I grew up in the church. Sunday school. Vacation Bible School. Awana’s. Summer Camps. Youth outings. Bible stories and organized religion were as much a part of my childhood education as the ABC’s and learning to read. I was raised with an emphasis of practicing healthy morals, learning discipline and self-control to live a good ‘Christian life!’
As a teen, church was a place where I learned about all the things I was supposed to do. I also learned about the long list of things I was not supposed to do. Some sins were considered minor and acceptable, others were absolutely taboo and would send you on a path headed straight to hell without passing go. (yes, guilty as charged, I think I may have committed some of those along the way.). There were lines one should not cross, though, when it came to certain/subjects sins, those lines were often ambiguous. Thus, I lived “on the edge” of those lines, hoping to not fall over into the abyss of self-destruction, but, certainly not wanting to stay radically away from sin or “things I shouldn’t do.” I remember quite well reading books as a teen and wondering “how far I could go?” before falling out of God’s grace when it came to specific sins. I wanted to have fun, wanted to enjoy life, and for some reason– the rigid rules God had laid out weren’t all that appealing.
What I failed to learn though, through the many sermons I listened to, books I read, and people I encountered was that behavior modification, was not the sole purpose of a growing relationship with Jesus. (though it is a necessary and automatic by-product). You see, I think in the church walls we sometimes get so caught up on the do’s and don’t’s that we forget being a Christian is simply a lifelong love relationship with a risen Savior.
As I’ve been reading the Bible this year, especially the gospels, I have truly developed a more intimate relationship and true wonder for Jesus and the way He interacted with people. Everything about His character radiated love. Love for the broken-hearted, crippled, poor, disease ridden, and those trapped in the bondage of sin. Jesus won the hearts of people by the wild, unheard of, and even reckless way He loved sinners!
Jesus didn’t gain followers simply by giving them commandments and rules, judging them, or telling them to change. He passionately pursued their hearts by healing them of the infirmities of mind, body and soul, and then– then, He beckoned “follow me.” Those who had real authentic encounters with Jesus loved Him, because He demonstrated His love to them first! (Romans 5:8)
In the NT story after story, lives are changed, people become believers, followers abandon their previous lives of sin, simply because they are in love with the one who Redeemed them. Love isn’t logical or always rational, the things we do when we love someone sometimes can’t be explained. Curtis was telling me some of the stories from his recent missions trip to Nicaragua, and how when individuals became Christians, (or when they fell in love with Jesus), that they left their homes , friends, and farms, to go tell others “down the river” about Jesus. Love provokes us to action, and the simplistic way in which followers in third world countries love Jesus is such a prime living and current example of this!
This year, I’ve fallen more in love with Jesus. I want to please Him and am more aware of character traits I need to develop. I want to love others well, because I realize how well He has first loved me. I want to serve others more frequently, because I know Jesus served me first by sacrificing it all with death on a cross! I want to give abundantly to causes that glorify Him, because I realize every gift I have stems from His hands.
If you’re tired of religion, and turned off by a list of behaviors to modify, can I give you a challenge? Read through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Read them literally. Imagine yourself in that era, and gaze upon the life of Jesus with wonder. It’s true, love makes you do crazy things… and Christianity isn’t always rational, but when He gets ahold of your heart, your behavior all stems from love, love, love, love. He first loved me, my heart overflows, and I then proceed in living my life as one that reflects how thankful and am in love with Jesus I truly am. Not perfect, continuously failing, sometimes even habitually failing, but—- regularly moving forward as one who loves Jesus and wants to please Him! That, my friends, is the simple, theology free way I would describe Christianity and what it means to me.