He was leading me? After all, I was planning to resign in one year, anyway, when Doug was done with school and had started his business.

Again, God seemed to be asking me: “Do you trust Me?”  I responded to this by resigning with a one-year severance package, trusting that Doug would graduate and begin his career. For just a short while, life was perfect. We were both so excited! Doug was thrilled about pursuing his newfound passion in life and I was thrilled to finally be home with our girls. We couldn’t wait to get started with this new plan for our lives.

Shortly after our Disney vacation I received a phone call from Doug’s sister. Doug had recently been in his hometown for a wedding and had stayed with his sister. While there, he had confided in her that something wasn’t right but he didn’t know how to explain it. I also was starting to feel uneasy about our situation but I brushed it off to a newness for all of us. Me being home and Doug being out in the working world was a really big change for us.

Doug’s sister insisted that I set up a doctor’s appointment just to make sure things were okay with him. I immediately agreed and we went in to see the doctor right before Christmas. The doctor explained that his slowness or sluggishness was probably caused by depression. But this didn’t explain another puzzling symptom: He was not able to write his name. He couldn’t connect the cursive letters together. Printing was fine.

We were in the midst of one of the most exciting times in our lives and the doctor was diagnosing Doug with depression? Neither of us believed him and so we proceeded with blood work and a follow-up appointment. Over the holidays I received a call from the doctor and he genuinely seemed giddy. He said he had found out what was making Doug feel different: His thyroid levels were very high and the appropriate medication should ease the symptoms. Of course, that was the answer! Since I had quit work we were in the process of switching insurances and had neglected to get his thyroid medication filled. It was as simple as that.

But three months later, Doug was still not better and his thyroid tested fine. This was definitely one of the lowest points in my life. No jobs, no idea what was happening with Doug’s health, and the girls were being home-schooled. What would we do with them? What did this mean for my dream to be at home? My plan to stay home with the girls was disappearing. I felt sick to my stomach.

At the time, I was teaching an evening class at a local college as an adjunct professor. I began to realize that I needed to find another job very quickly. Just the thought of having to do this was tearing me up inside. “But God”, I cried, “I trusted you!”  My dream of staying home with the girls was being taken away while, at the same time, my husband of 26 years was so different. At this point I would have described him as mentally retarded. He was acting so odd. For example, he’d walk through a door and let it close on us. Or he’d lean over the girls in church to shake someone’s hand and make them almost fall without even reacting. It was definitely a strange place to be.

I was able to get a better-paying job with benefits in April of that year. But it meant a commute of 45 minutes to work (compared to the 5 minutes that I had previously) and I was making $40k less and also had fewer holidays and vacation days than my original job at Hershey. And this new job gave me even less time with my girls. Around this time, my trust in God was wavering. I questioned Him many times; I really did not understand.

Through the rest of that summer and fall, Doug progressively got worse and we still didn’t have any diagnosis from doctors. The girls started at a Christian school and I kept working. It just didn’t make sense to me. I thought I was doing everything right. I thought I was giving up my career to allow my husband to be the one bringing home the paycheck. I thought God was clearing the way for me to homeschool and enjoy my girls. I had trusted that this was what God was calling me to do. Nothing made sense to me. But I had no choice but to keep working and taking care of my husband and the girls. It wasn’t easy. Did I trust God? I said I did. Again, I didn’t understand. God had provided a job for me that allowed us to send the girls to a Christian school and, for that, I was grateful.

In early winter we got a diagnosis of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. I had to research it since I had no idea what it was. We found out that it was a terminal disease with a life expectancy of anywhere from two to twenty years. I didn’t find that helpful. What would I do with a 49-year- old husband who has two to twenty years left to live? How do two young girls walk that journey along with me? I didn’t know how to navigate it myself, much less help them.

Of course, with this diagnosis it meant that we had some financial decisions to make. Again, the unknowns made this so difficult to make decisions and the experts in the industries were not really “expert” regarding our specific situation. I felt so very alone. I cried out to God to direct my decisions – it was only me making these huge decisions as Doug wasn’t able to really help me by this time. I needed to trust that God was guiding my decisions and looking over us.

As the disease progressed, life became more of “just getting through each day”. There was no time to really consider what this meant to our family or to consider what we would have done differently once he was gone. Would there be any regrets? Who knew? God had me in a place that was very unfamiliar. Caring for a husband who could no longer communicate, the majority of my time was spent cleaning up pee from accidents, waiting on him, arranging rides for the girls, trying to make their lives as normal as possible while the unthinkable was happening to our family, working full time, all the time trying to pretend that nothing was going on. Who was I kidding? Life for us would never be normal again – at least it wouldn’t be what we had once considered normal.

About this time, Doug started to take a huge decline every three months. We would adjust to the current condition and then he would make a huge decline again. We were never ready for each step downward. After he suffered a stroke on his 50th birthday, his needs increased dramatically.  He needed help to get dressed, to eat meals, to go to the bathroom, and checked on multiple times during the day.

The next decline scared me more than the first. The disease was characterized by a backward fall. One day when I was home with him I watched him get out of a chair, take one step forward, and then four backwards before falling. He was bruised more than I would like to admit from all the falls he had sustained over the prior months. I had a new goal: No more bruises. He needed someone to walk him everywhere, since he could no longer navigate on his own. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. How were we possibly going to do that?  I had to arrange for someone to walk him everywhere, help him in the bathroom, and feed him while I was working and the girls were in school.

While we were dealing with all of this, we had another hurdle around that time. Doug had a condition that made him go to the bathroom every 1-2 hours, including the night time hours. I told my oldest daughter that between us, we could alternate nights staying up with him. She was off school for the summer, and for me, I figured how much different could this possibly be than having a newborn? I could do this. I took the first night and didn’t sleep at all. My daughter had the next night. I told her she could sleep as long as she wanted the next day, after his caretaker came at 7 am. I took the next night, and again, didn’t sleep at all. I obviously would not be able to do this and work full time. I was exhausted. After we talked, she agreed to take the night shift every night. What a blessing she was during that time. There was no way that I could do this by myself.

My oldest daughter went to two different week-long camps that summer. This meant that I had to care for Doug during the nights. I remember being at work on a Thursday during one of those weeks. I was sitting in a meeting when it hit me– I hadn’t slept since Saturday. How was I surviving this? God must have been sustaining me. We were continuing to trust Him in everything. We certainly didn’t know why He was allowing this, but we chose to trust in Him and what He was doing.

When the girls started back to school in late August, I was forced to get help. I hired a college student to take the night shift. Free room and board and a wage, too – seemed like a pretty good deal to me. I remember the day she moved in. I went for a walk and felt like I was walking on air. Just the thought of having another adult to take on some of the load and responsibility was freeing to me! This turned out to be only somewhat helpful. She often needed help with him during the night and I’d hear her quietly tiptoe into my room to wake me. We had given Doug a bell to ring when he need help but, unfortunately, once we passed the 3am time frame she wouldn’t even hear it go off. I would hear it, get up to help him, and let her sleep.

The next milestone came in October of 2013. I was getting him ready on a Saturday morning and could no longer get him up the steps. We were in the middle of the stairway when he fell backwards onto me. I’m not even sure how I got out of that dilemma. I do remember getting him upstairs and crying out to God for help. I truly did not know what to do at that moment. I came face to face with the fact that I could no longer take care of him in our home the way it was. I needed two people to assist him at all times and it was difficult enough getting one person. There weren’t any care facilities that would take him because of his age. I was not sure what the next steps would be and found myself completely and totally at God’s will. There was nothing I could do on my own. I was lost and saw no way out.

I cannot recall how we navigated those two desperate weeks. But what I do remember is God putting a name in my mind near the end of those weeks: A neighbor who worked for hospice.  I had no idea what her role was at hospice or if Doug would qualify for hospice or even if the insurance would cover it. In fact, I really had no idea what hospice was. But I had nowhere else to turn. At the end of my rope, I called Amy.

I clearly remember sitting at the kitchen table with my sister when I called Amy. Within three hours, I had a hospital bed, a lift for Doug, other equipment, and a hospice nurse coming in five days a week. I was overwhelmed. I went from one of the deepest pits of despair to having a solution in place in three hours. God had answered my prayers. I also clearly remember a return phone call I received from Amy an hour later. She said that they had a bed at their hospice facility in Harrisburg and that I qualified for a week of respite care for Doug. They would come and get him in an ambulance, transport him to the facility, and take care of him for a week. I was overwhelmed with relief, grief, and confusion. I said no, thinking how could I send him away?  It didn’t seem right. I hung up from Amy and looked at my sister. She had been there for several days, if not weeks, trying to help me. I was sobbing when I looked at her. My next thought was I need to do this not only for me, but for her. I had so many thoughts going through my head.  Amy called back. “Yes”, I said, “that would be a blessing”. I desperately needed some respite and my sister needed to go home.

I talked to Doug about this. As much as I could understand him, he seemed ok with the idea. I would follow the ambulance to the facility, make sure everything was fine, and then go home without him. That was on a Saturday. On Sunday, the girls and I headed to the hospice home to see him after church. I wanted them to know that he was being taken care of – probably better than we could care for him here. We went to lunch afterwards and tears once again stained our cheeks.

Doug came home a week later and he was confined to his bed. Hospice would come every day and give him a bed-bath and his daytime caregiver would prepare meals and feed him. It was easier to care for him at this point. No more getting up in the middle of the night to help him to the bathroom. He was bedbound and would be until he went to be with his Savior.

He had a palliative care doctor who came to the house every month. She was a blessing to us. In October, she said that Doug probably had until ‘summer’. Another month she said the beginning of the summer, and at another point she said the end of the summer. I know it was a guess but that put a timeline on his remaining time with us. This was a difficult discussion with the girls.  When it was ‘two to twenty’ years or six months, it doesn’t seem as final. It’s almost like the ‘tomorrow’ statement – tomorrow never comes. But the summer of 2014 does come, and it was painful to hear. At that point, we knew that Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2013 would most likely be his last. We also realized that his birthday in February would also probably be his last.  But what should we do differently? I didn’t know.

When my youngest turned 11 that January, it was extremely difficult for me. Instead of rejoicing with her for turning 11, my mind only went to one thought: For the rest of her life, when she talks about her dad or about her life, she will say that she was 11 when her dad died. That’s all I could think about. I knew this because my mother’s father died when she was 12 and I remember her many stories over the years– “I was 12 when…”

We continued to watch Doug deteriorate. He was getting thinner and thinner. It was very difficult to watch the changes. Bed sores didn’t come until near the end. He didn’t have many as we cared for him as best we could. He was also becoming very stiff and his hands and feet were starting to look like they had severe arthritis. The hands that had so gently massaged other people’s muscles were now deformed and motionless. What he loved most were the foot and hand massages that many of his caretakers would give him.

It was on May 19 that the hospice worker recognized that fluids and food were going into his lungs. He was now unable to swallow correctly. We had known to expect this as it was a symptom of the disease. So it was on this day that the decision was made to stop all fluids and food, since he would asphyxiate which, I was told, would be worse than starving to death. And those were our choices at this point. We “celebrated” our 28th wedding anniversary on May 17th. I knew it would be our last.

For anyone who has watched a loved one slowly pass on my heart goes out to you. Difficult does not describe what that is like. Morphine becomes a gift. Each day you think is the last and then it turns into tomorrow. There is no quality time– only waiting and tears. But God sustains and helps you get from one day to the next. And as you kiss your loved one on the gurney as he is being taken out of your home for the last time, you know you will miss him, but that you also know that –if they were saved through faith in Jesus Christ—you have the hope that someday you will see him again in Heaven.

December 2016

As I look back and reflect on the past five years, I can see God in every decision. I know that He was with me. He didn’t take away the pain, but He let me know He was always there. On May 30, 2014 I said good-bye to my husband of 28 years. At this point, two and a half years later, I still have no idea what God wants me to do with this. But I still trust in His leading. He has never left me.

“The worldly things have become a little dimmer, and the things of Heaven have become a little brighter”.  I heard that from a pastor’s wife who lost her husband in a terrible car accident after church one Sunday as they were traveling back to their home. She did not seem bitter but, instead, said it with a sweetness that could only come from God. I now know what she meant.

John 14:2

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

As James 4:14 says

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

God has been faithful to us throughout the past five years. Although we don’t understand, we trust that He knows what is best for us. The girls and I prayed faithfully that God be glorified through our trial. Whatever happened, we wanted God’s glory to shine through us. This was our verse:

I Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

One of Doug’s care-takers responded to a gift and note that I left for her one morning:

Jan:

For some reason I just now turned the page in Doug’s book. I opened your card and tears just poured from my eyes. Not out of sorrow or pain but because I am so thankful for everything I had to go thru that has led me to be with you and your family.

 I learned the true Grace of God thru you. Though I love Doug as though he were my child it is your actions that I saw day to day that renewed my faith in God. To love someone is to love someone like Jesus loved us. Sick, poor, meek ….

 I know you are grateful for my care of Doug without you ever saying a word. God brought you and your family to me so I could see. It is I who is most grateful. I have recently had an experience with God that is indescribable. It has made me committed to do His will and taught me that without him I have no life. You and Doug and your family contributed greatly to my salvation. I love you and I love Doug.

 Thank you for the birthday present. But mostly thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.

 When I asked her if I could use this text at his memorial service, this was her response: “Oh I would love that….I am going to be glorifying God for sending him and your family into my life…  For I came into a home where my Father was the center so that I would come to see the Light of Christ Jesus, My savior, family-fall-2016-v2through a family that witnessed the love my Lord has for all His children without uttering a single word. Doug was sent to me as a silent messenger and a righteous man. At my baptism you will all be mentioned for the selfless love you have shown me as Jesus asked you to do. Words aren’t enough”.

If all of this was for one soul to spend eternity in Heaven, it was worth it.

 


 

Changed Lives: Melanie

Changed Lives (final)

A few months ago, I received an email from one of my readers. As we emailed back and forth, we realized that we had a lot in common and a friendship grew. As we got to know one another better, she shared with me a little bit about the years she spent searching for God’s presence through subjective experiences and how God opened her eyes to the truth in His Word.

As I listened to her, I realized that her testimony would be a valuable one here on Growing4Life. If you or someone you love is caught up in the IHOP, NAR, or any other subjective, experiential movement, you will definitely want to read this. If you or someone you love is valuing personal experience over God’s Word, this testimony will show the danger that is involved when we do this.

A few things have stood out in my conversations with Melanie. First, the demonic things she was experiencing looked right and good on many occasions. Satan masquerades as an Angel of Light, and her testimony shows this very clearly. Second, the Bible was irrelevant and unnecessary when she was caught up in this movement. It was only when she started filling her mind with God’s Word that He showed her the truth. Third, true joy and peace came to her when she surrendered her need for an experience and gave her life to loving God, denying self, and doing God’s Will. And she clarified that this movement is all about the raising of self–the antithesis of what we find in scripture.

Melanie’s testimony shows us clearly that God will give answers to those who are truly searching for the Truth. It gives hope and clarity to those of us with loved ones caught up in these movements. And it gives us insight into what is really going on in this movement. Recently, very popular evangelicals that we have counted on to remain true to God’s Word have been pairing with the likes of Mike Bickle and others. This testimony shows us why these men and women are actually partnering with false teachers.

And so, with that introduction, I offer to you Melanie’s testimony–

From the beginning…
Jesus called me as His own daughter (John 15:16) at Hume Lake Christian Camp one summer during my Junior High years. I have been following Him ever since. I still remember that special moment going from darkness to light and the joy of that experience– just as sweet and precious as though it were yesterday.

Walking the path of those young years alone was not an easy one, as my parents were not Christians at the time. I remember coming down from the mountain top shortly upon returning home and my parents quickly informing me that they were happy for me but my “religious thing” was not for them. Yet, in spite of my parents not being Christians, how wonderful God’s ways truly were!

As God would have it, I happened to live directly across the street from a Presbyterian church! The youth leaders of that very same church happened to take an interest in me and they were the ones who invited me to Hume Lake. This became my new home and church family through my high school years. I still remember the liturgy, the robes, and even the boring hymns. In that day, religion seemed so boring, but Jesus was a whole different story. He was exciting! This is really where my foundation of God and Christianity was laid. Etched in my memory was the difference I saw between the Jesus I learned about at camp, a Savior who is personal and alive, and the form of Christ that was portrayed on Sundays in my church. The “church Jesus” seemed more distant, boring, and untouchable. Thereby, the two seemed miles apart and very different. And yet, I thirsted to know Jesus, the One who gave His life for me.

So how does one get to know this Jesus personally? How can one really connect with Him?

Early years…
As a young wife and mother of three small children, I had a strong desire to connect with other women on a deeper level. I decided to begin a women’s prayer group in my home. We prayed for our husbands, our children, our church and church leaders, and our individual walks with Jesus. At this time, my husband went to church on Sundays but I knew where his heart was the rest of the week. All of us ladies had one thing in common—a desire to connect with Jesus on a much deeper level. If there was a way to explore the depths of this relationship and really connect spiritually, then we were going to find that doorway and walk right through it.

The problem began when I decided to lead the group in “practice listening” and “experiencing God” exercises.

These were harmless and innocent –or so I believed. This would certainly grow our faith and we all agreed in the group that we wanted to know God better and, of course, more deeply. Please understand that no one showed me these things but, instead, I simply learned them on my own as I leaped out in what I believed to be faith.

·       What could possibly be wrong with wanting to know Jesus on a greater level?

·       Was it not God’s desire that we know Him well?

·       Who doesn’t want to sense or feel God’s Abiding Presence?

Growing in these “gifts” and rather quickly, I also seemed to be very good at them. Without going into detail, I will say here that I recognize now that I had some experiences as a child with the demonic world that played right into the hands of Satan and this “new” way to be drawn to “God”.

Growing steadily in what I believed to be “gifts” (as this is what I was told) through “words of knowledge” and dreams, I developed the ability to see in the spirit realm–a place I had no business to be! My own church leaders even took note (I was attending a Dutch Reformed church at that time). They would send sisters my way when they did not know what to do or have answers for them. If those sisters seemed oppressed or could not move forward in their walk with Christ, they were directed to call me.

Perfecting my craft…
As I daily worked on my “craft” with determination, I also desired to gain understanding. Hungry and eager, I read every book I could find that would help me grow in this area. Many of these were found in Christian bookstores. Sadly, lining many of our Christian bookshelves today are literally hundreds of these books by so many different authors. This might lead one to think that these teachings are perfectly normal and acceptable under the Christian umbrella. Don’t be fooled!

It grieves me to say that I led twelve precious women astray for almost ten years. I lead them right into the heavy experiential/contemplative movement and what I know today are false teachings and false doctrines. Today, these dear sisters believe I jumped ship and have gone off the deep end of legalism. In fact, only one of these will have even very limited contact with me.

Seeking the experience…
Three of us from the prayer ministry excelled and bonded which made us a pretty tight team.  Because I seemed to be most “gifted” in this area of hearing I became the natural leader. Now you must know there was no accountability. I had no one to whom I was accountable to in any way (big mistake).

As word spread, women who needed inner healing would come to me, seeking an appointment. I would tell them I did not want to know anything regarding their situation because I wanted them to have an “experience with the Lord” which would solidify their faith in Him. (I recognize now just how dangerous and wicked this was!) I would then go into prayer on their behalf and write what I heard from the spirit realm. 99% of what I wrote was accurate (just like a medium)! I would then share with them and expose things only the Holy Spirit could possibly know! Or so I believed. Now I know that I was dabbling in the demonic world.

I would also write a love letter for them from the Lord, which would only increase their belief in Him as this also was very personal and highly experiential. (What does this remind you of? Perhaps Sarah Young of Jesus Calling fame? She, too, claims to use automatic writing in order to share “God’s messages”).

As I write this, I’m reminded of one clear day, early on, which sticks out in my memory. I heard, in the quietness of my heart–not an audible voice, mind you, but more like an impression on my heart– “Is this something the Lord would approve of?” But instead of tuning my heart towards the Lord and His Word, I continued on in a dangerous direction.

I also remember thinking at that time that anything the devil had meant for evil, God had surely redeemed, restored, and thereby deemed it all good. Therefore I believed that even automatic writing could be a good thing. This led me to believe that this could be useful and benefit the body of Christ. Tragically, this is what was taught in some of the Christian circles I floated in and out of and it was even approved of by my own church. (This is an absolute lie, of course!) And so I had been clearly warned and yet I ignored the subtle warning and dismissed it as from the devil! I was so young, and, oh, so very foolish.

Sadly, I was also very naïve to anything the scriptures had to say against witchcraft. The lie was really on me, as I believed I had been given a great level of discernment by the Lord! I recognize this now as nothing but pride!

This same lie sadly circulates today in many Christian circles. Just look at yoga, for instance. “God has redeemed it, and if I don’t use it for evil, then it isn’t evil.” We’ve (His church, His beloved bride) gone even so far as to deem that which is blatant and purely evil worship of another god by calling yoga holy. What an oxymoron!

Beautiful witchcraft…
More than once, I was given information from the spirit world about different pastors, leaders, and churches regarding their immorality and sin. Sometimes I would have dreams the night before a scheduled meeting. And so when I went into the meeting I knew things and was able to reveal the darkness and discern the lies going on between the leadership. Now this part was based always in repenting and confessing. I honestly believed that I was doing right by God as I “ministered” in this way. And while some of my theology was correct, partial truth of knowledge is dangerous. The devil also has a partial truth of knowledge but not the whole truth.

Knowing ALL of God’s Truth Matters!

Like so many today in the body of Christ—dare I say most– I simply did not know the Word of God accurately.

I spent many years leading many believers and even a few pastors through “deep inner healing”. This was done mostly by visualization which I believed was being led by the Holy Spirit. It appeared to be so beautiful. How could this not be of God? Especially, if the outcome was good and what we did was all in the precious name of Jesus…

In these inner healings and visualizations, I was able to see and walk people through what was presented in the spirit realm. This led to a high point when they “encountered Jesus” for themselves. This would, naturally, make Jesus more real to them because the experience itself was very real and usually highly emotive.

I remember one pastor who was moving on from his current church and struggling with what direction to go. He was having a difficult time choosing between the churches he had been offered and was looking for confirmation. I told him what I believed to be the place of choice, and with just that word of confirmation, he lives today in that very location. I can see now that this was simply “divination” and certainly not a special message from the One, True God.

I have learned now that we must always look to God and His Word for our answers. We must always put our trust in Him and never in man or in our subjective experiences (Psalms 146:3).

Beware of Christian cults…
As I became more immersed in this new “Christianity”, I was very naturally led to Mike Bickle of Kansas City IHOP (International House of Prayer). Maybe you have heard of him? My group of ladies hailed him as a super–mega Christian leader who was truly connected to the Holy Spirit. I actually flew out to Kansas City to participate in this cult movement.

Sadly, our prayer group followed many who were just so far off from the truth of God’s Word as to be truly dangerous. I shall list a few as pure warnings:

·       Graham Cooke (Third wave theology)
·       NAR (New Apostle Reformation, another name for Dominionism) and the many self- proclaimed prophets (too many to count)
·       Cindy Jacobs (Generals International)
·       Jack Deere (Third wave theology) Deceased
·       Rick Joyner (Morning Star Ministries)
·       Che Ahn (Harvest International Ministries, Pasadena)
·       Mike Bickle (IHOP) and Lou Engle (Joel’s Army)
·       Heidi Baker (Iris Global Ministries)
·       Bill Johnson (Bethel, Redding CA)
·       Jill Austin (The Masters Potter) Deceased
·       Patricia King (XP Ministries)
·       Peter C. Wagner (leader to the NAR and many of those listed here)

Sadly, you can see this was my “circle of influence” for many years. And WHAT an influence they had on my life! They were leading me far away from the path of godly, biblical living with their crooked theology. Reading as many books from these authors as I could get my hands on, I devoured their sweet sugar, this false gospel, and passed on their heretical teachings to my brothers and sisters in Christ. I cannot tell you how sick and grieved my heart is over what I’ve done in the name of Jesus.

Please take a moment and carefully examine your own circle of influence–

·       What gospel is being preached and proclaimed?

·       Does it elevate Jesus as reigning Lord and Savior instead of man and his works of wonder?

You see these men and women draw others unto themselves, instead of to the true majesty of God who forever reigns from His throne–the One who is high and lifted up, the train of His robe filling the temple (Isaiah 6).

My friend, a true encounter with the living God would make one shudder and want to hide in awesome fear! We would never be able to stand one minute under the weight of His Holy presence in our sinful condition. Fear and dread like a dead man would come upon us. No one could handle the “true” magnificent glory cloud of God. We see this in scripture over and over again. It is in complete opposition to the fake experiences that these false prophets provide, conjuring up glory clouds from the spirit world to make you believe you are having an encounter with God himself.

Going from one circus tent to another, (I can’t call them Christian seminars or retreats because they simply were not!) I gleaned much from these well-known self-proclaimed prophets and apostles. Often times in Christian circles we are led to believe these “apostles” have something which appears to be “extremely special” and of “great value”. We are led to believe we must have what they are selling. If you wanted more of God’s anointing, you need to give to their ministry, be blessed by their “special prayers of release”, or perhaps buy their newest book of the month.

These special elitists were supposedly also so special in God’s eyes they were given heaven’s keys, with the ability to tap right into heaven itself, thereby always receiving new revelations. This may sound strange to some but, when you are in this movement, this can be rather addicting. I therefore began to seek my own special revelations and God’s Word no longer seemed sufficient. In fact, I remember telling people: “God is not bound or even confined to His Word as He lives outside of time and space and therefore can do what He pleases.” Obviously, I was confused and certainly didn’t know my Bible.

My passion in going to these events was often driven by this thought: “Maybe they will have a personal word for me today.” I (and people caught up in this movement) are often so desperate to hear from God, that we believe that these men and women have direct connections to God Himself! And yet, now I realize that God has given us His very Word, which is perfect, trustworthy, completely inerrant, and sufficient for all our needs today. There is nothing more deep and satisfying than God’s Word. Just look at Psalms 119! But I am jumping ahead of myself here.

Birds of the same kind…
Please understand, “birds of a feather flock together.” And flock together we did! Circling around these teachers and going to those hosted events, we sought deeper and more vivid spiritual experiences. We were never satisfied by these conferences alone. We were continually commanding, demanding, decreeing, and always releasing a fresh “anointing”.

For years, people would prophesy very confirming things to me at these events such as: “You’re a prophet to the nations” and “you are going to give birth” (not happened yet! And I am 51 years old!) This same “special word” happened everywhere I went in these experiential circles, almost as if others were drawn to me. This became common place as I floated in and out of this movement for over 20 years. Satan really wanted me to think I was something great in the kingdom and pride was always lurking in the shadows! Sadly, because I also walked in the “supernatural” it was easy for me to walk up to strangers and give them direct prophesies or words of knowledge during these conferences. So often at these events the air itself was electrified with the super-natural. There was no doubt, as we could sense it—even almost feel it. However, I eventually learned that these experiences were counterfeit experiences, with the Great Deceiver working his charm on the deceived believer.

My dear friends, the reason for the “knowing” and the supernatural “experiences” is this:

We are simply tapping into “familiar spirits”!

May I also note that at these special events someone always mentioned the endless miracles or gold dust floating through the air! We continually chased the next spiritual high. Commanding, releasing, decreeing as if we were equal to God somehow and had supernatural power. It was really all based on pride and our desire to be “like” God. (It really reminds me of the serpent in the garden when he spoke to Eve and put the thought in her head that she could be wise, like God). A broken and contrite spirit God will not despise as it says in Psalms 51:17. A mature believer demands nothing from his Father but seeks only to do His will. We don’t need nor demand the prayers and blessings of false prophets and apostles or supernatural experiences.

I practiced many forms of what I called beautiful witchcraft and did not even know it! How blind I was– just so very blind.

Spending hours in prayer and visualizing Jesus meeting with me in a beautiful field, my heart was soaked in idolatry. I actually believed that He was leading, guiding me, and giving me many messages. The ladies in my prayer group were always amazed how quickly I was able to find this special place just about anytime and anywhere. (Let me tell you I believed I was tapped in, never realizing that what I was involved in was actually dangerous demonic activity!) I’m sure it made me appear to be very spiritual!

The missing piece…
Please remember I met with these ladies in my prayer group regularly, weekly for 10 years to have “Jesus experiences”. To my shame I could share so many years’ worth of stories with you.

Once you dabble in this camp, coming out and away from it is often times very difficult. Having been so blinded by our own “experiences” which we now believe to be true on every account, it has sadly solidified what we believe, even if it doesn’t match what is actually the truth from scripture. I was in grave error, as I was relying on myself and my experiences to teach me about God rather than on God’s Word. When we do this Satan will deceive us every time! Scripture tells us we are to walk by faith and not by sight! 2 Corn. 5:7

The missing component in my life was the soundness and the accuracy of God’s Word. You see, something that I would have never have told anyone is that I read my Bible as little as possible. I could justify reading other books which had scripture in them. They seemed much more alive and “tingly” to me. I had absolutely no way to weigh these teachings/books against scripture because I simply did not know God’s Word very well. The Bible was a dead book in my heart. I would read it but only to mark it off my list of duties and obligations.

I began– over time– to realize others were coming to Christ as new babes and were years ahead of me in their knowledge in the scriptures. This became a conflict in my heart. Oftentimes they would quote scriptures from the Bible with such passion. Watching with perplexity I realized they didn’t just know their Bible but they loved God’s very word! This Book seemed very much alive to them. Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Sadly, I knew I did not know and love God’s Word like this. It remained a mystery to me–ancient, old, and more dead than alive. Fear began to settle into the depths of my heart. Bethel Redding, Bill Johnson’s church, was next on my to-do list. The odd thing was that from early on in my walk with Christ, I truly did have a keen sense for wanting holiness in my life. I really loved the Lord and my desire–as twisted as it was– really was to please Him. And so God—in His righteousness and grace, being such a good Father — intervened! By God’s pure, direct hand in my life, and His grace which had been poured out over me, I was kept from my trip to Bethel Redding! I thank God, as this was a very good thing indeed!

Mother’s Day, roughly 11-12 years ago, I went to my mom and dad’s church up in the high desert and a couple were up on the stage sharing about their mission trip to the Philippines. Why were my hands sweating? Why was my heart racing?

They presented a slide show and asked if anyone would like to go along on their next mission trip to the Philippines. I remember telling God, “no way, don’t even ask me to go because I can’t fly in an airplane.” Remember now, I was living in the experiential and so speaking and listening for His voice was normal. While I didn’t hear any voices, I did feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit, challenging my comfortable life and pushing me out of my comfort zone to serve Christ in The Philippines. Long story short, I did go. I went in faith, terrified to fly, but putting it all in God’s hands.

The very moment the plane took off so did my dreaded terror of flying! I was free! What an on-time God we serve.

A shaking must take place…
However, around this time some of the women in my prayer group were prophesying to me, saying “it wasn’t God’s time for you to go to the mission field.”  They believed they confirmed this by special messages from God. Because I did not listen to them, the prayer group started to crumble, as a shaking was inevitably going to take place. God’s plan and design was to bring this out-of-control, unstable ministry down to rubble and dust. Obviously, this prayer ministry had never been grounded in the Word of God.

This led to the beginning of a new life of living in faith! A tiny seed had been planted. Two weeks prior to my trip I pleaded earnestly and begged God to give me a deep love for His Word. Upon returning home from my trip, I opened my Bible and my love for the Word was instant, like a veil had been rent from my eyes! (2 Corinthians 4:3) The Old Testament was like a new story! For the first time, God’s Word was truly alive!

I simply could not get enough of scripture to satisfy my thirst for my Savior. That next year I read as much as possible and simply could not put this precious Book down. I took it everywhere, never wanting a substitute. I only craved God’s precious, undiluted, pure Word.  Meanwhile, on the homestead, cracks and fissures were bubbling. Discord was in the prayer ministry and jealousy was brewing underneath the surface.

Waking up…
After coming home from a few days in Kansas City under Mike Bickle’s IHOP, I had purchased a few books and it happened that I left one on the dining room table. My husband, in passing, just happened to notice this book and picked it up. To his shock and horror, he could not believe what I had been reading and how far off I had gone from the truth of God’s Word! He had been absent spiritually for many years. This was the day of him coming out of his slumber and waking up to the reality of what can happen when a husband does not assume the spiritual role as head of the home that has been ordained by Christ himself. (Eph. 5:22)

My husband and I had experienced great patience by the Holy Spirit. We had both been in a deep spiritual slumber and this would not be easy to undo in one moment. I had bought– not one– but many lies over the years and my husband had been uninterested. However all of this changed that day. My husband began to notice who I flocked to for spiritual guidance and he would search the internet to find truth regards to their standing, weighing each of them against scripture. He would then leave the articles around the house for me to find and read. Maybe a day or two later he would ask me casually if I had found the time to read the article that he had found. He knew I really wanted biblical truth in my inmost being as I loved God dearly. At this time, my love for God’s Word was continuing to grow. As I began to read these articles and discover the depth of deception in these ministries, anger would fill my heart! Thus began the beginning of my husband and I exposing false teachers and digging deeper to find out exactly what was going on in the lives of those who are in leadership positions in these movements on a national level. Exposing toxic teachings and false teachers which do not line up with the Word of God and sound doctrine is not a popular endeavor!

Not everyone wants the truth…
As I began to find huge contradictions and false teachings within IHOP and its famous leader, Mike Bickle, it was now time to share my discovery with my most trusted, beloved sisters in the Lord. After ten years of ministry together, they were like sisters to me. One lady and I were especially close. Our bond was a very special one, one for which I shall always be grateful. No one knew me quite like her. When it came to prayer with her by my side, on behalf of others it was like a synchronized dance. We were always in perfect step together, synced up in perfect harmony. I knew this news would come as a shock and horror to her as it did me.

However, to my disbelief, she was not so eager to hear or believe. After giving her the evidence of what I had discovered, her answer after a few weeks, was simply, “God did not tell me to read this.” (yep, we were that far in) From here the fractures and splinters were now severe and un-mendable in the prayer group. The Lord, in His mercy, swiftly brought down this unsanctified, messy, unbiblical nightmare.

Into the desert…
Now left without friends, confused, stripped of pride, I found myself not just deserted, but also beginning a long journey into the desert. Stripped of everything familiar, I found myself in the desert to be crushed, molded, and reshaped. Isa 64:8 Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

Thankfully, even in the desert, pools of refreshment bubbled up. Finding springs of living water (God’s Word) quenched my thirst, as I longed to be forgiven and made whole. I was completely broken and yet, ironically, I was complete in Him. Desperate and depressed and riddled with shame, His word was restoring! God’s Word was a life line, a true help, and never more alive and living as it was in that desert. I spent nearly 2 ½ years in the desert but it was the greatest place of growth for me. I realized I was finally getting to know my Lord in the right and only way possible–through the reading and applying of His Word. Trusting that He was enough, I realized that I did not need to “feel” His presence in order to be holy and spiritual. God’s Word tells me He will never leave me nor forsake me (Duet. 31:6), no matter what I feel. Where I go, by faith, God is already there. Today I now live by faith and not by sight!

A light unto my path…
His word did not just soothe me, but also restored all the brokenness of what I had done. His Word had become a light unto my path (Psalms 119:105). As the magnitude of my sin weighed heavily upon me, I found myself daily confessing and repenting. Sometimes the unbearable anguish of my heart would try to swallow me up. A season of mourning could not be avoided as I was the cause of so much pain to my sisters, church, and to my dear Savior. Times of true darkness tried to engulf me. Still, to this day, I grieve over what I have done. I had never in a million years believed I could be swayed to believe another gospel– a false gospel– or that I would be responsible for leading others away from the one true gospel of our Lord and Savior. Now daily trusting my Savior, leaning on His Word, I live to obey it. As His daughter it is my utmost desire to live to His glory. With this comes my responsibility to carefully check everything against scripture. Like the Bereans, we are to test:

·       Teachers
·       Leaders
·       Books
·       Teachings and Sermons (theology/doctrine)

Laying it all down…
After laying everything down, I had firmly decided that I was never going to do any ministry again. I wanted nothing to do with being in charge of others, never wanting to hurt another with wrong doctrine and bad teaching ever again. The weight of responsibility was much too great and so I made the decision to never again lead others in any form of ministry. Ministry was obviously not for me and far too risky. I had found that it was far too easy to be led astray and thereby to lead others astray. It was so much easier than most would even dare to believe. In fact, there is a good chance you have bought into some wrong doctrine and do not even know it! Sadly, within the body of Christ today many do not really set their hearts and minds to really study the Word of God. Without knowing God’s Word, you are a sitting duck! You are open to the hundreds of false teachings and bad doctrines which come your way via friends, internet, YouTube, and, yes, even preached and passed on right from the pulpit.

I came out of the desert with a real sense of the majesty and awe of this God in whom I serve. I now have a healthy fear of God. I never want to bring shame to His name again. I promised God I would be content to be a good wife, mother, and homemaker. I let all go for His glory!

Fully Surrendered, yielded vessel…
When we abide in the one true vine as we read in John 15 and allow the Master Gardener to cut away and carefully prune anything which does not bear fruit, the result is a cultivated heart that will produce an abundance of fruit. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”. John 15:8

My desire here is to give God all glory and credit for the work in which He has done in my life. As God has restored not just myself but my husband, also, He graciously entrusted a very tiny ministry into the care of my husband and myself. Something we do not take lightly.

·       We have the privilege of leading teams into prison to give a once a month full church service. I am a volunteer chaplain to the women prisoners, leading weekly Bible studies and one-on-ones with female inmates.

·       This past year the Lord, with the assistance and guidance of His precious Holy Spirit, helped me to write and teach a curriculum based on His Word. This is something I would have never believed I was capable of doing, let alone ever desire to do! It is completely out of my comfort zone as I am much too timid for any of this.

·       I hate public speaking (it is the worst!) yet God has me speaking and putting on conferences!

The days are long gone of me seeking or needing to be filled with a “presence”. In the past, I had to have some kind of a “spiritual connection” in order to go about my day but today I simply live by faith and strive to obey God’s Word! I always give God my entire day as in Psalms 37:4-6. I have set my heart in doing the necessary work which needs to get done. My Father’s business is now my concern. This is in stark contrast to making my own needs and desires my main concern in the past. We are actually called to work as His children and it is a privilege to serve Him. Such joy comes from obedience! Luke 10:2 says,” He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Photo1It’s not the end of the road…
People perish apart from Christ everyday because they do not know him. We should want that no man would perish apart from Christ! If we won’t go into the fields, if we won’t share our faith, then who will? We have been given a charge by Christ Himself in Matthew 28 in The Great Commission. Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father and was having a last conversation with His disciples in this key passage. He tells them to go and make disciples of all nations.

God can’t use a vessel (certainly not very well) which is not completely void of self. Luke 9:23 “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

This is a very hard saying and many are not willing to “deny self” for the sake of Christ.

It is impossible to be done in your own effort so don’t even try to do it on your own merit.  Christ can change your heart and give you His desires! Only ask of Him from a pure heart and He shall hear your prayers. I pray as God has changed my heart and given me a love and understanding for His word that God will do the same in you. My dear friends, this is certainly not the end of the road but the beginning! As we strive to do things His way, in the way which pleases Him, you will find true life and such abundant joy in the serving of our precious Lord and Savior.

John 4:14 “But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” So come to the well of living water, drink and thirst no longer! To God be the glory!

 

Changed Lives: Mandy

Changed Lives (final)

Today I want you to meet Mandy. I got to know her when she started attending the Bible Study I was teaching last fall. It became immediately evident that she had an unusual hunger for the truth. She asked a lot of questions, demonstrating a humble and teachable spirit that is seen in few. One evening, after the study, Mandy shared with me some of her story. I knew at that point that if I ever followed through on my idea of sharing testimonies on Growing 4 Life, that I would want to include hers. It’s a beautiful story of God’s love and redemption. I am so thankful she is willing to share it–

Mandy’s Story

As a young woman, I found myself involved in drinking, partying, and relationships with men outside of marriage. I was desperately trying to fulfill a longing to be loved but, instead, ended up deceived and alone.

I truly wanted to stop living this foolish and dangerous lifestyle and also started to develop a hunger for Truth. God brought a couple into my life who befriended me, bought me my first Bible, and invited me to their church. Even though I still did not know the Gospel, I began to believe there was hope for me.  Looking back now, I can see how God was beginning to divinely draw me to Himself.

Not long after this, I was brought to deep conviction about the sin in my life– particularly for my relations with many men outside of marriage. I had already had two abortions and was a single mother to two sons from two different men.

Around that time, bearing a heavy burden of feeling unclean from my promiscuous lifestyle, I made the decision to have a routine checkup for sexually transmitted diseases. On my way home from the doctor, I fell into deep despair. It was just at that moment that my friends stopped by.

“I deserve to burn in Hell and live with the consequences of my behavior,” I cried. It was a most terrifying and sobering thought. It was at this time that this couple presented me with the Gospel and God began to remove the blinders from my eyes that had kept me in such darkness.

Two weeks passed and, finally, my doctor called me with my test results. I nervously answered, expecting the worst. I knew I deserved it and I was ready to pay a high price for my sinful lifestyle.

But instead he shared with me that I had a clean bill of health! In fact, he told me that my pap test was clear—for the first time in seven years! I praised God for this unexpected news and it was then that I bowed my head and asked God to forgive my sins: past, present, and future. I thanked Him for sending His Son to die on the cross for my sins so that I am able to have a relationship with Him and one day be with Him in Heaven for eternity and I claimed Jesus as the Lord of my life.

Following my profession of faith, my longing to be loved was being fulfilled and I was experiencing the true joy, peace, and freedom that only Christ can give. I truly felt born again!

But all that would change when I chose once again to live in sin.

Prior to my profession, I had been introduced to an active duty marine who was on leave visiting his family. We spent the last several months of his service talking and learning about each other. He came to visit me after his term ended and it did not take us long to fall in love. We knew that we would be married someday in the future. Little did I know, sin was crouching at my door; and its desire was for me. I am ashamed to say that I did not master it. Unfortunately, we did not keep ourselves sexually pure before marriage and I conceived.

I learned the hard way that sin will take you further then you want to go, keep you longer then you want to stay, and cost you more then you want to pay. The shame was unbearable, my purity was sacrificed in one moment of passion, my friendships where falling apart, I lost the desire to read my Bible and attend church, and before I knew it, I stopped walking with the Lord completely.

Three years passed and I was now married and living with my two sons and our newest addition, a sweet daughter. My husband and I bought a home and I worked hard to make it comfortable and homey.

From a worldly view it may have looked like I had it all– a loving husband who was able to provide enough for me to be a homemaker, three healthy children, a charming house, enough money to buy what we wanted whenever we wanted it. And—yet—there was a desperate longing inside me that just wasn’t being fulfilled.

DSC_8704-8After attending a Women’s Conference at a local church in September 2015, the Holy Spirit pressed heavily upon my heart. It seemed far too easy to believe that God was waiting for me with open arms. Surely I had to do more than to confess my sin, accept God’s forgiveness, and then pick up where I left off with Him? But I did this very thing and my life hasn’t been the same since!

I am convinced life is not found in anything but Jesus. My family and I started faithfully attending church and Sunday school again and I got involved in a couple of Bible Studies. God has been pruning, teaching, and molding me through it all. In humility, I am able to say I stand more firmly in my faith because of it and nothing gives me greater peace and joy then serving and glorifying God.