Thursday, November 11, 2010

Handbook For The Recently Released

It has been a while since we at ABD were set free from the former organization. I wanted to share a few things that I've learned along the way. Think of this post as lessons learned and good advice to those who are leaving the Church of God for greener pastures. Take it or leave it. Your call. This post is about some things I've been asked by people who had recently left, or that I wished I could have asked someone else when I first left.

"I like the people in my COG congregation. Should I stay, even though I've come to grace?"
I wouldn't recommend that, no. It's up to you, of course. But you'll see that inevitably there are only so many roads you can go down. One is division. Do you want to cause division and perhaps resentment? Your beliefs will do that because you can't hide them or keep that light under a basket or ignore them or not talk about them. It will eventually come up more and more, and you will eventually either cause division or resentment. Another road is regression. You can quench the Holy Spirit by constantly subjecting yourself to the lies. Believe me, I know. You can quench the fire and go right back into the lie like you'd never left. Is that what you want? Is it worth the risk? Your choice. It is probably best for the long run that you find a group that more closely matches what you currently believe is true. Chances are good that you'll some day leave that group too, as you grow. When I left the Armstrongist group I was formerly associated with, I went to the Church of God (Seventh day). I highly recommend them as a sort of half-way house for recovering Armstrongists. But it wasn't long and I had grown to the point where I saw the need to find another group even more suited to what I had grown into. I am not saying that by leaving you have to sever all ties. I honestly tried to keep several ties when I left, only to learn that most people didn't want to keep ties with me. (Part of that was born from my own zeal to write this blog and disprove the old system.) But if you can keep a good relationship, by all means do so! Just consider how it might be both for your own good and theirs that you leave that church system. Keep your hopes up that some day they'll join you.

"My family is still in the system. How can I help them?"
Three words - patience, prayer, and love! The first and last lesson is build relationships, relationships, relationships. Patience is much needed. They haven't had the experiences you have. They may attack you. They may shun you. They may feel uncomfortable around you. They may not want to deal with the elephant in the room. Your challenge in this is to remain patient. Everyone is different and what opens the eyes is unique for each experience. You can't just repeat what worked for you. You can't beat it into them, either. This will take lots and lots of patience. So what can you do? Intercede for them before God. Now that you have been through it, you have a better idea on what to pray for. Get other people to pray for them, too. This is a Spiritual battle. What better way to fight it than in prayer? This could take some time. It could take years! Get that settled in your mind and know that you can't rush it. I want to warn you that you may never live to see the day when their eyes are opened. Know that God can overcome this, too. Don't think of them as lost. Think of them as delayed. Perhaps it's not the right time for them and God has a good reason for them to stay a while longer. Don't let that stop you from pressing forward in your own walk with Christ. Patience and prayer! Finally, love. Lots and lots of genuine love from a sincere heart. Discuss, don't argue. Win the heart not the argument. Don't press it. No tricks. Baby steps. It's not you that works, but God in you. Shine His light and let Him handle it in His good time. In the mean time - relationships!

"People keep trying to drag me back in. What do I do?"
Learn everything you can here at As Bereans Did and elsewhere. Arm yourself with the armor of God, like Paul said. Their arguments, which may make you a bit dizzy right now, will seem tired and simplistic to you soon. They will be more annoying than anything else. Don't let it get to you. Don't argue with these people! Where they are you once were. Where you are they soon enough will be. Humility doesn't mean standing there and silently taking it. Give a defense for yourself! But do it in humble gentleness. Bless, and do not curse. Remember when you were the same as them, and answer them as if you were speaking to yourself. Morality is the ability to govern yourself. So govern yourself or you're no better than they. Do you want to be a grace-based Armstrongist? The same thing as you were before, only now you're arguing for the other side? No! Of course you don't. Keep your urge to "fix" them in check. Keep your urge to lash out at their false accusations in check. If you can't find a nice thing to say, simply quote a Bible verse. If you can't even do that nicely, then it's time to put it in God's hands and let your witness be sufficient. You cannot save anyone. You could not even save yourself. It was always up to God anyway. Just trust in Him, bite your lip, bless rather than curse, and leave them to whatever end they come to. Even the Apostles had to shake the dust off their feet from time to time. But don't say anything you might regret later. What if your negativity drives them from grace? What if they come to grace eventually, but feel that you were so offensive that they don't want anything to do with you. Well, now you've got more apologizing to do, don't you? What if someone else witnesses you arguing and they get sick of both sides? Patience, prayer, and love works on strangers, too.

"I am angry, and I want to bring the system down so it never does this to anyone ever again."
No, you cannot "bring the system down." It doesn't matter how hard you try or what information you disseminate or with whom you argue. The system is ancient and this is merely its current incarnation. It cannot be brought down. All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again. Let's assume you did bring the system down. All you've managed to do is remove a tiny bit of competition for the next incarnation. At any given time there are hundreds of tiny cults all around the globe. Which shall you bring down? The biggest? Then the next will step up. The second biggest? Then the largest will absorb the remains. The top five? That only makes the next five the top five. The system cannot be stopped by us. It will only be destroyed by Christ.
Is it hopeless and pointless to fight against it, then? No. To give an apology for the hope and faith of Jesus Christ is part of our Christian duty. If you can save even one person, then it was worth it. Eventually, Jesus wins. I'm not trying to dash anyone's hopes here, I'm just saying we've read the end of the book and it's not any of us who destroys the system. Keep at it, and keep your perspective. Believe me, after a couple of years at this I can tell you from experience that you can save yourself a lot of sorrow and wasted effort if you keep your perspective.

"I want to help bring the people out of that system. What do I do?"
Well, it's probably not the best idea to start a blog about it. There are a lot of them out there already. Don't try to reinvent the wheel. Perhaps find one that speaks to you and offer to help them. If you find a niche that isn't being filled, then fill it. Put it in God's hands and let Him inspire you. One thing we would personally like to see you do is to learn what you can from this blog, and pay it forward. Just please do not go on some crusade to save everyone and start arguing with people. I've been down that road. It may seem nice for a little while, but it will drain you more than help them. Keep in mind that this is all about Jesus Christ, not us.

"I've heard horror stories about people who left receiving Satan's wrath. Is any of that true?"
No. Those are the lies of a fear-based system that must terrorize you into staying. If you're too afraid to venture out, then you'll bee a good little lemming and "pay, pray, stay." Once you do venture out, though, it will be tough for a while. Perhaps in your devotion to Armstrongism you've gotten yourself into certain situations at work or at home. It takes time to work out those kinks. God isn't going to wave a magic wand and heal everything in your life. This world isn't our home anyway, right? This life is still a journey of sanctification, and you still need much more growth. Challenges will still come. But take comfort in knowing that those challenges will be nothing more than are common to the rest of mankind. In time, you will see that you have been growing to meet those challenges. At any rate, all of those horror stories about Satan's full wrath and God removing His protection.... FALSE!

"All of these things I used to believe, they're all so silly to me now."
Yes. Take our experience for example. In two years, As Bereans Did has answered every challenge we've come up against. We stopped getting new and challenging questions months ago. We have come to the point where we just point to some part of the blog in response to just about every challenge that comes in. You will come to see that all of the things that convinced you before are so very explainable, circular, and predictable. Not to mention flat out wrong. It's all improper assumptions based on circular reasoning and logical fallacy, with a heaping pile of falsified history thrown in for good measure. Stop the proof-texting and you've stopped the cycle. The challenges you receive will be the same old handful of things over and over and over again. The same arguments over and over. The same claims over and over. The same things you've proven wrong repeated over and over and over again. The same old lines we were programmed to regurgitate will be aimed at you... over and over again. New day, new face, same old tired line. It will get repetitive. It will drain your Spiritual batteries. There is little use in answering them. People only come to the end of a discussion refusing to accept reality, only to go right back to the start again and repeat. They are ideologues who assume first and foremost that they are right and you are wrong. They aren't really interested in any meaningful discussion or reasons why they might be wrong. Why would they want that? You're the wrong one (to them.) They will resort to accusing and insulting you. They will call you a pagan Baal worshipper or an evil Trinitarian (it doesn't matter to them if you are or not). That's how they remove your humanity and raise themselves up in their minds. They try to remove your worth and value as a human being, and therefore your truth is easily dismissed. Just know that this is how the game works and wade through it. Respond kindly and put it in God's hands. You won't be able to do this perfectly all the time. You'll mess up more than you get it right. We all get angry and lose our patience. But work at it. That's what the process of salvation is about.

"Should I apologize for what I've done?"
That depends on what exactly it is that you think you've done. Yes, do apologize to the people you've hurt. Swallow that pride and humble yourself. Force yourself to come to grips with the fact that you were wrong. It's going to make you feel much better. Trust me! It takes a load of weight off the old shoulders. But no, don't apologize as if this was something you did on purpose to people. You were deceived. HWA was right about one thing - deceived people don't know they're deceived (he meant us, his followers). God overlooks the sins done in ignorance. Recognize that something was not right. There are two kinds of guilt: the helpful kind that leads to repentance, and the harmful kind that leads to beating yourself up. Let that guilt that you feel guide you to easing your pain and that of others. Take that as a comfort and a warning, but not as condemnation. Don't beat yourself up any more than you already have. It's not good. Remember that Jesus is love and perfect love casts out all fear.

"I feel awful for the wasted years!"
You cannot get the time back. If the time is gone, then it's gone. It may sound cold but the reality is that you'll simply have to deal with it and move forward. If there is any comfort to it, I know how you feel. I rebuffed family members who have since passed away and now I'd give about anything to have that time back with them. I'm going to have to put that off until later, though. There's nothing you can do about this now. Best to find the silver lining than to drown in self-pity over what you cannot control and in a manner that does no good at all for anyone. Rather than mourn over your past, take a lesson from it. Relish what you have now. Rejoice in this second chance. Stop being afraid and live! How much greater is your appreciation for the little things now than it otherwise would have been? When you have gone down this road a while longer, you'll look back and see what I mean.
But ignore my advice at your own peril. The negativity, if left unchecked, can and will eat you alive.

"How could I have ever fallen for this?"
It got the better of us, didn't it? Would it help if I said it doesn't matter if you're wealthy or poor, smart or stupid, well-educated or ignorant, old or young, foreign or domestic, religious or irreligious, modern or ancient, or any other thing? You're not by any means the only one. We were ALL taken for a ride by a system of deception that has been at work for thousands of years. It doesn't mean that you're defective! There are lots of things in this life that are cults when you see them for what they really are; not just religious cults, either. Cults can take many shapes and forms. Was what you went through preventable? Sadly, yes. Jesus warned us 2,000 years ago. If only we (or our parents who got many of us into this system) had listened. We/they weren't very wise. And it hurts. But don't let that haunt you. We all made a mistake - a mistake that the Holy Spirit in us is fixing. We're a lot more wise now than we were before, that's for sure. The important thing is that now you're waking up like from a deep sleep and a terrible dream. Become that new creature in the New Covenant in the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ and move past it all. ...Only, don't let it go to your head as if you are somehow superior or the cause for your own freedom (ROM. 3: 9). You were hopeless and helpless when you were undeservedly saved. Remember that!

"Did I ever have God's Spirit?"
Why not? Perhaps that Spirit wasn't what you were lead to believe. By that I mean, we were taught that the Spirit was something that gave us understanding that Herbert Armstrong and his sycophants' particular flavor of Adventism was the "one true church." Well, that was never the case. "Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not!" (ROM. 3: 3-4). Armstrong's ministers are deceived and they go around deceiving (II COR. 11: 13-15). There is a veil over their eyes, and that veil is lifted in Christ (II COR. 3: 15-16). Sometimes quickly; sometimes (like in my case) it takes years. No matter how you look at it, the veil was lifted, and that I credit to the work of the Spirit in us while we were yet in the system. God can and does still work in spite of the false ministers. The difference is that this Spirit did not come through those men, it came directly to you. You are a branch directly attached directly to the vine (JON. 15: 5). Their corruption is not a hindrance to God's Spirit.

"Will I ever trust again?"
If I had to choose one single "number one" problem experienced by people leaving a group like you are doing, that problem would be shattered trust. When I left, I trusted no one. I wondered if I would ever trust again. The answer is, yes, this too shall pass. Give it time. You've been hurt pretty bad. You've come through some serious stuff. A healthy dose of skepticism is a natural result. Understand it. Try to keep it at reasonable levels. In time you will come to understand that since your life is guaranteed in Christ, there is no reason to fear anymore. Trust in Him, and you will learn to trust in others again, too. I promise. Just be careful!! Not everyone is there to help you. "By their fruits you will know them" (MAT. 7: 20).

"Am I done? Is this it?"
No! There is much more to come. Accepting grace is just the start. There are joys and there are tears. There are many, many answers and there are even more questions. (Some days it seems like every answer brings two questions with it.) There are things to learn and a great deal of things to unlearn. There are new friends to meet to replace the old ones that will have less and less in common with you. Know this: everyone is at their own place in their own walk, and none of them have to be where you are. Settle it in your heart to ignore the "doubtful things" and not to dispute about them. Remember Romans 14. Try to see the beauty in the things that you may disagree with. It is more important to make peace. There are realizations coming that will excite and amaze you. You are nowhere near the end. This is only the beginning. Enjoy the journey!

"I'm so confused! What do I do now?"
Here's the pitfall in grace - options. Options, options everywhere, and no definitive road map to which path is the right path. You've just made the decision to come out of an environment where everything is governed by strict rules and regulations. Every aspect of your life was in one way or the other governed by a hard-and-fast rule or peer pressure. Now, the prison door is thrown off its hinges and you're free to go. Go where? Aha! That's the difficulty with grace. It involves trusting Christ to lead you by faith! I'll tell you this one key: never stop praying!! Do not let down in your prayer life! Do not allow the freedom to draw you away from Christ. Insist upon Christ. Demand Him in your life. The freedom will make laziness and inactivity so much easier. You'll be tempted to be the proverbial kid in the candy store. There is a cheapness in modern "American" Christianity. Christ is our "buddy". Yes, Jesus is the best friend you'll ever have, but He's also the King of Kings. Balance those two things and you will be well on your way. With no one to force you to take the harder road, you have to be responsible for yourself! Just like a child entering adulthood, no? Yes! You're free now. But what is freedom? It's the liberty to do what is right, not the liberty to do whatever comes to mind. You must be moral and govern yourself now, with mercy towards others. (Again I remind you to remember Romans 14.) Freedom without self-governance is the recipe for disaster. Grace demands spiritual maturity. You must choose every day, moment to moment, to allow the Holy Spirit to lead you. Stand up, "gird your loins", wait and hope and look for God - He had not left you to this point and He will not leave you. Don't leave Him!
Perhaps that is all fine and well, but not very practical. In addition, I'll give you a bit of solid advice that helped me. Try a few visits to the Church of God - Seventh Day. I know, I know. Why on earth would you do that when you're trying to get out of the system? Because - and I'm being completely honest with you - it is a fine transition, a half-way house if you will, between the prison of Armstrongism and the freedom of grace. When I left Armstrongism I went straight to the COG7 and stayed for six of the most restorative and medicinal months of my life. The two groups may be historically linked, but they are not the same quality and strand of group by any measure. The COG7 is the finest Sabbath-keeping church I am aware of. After a little while you'll feel ready to move on.

"But aren't the mainstream Christians deceived?"
Aren't we all deceived in one way or the other? Surely you don't think that just because we are saved that we now know and do all things perfectly, do you? Even the Apostle Paul said, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" (I COR. 13: 12). You really have to put away all judgment and condemnation. Seriously. Do you want a group that thinks exactly like you do? Where's the challenge or growth in that?? No church has everything right. (Again and again... remember Romans 14.) Do what you believe is right according to your faith in God, but tolerate the disputable things. You don't know where you are in your walk with Christ. Even things that you think are correct now could change one day. Give to others the room for error that you need for yourself. If I may again use myself as an example - I have come to see that even though I am not a Catholic because I disagree with some things, I love the Catholics and their beautiful traditions. They are a wonderful people in whom is much faith and Spirit. I hope they can see the same in me. I don't need to condemn them to be a better Christian. In fact, the opposite is true.

"I can't bring myself to go to an organized religion. Will God reject me if I don't go to any church right now?"
No. God will not reject you if you don't go to any church right now. The faith in Christ brings you into His body. That is the Church. Not any organization or denomination besides. You have come out of a serious experience and you have serious things that need to be worked out. Give it time to heal. We are all damaged goods, but we don't stay this way forever. But I will respectfully offer you this - the fruits of the Spirit are not given to you for your benefit. No tree eats its own fruit. Those fruits are for others. If you are isolating yourself, then you are not sharing that fruit. Perhaps you feel like you don't need others right now, but perhaps you don't know who needs you. The Holy Spirit inspired the author of Hebrews to write "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (HEB. 10: 24-25). How does one do this in isolation? None other than Jesus Christ said, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (MAT. 18: 20). Don't think that can be brushed off. Paul described Bishops and Deacons and congregations and churches for a reason. God is gathering. What does "gathering" mean if not to gather together. Has that been abused by men in the past? Yes! But that doesn't mean the system that God implemented needs to be scrapped. The chaff is spread out to the wind (PSA. 1: 4), not the wheat. The wheat is gathered into barns (MAT. 3: 12). The lone animal is easy prey for the roaring lion who searches for whom he can devour (I PET. 5: 8). "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (PRO. 11: 14). The body is a family. Would you distance yourself from your family in a similar manner? I am not saying, "Run right out, find an organized religion and join it." You don't have to be part of a system to be a Christian. I am simply giving you reasons why isolating yourself is probably not the best long-term plan. Plus there is scientific evidence that congregating is beneficial to your health. There are ways to congregate that do not involve organized religion. Think about that, OK? It's your decision. In time, you may feel ready to test the waters. Try several churches. Try formal ones, informal ones, traditional ones, contemporary ones, Internet ones, irregular ones. No one said you have to take up stuffy traditions and airs of piety to be a Christian. No one said you have to attend only one, either. Go to several in rotation. Or start your own small group. Allow God to lead you. The world is your oyster! The options can be a bit overwhelming, I admit. Just love and build relationships. That's key! You will know when you find a place where you are welcomed and well fed. Think about it while you heal, OK? :-)

"I'm not comfortable with Christmas and Easter."
That's perfectly normal. So long as you keep in mind that most of what we were told regarding Christmas and Easter were completely fabricated lies, or faulty histories based more on incorrect assumptions than anything else. The people who have a Christmas tree do not worship that tree as an idol any more than they do the potted plant on the other side of the room. If the eggs bother you, leave them out of it. But don't let those old lies prevent you from taking extreme joy in the two greatest events in human history. The birth and death or Jesus are events to be cherished and relished. The tree and the bunnies are just wall decorations. If they disturb you, leave them out of it. Just please don't continue falsely accusing others and condemning them for what their faith in Christ allows. (Remember the disputable matters.)

"Do you have any parting advice for me?"

(That was a little joke right there. You're supposed to laugh.)
My parting advice is stop being afraid. So many things are open to you when you aren't afraid anymore. 

Grow in grace and go in peace, our friends, to love and serve the Lord.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

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