What Happens When Your Church Becomes Your Idol?

When I started publishing a blog I knew there would be backlash. When my book came out, I had no doubt there would be backlash. I knew what the response would be from many people, at least, I thought I knew.

I fully expected mud to be thrown at me personally, and I expected to step on people’s toes and be on the receiving end of a comment or two made out of raw emotion. As much as I knew that would pain me, most people, including myself, take their religious beliefs very personally, as they should, so I get it. It is a touchy subject.

And, yet, after carefully weighing and accepting my potential consequences I still chose to proceed.

That being said, I can only speak to what I know, and having spent twenty-five years in the United Pentecostal Church, that is what I know.

But, the thing that has surprised me about this the most, is the responses from many people that are comprised of veiled threats to my family, claims that I am blasphemous against God, and that speaking against the church would most certainly land me in the innermost circles of hell itself. Such comments have zero scripture that can be used to back them or at least, scripture used in context, and are simply scare tactics.

Wow. Didn’t see that coming.

In an online support group I am in, someone made a very real comment. And it made sense to me. The reason so (very) many people tend to spew out these vague, haphazard responses to my published material was simply this:

The church has become their god.

Yikes, that stings a little. And I can’t say I have never been in their shoes, I would be a hypocrite to stand here and say that at one time my responses wouldn’t be the exact same. In fact, I really don’t even blame them for this oversight.

This is really a problem that spans across all denominations, but like I said, I can only speak to what I know.

Several years before I left the UPC, a friend of mine posted a paper that she had written for her college class about the organization, and how she thought it was a cult. My stomach dropped when I read this and I quickly without even giving her opinion a second thought, unfollowed her.

Why did I respond like that? Why was I so quick to be offended by someone else’s opinion of the United Pentecostal Church? She wasn’t saying God wasn’t real, she wasn’t even writing negatively about any one person, she was writing about an organization.

Everyone knows the Ten Commandments. What is the very first one?

You shall have no other gods before me”.

It was written in stone, plain as day, yet for some reason that seemed to be the one Isreal struggled with the most.

How do we know when we are putting idols ahead of God? And what happens when we do?

I think a telltale sign is when someone says something critical of whatever is dearest to your heart, it becomes obvious where your allegiance lies.

In the UPC, you are taught that anytime the church doors are open you are to be there. Rain, snow, vacation, sick doesn’t matter you should be at church. You are taught that your pastor has the authority to give you additional rules that aren’t clearly scribed in the Bible, and you are to comply. Your money is top priority, and it is widely believed that your finances will be cursed if you don’t give enough to your church (other charities don’t count). You go to conferences and hoop and holler when the main man in charge of it all dances a jig across the stage.

Your entire life is wrapped up in the church.

Is it possible, with so much focus being placed on the outward appearance of having God around, we fail to invite him at all into our day to day lives?

There is verse after verse in the Bible scorning those who have forgotten the main reason while they are caught up in being busy for the main reason. (Think Mary and Martha.)

My childhood pastor preached a message once that stuck with me, “You gotta keep the main thing, the main thing”!

Meaning, if Jesus isn’t the main thing, what is?

I am completely preaching to myself here as well. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy. And it’s easy while we are in the thick of the business to lose perspective. I get it.

But, do you put more effort into attending a building and working like a bee than you do worshiping God and entering into the beauty of his holiness? Do you put more emphasis on what your pastor says than what the Bible says? What would happen if you found the pastor’s words to be false? Or if you felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit leading you away from your congregation? What would you do?

The Bible tells us to test the spirits to see if they are of Christ.

Test your own spirit. Are you as much or more offended by someone critiquing your church organization or your pastor than you would be of them criticizing God himself?

If you feel a little twinge by reading that, maybe your church is your idol.

Here’s the thing, like I have already stated, I can only speak to what I know, and what I know is a whole lot of people have compared me speaking out against the UPC to if I were spitting on Christ himself. And to be honest, if I weren’t already a believer, those comments would probably turn me away from Christ altogether.

I have said it before, and I will probably say it again: the UPC is NOT in fact God. And speaking out against the man made doctrines of a man made organization (which has been around for less time than my grandparents) while using scripture to back my statements is most certainly NOT blasphemous.

I challenge you, search your heart, test your spirit. Be honest with yourself. If you find that someone saying something negative about your religious organization ruffles your feathers to the point you are dooming their soul to hell, maybe, just maybe that organization is your idol and you have forgotten all about the main thing.

10 Things I Wish I Knew 5 Years Ago

In doing what I do, I have had the opportunity to hear many people’s stories about their current church situation. Some are considering leaving, some are in the process of leaving, and others have already left but are learning to deal with the aftermath of that life changing decision.

Let me just say, I feel beyond blessed and honored that so many people have felt safe to reach out and trust me enough to disclose their personal situations. And I say a prayer for each and every one of them.

Myself personally, I feel like a hot mess 97.9% of the time, so I feel very ill equipped to give any sort of life advice. Leaving a church that has been your life and for some even their livelihood is a decision that cannot and should not be taken lightly.

So, I decided to put into words somethings that I wish I would have known at the beginning of my journey. Maybe it will be helpful for someone else.

1. Give yourself time! I cannot stress this enough. You are not going to sort through, let alone heal from years of indoctrination and spiritual abuse overnight. Be patient. Things will get better I promise!

2. You do not, under any circumstance, owe anyone an explanation of your decision. This is between you and God only.

3. You will not be able to convince anyone of anything if they are not ready to hear it. I know when I left, I wanted so badly just to stand in a crowded church with a megaphone shouting, “you don’t have to live this way!” But that would accomplish nothing. If your spouse is not making the journey with you, of course that adds a level of complication. Maybe, try to explain to the point they chose to listen, then do your best to trust God for the rest.

4. Ladies, the outward change is difficult I’m not going to lie. If you are like I was, I had no idea how to shop for clothes! It was so overwhelming looking at the different cuts and sizes of jeans! Give yourself grace. Wear whatever you’re comfortable in, and know that your style will evolve over the next few seasons. You are no doubt going to have a bad haircut or two. Your makeup is probably not going to look like a runway model. Eyeliner is difficult! But I promise, if you just keep practicing, it gets better!

5. Community. Super important! If you don’t know anyone personally who has made the same journey, find some online support groups. It will be easy to seclude yourself during this time, but try not to. If you need pointed in the right direction, let me know I can hook you up!

6. Realize you are not alone! This kind of goes with the last one, but when we left our UPC church I felt like I had lost everyone. I felt so very alone. But know there are others who have walked this path, and while you may feel lonely now, with time you will make connections. It is amazing how many people have ties to toxic churches.

7. Research and learn to recognize the signs of toxic relationships and the proper terms to describe them. I healed so much by recognizing that what happened to me has a name.

8. Don’t be surprised if people from your past life reach out to you. It will probably shock you how many people are actually questioning.

9. Don’t feel like you have to jump feet first into a new church right away. It’s okay to take a break for a while. No where in the Bible does it say a prerequisite to heaven is attending a church building three times a week. If you do find such a verse, please let me know!

10. Lastly, and this is very important! Know that people of “the world” don’t care a bit about seeing your upper arms or legs. This is a myth that the UPC is really good at drilling into people’s heads. Especially the women! Like I already said, wear what you’re comfortable in, but for you, not anyone else. Forget the notion that as you walk down the street in a tank top and shorts on a ninety degree day every man you pass is drooling over your shoulder blades and “lusting”. Of course there are creepers in the world, I am not negating that fact, but there are far more normal people who are used to seeing that kind of dress and don’t think twice about it. I could go on forever about the hyper-sexualization in the UPC, but I won’t. Just know when you feel a weird twinge the first time you show any skin that has never seen the light of day before, most likely it is not conviction. It is simply a remnant of your past and it goes away with time with no detriment to you. You are NOT backsliding!

I hope this blog will come in handy to someone at some point. And if you ever find yourself needing additional support, as always feel free to reach out!

One more thing, we are coming up on the one year anniversary of “Free”! I can’t even believe the response that little book has received! Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for updates about that!

God bless you on your journey to freedom!

The Simplicity Of The Gospel

I will begin this blog by stating the following:

I don’t pretend to have all of the theological answers of the world just free roaming around in my brain.

Not even close.

I will say, that I am actively searching for them.

I didn’t go to theology school. In fact, as has been blatantly pointed out to me recently, I didn’t further my education much past high school in any aspects. A past decision that still haunts me to this day.

That being said, I am thankful for my upbringing studying God’s word and the new found desire in the last few years to search the scriptures for myself and to “rightly divide the word” as to “work out my own soul’s salvation.”

I am mulling over the idea today about the “Gospel”. My son mentioned to his father and I something very profound for a twelve year old this morning. (At least, as his mom I feel it was pretty astute.)

He said, “you know what I realized at church today? My youth pastor (Shout out to good youth leaders!) was talking to us about the Gospel and how it literally translates from the original Greek to mean ‘good news’. It makes me sad that there are people who choose to make it into a checklist of things we have to do, and they miss out on the good news of Jesus.”

(Cue exploding mama heart)

Let’s think about that simple statement for a moment. Granted, my child is being raised in a home where we openly talk about our past religious experiences and we are actively sharing our story. But, even his twelve year old boy brain is clicking on the matter! Thank God!

The church organization we came out from under touted the phrase, “the whole gospel to the whole world”. Somehow they managed to make the Gospel something so secretive and complex, that only their organization was favored enough to get the key to unlock the mystery. They morphed the Gospel into something that required putting random pieces of the Bible together like a puzzle from an Indiana Jones or National Treasure movie.

The Gospel is simple and it’s beauty and depth is in it’s simplicity. The Bible says God uses the simple things to confuse the wise. He does this so no man can boast. Salvation isn’t quest to solve a jigsaw puzzle, salvation is the good news of Jesus. That is all!

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul reminds the believers in Corinth not to stray from the message of the resurrection that he has preached to them. Christ died, He was buried, and He rose. And in that simplicity, our good news resides!

My entire childhood and part of adulthood, I always thought of those who stood fast in their faith in Jesus alone as their eternal salvation as foolish. As if they weren’t the select chosen such as myself, who was elite enough to understand the actual way to Jesus was though our own righteousness.

How foolish was I?

The Gospel means good news! Furthermore, is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus truly something you want to just brush over, thinking you have a “revelation” of something more complex? It is pretty amazing to think that God sent his Son to die on a cross, and in His doing so, I am relinquished of my faults! Why would we ever want to cloud over that miracle with our own perversions?

Paul actually says about those that do so, “let them be accursed”. Yikes!

I am convicted for all of the times in my life I judged others or thought of myself holy enough to aid in the assistance of my salvation. Thankfully, the Bible says our sins are as far as the east is from the west, and God is a good, forgiving Father.

I think He gets it. We are made in His image after all. He made us to question and think about things. He is big enough to handle our doubts.

I remember saying to my husband so often, when we first realized this truth, “it can’t be this easy”! But it is! Jesus provided the way to salvation for us, it’s that simple!

The good news is Jesus my friend, and that is the entire Gospel!

Check out my book on Amazon if you haven’t already! (Seriously, if you haven’t what are you waiting for?) 😉

Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking Out of the United Pentecostal Church https://www.amazon.com/dp/1087259134/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_ZsmYDb8QHRHM9

The Journey

When we first began attending our current church and were ready to come out of our shells and mingle a bit, we were blessed enough to meet a sweet couple who had already been where we were and had not only survived the hurt, they had thrived. This beautiful lady quickly started introducing me to others in the congregation who had also come through the pain of leaving the UPC. For each person she introduced to me she said, “they had the same journey we did.”

At the time, I thought it was a little comical she used the word “journey” to describe leaving a church. It honestly seemed a little dramatic. My mind immediately goes to the Lord of the Rings movies and all of the things they had to experience on their journeys! How can my church experience compare to that on any level? I mean, they had to defeat goblins for goodness sake!

Now I understand. It truly is a journey trying to deconstruct the falsehoods you were taught and get past the feeling of betrayal among other things. It is like climbing a mountain, just to see there are twelve more along your path.

Three years, four months, and sixteen days have gone by since the day I have labeled in my phone as “Emancipation Day”. One year on WordPress, twenty-seven blogs, and one book have been written. One year and one month taking anti-anxiety medication, nine months of therapy, and countless word vomit phone sessions with incredibly patient friends have transpired.

Today, I can finally say, I am over it.

Will my past ever leave me completely? Of course not. The UPC has been twisted into my very roots for life. I can’t say I won’t ever have another trigger, or that it won’t sting a little if and when I find out people have spoken negatively about me. But now, I am equipped to handle it.

I have armed myself with knowledge, surrounded myself with wonderful people, and learned to cast all of my cares on God.

As I am preparing for our upcoming beach vacation, I am reminiscing about my preparations for a similar trip last year. It was such an internal struggle for me just to pack the appropriate clothing for such a trip. This year has been different. I feel confident in my choices and my self esteem is better than it has ever been.

Since we left the United Pentecostal Church, I have had the opportunity to come alongside others as they begin their journey. It is such an inspiration to watch women as they blossom from the feelings of inadequacy to gaining more confidence with every subtle change. The before and after pictures speak for themselves. It is so much more than clothing and “holiness standards”. It is about the journey to find youself and your place in God’s kingdom.

We are children of the King. We are not to live our lives with our heads bowed in oppression. We were designed to live freely, being sure of our salvation.

Am I finished with my journey? I certainly hope not! But looking back over the last few years, I can feel a change in my very soul. I have grown leaps and bounds over the person I used to be. I have learned to create healthy boundaries and speak up for myself. I am deep down happy and content.

I feel like God has made it my life’s mission to help others find who they are in His eyes. I pray this blog site and my book will be a small part of encouraging those who are thinking of starting their journey out or who are currently in the midst of discovering their true status as God’s chosen.

Life really is a journey, one that cannot be experienced alone. Thank you for experiencing the journey with me.

If you haven’t read Free, check it out on Amazon!

Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking Out of the United Pentecostal Church https://www.amazon.com/dp/1087259134/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_Or1LDbA14FEV1

God’s Cloak of Righteousness

As I enjoy the holiday off of work with my family, sitting in my cushy recliner, wearing the most comfortable clothing in my closet I am in awe of God and his leading hand in my life.

In case you didn’t know already, I recently wrote a book! (That was a little bit of sarcasm because if you are reading this, you probably already knew that info!) I have been so encouraged by the countless messages from complete strangers about how the book has blessed them in some way. I knew there would be some backlash by those who don’t understand my point of view, and there has been, but that is okay! The number of positives in the last 17 days has definitely far outweighed the negatives!

In the 17 days since Free has been released, it has consistantly remained in the top 100 in it’s Amazon category, currently has numerous positive reviews, and sold well over 100 copies in just two weeks! I am in awe, and cannot wait to see where God is going to take this little book!

Obviously, in the whirlwind of releasing the book, my brain has been continuously flooded with emotions and thoughts. One, in particular, has stuck with me the last few days. It’s a story many of you know, I have known about it for years, but until this last week, I hadn’t given it much thought.

Adam and Eve.

When God gave them the directive to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of course, as humans, they did it anyway. There is much debate about whose fault it was, but it really doesn’t matter, the fact is, they disobeyed, causing God to have to implement a plan to redeem mankind from then on out.

After their sin, their eyes were opened to the fact they were naked and vulnerable. They made themselves loincloths of fig leaves in order to try and cover their nakedness. The Bible says, when God came looking for them however, even with their handmade loincloths, they still felt naked before God. Because there was sin involved, consequences had to take place, but as any loving father would do for his children, after handing out their punishment, God made them suitable cloaks of skins and wrapped them around his children for them to feel covered and loved.

The realization hit me, yet another example of God in his infinite grace and mercy, covering us with his love.

Nothing Adam and Eve could have done, worn, or said would have made them feel covered, only God can make us feel this way. Our righteousness is as filthy rags the Bible says, which sounds depressing, but is actually so wonderful when you let go of trying to do things in order to make God happy or love you even more and depend on Jesus completely for your righteousness!

We don’t have to impress God, Jesus did that for us on the cross! That is all we need! When we acknowledge the selfless act of sacrifice Jesus made for us for our covering we are complete in him! We are no longer naked and vulnerable, but clothed in His righteousness!

Others can have their fig leaves, I will take God’s cloaks of skin anyday!

In case you haven’t already, check out my book on Amazon!

Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking Out of the United Pentecostal Church https://www.amazon.com/dp/1087259134/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_vOvBDbT80WN5N

The Purpose of “Free”

Transparent blog post.

I wanted to write a blog about my new book, “Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking out of the United Pentecostal Church”, but I am a terrible self promoter and wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it. What do I say after laying all of my crazy out there for everyone to see? What more could be said then what I already divulged in the book?

Then, I read one of the reviews posted on Amazon and it hit me. Yes, I am aware Rachel Hollis recommends to NEVER read your reviews! But, hey, curiosity gets the best of me some times!

I thought this reviewer made a good point. They said:

I loved how Jennifer was honest in her portrayal of her journey. It took guts to speak her truth, but through it she is relatable to those who have walked a similar journey. I suspect that most of her audience will be people who have left or are considering leaving similar churches, but I actually think it would be especially beneficial for those committed to those churches. I would hope it would help them to see what it feels like from our perspective instead of the “betrayal” they feel from us when we leave.

It is true, this book will mostly resonate with people who leave a religious organization, but it would be amazing if those who are in said organization would be willing to read it with an open mind.

Not for the reason of trying to persuade you to leave, especially if you are happy there, but for the sheer reason as for you to understand the other side. Think of it as research.

When I was fully immersed in the world of the United Pentecostal Church, I would be very defensive and feel personally betrayed by those who had left. So, I understand completely where these feelings come from. But, now, being on the receiving end of the behaviors and comments from those who are still “in church” my heartbeat is to educate on how this common reaction is scarring to those who are trying to build a new life for themselves.

I fully realize your position as “the church” to say those whom have left for any reason are bound for hell. I also realize it is taught profusely by your church to tell those people how you feel.

I describe this situation in my book like this:

“Imagine if you were to watch your best friend cliff dive off the side of the Grand Canyon without any ropes. That would be the feeling our friends would have toward us.”

Truth is, we already know. Those who have left, chances are, have already been indoctrinated with the church’s beliefs and have weighed out both the pros and cons of leaving. We already know you disapprove. Most people know before leaving how they will be viewed by their peers and made the move despite knowing what was going to happen to them.

Here is the bottom line, we don’t need your judgement. We don’t need your criticism, your passive aggressive Facebook posts, your straight up rude comments. We need your love and support and recognition that we are still your friend.

We already know your religious beliefs and have come to the conclusion those are not ours. And I recognize that is scary for those who remain, to think someone you loved at one point is going to hell for eternity, but do you not respect us enough to realize we have already weighed the balances and considered our options with much thought and prayer?

What about the condemning comments and terms thrown around such as “backslider” or “lost” make you feel like those are going to encourage any one to come back to your church? All words like that do is make the divide even greater.

Of course, the opposing side to my book has already made arguments saying I am bashing the church, or whatever they want to think I am doing, but the hardcore truth of the matter is, this is my story, and the story of so many others. When does it end?

As I have already said, it is never my intention to bash a church, and I don’t feel like that is ever portrayed in the book. (If one were to actually read it).

My purpose is to educate and encourage both sides. That’s it.

Love is a commonly misunderstood concept.

Many times people feel that if someone doesn’t agree with everything they do, especially when it comes to things such as politics or religion it is their duty as someone who loves you to set you straight. They feel, if they are still kind and supportive of you as a person, that will make it appear to you they agree with your stance on whatever subject they disagree with.

That is not the case at all. Like I already said, those on the other side already know how you feel. They don’t need you to constantly remind them of your differences. We already know you don’t support our decision. We aren’t asking for you to agree with it or even change your beliefs. We simply want respect and love.

I hope and pray those on both “sides” will read this book and come to the realization there are no sides! Everyone in the human race desires love and respect, and we should be able to deliver these attributes despite our differences.

I hope this clears up any confusion as to what this book’s purpose is. I would love to hear your feedback.

Happy reading friends!

Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking Out of the United Pentecostal Church https://www.amazon.com/dp/1087259134/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_0sxzDbB998CR7

IT’S HERE!

I am so thrilled to announce my book is now available on Amazon!

This book has been my heartbeat for three years now and I can’t believe it is finally here!

My passion is sharing my story in order to help others realize how much God loves them! I am excited to say, within 24 hours of announcing the book, Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking out of the United Pentecostal Church it has already made it to number one new release in it’s category!

I feel like God is going to guide many people to their first steps of spiritual freedom by this book encouraging them to do their own research.

A more detailed blog on this subject will probably follow later, but I did want to let everyone know it is now available through Amazon!

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking Out of the United Pentecostal Church https://www.amazon.com/dp/1087259134/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_.lPyDbD8HHG2A

Book Status!

Short blog tonight guys because I have been busy working on my other project all day!

My book manuscript is in the final stages of editing y’all! I have been researching all day about publishing options and think I have a plan lined up!

Book cover ideas are flowing and I am so excited to see the final piece! It will still be a little while before we publish, but things are definitely moving in the right direction and I could not be more encouraged!

I have received so many positive vibes and support, I have no doubt God’s hand will be in this project in the same way his hand was there guiding us when we transitioned out of the UPC!

I simply cannot wait to share my journey with you all! Thank you for your prayers and support as we enter into the next phase of this endeavor!

You all rock!