Today is my 38th birthday. As is the case with most people I would assume, there are days that I feel 18, and days that I feel 58. Most of the days I feel 58 are Monday’s, after I play basketball for 2 hours on Sunday nights… but I bring up my birthday for a few reasons.
First, it’s probably been my favorite day of the year for my entire life. Believe it or not, I like attention, and celebrating my entrance into the world is usually a good excuse to allow for selfishness and self-centeredness.
Second, as I approach the mildly responsible age of 40, I have become reflective. I am so incredibly thankful for the life I have. My beautiful and healthy family. The friends who surround and support me. My job, at the church of my dreams, and all those who have helped and currently help to make it the amazing place that it is. I am truly the definition of the word blessed in SO many ways – and I do not want to take it for granted.
But thirdly, as I reflect – I remember some of the days when I did not feel so blessed. Weeks when life was difficult and I felt alone. Months when anxiety threatened to and actually did steal all the joy from me, and years when doubts and questions made me feel as if perhaps even my faith in God was under attack. There have definitely been times when I believed that it was possible that God either wasn’t there, didn’t care or perhaps worst of all, was ok or wanting me to suffer. That the uncomfortable realities of my life, were brought upon me by a being who possessed the power to take them all away, and yet was choosing not to. Hard times to remember, but with perspective, I think it’s important that I do.
The older I get the more I realize my experiences in life are not as unique as I once thought they were. In fact, most of the difficult things I just mentioned are feelings and thoughts that most people have struggled with. And there are those who I know personally who still struggle with the belief that God, the universe, or humanity in general, is against them in some way. Each morning as these people wake up, they believe that there is a 100% chance that things are going to go wrong, and that someone or something is pulling the strings.
It’s at this point that my heart is both empathetic and breaking. First the empathy. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been there, and I know how awful it can be. My hope would be that people would know and believe that they are not alone, and that there are those of us out there who have faced similar circumstances who want to walk alongside them in their grief. But next comes the heart, breaking part – because I believe that at least in some way – these people are living under the power of a lie that comes straight from the pit of hell. And I don’t use that as a euphemism.
As my job makes obvious, I am Christian. A follower of Jesus. A person who believes that the Bible at most is the infallible and inspired word of God, and at the very least is the history of God’s interaction with His people and the first hand accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This also means, that I believe in things like spirits and demons – which I know sounds weird to some – and that there is an enemy we all face who would like nothing more than for us to live life as far from God as possible, and with the belief that God is angry, mean, vengeful and full of wrath towards us. We don’t have to look too far to find something that tries to affirm those facts – if we want to believe it – culture makes it easy on us.
The reason this is so heart-breaking to me, is because the idea of a God who is against us could not be further from what I believe to be the truth, or from the God that Jesus spoke about when He was here. Let’s take just a brief look at a few verses, which if they are to be believed, paint a much different picture.
John 15:7–13 (ESV)
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
John 3:16–17 (ESV)
“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.
Romans 5:8 (NLT)
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 8:31–33 (ESV)
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
The first two were written by a guy who was probably Jesus’ closest follower, and dearest friend. He refers to himself as “the disciple who Jesus loved.” The second two were written by a guy who was being held in prison (and was eventually killed) by the Roman government for attempting to spread Christianity throughout the region, even though he had at one time made it his life’s goal to persecute and kill Jesus’ followers and end the Christian faith all together. If we can’t trust these guys words on these issues – then I don’t think we can trust anyone’s. Thankfully, I think we can, and I think they are INCREDIBLY clear.
They say this; Jesus calls us love each other just as God has loved us. Even to the point of laying down our lives. Implication; God loves us a whole lot. So much so that, as John states in the second example, He sent a part of Himself to earth to do just that. Lay down His life so that we may live, and live free from the fear of condemnation. And lest we think that He did that only for perfect people or those with all their junk together – Paul tells us that He chose to do it for us, while we were still sinners.
And so Paul calls for us to make up our minds and live in a reality based on those facts. That if God loves us so much that He would die to save us, that He would do whatever it took to demonstrate His love for us – then He is for us. And if the God of the universe if for us, then who could stand against us? And won’t He also give us grace when we need it? Paul thinks so. I think so. And I hope you’re at least beginning to as well.
Now I know, believing it and living in it are two very different things. But it’s my hope and prayer that as you believe it, you also start to let it inform and define you. That it defines who you are, and how you feel. That it informs what you do, and how you interact with the world around you. And that as it defines and informs, it changes your life moving forward. I know how it’s changed mine.
Today I embark on my 39th year. I am feeling selfish. SO selfish in fact, that I want to ask you to give me a specific gift. Spend just one week reading the 4 verses above every morning and every night before you to bed. Remind yourself of who God REALLY thinks you are and how much He cares, despite how you feel or the messages you’ve received. Tell yourself. Tell your kids. Tell your spouse. Ask them to tell you. And see if it doesn’t change your life the way it’s changed mine.
Today I am 38 years old. But more importantly, today, and every day, I am loved by the God who knew everything about me before my entrance into this world during Sesame Street 38 years ago. He is for me. He has chosen me. He loves me. And not just because it’s my birthday.