When I was 15, my mother announces we are leaving the large, wealthy Baptist church. She was a charter member, but no longer could tolerate the scrutiny of the pastor and many other members. I had no emotion over our departure. However, I must admit in the wake of leaving the church, I certainly did not leave much behind, in fact quite the opposite. I packed myself numerous boxes of substance and toted them right out those church doors. One box contained my precious salvation and baptism along with a few spiritual disciplines like daily praying, reading my Bible, listening to my Christian music LP’s, and the various convictions of living a moral life. I lugged out a heavier box crammed with legalistic rules that I had witnessed and been taught to believe was the mark of the accomplished Christian soldier. I hauled a box brimming to overflowing with all the reasons I was unlovable and unacceptable to God and everything I ‘should’ be doing to gain His love and favor. I carted off a box of glass shards each representing the countless times I was mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and exploited by those church kids.
In this church, my mother was unacceptable because she came as a single parent bringing my brother and I on Sunday mornings, sometimes to Sunday School and church, sometimes just to Sunday School, sometimes just to church. My father adamantly refused to attend any church stating that the church was full of hypocrites. I never knew what that meant, other than Sunday morning TV, home repairs, and working in the garage was not what hypocrites did. Hypocrites went to church. The church itself had high expectations that everyone should attend Sunday morning Sunday school and church service, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening prayer meeting, and go door-to-door soul winning and visitation on Thursday evenings. She never met that mark and grew to feel judged, isolated, and lonely, particularly because she was ‘unequally yoked’ and her financial class did not measure up to their standard. I suppose she felt like condemnation was poured all over her. I believe there was solid evidence to support her feelings, but her own nefarious ways as well heaped conviction and guilt upon her soul. When she had a small meeting with the pastor to get ‘wise counsel’ about filing for divorce, it became her worst nightmare as the pastor resolutely objected. From that point on, she felt doomed to a marginalized place where only the poor were tossed a few crumbs. That is when she decided to leave.
As for myself, I heaved my over-stuffed boxes on my back, followed my mother out of that church, and year upon year, walked through life like a pack donkey. I believed those strongboxes contained all of my foundational beliefs; they contained the path and role-models to my spirituality; they contained my performance goals; they contained my spiritual benchmarks; they contained my self-assessment tormentors; they contained my mother’s boxes; and jointly they continually catapulted me into a troublesome struggle with church and God. Now, of course, I had not a clue of all I jam-packed into my boxes at such an impressionable age. I never opened them to take a closer look and sort the contents all out. I just kept relentlessly trying to apply all these round pegs into my square holes, always expecting different results if I just kept trying harder and harder to become a round peg. For decades, the contents seeped all over my life, but here again I was ignorant and was not able to identify all the boxes strapped to my heart and mind; I was just a donkey loaded down with faceless, nameless burdens. As for the specifics of my personal experiences at this church, I will share in my future post entitled Church 102.
I am entitling this post Church 101 because boy do I have a lot more to say about church(s). Yet, I want to make this clear, I believe to the core of my being that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and the sins of the whole world – that is you too my readers! I believe Jesus is the only one true living Son of God. I believe that He was crucified on a cross, died a completely innocent man as the sacrificial lamb to redeem our sins, was buried in a tomb, and rose again in three days offering all salvation to those who believe. I believe the Bible is Truth and contains everything we need to know about living a life that glorifies God. I believe in reading my Bible and praying daily. I believe we are called to corporate worship. I believe that all true Christians throughout the entire world are the Body of Christ. I am a Christian believer saved by God’s grace and mercy. I am a follower of Jesus. He is my continual atonement!
With that said, I am one imperfect human being!! I have wrestled and struggled with various aspects of my spirituality throughout my life. Some issues have nearly crippled my faith. I have wandered off into complacency on occasion. I have meandered in and out of churches. I have felt deep discouragement. I have been angry with God. I have questioned God. I have read the book of Job about 100 times diminished to tears trying to understand grief and suffering. My pathway has twisted and turned, yet, I believe He is constantly pursuing me, in fact, I pray regularly asking Him to never let me go, to always come find me, and to do whatever it takes to humbly bring me before Him. Oh, and by the way, that prayer is continuously answered — He does not, He does, and He has! My soul truly seeks after Him.
Love you, mean it!