Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cleaning Out

I started a process today....well, let me give a little background first before I start explaining. I was involved in my former church for 22 years and I took notes during every service I attended. Can you imagine what that resulted in? Stacks and stacks of notebooks full of sermon notes. Not only do I have notes, but I have tapes and cds too - cabinets full!

For the first couple of months after I left, I didn't even want to go in the room where I kept all of these things. I knew at some point I wanted to go through and clean out, but the thought of doing that made me sick at my stomach. I didn't dread it because I missed anything about the church, but these notebooks represented years of my life and things I thought I believed in. I thought I was doing the right thing by listening and trying to live by these teachings, but I see the truth now. And quiet frankly, it doesn't feel very good to realize I gave so much time and effort to something that wasn't right.

I sat in my floor and started pulling out the notebooks. I wasn't sure, do I chunk the whole thing or do I flip through it? Do I put myself through the torture of reading through it and then kicking myself for falling for it when I should have known better? Do I close the doors and try to do it later? The tapes and cds were easy. I knew I would never listen to those again, so I threw those in the garbage can. I opened a notebook and began to flip through it. There were some things I just ripped out and wadded up without even reading it - just the title was enough to know. But I stopped on one page that caught my eye where the sermon was titled, "How To Get Your Dream House." I read down through the notes and a couple of statements really stood out to me. Tell me what you think about these quotes. He said, "God is magnified when you live in a beautiful home. Go look at expensive homes. Don't be afraid to step out and do what you can't do. That's faith."

Are you thinking the same things I'm thinking? First of all, it's not faith to go buy something you can't afford - it's foolishness. That's one reason so many people are going into foreclosure! I had a friend one time who was going to look at homes and she was told to go look at big, expensive homes - not the ones she qualified for. That put major pressure on her. She was trying to obey the pastor, but she also didn't want to acquire a house payment she couldn't afford and put her family in a bind. Second, if God is only magnified if we live in "beautiful homes," that makes Him seem pretty shallow. I know God wants us to have nice things, but I would think He's magnified more because of our hearts being turned toward Him, rather than being so caught up in trying to scrape by to make big house payments. When a person is strapped by hefty payments they are struggling to make, that's all they think about. They can't think about God or serving people. In my mind, and I could be wrong, but I think God would rather you be happy and content with something you can afford, make your payments on time, have enough to be able to save, give, help others when needed, and not be so "ME" focused.

(This is a side note I want to throw in.) We were taught for years that God is glorified when we have lots of money and "beautiful homes." The impression given many times was that if people didn't have these things, they had not built their faith to the level it took to get them. But let me ask a question - what if it's God's will for someone to be in a profession that doesn't make 6 figures a year? What if a person knows they are called to be a school teacher, loving and teaching children, and they don't care how much it pays? What if it's God's will for someone to be a volunteer at a counseling center? What if it's God's will for someone to be a youth minister and the salary is only $25,000 a year? These salaries don't buy expensive homes and cars, so does that mean that these people who are following God's will and serving people, are not magnifying Him? No it doesn't! When a person is happy, living their life and doing God's will, it is wrong for someone to make them feel less important for not having expensive things. Besides that, one person's opinion of nice may be totally different from what another person thinks is nice. (This is one of those areas where controlling leaders try to change your identity and make you think like them.) People should not try to push their opinions off on everyone else of what they think others should have. We all need to be ourselves and buy what we like and never again be concerned if it meets someone else's standard! I want to have a nice home and I love to look at decorating magazines to know how to arrange things, but if my home doesn't meet someone else's standard, it doesn't matter. If I like it, that's all that matters. I like to get "to go" boxes at restaurants. I like to find a great sale and use coupons. That's who I am and I'm not changing for anyone!

Anyway, as I was going through these notes, I came across another page that I stopped and read. It was titled, "Walking In Love With Others." Before I even read some of the quotes, I thought back to the years of being there and all the times I saw people not being treated in loving ways. I know every leader has their bad days, but I remembered the many times I saw staff members leave the pastor's office in tears. I remembered the times I sat through these services thinking to myself, "The things being taught are not practiced." Here are some of the quotes from the notes, "Don't run people down with your mouth. Don't belittle people in the body of Christ. When you do, you do it unto Jesus. Jesus doesn't take these things lightly. The way you treat others is the way you treat Jesus." Those statements are good, true, and right, but if they are spoken by someone who doesn't live by it himself, it stings. It's confusing when you hear these things and then the next week someone is called an idiot or a clown from the pulpit. It was very confusing to me recently when it was said from the pulpit that God requires us to be kind and gentle to people, and yet I saw people being mistreated on a daily basis. I think the biggest question that arose inside of me was, "Is everything that is taught full of hypocrisy?" I mean, if a lie is told about one thing, what else is being lied about? If I am told I must walk in love, and the one telling me is not doing it himself, what else is he teaching that he is not living? Confusing, huh?

During my clean out time, a friend called and I read her a few of the statements. All she did was laugh very loudly. It would be funny, if the pile of wadded up paper didn't represent so many people's lives who trusted, believed, and based there lives on these things. I filled up one garbage can and then I had to stop and close the door. It was too much too soon. As I was going through these notes, I realized that we can have stacks of information that we've learned, but what really matters is keeping our mind on this one simple truth - God loves us. He loves who we are and everything about us. He doesn't care what kind of house we live in, He just loves us, and when we love Him and love people we are pleasing Him. Maybe I'll go back in a few days and clean out some more, but for now I need a break.


Barb said...

I'm so sorry. I still have not gotten to my sermon notes, books and tapes. It is just still too painful. I know there are some good things in there about my life that I wrote down. I just don't want to wade through the crap to dig it out yet.

Jimmy said...

I donated all of my stuff to a counter cult ministry here in town and wrote off about $2,000 on my taxes. That really made me want to cry.


Anonymous said...

Thank God that at least some of us are becoming deprogrammed from all the false teaching we have submitted ourselves to for so many years. I pray that others will see the contradictions and get out before they are too badly damaged.

Susan said...

(I'm sure it's a much needed break considering the contadictions!)
My heart goes out to the bloggers you have touched and who write to you - far too many people have experienced disappointment at the hand of ministers.
After leaving our former church, I understood (for the first time) how someone could not go to church or be afraid to trust. Yet, we were already setting our sites on another church to visit. (We didn't allow ourselves even a week off. A man had wronged us, not our God.) That church, Church of the Highlands is now our church home.
I attended an amazing Women's Conference there last night and today. I would like to share several comments that were spoken by last night's guest speaker (on love):
Confidence in God's love gives us strength to follow Him.
Love transforms your place of pain to a place of purpose.
Endure trials with Christ-likeness. There is a crown for endurance.
Hardship is like fertilizer.
Each of these statements spoke to me!
Through something last year that I felt was a "hardship/disappointment", God has truly blessed me and my life has been enriched. How is that? God is a good and faithful God, and I've just continued on in Him (like you have, Set Free). I realized I had focused too much on "faith" and needed to refocus on "Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith"! I have such a renewed love for God and His Word. God placed us in a wonderful church with a wonderful pastor - a man of God who understands he could be just a short step away from failure if he allowed himself to be. I appreciate the "watch" he keeps on himself to not become prideful or make a misstep, and I'm reminded to pray for him that he never will. He's so transparent and willing to share his heart (something many pastors will not be).
In our small group last week we spoke of David. He served God with all his heart as a young man. He erred when he was a king. People in high places should never forget who they are. Bless God, (as w/ David) there's forgiveness for us all when we do fail.
Dear readers, please let your life grow into something beautiful beyond your hardship/disappointment. (Throw away old notes and CDs if necessary.) Pray, reach out again, trust again, don't be fooled into believing there's not another church/pastor out there for you (the devil's a liar), let God lead and guide you into a wonderful church. As I heard spoken last night, let (God's) love transform your place of pain to a place of purpose. Don't miss out on His blessings!
I've just spent hours with other women like me who love God, heard the Word, were able to ask questions in sessions, shared meals together, praised and worshipped together, took Communion, and enjoyed being with one another in the presence of God. If I'd taken myself "out of the game", I would not have experienced this awesome weekend.

vf said...

Thank you for a great post. I threw away all my notes the day my husband was fired from our former church. I had been wanting to do it for a long time and that just gave me a most excellent reason to. I'm glad to have all that false teaching out of my house.

It is also interesting what you said about the apparent need for big houses, people's lack of ability to pay for them, and the various professions people have. I participated in a health screening at a local orphanage yesterday and was able to meet some of the precious people who take care of the kids who live and go to school there. I was so awed by what they did and felt very honored to get to meet them and hear about the various roles they play. They definitely are not in it for the money, and certainly don't make six figures. But they are happy right where they are and their kindness and unselfishness is truly what magnifies God.

Set Free said...

Thanks so much for the sweet comment. You really understood what I was trying to say.

It surely puts things in perspective when you visit a place like this and when you see people's hearts to serve others, especially when it's children.

Anonymous said...

I do not think that everyone is ready to jump into another church right away after the experience we all had. There are some great people out there who are having a hard time trusting anyone yet.

Anonymous said...


Great post! You have described so clearly some of the things in our hearts and minds that we have to sift through upon leaving our former church.

Yes, our former pastor preached on love and yet was mean, abusive, and prideful.

Another thing that revealed what the pastor valued was the "testimonies" he'd have people give from the platform. (By no means were all of them bad.) Some of those he'd handpick to tell about their financial "victories". One in particular was someone who'd been financially "blessed". The pastor wanted us to follow this wonderful example. The only problem was, I personally knew this person to be stingy (I could give you a few stories about how this person wasn’t generous at all), condescending, and downright hateful to people in the church. Needless to say I wasn't left feeling exhorted after testimonies like that.

Some of us weren't just abused by the pastor. Many of us who weren't on staff, were abused by people who were favored by the pastor. I know because I volunteered in a department in the church where I'd have to try to pick up the pieces after people were mistreated and belittled by the pastor's favorites. (Remember the very unchristian social structure there?) This is one major thing I am still trying to get over.

The former pastor equated financial success with spiritual fruit. How sad and shallow!

-Amos M.

getting there said...

I throw my stuff away as I go along, the teaching cd's, the notes, everything that even resembles the past is being chucked out. even the magazines which I edited and published for the church is being thrown out.

I still have a lot of clearing to do.

You know we also got taught that wealth and our prosperity glorified God, man how could I have listened to that garbage. Jesus himself became poor! That people would see our wealth and want what we've got... what utter nonsence!
Thanks for sharing your story!

Susan said...

(To Anon. 10-26. 11:16 pm and others,)
Each of our situations is unique. I realize that the depth to which some of us was affected is greater than others. As our situation (following the departure from the former church) has been like that of many, I wanted to share it to show that there can be great things ahead. We were blessed to find a wonderful church and pastor and we (with our children) have found greater peace and joy!

Our pastor was once part of a ministry who's leader erred. He is very "watchful". It is a policy that he and other ministers do not travel alone. I am thankful that he understands (what he calls) "he's one step away from stupid." I've heard him say he wants to "finish". He knows he's started something, but that it's more important to "finish". As he keeps a guard against sexual impurity, pride, and the love of money, etc., he will do just that.

Remember you can still trust God. Please know that there are pastors and ministries that are following after the heart of God, doing His work, and being blessed. Is it any wonder - after what we walked through - that when I see the heart of my pastor as he shares things like those mentioned above that it brings tears to my eyes?!

It is my prayer that we all find peace and joy as we continue loving and serving our wonderful God!

Set free, thank you for posts like Cleaning Out. Thankfully, we spent very little on material there. I thought it was interesting when I found my youngest child throwing away a spiral notebook because it bore a particular name on the front (and she herself chose to discard it).

Anonymous said...

I know what you are talking about. I still haven't been able to go through my notes yet. I know it's not all bad, but I just need more time. I don't know when I'll get to it.

Set Free said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Set Free said...

To anonymous at 11:14,
It's perfectly OKAY for us to take our time.

anonymous 11:16 said...

There are those of us who had the same confidence in our former pastor that others seem to have in their new one. I assure you that in the beginning everything seemed as wonderful in our former church as it now does at your new church. People need to be on guard against history repeating itself.

Anonymous said...

It is very easy for a man to get into pride about how good he is at not being prideful. If someone has to keep telling you what safeguards they have to watch over them be careful. I could list many that our former "pastor" used to tell us about. We were told from the pulpit that we belonged to the greatest church in the world and that the pastor was a man of great character and integrity. HA! Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.

I only want to look to Jesus because everyone else is subject to failure and will fail at one time or another in this life. The higher we put someone on a pedestal the further they have to fall.

My trust and focus is on HIM and I am going to be very careful before I place my trust in another man. Time will tell as it did for those in our former church.

getting there said...

Anonymous, excellent comment, especially the 'fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me' We should never look to the pastor. OUr church also seemed perfect at first. Everything was great.. so I am super cautious to ever trust again. The only one I trust is Jesus!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous 11:16. I know everybody wants to be upbeat about a new church but it pays to ask 'why'...and ask often! And question motives and who benefits from the way a church is set up.

Anonymous said...

I left the same church "susan" (above)left and we now go to the same wonderful church together. I appreciate her testimony of finding a great place for her and her family to worship. It gives hope to those still looking. That is what testimonies are supposed to do.

I was in the service she spoke of when our new pastor told us about his goal to "finish" and how he takes precautions to insure that he does finish. I have to admit, it did bring tears to my eyes. It made me thankful that he didn't think that he was "above temptation". He realizes that he is human like everyone else. He answers ALL questions and encourages people to ask more. Nothing to hide. He NEVER requires that we put him or his family on a pedistal or serve them. He loves people and serves people. No, he's not perfect, but it sure sounds like he reverences the One who is!

Please know that those of us who have come out of the abuse DEFINITELY take a much closer look at things now. We do ask more questions and I think we would all agree that if ONE red flag goes up, we would be OUTTA THERE!

Anonymous said...

Set Free, you have inspired me to at least begin the "cleaning out" process. I have many notebooks, tapes, CDs, etc. to get rid of; not just our former pastor's material, but also the false prophet that still has meetings there. It will be quite a process, but I think I am up for it. It's better to get rid of all of that junk before my children pick it up and read it. I don't want them poisoned with false doctrine. I want their focus to be on Jesus and helping people, not "getting stuff" and "showing it off".

Your posts are always so helpful. You have truly walked me through the healing process, and for that I am thankful.

Set Free said...

To anonymous 2:38,
Thanks! It really means a lot to me for you to say that I've helped you.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to your next post!

Aida said...

Great post, set free.

It took me a while to get rid of my notes and tapes because there was a lot of good things in there but finally I just chucked everything. I've found out that what I needed to remember is still in my heart and Father has replaced the junk with fresh understanding of truth. I think for me it was difiicult to fully receive while I was still holding on to the past.

My greatest joy was when I realized I was no longer pining for the group. I was released and now able to look forward without the strings of the past holding me back.