We face a realm of possibilities with my daughter. At first, we were faced with the incredible gift that is her life. She could have been infected much earlier and miscarried. She could have stayed too long in the womb. She could have bled out at birth. She could have failed to regain her stability after birth. Once she made it past that, though, we were looking at a whole host of scary things that made us see how precious her very life was (and in turn, how precious our own are) and made me evaluate what about life is most important. If my daughter never hears, is that okay? If she never walks, is that okay? If she never speaks or has severe developmental delays, is that okay?
A brush with death gets you thinking. The weight of the unknown gets you thinking. It all got me thinking about what constitutes a life worth living and cherishing. I knew I would love my daughter no matter what. She is my sweet baby and I am her momma. That's what mommas do; they love their babies. But what about for her? What about the scary things she would face? How would I encourage her and lift her up when things in her future looked dim? It didn't take me long to see that all the trappings of life are fleeting and unnecessary. Hearing, speaking, walking, seeing -- they can all be left behind. They can all fall away and we will still be. All, that is, save one: faith in Jesus Christ. (If you are tempted to eye-roll me here, please hang on and hear me out.)
My biggest hang-up about believing in God, putting my faith in Jesus, was the hypocrisy I saw in the people who called themselves "Christians". I knew what they said they believed and then I saw how they acted and I couldn't stand their lies. It made me hate Jesus and think the whole thing was foolish. Eventually I met a few Christians I respected who charged me to think about the faith, the actual words of Jesus, to give it a real "shot". They saw my hangup for what it was: a mask to hide my real problem with Christianity.
What I really didn't like was the idea of having my life controlled by something or someone else. If I took the plunge and accepted Jesus, then I'd have to follow the rules. God says don't drink, smoke, or chew or go with girls who do. No sex before marriage or you'll burn in hell for eternity. No lying unless it's the little white kind that make people feel better about themselves. No tattoos, no R-rated movies, pretty much no fun. And above all, never, EVER cuss. The unforgivable sin.
If I walked into that, if I signed on the dotted line and became a follower of Jesus, I'd be accountable to all those rules. I didn't want to feel condemned like that. I didn't want to feel trapped or judged or held down. And most of all, I didn't want to be a hypocrite. I knew that eventually I was going to trip up. I couldn't toe the line forever, and when I did mess up, I didn't want to have myself held accountable to anyone or anything outside of myself. I didn't want to say that I would follow this list of rules and then break one. It was easier to just never agree to the rules and do whatever I wanted than to risk the hypocrisy that I saw around me, that drove me crazy.
I had everything so, so backwards. All my carts were before their horses and it was just a big old mess. The first thing I didn't understand properly were the "rules" themselves. I thought the idea was to get yourself "right", put yourself together, and then God would accept you. That was only the beginning, though, because then you'd have to keep being good to stay in His favor. Like a really high-stakes version of Santa. Thankfully, I had some pretty amazing people in my life who showed me that my understanding was totally wrong. All these outward actions that people seemed to put so much stock in were actually the result of faith in God. Jesus says in John 14, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Don't miss the order there. The love that you already have compels you to follow the "rules". Love for God comes first, and because of that love, your life reflects the character that God desires from His children. The works that characterize the Christian walk are evidence of a faith that already exists: "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? ... So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)" This is not to say, "Get to work! Earn your faith!" This is to say, "If you have faith, you will have works," in the same way that you would say, "If you stand in the rain, you will get wet." The one causes the other (faith --> works) and they always come together, but never, never in the opposite direction. "By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)"
The other thing I had so wrong were the "rules" themselves. Many of the things I thought were critical to following Jesus were really just social constructs, things that were important to some people but that weren't really outlined in God's word as important or weren't even there at all. The other thing I had totally out of place was the idea of grace. The commandments God did hand down and that were important, things a follower of Christ was expected to do or not do, were always understood as an unattainable standard. No man or woman who ever lived could follow all the rules perfectly. The whole thing about Jesus is that He lived that perfect life and that our salvation comes through Him, not through our well-lived lives. We are expected to fail; we are sinful and broken. Our response to understanding that is what is important. Our response should be to call upon Jesus and ask God to forgive our failings because of the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. Christianity isn't a commitment to following a list of rules; it is a commitment to following a person. Following Jesus and modeling your life after His will lead you to a different way of life, and yes, there are guidelines and commandments and expectations for that path, but you do not have to perfect that life to follow Him. You are not the one "getting it all together" to be in His favor. In fact, Jesus gives you what you need to follow Him. It's beautiful, really.
The hypocrisy I feared? It's a part of the Christian walk. We are broken people, making our way down a long road and we will fall. Our value isn't found, though, in how well we walk; it is found in Jesus. The condemnation I feared? Ironically, in Christ, I stand redeemed, not condemned. The condemnation I feared exists outside the love of Christ, as I tried to hack it out on my own, doing my own thing. God still exists despite my believing in Him. When I put my faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross, I am washed clean. When I try to play all on my own? I fail and have nowhere to turn.
Life becomes so sweet and so precious in the face of death. We take it all for granted until we see how fragile it is and then we try to scramble and gather up all the pieces and soak up every moment because it's gone in an instant. The oldest living person in the world is 115 (possibly another is 123 but not documented). Say you manage to live until you're 130. Mind-blowingly old. You are still but a breath. Here today, gone tomorrow in the eyes of the Lord. In the eyes of the Creator of the universe who has been and will be for eternity. But your life is the only one you will live and is of vast importance to you. Whether you place your faith in Jesus determines the eternity you will live after this life. Don't let silly hang-ups or misunderstandings like the ones I had keep you from enjoying an eternity with God. Consider what it is that holds you back from accepting Jesus -- whether it's hypocrisy or the rules or why Jesus had to die or why evil exists or lack of "proof" or surrendering your plan for your life. Whatever it is, think about it until you get answers. Ask a Christian you know to explain it to you. Overcome the hurdle, whatever it is for you, because on the other side awaits the most important person the world has ever known: Jesus. And these are His word to you: "'Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!' (Matthew 7:7-11)"
If it's all bunk, what can it hurt to ask? What can it hurt to knock? Seek? If it's all true, what great glory awaits! What great peace is promised! God will not give you a stone or a serpent. He will give you His son. In fact, He already has.