Wednesday, December 24, 2014

O Holy Night

O holy night,

The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of our dear Savior's birth

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

'Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

These are the words from a hymn many of you probably love as I do. As I work on this blog and think of many of you who have suffered abuse the words hit me with new meaning. They speak to the truth that many of us lay in sin and its consequences for a very long time. We suffered, we hurt and we struggled to find our way after the sin of our abuser was perpetrated on us. These words say that we suffered “til He appeared and the soul felt its worth” The He in these verses is Christ.

Many of us not only didn’t feel our worth but believed we were nothing, as our abusers actions and words told us. We despised ourselves in the process. So unfair, but for many of us, so true. But the words of this Christmas song speak the truth of my life. When Christ appeared in my life I felt the faintest whisper of a worth I hadn’t felt before. And there was a thrill of hope feeling those little blooms of worth in my heart.

Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His Gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother

And in His Name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy Name!

Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!

His power and glory evermore proclaim!

His power and glory evermore proclaim!

The last verse of this song is an amazing picture of what happened to me as Christ began to truly heal me. Truly He taught me to love others. It happened! I was finally able to love and not just fear and tremble. I was able to get outside of my own shame and wretchedness and give worth to others as Christ gave me worth.

I love the line that says “Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother and in His Name all oppression shall cease.” Oh, how true that is in more ways than we can even imagine. Christ came to set people free! Of the oppression of sin, of injustice, of abuse and so much more. And even to set us free from the pain of our past and the pain of our view of ourselves that had no worth. He comes to set up free!

I have no idea where you are in your pain this Christmas or where you are in knowing how much Jesus Christ’s “law” truly is love. But, it is! And that love is available to you this day! You can come to Him with the smallest amount of faith and just lay it at His feet. And receive the gift He gives to you. He takes your sin and sorrow and shame and hurt, and replaces it with His goodness, His forgiveness, His kindness, and His freedom. All for you. Just because He loves you. You pay nothing, and He pays it all. You just accept the beautiful gift of eternal life.

Do you have that tiny bit of faith this Christmas morning to receive the great gift of his love? I hope so. And if this gift seems scary and almost too big to accept, then write me, and let me walk you through it. It is a gift as powerful and as sweet as a drink of cool water on a hot day. Or the key that fits in the lock of whatever shackles you right now in this life. Let Him take those shackles on himself and set you free!

Merry CHRISTmas!

Love to you all….

Mark Phelps

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Profound Effects of Abuse

If you have experienced abuse at the hands of a church, or a mother or a father, it is important to understand what may have happened to your heart and mind, and what you may need to do about it. This is the kind of abuse that rocks your world. If you have experienced this abuse from a person or institution where you should have felt love and protection, this is truly the most hurtful type of abuse.

Excessive effort to control other people is a core aspect to abuse. The abuser attempts to exert control over your mind, your emotions and perhaps even your body. This control can make it difficult to take action to break free from the abuser. But it can also make it difficult to take further necessary action for your own healing even after you have escaped from your abuser.

A key mechanism of abuse is secrecy; the abuser hopes to maintain secrecy and keep hidden what took place. The same is true once you have left the abusive situation or relationship. If you keep the abuse hidden, the abuse sustains its effects on your mind, heart and life. You will make decisions unaware of the way your past abuse may be influencing your decisions. You will relate to those close to you in your life unaware of how your past abuse may be hurting you and those close to you. You will treat yourself in unconscious ways that undermine your effectiveness and success and that will ultimately hurt your life. It is hard to believe secrecy could add to and continue to hurt you after the abuse has ended but it just does.

Identifying what you experienced through close examination is hard and painful work. You will likely need the assistance of a trained professional. You will most certainly need the support of a good friend who can be objective and provide unconditional love and support during the process. You would never willingly try to do a surgical procedure on yourself and with abuse recovery; it just doesn’t make sense to “go it alone.”

Abuse early in life has a profound effect on our lives, whether we realize it or not. With unresolved emotions from our early life, we respond in our present relationships in ways that are not appropriate. We have anger, or fear, or sadness all out of proportion to our present life experiences or circumstances. We also have thinking and emotional patterns established early in life from which we interpret and respond to current life events. This is true for every human being, but when significant abuse has occurred in formative years, patterns and responses learned while being abused can be inappropriate, unnecessary and disruptive in your present life. It causes hurt and unnecessary difficulties for you and it causes hurt and conflict with those who are in your life.

If you are married, or are in a close relationship, it is too much to ask of your intimate partner to help you work through your past with only the two of you. You will need their support, but they will not be able to help you do the hard work of recovery. It is asking too much of close loved ones to expect them to be your counselor or to do the difficult healing work with you, or for you.

I remember the day I asked my wife if she felt I could benefit from counseling. She responded with: “I believe you would probably get some benefit from counseling and you would feel a lot better.” Though her words were so gentle, it was hard for me to hear these words from my wife. But they were true words! I began to quietly weep. Her words were probably the understatement of the century, but it was hard for me to feel like I had personal problems in my life I couldn’t fix on my own. Even if the reason I did was because of abuse that was done to me as an innocent child and that I couldn’t protect myself from. It is so hard to seek out help when it seems like you should be able to “buck up” and fix yourself.

There are different motivations for doing psycho-therapy and for determining whether such therapy would be beneficial. Generally speaking, emotional/psychological therapy is for the purpose of either improving your own life, improving your relationship with God, improving your relationship with someone you love or to gain a better understanding of yourself, which can result in improved quality of life. And sometimes it seems critical to being able to get out of bed in the morning and take the next step in your life.

But it is sometimes difficult to determine if therapy is necessary or would be beneficial. If you are having some emotional experiences that are very uncomfortable or out of control – difficulty with anger or anxiety or sadness, or if your relationships seem to indicate there is a problem, this can be a clue you need therapy. Also, if you are emotionally or physically hurting your spouse or your children, or if your friends seem to be having difficulty in their relationships with you in some way, this can indicate your need for therapy. There will usually be some indications or some symptoms within yourself or within your relationships pointing toward your need for positive change. And sometimes you figure it out when you discover that not everyone else feels the way you do and don’t carry around the burdens you do in your soul.

Eventually you will realize the need for therapy because, if there is a need, it will not just disappear; it won’t just magically go away. That’s why it’s not critical to make an immediate decision about whether you need therapy. If it is an important need, the indications will remain, grow in intensity, and become even more troublesome and obvious for you. And sometimes to those closest to you.

It is important to listen to others, as well as your own feelings, to help make a proper determination. If you are making some decisions that are not healthy for your life, for example, substance abuse or, in my opinion, if you have turned away from the Lord, this could also be a red flag for you, regarding your need for professional therapy. Perhaps you have intellectualized aspects of your life and you don’t want to deal with the emotions that lie beneath certain thoughts or decisions. This could also be an indication of a need for professional therapy. These are some things for you to consider and think about.

For example, I lived with a horrific sense of wretchedness; the feeling of being under great affliction, of having no hope; a feeling of despair, agony, anguish and a desperate worthlessness. And I had learned as a very little boy; before I had realized what impact it would make in my life, that work was a place of safety and success for me. I learned to engage myself in what I perceived to be productive activity as a way to suppress my feelings. It worked fabulously to help me through my years of abuse, but it was wreaking havoc in my marriage to go there and forget to come back!

The closer a person is to you in your life the more he or she is going to feel the feelings that you have lurking below the surface or buried deep within. And a person who is intuitive or knows you well will often feel those feelings directed AT them, whether deserved or not! My wife is very sensitive to the feelings of others, which is part of her personality and a big part of why she is such a loving and compassionate person. It is also a big part of what attracted me to her in the first place.

But this wonderful, compassionate, gentle, tender, loving person; my wife; began to get the strong feeling that she wasn’t any good. I am sorry to say, she was getting that feeling from me! She was getting that feeling from the way I was treating her! She did not have that feeling when she met me. But she learned that feeling; she picked it up from me like a deadly poison, like an infectious disease; and it affected her life and she had great personal difficulty with it. Without meaning to I was transferring some of the deadly poison of growing up with a father filled with hate and rage onto my precious wife.

I wanted to stop this dynamic; I wanted to stop having this effect on my wife. Also, I didn’t want to be a parent who mistreated my children or be a parent who was absent from my children’s lives or emotionally unavailable for them. I grew to the point that, with all of my heart and with all of the capability I had, I wanted to learn to tenderly love my wife and to wonderfully love my children. I didn’t want to be a parent who was absent or unable to be present with my children because of my own emotional turmoil or things I was doing to keep myself so busy or so preoccupied that I didn’t have to feel the wretched feelings in me from abuse. These were some of the greater motivations that opened me to therapy work.

I didn’t want to leave the people closest to me with the feeling that they were a bother, while treating people I might meet during the course of a day with the feeling of being appreciated and valued.

That is often how it is with children of abuse. My wife told me, at one point, she felt like she would be better off being one of my customers or one of my vendor company representatives or the gal in the donut shop where we would stop in the morning, because they all seemed to get better treatment from me than she got from me. I know this may sound like the common complaint of a person who lives close to you as they see you treat the grocery store clerk with the utmost of respect. But with those of us who suffered long-term abuse, we have to become aware of when and how we are doing this because these behaviors can be so pervasive in us. And for those of us who have “stuffed” our feelings for years, this can take intentional, purposeful work to be able to even become aware of what we are doing and saying to those close to us.

The truth is, there was a part of me that felt: ‘what difference does it make how somebody feels about how I treat them because I’m a worthless, dirty, filthy pathetic nobody.’ It never occurred to me that I, a person who believed I had no worth, could still confer value and worth on my wife! Or worse, that I could unwittingly confer a lack of value to her if I was still unaware of my actions. But it was true. And I no longer wanted my wife to feel the way she was feeling anymore. Not because of her husband! I didn’t want my wife to feel I was angry at her or irritated with her or disgusted with her or that I didn’t like her.

A profound effect of abuse on the mind and heart is insensitivity. This happens because so much of the energy of the mind is taken up with suppressing the emotions and experiences of abuse, with the result that there is little room left for listening and understanding others. In addition, the abuse often results in a lack of caring, especially toward others who were abused with you. You learn to harden or shut off your mind and heart to the hurt of others because it becomes too overwhelming. You are barely taking care of yourself so how could you be expected to take care of anyone else?

The practical result of this reality is the way others experience you, as a person. The closer the person is to you in your life, the more they experience this insensitivity and this hardness or shutting off of your heart to others hurt. You may hear the words a person is saying, but you are not able to feel the emotion; the pain, urgency, confusion, sadness, despair, frustration, fear; behind their words. Because of this, others do not feel understood. They do not feel valued. They do not feel respected. Abuse affects the nature and quality of all of your relationships.

As a business owner and employer, I had a reputation as ‘Mark the Shark’ among my employees. I had one employee blow up at me one night as we were working together. He told me all about how I didn’t care about my employees or their futures and that I had no regard for them. This truly surprised me and I thought this employee just had it wrong about me. But it threw me for a loop and I did not sleep for the next 48 hours as a result of the hurt and confusion. I was grappling with the truth of the profound effects abuse had left on my life and I was trying to understand what was happening.

One day, while working with a business consultant to learn more about employee selection and management, he suggested the results of a sample test I had taken with him indicated I had low sensitivity to others. My perception at the time was completely different than that of the test results. You see, I had learned from living with my father to always be alert to signs and indications of how he was feeling so I could be ready when a rage would erupt and thereby protect myself. I also learned to be pretty good at anticipating and reading his expectations so I could be safe, not get beaten, and survive in my environment. So my perception was, I was very much in touch with and aware of what was going on around me, and with others. It’s how I survived!

But nothing could have been further from the truth. In my abusive environment I had learned to assess elements and aspects of behavior and conduct. I was not listening and hearing what people’s perceptions were or what their feelings were. I was not connecting with people as human beings! And I did not have a clue about what it was like to live with me. I did not have a clue about the feelings of others. I not only did not know my own feelings, I had no capacity, desire or ability to sit and hear and understand and feel the feelings of others. The concept of abiding – sitting quietly and just being – was as foreign to me as a foreign language!

My wife was the one most hurt by these effects of abuse on my heart. At times, she felt I was cold and insensitive. She felt indifference from me. This treatment caused her to feel she was not good enough. She came to believe that no matter how much she tried to show love to me, she never knew when I would treat her harshly or when she would see a look of irritation on my face. Not knowing what to expect was very difficult for her and it began to affect her in very negative ways. My wife was experiencing some of the things I experienced as a child in that I never knew what to expect from my father. He was a totally unsafe person for me to be around and I had unwittingly become unsafe for my wife to be around. I had learned the behaviors of the abuser though I never wanted this for myself and I probably promised myself every day of my life I would not ever become like him!

Anger is a significant effect of abuse. Eventually the daily reality of life will catch up to the person who has experienced abuse early in life and they will begin to have a problem with anger. Proverbs 22:24-25 speaks to the effects of this when it says “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” Well the truth is a child of abuse is a person who has learned the abusers ways and is ensnared.

The abused adult may finally be at a place where it is safe for the anger to come out. And come out it will. The anger may be partly controlled or it may be completely out of control but the effects are much the same. This anger may seem entirely warranted by the victim of abuse for what they had to endure. It seems so incredibly long overdue and so important to finally be able to let out an appropriate response to all that has happened to you at the hands of the abuser. It may “make sense” in terms of fairness and justice. But it is very difficult to live with a person who has this level of anger. It begins to wear on the people who live in the environment after weeks and months and even years of this type of anger. It affects emotional intimacy. To be specific it very effectively shuts it down. So while the person who has experienced abuse desperately needs to let his anger out, he cannot safely do it with family members because they have no means to help the abuse victim sort through the anger. The anger will just explode out of them like an untreated infection.

It is inevitable for a marriage partner to begin to lose feelings of intimacy and love when living with a partner who is angry. In the case of my wife, she needed to protect herself. She never knew when or how the anger was going to surface or be displayed by me. My anger was arbitrary and it was mean. I would lash out or belittle my wife for any reason or no reason. I had learned better, from watching my father, than to ever hit my wife. I was determined and I was not about to hit my wife. But physical violence is only a part of anger. Have you heard the saying: ‘You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy?’ The same is true of being raised in an abusive environment. The abuse doesn’t just magically evaporate. Sorry!

Sudden outbursts, little verbal jabs, angry looks, looks of irritation or disapproval, even disgust, random verbal shortness and meanness; it comes in all ways, shapes and forms, but it comes. It is very difficult to contain within the victim of abuse because there has been so much hurt. But the people we love; our families; should not be the recipient of or the container for our anger! The anger must be focused on the right place or it is abuse and sadly continues the abuse you suffered.

So though I was determined not to abuse my wife, I eventually realized I was indeed abusing her, and doing it without even fully realizing it. I would ignore her, or snap at her in some situations. At other times it was the looks – often the looks of irritation or aggravation or even disgust that would creep onto my face – which were very hurtful and began to take their toll on my wife.

I would also blow up with outbursts of anger at outsiders but I was so verbal and entertaining in the outbursts, my wife would say, that it was not immediately as hurtful. But eventually it all adds up to the same thing. It is not emotionally safe to be around a person who has unresolved anger. The Bible has wisdom in this area. In Proverbs 22:24 it says “do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered.”

I began to realize the angry person in our home was me.

The person who lives with a person with unresolved anger begins to experience anxiety and fear themselves. Not being certain how the anger will come next, or how intense, or how hurtful, the effects of this ever changing and unsafe environment are significant and pervasive. Most of the peace and gentleness and softness within relationships are lost. It is an unacceptable way to live and ultimately it is inexcusable for a person to display anger toward, or around, any person to whom it is not due.

Significant, intense anger comes from hurt and injustice; most likely deep hurt or severe injustice; and the resolution of the anger only comes from facing the hurt and ending the injustice. If you need help to do this, I hope you get help. It is essential for most of us.

If you are unable or unwilling to gain understanding about your abuse, your abuse will negatively influence your life; your thinking, your decisions, your emotions and your relationships. You may even find yourself rejecting Christ and the Bible, if you were abused by a church. This is an understandable response and predictable, if you leave the abuse unaddressed. But the decision to reject Christ or the Bible is a big decision and one I hope you will give careful consideration to or be willing to reconsider!

To decide on a life partner is a big decision under the best of circumstances. If you make (or have made) this decision without examining your abuse and coming to an understanding of your abuse, you may have (or be having) difficulties in your relationship. It may be due to the abuse you experienced and the grip it has on your thinking and your way of being in your relationship. But you can change the rudder of your ship. With help you can begin to see great burdens lifted off your soul and your spirit that you were never meant to carry. And neither were the people closest to you.

You will need to take time to examine your experiences of abuse and identify the truth of what occurred. Without identification, without examination in the light of day, there will be no healing. And without healing, there will be no restoration. Truth is what brings light to your abuse experiences. Identifying what is true will allow restoration to begin.

If you have been abused, there is a tendency to believe that any examination will only bring up pain that has no chance of being alleviated. And to keep it in its safe little underground part of your soul seems best. There is an interesting verse in the Bible that says “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Sadly this verse was never more true than for we victims of abuse. It seems like things will go better for us if we bury our pain and do not examine it or see if it is based on cruel lies. But, the truth is the pain and the agony of that abuse will surface. And surface on some of the people you love best. And once you have dealt with your pain and challenged the inevitable lies it took to get you in that place of pain you will begin to experience healing. Day by day healing truly can come.

As you begin the journey toward healing, you may need to read. You may need to interview excellent counselors to understand the methods they will use to help you. You may need to discuss with your spouse that the bringing up of emotions may challenge you and your equilibrium initially. And that you may experience a range of emotions you have worked hard to suppress for years. Consider the abuse and the toll it is taking to be like an infection deep inside you.

If you allow a skilled surgeon to relieve the pressure and release that infection, there will be opportunity for scrubbing and cleansing the infected area, and to bring in antibiotics, bandages, and soothing ointments to make you feel better in the process. And one day you will look at the pink of the growing scar and realize you have made progress. And beyond that you may get to see a scar that has receded in your mind and in your spirit and is simply not part of your everyday life anymore. And you can be just as amazed and blessed as I was that it was possible for this to happen.

In my next blog I will begin talking about how I asked God for help in this healing process. I hope for many of you who have suffered abuse you will allow the Great Physician, Jesus, to help you through your healing. I hope you are able to open your heart to the Lord’s love and allow Him to do the healing work deep within you that He is able and willing to do. He is gentle, and will do it with you as you are ready and at your own pace.

Please get in touch with me if you have questions about how to begin this journey.

If you are experiencing some of the profound effects of abuse I want you to know there is hope . . . hope in the healing.

Mark Phelps

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Early Rumblings and Earthquakes

Something happened when I was 11 years old that changed my life forever. I had the opportunity to go to a Bible Conference in Ashland, Kentucky the summer I was about to turn 12. It was Memorial Day weekend, the weekend of the Indianapolis 500 and my father, mother, older brother and I drove to Ashland, Kentucky for the Bible Conference. What happened there was that I learned the truth about God.

As I sat in the church auditorium in Kentucky, it was a pleasant, safe feeling. I was listening to the speakers and suddenly I heard something I know I had never heard before. The pastor who sponsored the conference, Brother John Gilpin, was speaking. He told us in the audience about a God who sent His only son to earth to die on a cross to save me. To save me?! Mark Phelps, 11 year old boy from Kansas! I couldn’t hold back the tears. I was overwhelmed. It was as if a light had been illuminated in the core of my soul and suddenly I could see. And hear. And it was true. I had been dead but God saved me and He made me alive. Could it be? Why would He send His son to die … for me? But He did! And now I knew. Now I had heard. Now I could see. I will never forget the day, the hour, the place. The beginning of eternal life for me!

My father had taught much to our little congregation about hell. A lot! In fact if you were to ask me what my father “majored on” it would be hell. Or maybe he got a Ph.D. in it. I know I must have heard the words about Christ dying on a cross before but there was no life to the words and certainly no life in my heart in response to my father’s words. But now I understood. I got it. God had made me alive and I knew I would never be the same. It was simple, and wonderful, and glorious. But after that amazing experience of being born into the Kingdom of God, now I would travel back in the car to Kansas and back to my father’s church. And back to business as usual.

And what that meant was returning to the same old preaching that had no life in it. Going back to that same fear-inducing message was very disheartening for me who had just been born into the Kingdom of God. I now had an awakened spirit and a real hunger for nourishing preaching and teaching! After an amazing weekend that changed my life I would come back to an environment that fed neither my soul nor my spirit. There would simply be no wholesome or life-giving teaching after that for me.

There is a condition that occurs when babies are not getting their needs met. This condition is called “failure to thrive.” Researchers understand that this condition is primarily a lack of love and physical expressions of love (cuddling and holding) more than it is a lack of nutrition. It can create serious health risks for the child; in fact, many children in orphanages who are fed adequately can still die from this “lack of Love.” I was what you would have called a “failure to thrive” new believer because the life giving teaching I got in Ashland KY was not going to come to me again until I left my father’s church over eight years later, and would be another ten years after that.

I was growing up in a home of abuse, so this beautiful, amazing bright spot in my spiritual growth was to be crowded out by many more years of terrifying and horrific experiences of abuse at the hand of my father. It is very hard to hear just one message of the beautiful truth that God loves you and laid down His life for you personally if you are immediately going to be told day after day how much he hates you. And hates the human race! Unbelievably that is what happened after my Ashland experience. I honestly have no idea why my father allowed me to hear the beautiful, glorious, amazing truth that God loved me as a son only to bring me home to spend years undoing that truth with his words and his actions as a physical and verbal abuser. It makes very little sense.

It would be very hard even then for my father the hater to try to undo the amazing gift of new life his son got that day. But he would dedicate his life to doing just that, to his children, his church and later to his community and country. After many, many years of trying to “succeed” in a system that was rigged by the Abuser/Pastor/Father in my life, I gave up trying and left. I left my family when I was 19 ½ years old late one night, in secret, to escape the realm of my father and try to remain safe in the process.

When I left my family I had no grand plan. I had read enough by then to know that all the things my father taught were not true. And that was an important part of what it would take to get me out the door. Truth is so powerful even in the face of repeated lies. But I had no specific, clear basis for leaving except for one. I had begun to sense the love of God in the life of the young lady I had met, and, though I still felt it was wrong to leave, her love was attractive to me and I could not forget it.

My father had begun to be more and more violent and abusive to my brother Nate, my sister Katherine and my brother Fred Jr. I had a sick feeling inside as I stood by and watched the way he treated these three, in particular. Why couldn’t I do something to stop him?

This question was barely beginning to surface to my awareness. Of course, I knew I couldn’t do anything and I was too ‘smart’ to try. But watching this increasing abuse toward these three dear siblings of mine did have one effect. It allowed me to feel able finally to leave because I sensed, even at this point in my life, that what my father was doing was terribly wrong. Even with all his carefully and maniacally laid plans to the contrary.

But, as I said earlier, there was no grand plan. I was just running for my life. Yes, that was the plan. I was running for my life and hoping God was not going to kill me. That was the only hope, at this point in my life. I hoped that God would not kill me for leaving my father and his ‘church’.

I realized later that, even when I was unable to know for certain or see clearly, the Lord was leading me out and away, for my future good. My life had been like an adult who has been drugged but with just enough awareness to get away from his captor. I am honestly so grateful for that glimmer of awareness I had that allowed me to see the truth of things. As powerful as the brainwashing was that my father perpetrated upon us, the Lord allowed in enough light to get me out! He did!

I had learned to cope at such a very young age, and had skills and powers of intuition and awareness that I needed to stay safe to live in my home with a violent father. I believe the power and image of God in me knew there was something so wrong and He led me to leave, or at least made a way out. And by doing this, the Lord set me free to heal myself. But one day he would give me a passion for the healing of others on their journey of healing from abuse. Now I am again making the choice to write of my experiences to help others on their healing journeys by this labor borne of love for hurting ones. I know because I have walked this path that there will be some who may require help being lifted out of their darkness. I hope to be able to be some small part of lifting that burden of darkness.

I had never had a plan for my life. The plan was my father’s. But me? I had no plan. Not for education. Not for independence. Not for a family. My father had made it clear to us as his children that we were not going to be allowed to live our own lives. In fact I believe my father did not expect us to even think about our lives as belonging to us, or that we had an obligation to live them well. He saw our lives as belonging to him . . . in a usurping, grabbing, commandeering kind of way. He not only believed he was in control of our lives but sought to have us agree with him and relinquish whatever minor control we had over them.

My father seems so maniacal to me now that he could not even allow us little areas of our lives to have our personalities and choices and preferences come out. When I think about the joy I have had as a father to watch my children blossom into the special people God made them to be, my father’s actions seem even more twisted to me. Looking back, I realize a person is unable to plan for their future when they fear for their lives. All my energy was expended on trying to figure out what I had to do to stay safe, and stay off my father’s radar screen. It took all my mental and emotional energy to monitor my environment and figure how to stay safe within it.

If staying safe meant beating my younger brothers at the command of my father, that’s what I did. If staying safe meant standing by and watching my father beat my sister Katherine within an inch of her life, that’s what I did. When my father wanted ‘good words’, I would manage to come up with something that sounded like I was in agreement with what he was doing to one of my brothers or my sisters, or to someone in the community. I was the ultimate ‘yes man’. I had observed and studied this sick man, my father, so carefully that I knew what he expected and I knew how to say and do the right things to stay safe, down to the very formulation and order of words in my sentences.

When I was not in his physical presence or at the house, I would behave in whatever way I wanted to, as long as I didn’t think he would find out. There were a couple of times where I miscalculated and almost got onto my father’s radar. One of the times was when I was so overwrought when he was beating my sister and raging at my mother and beating my brother, I yelled, ‘What is your problem!?’ I quickly backed off and I got by with this slip-up somehow. I guess this was because he was in such a rage at others.

The other time was when my father found an empty candy box under the mattress where I slept on the floor. Sometimes at night I would eat a box of candy (the candy we children were selling for our father’s ‘church’) because I was hungry and because it gave me emotional comfort. If it was really late, I would simply put the empty box under the mattress and throw it away in secret the next morning. One morning I had forgotten to throw the box away and for some reason that day, he was in my room throwing a fit about something and he threw the mattresses to one side. He saw the empty candy box. Since it was only one I just told him it must have been from one night when I had not had time to eat. I must have gotten by with it because he didn’t say anything further about it. Apparently being my father’s yes man allowed me to occasionally be hungry, be human and get away with it!

When I left my father’s house late one night, I found myself in the same circumstance as anyone else in the world. As with any young person around age 20 I had to get busy and start making a living. So I got various jobs for over a period of a few months and was not able to get back to the university for the remainder of the school year in 1974. I ended up getting a job at a print shop where I was able to settle in to stay a while. After I got past my fear that God was going to kill me for leaving my father’s ‘church’, I was able to begin to accomplish some things any young person would by making simple steps forward into independence and making my own way in the world.

In January 1975 I started back to the university full time and continued working about 60 hours a week. I could afford a place to live and a vehicle, or an apartment and a vehicle, or an apartment and school. But I could not afford all three. So I chose to get a vehicle, and I purchased an air mattress, joined the YMCA and lived on an air mattress on the floor of the print shop where I worked, for about 10 months. I kept my clothes in the trunk of my car and showered at the YMCA. By doing this, I was able to get started back to the university and still have enough money for a car to get back and forth to the university. I also worked Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays at Flaming Steer steak house as a waiter.

I was trying to progress and make a little money to start my life. There were days when even though I was juggling a job and school and a unique living situation there was enjoyment, and an incredible sense of discipline and accomplishment in being able to do what I was doing. For the first time in my life I was able to make decisions, follow up on them, and learn about how to get along in the world. For a young man who had never been allowed to think or reason out a plan for taking steps to go forward in an endeavor, this was an incredibly important time for me. It is very gratifying to live your own life and I was learning this!

I graduated from the university in May of 1976 and my fiancée (yes, my girlfriend from the skating rink) and I were married in August 1976. I continued working at the print shop for another year or so and then went to work for another printing company in St. Louis, MO from October 1977 to July 1978. On the first day of August, 1978 I started my own printing company and our first print shop in Prairie Village, Kansas. Then I opened another shop in Topeka, Kansas January 2, 1979. We traveled to southern California in late 1980 and I expanded our company with print shops in southern California starting on March 2, 1981. We opened 6 print shops in southern California between 1981 and 1983.

Having print shops in several cities spread between Kansas City and San Diego began to build a bit of pressure in our lives. My wife also lost three babies to miscarriage during these years, which added to stress and emotional pain for both of us. In the move to California, I had not shown any regard for my wife’s needs or preferences. Honestly, it never crossed my mind! I had just said we were moving and we moved. This was a pattern that had certainly been modeled for me by my father towards the needs of my own mother and it was one that would take me many years, much insight and discipline to undo.

My wife and I traveled a lot and took care of the business side of our lives just fine. We had no children during these years. In 1982 we registered with the county where we lived and started the adoption process. We opened a shop in Phoenix, Arizona in May of 1983 and lived in Arizona for a while. We were making progress and had bought a home in southern California.

All of these circumstances began to build stress in our lives and in our relationship and it began to take a toll on our marriage. I began to experience issues with anxiety and anger and was beginning to behave in hurtful ways toward my wife as the strain and stress of our lives increased.

I was not ready to begin attending church again. I am sure this comes as no surprise to many of you when you think about the level of abuse I suffered. Instead, I really focused in on reading books like ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill, and ‘How To Win Friends and Influence People,’ by Dale Carnegie, and other motivational books like this. I bought a book entitled ‘University of Success’, a book containing fifty short chapters related to positive thinking, proper mind discipline, having a positive attitude, and the virtues of goal setting. Following the advice of these books, I hand wrote pages and pages of goals and affirmations. I read these pages in front of the mirror, out loud to myself, for an hour or two a day, to help me keep my mind positive and focused.

But my anxiety was building more and more, even with all these efforts and attempts to manage stress and life responsibilities. Some of you who have suffered abuse know that the effort we abuse victims put forth to keep our abuse and its aftermath stuffed inside our souls takes great effort anyway. Then when you add on top of that the normal stresses of a busy life, you can see the set up for serious issues for those of us who have not properly healed. I was having quite a bit of success but I was experiencing more and more anxiety from trying to keep the time bomb that was ticking in my soul from exploding. Still, at this time, I had not become aware of how my actions were affecting my wife; how I was hurting her. I realized this later as she began to experience difficulties, herself, from simply living with me. Reading those words even today makes me cry!

I hired a business consultant to help me improve my employee hiring skills so I could hire more effective employees for our business, and I had a lot of success with this. In fact, I began to do some consulting for other business owners who owned small to medium-sized businesses. It was around this time I began to realize my wife was having some personal difficulties with some of the effects of living with me, as well as other difficulties and pressures in her life. Before this time, I was completely unaware of all of her hurts because I lacked empathy and understanding and sensitivity toward other human beings, particularly my own wife. I had no knowledge at the time that many of these behaviors were consistent with adults who had been abused as children. When an abused child spends years “stuffing” their feelings or attempting to not feel at all it will not be an easy process to undo, even if one is married and to have feelings once again would be helpful for the relationship!

My focus had been to drive myself hard in my work so I could be financially successful. This is what I thought I was supposed to do, as a man and as a husband. And I had seen the immense stress placed on a family when my father was unable or unwilling to be the breadwinner. All of these things; starting a business, reading and educating myself, setting goals, working hard to be successful in my work each have good aspects to them. But not for the reasons I was doing them; and for the motivations and reasons that were driving me. That was the issue for me. I am not suggesting it is wrong to work hard, or have a business, or make money in itself, but each of us has to examine our motivations. What motivates us is very important. My motivation was to overcome the wretched feelings in my soul, and to run from my own pain, through business and financial success. I believe from the time I was a child work had been my primary solace and even safe haven from my abuse.

By 1984 I began to get back involved with a church. Unfortunately, I picked a church with similar qualities to my father’s church that I had grown up in, though not nearly as severe. It definitely was an environment of spiritual abuse where a couple of people were attempting to over control everyone else. This was affecting people in the congregation in negative ways. This spiritually abusive environment began to concern my wife, and some of the other women in the church were calling my wife expressing their worries and concerns and fears. Their concern was that I was going to join the other abusers and make circumstances worse. They also were concerned about me. They did not want me to get hurt since they knew some of what my background had entailed.

In June of 1988 the man who had helped me start my business crashed his plane and died. In many ways he had been like a father to me.

As a result of a variety of experiences; getting back into the Bible and into a church, the loss of my business partner, the normal pressures of life; pressure in me was building and the pressure was growing. Then our first adopted daughter joined our family. It was around the time we got our first daughter that I began to realize I might need professional help.

Coming to an understanding of how my behavior was negatively affecting my wife was my greatest concern. I was experiencing unpredictable, arbitrary anger that kept coming out sideways. Sometimes there would be a pattern. For a while I seemed to be angry on Mondays. Then I seemed to be angry on Fridays. All this anger had nothing to do with my wife, but was mostly vented at my wife!

Even the pressures and stresses in a normal relationship were not ones I initially experienced with my wife because she was doing everything she could behind the scenes to keep those stresses at bay. My wife was so gentle and so careful with me and with our relationship because she knew how much I had suffered growing up. But what she did to compensate for my past abuse was more than what was good for her own needs. Because of the way my wife handled our daily lives, I did not even have what would be considered the normal pressures of life, and of a marriage relationship, during these early years. My wife had attempted to do everything she could to make things good and peaceful and normal for me, and to be supportive and helpful. And she truly did a phenomenal job of anticipating my needs and trying to be the shock absorber for anything that would be stressful for me. But her great strength in taking on far more pain and frustration than was hers to bear would ultimately be her undoing.

Yet I had arbitrary outbursts of anger towards my wife even in spite of her best efforts to absorb all the stress in our lives. I had irritation and impatience and just very hurtful emotions I expressed toward my wife; in addition to hurtful facial expressions and words. I was not violent. There was no physical abuse. I knew better than all those things. Thank God. But looking back, I realize I was unable to contain all of the abuse that had poisoned my heart during my growing up years, once I got into the pressure cooker of life. I was not able to contain all that was within me. The stuff I had never dealt with started spilling over. It was beginning to take its toll on my wife, first and foremost.

The single thing that, by far, had the greatest impact on me having the desire to change was the realization that I was hurting my wife. I realized, then, that though I was not the sole cause, I was the primary cause of her anguish and distress and sadness. Most of my wife’s distress was coming from my behavior. Once this became clear to me, and I had this awareness, I was determined to change. Though she did not overtly tell me these things initially, as she began to get some counseling she was able to start expressing some of what was hurting her. I am so grateful she got help and was able to finally express things to me she had long needed to say.

The truth is it took me about 6 months from the time she started getting some help herself, and seeing her process of what she was learning and realizing that she was having such difficulty, before I began to realize that her pain was, in large part, because of what it was like to live with me. You see, my wife did not tell me overtly or directly. She had been trying to protect me from this reality. Her reality! My wife is such an incredibly loving and self-sacrificing person! Only as she began to get some help for herself was she able to start expressing some of what was hurting her.

As I said, when she finally began to get this information communicated, it became the primary driving force in me realizing my need to change. I knew I needed to get some help! I needed to do something about all the strain and stress of life and the affects it was having on my behavior. And I needed to do something about all the garbage that was in my soul; in my heart; I needed to deal with that. And I needed to STOP hurting my wife.

I had a sense that this raging storm within me was not going to be something that could be dealt with within the context of my marriage relationship, or friendship relationships, or by throwing myself even harder into my work; and certainly not through more positive thinking strategies, or goal setting, or positive affirmations. None of this was going to be sufficient. I knew I had to heal my heart, and I was beginning to realize it was going to take a lot of work.

Then, when I realized we were about to welcome our first precious little one into our family, all the hurt in my heart surfaced so rapidly. I was so frightened of ever doing anything to hurt a little one. Within a period of less than a week we found out our precious little girl was available after waiting 7 years with the county. We found out she was available on a Friday and we had her in our home by the following Monday. Having her and knowing what my behavior had been, with the abuse I had experienced, and the affect it was having on my wife, I realized I needed some help. I began to seriously look for help!

Some of you who are reading my blog may have hung on for dear life without yet sensing the need to seek help for your soul. I understand how terrifying it can be to really consider tackling the bringing to surface of all the poison of abuse. In these next blogs I will be looking at the healing process. It is my story but I hope you can find hope and encouragement for your own life. As you hear my journey of being set free from the pain and the agony of my abuse you will want to be set free from yours. That is my strong hope for your life. It is so worth the pain of extracting the poison for the feeling of having a soul that is free!

Mark Phelps

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Abusing People With Religion

One definition of religion in the dictionary is “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods.”

I realize the word religion has very personal and varied meanings to different people. Some of us have a pretty negative view of religion and the way we see its practice having hurt people. Others of us see some very good things coming from the practice of religion and have seen these positive practices help us lead our lives well. Perhaps others have not given the word much thought.

I want to be very careful to state at the beginning of this blog that I am speaking mostly about the negative way religion was used in my life and the extremely damaging things that happened in my family because of religion. But I in no way want to offend people in their honest practice of religion who have found it to be a blessing in their lives. I am really talking about the practice of a very destructive and abusive type of religion my father used against the members of his own family in my growing up years.

When I look at religion broadly I view it as a system or structure of activity and beliefs which help to organize and focus the activity of a particular group of people in their relationship to a god or a belief system.

I also see religion as what man does in an effort to gain favor from a god or higher power. Or sometimes even what people do to gain favor from other people. Even people who do not care about them and certainly do not have their best interests in mind.

Christianity is truly unique among religions because at its core it’s about what God did for mankind through His Son Jesus Christ. Not what we have to do to find favor from God but what he did to reach out to us. In my blogs you will notice I make a distinction between religion (largely a set of observances or rules) and relationship – between us and God.

You may ask: “Why does any of this matter to you?”

It matters to me because I have personally observed the practice of religion being misused to hurt and abuse human beings. I have seen religion misused and misapplied to:

-oppress and imprison the human spirit

-cause deep anguish and great distress of heart

-bring about false hope in peoples’ lives

-excuse stealing

-take personal freedoms and peace of mind from people and

-crush and crash people’s lives into despair.

My father used the practice of his religion to justify his horrendous abuse of his family.

That’s why it matters to me!

It matters to me because I was raised in a religion; more specifically my father’s religion. This religion was never about relationship, either with God or the people who were doing the preaching of it. I was raised in my father’s church. My father is Fred W. Phelps Sr., preacher at Westboro Baptist Church.

In sharp contrast to my father’s teaching, the Bible mentions the concept of Good News a fair amount. It was Jesus who was the one who would bring this Good News to mankind. He brought many amazing things to the people of his time that included healing for the sick, the demon possessed, the blind, the lame, and the broken hearted. But over and over again He reminded everybody around Him that He was sent to preach the Good News. When some people were looking for Jesus one day he said “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

The essence of this Good News was very simple. It let people know that there had been a break in their relationship with God, but that Jesus would be the pathway back. And the pathway to God was actually very simple. Jesus asked people to “repent and believe.”

I have thought a lot about what it means to repent. From the original Greek it translates “metanoia” which means to change one’s mind, or change the inner self. Repentance at its core is a changing of one’s very direction in life . . . a change of mind that results in a change of action.

So repenting means to turn away from the path of sin and destruction we have been on and to turn back toward God. A turning away from leading lives apart from God and a turning toward Him. No matter what a big mess we thought we’ve made of ourselves and our lives. Repenting does NOT mean fixing ourselves up and making ourselves “perfect” for God. It’s a recognition we are a mess, and have made wrong choices, sinned and hurt ourselves and others. It’s a recognition that we really CAN‘T change the brokenness in us, and then turning to God to let Him do what only He can do, which is to bring new life and create true change in the human soul and spirit.

The believing part meant to believe in Him. Jesus. To believe he was the Son of God. And believe He was the one who would pay the debt the human race had incurred against God. Sin is something so damaging and destructive God expects restitution to be paid. Because it violates and hurts the people God made.

The counterintuitive part about sin is that it’s actually an offense against God. Because when we sin against other people we are also sinning against the God who made them in His image. We are made to look and act and be like God. Which means we are to be loving, giving, respectful, honoring of others, filled with acts of kindness, fighting against injustice wherever we find it, feeding the poor, taking care of the sick and needy, and to always, always love the ones society says are the most unlovable.

It was our sin that created a huge break in our relationship with God. (And of course did the same in our relationships with people.) Believing in Christ and accepting His payment for our sin debt sets us right with God again. Forever! Jesus took on all of humanity’s offenses against God in one day by hanging on a Cross. It was the Roman world’s equivalent of the electric chair. Hanging on a cross was punishment for the worst of people who committed the most heinous of crimes. And it was not even allowed to be used against people who were privileged to be citizens of Rome. An innocent Jesus hung on that cross in between two criminals that day. When He accomplished the work of repairing our relationship with God it was done. Finished! Forever!

We just need to believe in this amazing gift offered by Him. And accept it. Just accept it. Not try to pay for it, not try to figure out a way to repay Him, not try to figure out a way around the gift, but just RECEIVE the gift! And maybe say thank you! Because the gift includes our being forgiven. For every sin we have committed and ever will commit!

Many people throughout the ages have struggled to understand why God would do this for us. Why he would just choose to pay for the results of our sin himself and set us free to be back in a relationship with God. It was too “easy” as far as some were concerned. It didn’t fully account for the ugliness of our sin. As a human race we struggle when we see others whose sins we think are worse than ours “get off scot free.” It boggles our minds that God would do the paying for the sins we have committed both great and small.

And that leads me to my father; and his teachings. My father’s approach to sharing “good news” was always dogmatic, extreme, void of humanity, and not good news at all. And it was filled with abuse and hatred. My father’s teachings were so contrary to the true teachings of the Bible. In fact my father’s religion was very bad news for his family! And for everyone else!

His version of the “good news,” at least the version he foisted on anyone not part of his church, was that God really didn’t love us because we had sinned. He wanted everyone to believe, because he believed it himself, that God had a big score card hanging over each of our lives and once a wrong had been committed by anyone he was out to get us. This happened to be completely wrong about what Jesus accomplished for the human race on the cross. Jesus cared about sin. A whole lot more than my father ever did. Jesus’ death didn’t show that sin didn’t matter or that it and its consequences could be swept under the rug.

This is what my father seemed to live in fear of. That somehow if there was a God who paid for our sin Himself that it meant sin would be viewed by us as no big deal. Far from it! Jesus showed that sin was so damaging and so wrong that restitution had to be paid . . . and HE paid for it Himself. With His own death. And it is a good thing because God was the only one who had the ability to pay for our sin.

The thing that is interesting about what Christ did on the cross by paying for our sin was that it was a gift TO all of mankind. But to receive the gift it had to be accepted BY each one of us personally. And Christ never forced his gift of love on anyone. What my father didn’t understand was that Jesus was the bridge between us and God. And Jesus’ gift would put us back in a restored relationship with God.

My father also didn’t understand the powerful effects Jesus’ death would have on our individual lives. Jesus’ death would allow God to make profound changes out of our brokenness. Because Jesus’ power and love were going to actually make us new people from the inside out. It is one thing to create something beautiful. That truly does take amazing creative power. But it takes far more to take a once beautiful masterpiece that has been broken and destroyed and bring it back to its original form . . . and then make it even better. That is what Jesus did on the cross. He took broken and destroyed people and would make them into people who were wonderful and new. That was something my father never, ever understood.

One thing that can be said about Fred W. Phelps Sr. is he made his god very clear. For example, I know that his god was a god of hate. The Bible says “God is love.” My father didn’t really understand this about God. I think for him the fact that God could truly forgive sinners and love people just the way they were was “too good to be true” so in his mind it just couldn’t be! Based on my father’s consistent preaching I believe he balked at the idea that this free gift of love and mercy was something God wanted to give to the human race. He just could not believe God wanted to give this gift to broken, messed up people. And who sinned constantly; against God, and against each other.

What my father did was rewrite the Good News of God’s grace and mercy. And made it fit with his own thinking. My father exalted himself and his view of god above the teaching of the Bible. He insisted that his god only save those whom he wanted saved. He hated the idea of offering God’s grace to anyone other than those to whom he (my father) wanted to offer it, which were those in his family and a handful of others who submitted to his twisted view of god.

My father’s abusive use of religion was unique to his own pathology and it was dark and evil. I know my father’s god condemns, intimidates and enjoys crushing the life out of human beings. Based on my father’s teachings I know his god can hardly wait to destroy the world, and will take delight in doing so. I know that his god has no compassion or love. And I know what his god did to the man who was supposed to be my Daddy.

Fred W. Phelps Sr.’s hateful god leaves the world with no hope and, if my father had his way, hundreds of millions of Christians all over the world would be denied their Savior and their salvation today. I am so thankful that the god of Fred W. Phelps Sr. is not my god and not my savior, and not the true God of the universe. My God announced ‘Peace on Earth. Good Will to Men’ the day His Son was born to a virgin here on the earth and this statement represents great hope for all human beings!

Here are some examples of religion from the church where I was raised. The following excerpts were taken directly from a website of Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), my father’s church:

My father’s church website showed this:

“You should be so happy we are here. We're spreading the Good News that not everyone will go to Hell. You should be happy that we're here to preach at all, since all you get from the countless so-called "preachers, priests, rabbis, imams, and other spiritual leaders in this nation is a bunch of syrupy, unscriptural psycho-babble. We tell the truth. We aren't interested in persuading you to change -- that's God's business.”

I say:

This statement ignores or denies the work of hundreds of thousands of pastors who faithfully minister to their people with a right teaching about God and His love.

My family does NOT tell the truth. They lie about God’s nature. God is Love. And they misrepresent the Good News. The Good News is good for all. Jesus said “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) My father just could not fathom that WHOEVER believed in Christ could be given this gift. Perhaps for my father, the fact that there was a “whoever” made it not good news anymore. But the “whoever” is the best news! Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Period!

My father changed the ‘whoever believes on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ to ‘whoever attends my church, submits themselves completely to me and does what I tell them to do has a chance at salvation if I decide they do.’

And when my family says “We aren’t interested in persuading you to change – that’s God’s business” they stand in stark contrast to the apostle Paul who said: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Paul knew there would be people who needed help coming back to God and he provided them a loving helpful way to do that. I wonder why my family doesn’t also want to help people come to God. What a privilege that is and how much my family is missing in not choosing to love and help others!

My father’s church website showed this:

“We at WBC are blessed by our Creator with the ability to discern the signs of the times. While the remainder of the world’s population will be overtaken by Christ’s return … as one who is come upon by a thief in the night, it is not so with us.”

I say:

There are millions who know Christ and who correctly discern the signs of the times, and I am one of them. And all of us who know Him are enthusiastically looking forward to His return!

Examples of my father’s church picket signs, meant to condemn the world outside their church:

“Topeka: City of Bastards”

“God Is Your Enemy”

“God Hates You”

“Thank God For Dead Soldiers”

“Thank God For September 11th”

“Too Late To Pray”

“Thank God For IED’s”

“Thank God For AIDS”

“Planes Crash God Laughs”

I say:

Sometimes when I read my family’s posts I wonder if they even understand the character of God at all. God says in His word “He (the Lord) is patient with you, not wanting ANYONE to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

If God’s heart is for all to come to Him, why would my family say otherwise? To what end would they spread such untruths about such an amazing, loving God? Do they think God’s love is finite and there is not enough to go around?

My father’s church website showed this:

When asked the question: But what does one have to do to truly and honestly repent?

“So, the blunt answer to your question is that you have no power to “truly and honestly repent”. If the power of God — “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power,” (Psalm 110:3) — works in you, as one of the gifts of grace, you will “truly and honestly repent”. That is the beginning and the end of the Scriptural teaching on that narrow point.”

I say:

Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Jesus gave a simple command that had a huge blessing connected with it! He told us to repent – turn from our sinful ways, and believe in this truly Good News. Jesus told us He would give us a way back to God. For eternity! And Jesus gave us a brand new way of living while we were still here on earth. Really good news!

My father’s church website showed this:

Dead Phoenix Priest

Thank God for one wounded, and one dead priest!

“One priest was shot and killed and another wounded at a Catholic church Wednesday night near the state Capitol, a Phoenix police spokesman said.” (AzCentral)

I say:

Why would my family laud the death of someone who may have been serving and loving the Lord? They ask no questions and learn nothing of this person’s beliefs or character. They choose to speak in a belittling way of someone made in the image of God and dearly loved. Why would they choose to dishonor God and this person in this way?

My father’s church website showed this:

How Long, Simpletons?

June 7, 2014 Tracy Morgan was in a horrible accident in New Jersey, and is currently in ICU:


You may be wondering what’s up with all the links? Well, the GodSmack is for both Tracy and all his “good friends” as well as these evil media mutts.

Here are the applicable verses for this hour, and if Tracy has a bit of hope the only message for him is to repent of his simplistic approach to all things important and eternal.

Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Yeah, all these media mutts think they are great theologians who get to tell everyone what to believe! Proverbs 14:9 Fools make a mock at sin: but among the righteous there is favour.

I say:

I am not sure if my family doesn’t like comedians but to say God is the perpetrator of evil and “Godsmacks” people to hurt them and hurt their chances of coming to Him is not the least bit true. God draws people to Himself in a variety of ways while always honoring their free will, a gift He gave them by the way. If my family knew anything of God and His ways they might hope God would use this injury to draw this man to Himself through the circumstances of his injury. THAT would be perfectly consistent with God’s character. But to see the wreck as something God could only use for a person’s harm is to miss the amazing ways God works on behalf of mankind for their good every day. Every single day!

It’s interesting that my family sees others in society in the same way Jesus viewed some of the religious leaders in his time. Some of the Pharisees of that day came up with so many additional rules for the people (over 600 additional laws) that it had become impossible to follow them.

Certainly Jesus had reason to say “woe” to those leaders who would not enter the kingdom of God themselves but would choose to keep other people from getting that same opportunity! What surprises me about my father’s church website is that they see others as the Pharisees and not themselves. My family may see others as attempting to open the door into the Kingdom of God and invite others in as if that is some terrible crime; while they themselves tell everyone that no one gets in to heaven but them! So if this is their stance what does it matter to them if others are trying to draw people to God?

My family has committed the sins of hatred, cruelty and lack of love often, in the name of God, and claims it’s a form of righteousness and is a loving thing to do. Hatred and cruelty are not righteous acts so my family should expect no favor from God for those acts.

- - - - - - end of excerpts from my father’s church website

The oppression stemming from religious abuse is astonishing, staggering, crushing, and confounding to those who suffer from it. Twisting truth has this effect.

The origin of my family’s behavior is solely the pervasive training they received from their father, Fred W. Phelps, Sr. Unfortunately, as some have suggested, my family and their church are not fakes. They truly believe what they preach. They are dead serious, but horribly deceived and misled by the false teachings and religious abuse which have permeated their hearts from their birth. My father was the perpetrator of this abuse. Sadly, this will not excuse them in the end.


The behavior of my family’s church is characterized by cult-like qualities; the propagation of wrong teaching, deceitfulness, fear-mongering, exclusivity of salvation, fraudulent use of God’s Word, and presumptive arrogant claims of great things: exclusivity of knowledge and special insight from having received ‘special ability’ that no one else in the world has.

My family may believe the “great things” they are doing will get them God’s favor. In contrast, the God who made us, and devised the plan of eternal life, simply asks us to believe, and not try to “work” our way toward heaven. The truth is God is the one who works on our behalf. Always! As the loving God that He is.

“For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” Isaiah 64:4. Yes, it’s true that we give back our love and gratitude and service to God but we are not “working” to win His favor or get the free gift of eternal life. It is truly free! (Romans 6:23, Revelation 22:17)

People cannot do any work that will make them right with God. This includes being a part of a miniscule cult organization operating with treachery under the guise of a church. So people must trust in God and not in their own good works. Then God accepts their faith, and that makes them right with him. He is the one who changes the hearts of even evil people and makes them totally new people! Romans 4:5

Imagine for a moment, if my family’s church really was a true church. What if they had spent the time and energy they now spend hating their world telling their world the Good News. And chose to do this with wholesome decent signs speaking about what Jesus Christ came to do for human kind? It could be powerful and life-giving even though the media wouldn't give them a second look.

But Wait! They need the media to give them a second look. They need continual media attention. Without media attention my family’s church would wither; without media attention my family would squirm in lonely, desperate anguish. Sometimes my family reminds me of the kids in school who refuse to seek positive attention from the teacher and proceed to terrorize the class and everybody in it to receive negative attention, the only kind the teacher can rightfully give them.

But the reality is, instead of offering hope through the simple presentation of the gospel, my family’s church harasses and insults and uses filthy language and spouts hate at those people for whom the Lord gave His life. They would say they are doing what they are doing because they perceive their audience as worthless. Or beyond the reach of the price Christ paid on the cross to buy people back. But that belief is arbitrary and has no basis in the Bible. And that belief is a lie!! Christ’s work to save people is the Power of God which He claims will bring salvation to everyone who believes!

Imagine you were in my family’s church yourself and believed that if you ever left the church you could be under God’s just punishment for sin and lose your eternal life. What kind of insecurity might this breed in your soul? If you worried you could lose this great gift might this give you a frantic sense of worthlessness that you would want to soothe with activity and constant attention? This sense of worthlessness comes when we don’t know the value God places on us. The value that God gives to us is something no one can take away from us! God’s wrath (his punishment for sin) was poured out onto His Son. And God’s Son is a shelter from the coming storm of God’s wrath. A complete shelter! All who have a relationship with the Son are able to live lives free of the fear of God’s coming punishment for sin. And they do not have to be a part of my father’s cult group.

Unless the spokespeople for my family’s church know a specific person on a personal basis, they have no way of knowing that individual’s relationship with the Lord. And because of this they have no way of knowing if their indicting words have any place in the recipient’s life. Instead of relating with and genuinely connecting with human beings, and learning the truth about each person’s life, they judge them. Sometimes with little or no knowledge of the state of their heart and life. And then they emit filth from their mouths and their signs, taking blind pot shots at people they do not even know.

The Bible says “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” If my family’s church is preaching that God hates people and has no forgiveness for His creation, no wonder they are so broken. They are speaking things they surely must believe could be true about themselves. What sadness! Clearly this is not Good News they are preaching!

Those verses used by my family’s church about the Pharisees should haunt each one of them! Jesus was very clear about how people were to deal with Pharisees when He said “So you must obey and follow everything they tell you to do; do not, however, imitate their actions, because they don't practice what they preach. They tie onto people's backs loads that are heavy and hard to carry, yet they aren't willing even to lift a finger to help them carry those loads.”

Jesus' very first public sermon in a synagogue was in sharp contrast to the religious abuse of my family. What Jesus preached was taken from the great prophecy in Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18). I wonder what difference my family might have made if they had been people who chose to heal up broken hearts and help bring freedom to oppressed people. Just like the founder and head of their religion, Christ.

My family’s church acts so much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. There are so many similarities. The Pharisees believed because of their knowledge of God’s laws that they were better than other people. They publicly humiliated other people who didn’t measure up to their knowledge and who didn’t follow every detail of the law the way they did. But the Pharisees actually kept people from God in doing this. And that’s what Jesus went after them for. He knew they were hypocrites who while being showy on the outside with their “knowledge” had hard hearts that would not lift a finger to help a widow or an orphan in need.

And that’s exactly what my family’s church has done. My family distorts the truth of God similarly with interpretations that cloud the message—that keep people from coming freely to God without fear. And by doing that they have turned people away from the very God who could love them, and help them, and give them back dignity and hope in their lives.

Jesus talks in the Bible about what he calls the “weightier matters” – the things that really matter in this life. He says : “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36). “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

My family reminds me of the Pharisees in that they teach loveless human rules and regulations instead of giving people words of life; words Jesus gave them to say. My family neglects mercy and love. All the time! And they replace the truth about what matters to God with the lie that God somehow requires people to be a part of their cult religion as the most important matter.

There is a verse in the Bible that says “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” The context of this verse is people who are choosing to judge others but do the very same actions they are judging. This verse challenges us that if we are judging others harshly we are showing contempt for God’s kindness to us. And not realizing at all that it’s actually God’s kindness that leads people to repent or turn away from the wrong choices in their lives. If God’s kindness leads us to that, why would any of us as humans do anything differently!

My family’s behavior toward others is oppressive and degrading. Their behavior is crushing and hurtful and mean and cruel, identical to the behaviors of Fred W Phelps, Sr. towards people. My family is showing themselves to be living the legacy of their father. Do they ponder Jesus words when He said “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” What a terrifying thought – that we will be held responsible by God for leading people away from Him!

John Wesley said. "What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace." This breaks my heart. Not only are my siblings diverted from the important matters of faith toward a work of destruction upon their world, they are damaging and possibly destroying the hearts and souls of their own children. Instead of flinging open the doors of grace and setting themselves and others free with the genuine truth of the good news of salvation in Christ alone, they keep themselves and their children hunkered down in their exclusive club with the perversions and lies they were bred on from birth, deluded themselves into believing they are ‘holding the fort at ground zero of truth’. Oh how I hope this legacy of hateful evil and twisting of truth can end with this current generation and they are all able to come into the light of Christ.

The Lord gave His life for the entire human race. He did this out of complete love for us! My family seeks to negate the work of Christ on the cross by their untruthful, hateful words, impossible standards and ridiculous criteria for salvation. Christ stood for love and embodied love for us in everything He did.

Christ left us with a watershed verse to let us and everyone else know whether we belong to Him. He said: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”John 13:34-36 Showing love to others is not optional for Christ followers.

If my family or anyone else is not showing love, there are several conclusions we can make. One may be that the person is brand new to the faith and truly does not know what to do to show love. Or, it could be a person who is steeped in sin or abuse and needs serious help in getting out of old behaviors because they really do not know the “new” way Christ gave us. But it could also mean the person doesn’t belong to Christ at all. Eventually someone who belongs to Christ will begin to look different. And truthfully begin to look more like Christ. On the outside to the world at large and on the inside to themselves…It WILL happen. And people who have been around my family in the last 30 years have not seen love shown to them. They may have seen pompous self-righteousness. But love?

In their haughtiness and pride, they have not, and do not seem able to turn to God. Oh, they cling to the false image of a god they have learned. But they are lost in their hate and prideful self-importance. It is very difficult to get those who do not perceive themselves as needing a physician to the doctor. But the Lord will resist them until they humble themselves before Him and cease from bludgeoning people with their self-righteous judgments and hatred and give their hearts to Him. The Lord is the only one who can make all things new for my family, or for anybody else for that matter.

And the saddest part of all is the glorious good news of Christ is marred by my family’s hateful behavior! Many are equating my family’s behavior with those who genuinely speak of God’s love, and this is driving some away from the Lord. In their harsh self-righteousness, my family throws down obstacle after obstacle so that many who would come to the Savior are repelled. The saddest thing in the world is that the unloving behaviors of those who think they represent God can keep people from turning to a completely loving God.

The Kingdom of God is open to any who will respond to God’s call. It is for anyone. It is for the sinner, the hurting, the wounded, the shamed, the damaged, the bruised, the broken, the abandoned, and the broken-hearted. “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved!”

The simple truth is . . .

“He (Jesus) had no sin, but God made him become sin so that in Christ we could be right with God “ 2 Corinthians 5:21

This was truly the greatest legal transaction of all time. Christ took all that was wrong with us, all the sin we had committed, on Himself. He took every rape, every kidnapping, every harsh word, every sexual sin, every evil thought, every unkind word, every murder and every sin that has ever been committed or will be committed. He took ALL of that on Himself and gave us the relationship He has with the Father. We were on death row and He traded places with us!

Would you like to step into a perfect, clean and pure relationship with God the Father? All you have to do is accept the gift from Jesus that He has already paid for. You just have to receive it. What a gift! He says it’s yours. For the taking. Repent and believe. Jesus does the rest. Because He loved you so…

Mark Phelps

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving, Joy and Peace

It occurred to me that today might be a good day to take a break from my blog. And reach out to all of you who read this work. Because you are on my heart every time I write. I know the holidays can be a hard time for those of us who came from abuse, so I have been thinking about you all even more.

What I’ve been thinking is how thankful I am for all of you.

I’m thankful for those of you reading this blog who are simply trying to understand my family and the dark story behind what they have been teaching. You are truth seekers and that is so important when combating any lies. I feel especially sad for those of you who have been caught in their cross fires and hurt. I pray you will receive some healing from all they’ve taught.

I’m grateful for you who are caregivers of those who have gone through abuse. Some of you are learners who are seeking to understand more what goes on in the hearts of those who have been abused. Some of the people you are loving through this are people very close to you: your spouses, your best friends, your co-workers and even your children. I pray this blog will provide some new truth or wisdom to help you hang in there with your loved ones as they are becoming whole again. It hurts to go through it and can hurt to watch it. Blessings on your work!

And I am exceedingly grateful for all of you who, having been abused yourselves, are bravely trying to go forward in your lives toward healing. This is hard work! What I want to do right now is just pour all kinds of beautiful truth into your cup until it overflows. I want to tell you that what happened to you does not define you; that you are a precious, beautiful, amazing human being; that your dreams still matter and that some of your dreams may still be fulfilled.

I want to say that while healing is hard it is worth it. It is worth it because some of you have a cup that has been dirtied by an abuser. Or is filled up with lies about who you are and how valuable you are, to all of us . . . and to God. Sometimes we have to get the poison out of our cups before we can truly receive the truth about how amazing we really are. I am very grateful for your bravery in seeking healing.

So many of you are on this healing journey and I am thankful for each one of you. I know it is a hard journey. I’ve been on it. But I know what it’s like to finally be at peace in your soul, and how wonderful it is to be able to smile at today and its blessings. I am grateful for you who have taken the first step and told someone something. Even though it is only a part of your story, Bravo for that first step!

I am grateful for those of you who have done some healing, took a break , but now realize there is more healing that needs to be done. I am grateful you are bravely taking the next step. Perhaps you are ready to tell more of your story. Or perhaps you are ready to tell all of your story; ready to tell it to someone who is safe and able to hear your story in full. Blessings to you as you bring more light into your life. As you let light shine in the darkness you will feel burdens being lifted from your soul. It will be a wonderful feeling for you as you reach those points.

Even with progress the painful feelings can still be present with you. In fact, as you have probably experienced, the pain gets worse, and then even worse, before it gets better. But the hope begins to enter your heart eventually and then it comes more and more. At times you may feel like there is no end and the pain will always be your reality. But as you continue and press in more and more, normal feelings emerge more and more and eventually you have longer periods of peace and your joy becomes broader and deeper.

I urge you to stay the course to the end so your cup can be full to overflowing with joy. Keep pursuing and continue reaching out to those who love you and want to support you. Though it can be so painful and seems so slow, the light will come and peace and calm become more and more the reality of your life. Once your heart begins to heal you can’t fool it like you could in the earlier days because you have tasted the hope and the joy and the freedom from what binds you. Stay with it and your life will only get better. You will have more and more to be thankful for.

Mark Phelps

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Let The One Who Has No Sin Cast The First Stone

In my mind I am back on 12th Street and Orleans in Topeka, Kansas, at Westboro Baptist Church, where I grew up.

I am picturing the night I walked out of my childhood home, taking an item or two at a time and placing them in a laundry basket in the trunk of my car until the last item is in the basket. Then I walked out, got in the car and drove away.

My body left but the gripping terror and wretchedness remained.

I had nightmares for years. The theme of the nightmares always centered on the streets around my childhood home which was a part of the church building at Westboro Baptist Church. 12th Street. Orleans. Churchill. Cambridge. In my dream I would be driving on one of these streets and come near to the family church building/house. My father, Fred W. Phelps, Sr., and my family would rush out to grab me and in my frantic frenzy to get away my car would not start or would not drive forward or the engine would die and I would get trapped by my family. Then my father would drag me inside and beat me. The stark terror was horrendous as I woke from each nightmare.

In the years after I left our family home I could not ever imagine having to see this haunting building again or being on the streets near my house. There was no way I could feel safe in that location in Topeka Kansas. I had seen such brutality there. I could not imagine being alone with my father because I knew if I ever was I would not survive. In a rage he would beat me until I was dead.

That was my nightmare . . . my fear. And it felt real. Very real! Because I knew my father wanted me dead! He told me so with his own words.

Then I did years of healing work. The ‘God who heals’ was with me in the healing and He slowly, ever so gradually, over many years, took the fear and turned it to peace.

A few weeks ago I was in Kansas City working on a documentary about my brother Nate and his present work to help others who have been abused by religion. As innocently as could be the producer of the documentary announced we were going to drive to Topeka and do some filming in Topeka. He said he wanted to do some filming in the Potwin area of town and then he wanted to go to the street by Westboro Baptist Church and do some filming.

I had forgotten all my fears and was astonished to realize . . . I was not flooded with anxiety or an adrenaline rush of fear. Being on 12th Street and turning up Orleans next to the church building; parking just beyond the old driveway I had driven into 1000 times; walking down Orleans toward 12th Street. I experienced no terror! In fact, no fear at all! And all the while the church building/home where I spent all my growing up years was right in front of me.

The hateful signs, the beautiful grass that I used to mow with my brother Fred Jr., the trees that have grown tall these past 40 years since I was last there; it was all surreal, but peaceful for me. The streets seem about half as long as I remember and more narrow than I recall. The distance from 12th street to Churchill is much shorter than I recall. All of it was strangely familiar but the strangest, and most wonderful, part of all was the peace I felt and the freedom I had from terror.

It was an amazing thing to be standing as a free person in front of the place where the nightmares had for years gathered their substance. And to realize that power to hurt me, to strangle the life out of me was just…gone…The Lord had truly broken the power “The Place” had to hurt me. There is a verse in Psalm 10 where the writer is crying out for God to help him fight against wicked people. The writer asks God to break the arm of the wicked. Not a fainthearted prayer! At the very end of the psalm the psalmist realizes God is listening to his prayers and responding. He acknowledges that God is doing “justice to the fatherless and the oppressed one that the man of the earth may terrify no more.” I realized that was true for me! God had made it so that my father could terrify me no more! I had been set free.

My God has restored my heart and my soul at the deepest levels possible. Over the years of healing God has gone with me into all the horror, terror, brokenness and anger and He has walked with me through all the child-like feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, despair and sadness and made all things new in my heart.

My focus that day, at 12th Street and Orleans, was on the conversation we enjoyed with the two wonderful people we met at Equality House which is located right across the street from my father’s church. They chose that location as a way to express symbolically their mission of reaching out to and helping individuals who are being brutalized and hurt by the hateful behavior of others. I am so proud to know these individuals and so impressed with their hearts of compassion. I wish you could see their desire to serve and help those who are victims of hate and violence. The victims they have helped, they told me, include some of my nieces and nephews who are experiencing abuse at their schools because of the hatefulness of their family.

The hateful signs displayed this day in the front of the house/church where I grew up proclaim the same hate we lived with on the inside of that house/church all the years we were growing up and that was hard-wired into my brain as a young child. But now, and for years now, the hate and violence and abuse have been turned outward onto society at large, including targeting the innocent and vulnerable.

I was glad when I comprehended even more fully the work my brother Nate is doing to reach out to and try to help these innocent and vulnerable people, and quite pleased to be a little part of his work.

This experience confirms for me, again, the light and hope that comes from love in contrast to the despair that comes from hate. I am reminded again how the Bible says God is love and all love originates from God. God is the restorer of broken hearts; He binds up the wounds and heals the hearts of all who turn to Him in faith. Hate is the work of Satan and healing is the work of God. Those who say they know God, and then act with hatred toward others, don’t really know God, because God is love. It is easy to read over the statement that God is love and miss its meaning in our lives. Said another way, it means if you are doing the work of God you will show love . . . because that is God’s character and His essence. If you are showing hate, to anybody, you are de facto NOT doing the work of God.

It is a miracle to me that I can now be at peace while standing next to the place on earth I once feared with all of my being. The healing hand of the Lord has done this work in my heart. This place and the fear I had living here had a gut-wrenching power over me. But the power of God broke that fear and its power over my heart and replaced the fear with peace and strength.

As I walked on Orleans toward 12th Street, with the house and church where I spent the first 19 ½ years of my life right beside me; when I saw their signs and flashing lights heaping hate and filth onto all who see; several questions began to stir in my heart. These questions have remained and I have been reflecting on them since my visit.

What all had God actually set me free from in my life?

What do I have in my life that is good that I haven’t been given as a gift?

What have I been set free to do in my life?

Who am I to judge another human being?

How am I to treat others, as a follower of Christ?

If Christ commanded me to love my enemies how can I justify hating anyone?

Can my response to God’s love be anything less toward others than the love God has shown me?

How does a person who has lost their way find their way back to God?

If I am not to judge others; how do I accomplish that and show others love instead?

Since Christ has commanded us to love our enemies and to do good to those who spitefully use us, we have no license from God to hate any human being. No matter what our personal views or feelings may be about the behavior or actions of another. We are free to love them because of the love and power of God in our hearts. But we have no right or permission to hate or condemn another human being. Not when we have been given eternal life when we deserved a death sentence.

Our privilege and responsibility; our response to the great love God has shown to us; is to testify about that love and the sacrifice He made when He gave His only Son to die in our place to pay for all of our sin and mistakes. We are witnesses to His great love and the work He did to save us. Because of that we are compelled to tell others so they can see and hear and understand the hope and the life that is in our God. He is light and life. This is our privilege – to testify to the greatest love the world has never known.

The terror and death put into my heart by my father controlled and consumed me for years. It took an awesome power and strength to change this in me. It took enormous strength and tenderness and kindness and love to enter into my heart and mind to undo the lies and the horrific terror. That’s the work the Lord has done in my life. Truly it has been an amazing work in my life and I am the recipient of it every day I am alive. God replaced all the poison and deadness that were buried deep in me with the fragrant beauty of his love and the luscious fruit of his Spirit, in the deepest part of my being. The fruit of hatred and evil is a poison to our souls – the fruit of our God is a delight; it is joy and peace. How can we not offer that joy and peace to others?! How can we not tell others of His great love and power and ability to heal and restore our lives?!

This is some of what I have learned about my God: God never calls it quits on His creation, ever, not on any of us! He is patient, kind, merciful, good, lowly and humble, gentle, always at peace, ready to help and to respond to our cries. He waits for us continually. He is not willing that any of us perish but that we all come to a true understanding of Him. I am so thankful my God did not quit on me before I had a chance to get to know Him, truly know Him.

As a child living in Westboro Baptist Church on 12th Street and Orleans, I lived out the hatred and meanness I learned from my father. I looked for opportunities to judge people and speak of a hateful, vindictive, mean god who was arbitrary and capricious and pernicious. Many people would respond and react negatively to this hateful, stinking poison that poured forth from my mouth and my life. But their responses did not change me. I expected their hate and anger! In fact I used the hateful angry responses to confirm I was on the right track. That is how I had been taught by my father. My father gave me a grading scale for Christians that said if you offend and mock people and they respond negatively, then you have succeeded with high marks.

It was not until the day when, instead of mocking and ridiculing and attacking (which I expected and was used to) a young lady in my junior English class told me ‘You don’t know the first thing about the God of love!’ That response stunned me and stopped me cold in my tracks. Then a few months later I met a young lady who knew this God of love and demonstrated this love to me. That was the beginning of God’s work in my life to change me. Thank God! Though it was many years later before the in-depth changes took place these experiences started me on the road to new life.

So I know the hate. I know the meanness. I know the desperate wretchedness that soaks deep into the fabric of the heart, and colors everything a horrible, ugly color. I know how it feels inside to believe and speak forth such hatefulness. I know the desperate despair and the need to conceal this despair with haughty arrogance! And how lost a person can get; swallowed up with the hate and meanness, and unable to escape. These were the memories that flashed through my mind as I walked on Orleans toward 12th Street. And I was taken back to what it had been like to be a part of my family and a part of their hate.

See, I remember needing to hate in order to stay safe from my father. Because to hate meant a child in my family could stay off of my father’s radar a bit. (Those of you who have read previous posts know this is precisely why my brother Nate was always in so much trouble with our father. Nate questioned the hate! Then and now!) And I remember how natural hating became for me, even if I did it out of self-preservation. It soon became my own hatefulness and meanness; it became who I was! And I remember how stuck I was in all of the hate and vicious treatment of others. As if my knowing the truth about God’s great salvation somehow gave me license to hate and condemn others. What a perversion. What deceitfulness.

Isn’t that whole lifestyle my family espoused pretty counter intuitive? Wouldn’t you expect people who supposedly feel immensely blessed by God to pass that beautiful blessing on to others? Instead of telling others about God’s great love and great salvation, I used this knowledge to be hateful and condemning of others! Can you imagine?! This really makes no sense if you haven’t experienced the power of hate from within, but it becomes a disease that consumes the person who is doing the hating. The destruction happens on the inside and moves outward.

Who better than those who have seen and tasted and known the love of God to spontaneously tell others of His love? How can someone who even knows the words of truth (even if it is not in their heart) twist that truth and speak such hate and lies?! But that’s how it was and that’s how it still is for my family who are lost in it. Apparently believing they are doing good and doing right. It shows how far lies and deceit can go when stark terror and darkness engulf a human heart; when your own father perverts the truth of God and turns His truths into lies.

I want to say, thankfully, that I am no longer compelled to hate as I once was. Now I am compelled to love others, no matter what. I can no longer justify hating any other person. I believe anyone who knows the truth and knows the living God will learn, if they have not already learned, they cannot hate another human being.

And please don’t tell me that condemning others by telling them they are not living up to the law of God is really showing them love. That won’t work with me; not anymore! Why? Because I know it is God’s kindness that changed me. And I know it is God’s kindness that leads me still, to change and turn towards him even more. It is God’s kindness and gentleness and compassion, experienced in very real ways that change any person’s heart and helps any person turn toward God. Not hatefulness! Not cruel condemnation! Not rancid displays of self-righteousness! It is God’s kindness and love that softens and changes our hearts and opens our mind toward the truth and the hope . . . and the love of God. Hatred shuts down a human heart. Love opens it up.

It is the work and power of the Holy Spirit that saves and rescues people from their propensity to choose sin over love and kindness. It is us telling others of God’s love and our need for His Son - THIS is the power of God that draws people to believe in Him and His goodness and kindness! Any other legalistic tripe only serves to harden the heart and push people away. And it should! You who know God and His love, you know well that it was and is God’s love that drew you and compels you to follow Christ. Not the law. Not meanness. Not judgmental attitudes. Not self-righteousness. Ever!

Christ said He was the end of the law. Following the law, i.e. following rules, was likened in the Bible to a school master helping children grow up. And the Bible says the following of the law helps to bring us to Christ. I know that is not an intuitively obvious thought! Reading the laws in the Old Testament and trying to live up to these laws; and failing; tends to bring despair. So how was bringing people to despair supposed to be a good thing? Legalism at its core is dumping a bunch of rules on people without giving them the power to obey those rules. And any of us who have been on the planet for long know that to love unloving people takes immense power. I would suggest it takes the power of God!

We don’t need the letter of the law. We need the Spirit! For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. There is a new law now: The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death.

Rules tend to make you feel bad, because invariably, no matter how hard you try, you cannot live up to them. And you can feel after a while like not even trying. So how on earth does this bring you to Christ? Well because when you realize you can’t live up to the rules, and that Christ came to pour love into your heart to give you the strength to do good things it hits you. That the following of rules tends to squeeze the life out of people . . . eventually. But having God’s love poured into your heart and living in the amazing freedom of being a son or a daughter of God is completely different!

One analogy the Bible uses to describe what happens when a person responds to God’s gift of eternal life is like going from a hired hand to a beloved son or daughter. A son or a daughter who is well loved lives their life from that security and love. Not from the fear of breaking a rule. THAT is what happens to people who come to Christ. They realize they can’t follow the rules, that they are always going to mess up, and they just ask Christ to pour life into them. With His life and love in you, you are free to love. It is an amazing feeling to have God’s love for someone when you previously have only had judgment for that person. It is SO freeing and SO good!

So the gift Christ gave us when he came to earth was that he lived sin-free, died on our behalf and was raised from the dead. When he accomplished that the law and its requirements were completed. Christ did what no one else could do. It brought people who wanted to back into a son/daughter relationships with God. Let’s tell people about this great salvation! Let us stop judging and condemning others. Let’s let God be God and let’s love people as we have been commanded to do.

When Christ comes into your life you are given a new identity. You become a beloved son or daughter. You have a new identity. And as you start living out that new identity you are going to think differently, act differently, and you are going to start loving people. You will! It is so fantastic to have God’s love pouring through you. You will be able to love people who were your former enemies. You will be able to act kindly toward them and do them good. And nobody will be more blown away by that than you!

You and I are not equipped to judge another person because we do not know their heart. We have no way of knowing the invisible magnificence of how God may be working in any other person’s life. God knows this. We don’t! We need to learn this lesson. He commands us to take the good news to the world. Not the law. Speak of the good news and stop judging people.

God is drawing people to Himself continually, gently, beautifully; and no other person can see this work of God from the outside until it blooms in the person’s heart. Let us love people as we have been commanded to do, all of us who know Christ personally. Let us stop judging and condemning and this very God of love and kindness and compassion may allow our love of somebody to be a part of His work as He draws the person to Himself. Reflect just for a moment, on how God drew you to Himself. Almost all of us remember people who reached out to us in the middle of whatever mess we had made of our lives and loved us. THAT is what drew us. Not their judgments.

I have spent years debating these matters in my own heart and mind. As a child I learned to hate; to use God and God’s word to hate others. My father taught me how to hate people! The very ones God made to be in relationship with him! My family still hates people on behalf of God to this very day. But now I know better. I have been given truth in place of the fear. I have been set free from the lies of my father by the truth my God has put in my heart. I no longer debate the question whether hatefulness is right or appropriate or condoned by the God of love. I know my God has left no room for hatred in my heart. His love has set me free to love others. I pray this for you too. It is so freeing to be set free from your own judgments of others! That is such a burden to bear and one you were never meant to carry.

The peace in my heart is palpable evidence of the healing work of my God! Being on 12th Street a few weeks ago and knowing I am loved by God and by people is a huge miracle in my life! And this God who healed my heart and put His peace in my heart . . . He is worthy of my honor and praise and glory toward Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!

The haunted house of my youth no longer haunts my soul. It no longer harms my heart. The power of God’s love has set me free to praise Him and to love others. And this change in my heart is something the Bible says will happen to us. One place it says “Anyone who believes in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone! The new has come!” When it happens to you, you really will feel like a new person on the inside.

The way God made me; I am unable to be at peace if my heart knows something is not true, because my brain won't work that way. So I know the peace I have in my heart comes from knowing the truth of God’s word, not just from working through hurt feelings that came out of my years in counseling. Working through my feelings of wretchedness was a gift to be sure. But the profound peace I now feel? That was the work of God. I now have an intimate relationship with the living Lord and that is what brings peace - and I know His heart – and His heart is love - and that brings peace deep within.

Christ said ‘If you hold to my teachings you are really my disciples and you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free’. I have held to Christ’s teaching, which is at its core to love people! That makes me his disciple. And that truth has really set me free. It is God’s word that has set me free and God’s healing hand on my life. And he has set me free for freedom’s sake. I am now free to love others.

So I say:

Love people. Love your neighbor as yourself! You know Jesus loves every single person as much as He does me and you. Instead of harboring hate for others we need to love every person and faithfully pray that every person will come to know Jesus!

Let us take another look at Christ and how he treated people. Christ went out of his way to love people who society said were unlovable. He sought out people who found themselves on the wrong side of the tracks, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of what the judgmental folks thought. And he seemed to relish doing this! Reaching out to the people others wouldn’t give the time of day to. As his children we need him. All of us need him. Our children need Him. And we need to love every person we meet, seek out the ones our society has decided to shun or condemn and when possible, testify to them about our Savior.

If we use the Old Testament law and its stiff requirements as a weapon against someone we believe is living in sin, perhaps we are forgetting the death and resurrection of Christ, and the power of His resurrection. Instead of using the law against someone we believe is living in sin, let’s tell them about our Savior. Forgetting to tell sinners about Christ is like forgetting to tell the drowning person there is a lifeboat. It just makes no sense not to tell others about the great work Christ did to save people.

And while we are at it, let’s remind ourselves that we were once sinners ourselves, by nature, and if I am not mistaken most of us have sinned by lunchtime. If we are willing to have all this compassion for ourselves we must have it for others or we are hypocrites. Jesus had more to say about hypocrites than most of his warnings. Christ had immense compassion for people who found their lives in shambles. That was not the problem. What he did not put up with are people who acted as if they were better than the ones who admitted they needed help. We dare not fall into that trap. What we should choose to tell others (and ourselves!) is that this good news is the power of God to bring the gift of salvation to everyone who believes! Sin can be conquered but it gets conquered by God!

Perhaps we have misunderstood Jesus’ purpose in coming to this world – this power of God to forgive us for our sin and set us free from its consequences. Perhaps we have misunderstood what Christ actually did on the cross and how powerful its impact was on human beings. Oh I realize, we tend not to misunderstand what Christ did when he saved us. We are very willing to apply God’s great salvation generously to ourselves! We love God’s grace! We love his mercy! But perhaps we choose not to see this great saving work going on in another person’s life.

Or maybe if we’re honest we don’t really think the person who has just irritated or hurt us really deserves the second chance we were given by God. Have we considered the idea it is just barely possible that Christ has died for the exact person we are condemning?! Have we considered the possibility that we may be misapplying God’s word toward the person we believe is living in sin? Perhaps we would do better to concentrate on the 2 x 4 in our own eye and stop worrying about the splinter in the other person’s eye.

Even if we consider the person who is living in sin to be our enemy (for whatever reason, real or imagined), Christ leaves no room for hating, even room for hating our enemies. He did not leave that option on the table. We are to be like our Father in heaven here on the earth. Yes, we are to show others the love God shows us. Our Father in heaven makes His sun to shine on the just and the unjust alike! Therefore we are to love our enemies and do good to those who spitefully use us. Yes! Our marching orders while we are on this planet!

Perhaps we are offended by what we perceive as another person’s life of sin. Well I would like to say, we are no more offended than their creator! And what is their creator’s response to their sin? He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For He did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that through him the world might be saved. People . . . need the Lord! Before God’s final righteous judgment . . . People need the Lord!

The Bible has a warning about our judgments of others. One verse says “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” Do any of us really think this verse through? Do we realize any time we judge others for something we have done we are judging ourselves? We should be telling people about this gift of eternal life Christ came to offer us.

Those who do not know this salvation, and don’t know their identity as a son or daughter of God, may have cause for treating people hatefully. But surely those who know about this great gift God wants to give us do NOT have cause for treating people hatefully! Each of us has the potential to lose our perspective and become judgmental when we forget the great salvation with which we have been saved. Because it is a gift none of us deserves based on our actions! Have you noticed that after we get the gift of new life from Christ we start to think we deserve it? And think we’re somehow better than others who haven’t heard Christ’s truth? It seems absurd, I know, but there is this wretched tendency to think we deserve the gift!

When I use the word salvation I am meaning the gift of eternal life Christ gives to anybody who believes in Him. And once we accept this gift it doesn’t just mean we have an amazing life with him after our death, although that is certainly true. It also means God will begin work in our lives immediately to make us into new people on the inside. We will become people who love, who reach out to others, who help others, who don’t condemn others. The Bible says we will become new people. And it is true. I am a completely different person now than I was before I knew Christ. And it will be the same for you. You only need to respond to his gift of eternal life. No matter how messed up you think your life is. You just say yes to him.

Ephesians 2 makes it clear where we ALL come from. It says we are all spiritually dead. And need help to be revived spiritually. Christ provides the healing balm for all of us! Let’s not act as if Christ has never saved us. Let’s not act like this great salvation was our own idea or that we somehow deserved it, okay?! Let’s not act like our own sins were never forgiven and are not still having to be forgiven! Salvation belongs to the Lord. What this means is that God understood we were in a spiritually dead condition that only he could revive us from. It’s like a person who has just “coded” in the hospital taking credit for what the doctors and nurses did to revive him. And bragging about it! Let’s remember this great way God saved us was truly a gift and keep it forefront in our minds so we are able to love the people of this world! May we never misrepresent our Savior to others who need him!!

Christ had an interesting response to Peter when Peter cut off the ear of one of the soldiers taking Christ away to beat him and crucify him. When Peter took out his sword and cut his ear off Christ picked the man’s ear up and put it back on his head. What did Christ tell Peter then? He told him that people who live by the sword will die by the sword. He had to tell his disciples that fighting other people was never his way. And he certainly modeled the power of healing in the midst of a person’s crisis! We want to fight people and tell them off and make war with them. We are fighters. Christ teaches us to be healers and peacemakers and do the hard work of helping people who were once our enemies. Who could do this kind of work without him!?

It occurs to me that God is serious in His word when He tells his followers we are to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves. I know this does not come naturally to us. But the way I see it is, we are not of this world and our commission is to be ambassadors for Christ, standing in His place and saying to anyone we meet, both by our behavior and our words when necessary: ‘Be reconciled to God’.

The Bible says we are called to live our lives with humility. That we must continually realize that anything good we have we have received . . . from God! And we stand continually in need of God’s love and grace and mercy and kindness. Sometimes Christians act like we have forgotten we were saved and have forgotten our own need; the need we have and still have for Christ. Sometimes Christians act like we don’t know Christ at all! If we Christians are doing okay it is only because of our Savior. It is not because of our doing a bunch of good things that we have been saved, or keep ourselves saved!

2 Peter 1:5-9

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

This is God’s plan to protect us as Christians from becoming nearsighted and blind! He expects us to grow in beautiful traits of goodness, and affection and love. And if we don’t grow in those things he tells us it can get to the point where we are almost blind in our understanding and it’s as if we had never been saved.

When we condemn a sinner, or pronounce judgment on a sinner we are no different than the Pharisees who were ready to stone the woman taken in the very act of adultery. God has given all of us a second chance. We are happy to receive our second chance aren’t we?! And God is faithful and just to provide for cleansing from unrighteousness when we sin after we have been saved, if we confess our sin. Have we not each been blessed by this incredible gift of grace, at least once or twice since we were first saved from our sin?

Why, then, are we so reluctant to allow this same grace and mercy for others?! Christian brother or sister, let’s examine ourselves honestly and see if this is something we have allowed in our thinking. The next time (today or tomorrow at the latest) we find ourselves struggling with some sin, let’s remember how God responds to us when we sin, even after we are born again. Let’s not presume we are righteous by our own might and power. Let’s remember the same power by which we were drawn to our Savior and rescued from death . . . this same power is available for the sinner we are condemning.

Let’s faithfully offer that salvation, that free gift, and cease from condemnation and judgment! The Lord must continually change us to be more like him. Others who we may perceive as dirty sinners need the same salvation we have received and will need the same cleansing work we find ourselves in need of.

Let the one who has no sin cast the first stone of hateful, incriminating, rejecting, crushing, shaming, accusing, indicting, shunning, terrifying, lethal condemnation, contempt and judgment! It only hurts when you are on the receiving end of a big jagged stone. Think twice before casting such stones at others.

So great a love my heavenly Father has lavished upon me that I should be called His child; His son. Such an amazing gift compels me to love others without exception and without reservation. I keep in the forefront of my mind the great love my heavenly father has for me, and all he has brought me through. God demonstrated his own love toward us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. God’s love changes everything!

By keeping God’s love in mind, and remembering how gracious and loving He has been toward me, I try to never forget his great love and his great offer of salvation for others. When I remember what my heavenly father has saved me from and reflect on how much he loves me, I cannot hate or condemn another human being. I must not! I must REMAIN unable to condemn another human being in the very face of the love my God has shown me.

When I went back to my childhood home a few weeks ago I realized how many stones had been cast at me when I lived there. My father had cast the first stone of hatred and brutality toward me and just kept casting them for all of my 19 ½ years until I was one day able to walk away. I had never once been shown love by my father. And he kept preaching that hate from the pulpit hoping to draw me back into the fold of hate, but his plan failed. God gave me the power to walk away from the grip of "The Place".

I realized as I stood there I had had a 40 year break from home. And in that break God had turned my life upside down. Cleaned out lethal poison from my soul and replaced it with His kind of love. And the love He has given me is that one that wants to reach out to anybody I meet. And I hope when I do, I am able to say, to anyone I have the opportunity: “I ask you to come to God, in Jesus name, for he loves you more than you will ever know.”

Mark Phelps