"But is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" -Galatians 5:22
As a kid, I did not feel loved by my parents. It wasn't their fault, don't get me wrong. I've always been a person who loves others but has a hard time feeling loved. Why? I have no clue. My parents have always loved me very much and done everything they can to show it to me. I just happen to be incredibly stubborn and hard-headed and, consequently, didn't really see their love until sometime in the last year. You see, I didn't understand the meaning of "relationship". Having a relationship with someone always meant pleasing them to me. This was never more true than when it came to my parents. I was obsessed with pleasing my parents as a kid. That sounds wonderful in theory, but it practice... it's miserable. I spent every second of my childhood wondering, "Will Mom be happy with me when I do this?" or "What would Dad think of me if he could see me right now?" Very quickly, everything became about does and don'ts, all the way down to the stupidest little things. If Mom had ever said at any point in my life not to do something, it was now in the little law book that I carried around in my head. It wasn't that I love rules and regulations....honestly, I hate them. It was because it was the only solid way I could think of to please my parents. Sure, I learned a lot from that little imaginary book. "Hang clothes on the line instead of using the dryer, it saves money." "Heat food on the stove, not in the microwave, as the microwave drains nutrients." "Don't leave dishes in the rack on the counter as they make the kitchen look cluttered." But, it also robbed me of 20 years of relationship with my parents. Not only that, but I tried to get my siblings to do the same as I was doing my best to make sure they didn't get hurt, that Mom and Dad approved of them, that they would live what I thought was a happy life. I spent all that time deathly afraid of them getting mad at me and ultimately disapproving of me, when all they wanted to love me and for me to love them back.
Now that I think about it... don't we do that with God? We wear these t-shirts that say, "It's not about religon, it's about a relationship" and yet go on to make it exactly that. We believe that if we don't go to church every week, read our Bibles every day, hang out with "churchy people", and live every day on fire for Him, that there's something wrong with us... we're not "good Christians". We have to try harder, be better, do more. We have to go to Challenge, mission trips, and help out at homeless shelters. We have to evangelize to the cashier at Walmart and hand out Bible tracts to the people on the street. We have to live sinless lives and if... gasp!!!... we were to fall or fail, we have to pick ourselves back up and make sure we never do it again. Those t-shirts are about as true about most of us as the t-shirts that cynically say, "They'll know we're Christians by our t-shirts."
So, what are we supposed to do? What about those days when we're not all out sold for Christ? When we lose our focus on Him? When suddenly the world falls apart and we fall....bad... what do we do?
Well, I'll tell you what we usually do. We pray and ask God, "Help me to be better" and we go to our leaders at church and they tell us to try harder and to move the obstacles out of our way. So, we pull ourselves back to our feet and push harder, harder, harder. We fall and we fall again, only to fall once more. A vicious circle of the well-intentions of following Christ and being on fire for Him.
Yeah...that works really well. I can say this sarcastically because I've been there. In fact, I spent most of my life there, and I've seen where it leads. Going back to the example of my parents, I followed that rule book to the letter day after day after day. Yet, to my surprise, I didn't feel any more loved... in fact, I felt farther from them. I would slip up and I was worse off than I was the day before. I couldn't keep up and I couldn't get anywhere. I began to see that there was a fault somewhere....but I blamed in on them. I decided they were impossible to please. That they would always disapprove of me (even though they didn't) and would never really love me (even though they had all along). And, in order to try to save my siblings from the immense pain I was feeling, I began to try to convince them of the same. I feel so horrible now, looking back. I eventually had to leave my home because I was a very bad influence on them (obviously) and never really recovered from the ultimate rejection and loss of love that I felt from a probably wise decision. I took a few months to pick myself back up and to straighten up, at which time I was allowed back... only to fall into the same pattern again. I hadn't really fixed anything... I had just tried to fix it myself.
About the same time, the same thing happened with God. I had tried to be the perfect Christian that I believed I had to be and failed...and failed... and failed. I felt further from God every time I failed until He couldn't have felt further away. I finally felt, after going through the same thing with my parents, that I wasn't good enough. I couldn't do it. Here was the standard, and I was too much of a screw-up to get to it. No matter how much time I gave myself, it was only going to get worse. This is when I started to think about suicide. I knew I was saved, so God had to let me into heaven....even if it was begrudgingly. I had failed everyone and there was no other option left.
And even if you disagree with everything I say after this... YOU CAN'T IGNORE IT. Why? Because I'm not the only one who has felt this way. I have had so many campers come to Hidden Acres with this exact problem. They're told that they have to be all out for Christ, but they also know they can't be. So, they're on the road to giving up.... whether that means rejection of God and the Church completely, or of life. People wonder why so many have left the Church and why even more refuse to join. From my experience, and from talking to hundreds, if not thousands, of people about this, either personally or over the internet, this is why. We are told that we can be saved if we ask Jesus into our hearts. Then we are told that this is what a "true Christian" looks like. If you're not a "true Christian", you are lukewarm and He will spit you out. There is forgiveness of sins...to an extent. So when you fall, try harder. And...it doesn't work. Why? Because that's not the way Christianity is supposed to work.
Christianity is about a relationship, but not the kind we're living. We are no different than the Pharisees when we are living this way...actually I would argue that we're worse. At least they were, mostly, living their lives by the Law laid down in the Torah. Us? We're just living our lives by the law laid down by....us. There is really no difference here. That is not faith, that is not a relationship. That is works and that is legalism. Go ahead... yell at me. Call me a heretic. Yep, go ahead. Get it all out. But please, when you're done.... keep listening.
Let's see what the Bible says. " So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." -Romans 10:8-10, 17 These verses are a little confusing in the order that they're in... probably because the Romans had a different thought process than us, but here's what Paul is saying. If we confess with our mouth and believe in our hearts Jesus is Lord, we will be saved. But, how can we do that unless we know what we are confessing and believing? And how can we know (have faith), unless we hear? And what to do we need to hear? The word of God (P.S. Great passage for missionaries). So, God uses His Word to show us Himself and to give us faith and that is how we receive salvation. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."-Romans 1:16
Our salvation comes by faith, not works. And we receive faith through the Holy Spirit. It isn't a result of our works or anything we have done, but rather through the grace of God. The Bible also says, though I can't quite remember where, that when we are saved something called the "Great Exchange" happens. That means that all our sin, past-present-future, is put on Jesus and all His righteousness is put on us. When God looks at us, He isn't mad at us or disappointed in us. He doesn't think we're failures. When we receive faith, we jointly receive His favor. The two come hand in hand. Not because we're cool and awesome, but because Jesus's merit is put on us. "Let us then with confidence draw near to the of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." -Hebrews 4:16 We are now His children. "
"The your God is in your midst,