Thursday, November 11, 2010
I have decided to follow Jesus
When I was a Freshman in college, I didn't like Jesus. "But, Meredith, you didn't like Him because you didn't know Him," you might be thinking. I assure you, I knew Him. Knew of Him anyway. I grew up hearing songs with words like this, "Love so amazing, love so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." And when I was 19 years old, I fully and completely realized that Jesus wanted my life. And I hated Him for it.
I guess some people first hear about Jesus in light of His mercy and grace. That was not ever absent in the Gospel that was presented to me as a child and adolescent. I sang "Jesus loves the little children" and "Yes, Jesus loves me" a thousand times. But I am what you might call "strong-willed" and by the time I was old enough to realize that being like Jesus would mean forfeiting some of the things that Meredith would want to do- I was decidedly opposed. What kind of a God asks you to give up what you really want? A Holy God. That's Who.
But I was 19 and I wanted what I wanted- whatever that even was back then. My way. That's what it was. I didn't want to listen to my parents, who spoke on Christ's behalf. I didn't want to listen to Christian friends. And I didn't want to listen to any pastor who had more than a feel-good story to tell. That was that. God had other plans.
God's grace has sometimes come to me in the form of complete loss. Relationships ripped apart, ambitions flushed down the toilet, dreams in pieces, heart shattered. But I can't lie to you and say that once my life was crushed, I looked up to the cross, where the Savior gave his life for my nasty soul and welcomed Him. No. I screamed at Him. I spat. I scorned Him. I hated Him. Why would you do this to me? You are supposed to love me! You are supposed to be the One who loves unconditionally. But You have ruined everything! You and your nosy people and your demands that no one could ever meet! I knew Jesus. Ignorance of Him is something I can never claim. I rejected Him.
Maybe because I can remember feeling hatred and contempt for Him (it was only 9 years ago) I feel such adoration for Him today. Because one day, a Tuesday, while I sat on my bed I read the book of John. Everyone else (it seemed) had abandoned me. Heartbroken and desperate, I read about Him. And I realized, for the first time, that the Man of Sorrows, who had borne my contempt for all these years still, amazingly, miraculously loved me. I can't describe that revelation accurately. The best that I can express is that I looked at Him and though I had seen Him a thousand times before, I saw and felt and believed that despite my hatred, despite my abuse and contempt and false accusations, that He was desperate for me. And in my heart, I left my unbelief behind and I ran to Him on that cross and felt His love...finally. Oh! The relief I found that day! When the hands I'd nailed to the cross first held my ruined heart- life came to me.
Maybe it's because I remember hating Him that I am determined to agape. Nine years later, and a hundred turning points when "I have decided to follow Jesus" and now my Sweet Savior has called me to suffer with Him. He was so faithful to warn us- "in this world you will have trouble..." "no servant is greater than his master. If they hated me, they will hate you." I used to think that when the Psalmist wrote, "the insults of those who insult you fall on me" he meant that I wasn't going to hurt. That somehow the Holy Spirit was going to absorb the pain and I would walk on some sort of emotional cloud nine while the fiery words of those who oppose His way would dissolve in mid-air. But that's not what He said at all. It's not that those insults aren't going to hurt you. It's that they are going to afford you the opportunity to know Him in a way you cannot when you are comfortable. It means that you are going to share them with Him.
All those years that I stood at the base of the cross and hurled insults at Him, He was Holy, and He never ceased to love. He won't. Not until the end- when the trumpet sounds and the time of grace is up, and grace is replaced by wrath. Until that day, His love is poured out to anyone who will receive it- regardless of their hatred. It's impossible to know Him in His fullness and not be drawn to the cross to suffer alongside Him. We can choose to sit it out. We don't have to hurl insults at Him anymore. We can stop doing that and say, "Oh, I choose Jesus Christ as my Savior" and then go about our merry way and do what feels good. We can ignore the hurt. We can keep secrets and tell lies. We can become proud. We can accumulate stuff. There's tons of options out there other than suffering. But how will we ever really know Jesus if we don't stay there at the cross? How will we ever be like Him if we don't experience the brutality of man's selfish, hate-filled heart and love him anyway?
Francis Chan, who I am just beginning to listen to, has much to say about this. And Katy and Anthony (God bless those two!) saw fit to share with Andy and me a sermon Francis taught on suffering. Andy and I listened and related. Suffering has come our way in recent days- false accusation, insult, reproach. We've been shocked, we've been hurt, and, by grace alone, we've been obedient. "Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse." Romans 12:14. Why? Why would you ever do that? Why would you love someone who has expressed contempt for you? Why?
There is ONE answer, one answer only. Because He does. Because I hurled insults at Him and hated Him and rejected Him for years. And His mercy stayed the same. His grace came to me in waves. He chased after me like fire through a drought-stricken forest. He consumed me with His love. And to know Him, to really know Him, I have to do the very same thing. Agape- the love that expects nothing in return. The love that is poured out for its own sake- not because it's deserved, not because something good is going to happen in its wake, not because it's going to win me brownie points in the hereafter. Because it is HIM. God IS love. He IS agape. And, if I want to know Him, if I want to really know Him, then I have to stare in His eyes while the words beat me into a pulp, while my heart and soul are crushed and know His love, His never failing love for the very ones who are hurting me.
Like Paul said, I have not attained this. But I press on. That's all I have. And that's really all I want. To be able to love someone who hates me the way that I hated Him- will I ever attain this in this life? I don't know. But He's worthy of the effort. Because it's that love that turned my hatred into devotion. Love that amazing, that divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.