At Gateway Church in Austin, we began a series called God Heals You.
Abuse in our society is widespread but often remains a hidden wound for so many. We want to be healed, to live in God’s compassion and grace, but this menace of secret pain continues to flow under the current of everything we do. Even if you have not experienced this type of wound, you likely know or live with someone who has. We can’t escape the effects. We find ourselves or those we love chained, deeply hurt, and separated from the freedom God wants to provide. How can we discover the wholeness that God has for us? How can we share it with those around us who desperately need to hear? During this series, God Heals You, we will seek to learn from experts and hear stories about those who have found this healing from God.
In this series, we talked about things too often not discussed:
- God Heals from Physical, Verbal, and Emotional Abuse
- God Heals from Sexual Abuse
- God Heals from Abortion
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Notes from John Burke:
I was in a Recovery group with Alan that started in Jan. 2018. As the group worked through the steps, Alan’s countenance changed. It was like a cloud had lifted! He started to smile more! Honestly, he became like a whole new person – filled with life and experiencing freedom! Since then, Alan has become a leader in our Recovery group bringing healing to others.
We’re talking about abuse today and next week —doing harm to others—this week verbal/emotional/ physical abuse. But why would we talk about this in the church?
First, God wants us to care about what’s going on with each other.
Two weeks ago, we talked about how God sees us as a body—His body—made up of a diversity of parts.
But look at what else he says about that:
God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it….” I Corinthians 12:24-26.
We are to be a community that cares for those who have suffered abuse, because they’re part of us—our Body.
And Gateway, you’ve done a really stellar job for the most part caring in this way, over the years we’ve seen God heal many people, but this abuse issue is a hidden one.
Abuse Is An Epidemic
It’s epidemic. And it’s evil. So we need to uncover it, and stand with people to overcome evil.
For this series, I sat down with several experts, that you’ll hear from this week and next. Rick Reynolds started Crossroads Counseling Center and is the President of Affair Recovery—the largest provider of affair counseling in the world. In his practice, he’s dealt with the affects of trauma and abuse in all its ugly forms.
Prevalence of Abuse – it’s the largest health issue we have.
75% of calls to 911 are for domestic violence.
1/6 men and 1/4 women experience severe physical abuse.
We are out of control—effects on children in a home.
More women are injured from domestic violence than rape, muggings, and car accidents combined. Yet it’s well hidden.
Imagine if 20% of women and men and kids, here on our campus, all had lost a leg from an epidemic—that would be 200 people in our church hurting, struggling, limping along trying to figure out life after such loss—we’d talk about that, so we could all be supportive, right?
Well, there’s an epidemic of abuse:
- 1/4 women have suffered from severe physical abuse
- 1/6 men have suffered from severe physical abuse
- This probably doubles if you add Verbal/Emotional abuse.
That’s why we’re talking about it—because abuse is evil.
- It’s completely counter to God and his ways, and if you’ve been abused—God wants to heal you.
- And if you’ve struggled with anger, control, manipulation and you’ve been abusive, God wants to heal you too.
- And if you’re neither of those, God wants to teach you how to be a healing agent in an evil, abusive world, because it’s all around you but you might not realize it, or recognize it.
- And God wants us to be an even better healing community, and that means understanding how to walk with people who have been through it.
So What is Verbal/Emotional and Physical Abuse and what is it not?
I think that’s important to talk about, because we can cause more damage as a church if we don’t know the signs. Beverly Engel, The Emotionally Abusive Relationship‚ How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing says Verbal/Emotional abuse is any nonphysical behavior or attitude that controls, intimidates, subjugates, demeans, punishes or isolates another person by using degradation, humiliation or fear. Verbal/Emotional abuse is an ongoing pattern of behavior.
It’s not an occasional blow up, or a struggle to communicate, it’s not just angry frustration or saying things you later regret.
Verbal/Emotional abuse is a continuous demeaning and tearing down of the other person through intimidation, humiliation, isolation and fear to diminish the other person’s sense of self and sanity. That’s why evil is at the root.
Remember Evil Hates You (we talked about last week), and it will manipulate and deceive and use our childhood wounds against us to steal, kill, and destroy each other if we let it, but we can resist evil. We can stand against it, whether being abused or being abusive, you can stand against evil and win in Christ.
Physical abuse may be obvious, verbal/emotional is harder to detect.
Just think how opposite of God’s character, God’s ways, the traits of Verbal/Emotional abuse are.
Degradation – verbally tearing someone down.
God says: Encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Fear/Intimidation – threatening harm or punishment.
God says: As we live in God, our love grows more perfect…because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced [God’s] perfect love. 1 John 4:17-18
Abuse – controls, intimidates, subjugates, demeans, punishes or isolates.
God says: Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5.
Abuse is absolutely not of God, and yet abusive people will try to use God’s Word to manipulate, blame, accuse and get their way—it’s blasphemy—to attribute to God what comes from the hand of evil.
A Misunderstood Idea
Let’s talk about where churches have done harm—first in a passage we skipped in Ephesians last series because it fits better to cover this week. It says, “Wives, submit to your husbands” – abusive men love that passage. It’s the only one they have memorized. They use it to control and subjugate and manipulate their wives, but it’s an absolute abuse of what the passage actually means. Look at it in context.
First it says: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21.
This is the overarching principle of God’s Kingdom:
- You can either try to dominate, manipulate, control and even abuse each other, or you can submit yourself to Christ to seek the good of the other first.
- It’s the choice of I play God and try to force you to do my will, or I let God be God and am willing to lay down my self-interest for your good first.
- It’s the golden rule!
But oh my gosh, how this very principle has been reversed through evil twisting what Scripture’s saying. It goes on
For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her. Ephesians 5:22-25
It’s mutual submission—where Husbands, rooted in Christ’s love, so love their wives, they choose to submit (to lay down) their very lives like Jesus did, [even lay down their golf or soccer or Monday night football if needed].
It’s the opposite of abuse—control, intimidation, manipulation, blame—it’s self-sacrifice for her good.
And wives are so rooted in Christ’s love, they choose to not try to control, dominate, force, coerce their husbands, but choose to love by showing support, respect, honor.
It’s freely chosen, mutual submission, out of love for Christ who modeled what love does–for us (his bride).
Yet evil has so turned this upside down—trying to force submission, when this says the opposite.
Paul goes on to explain the same with children and parents—for children to honor and obey their parents but also for parents to not exasperate their children—don’t “seed anger in them,” is literally what it says, by being harsh or withdrawing love or definitely not abusive blaming or manipulating.
Abuse is not okay in a family in any way, shape, or form—it’s inspired by evil.
Turn from it.
We do not have to live that way – even if that is how you were raised.
Helping A Victim of Abuse
Churches (pastors and people) have sometime misinterpreted or ignored the evil being done behind closed doors. Here’s how you and I can respond to someone who is being abused:
- The abused person goes for help.
- We need to first listen deeply and ask questions.
- Don’t quickly try to fix it with platitudes:
- “Oh, all marriages struggle”
- “You’re just triggered”
- “You have to forgive and move on”
- What’s true in normal human dynamics can be dangerous in a truly abusive situations.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Matthew 7:15-17
Abusive people are manipulated by evil, and evil may say all the right things, but it doesn’t produce the fruit of God’s Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control.
Abused people who grew up with abuse are used to being blamed, so they will stay in an abusive relationship that keeps telling them it’s their fault. But that’s not healthy for the abused or abuser.
When survivors were surveyed and asked “when you were assaulted—before you got help from someone, who did you think would be the most helpful?”
Top answer was the church, or a pastor, that would be the best place to go for comfort, empathy, what my soul needed. Then they said counselors, lawyers, police officers.
Then they were asked, “Who was Actually the most helpful?” Church came in last, after “other.”
It shouldn’t be that way, and I don’t think it has been that way at Gateway because we’ve taught on this over the years.
But we all need to understand how to be Jesus to people suffering from evil’s hidden effects.
Separation and Divorce
I think churches sometimes miss God’s heart for the abused trying to protect God’s heart for saving marriages. It’s not one or the other.
- God does not want divorce, ever! He wants both people to rely on His love to humbly heal and grow up in love.
- But God also hates violence and hard heartedness, and God protects the innocent party. God gives the certificate of divorce to protect from the hard-hearted.
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.” Matthew 19:8
In ancient days, if you got indebted and couldn’t pay, you became a servant or slave to that person until you paid all your debts—Master to servant.
It’s actually the same today—if you get in debt, you become servant and you work to pay all those debts. It’s why they call it Master-Card.
Master/servant was a lessor debt-covenant relationship—Yet God in the law of Moses protects lessor covenant slaves by setting them free from physical abuse.
“If a man hits the eye of his male or female servant and destroys it, he will let the person go free because of the eye. 27 If he knocks out a tooth of his man or woman servant, he will let the person go free because of the tooth.” Exodus 21:26-27.
If God cares to protect the abused party in a debt-covenant relationship, would He not protect someone in a free-will covenant of marriage? Of course He would!
Physical abuse is absolutely out of bounds to God’s will and ways.
That doesn’t mean divorce is the immediate answer.
- It means getting help.
- Learning to set loving healthy boundaries
- Demanding the abusive spouse gets help
- And moving out if it’s not a safe environment until the other does get help—that’s the first loving way forward.
Divorce should only be as a last resort disciplinary act to move the hard-hearted spouse toward healing.
Let the church walk with you in this—we have papers the Overseers have written to help you follow God in these issues. If you are in a tough situation and want to read that for guidance, email Theresa@gatewaychurch.com and ask for the Divorce/Remarriage paper.
If you grew up in these environments, God wants to bring healing to you.
You may not realize you need it, but listen to what Rick says about it’s effects on the person abused but also on the abusive person.
- If you grew up in an abusive environment, pain that’s not transformed is going to be transmitted.
- That’s why abuse tends to pass down, generation to generation, until you put an end to it with God’s help.
- If you grew up in an abusive environment, there was trauma that you dealt with as a child.
- It needs to be healed—transformed by God into something good to help heal others.
- But if it’s not, as Rick said, depending on how you processed it, you may struggle with abusive tendencies now yourself.
Like we talked about in the Triggered Series—your Amygdala is the fast-acting, slow reasoning part of your brain only concerned with survival—fight or flight (or sometimes freeze—as Rick mentioned). If you were under severe threat or survival fear as a child, Rick said your amygdala might have gotten stuck in the fight mode. Which means as soon as that old, unhealed abuse wound gets triggered, you fight—you can’t seem to control it—your reaction is to control, manipulate, yell, rage, intimidate, threat, hit, break things.
You don’t even know why you get so out of control.
It’s because there’s unhealed trauma.
You can, and must, get help for healing—that childhood pain, God can transform into something good.
Don’t let evil do that to you once, then use you as it’s pawn to do the same thing to your family again.
There are lots of resources to help you—Go to our Recovery Open Share Wednesdays, start there.
Recovery can help root out the anger so it’s no longer buried deep inside.
But you may have grown up in an abusive environment, and your response was the opposite.
- You easily get run over, and you find it hard to stand up for yourself.
- Often if that childhood trauma is not healed, abused children grow up and somehow find themselves attracted to abusive people—often marry people who turn out to be abusive. How does that happen?
- Some psychologists think it’s a subconscious attempt to resolve the unhealed abuse—to get dad to love you, or mom to be pleased finally (it’s subconscious)—but it keeps the cycle going.
So what can you do To Heal From Abuse:
Know Your Identity in Christ
What we went through in Ephesians—re-root your Identity in who God says you are, so that you do not let yourself be abused.
Seek support to grow in your Identity in Christ, and grow in your ability to set loving boundaries. The trauma of an abusive past often allows lies to grow in our minds—about who is to blame, what we deserve, about shame, guilt—and it can be confusing. That’s where others can help to speak truth (God’s truth) that can set you free of lies growing in unhealed wounds.
Set Loving Boundaries
It’s not ungodly to say “No.”
Jesus did this with people.
- In Nazareth, people tried to kill him, he left that dangerous situation.
- Pharisees tried to trap him, he didn’t answer them, but demanded they answer him first.
What about “Turn the other cheek”? Didn’t Jesus laid down his life?
- Yes, but not against his will.
- He did not allow abusive people to control His will, he always did God’s will—only what God wanted.
- At times that was to draw loving boundaries and say ‘No’.
- In the end, God had a plan to defeat evil by Jesus choosing (not being forced) to lay down his life, but Jesus had very clear boundaries.
Dr. Margaret Rinck, a clinical psychologist and author, dissects what happens in emotionally abusive relationships and offers sound and compassionate advice in her book, Christian Men Who Hate Women (Zondervan).
Dr. Rinck recommends using assertive responses to draw boundaries with abusive bullying, such as:
- “I guess we disagree. It’s okay with me if we don’t see eye to eye about this.”
- “It’s not okay for you to react to me in this manner.”
- “I will not be manipulated by your screaming and yelling.”
- “If you continue to treat me this way, then I will have to _____ (the consequences they are choosing for their bad actions).
Until abusive people hit a firm boundary, they are not forced to come to terms with how unloving and destructive their behavior is.
Learning to set limits is difficult, but necessary, it helps break the cycle of abuse and set them free from evil’s stronghold.
It’s also loving—this is important to understand.
- It’s not loving to let evil have its way with another person (even an abusive person).
- Remember what Ephesians 6 taught us last week “The person is not the enemy—evil is the enemy manipulating the person.”
- But the person can choose to turn from Evil to God.
- The most loving thing to do is to help them see their actions are evil, and to break from it and turn to God for healing.
Don’t try this alone–do it in community, not alone.
Recovery and our Restore classes I mentioned can help, but also it’s very important to seek out counseling.
If physical violence becomes or has been part of the relationship, or if you fear for your safety or your kids safety—get help to get into a safe place. We have resources that can help you. Evil wants to keep you so afraid, you stay in it’s prison, but God tells you “Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Seek God’s Healing
And we have seen that here at Gateway—we’ve been a community that says No Perfect People Allowed…
- Where those struggling in abusive relationships can be honest, find their Identity in Christ, find strength to draw healthy boundaries.
- We’ve seen abusive people confronted with those boundaries, stop playing the victim, and humbly take responsibility because they too are realizing that God loves them, forgives them when they turn from it, and will be with them to help them grow.
- And that’s the kind of community we want to continue to be.
Next week we’re going to talk about a healing community for those have suffered from sexual abuse—it too is at epidemic proportions in our culture, but very hidden and not often talked about.
Then the following week we’re going to talk about healing from abortion. And the reality is 1/3 of women, and 1/3 of men have been through that, and it doesn’t just go away—you’re going to understand how God wants to heal us from that as well.
Don’t miss these weeks, as it’s important we are a Healing community together—and invite those who could benefit from know God is for them, and wants to Heal them and set them free.
God told Moses and the Israelites, I am the Lord, who heals you.” Exodus 15:26
Let me share one more step.
Seek to Bring God’s Healing to Others
Jonny Prince helped us get our recovery groups for men going. Without his efforts, Alan and I may not have been in that group in Jan. 2018 together. As a chef, a writer, and someone in recovery, he has found a truly beautiful way to bring a glimpse of God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. Jonny is the head chef at Austin Recovery. Some of these folks were in a really bad place because of their addiction – some even eating out of trash cans before moving in for 90 days of rehabilation. So Jonny turns what was the cafeteria into a dining room. He replaced all of the plastic knives and forks with silverware. Jonny and his team started introducing foods from France, Morocco, and India wanting to stretch their palettes and give them food experiences from around the world in case they never get a chance to travel.
On Thursday morning as we walked to our cars after breakfast at Kerbey Lane, I asked Jonny: “What’s on the menu tonight?” He then shared that he had been doing research into foods in medieval times. He wanted to prepare the same food for the residents at Austin Recovery that was served to the kings and queens of those days. Isn’t that beautiful? A man who has been through much and is working through his own recovery is now serving people who are in recovery, many of whom may have turned to drugs and alcohol as a way to get through the pain of abuse. Loving them and serving them by treating them like royalty!
As we LISTEN –maybe you’re not even aware of where you need healing (physical, emotional, spiritual), invite God to come and guide you into healing—invite him to come do what He does—he’s the God who Heals you.
And He can work through you to bring healing to others.