Tag Archives: church

Is Your Faith Community Safe?

14 Sep

Did you know that churches and other places of worship are NOT usually looked at as allies by domestic violence shelters?  Did you know that the rate of domestic violence is the same in the church as it is outside of the church?  Did you know that more than 1/4th of all women will be victims of domestic violence in her lifetime?

If this sounds extreme to you, I don’t blame you.  It would have sounded preposterous to me before 2007, as well.  In 2007, I counseled Stacy Peterson (a church-goer) for the last time, and about 2 months later, she disappeared, and she’s never been found.  Her husband, Drew Peterson (also, a church-goer) is the only suspect in her disappearance, and was convicted in 2012 for killing his previous wife, Kathleen Savio.

I know today that churches are not typically great allies for victims of abuse, and I have to keep talking about it until that changes.  That’s why I’m so excited to share this with you…

On October 1st, in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in memory of Stacy Peterson, and Kathleen Savio, I will be part of launching an initiative to start changing the church culture.  The initiative is called “The Safe Faith Community Project,” and through it, we will be helping churches become allies of victims and of shelters around the country.

If you are a pastor or church leader, and would like to find out more about this, send me a message.  Let victims know that you will stand with them.

Until then, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Peace,

Neil

 

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Cecil the Lion and the American Conscience

31 Jul

Cecil the Lion has become a household name, here in the United States.  As a matter of fact, I don’t recall seeing this much outrage about the killing of an animal…since Michael Vick’s dog-fighting shenanigans.  If you’ve been hiding in a cave recently, let me tell you about Cecil.  He was a beautiful and regal lion who lived in a national park in Zimbabwe, until an American hunter named Walter Palmer went to the African nation and allegedly illegally killed the lion on July 1st.

My heart was saddened.  I’ve always had a soft heart for animals, but to see this former “king of the jungle” lying lifeless next to a smiling hunter made me feel a deep sense of sadness.  Apparently, many people have felt that way, as #CecilTheLion has trended on Twitter for days.  Some have called for new regulations on hunting, and others have called for Walter Palmer to become lion food.

Even more so, I’ve been haunted for days over the lack of perspective that so many of us seem to have, as a nation.  There has been FAR more collective outrage over the killing of Cecil the Lion then there has been over the Planned Parenthood fiasco…at least in the mainstream media.  How sad that the media would talk more about Cecil the Lion than the killing and dismembering of babies (in the name of medical advancement for the living)!

Now some will say that people can be concerned about both issues.  I agree, wholeheartedly!  But…they aren’t the same.  Life is all important, but humans are far more important than animals.  Humans are the only part of creation that God said in Genesis were created “in the image of God.”  My worldview demands that I value humans more than any other part of creation, because God does, too.

Some believe that all life is equal, and should be cared for in the same manner.  If that is true, then are you also outraged by the fact that Planned Parenthood has killed nearly 7,000,000 babies since 1970?  Are you troubled that 58,000,000 babies have been killed since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973?

If we’re being honest, most of us care more about Cecil the Lion, as evidenced by the blowing up of the interwebs by animal rights activists.  But, you might say: abortion is legal, and hunting endangered animals is not.  True, but is it moral to follow law based on an immoral decision?  I would say not.

So what can we do about this?  I would say that first, we need to find our “True North.”  Our lives’ compasses need to be recalibrated, and quickly.  If we don’t value the next generation more than any animal, then we are in deep trouble.  We’re a nation with blood on our hands and ice in our veins and…consciences that are seared to what is right and good.  May we seek God’s forgiveness for this human holocaust that we’ve put our approval upon.

Secondly, we need to encourage our faith communities to do more than pray and shout outside of abortion clinics.  If I were a woman in crisis (or not in crisis) and was thinking about having an abortion, I’m pretty sure the way to my heart would not be through angry talking points.  What if churches banded together with pregnancy resource centers, and funded the work that they do to put Planned Parenthood out of business?  What if women felt true love from our churches and knew that they would be loved and supported throughout their pregnancies?  I would say that many of them would not have abortions, and would find the love that God intended for them to experience.

Finally, I would encourage everyone who believes in the value of the unborn to speak up.  Raise your voice on social media and in your conversations…in love.  Push Congress to de-fund Planned Parenthood, and vote them out if they don’t.  Sometimes people become anesthetized to current events, and need a chance to process them with loved ones before they see the faultiness of their thinking.

In 2008, in my struggle to choose between Obama and McCain, I had a conversation with someone about the issue of abortion.  I remember saying to my friend that while I believed abortion to be sad, that I leaned toward being pro-choice because I didn’t believe that “morality could be legislated.”  I now believe very differently, thanks to The Center for Medical Progress’s work to expose the sickness of Planned Parenthood.  Morality IS legislated.  Our laws are all based on morality.  It is only “goodness” that can’t be legislated.

Peace,

Neil

The Gospel, Church and Domestic Violence

21 Jul

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is GOOD NEWS.  What does that mean?  What is the news?  It’s the news that we have been set free.  Free from sin and death.  Free from the tyranny of self.  Free to be the people who God created us to be.  Free to serve, and free to use our power to uplift the marginalized.  Jesus didn’t come to give you everything you want…that’s a patently false gospel.  But Jesus did come to restore the image of God in you, and he came to partner with you in offering that same life-giving gift to others.

 

I’ve wondered for years how this applies to the 1 in 3 women who sit in church each Sunday and are victims of domestic violence.  How does this Gospel impact their lives?  For most it doesn’t.  Why?

 

Because church leaders have hindered their access to Jesus.

 

You might say…but when did I block someone’s way to Jesus?  I’d NEVER do such a thing.

 

But, you did just that when you told the woman who came to you with tears and trembling that her husband beat and raped her at gun-point each day for 10 years that she must have done something to cause him to have to treat her that way.

 

You did just that when the woman came to you and she said she was afraid for her life, and you said you were sorry, but the Bible made it “clear” that divorce was only possible in case of sexual infidelity.

 

And you did just that when you told the woman suffering from PTSD that she needed to embrace the “cross that she was meant to bear” and that God would reward her for it in Heaven one day.

 

The Gospel IS good news for victims of domestic violence, while very sadly, the church has not been.  We must change our response, or be held accountable to God for our careless theology and our lazy and heartless, religiously-devoid-of-goodness sort of responses to the ones that Jesus came to set free.

 

So what can we do?  Here at Naperville Christian Church, we pledge to stand with victims of domestic violence.  What that means is that we will LISTEN to victims when they come to us, and we won’t ever try to convince victims to reconcile with their abusers.  Victims aren’t the problem; abusers are.  We also work to find temporary safe places for victims to stay that are unknown to their abusers.  Shelters can’t do it all, so we’re here to help complement their good work.  Finally, we help victims get a “head-start” in the legal system, by encouraging each of them to complete the Evidentiary Affidavit of Abuse, which is a ground-breaking tool designed in response to the disappearance of Stacy Peterson.

 

Even though we’re doing significant work to help victims, the resources needed are diverse, and sadly quite scattered.  I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with some great people whom are doing incredible work around our local community and around the world.  Here are some of them:

 

1.  Rise From The Ashes ~ They help women sever the legal ties that bind them to their abusers.  They also assist with the emotional trauma of DV with counseling.

2.  Restore ~ An international Christian alliance which seeks to end violence against women.

3.  SafeNight APP ~ An App that helps domestic violence and human-trafficking organizations crowd-fund hotel rooms when there’s an urgent need and no available room in DV shelters.

4.  A Cry for Justice ~ Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst.

5.  Focus Ministries ~ Domestic Violence and Domestic Abuse Help for Women and Families

 

All of these organizations are good news for victims of domestic violence.  Will you and your church become that, too?  Please contact me at neil.schori@napervillechristian.org if you’d like to book me to speak at your church or to your organization, so that more will experience the GOOD of the Gospel.

 

**I added numbers 4 & 5 tonight, as I inadvertently failed to mention them and the good work they do.  Forgive my oversight.

 

Peace,

Neil Schori

 

 

Jesus Came for So Much More

10 Apr

Earlier today, one of my favorite followers of Jesus (that I’ve never met), Carlos Whittaker (@loswhit), tweeted this:

Jesus didn’t die just so you could go to heaven.  He died so you could fully live on earth.  Salvation is for today.

I LOVE this for so many reasons.  Too many Christians walk around filled with hopelessness.  Too many Christians have settled for mediocre lives.  Too many Christians have bought into the idea of “surviving earth” and one day floating on a cloud in heaven.

What about NOW?!

Why do we paint Jesus into a corner, instead of expecting him to do GREATER things in our lives?  Because we don’t understand why Jesus came.

In the gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 10, Jesus said that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the FULL.”  While heaven is our destination, we shouldn’t wait to truly live until we get there.  Heaven can start to manifest itself in our lives the moment we say yes to Jesus.  If we are supposed to have FULL life, then why do we settle for less than that?

I am daring to believe that Jesus meant what he said, but I know that it will take work on my part.  I’m not going to sit and do nothing and expect to live a full life.  I believe that Jesus wants to partner with me in bringing about the full and whole life that he spoke of throughout the gospel accounts.

So what does that look like?  At my church, Naperville Christian Church (@napervillecc) we are on a mission to experience every bit of wholeness that Jesus wants for us while we’re on this earth.  It will be messy, but we’re going to stand with you and contend for it all.

We are working on beginning a recovery ministry, because everyone has issues and hurts to deal with.  We are only supporting missions that we can “go and see,” because we don’t think that people are really changed by just giving a few bucks to people they’ll never have the chance to know and love.  We are encouraging all of our staff to get regular counseling, because healthy people encourage others to seek and find wholeness.  We are not going to overly program, because programs don’t lead to life; relationships do.  We believe that physical fitness and healthy eating matters, too.  All of these things lead to life and not to death.

We don’t have all of this figured out, but we’re convinced that this is a more life-giving way to live out the full-life that Jesus came to give.

In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote:

…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…

Paul wasn’t suggesting that we have any power to get ourselves to heaven.  What he meant was that God had given us power to work toward our “wholeness.”  He gives the strength, but we have to get up and use it.

So…work it out.

Peace,

Neil

I Dream of The Church

2 Apr

Over the 6 years that I’ve been the lead pastor of Naperville Christian Church, I’ve experienced tremendous highs and deep lows.  We’ve had growth and loss.  We’ve seen the beauty of unity and the shared pursuit of vision, but we’ve also experienced the pain of division.  What have we learned through it all?

I believe more than ever that God has a plan for all things.  His very nature is redemptive.  So when the Apostle Paul says that God is working for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose…I’m seeing and living that in a whole new way.  God really does take the dirt that is tossed on us and cause us to grow.  It’s painful.  I don’t want more of it.  But I see the promise of the future!  And the future is bright and full of goodness.

I dream of The Church (not just MY church) being a hub of wholeness for the hurting.  And it will be messy.  And that’s ok.  I dream of The Church being a place where transparency is not only encouraged, but anticipated.  I dream of a place where people can receive the rest that Jesus promises when we bring all of our baggage to him.  A place of respite.  A place that values wholeness psychologically and socially, and physically and spiritually. 

I dream of a place where the broken flock, but don’t stay that way.  A place where we walk through the valleys of the shadow of death with each other, and then offer the helping hand that encourages us to move beyond the broken to healing and wholeness.  A place where we serve the world together and demonstrate the sacrificial love of the Savior we claim to follow.

God is doing a NEW thing in The Church, and Naperville Christian Church is one expression of God’s extraordinary plan.  And I’m grateful for the mess that led us to this place.

 

Peace,

Neil

The Graceless Church

1 Aug

Earlier today, I received this message on Twitter:

“Really pastor? Last straw. Unnecessary. Unfollowing.”

This was from a woman that I don’t know whatsoever. I don’t follow her on Twitter, but for some reason she follows me. I’ve never even met this woman. But something that I wrote bothered her enough that she pulled out the “shame” card on me. She was responding to an article that I posted yesterday about a paralyzed man who whose dog chewed off one of his…well, you probably get the point. I wrote: “Best friend?! Ha.”

Was the article shocking? Yes. Worthy of an unfollow and shaming tactics? I don’t think so.

Sadly, it looks like she is a church-goer.

Church can be one of the most graceless places you could ever be and that sickens me. I’ve found far more grace from people who don’t claim the name of Jesus. How can that be?!

Church-goers seem to be more interested in monitoring what others put on Facebook and Twitter than they care to watch the hardening of their own hearts. Church is more often a place of condemnation than a place to gather and to get well. And that simply should never be. Why? Because Jesus died for us and offered us a new life free of shame and judgment.

Why then would someone who claims to follow Jesus offer anything other than raw, unadulterated, dripping, all-encompassing grace?

As a pastor, I strive to represent Jesus well. I try hard to love intensely. I try to forgive quickly. I try to be gracious. I know that I don’t do it was well as Jesus would, but even with that realization, I’m met with overflowing grace from the Creator of all things.

So what’s next? Where do we go from here? I’m disgusted in the moment by shaming and judgmental churches and people. But, I’ll get up and be awakened to the possibilities of how far grace and mercy can reach.

Imagine a church that is as welcoming as a bar. Dream of a place where everyone recognizes their own faults and shortcomings and no one has time to look for the problems in other people. Is there a place where we can all come together to encourage each other and where we seek to draw out the best in each other, first?

I want to be a part of a place like that. So, I’ll keep dreaming and pushing for it. Until then, I won’t be condemned by the voices of shame, and I hope that you won’t either.

Peace,

Neil

 

Breaking the Silence of Domestic Violence—“God does NOT want you to be abused…”

13 Sep

From yet another brave woman, telling her story of #DV and survival. Be encouraged as you read her story:

I would just like to say that I am one of those woman who Neil has helped escape the domestic violence that I lived with for too many years. It feels so tremendous to say!! I made a video and every time I think about it, it brings me to tears to think, I was one of those woman. How on earth did that happen. I think it is important for woman to know that it’s not just physical abuse that is considered domestic violence. I endured years of emotional and verbal abuse which eventually turned into what I would say is sexual abuse. I still struggle with excepting that but I am working on it. You don’t even realize it is happening because the abuser is so smooth in their tactics. You begin to question your own thoughts, feelings, and opinions and are ALWAYS trying to say or do the right thing. But it will never be the right thing in his eyes. I think Emotional and verbal abuse are often pushed aside because you have no proof, no bruises to show, but by no means is this to be minimized as anything but domestic violence. All abuse leaves a woman feeling defeated, unworthy, scared and unable to make sound decisions. You are constantly questioning everything you do and say whether it is good enough or was the right thing. I lost all sense of myself, I rarely saw friends and when I did I payed for it with verbal attacks for days afterwards. I felt like I was going crazy. I was told repeatedly that I would never get custody of my children he would say to scare me, I was told I had to have sex because he had needs, I was not allowed to go to family birthdays because he was not welcome because of his actions, this is very minimal to what I could write, but you get the point. I still remember the night before I left. I cried out to God to just rescue me, I knew I alone could do nothing to get out of this situation. I cried to God, alright In your time Lord, I trust you will open the door for me to leave. He answered me in less than 24 hours. You have to understand that for many years I prayed for a way out, but I was not fully leaning on my God, I was to be patient and he would open every door for me that I needed, and he did!! I got an order of protection and filed for divorce. I have been free physically for several months now, but the mental, emotional attacks continue most often daily through text messages, because I am in the custody battle of my life. I know God still has a great plan for me, I (and you) just have to trust him. I still struggle with feeling defeated, constantly checking over my shoulder when I hear familiar noises in public, and whenever I see him I slouch as if I am a beaten dog. I constantly tell myself to sit up straight to not allow him this power, I am a strong woman of God. And as all abused woman know this is very hard to believe when you’ve been told for so long other wise. the churches need to become very aware of domestic violence, because woman seek guidance from their church and when you are constantly told under no circumstance is divorce ok, you feel like you have no way out. This is why I am so thankful for Neil and is commitment to make churches more aware of domestic violence. The church I had been attending at the time made me feel like I was making my situation sound worse than it really was. You have to know that most churches response to divorce in a domestic violence situation is very wrong. God does NOT want you to be abused and would NEVER want you to stay under any circumstances. Neil has helped me understand this, he is a great pastor!!! If you don’t do anything to get yourself free, at least for your sanity put yourself in the word of God daily. Psalms is a wonderful book to read anytime you need a lift in your day. I tell myself and my children EVERYDAY to put on the armor of God. Just try it once it feels funny but, you will feel so empowered.

Armor of God ( you actually have to physically stand up in a room by yourself and pretend you are putting on all this armor)

Belt of Truth- God fills you with truth when Satan is filling you with lies, physically pretend to put on your belt.
Shoes of Peace- he is walking with you and helping you find peace. Physically pretend to put on your shoes.
Sword of the Spirit- hold it in your hand!
Shield of Faith-Hold it in your hand and claim it!
Helmet of Salvation- you are saved, Jesus loves you NO MATTER WHAT YOU have done in the past, present or will do in the future!
Put on the full body Armor of God!! It makes me feel awesome and more confident knowing I am protected. Also, make sure you are surrounded by people that can build you up daily, and reassure you that you are going to be okay and that you are not crazy! I am so thankful for people like Neil, Paula Silva, Susan Murphy-Milano and my mom and sister who always believed me and all of the other woman out there too. There are people who care!!