I am the youngest of six kids (one brother, four sisters). Now right off the bat, you may be thinking I was spoiled since I was the youngest however let me assure you nothing is farther from the truth. In fact, I could prove it by showing you multiple pictures of me wearing my sister’s pink, striped, hand-me-down pants (thank God for good counseling!).
Speaking of mom, let’s just say she had her hands full. My father passed away when I was 10 so my mom did her best to raise us six hoodlums by herself which was no small task. I grew up in a Christian home and even though life in our home was crazy at times (ok, most of the time!), going to church was not something we could or would even try to negotiate. Every Sunday morning the Gannon clan would drive to the 11 am service and every Sunday morning we would plod through the doors at about 11:10 am. Fortunately, they always knew we were coming and would save the very front pew for us (so lucky!).
I also went to a Catholic grade school so it was church three times a week, and of course I served as an altar boy as well. Now it’s important for me to point out that I have nothing against the church I attended growing up. It is where the foundation of Jesus was laid in my heart. In fact, I can tell you that my first time I felt God speak to me was in the 4th grade during religion class. Our priest was teaching and I raised my hand with a question. I wanted to know if more people went to heaven or hell. Now, I need to give a disclaimer here that I already knew the answer, that most went to heaven because God is good and God is love, however I was simply asking so that my fellow classmates could be enlightened as well.
Well, let’s just say his answer blew my theory out of the water and lodged a pit in my stomach that still plagues me today. He quoted the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14 and said “The road to heaven is narrow and rocky and few find it. The road to hell is wide and easy and many will go there” I remember wanting to shout “What!?..I think you got it backwards…you need re-read that..no, you need to hand in your credentials because you don’t know what you’re talking about!” I could not get it out of my head so finally I had to look it up myself and sure enough there it was, straight out of the mouth of Jesus! I thought “How can this be?”…”this is not right!”
Looking back, I can tell you that this experience was God placing a burden in my heart, a burden for people who don’t know Jesus. But, as a kid, I soon pushed that feeling aside for more important things like winning a game of kickball at recess or trying to kiss some girl behind the coat rack.
He answered “The road to heaven is narrow and rocky and few find it. The road to hell is wide and easy and many will go there” I remember wanting to shout “What!?
As for church, it was back to going “through the motions” which I had become a pro at. I knew when to sit, stand, kneel, and sing. Even though I had the prayers memorized and routine down pat, I was bored, disengaged, and checked-out. Eventually I was off to college and you know what that means! No mom around to find me hiding under my bed on Sunday mornings or turning the light on and throwing the covers off. Church?..I don’t think so! I was free!! But yet, somewhere in the depths of me I still had a longing to know God and pursue him, even though I had no idea what that meant or looked like.
For the next 15 years let’s just say I didn’t pursue that longing. Instead I pursued my wants, my will, my agenda which produced a wild lifestyle that included drinking, partying, girls – all the things that I thought would give me significance and happiness. And though they may have satisfied in the moment, darkness, regret, depression, and emptiness would always follow.
As the apostle Paul wrote “I was a slave and sin was my master” – and when what I was chasing wasn’t doing it anymore, I took it to another level an invited drugs into my life. Let’s just say it didn’t take long for this “weekend fling” to catapult into a full-blown addiction. So there I was, married, with kids, and living a double life. This went on for years and when I couldn’t put on the charade any longer, I prayed the most powerful prayer I had ever prayed to God. It was two words – “Help me”. That’s it. And I think God said “Finally!” Over the next couple years I would go through two stints in rehab. During this time my family would experience so much heartache, pain, and tears yet they stood faithfully with me. With their support and a lot of help, protection, and love from God I was finally clean (still crazy) but clean. However, I was still on very shaky ground.
I prayed the most powerful prayer I had ever prayed to God. It was two words – “Help me”.
This was one of the most painful time of our lives. It was also the beginning of our life in Christ. After my second stint in rehab, I knew I couldn’t do this alone. I knew my only hope was God. So on one particular Sunday Jody and I stepped foot in a church…after all, at least I knew the routine and wouldn’t feel out of place. I remember stepping in and being welcomed by multiple people. I had no clue who they were but they sure seemed nice. We walked into the Sanctuary (they called it a Celebration Center which seemed weird to me). The worship music was in full swing and I remember thinking “this is church?” It was more like a concert. Where was the organ? What about the choir? It was just regular people, dressed in a regular way, rocking out to music that offered hope, life, and Jesus. I watched as people clapped, sang, and even raised their hands (my first thought was “maybe they have a question”). After the music, the pastor came on the stage with a bible and started preaching. Again, this was weird. Where was his collar and robe? Where were the altar boys (I thought maybe I should run up there and help! After all, I had experience!). As the pastor preached the message from God’s word I remember turning to my wife and thinking “this is home”. To this day, I have no recollection of what the message was about that day. I just remember tears streaming down my face and falling onto my lap and chair. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Spirit was beginning to do a work in my heart that would ultimately take me from death to life. It would move from a person who believed in Jesus to a person who wanted to live for Jesus.
Some months later I would surrender my life to Jesus in the church and was eventually baptized with my seven year old daughter Ava. (Oh yea, I forgot to mention this church had a separate kids ministry where they would actually take care of our kids and teach them about Jesus while Jody and I focused on the message without distractions!). I remember audibly saying to God “I’ll give my life to this”. Of course, I had no idea what the meant. I just knew that I wanted to keep moving forward and that I had an incredibly strong desire to tell people about the love and hope found in Jesus.
It would move me from a person who believed in Jesus to a person who wanted to live for Jesus.
What did Jesus build? The Church! What pushes back the gates of hell? The Church! What lasts forever? The Church!
Over the past 10 years I have gone from serving in the church, to coming on staff full-time as a children’s pastor, then to a campus pastor, and now to a church planter and lead pastor. To say my journey with Christ has been easy would be a lie. I still struggle with depression, Jody and I still have to work very hard to have a good marriage, and my kids, at times, still take me backwards in my walk with Jesus ☺. My life with Christ is hard but it is so worth it. Today, I’m still not where I want to be in Christ but can tell you I’m not where I used to be!
I love the church. It’s the Bride of Christ. The Bible tells us that Jesus gave himself up for the church. I surrendered my life to Jesus in the church. I was baptized in the church. My family was resurrected in the church. I found my purpose in the church.
You see, Christ changes lives through his Church. The Church is part of God’s plan to save his people. Everything the world offers us is temporal but everything the church offers is eternal and a church centered on Christ has the power to change a city, to change the world!
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail!” What did Jesus build? The Church! What pushes back the gates of hell? The Church! What lasts forever? The Church!
I love Bill Hybels’ description of the church:
“The church’s beauty is indescribable. Its beauty is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, downtrodden, and disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addiction and frees the oppressed. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness”
Is the church perfect? No, and as long as I’m part of it, it never will be. But we will point you to a perfect God and He will never let you down.
I love people’s stories. You have a story and it is still being written. You cannot change the past but you can definitely impact the future. I hope my story encourages you that no matter how far down you are, with the power of Christ you’re not out. Take it from me, God’s plans are always better than your plans. He has a purpose for your life, both in the church and in the world. Trust Him, Seek Him, Pray to Him, and take your next stop towards Him. I promise, you will never regret it!
God’s plans are always better than your plans. He has a purpose for your life, both in the church and in the world.