Sunday, May 5, 2013

Claiming the Victory :: My Rescue from False Doctrine

My earliest years were wrapped up in a little village church, where everyone started as friends and became a family. It was a body of humble people - dairy farmers, groundskeepers, receptionists, carpenters, housewives. They perfected the carry-in lunch and someone always had extra when we forgot our own table service. The garish carpet is still sketched on the floorboards of my memory and I knew those halls like the flip-side of my eternity.

I sat in the pew - middle section - sometimes sucking on the one in front of me. I can still taste the tang of the varnish. All I really knew was that Jesus loved me. He loved me because they kept on telling me He did, and I trusted them, because they popped corn in the cooker well past dark on summer evenings and laughed with my parents until the whole room shook. They were my kin, and I believed them.

One day, when some might say I was much too young to understand, I walked up front at the end of the service and I asked Jesus to live in me. I bawled my eyes out, not because I was overcome by a certain force or unseen magnitude, but because I was embarrassed in front of all those people. I didn't want them looking at me. I had a sneaking suspicion they would all want to hug me when service was over, and all I could think about was lunch and a long stretch of afternoon with my family.

Of course they hugged me.

Before long I had my gray Awana shirt and I made it my mission to memorize the most verses so I could win the trophy. I honed my sword-drill skills. I stuffed my pockets to the gills for the pocket scavenger hunt. I won a lot of the churchy contests and none of the sporty ones and life kept moving, kept on turning. The dark lurch of "doing" was creeping in, but not all had been lost, life was still right as far as I knew, and Jesus sure did love me.

Nothing ever stays as good as we think it should and before long, lots of adults got in the way, disturbing the tenuous balance of my universe, pitching me straight out of my safety net. My family left that church.

In my mind, that's where the trouble started.

It's been a long road between ages 8 and 37. My faith charts well outside the plot of a steady incline. It's marked with pitches and dips, and maybe that's unavoidable. Maybe almost everyone would say the same.

All I know is somewhere along the way, people stopped reminding me that Jesus loved me. I grew in years and it became more about what I should do than what had been done for me. I had the power to make Jesus sad, to incite God's wrath, to hurl a mountain into the ocean, or to prove my infant faith to everyone and doubt for one second - doubt anything, for any length of time. I could insist that I deserved great wealth, I could say one million times that he should be healed - that he was healed already. I could say it fast enough that my words might bleed into a truer version of righteousness, I could scream it out so everyone could see what I had. I could ignore that itch in my soul, the one that told me captivity filled those folding chairs and kept them filled, the one that said I should trust almost no one in the room, save my faithful parents and a handful of others.

I was taught via a silent, churchy osmosis that sin was to be extinguished by the sheer force of my faith and that if perhaps (as many suspected) my faith was as puny as it looked, I should at the very least take pains to bury it, hide it, do something with it, because it didn't belong at church. The only place sin had under that strange, puffy ceiling was at the front-end of a testimony that ended in victory. They only spoke of sin in the past tense, and sometimes they called it demon possession, just to make the stakes even graver. Meanwhile, sin trolled around us, passed the plate, shook our hands, drove us home.

I wonder if things could have been different if we had been allowed to see the quieter work of a God who transforms a life over time, by repeated exposure to the boldness of His love amid personal failure, by the simplicity and power of His word. Maybe if the truth had been allowed a folding chair of its own, a little girl wouldn't have walked into adolescence and adulthood with a cynic's view of Christianity and a penchant for disproving her own brokenness.

I can't bend time, but I have a hunch that it would have served me well to learn by repetition not that God wanted me to be financially prosperous, but that He wanted me low, humble, needing much, clinging always and only to Him for survival.

I don't believe the church that skewed my worth and honed my discernment deserves any measure of my bitterness or judgment, though it's sometimes difficult to feel otherwise. I know the church where I met Jesus as a child suffered many of the same stains as the "new" church. I simply had naivete on my side in the beginning. I think they were all humans, wounded and hurting, afflicted by the exact disease that feeds my ugliness. But rather than confronting the poison with honesty and integrity, they showed every little pair of eyes that it wasn't a top priority and they hinged our standing in the church community on our ability wear our mask with optimal, unshakable skill.

Suffice it to say, I'm done with all that. I'm so freaking done. I was done for years, incrementally, in doses just big enough to make it down. And then, I was done altogether. I was done in the moment of my personal decimation and done again, every day since. I was done when I knew I was forgiven in spite of my undeservedness. I was done when I sat for the first time in a new Sunday school class, ten years ago, and watched as the guy across the table laid bare his faults to the shock and surprise of no one. I wanted more of that.

The company we keep has changed in recent years but the souls are the same and I know for sure that they don't need me to wop them over the head (literally or otherwise) and scream that they need Jesus. They need to be reminded of his wild love for them. They don't need to hear that God saved me years ago and now I'm almost perfect, never missing a step, hurling every mountain I see into the ocean, waiting and waiting for an inevitable sum of cash to drop from the sky to my feet. They need to see the slow, transforming power of Christ in me, the work he does every minute of every day, while I do things like whine and rebel and repent. They need to watch me not get every little thing I want. They need to watch me suffer, and they need to know that any grace I manage to exhibit is nothing that I manufacture on my own.

The church that formed me is the church that snatched me up in adulthood and has now captured me again. The names, the towns, the shade of the carpeting, all different. But the message is unanimous and clear: Jesus loves me. He saved me because He knew I needed saving. He knows I'm destined for failure outside of Him, but spotless in His sight. I am a mess and so are the rest of His loves, but there's no end to his mercy. He screams and cheers and street-fights for me and He won't ever stop. He needs me to go to His people and He needs me to not care at all what it might cost. Because to live in Him is gain. It's all there is. It's purity and truth. It is holiness.


  1. So I'm going to read this a few more times.

  2. I love this so.
    : )
    I had a gray Awana shirt too. Last year the head of the Awana department died. I went to his funeral and cried and cried.
    I will never forget how Joe and Kathy Martin poured love into my life.
    They told me Jesus loved me.
    I am forever grateful.
    I try to tell Kaish every day.

  3. Thank you for reminding me that Jesus loves me.
    Nothing more and nothing less.

  4. WOW!
    Jesus' love is extravagant and it is for the broken. Thank you for sharing this powerful and beautiful gospel experience!

  5. i wish i knew you for real.
    i would talk your ear off about the love of jesus.
    and other things.
    that is all.
    peace out.

  6. yes. Yes. YES!!!
    The sum of it all--Jesus loves me.
    He reminds me everyday b/c I tend to forget.
    I was the little girl in the little church and then the girl who thought too much and tried too hard and all the while Jesus just wanted to love me.
    He knew it would be enough.

  7. Beautifully written!

    I think Christ's love for us is one of the most important things for us to truly gain a testimony of. We'll mess up sometimes, we'll make mistakes, but through all of that, He loves us.

  8. Amen, sister. And so beautifully written! He came to set the captives free. No use in sitting around pretending that we aren't captives in need of a savior. That we don't need to die to self every hour of every day.

  9. Jesus loves me, this I know, in spite of church, I know it so. (that's my own rendition of the old childhood song)... and I love you too dear Shannan. Love the way you speak truth so boldly.

  10. Yes.
    "He screams and cheers and street-fights for me and He won't ever stop."

    Still being rescued from myself, the false doctrine that has snuck into my life, my entitled-views of what society (and church) has said God "owes" me if I do x, y, and z.

  11. a to the men.

    also? in 4th grade at awana's i sang "a whole new world" with my friend. only i was aladdin's part (blame it on my boy haircut and pudginess). how's that for church. SO WEIRD, i am.

  12. preach. PREACH.
    love you, and every word here.
    praise jesus for truth.


  13. Our journeys are similar but I'm still trying to rediscover the Jesus loves me part. I'm stuck on the I'm not doing enough part. Every time I read your words - I am reminded of grace and I receive it again... for that day.

  14. This is great. I love especially "I am a mess and so are the rest of His loves, but there's no end to his mercy." Amen.

  15. "The only place sin had under that strange, puffy ceiling was at the front-end of a testimony that ended in victory. They only spoke of sin in the past tense..." -- thissssssss. Exactly this.

  16. Wow. I'm going to have to read this one over several times to catch it all. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  17. It's been my experience that many churches do more to turn away the unsaved than to save them. Which saddens me. I think it's because when you let human nature and artificial rules get in the way, it's inevitable. You know the old saying, "you're preaching to the choir"? It's a saying for a reason.

    Do we all go through dips and valleys with our faith? I think we do. And it's the authentic experience of which you write that brings us back.

    Your honesty amazes me.

    Much love.

  18. You are able to put into words what is in my heart (wish I could say it like you do)!

  19. Wow. This is some serious awesome. This: "He screams and cheers and street-fights for me and He won't ever stop. He needs me to go to His people and He needs me to not care at all what it might cost. Because to live in Him is gain. It's all there is." Love this picture of Jesus on our side, cheering us on!

    Living life loved; loving on people; grace for the falling down. You've tapped into the main artery of His heart, Shannan. This is a message that the church at large desperately needs to hear. xoxo

  20. Have been reading Kelly Minter's "The Fitting Room" and had an eye opening moment last week. I have read Colossians 3:12 a gazillion times, always focused on the 2nd half of the verse. She directed me to focus on the first half....the part I always just took for granted. HE CHOSE ME! For some reason, that old/well known concept became bright, shiny and almost new again!

    LOVE the way you articulated your thoughts! YES!!!!

  21. I'm slowing learning these lessons as well and I'm 50 years old. The hardest one is not judging others!

  22. Hi. Welcome to my story. And to my rescue. I love this post. I think I read the whole thing nodding my head in accord. In my mid-20s I almost left religion completely. {Religion, that's what it had become.} But Jesus...he rescued me, showed me his love and his truth with new eyes. I'm so grateful. I love the messy folks, not the "great" and righteous ones. Give me real and redeemed or give me nothing. That's the only way I roll now.

  23. I recently heard a speaker say, "We're so stuck on our standing in the church, on involvement and our family's heritage. It's all about what I'm doing and how busy I can be instead of the simple truth that we need to focus on Jesus. He's our goal, not our own selfish importance." Amen. I love this post. Thank you for sharing your heart and voicing what many of us are feeling!

  24. Yes. But. This is one thing I think I might be learning: it's easier to loosen than to tighten, and for that reason I'm thankful for all the strict scariness I was sold, even though I've taken a bunch of it to the dump, by now. I grew up Independent Fundamental Missionary Baptist in East Tennessee. A lot of hellfire and brimstone, yo. But that upbringing provided me with a very basic, gritty understanding of scripture, and sometimes I sit with someone who's new to the faith and working from a loosey-goosey perspective, and I'm thankful. Because to tighten up from nothing but grace (which is real, of course) to obedience (which is required) can be very painful. Obedience is painful, regardless. Becoming more like Jesus feels, IMHO, like having the flu. But at least I know it's coming. At least I know I have to do it.

    And then there's this: at the end of the day, I will own who I am and where I am all day long. I have no shame. But I exercise a whole lot of caution in telling others they should be in the same place. I hope your post doesn't cause unnecessary pain to those in that church who taught you the most important thing we all need to know: that Jesus loves us.

    1. I get what you're saying about loosening being easier than tightening. Also, I was writing about two different churches. You helped me see that wasn't clear, so I did my best to clarify. Thanks.

      I honestly don't remember ever being taught of Jesus' love for me in the new church. All I remember knowing is that I was supposed to have BIG faith that never wavered and that I was destined to have financial prosperity. I should also be mostly sinless and if I spoke in tongues (I didn't) that would be even better.

      I'm not looking to cause any undue pain, but I think false doctrine can and should be called out. It damages people and I've seen that first hand. I certainly don't claim to have all the answers and I always take pains to make that clear. So I'm not here to judge, but I am here to tell my story. And this is my story.

  25. Great post! I think false doctrine needs to be called out more frequently. So often it passes as truth, and binds up those who don't know any better yet. Thank God he is still working!

  26. Yes! This! We all need to hear this and then hear it again!!!!

  27. My favorite line...."Meanwhile, sin trolled around us, passed the plate, shook our hands, drove us home." Beautiful post!

  28. "For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again....." Proverbs 24:16. There is no way we can never sin again but the main thing is to get up and keep trying. I hear you about false doctrine. It seems that so many churches take bits and pieces of the bible and run with it, disregarding other parts. I am thankful for our ministers who I have heard numerous times say, "Don't take my word for it, go read it in your bible." When we go directly to the source, God is so faithful to give us exactly what we need. Keep praying! =)

  29. Oh, friend, I am right there with you!!! So thankful for what our gracious God has taught me over the years!

  30. The church that formed me is the church that snatched me up in adulthood and has now captured me again. The names, the towns, the shade of the carpeting, all different. But the message is unanimous and clear: Jesus loves me.

    TRUTH. I love this. So much of this echoes the same in my own life story.

    Such a simple reminder of the most important truth.

    Thank you for reminding us of it.

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  32. I'm so glad that you wrote this post. It echoes much of my past and the place I've come to rest. Growing up a church kid can be beneficial but also oh so rough. I was in both a flakey but well meaning small church and several "prosperity on demand" mega churches as a kid. Now in my mid 30s I'm finally figuring out what it means to be God's daughter, broken but redeemed...and always loved. I need constant reminders of this, and that's what your blog does for me in so many days. So thanks!

  33. Love love love this x30, words and you were meant to be together!:)

  34. this is one of those times when you need to be rightHERE because i have to hug you up tight. yes. five billion yeses.

  35. Thank you for reminding me that "Jesus loves you" should be the message I am sending!!!

  36. eeek! okay, you MUST go listen to the Rhett Walker Band's song Brother.
    I am slooowwwllyy learning to come apart from my self righteous and legalistic views and learning to simply bask in Jesus and His great love.

  37. so beautifully and graciously put. oh, to have churches that felt safe enough to not always have to be okay. as beth moore says, "people aren't looking for you to have it all together, they're looking to see what you do when you don't."

  38. i went to church with my mom until i was seven and then i went by myself when she quit.
    i sat there as a child and learned all about performance driven faith and faith that never doubts.
    i can't remember anyone telling me for sure that my parents would rot in hell bc they weren't church with me, but i remember thinking it's what they thought.

    i grew up in the church alone...scared to death of the hell they screamed about...and scared to death that both my parents might go there.
    i felt SO incredibly responsible to make sure they didn't and my church let me feel the weight of that responsibility.

    i can honestly say i never grew up focused on Jesus and his finished work on the cross. i grew up hearing all the things i shouldn't do and all the things i better do to earn, keep, deserve his grace and the salvation he offered me.

    i went to college...met and married andy...left for seminary...and it was there that i started hearing about God's amazing grace and his finished that I can't add anything was there that God began to loosen every single wrong doctrine and false teaching in me.

    I'm left grateful and wanting more and more of his grace.

  39. Your experience has in many ways been very much like my own to date. I've been doing a lot of un-learning in the last couple of years and I've never known God loves me more. And then I was further shocked when I realized that I actually love Him SO dang much myself.
    No pretending. :)

  40. We are awana cubbies, we're happy all day long. We know that Jesus loves us that's why we sing this song......

    Been there. Right there. Still learning.

  41. Shannan, this was a beautifully written post. My favorite of yours so far, I think. This is YOUR story but it is also the story of many of us who come here to read what's on your heart. You are so brave to expose yourself to us..but in doing so we have hope that perfection is not found in our works but in the work Christ completed on the cross. "I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die." (Galatians 2:21 NLT) It took me many years to come to this knowledge and give up the idea that I had to be "saved" 99 times. Jesus said "It is finished." He said it, I believe it.

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  43. Shannon,
    First, thank you for being so honest. So much of what you have said resonates with so many people. Your articulation of your journey is so amazing and beautiful, you were meant to write. I get so much inspiration from your journey, and as I read the other comments realize how much the same we all are. Keep it coming!

  44. This is EXACTLY why, as an adult and mother of 4, I am still trying to find a church home that makes us feel as valued and whole as the one my childhood church made me feel. We have tried several, and still spend most of our Sunday mornings at home....unguilty because at least we are together. And now I try to at least once a month drive the long way to my childhood church to have my children see and feel and learn as I did as a child!

  45. I would love to be a part of a community of like minded souls, whether it is within the confines of a church or some other venue. I, myself, have been struggling with my faith. I know what I believe and unfortunately, attending church and hearing that god is vengeful when I feel God is Love and in the middle of the sermon, the parishioners are reminded that they can have their monetary contribution to the church auto debited from their accounts if they have to miss a sunday service does not sit well with me. I would leave feeling empty. I would love to know what you would suggest for those of us who have not found that 'church' where we can be reminded that Jesus does love us and that God is in all of us. God bless.

  46. Printed out for my littles one day... Thanks AGAIN!