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.