How Do Normal People End Up In A Cult?

 

If by ‘normal’ you mean well-adjusted people who came from nurturing, caring environments with loving, accepting parents and family then those people do not become members of cults.  It’s those with damaged hearts and souls who appear normal on the outside, usually because of a lifelong ability to ‘keep calm and carry on’ and ‘keep up appearances’, who become cult members.

It is more than your sanity is worth to actually speak up about the pain you experienced from your own family.  So you learn from an early age to be like everyone else.  Most people are not perceptive enough to notice that you are ‘different’ to them, so most of the time it works. However, other people still end up getting the sense that something is not quite right, so you are kept on the outer rim of friendship groups or other groups of people.  That rejection, which has occurred in your life since childhood just keeps on reinforcing the pain you have felt that you are somehow damaged and ‘not normal’ and in your own mind and broken heart, there is a strong need to be approved of.  By somebody, anybody.  Hence the perfect cult victim is created.

I want to stress here that the need to be accepted and loved is absolutely normal.  Every human being is born with this need. You are not abnormal because this need is not met.  You are the result of the actions of those who should have loved but did not.  Recognising this begets the ability to find the source of all love and acceptance and that is Jesus Christ.  We come to Him and He is able to wipe away every tear, to take the burdens we have carried our whole lives and to minister to our broken hearts.  It is, I stress, the God of the Universe, who both fashioned our souls and saved them from destruction, who is the source of all healing and help.  NOT men. Obviously the problem occurs when we conflate men with God and think that pastors or elders should be given the same authority as God in their lives.  God never expects this, it is not biblical, nowhere in scripture does God give men that authority.  Scripture says there is one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ.  No other.  This idea that men and God are one actually comes from the child within.  Our understanding of the fact that a loving human father is not God should come about naturally so that the attachment to our fathers is not damaged.  When we have abusive fathers the realisation that our fathers are not God doesn’t occur the way it should.  Not only are we not loved, but we are abused by the very person who should be caring for us. So we blame God instead of the man.  This leads either to being addicted to religion and religious leaders or it leads to atheism. The reason cults are so intriguing is because they appeal to people’s needs to be accepted, loved, and controlled.

Nobody asks to be born.  A parent makes that choice – to become a parent.  It is therefore their responsibility, as an adult, to take care of the baby they brought into the world.  It is such a common-sensical thing to say, yet so many people in the world do not have that sense.  They actually think that they can treat their children however they wish and there will be no consequences to that.  These parents either have no consciences or they simply choose to go against them.  I personally do not buy the lie that most psychologists peddle that ‘hurt people hurt people’.  This is a never ending cycle without a beginning and without an end, without a purpose and without a solution.  Life itself teaches us that nothing comes from nothing.  Therefore, abuse must start somewhere, and it can also end in the same place, in the mind and heart of an individual.  An individual who chooses to abuse their privileged position as a parent will always reap what they sow.  They reap destruction and pain and chaos.  This is why we have cults and it is also why apparently normal and sane people join them.

I am not a therapist nor a qualified psychologist, but I have studied the subject during university courses and done enough independent study myself to understand a thing or two. I also have my own personal experiences and those of the people I knew from years prior to joining the cult who changed before my eyes.  I have tried to talk these people out of being part of the cult and they have totally refused to listen or to admit that what is happening to them is harmful.  They won’t listen when I tell them what happened to us, they simply tell me that ‘it has nothing to do with us, go and talk to the elders’.  They ignore the decades worth of friendship that we had had previous to the cult membership and refuse to listen to a heartfelt plea from a genuine friend.  Instead, they prefer to cover their ears, avert their eyes and ‘keep calm and carry on’.

Ironically, the reason why this wartime mantra and form of brainwashing was inculcated into the British public was because they were in a constant state of panic and trauma.  Bombs were falling, the universe was being destroyed, but they were supposed to pretend everything was normal and carry on.  If they had not been zombified by the wartime government, they would have rebelled. No sane person wants to participate in war unless there is an alternative.  The British Government ensured that their citizens were reassured that their leaders were in control. This is exactly what cult members are told.  ‘Nothing to see here’, when somebody escapes or tries to tell them what heinous crimes the leaders of the cult have just performed.  They go to their ‘fathers in the faith’ and are reassured that everything is just as it should be. So they ignore what their own senses and minds tell them.  They ‘unknow’ the truth.  Scripture tells us that those who have no love for the truth will be sent a strong delusion.  Yes, these verses relate to the Anti-Christ, but every cult leader is a type of anti-christ and has the spirit of rebellion and apostasy over it.  Everyone who ‘greets false teachers’ will be sharing in their wickedness.  It is important for everyone who exits a cult to repent and renounce the involvement with the false teaching that John talks about in 2 John 1:10.

 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2 Thessalonians 2 (NKJV)

I also know that many of my friends came from ‘negative childhoods’.  Their families were abusive, their childhoods were disrupted.  So they had been looking for belonging, love, and parenting their whole lives.  What many church leaders do, and this is across the board regardless of denomination, is take the place of absentee fathers or abusive mothers.  They take the reins of a person’s life, tell them what to do, reassure them, in short they control them rather than teach them to be independent and to go to God for their support and needs.  The body of Christ is nothing without Jesus.  He is our reason for existence, and the Holy Spirit is our power and strength.  Human beings cannot give us what we are looking for, but because as new Christians we are told that we should join a church and get the help we need from older more mature Christians, many of us end up in unhealthy churches run by control freaks and psychopaths who revel in the fact that their congregations are simply putty in their hands.

People want to be told what to do because they genuinely believe that other human beings can take the place of God in their lives.  They conflate human parenting and the fatherhood of God himself and assume that if they just do what the pastor or elders tell them to do, God will be pleased with them. But God is not interested in having His people become co-dependent upon human beings.  He told Israel, when they asked for a human king to lead them, that a human king would rip them off, send their children to war and destroy their lives.  They would not listen, so God provided them with Saul.  And it happened exactly as God said that it would.  The Israelites were ripped off by their human king.  (1 Samuel 8)

It is still happening today.  People want, for their own personal reasons, to be lead by a man.  So men lead them.  Those men, who were often never even supposed to be in that place at all, end up becoming corrupt and wicked and end up wallowing in all kinds of carnality, greed, sexual impurity, crimes of all sorts.  Then the people become damaged and offended by this behaviour, as well they should.  But what they don’t do is look at why they followed these men in the first place.  Everyone who exits a cult needs to understand how it was that they gave their loyalty to men so easily. Then they need to understand how it was that they were unable to see the abuse for what it was.  It was because they were deceived and led astray by their own sinful flesh.

So does this mean its our own fault if we end up in a cult?  Yes and no.

A man’s sin is his own, and elders and pastors who abuse the flock will be held accountable by God for their sins.  They will be judged harshly for leading the vulnerable astray and many of them will end up eternally punished.  It is not a light or easily dismissed thing to abuse God’s people.  He will avenge them and Himself.

However, we also need to recognise our own blindness.  We need to see how it is that we were so easily led astray and how it was that we were unable to recognise abuse when it was right in front of our eyes.  Many of the people who have left BCF, the cult we were part of (Brisbane Christian Fellowship), have admitted that they knew that the Holy Spirit was trying to get their attention a long time before they actually had the courage to leave.  Most people, I believe, know when something is not right.  They just don’t want to do anything about it in the hopes that it will all go away. But it doesn’t.  It just gets worse.

I have been asked a few times how it was that I ended up in a religious cult for 15 years.  People don’t understand how you can be so sane and yet have made such stupid decisions.  The problem is, I am sane now, I wasn’t then, and they didn’t know me back then.  So what they are seeing is me as the post-brainwashed person.  A pre-brainwashed person is completely different. I used to have terrible panic attacks several times a day.  I would wake up at 3.30 a.m. with my heart pounding and my stomach churning for no apparent reason.  I was just scared of getting another attack.  It took 20  years to finally realise what was happening to me, and it was because the upbringing I experienced was so traumatic. One of the books I read years later was by Sallee McLaren, a melbourne psychologist.  She states that:

One thing that I think needs to be noted is that it is not a coincidence that almost every person I see in my anxiety clinic has come from a ‘difficult’ background. A difficult background simply means that objectively a person has, on average, experienced more distressing events in her or his childhood than other people have experienced. These events could be all sorts of things, like parental separation or divorce, death of someone close, serious illness, school bullying, excessive parental criticism, physical or sexual assault, excessive moving from place to place, or over-protection from parents (which teaches children that the world is a frightening place that they need protection from, and, which also teaches children that they cannot trust themselves and depend upon their own resources and, therefore have to be rescued or over-protected).  Dr. Sallee McLaren’s Blog

I was not able to function as a ‘normal’ adult anymore because the old ‘keep calm and carry on’ mantra no longer worked.  I did the opposite.  I began to feel what my body had been telling me to feel for 20 years.  I panicked and froze and was not able to carry on in any way shape or form. So I began looking for answers.  My first response was to go to church leaders and counselors. Some of these people were genuinely ignorant of what panic disorder is and back in the early 80s there really were very few people who had even heard of it.  Nobody was able to tell me why I was living with totally frayed nerves and yet managing to ‘keep calm and carry on’.  It took a huge toll.

It really is no surprise that five years later I was involved in a religious cult.

I know that this will not be a popular suggestion.  Cult victims should be given sympathy and compassion.  I did not say I didn’t feel sympathy and compassion for cult victims.  I have been feeling sympathy and compassion for my friends in the cult for over 30 years.  It has not helped them though.  I have also seen people who have left the cult try every type of means to recover from their experiences, and the only way I have seen which has any genuine effect is to take a hard look at your own personal experience and work out how it was that you stayed in a cult when you were under so much pressure and feeling so much pain and rejection and loneliness.  The big question is not how you got there, the big question is why did you stay?

So next time you hear a cult victim talk about their experiences, don’t wonder at how such an obviously intelligent person can get themselves involved in a religious cult and be so deceived.  Realise that we are not just walking intellects.  We have hearts and souls which need to be fed and nurtured. And when those needs are not met, we suffer greatly. We will do anything to stop the pain, anything.  We will go to anyone who offers us love and acceptance. The leaders of cults are almost invariably psychopaths and conscienceless individuals who take up their mantles for the very reason that so many vulnerable and hurting people will accept their lies and egotistical behaviour and think they are some kind of messiah.  They want and need a messiah, but the person they really need is Jesus.  These men and women will not lead them to Jesus, they will just suck the life and money out of them until they can give no more and then they will broom them to the kerb.

 

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Thought Trees

 

Further to my post yesterday about our minds and imagination, listen to neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf talking about how our brains and minds work and how thoughts are not just non-physical and unimportant puffs of nothing that evaporate and never do any harm.

Proof that if we follow the Word of God and obey it, we will literally know life and blessing.

My son, give attention to my words;
Incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Do not let them depart from your eyes;
Keep them in the midst of your heart;
22 For they are life to those who find them,
And health to all their flesh.
23 Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.
24 Put away from you a deceitful mouth,
And put perverse lips far from you.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead,
And your eyelids look right before you.
26 Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.
27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:20-27

Mind Washing

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We use our imaginations all the time.

And we don’t think anything of it… pardon the pun.

We have been told since we were children that using our imaginations is a great thing.  Even Sesame Street told us to do it.  Willy Wonka told us that living in our imagination we would be free.  But he was a fashion challenged recluse with the moral compass of a sewer rat so we will give ourselves permission to discard his advice.

We use our imaginations in the same way a wind surfer uses his sailboard.  We know where we want to go, we just make our thoughts go in that direction.  I remember as a child reading a book by Monica Dickens, the granddaughter of Charles Dickens.  She was writing a semi-autobiographical account of the various jobs she had had as a child and she talked about the ‘endless possibilities of the inside of one’s own head’.  That quote stuck with me because it resonated.  As a child, I spent most of my free time either reading or imagining other places where I would not have to face the daily pain I lived with. It is where I learned to hide my true thoughts and desires, and in fact to hide my true self.  It is where in fact I found that I could be totally at peace because nobody else could control me there, I was king of my own thoughts.

The only trouble with imagination is that it is driven by our hearts and if our hearts are corrupt then so our imagination will be. I was not saved at that point, so my thoughts were corrupt.  But I had developed a stronghold there almost literally.  So much so that when I was much older and living in a cult, that stronghold became even moreso my place of refuge. God had been replaced by evil overlords claiming to be his representatives.  So when it came time to recognise that this stronghold was in fact defiling me and was not God’s will for my life, the struggle to let go was enormous.  It wasn’t until I began to experience physical reactions to the many emotional struggles I had in my imagination that I realised what it was doing to me.  My mind was not just a stronghold, it became a ‘mighty tower’ the very thing that scripture tells us is the place that God is supposed to inhabit. I had made an idol out of my imagination.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
The righteous run to it and are safe.

Proverbs 18:10

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

Psalm 91:2

I was doing some research on witchcraft recently and read something which really piqued my interest.  I was intrigued by a video by a Christian lady who had been a witch before she was saved. This lady explained how she used to work and I thought I would just check out whether this was real or not. I would not encourage visits to occult websites by the way, they are not somewhere anyone should spend a lot of time. A witch’s blog was describing that two of the main ingredients needed to cast spells are strong emotions and intent.  Apparently, demonic forces can be summoned simply by these two things and coupled with the words which are used, curses and spells can be cast over others.  Now the extent to which this is successful (or even viable) is beyond my ability or my desire to prove, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this was the case.  When Trump came to power in the U.S., there were a bunch of witches who used pictures of him coupled with various wiccan accoutrements to curse his person and presidency.   I would imagine there was a great deal of intense emotion and intent behind those spells.

Imagination often elicits strong emotion, and of course we use intent to control our imaginations.  We picture what we want to picture in our minds and make the characters say and do what we desire.  It is a potent mix, and one which human beings have used to their destruction and blessing. The imagination can create horrific scenarios as well as things which are of great benefit to ourselves and others.

Scripture gives us a great deal of direction when it comes to our thoughts.  Romans 12:2 tells us not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can know the good, perfect and acceptable will of God.  In fact, we are also urged to ‘have the mind of Christ’ by Paul.

For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:16

Romans 8:6 tells us that to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  That right there friends is the prescription to end depression.  I don’t say this lightly because I have struggled with depression since I was a child.  But I also know that anti-depressants are not going to fix what ails us as human beings.  We are carnally minded if we don’t have the mind of Christ and if we are not born again.  We need to be cleansed by the washing of the water of the Word (Ephesians 5:26).

The word of God calls us to be sober-minded, to be single-minded and to be sound-minded.  We are to be of the same mind towards one another and to be like-minded and to set our minds on things that are above. These are all clear and direct calls to train our minds and our imaginations to godliness.

Further, we are told that we are to bring every thought to captivity to Christ.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:

(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)

Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.

2 Corinthians 10

These are serious words to consider and digest.  Our imaginations are not our own, although we often keep our deepest imaginings secret from others.  In truth, much of what goes on in our imaginations if it were brought to light would be pretty shameful.  I know that my imagination has been having a field day over the years until God showed me only recently that in fact we can be defiled by our thoughts.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.

Romans 8:5-7

If you do a word study of defilement in the bible, you will see that in the Old Testament there seem to be three main ways you could be defiled, through dead bodies, through blood and through idol worship.  There were other ways which involved mixture and eating wrong foods as well.  But in the New Testament, Jesus said that it was not what went into a man that defiled him but what was in his heart.

When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

17 When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. 18 So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” 20 And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Mark 7

As you can see, evil thoughts come from the heart of a man, or his mind.  We can be defiled by the sins which occur in our imaginations.  Jesus told us that even if a man lusts after a woman in his heart he has already committed adultery or fornication with her. This is powerful stuff.  It means that the Bible is telling us something that even practitioners of occult works understand and use to their own and other people’s detriment.  If we think a thing as far as God is concerned it is already done.  If our intentions are to sin and we imagine that sin and presumably ‘feel’ that sin, then we have sinned.

Therefore, imagination is a potent tool which is not to be toyed with.  Nor can we own our imaginations and claim that we can play around inside our own minds without being accountable to God for what passes through them or what stays and is employed by us to act out various fantasies.

Every thought leads to an action.  Even imaginary ones.  Our actions may be those of omission rather than commission.  For example, if you are spending so much time imagining revenge on an enemy and not giving your attention to things that require it, you will make mistakes, miss things, not do your work properly, or even cause an accident.  I can’t tell you the numbers of times I have been mentally absent whilst driving because I was imagining a conversation in my head and not paying attention to the road.  In fact on one occasion, I ‘came to’ about ten minutes down the road and didn’t realise I had missed my turn off and took a second to realise where I was.  Now that is dangerous. I realised I had gone through several traffic lights and couldn’t even remember whether I had stopped at them or not.  What if I had run a red light?  Fortunately, it was a country road in the middle of the day so it was fairly quiet, but at peak hour?

Our imaginations can be used in godly ways.  Really though, it is probably better if we don’t spend too much time in our imagination at all.  In fact, even reading fiction can be a problem. We can lose ourselves in a novel, even a Christian one, and what we are doing is actually spending time in somebody else’s mind.  A creepy thought.  We might think that these are just words on a page, but actually they are creating something in our imaginations.  Our imaginations are powerful. Words are even more powerful. Both evoke emotions and change the way we think and act.  If we assume that we have ownership over both and don’t submit to the Word on these matters, we will not only allow sin to creep in and have power over us, we may even be walking into witchcraft without realising it.

People who have been through severe psychological trauma, whether that is brought on by physical, sexual or psychological abuse, will often ‘space out’, or disassociate at odd times. Psychologists claim that the mind can’t tolerate anything which is too overwhelming, especially if it is the mind of a child.  When things become too much to deal with our minds can shut off during those events and also afterwards when reminded of them. If the trauma is especially severe, the mind blanks out all memory of them. One of the things that can happen to trauma survivors is that they can space out via the use of their imaginations as I have just described.  While these behaviours can be understood in the light of what we have been through as children and as adults,  we can know that Jesus is able to help us in the midst of these episodes.  If we truly want to give him our lives and our whole being, body, mind, will and emotions, and that includes our imaginations, then He can both heal, renew, wash with His blood and change the way we think and the way we act.  This is both the reality and the hope we have as believers. It is one thing to recognise and understand why our minds and imaginations can be used to shield ourselves during an abusive episode, but we must remain vigilant once we realise what we are doing.  We are responsible for our thoughts and we can control them.

I don’t want anybody reading this to think that genuine soul and mind change is only true on paper.  It is real.  The key though is that only God can give us a revelation of how our imaginations can defile us.  Some things, like sexual sin, are obvious.  But other things, like using our imaginations to comfort or help us to deal with stress, triggers or other overwhelming things, need to be given to Jesus Christ along with the knowledge that “in the multitude of my anxieties within me , your comforts delight my soul”.  Psalm 94:19.

Jesus not only wants to deal with mind sin, he wants to wash our minds clean.  We used to be brainwashed in the cult.  That is the exposure to manipulation via words to think a certain way dictated to by other men or women.  Mind washing is the cleansing through the blood of Jesus and His Word, the healing of the effects of the sins of others and also the sins we continue to commit against ourselves and God.  Mind washing is imperative if you have been believing false doctrine for any length of time and especially so if it has changed the way you see God The Father, or Jesus.  Trauma can cause us to close off to God and believe He doesn’t care for us.  Those strongholds which form because we are shielding ourselves from the abuse of false doctrine can be empowered by demonic forces.  It feels like it is a safe place for us but in fact it is a prison.  Jesus told us He came to set the prisoners free and to heal the broken hearted (Luke 4:18 and Isaiah 61:1). It truly is the answer to the pain and brokenness we have experienced through the sins of others against  us.

Don’t use your imagination as a stronghold of comfort from suffering or as a mighty fortress against the enemy.  God alone has that right and place for His people.  If we name Jesus as the name above all names, and He is our Saviour, then we need to submit our imaginations to Him and allow Him to cleanse our minds.

Hallelujah.

 

Further Reading on this blog: By Hook or By Crook

 

 

 

Why I Hate Santa Claus

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The other day, my husband and I were walking through town when the local fire brigade/ambulance contingent blasted down the main street, deafening sirens blaring in staccato bursts and a dishevelled Santa Claus waving vaguely on the back of the fire engine. I cringed. While other more friendly, less Santa-phobic members of our community tooted their car horns and waved in response, I walked quickly in the opposite direction and generally tried to avoid having to make eye contact with the parade. They passed swiftly, thank God, but it brought back some very uncomfortable memories of my hate/hate relationship with Father Christmas.

I am not sure if this is just an introvert thing, but I have always disliked anyone using grotesque costumes to hide their true identity, even in a good cause. Admittedly, Father Christmas would hardly seem grotesque to most, but in fact there are very few genuine looking Santas around the place, most looking like they got dressed in a locker with their eyes shut, sporting nylon beards and faces which frankly resemble anything but a jolly old man.

As a very small child, I was once accosted by a Santa Claus whilst sitting in the car-park of our local shopping mall. I was in the back seat of the family car, my little brother beside me, my older sister in the front seat. I watched him weave around the car park poking his heads into car windows with growing dread. Eventually, he came up to us and tried to hand us some lollipops. I panicked. Then I dropped behind the front seat of the car, pretending to look for something under the seat, and trying desperately to avoid eye contact with the guy. My brother seemed less concerned, and my sister tried to explain my ‘behaviour’ to the Claus pretender. I stayed on the floor of the car until the clone got the message and decided to move on. My sister chastised me afterwards for being so shy, but in my mind, this person was an intruder.

As I grew so did my litany of characters to avoid. It wasn’t just Santa Claus, it was the Easter Bunny, clowns, mime artists, people pretending to be statues in the park, or anyone getting in my face and attempting to sell me something in shopping malls. As a child, as a teen, as an adult, these people have been the bane of my life. Frankly I don’t find Christmas characters or even Christmas stuff generally to be that enjoyable. I avoid choirs of small children in shopping malls, people dressed as christmas fairies in shopping malls, huge crowds of people in shopping malls, shopping malls. All of these things are hell at any time, but at Christmas they become hell with muzac.

It’s not that I don’t like music, or celebrating, I just have a great deal of appreciation for subtlety, and authenticity, and I have a pathological fear of pretenders of any stripe. Put it down to having grown up with a mother who took great delight in behaving like Martha Stewart in front of company, but became the Wicked Witch of the East when there were no witnesses, and perhaps it will explain the way I detest pretense. I guess I just don’t enjoy over-the-top performers and that includes circus acts or anything strange and surrealistic.

I discovered some years ago that, pre-Rome, Christmas was originally about some other semi-religious pagan festival, and not about Jesus at all. I think it was Ceasar Augustus who morphed the two celebrations together more for reasons of political convenience than any similarities between the two. Most pagan festivals have some sort of mythological icons which represent the festival itself. Spring festivals focus on gods and goddesses of fertility, winter festivals focus on spirits of death and life and so forth. For us though, the whole Christmas thing has focused on Saint Nicholas/Father Christmas/Santa Claus, the man with the sack of presents, giving to children and the poor and unfortunate. The idea of the cold and stark mid-winter being blessed with a spirit of wealth and generosity is entirely satisfying. For those of us in Australia, its the barbeque and surf angel who is celebrated moreso than the guy with the sack of toys. Santa Claus is merely a token of our Victorian past, as he has become with most western nations. His ubiquitous nature at this time of year is taken for granted. Most people just nod and laugh when they see Santa Claus’ helpers sweating in their synthetic garments and stumping around the shopping malls and streets of our major cities. A lot of children think he is wonderful, a lot don’t I have noticed. You still get the children who cry instinctively when confronted with a man hidden behind a bushy mound of rayon barbie doll hair. They look grotesque, and to a small child who doesn’t know the difference between surreal and real, they are frightening. I was one of those children, and the surreality has not diminished with age. I don’t care who thinks I am weird for not liking Santa Claus.

But Santa Claus represents to me all of the repellent aspects of Christmas. It’s not just the consumer-driven obsession with making everything ‘perfect’ for Christmas day. For me the spirit of this season is the spirit of excess not genuine love of our fellow men. That spirit,, benevolence and generosity, is far more visible at other times of the year, despite the loud protestations of tree-hugging politically correct do-gooders who insist that we should all adopt an ‘orphan’ so they will ‘know that it’s Christmas’. A genuine do-gooder will be led by their better angels to reach out to others in need at times when it is less popular but far more necessary.

Charity does not only begin at home, it begins in the heart, and the heart is changed more completely by still small voices, not frightening or shaming ones. Not angels, not spirits of Christmas past or Christmas present (was Dickens making a play on words here?) or Christmas future, not choirs of cherubic children, not big bearded men, not the expectations of others will truly change our lives or the lives of others. Maybe we are too invested in the idea that Christmas is the only truly ‘magical’ time of the year, a time of miracles and changes of heart. Maybe Scrooge is a far more appropriate icon of the yule tide than the fat red man. Scrooge was a skinny old man who came face to face with the supernatural (albeit in a dream), his own past, and his possible future demise. The threat of hellfire, a common Victorian peril, caused a miserable old man to change his behaviour. I would love to know how old Scrooge was on boxing day and how long his ‘change’ would have lasted. In my experience, real Scrooges don’t turn on a dime and become sweet-natured disabled-children-loving old men overnight and for no other reason than they were visited by the angel of death. Cranky old bastards tend to stay that way, Christmas or no Christmas.

I guess the main reason I hate Santa Claus is that my own childhood Christmases were fairly dismal. My mother, as I said, was more into what things looked like than what they were. As a child, I longed for genuine love and generosity, moreso than gifts and food, but a gift well given is a symbol of love to me. By that I mean a gift which has been given in consideration of the person you are giving it to, symbolising an intimate knowledge and appreciation for that person. A Christmas which is filled with symbols of the power of adults over children is hardly a christmas to be remembered, unless you, like Dickens, have a morbid love of tales of hardship and deprivation.

I understand that Christmas and Santa Claus go hand in hand. I understand that consumerism and advertising use Christmas as their flagship, and that poverty becomes both the antithesis and the focus of everything Christmas represents and is therefore spoken of in tones of harsh judgement against those who don’t consider the poor, and grandstanding on behalf of those who do. I also understand that it is in the invisible realm of the human spirit and heart that the true nature of character and action is seated, and no amount of ‘christmas cheer’ is going to make a difference if you are a genuine Ebeneezer Scrooge, rather than a literary one.

 

 

How Green Was My Valley

1909207-Dandenong_Ranges-Melbourne

I have been reading ‘How Green Was My Valley’ again after many decades.  Totally different reading this as a mature married mother and wife.  Below is a bit of a quote from the Father of the family in the novel.  Huw, the youngest son has just seen a neighbour woman give birth, he wasn’t supposed to be there, being only about 12 at the time.  I love that this family are deeply committed church-goers, although not born again Christians.  I also love that the pastor of the village, Mr. Gruffydd is also a man of action who takes care of the poor and needy, detests unfairness and immorality and is able to stand up to an abusive and Pharisaical elder with gusto. This book is a tear jerker in more ways than one. 

Right then,” my father said “Listen to me. Forget all you saw. Leave it. Take your mind from it. It had nothing to do with you. But use it for experience. Now you know what hurt it brings to women when men come into the world. Remember and make it up to your Mama and to all women.”

Yes Dada”, I said.

And another thing let it do,” my father said. “There is no room for pride in any man. There is no room for unkindness. There is no room for wit at the expense of others. All men are born the same, and equal. As you saw today, so come the captains and the kings and the tinkers and the tailors. Let the memory direct your dealings with men and women. And be sure to take good care of Mama. Is it?”

Yes Dada”, I said.

God bless you my son”, he said, “sleep in peace”.

 

Richard Llewellyn ‘How Green Was My Valley’

Wake In Fright

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Thank God for Nightmares.

We have all had them. They come in different forms, with different subjects, but the common experience with nightmares is the shock, horror and fear that propels us to wake in fright, heart pounding. It usually takes us a few minutes to realise it was all a dream, a nightmare, and sometimes you need to actually get out of bed, walk around, make yourself a drink, sit and wake up properly before your brain gets a clue.

I don’t know how people without Jesus handle nightmares. All my children used to do is call out and either Steve and myself would run to them, pray over them and comfort them and they would go back to sleep. Sometimes it would take some time, but they would go back to sleep. If either Steve or myself woke up after a nightmare, we would pray for each other and the fear would go and peace would take over.

One night last year I was half asleep and suddenly woke up properly and the whole room was dark, as though there had been a blackout. But it wasn’t just dark, it was black, there was a presence in the room. The house we were in had had all kinds of weird anomalies and we were convinced that people who had rented the place previously were either witches or satanists. Doorways had appeared and disappeared, objects disappeared and reappeared practically before our eyes, we had plagues of fleas and ants and spiders, we had dog attacks, our cat died, people suddenly becoming loud and aggressive just as they walked past our house and then going back to normal once they were past, neighbours becoming hostile and aggressive and so many other things. We were convinced our neighbour was a witch, she was a deeply disturbed woman and her little boy used to laugh and cry hysterically when he went out to play. There were all sorts of strange things going on and we spent most of our time praying in tongues and just trying to get through the day. Of course we didn’t stay there, but it was the worst house we had ever been in.

But back to the ‘nightmare’, in the half-dream, half-waking experience I had, I could not move, but I could turn my head to see if Steve was awake, and I called out his name. Then I woke up properly and realised the presence had gone and the light in the bedroom was normal. It was horrible, and I will never forget it. Nightmares are the kinds of things we remember vividly, and some people are plagued with them frequently. To those ones I would counsel, call out to Jesus Christ, ask Him to save you, He is our Saviour and our protector against the darkness and our mortal enemy, Satan. You need to be born again and Jesus came to earth as a human being, indwelt by God, ‘The Word’ (see the gospel of John first chapter) in order to bear our sin, to become our sin, so that he may be sacrificed on our behalf so that we don’t have to bear the punishment of our sin. If you have not asked Jesus to save you and asked him to forgive you of your sin that sent him to the cross, you will not be received by God the father in heaven when you die. And it is this subject that I want to discuss.

Nightmares, no matter how bad they are, are simply a means that God uses to tell us that we have hope. Waking up from a nightmare has to be among one of life’s worst moments. If you have really really bad nightmares you know the horror and trauma that assails you while you are in them. But you have the blessed moment when you wake and realise it was not real, it was a dream. Fair enough, some people are still affected by the emotional torment of those nightmares, and some people simply can’t sleep because of them. But those people, in their waking moments still have hope. They can still go to Jesus and ask Him to heal them, to give them peace, to deliver them from the demons of their past and their inner minds. And He does, and He will.

We have hope.

Until we are on our deathbeds.

I am going to upload a video of the testimony of a woman who used to be a close friend of the satanist Anton Le Vey, the architect of America’s first Church of Satan. You can read about his life and career online, he was a pretty ugly character. He kept company with people like L. Ron Hubbard, also a satanist. Le Vey is reported to have ‘seen the light’ whilst on his deathbed. According to the woman in this video, satanists apparently revere death and consider it a great victory. What happened to Anton Le Vey apparently was not what he was expecting. He realised, to his great horror, that the nightmare was only just beginning and that he was not going to ever wake up from it. This is what hell is. Imagine your worst nightmare, and never being able to wake up from it. The horror, the pain and the trauma never ends, and there is no escape. Ever. For eternity.

It would take too long to list all the scriptural passages that refer to hell. I will include a fairly comprehensive article which will do that instead. To read more on what the bible says about hell go here.

The one verse which has always struck me as the most instructive is from Matthew 10:28.

27 “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Matthew 10 NKJV

Even when Jesus is telling us about hell and God’s judgement, he is immediately afterwards giving us reassurance that we are valuable to him. He is giving us comfort in the midst of our fear, although it is fear of man that he is warning us against. It is better to fear God Jesus says, because God’s judgement is final and the wages of sin is eternal death.

This is why nightmares are such a vivid illustration of what awaits the unrepentant sinner, the one who ignores God’s grace. Today is the day of salvation.

Next time you have a nightmare, remember that. Remember that Jesus has given us today, the morning, the light, in which we can know the truth, and repent and be saved from eternal nightmares without end and with no escape.

Any unsaved person reading this will immediately try and dismiss this. Many so called Christians will also say that a loving God would not condemn anyone to hell, but Scripture is very clear on this subject. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it false. But God IS loving. He IS merciful, which is why He has provided a way of escape. His escape is now, while you are alive. We sometimes wonder why the very worst sinners, the mass murderers or the genocidal maniacs end up living such long lives. It is because their judgement awaits them at the end of their lives, and God is merciful to all. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, his mercy is fair and equitable to all, everyone, no matter how terrible their sin is able to be forgiven and will find a place in heaven with God. But make no mistake, a person who does not accept the salvation found in Christ will not find a place in heaven.

Our repentance needs to be true. Jesus said many will come to Him in that day, the day of the Lord (judgement day) and say ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we do this in your name, didn’t we do that in your name’, and God will say ‘depart from me I never knew you’. (Matthew 7:3) We can’t kid God. You can’t say “well, I believe” and then go on with your life as though your life is still your own. God requires not just faith, but our whole life.

25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Matthew 16:25 NKJV

 

Yet, as we give Him our lives, He gives us – in exchange – His life. Who wouldn’t rather have eternal life, the life of Christ himself than our own miserable and petty lives filled with fear and hatred and anger. We have nothing to offer God, yet He gladly receives what we have. Like the widow with two mites who gave everything she had.  (Mark 12: 41-44). Jesus told his disciples that her gift was greater than a wealthy man’s gift because she gave everything. Always in the Kingdom of God, it is the humble offering of ourselves, as little as we are, that impresses and pleases God. When Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) tried to pretend they were like the widow and gave ‘everything they had’ after selling some real estate, they were struck dead by God for lying. They could have just given what they wanted to give and kept the rest and not lied about it. Nobody was forcing them to give anything, but they wanted others to believe that they were humble and righteous, and it was this ugly and self-loving deception which caused their deaths.

So next time you wake in fright, and then feel the wave of relief when you realise that it was just a dream, remember that while it is still day you have the opportunity to make that relief an eternal reality. You will never have to face eternal torment and death if you make the decision now to accept the salvation and love that Jesus offers us.

God bless you now and forever more.

 

 

Further reading on this blog:  ‘Hell, Who Goes There‘.