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