If you are looking to get to know me, this will be a pretty good basis for “who Joe is“. Who I am is really all wrapped up in how God has come into my life.
Some folks shut down as soon as that topic comes up, but if you will just take a few minutes to hear my side of this topic you may find yourself relating to me and maybe even learning something that can make a difference to you. It is a short read, so you really don’t have much to lose.
You see, Christianity is a topic that culture today sometimes puts down and mocks. And I get it. The great Mahatma Gandhi once said “…I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ…”
I recently heard a story that illustrates this – it is a true story about the conversation between a young woman and a pastor as they both sat in their seats while boarding a flight:
Woman (upon hearing that the person sitting next to her on the plane was a pastor: “Oh, you’re a Christian…I don’t like Christians!”
Pastor: “Yeah, neither do I.”
Woman: “What do you mean, you are a Pastor?! You have to like Christians!”
Pastor: “You are probably referring to the brand of Christian that is based on religion. My faith is based on relationship.”…and the conversation went on from there.
This pretty much sums up how I feel as well, MY faith is based on relationship with a wonderful, kind and loving God.
Why did the woman on the plane say she didn’t like Christians? Not because of what a Christian believes, but because of how many Christians act. I am embarrassed by how some of my fellow Christians act…heck, I am embarrassed by how I ACT sometimes! And this makes me sad, because if you never learn the truth about God because of how his people act, then shame on us!
All I can say about that is, at least for me (I can’t speak for others), I try to recognize the areas I need to grow and do my best to change and be better. It is a struggle sometimes, and I don’t always hit the mark. I do have a guiding rule though. One that I AM pretty good about following – do not judge others.
Respect and trust are a different story, they are not owed to anyone, they are earned. But judging is reserved for someone with a bit more wisdom than I have. So, I endeavor to accept people as they are and do my best to represent the true God to them. To be kind to them, and that is a direct result of how God has changed me. I was not always very kind and accepting, but He changed all of that.
To set the stage: let me take you back to more than 30 years ago. I was living a good life, being a “good person” (at least in my mind I was good). Pretty happy but there was something nagging the back of my mind about my life. I really could not put my finger on it. Even though I had a lot of stuff, and having a lot of fun, I was pretty self-centered but I would still wonder…is this it? …is there anything more to life?
You may find yourself in a similar spot, so I really hope that what I found will resonate with you. If not…well it’s a short read.
So, here is my “story”.
I had a pretty normal childhood, at least for a kid raised in the ’70s who spent the beginning of his adult life enjoying the ’80s. Looking back, I had FUN! As a matter of fact, all of my decisions were centered around that...how much fun can I have! I grew up playing sports, partying and carousing and chasing after girls – always looking for the next fun thing to do. Good times – at least by my standards at that time of my life.
As far as God goes, I knew of Him and thought that I was doing “OK“. I never killed anyone and I was a pretty good person, whatever that meant. Never really gave much thought to what happens AFTER…I just figured hey, I am not as bad as some people, I should be good to go when I leave this earth.
You see, I was raised with religion. I define religion as knowing there is a God, but not knowing God. Religion to me is man’s feeble attempt to understand God and man-made rules to try and please Him. When I think about how religion tries to bring us closer to God – rules, condemnation, shame, guilt – it really is an impossible ladder to climb. I also see religion as an open door for the not-so-good people to take advantage of good people.
There is example after example of people taking advantage of others using religion – even in the best of churches. Heck, I have been taken advantage of in my Church. The thing is, if you let the actions of others define who God is, you are letting others determine your future – both how you live this life and what happens to you when you cease to live this life. This is very difficult to overcome.
That was my mind set when it came to God – basically letting the actions of others define who He is. But that still left the nagging in the back of my mind – what was missing from my life?
So, one day I was listening to a speaker – much like you are today but you are reading – and he asked for 5 minutes of my time.
He told me his perspective of God. And it was compelling enough for me to let down my guard just a little and let go of my preconceptions for just a minute. I listened and evaluated.
Like I mentioned at the time, I was moving through life pretty smoothly, had a good life. Great wife, we were DINKS (double income no kids), making good money – bright future.
I still had that nagging feeling that there was more – that there was something missing in my life. I couldn’t shake that feeling.
The speaker talked about God, and how religion has kind of turned people off about that. He talked about how all religions had something in common – they are all about defining what I must do to reach God – that sin kept me from knowing Him and there are rules and regulations that I need to follow and things I needed to do to “earn” God’s love. That was a problem – I could never be good enough to reach those marks.
It was hard to explain at the time, but inside my “gut” I felt a tugging. Something I couldn’t shake that was telling me this guy was talking truth. I have always been a fan of truth, so I kept listening to what he was saying… and evaluating. He was describing exactly what I thought God was all about at the time. I could never be good enough.
While I am a fan of truth, I also have a hefty portion of cynicism – always looking out for what people are trying to get from me. But this guy was not looking for anything from me – he was just sharing. So I kept listening.
After covering his thoughts about religion, he took a dramatic turn.
He started talking about Jesus. Funny, in today’s culture when you bring up Jesus you can get an entire spectrum of reactions. From radical acceptance to radical rejection. Many even use Jesus as a cuss word.
But this time, for me, as I continued to feel that tugging on the inside, I heard some things about who Jesus is that changed my life. Things I didn’t know before. From my religious experience, I had heard them spoken about in prayers and stories. But I didn’t KNOW them.
So, here it is in a nutshell.
While religion talks about what WE need to do to reach God, Jesus was sent by God to this earth to do everything that needs to be done to reach God – ON OUR BEHALF. A Gift for us from God.
Think about it, if we can’t be perfect enough to reach God, don’t you think God knows that? I mean he IS God! He made us, so he has to know how flawed we are.
So what was it that needed to be done? What is it that keeps us separated from God? The key here is sin.
What is sin? Actually, the definition of sin is pretty complex. Transgression, wrongdoing, corrupted heart, immorality…there are many definitions. However you define it, the result of sin is the same – separation from God. So, let’s not get caught up in the definition, let’s focus on the result.
So let’s get a little deeper here. I used to think of sin as rules that God has so that I can’t enjoy all the things that life has to offer. As I looked harder, I learned that sin is not rules to follow, but things to avoid so I can enjoy closeness to God. Until I realized this, I never understood the joy and happiness that came from being close to God. This was a game changer for me.
So what do we do with sin? We are all affected by it. It is something we don’t talk a lot about. Why? I think, at least for me, it is a lot about ego, my ego. No one should tell me what is right and wrong, what I can and cannot do. I am a good person because the stuff I do isn’t THAT bad – I mean I am not killing people or anything like that, you know. There are people that do a whole lot more bad things than me. I am not so bad.
This is called self-righteousness. Self-righteousness. Making myself RIGHT WITH GOD. If you really ponder that, you will realize that we cannot make ourselves right with God. It has to be Him that brings us in to right standing. Enter Jesus.
The Bible tells us that sin has a wage. We all have a sense of things that go against God – think of the 10 commandments – things like murder, stealing, lying, etc., you fill in the blank). The wages are death – Separation from God. It is that simple. It is not that God doesn’t want us to live a good life and enjoy our time on earth, it is that a perfect God cannot be around sin. And He wants to be around us. He chooses us!
It was around this point that I realized…Because of my preconceptions of God, I was trapped and I didn’t even know it.
I thought, being sinless to be with God is a pretty high mountain to climb. I don’t think I could ever do that. As a matter of fact I have already done some of those things that separate me from God (not killing anyone of course, but I have lied, stolen, lusted, etc.), so I was screwed!
What I learned that day, though, is that God is love. Not that God loves, but that GOD IS LOVE! He provided a way for us to be with him, even though we have sinned.
The Bible tells us that God so loved you, He so loved me, that He sent Jesus to live on earth to be perfect FOR us. So that if we believe in Jesus, and we accept His sacrifice as payment for our sin, and turn away from that sin, we can live here and now with God as our heavenly father, and when we die – live with Him forever. That is the promise. That is the free gift.
And it is pretty simple really. Jesus came to live among us, and He did. He lived a sinless life – something none of us could ever do – ALL of us have fallen short. History tells us that Jesus was tortured and crucified and died as an innocent man. Even those who condemned him to this horrible death said He was innocent.
Jesus took on all of the sin of the world and was separated from God for 3 days – to pay the wages for us. And after 3 days Jesus rose from the dead and declared the wages for our sin were paid, and if we accepted that payment we could be with God. Picture yourself in traffic court, the judge says “You are guilty of speeding – $250“. And someone stands up and says “Here is the $250, right here. I’ll pay it.” The judge can now, legally, let you off the hook, you don’t need to pay. The wage for that transgression was paid.
It’s kind of like that.
This was worlds apart from what I was taught – what I was taught was religion. What I had just heard was Good News! By the way, if you have ever heard the phrase “preaching the Gospel“, well if someone is preaching the Gospel, all they are doing is explaining this good news, because that is the definition of the Gospel: good news!
At this point the tugging on my gut was pretty strong and I had a decision to make. The speaker laid it out pretty simply.
Now that I had heard this good news, I had a choice to make: I could let the sacrifice of Jesus pay my wages – I could accept that payment, or not. No one forcing me to do a thing. It was between me and God. No one would even know the difference between a “yes” and a “no”. It was then that I KNEW that the tugging on my gut was God. He wanted me to be with Him because He loved ME. But love is not love if it is forced. So in order for me to love Him back I had to choose to love Him.
So I said YES. And let me tell you, that changed my life for ever.
After that, every light turned green for me from then on, I had no more financial struggles, no more relationship struggles, always getting what I wanted, never sick again…Not exactly.
But that tugging on my gut stayed with me from that moment on (and got stronger) and I decided to learn more about what “living the here and now” in a real relationship with God meant. I started studying and asking questions. Now, when I have financial struggles, sickness, problems with people, etc. I have someone I can lean on in prayer. And when I pray, He gives me peace and guidance through the struggles of life that I didn’t have before.
It is that “something more” I was looking for – it was what was missing in my life. A relationship with God, through the person of Jesus.
So now you have a decision to make.
If your answer is “no“, thanks for taking time to read my story. I hope you at least learned something you didn’t know before.
If your answer is “yes“, it is pretty simple to accept the gift Jesus gave us. God is listening right now and really all you need to do is from your gut, give in to the “tug“, tell Him that you know you have missed the mark, you are sorry and want to do better. Then tell Him that you believe in the gift of Jesus and you want to accept the gift of his payment for your wages.
Speak words to that affect (pray), out loud so you can hear them. The Bible says that if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus paid your wages and ask Jesus to be your Lord, you will be saved.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16
Simple as that.
If you do pray this, find someone who knows God in this way. Talk to them about it and find a good church. If you are having trouble with this, reach out to me, I’d be happy to speak with you.
Thanks for your time, I hope it was worth it.