This Labor Day weekend, I spent a lot of time laboring around the house – mowing, weeding, spraying, raking, sweeping, watering and cleaning out the garage. Under a bunch of my old military stuff, I found a box with my teenage journal inside. I don’t know where Christy found it. It’s something I probably would have thrown out, but I’m glad she didn’t.
A teenage idiot wrote the journal. As I slowly read, I met my 15-year-old self and like Mr. T, “I pity the fool!” Next to MASH games and intricately-drawn pictures of random guys getting riddled with machine-gun bullets, were thoughts on girls who were “sooooooo fine,” and of course, more guns. There were also a lot of bible-verse references and personal applications. Weirdly, the personal applications are what made me cry.
I was going through Matthew’s gospel in the journal. For nearly a year, (not daily) I wrote down a verse that stuck out to me, then what I thought it was about. Every single application started out with “I should…” or “I shouldn’t…” Well, as a teenager, I didn’t do the “shoulds” and I did the “shouldn’ts” and I walked away from Jesus because I saw his life and work as a moral code that I couldn’t crack and it depressed the heaven out of me for 10 years. But God didn’t give up on me. Instead He taught me grace by supplying grace.
That journal proved to me that for the majority of my life, even though my head knew better, the extent of my Christian walk was to acknowledge that my heart was wicked yet still compared favorably to the world around me. I attempted to adjust my actions accordingly with the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” – ignoring completely Jesus’ word “It is finished” on the cross. While there are works that are good and acceptable because they bring God glory and works that are of the flesh and are worth skubalon (look it up), it is nonsense to ask Jesus to lend us the cross because we could really use some extra wood for this ladder of awesomeness we’re building toward heaven.
When we take an honest look at the world around us, or journey up the terrible river to meet Kurtz in our own heart of darkness, the truth in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned” is a baseline given. But when we dwell on our sin, there is a danger of dwelling on our salvation, instead of living it out – a danger of being a fearful servant instead of a faithful servant. Get over it with Romans 3:24 “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” I want to live in and share the freedom and joy that God loves us.
That acceptance changes everything. It’s not the other way around. We are not loved and accepted because we labor over the “shoulds and shouldn’ts.” There’s no good or useless work that I’ve ever done, or ever will do that can make me more or less acceptable to Him than Jesus is. Instead of fixating on my own badness I want to seek and share joy in His goodness.
I’m thankful for His labor of love. I want to labor alongside Him for His glory and I’m so glad I cleaned out the garage.