Gathered in overstuffed armchairs of her palatial living room, memories of my mega church, TV evangelist, name- it and claim-it, Midwestern spiritual heritage return like photographs strewn on the hardwood floor of my faith. A phrase in the book we’re reading together conjures a childhood memory for her. And when she says the words tent revival, a filmstrip of forgotten fragments suddenly reappear in the accumulated files of my mind.
I remember how I lost favor with my boyfriend’s mother when she found out I didn’t speak in tongues.
Remember the Rhema prodigy I bused tables beside, the one who wouldn’t admit to being sick. She was wiping away tears from her flushed face, smiling through sneezes, delivering food to tables with germy hands. Declaring “I’m healed in Jesus name” to all of us gathered in our pie encrusted aprons like a fairy wanding magic dust. Believing that admitting the truth out loud would somehow diminish her faith. Or disappoint God.
“You know I’ve gone more than twenty-four hours now without sinning,” he said, widening his oval blues, elbows resting on the glass gun cabinet.
I meandered away from my post among watches and rings for a moment to flirt with the bible school boy in the back of the store. And this is how he greeted me.
Staring awkwardly at steel barrels and the price of ammunition, I waited for the acrid cloud of pride to vanish; the irony of his admonition lost in a haze of spiritual superiority.
I sit on the front row draped in black, tassel swinging to the beat of my furious foot. Squinting to find my family seated in the nose bleeds awaiting the walk of my destiny. Falsely hoping they are lost among the crowds long enough to miss his speech.
We’ve already lived through the embarrassment. Oral Roberts locks himself in a prayer tower and proclaims that God will take his life if he doesn’t raise 8 million dollars. But he makes it long enough to cancel the scheduled keynote speaker, climb down from the tower and ask for more money from the crowds gathered to watch their children graduate.
There are triggers from our past experiences that keep our faith from fully forming. Or they strengthen it.
It’s really our choice isn’t it?
Because I can use all the stupid things Christians say as the blue print for why I can’t continue to build my faith. Or use them as stepping stones to excavate truth.
My faith isn’t defined by the breadth of my own experience. And like good art, deep faith evokes more questions than answers.
As I remember it, I drove my twenty-something self to church the day my legs wobbled down rows of concrete steps, into crowds of strangers gathered on the mega church floor. As I bowed my head toward my folded legs in surrender, I felt a hand rest gently on my back and I began to speak in tongues.
And then I broke up with my boyfriend to pursue God.
Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 1:27, The Message
I’m just wondering, what are the triggers from your past that keep you from saying yes to God today?
WOW! great post! i’m so with you dear. raised in a denomination that i am glad i am no longer a part of. knowing that now my faith is BIBLE BASED and not DOCTRINE based makes all the difference.
As I disciple women, I’m struck lately with how many of them get stuck in a place with their faith because of negative past experiences. And maybe I’m naive, but I think we need them to discern the truth. I’m not looking for them but I think that they’ve helped me discern my faith walk more fully. Thanks for your comment Shannon, it made me think.
Shelly, your last comment reply here says it for me. I have “been around” when it comes to churches, or other Christian gatherings who don’t even want to call themselves a “church.” And my family background of faith (or lack thereof) adds more variety to the conglomeration. But just lately I’ve been thinking about all that and thanking God for the whole big strange mix of experience. I’ve seen a lot that (still) pains and bothers me, and I have wished that I could unlive some parts of my “church life,” but I do believe, as you seem to, that all together it’s broadened my viewpoint, sharpened my discernment, squashed some wrong judgments or reluctance to “associate,” opened up my ability to identify with a lot more people of different backgrounds, and brought me closer to God.
Though in the past I’ve wished I’d never experienced some things, now I find myself writing here that I really wouldn’t cancel any of it out if I could reorder the past. I guess God knows what He’s doing. 😉
I feel exactly the same way Sylvia. Wouldn’t want to do much of it over again and at the same time wouldn’t change any of it. I get that. It has made us who we are hasn’t it? God is faithful for sure.
Your ending surprised me–nicely done, Shelly!
Thanks Megan. I was hoping for the surprise.
That’s what makes your writing so surprising! You always include that breathtaking surprise! And while I have your attention (again!), I will also say that I thnk liturgy, most of which is compltely Scripturally based, is so beautiful. It’s not in my background either, but I am so glad that my church is starting to introduce it. There is such beauty and majesty in it, and I *mean* what I am reading and hearing.
My last post was similar to this… About how judgmental I was trained to be in the church where I came to Christ. I am trying to learn from the past and see with new perspective.
I’ll have to check it out Sharon. Like you, I think my past has informed my future.
we need to talk more about what is broken within the body. It is the only honest way to seek Him; examining ourselves. We fail to do His work when we lie…and we lie so often.
Thank you for speaking the truth.
Peace and good to you.
Constantly asking questions, that is how I stay in a place of learning to see anew. I never want to think I have all the answers. God forbid. thanks for being here Chelle.
I so appreciate your comments, Shelly, and feel in some way they relate back to our book discussion in the sense that we need to have discernment. If falsehood permeates the church we attend–unbiblical or heretical teaching–it is likely time to shake the dust off and leave. But we don’t have to leave the church altogether. In fact, we shouldn’t. We, as believers, are not to forsake our assembling together. Along the lines of what you’re saying, we don’t use one bad church experience as the blueprint for excusing ourselves not to attend at all. In fact, as you suggest, it can propel us to dig for truth/right doctrine and find a church where believers worship aright. So you, it seems to me, Shelly, are a wise and discerning Christian. You know, based on Scripture, what is true and what isn’t–with a healthy amount of humility thrown in, when you say that deep faith evokes more questions than answers. The more we learn, in a sense, the more humble we become and realize how much more there is *yet* to learn about this fathomless, mysterious, almighty God of ours. And, because we are sinners, we also need the humility to admit when we were wrong about our beliefs (I have done that–and oh my! Yes, it’s humbling). And doctrine is not a bad thing. It simply refers to beliefs–those beliefs can be biblically based or not. We simply want to guard against false doctrine, as expressed by Paul in 2 Tim. 4:3. In fact, he exhorts us to hold to *sound doctrine* (and uses the very word, doctrine). And in Romans 16:17-18 Paul similarly is telling us to beware of *false* doctrine in the church, which is “contrary to the doctrine which you learned.” It seems to me we must seek sound doctrine and avoid false doctrine. Thank you for a most thought-provoking post! As I’ve said a gazillion times, you make me think!
Blessings to you as you divide truth, but unite us in Him,
When I think about how I believed that those who chose to worship from a liturgical background didn’t truly know Christ because their faith didn’t look like mine, I am grieved. I remember that our student president was a Catholic and so persecuted for his faith, yet such a Godly example. It makes me sad thinking about it. I just pray God will forgive me for my ignorance.
Oh Shelly! I canNOT believe how I have known Christians who have told me that Catholics are NOT Christians…..and I have even heard well-known “radio” pastors say this. Just breaks my heart. Some of my dearest Christian sisters are Catholic (one of whom we’ll bury on Friday, but who sees Jesus face-to-face now!) Obviously in any denomination there are tares among wheat, but……..who are WE to decide this?! Thank you for your sensitive heart.
You always say things so eloquently. You even manage it with the stupid things!
After spending an entire night arched over porcelain, I washed my face off and left to teach Bible to a class of three to five year olds. The flu was spreading through the entire congregation. Every single member got sick, but no one would admit it.
I attended work days through Fibromyalgia flare-ups then went home to make dinner for my family and prepare a dish for the community meal the next day so that I could be a woman of integrity, fulfilling my role through the Spirit.
I cleaned my house frantically before older women came over to train me so that they would see I was a good house-keeper and a good wife and, thus, a good Christian.
I have known these things were wrong, but I did not realize what I had missed until a week ago. My entire family was sick. Women called to check on us, brought us soup and offered to help in various ways. I saw more faith in the way they cared for us than I ever did in a group of people who saw illness as spiritual weakness.
So glad you went there!
What powerful words you’ve shared here Tereasa. You’ve made me think, in a good way. And I’m so thankful that God moved your family to what seems like a healthy place to serve. So thankful. Hope you are all on the mend.
False promises (attributed to God’s Word) about marriage and children – I wonder how many godly wives and parents have born guilt and sorrow that never should have been – the teaching of foolish expectations that set one up for disappointment with God and the added ache of false guilt in the midst of hardship, pain and loss. There is grace, and there is human choice, and His promises – they are for His peace and loving presence in the midst, wisdom for the asking, and hope for the future, but not happiness guaranteed.
These things don’t stand in the way of my love for the Lord, but I am grateful to know Him to be true in what He does promise, and to leave the rest behind.
They don’t stand in my way of relationship with Jesus either Judy, thankfully. But for many, they do. And that makes me sad.
My past has both defined me caged me. I am thankful for the key of grace that unlocks the door. Living among Pharisees and should’s, musts, and have to’s, can take our very breath. I love how you shared this story Shelly, it reminded me of my own past and how God gives freedom. Blessings!
Defined and caged. Good words Christina. And perhaps we can all relate to them to some degree. I’m glad to know the freedom that comes from following Him.
ALL very good comments to your blog today, Shelly. I come from a denom. that preaches Catholics are not Christian. ‘They’ also teach NON-fellowship with most other denominations. I became very judgemental of Catholics and liturgical churches because their practices differed so from mine. Now I am left with the obvious question…”Just WHO do we think we are?” I seek God’s forgiveness for my stinkin’ thinkin’ about others and their way of worship. We still need to discern truth, no question about that, but Love must rule over all. Thank you so much for this thought-provoking post today.
Thanks for being honest Jillie. You are a breath of fresh air.
Oh She!! This is a good one…a blast from the past and it does leave me to wonder what baggage I may be carrying…dropped and maybe have picked up again! Sneezing at work and on everyone else…ugh!
I was wondering if any of my ORU friends would read this. So glad you did and left a comment. I’m just now realizing how many things we heard were just flat out ridiculous yet I loved my time there so much. He truly is a God of redemption. I’m living that.
For many years, I was angry at the church in which I’d grown up because I thought they’d gotten a lot of things wrong–especially the way they scared the living daylights out of me with those evil rapture movies. It took me a long, long time to wrap my heart and head around the idea that Jesus coming back was actually a good thing.
Having gained some time and distance from those years, however, I’ve developed a sense of gratitude for the things my church got right. There were an awful lot of faithful people there who did the best they could to introduce me to Jesus and his word. And that is an abundance of grace.
I’m sure I’ve said a lot of stupid things people remember that I don’t Nancy. Like you Nancy, I’m thankful for all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly. It all makes me what I am today.
Shelly, I think we share the same Charismatic background in our walk (and one that I still embrace, tho’ I’m not sure what it’s called these days…..) ‘stupid things Christians say?’ How about stupid things we say to ourselves. Through no actual words but a lot of unsaid messages I bought the lie that says “Be busy, DO something, for God.” I’ve been saved for 40 years but I’m feeling like I’m finally learning how to listen to God by just slowing down……..”God in the Yard” by LL Barkat is helping. More about that later.
Can’t wait to see the new website!
I agree Jody, we do tell ourselves a lot of stupid things don’t we? Thankful for redemption, that is all I can say. Me too, I can’t wait until the new site gets done.
Once a month, ladies from all over my community, from many denominational and non-denominational backgrounds, worship together. We move from building to building and a different church hosts each time. We worship in our own bents and leave doctrine to the side and I have loved it! I am on a leadership team and I always seem to be holding the hand of a retired pastor who serves with a group of ladies from around town when circle up in prayer before our worship. She is always praying in her prayer language. I haven’t a clue about it—but I know she loves the One who hears our prayers. It brings me joy even though I don’t really get it. I think maybe I am peculiar :).
I think I tend to say yes to the big things and no to the small. Thinking on this makes me wonder if I am not a lot like that boy leaning on the glass case gun cabinet…. Thanks for sharing. Good question to ponder.
Uh, no trust me, you are not like the boy. 🙂 That group you are a part of sounds awesome.
I grew up in a very religious community and as a child my mom never insisted on us going to church so the kids in school couldn’t play with me because I didn’t go to their church. As an adult I finally found faith and its strong because of more than a decade of life trials that helped grow and nurture it. But, now I struggle with some of “the church” being so adamant about the rules. A woman told me recently that Christian women should not wear jeans. My only thought to that is how does what I’m wearing affect the heart of my deep faith-filled relationship with God? I’m a sinner saved by grace. I’m a good person striving to glorify God. I have yet to read in my Bible that God doesn’t want me to wear jeans! It’s that sort of thing that really turns people off from religion. Sadly…
Oh my, yes, those kind of judgmental words can truly be a turn off. So sorry you were the recipient. I do think that the more intimate we become with our Saviour, the more obvious it is that those statements are ridiculous.
We’ve shared similar experiences. I think that much of the American church has cut suffering and sacrifice out of the Bible. I don’t know why every. single. person. God used in the Bible went through suffering in some form or other. I believe God heals and provides, but sometimes His giving us strength to walk through the valley of suffering is just as supernatural.
You’ve said it well Elizabeth. I agree that sometimes the ability to walk through a period of suffering is truly supernatural. Thank you for your comment. It made me stop and think.
I am a new follower here. Found you through Carissa’s blog. It is always a pleasure getting to meet another sister in Christ. Blessings, Laurie
Laurie, so delighted to meet you. I love Carissa’s blog and actually haven’t been able to get there for awhile so I’m so glad we found each other. I apologize for the delay in response to your comment, I’ve been away this week. Thanks so much for the follow, I’m honored, really.