Getting to KNOW Jesus (Pt 1)

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There is a huge difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing them.

Celebrities are people we know a lot about, but very few of us actually know any of them personally. Sometimes God feels like a celebrity to us. We know (or think we know) a lot about Him. We read articles, blog posts, and books about Him. We listen to sermons, podcasts, and songs about Him. We hear lots of people’s opinions of Him, both positive and negative.

But do we actually KNOW Him personally?

How do you get to really know someone like God?

I write and talk a lot about legalism and religious Christianity vs a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Often people ask me a similar question.

“That’s great and all, and I want more than just a religion, but I don’t know how to have a relationship. Can you show me how to know Jesus?”

If we were sitting together over a cup of coffee or on a bench down by the lake, this is what I would tell you:

Everything God wants to tell us about Himself is found in the Bible, His letter to us. Here are some of my favorite verses that tell us how He wants to know us.

Jeremiah 29:11-14. Verse 11 is super familiar, but I want you to look specifically at verses 12-14. Here it is: “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD…”

Then read Acts 17:26-27. This is Paul speaking to the people of Athens who were very religious, but didn’t know the true God. “And he (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”

God promises that if we look for Him, we will find Him. He says that even if we have our eyes closed and are bumping around in the dark looking for Him, we will find Him because He is close by. God wants a relationship with us! He wants us to KNOW Him, not just facts about Him.

There is only one way to God, through His Son, Jesus Christ. I wrote a post last year about how Jesus was missing from the “Christianity” I was exposed to growing up. You can find it here. Someone Was Missing

We can’t get to God by doing good things, following all the rules, praying a prayer, raising our hands, or going forward in church. We can only get to God by trusting that Jesus’ death and resurrection paid for our sins.

John 3:16-18 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

What is the Son’s name? Jesus, which means Savior. Do you believe that Jesus is your Savior? If you do, then because of Him, you can have a relationship with God.

“Great!” you say, “But, how do I actually have a relationship?”

When you get to know someone like the God of the Universe, you have to think outside of the box. You have to be willing to let your mind get blown. You have to be okay with not understanding everything or being able to explain things. He often seems kind of crazy, and He doesn’t usually make sense. He makes you cry, a lot, even when you’re not sad, because the emotions you feel are too big for your tiny body. But He also makes you laugh. His love is ridiculous, and overwhelming, and amazing. When you meet Him, really meet Him, you will know that you are home and that this is where you belong. He is where you belong.

Next time I’ll share some ideas of how to seek God and find Him. I hope this post has made you hungry for more.

If Jesus has become real to you, I’d love to hear some of your stories!

It’s Only Brainwashing if It’s Not True

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Do you want to know what breaks my heart? People who were raised in the church or exposed to Christianity who don’t want to “brainwash” their children by teaching them about Jesus.

I’ve met, talked to, or heard from many people like this. People who have bought into the idea that Christianity is just another religion and they don’t want to dictate their children’s beliefs. Or people who were absolutely burned by Christians and are trying to spare their children the same fate. These parents have the very best intentions for their kiddos. They are trying to protect them. And as someone who was “brainwashed” to a certain extent, I appreciate their concern.

But when did Jesus become something we need to protect our children from?

How have we so completely screwed up the good news of Jesus Christ?

It’s only brainwashing if it’s not true.

But, I can’t judge, because if I hadn’t actually met Jesus, I would probably be in the same situation. The Christianity I was exposed to as a young teen/adult was completely about rules, and standards, and attempts to make God pleased with me. Many of my peers would say that they never heard about connection or relationship with God, just distance and fear. Why would anyone choose to continue believing this? If that’s what Christianity was about, I’d protect my children too!

Fortunately, I had parents who knew Jesus, who had a relationship with Him, and who were teaching me about Him. I had a mother who was praying that God would become real to me. And, God answered her prayers. Many of my peers had parents who bought into the lie of performance and fear. God was not real, or close, or loving in their family; he was demanding, and angry, and harsh. And I can’t blame them for walking away from everything to do with “Christianity”.

Jesus is so much more than just another religion. He is so much more than church on Sundays. He is more than a “get out of hell free” card. The Bible is more than a dusty, boring, old book. But, Jesus is also more than rules, and standards. The Bible is way more than a list of do’s and don’ts.

How did we, the church, miss the One we are supposed to be following? Why have we substituted Him for flat, dull religion?

God, the One who created us, stepped into our world as the Ultimate Superhero. He had powers! He upended the religious tradition of the day. He lived, fulfilling more than 300 prophecies in his 33 years. He died, making a way for us to be friends with Him again, and then He conquered death! And, He’s coming back!! This is good news! This should make us excited! We should have passion and life and joy. We should be filled with grace and love and forgiveness.

What is wrong, that people feel the need to protect their children from Christianity? Have they never met Jesus? If they meet me, someone who has the very Spirit of Jesus living inside, they should be meeting Him!

“Jesus!! Forgive us for turning You into an idea or a religion and not letting you be the very real Person You are. Become so real to every one of us…let us see You, know You, and love You. Change us! Show us the stupidity of thinking our performance can make us look any better in Your eyes…when You already see us perfect through Your blood. Let us live in the joy and freedom that is found in You. Let us represent You in truth, accurately, showing Your awesomeness to the world. Use me. Amen”

Choosing What is Right

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As a Christian, why do you chose to do what is right?

Is it because you are afraid of making God angry or disappointed? Do you have a long list of what you need to be doing in order to keep God happy with you? Is it so that you will look good to other people? So that you will have a “good testimony” and they will think you are “godly”?

Or maybe you don’t follow “rules” and just do whatever, with whoever, whenever you want. After all, isn’t that what grace is all about?

These are often the two camps of Christianity. And one group is always yelling about the other group and their faults. The rule-followers call the no-rules “worldly” and “licentious” (which is a big word that just means they don’t follow the rules). The no-rules call the rule-followers “close minded” and “legalistic”.

I’m here to say that they are both wrong.

Paul says in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free; stand firm in it. And do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Jesus wants us to be free. He died to set us free. Free from rules, and free from sin.

We shouldn’t be living under a yoke of slavery to rules trying to make God happy with us and avoid His judgment. He already put His wrath and the judgment for sin on His Son Jesus Christ. Once we trust that Jesus took the punishment for our sin, we have access to a relationship with a God who loves us unconditionally!

But neither do we have to live under a yoke of slavery to sin. We don’t have to be controlled by our habits and addictions any longer. When Jesus died, He set us free from the punishment of sin, but also from the power of sin. He has given us His Holy Spirit to live inside of us and empower us to follow Him.

Why do I chose to do what is right? Mostly because I love Jesus and also because I don’t like the consequences that come when I live for myself.

All the recent articles posted on Facebook about Josh Duggar have reminded me once again that rules and standards cannot overcome our sin nature. Only Jesus can, only the power of His death and resurrection.

If your version of Christianity is about anything or anyone other than Jesus, then it’s wrong. If you think you are making God happy with your rule following, then you are wrong. If you care more about yourself and your good/fun life than you care about Jesus and developing a relationship with Him, then you are wrong. When our “Christianity” stops being about Jesus, His amazing grace, and our ability to know God through Jesus, it ceases to be true Christianity.

Finding Grace and Getting a Cartilage Piercing

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[This is the third installment in my story of finding grace. Part 3 of 3]

I was early, a couple of hours early, despite the fact that I had gotten lost on the way. The dirt road slowly crunched under the tires of my red ’91 Ford Probe. Turning the corner, I took my first look at the place I would call home for the summer…an open grassy field, a cluster of beige cabins made of cement block, an old farm house, and some tall trees. It wasn’t much to look at, but this humble little summer camp would end up changing my life.

It was the summer of 2002 and I was 21 years old. Disillusioned with legalism and starting to realize I may have been brainwashed, I still showed up at PRBC in my ankle length skirts, waist length hair, and a long list of standards and beliefs. I came to camp thinking I was going to be sharing Jesus with children. I had no idea that I would find grace, freedom, and normal people who loved God in ways I’d never seen.

Since I was two hours early, I helped the full time staff set up the staff lounge for our training week. Oh staff training! I still get nostalgic just remembering the old, white, plastic tables set up in a U shape in the musty, slightly drafty staff lounge. We sat there for hours each day learning everything we needed to know, the brave tipping back in their chairs, with our Nalgene bottles on the tables, twirling chewed pens in our fingers, flies buzzing in the window screens. They were some of the best days of my life!

Here I was, thrown together with all these “normal” young adults, sticking out like a sore thumb, and they just accepted me. They might have asked some questions, but they never rejected me or made me feel like I was different or not “part of the group”. Acceptance was not something we (the people in my “cult”) were good at. We could judge and condemn and alienate with the best of them, but graceful acceptance was a foreign concept. It felt incredible!

Summer camp challenged me, stretched me, and strengthened me. I had a lot of firsts. Listened to Contemporary Christian music (rock beats were bad), watched a PG-13 movie (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), made friends with boys, and decided to go to college.

I had been given a false definition of grace during my teen years. We were taught that grace was: the desire and power to do God’s will. My summer at camp taught me that grace was something God gave me because He wanted to, even though I didn’t deserve it.

As I realized that God wasn’t waiting for me to perform before He blessed me, I let go of silly rules and found freedom. I clapped and swayed to contemporary praise music and discovered a worship that I didn’t know existed. Believing in people’s acceptance of me, I let my crazy side come out and participated in skits and planned pranks. Boys became my friends as we hung out, talked, and even flirted. I bought a couple of pairs of capris (gasp!). And I experienced freedom!

Before camp ended, another girl and I went to the mall and got our cartilages pierced. Upper ear piercings were looked down on in my old circle. I wanted mine pierced to remind myself of what I had learned, so I would remember not to judge others and that I was free. (Ironically, I was literally chased through Cedar Point after camp by a “friend” who felt the need to confront me about the worldliness of my decision.)

After I left camp, I went to college, something my dad had always wanted me to do. And the next summer I went back to camp, and the next, and the next, and the next…

Now, 13 years later, guess what I’m doing this summer?

I’m going to camp! With my kiddos in tow, I’m heading to camp for the summer to be the health officer. And maybe God will use me to show someone else grace, acceptance, and freedom. Maybe I’ll get my cartilage re-pierced…you never know. 🙂

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

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[After a couple months of business (and silence), I am finishing up the stories of how I left legalism and found grace in Jesus. This is part 2 of 3.]

Something crazy was happening to me.  I had always been the “good-girl”, the people please-er, the “godly” example, but I was quickly becoming a rebel. And it wasn’t rock music, or blue jeans, or college that was doing it to me (like I had been taught); it was Jesus. I stood there at family camp, on a sandy path with the sun filtering through the trees, and I knew that they couldn’t both be Jesus. Someone had to be a fake.

I realize that I can’t just say “family camp”, I need to explain this to you “normal” people. Think of a camp that has been completely taken over by large, homeschooling families, wearing skirts, singing hymns, and going to long chapels twice a day. There were families in cabins and families camping in tents and campers. Lots of people, tons of kids!

We began the week with a speaker who talked about the power of Jesus Christ living in us. It was beautiful to me. I resonated with the Jesus he spoke about. In the past four years since God showed up in my bedroom (see previous post), I had gotten to know Him as a very real friend. The second half of the week, another speaker came. This man gave us lists of rules to follow, impossible standards, and promises of God’s blessings only if we followed them all. And that’s when I lost it.

It’s so hard to explain this! Imagine a large old-fashioned tent meeting. All these families sitting under a big white tent singing hymns and listening to a preacher. During the first half of the week, I sat near the front with other “good” kids. But when the man of rules showed up, I found myself sitting in the very back with the “rebel” teens, with my arms crossed, and a grumpy look on my face. This was so NOT the typical me!

And this brings me back to the sandy path where I paced back and forth trying to wrestle with the Jesus I’d been getting to know, and the god my church and cult had been teaching me about for the past seven years. There was Jesus who loved me and wanted a relationship with me, who gave me His Spirit to give me power to follow Him. Then there was the Jesus who gave rules and steps and expected performance before he would “bless” you. They couldn’t both be Jesus!

Finally in desperation I cried out loud, “Will the real Jesus please stand up? I have to find the truth!”

I got in so much trouble that week at camp. You will most likely read this and think I’m overreacting, but this was my reality. I had a “rebellious” attitude, I started questioning standards (such as why we wore skirts) with my friends, and I held fingers with a boy in a play. It was scandalous! Especially since I’d always been an “example” for others to follow. I was confronted by more than one adult trying to get me back on the “right path”. But I was disillusioned and I was done! There had to be more and I was determined to find it!

That week was the beginning of two years of questions, of doubts, of searching for answers and truth. And then Jesus brought me to summer camp where I found the real meaning of grace and got a cartilage piercing. (Gasp!)

Have you met the real Jesus?

Is he more than religion?

More than a set of rules?

More than something you do on Sunday?

Is he more than a distant God and an ancient book?

Are you willing to do whatever it takes to find him?