Rescued from Satan’s Dominion

Today is feeling a bit surreal.

Up at 4am to get my pastor-husband, Ross, to the airport to attend the National Coalition of Ministries for Men in Little Rock, AR where he will formally receive his national award of NCMM’s “Pastor of the Year.”

Home by 5:30…spending some quiet time and doing my study for “If God is in Control, Why am I a Basket Case?”

The statement on page 58 jumps out at me:

Express your gratitude to God the Father and Jesus Christ for all they’ve done to rescue you from Satan’s dominion.

Hmmm.

Fitting indeed.

Today marks 3 years since God rescued me from the height of deception…believing a lie to be the truth for 12 long years and forsaking all to hold onto it.

Yep. Satan’s dominion, for sure.

1,095 days ago today I was numb, disillusioned, battered and bruised…wondering how I could have allowed myself to be duped, losing everything that mattered to me as a result. November 10, 2011 I packed my bags and called my son. “Aaron, it’s your mom. Where are you? I’m coming.” Words that I’d been convinced would mean I was turning my back on God. But in reality, they were words of freedom and deliverance.

I had lost my marriage; relationships will all my kids, my house, my car, and the company I co-founded. All as a result of believing a wolf in sheep’s clothing who knew just how to quote scripture out of context to control and manipulate those who had zeal without knowledge. A master at using shame, condemnation, and the fear of losing your salvation to get his followers to do nearly anything to please him…truth be told, it was all for his own selfish, evil gain.

But oh, how glorious is the grace of God. How He could take such destruction and use it for good is beyond me…but it is exactly what He has done.

Just last night I was talking to a friend who reminded me of our last visit together, over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday last year. I was so forlorn…so discouraged. Had I missed God altogether? Would He ever bring me a godly husband? I finally resigned myself to being single for the rest of my life and was determined to be content with that.

Who would have guessed that just a few weeks later God would be bringing me back to Washington, back into publishing, and back to The Summit…where He would provide the perfect husband for me…making me a pastor’s wife, no less! So much has been restored … relationships with my family, back in my old offices helping authors once again … it’s as my late momma used to say, “Mind-boggling!”

My memory verse from Colossians is from chapter 1 verses 13 & 14:

For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

I am so grateful today for the way He has worked.

He has indeed rescued me, redeemed my life, forgiven me, and continues to make all things work together for good.

Yep. Faithful. That’s what He is.

A Letter on Leaders Who Abuse Authority

I received this email and the author agreed to let me share it here…praise God for His truth and Charles’ courage

Dear Athena,

You may not remember me, but we talked once back in the end of 2004. I had signed up with WinePress books to publish a book called “Where is the Fear of God? Finding the Treasure of the Lord”, but I was never able to get it in print through them. I was going to the mission field to Kenya at that time and was trying to get it published before I left. At the time it was so frustrating, for each time we did what they said to do, and each time they came back and blamed the problems on us, when we did exactly what they said. After a year of trying I (and my friend back here in the states, Ros Chin) gave up, forsook the money we had paid to get it printed, and walked away. Little did we know what was taking place at WinePress and that this was right when the takeover was occurring.

When I came back from Kenya in 2009 I tried again to get it published through a ‘secular’ company and in 2 months time I had books on my doorstep, super easy. I never understood why it never worked with WinePress, until you ‘told your story’. So today nearly a decade later I finally understand why God never allowed to be published by WinePress, and I am truly thankful, for God’s ways are higher than our ways. So thank you for not being afraid to tell your story, it has truly encouraged me in several ways.

One of the things that goes far deeper than the publishing of the book was how you and I both were delivered from the snares of the devil. I also found myself in a cult (though for many years I truly felt I was in the best church on earth). But through the years it began to change and more and authority was brought in which abused and manipulated and bullied the members of the church, until finally there in Kenya Nov. 2011 I finally took a stand to say I was not going to compromise and not going to obey a man’s word over Jesus Christ. Well, that was the end for me in that ministry.

Once I brought correction to the leader on where he was contrary to Jesus’ example and his words, now men and women from around the world were stirred up against me to condemn me, strive with me, shame and rebuke me – ‘How could I dare question the man of God?’ Didn’t I know he was ‘Moses’ and the ground would open up and consume me for even questioning him? Now for the first time I felt what so many who were dis-fellowshipped before me must have felt: judgments, condemnations, curses, warnings I would go to hell and my wife and children die if I left their ‘perfect’, ‘loving’ fellowship that was so of God, how deceived I must be even to think they had any error.

Apparently I was even denser in understanding, than others as to what this ministry had become, because I served there faithfully with my whole heart for 22 years. Every friend I had in this world was there. Yes, we did the same things as you. We cut off every one who did not agree with us, we separated ourselves from family members who didn’t submit/agree with our doctrine, Yes, I mortgaged my home, as well as many other church members, and gave it all to the ‘Set Man’, the Lead Elder, so that he could run the ministry. We were not as extreme as some of the practices that you went through (like living in other peoples homes), but it is amazing how many of the practices were identical.

So I know a little of what you went through, and I can honestly say I am sorry you had to endure such things at the hands of one who called himself a man of God. It is the greatest shame. Sadly such men because of the extreme self-deception and over-abundant pride that is in them, cannot see that they are doing ANYTHING wrong. They have an amazing ability to discard their conscience, to justify EVERYTHING they do and to shift blame on others. I just wanted to know I will be praying for you that God will heal your heart and that you will continue with God in fellowship with other believers. That of course is one of the boasts of such men, that ‘everyone that leaves us is shipwrecked’. They truly believe they are ‘messiahs’ and that people are lost without them.

Those who abuse authority in the church always want to gloat that those who leave their ministry are always shipwrecked and don’t serve God anymore and their lives are destroyed. But if we truly received a good foundation at a ministry which prepared us properly as the bride of Christ, shouldn’t many of those who leave continue on faithfully in the Lord? Isn’t that a test of every ministry? Isn’t that the hope of every true parent? “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Pr 22:6  Is it possible that God will inspect the devastation in the lives of those who were associated with a certain man of God and credit that as bad fruit?

Thank God we are not shipwrecked. We will go on to serve God without Diotrephes lording over us. We will be a testimony of those who have been delivered by the Lord himself from the oppressions of unjust men. Such men do not know the devastation which they have caused in the lives of so many who have left their ministry and the condemnations those who leave have had to endure. First, they make those under their rule dependent on them, removing every support they have. Then when some can no longer endure the hypocrisy and are tired of being used and abused, finally decide they must leave. Then they are condemned, shamed, and evil spoken of, so they leave broken, disillusioned, deeply wounded. When such people wander spiritually or many forsake altogether the things of God, such leaders use that as ‘proof’ that they never should have left?! Amazing how such leaders never hear Jesus’ words: “whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Mt 18:6

I could hear in your words on the Blog, some of the same things I have had to pass through and still at times struggle with: How could I be so stupid not to see what was going on for so long? Why did it take me so long to get out? Why did I let another talk me into what I knew in the depth of my heart was not right. This surely is one of the tools of the devil, to try to crush with shame those who come out of cults. But I pray all who come out of such abusive groups will in time become even stronger through such things to help deliver others who may still be caught in such groups and not even know it.

So thank you and God bless you and lead you. May he heal the places of your heart that were trampled on by the proud and arrogant. They will meet their day, if not before the courts of men, then surely before the court of God. Where will all the men who exalted themselves before God’s people hide themselves on the day of the Lord when he returns?! On that day: “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low.” Isa 2:11-12

Praise the Lord for his mighty deliverances! He has set the captive free. The day will come when he will show “strength with his arm”, when he will scatter “the proud in the imagination of their hearts”, when he will put down the mighty from their seats”, and he will exalt them of low degree (Lk 1:51-52). I have to say I was grieved by the first person that responded on your blog. It truly shows how so many have no understanding of the abuse and pain people pass through when they are in such groups. In reality why did we get involved in such? Simply because we had a pure and humble heart and wanted all that God had for us. That is what prideful men of God take advantage of, when they begin telling us what we need to do in our walks with God, and stepping into the place in our heart which only Jesus the Lord is to occupy.

There is a spirit that is working in the earth which works in men who wield authority in the church and subtly they become lifted up just like Lucifer was and now they expect people to listen and obey WHATEVER they say. They become leaders after the manner of the Gentiles exactly like Jesus warned his own 12 that they were NOT to do: What you encountered was none other than the very same spirit of Diotrephes where a man wants preeminence in the church and in the hearts of God’s people, so that he may rule over our faith. But Paul, though he was a man of great authority was never like that. Notice how he and those with him did not “have dominion over”, they did not ‘rule over’ the faith of the believers, but were “helpers of [their] joy: for by faith ye stand.” (2Co 1:24).

Some ministers it seems that their truest joy is not in bringing joy to the believers, but rather in keeping them under their control, in lording over the sheep, and reminding the sheep of all the ‘great things’ that such a minister has done. In such places the leader often gets more attention that Christ Jesus himself! Such ministers want to convince the sheep that they ‘stand’ by their obedience to that man and to his subordinates. But scripture is clear, we stand by faith, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not faith in men. But I have even heard it said from such men, “All I ask is that you trust in the Lord and trust in the servant of the Lord and when we ask you to do some thing, just to do it.” That may sound innocent to some, but that is unbiblical. That is EXACTLY what the antichrist wants from each of us – just to trust him and do what he says.

I was blessed just yesterday with a scripture. Even God shows us why we should trust him. Why do “the children of men put their trust under the shadow of [his] wings”? because of “how excellent is [his] lovingkindness” (Ps 36:7). But men want to say that “ALL” they want is for you is to just trust them?! We are truly in the last days when men are deceiving and being deceived (2Tim 3:13). When men partake of such a spirit, requiring people to trust them, they indeed have drunk of the Luciferic principle. Praise God for the scriptures, which set us free when we see them rightly.

Ps 146:3: Put NOT your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

Ps 118:8: It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.

It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.

How sad some church leaders use the word of God as a club to beat the sheep into submission, to intimidate and to bully, the very opposite of what Jesus said to do (Mt 20:20-28). Truly many have forgotten the servant model that Jesus left us. Who should be the greatest servants in the church? Many men make it be the sheep, but Jesus said it should be the leaders! How then can a church leader call himself “the Shepherd” (which in truth is no different than saying he is “the Senior or Chief Pastor”) when only Jesus is “the Shepherd” and certainly he is the Chief Shepherd?! How can this be, unless such a man is already drinking of the Luciferic principle! How can a church leader call himself “the set man” or “the lead elder”? unless he is blinded by his own pride and self-importance. How can men praise themselves in the house of God while God is watching, and feel no shame? unless they are Pharisees inside their heart.

Some of the very things you have experienced I also have gone through, although not to the same depth. But it is the same spirit of antichrist authority that would put God’s sheep in bondage to the will of a man and keep them under his control, rather than growing in maturity and being able to discern the will of God for themselves. I pray that you again rejoice to here your Shepherd’s voice (Jesus) as he leads you into the green pastures he has for you.

Sincerely,

Charles von Hammerstein

29 Months Out of Captivity

Today marks 29 months of freedom from deception. It’s a strange mix of emotions. Joy wells up inside me as I think of God’s faithfulness to heal me and restore me during these months. At the same time, it’s sobering to consider the damage that I caused with one bad decision. I praise God for His grace that forgives me for the part I played in the WinePress debacle, and the lives that have been effected by my actions.

Just last week on April 1st was the 4 year anniversary of the completion of WinePress being transferred to the enemy camp. I posted this on Facebook and today am more in awe of His hand in all that I am experiencing.

Four years ago today I allowed WinePress Publishing to be stolen by the enemy, through a wolf in sheep’s clothing named Tim Williams. Of course, it started much earlier than four years ago, but April 1, 2010 was the enemy’s final coup when the ownership of WinePress officially changed from me to Sound Doctrine…from light to darkness.

Up until November 10, 2011, I kept trying to convince myself that I was doing, and had done, God’s will…but praise God He finally allowed the scales to fall from my eyes and gave me the courage to admit how wrong I was—that I had believed a lie to be truth for twelve long years and had hurt many people who loved me in the process.

I’ve spent the last 2 ½ years repenting and healing and learning who God really is…not an angry taskmaster waiting for you to screw up so you can be disciplined until you repent to his satisfaction. No—that is a tragically false picture of our loving Heavenly Father.

I’ve learned anew that our God, Jesus Christ, is a God of grace and truth—a balance of both—a loving Father who encourages us to be who He made us to be, to glorify Him.

On this anniversary of the height of devastation, I am amazed at the restoration God has allowed. In a few minutes we will be doing a ribbon cutting ceremony with City of Enumclaw officials, friends and family, to celebrate the official launching of Redemption Press in my old publishing offices at 1730 Railroad Street in Enumclaw, Washington, (Click here to read the story of how Redemption Press came to be).

He has turned my mourning into dancing, and restored what I allowed the enemy to steal. He is redeeming every area of my life, and for that I am grateful. Truth be told, that word does not do justice to the emotions I feel when I consider all that He has done. He truly has given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert…and I can only praise Him for His goodness.

Because I have given waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My chosen people.
“The people whom I formed Myself,
Will declare My praise.”
Isaiah 43:20b-21

 

 

 

An Amazing Story of God’s Faithfulness

I first attended the Summit (Evangelical Free Church of America) in January of 2012, just 2 months after being delivered from my 12 years in captivity. My good friend Jessica Gambill and her family attended there and I finally decided to go with her to church. I’d finished 2 months of intensive counseling and was ready for the next step. They started a 13 week session on Emotional Healthy Spirituality and it seemed to be just what I needed for the next step of my healing.

Ross would preach about the study topic for the week each Sunday. I can remember sitting there in church and listening to him preach. I’d think to myself, “Lord, can I please have a husband like that some day?” He loved God, was authentic, humble, sensitive, not afraid to admit his faults, and did not have wandering eyes. He loved his wife and family and he loved his flock.

In May of 2012 while all the men were at Trout Bums, I attended a get together of some women in the church. Ross’s wife, Cathy, was there, and about an hour into the evening she said to me “You know, Athena, I told Ross if anything ever happens to me, he needs to marry you!” Needless to say that totally freaked me out and plenty of mind games ensued (does he know that she told me that? Etc., etc.) I found myself distancing myself just because I didn’t know what to do with that information.

Not long after that I got interested in a widower from Colorado and spent the next 6 months waiting and wondering if anything would develop, which it did not…but it’s interesting how God allowed that distraction to keep me busy with other interests so I didn’t think about Cathy’s comment.

Then in November the Lord took me down to Texas to help my brother with our 90 year old Momma who was on hospice. For the 14 months I was there I experienced more healing, bonding with my older brother, and ended up with a radio ministry. On a few occasions I tried online dating and God just shut me down every time. I whined and complained that I’d been single for 14 years and let God know in no uncertain terms that I was ready for a husband! I had no interest in dating unless it was someone I would be interested in marrying. So I waited, and I waited. No dates. No nothing. Intermittent whining to God.

Last summer I reconnected with an old author friend and we had a great friendship. I thought maybe God wanted me to wait for him while he healed from a traumatic end to his marriage of three decades. (see my post entitled “Speed Bumps, Benches and Trees, Oh My!” for a better idea of my struggles with waiting!) This gave me something to look forward to, and I was committed to waiting, thinking that this was God’s plan. I was so committed, in fact, that when I heard the news that Ross’s wife had passed away I freaked out thinking that was a distraction to what God was asking me to do…wait for my friend. So, I decided I needed to draw a line in the sand and let Ross know that I wasn’t available. I wrote him a letter addressing the “elephant in the room” with what Cathy said to him and to me and let him know I felt God wanted me to wait for my friend. His response was gracious. He made sure to let me know he did not find the thought of being married to me unpleasant, and that he wanted to make sure we stayed friends in the future.

By the end of the year God was helping me to see how much I had tried to make this other relationship happen, and I spent the entire New Years’ Eve repenting for idolatry, for pursuing, for assuming I knew what God was doing. I told the Lord, if this is not the man You have for me, then I surrender my will and what I thought my future was going to be like, and I say HAVE YOUR WAY, LORD.

On January 8th I land in the ER and end up having my gallbladder removed. While in the hospital, WinePress announces on their website that they are closing their doors (and of course it’s all my fault). Two days later the question is posed…would I be willing to return to Washington to start a company to help all the orphaned WinePress authors?

I’d been telling God for 14 months that I was NOT returning to Washington…too many reminders of the trauma and the loss and the abuse I’d endured, so when the question came I was a little taken aback. I committed to pray and ask for Godly counsel from my family and others I knew I could trust. All responses were positive, and on January 14 I felt confident that this was God’s will. (You can listen to the podcast of my Always Faithful radio show from February 1 where I told the story of how this all played out).

I had already purchased roundtrip tickets to come to CA and WA to visit grandkids, and all of I sudden I am realizing that I wouldn’t be using the return ticket. As I prayed through the transition to Washington I felt compelled to try to stay under my Commission to Every Nation banner and expand my radio ministry to include publishing. In order to do so, I had to explain my plans to CTEN and my pastoral care couple and see if they would approve it. They asked who I would be accountable to, who would be my pastor and where I would worship. Well, of course I would go back to the Summit…that was my church, and I was returning to Enumclaw to live and work in the same building that used to be mine. My pastoral care couple called Ross and asked him many questions…could I meet with him weekly, and would he be my overseer? He was happy to oblige, and I began to wonder what God was up to!

As my time to travel back to WA drew closer, communication by messaging on Facebook increased, and just before I left on the 23rd of January Ross told me he was glad I was coming back to WA and asked me to call him some evening since he now has so much free time on his hands. This really sent me into a tizzy! He was pursuing me! That was one of the things on my list of what I wanted in a man…if it was really the man God had for me, he would pursue me, not the other way around. I finally got up the nerve to call him while I was traveling to CA and sitting in the Sacramento airport waiting for my shuttle to Redding.

That phone call was a defining moment. Within the first 5 minutes he asked to take me out. My first date in 14 years! And from there we both asked questions to see if each other fit the requirements we each had on our “list”. It didn’t take long to find out each non-negotiable on our lists were checked and confirmed. It was quickly proving to be a perfect match.

Ross picked me up at the airport when I arrived in Washington on January 27. Walking off the concourse and into his arms felt like coming home. We talked for hours and I was stunned at many of the facts I discovered. I found out that Cathy had made a list of potential wives once she knew her cancer was terminal. And who was #1 on the list? Yep. I was. And guess what else? Ross had a sailboat for about 14 years, and when he bought it, the name was, yes, you guessed it…The Athena. He changed the name of the boat, but the curtains on the inside still have Athena embroidered on each one of them…what a hoot!

I also found out that if God hadn’t taken me to Texas, and I was still a member of The Summit, he wouldn’t have been able to date me! There’s an unwritten rule in the church world that pastors don’t date in the congregation because of the tension in causes between people. God took me away and brought me back right at the right time… amazing!

I look back and see that on September 5 my daughter wrote me an email saying that God was releasing the word Marriage to me and is sending me my match made in heaven. I thought it was referring to my friend that I was waiting for, but in reality it was all about Ross and I, but I couldn’t see it. Turns out that word from the Lord through Roby was right after they realized the chemo wasn’t working, and she passed just 25 days later. While God was bringing me to a place of realizing that I’d been trying to make this other relationship happen, Ross was asking God to send him a wife because he didn’t want to spend the summer alone. He even began telling his staff that he was going to get married…he just didn’t know who to yet! All that was going on while I was realizing I was in sin and needed to repent.

There’s so much more to share, but this is the basic timeline of events and a testimony, once again, to God’s faithfulness. We knew pretty quickly that this was it, what we’d both been looking for and dreaming of in a relationship. It just blew my mind that every single line item on our individual lists of what we wanted in a mate got a resounding “check” … God really was blessing me for being willing to wait for the right guy and Ross for being faithful and true for 49 years of marriage.

It was important to wait to announce it to the church family until Ross’s adult children felt good about his decision. That’s definitely the bittersweet part. The kids and grandkids suffered a huge loss, which enabled me to experience great gain. Ross didn’t want to rush them and encouraged each of them to process their own grief in a way that would be authentic. Once that was moving forward and they were all supportive of their dad’s decision, we announced it to the church family on the weekend of March 15 & 16 that our marriage date is set for June 13. 1902986_10200804226623107_1847260727_n While Ross had grieved ever since June of 2013 when the diagnosis first came, there were still a few women in the congregation who felt he was too easily replacing his wife of 49 years. I was so amazed at the analogy God gave Ross to share on that day. He recalled the time when Cathy found out she was pregnant with their second child and was overly emotional. She could not see how she could possibly love another child as much as she loved her firstborn, Bret. But, as time went on, she not only loved Thad well, but Nathan and Elizabeth too. She found she had the capacity to love each child as an individual without taking away any of the love for the others. And just the same with me, Ross’s love for me in no way diminishes the love he had for Cathy for 49 years of marriage.

As I read over all that has happened in such a short time, I stand amazed at the faithfulness of God. In fact, a good friend told me she’d been sharing my story with some ladies, and just how evident God’s blessing is for my being willing to repent and obey His call. She said I’m only the second woman in her life who she knows who walked away from the wrong guy to really get God’s choice. I am SO glad I did…so glad He gave me a tender enough heart to lay down what I thought was His will and surrender all my plans in exchange for His. I am, literally, stunned by the goodness of God!

An Update from Chip MacGregor re: WinePress and Me

Chip MacGregor is a hero in my book…a well-respected literary agent who has refused to be intimidated by the thugs at WinePress. This is his most recent post…be sure to read the comments as well!

http://www.chipmacgregor.com/current-affairs/last-last-word-winepress/

The Latest from Well-Known Literary Agent, Chip MacGregor

You know, Chip always knows how to shine the light in the darkness and expose the hard, cold facts.

Here’s his latest blog post about WinePress Publishing and their final demise. I’d encourage you to read it and share with your social media networks.

http://www.chipmacgregor.com/current-affairs/last-word-winepress-publishing/

And as a side note, I think his timing is impeccable. We just announced the founding of Redemption Press, where we are doing everything we can to help the authors who have been abused and orphaned by WinePress Publishing. Pass the word!