Saddest day of the year. If you are not Christian and this is just another Friday for you, read on. I didn't understand for decades. I was made to "endure" rituals for years in a certain religion which shall remain nameless, but they made no sense at all to me. They seemed to make no sense to anyone around me, either. Mindlessly ritualizing diluted and compromised the message that we all desperately need to hear, and yes--embrace. Whether we think we do or not.
Today is Good Friday. For years, I wondered what was so "good" about it, since in the Christian calendar, it's the day Jesus died. Why did I need to believe that any of this happened instead of simply believing that God is "love" and God is "forgiveness" and God is "mercygracekindnessjoyandeverythingelsegood"? Why did Jesus have to die at all? It simply didn't add up. Wasn't logical.
It wasn't till I attended a truly Christian church and began some non-denominational Bible studying that these and many more questions were answered.
Briefly, in a nutshell: We are all sinners. Yes, I know--you've heard that before and it's been charicatured to pieces. If you're anything like me, you are readily arguing that "I'm not as bad as that person" or "I may make a mistake now and then, but I'm a good person!" or "God is LOVE and He will FORGIVE me" or "I don't believe in God, so I don't have to worry about any of that" or "People are free to believe any way they choose and we will ALL go to heaven eventually" or "I'm religious, so I've got that covered" or any number of arguments that you are making up to justify your thoughts and behavior. I know I did. We all do. We ALL do. Be honest. We all do! No one wants to wake up and realize that they are on par with Hitler or Pol Pot as far as their "goodness" is concerned. We spend more time justifying our behavior than actually doing anything about it.
But there's a problem: our standards are not God's standards.
Most people believe in Heaven. We may believe that if we are "good enough", we can get there. We may believe that "good works" (taken out of context from the Bible) can help us get to Heaven. This belief makes God seem like some sort of heavenly ATM-machine--bestowing gifts upon those who have enough "stocked in their account". While this is the message of nearly every religion on earth, it is not the message of Christianity.
Heaven is absolute and total perfection, therefore all who enter must be perfect, or it wouldn't be Paradise. Would Heaven still be Heaven if Charles Manson is there? Would you want to spend eternity in Heaven with Ted Bundy? Stupid questions, right? We all see ourselves as "better" than either of these men. And therein lies the crux: WE all see OURSELVES as better than them.
Although He created you and loves you more than you can humanly imagine, the offenses you've done have separated you from God, who is not only loving and kind and forgiving, but just and holy. And as a just and holy God, he ... judges. With holiness. If you've ever told a lie, even a little one, even if you were three at the time, you have sinned. If you've ever stolen anything, even if you were sorry, even if it was just a small item, you have sinned. Taken the Lord's name in vain? How many times have you said, "Oh, my GO*"? or used God's name as a cuss word? Have you always put God first in your life, above everyting else (First Commandment)? Have you ever created your own god, making the true God what you believe He should be? That's breaking the Second Commandment, making God into a personal idol that suits you and accepts your own personal vices, and we do that each time we excuse our behavior and tell ourselves: "God doesn't really mind if I watch this movie or read this book or listen to this music or attend this concert. After all, He's forgiving!"
God does mind.
But He is unbelievably patient with us. More patient and loving than we as humans can wrap our minds around.
And He has provided a way for us to be with Him for eternity.
I don't know about you, but I can't even wrap my mind around the concept of eternity.
I tell my 7-year old to look at all the grains of sand on the beach, then imagine that each one is a thousand years. And to remember that there are beaches all over the world. Then--to imagine all that sand, all those "years" and multiply that by bazillions. And THAT is just the first day of eternity.
We usually have to take a break after that. Both of us.
Back to God's provision for us: He provided a way for us, complete losers in the "Sin Games", to be with Him forever. And He named Him Jesus.
Why should you believe in Him and not just trust that a loving God will forgive everything you've ever done that fell short of the mark? God knew that humans wouldn't--couldn't--believe in anything we didn't see. Jesus was tangible, Jesus was real.
Jesus was God with skin on.
And He still is.
He was born for one purpose: to willingly become for us what we couldn't become for ourselves. We can't save ourselves. We are not capable. No matter how "good" we perceive ourselves to be. No matter how many lives we save in the Emergency Room. No matter how "nice" or "moral" we are and no matter how many good deeds we do and how much we donate to charity. We cannot be sinless, we cannot be "good enough" to earn our way into Heaven by pleasing some god with our good deeds--this is fabulous news, since most of us just aren't cut out to be brain surgeons. Because we continually sin, because we give in to our bodily desires, the desires that this world tells us are acceptable, we can't possibly be let into Heaven. And there's only one other choice.
You may believe there are other "options". Let me tell you--there are only two places that humans go when they die, and both those places are explained in the Bible and both these places are forever. There is Heaven, and there is Hell. While the Bible mentions Heaven several times and definitely encourages us in that direction ;) it actually mentions Hell more often and it describes it more fully.
Believe me when I tell you it's not a place "where the bad boys party". There is nothing good in Hell. Nothing. You will not be partying with all your friends, as friends fall into the "good" category. There will not be tasty beverages for you to enjoy while you are hanging around an amazing fire-put. Tasty beverages fall into the "good" category, and so do amazing fire-pits. There is darkness and isolation, and it's forever. While Heaven is more wonderful than we humans can picture, Hell is more dread-filled than any of us can believe. As difficult as it is to imagine the fabulousness of Heaven, so it is to try to imagine the complete and utter despair that is Hell.
God doesn't want you to go there! Which brings me back to His provision: We all deserve Hell. We have alldone things that we knew were wrong. This is when our consciences prick us, but we sally forth with our righteous anger/offense/thought/fight/superiority/behavior/insert personal vice here. We have all offended God in ways that deserve the full punishment of His law--being thrown into Hell. Whether or not you choose to believe this right now, it is the truth, un-sugar-coated. I didn't want to believe it for the longest time. I kept saying, "But I'm a good person!", stubbornly refusing to submit even this one belief to the One who created me. My insistence that I was good enough to get into Heaven on my own merit cut the legs right out from the message God wants us to know: that He is the One who provides that passage for us. While He provided it, we must humble ourselves enought to accept it, each one of us, on a very personal level. Picture God handing you a fabulously wrapped gift--the most beautiful thing you've ever laid eyes on. And you just say, "No, I'm good. I don't need that."
What incredible conceit.
What unfathomable pride.
And I was the worst.
On a dreary day over 2,000 years ago, Jesus--fully God and fully man, "God with skin on", was whipped to within inches of His life. He was spit upon. He was mocked more brutally than an abused child whose story brings a community to action. He was beaten with sticks and rocks, moaning in agony even before He was killed. He was forced to carry the instrument of His death, the very heavy cross itself, in His weakened condition. He was hatefully screamed at. People were yelling for Him to be crucified, the most demeaning, painful and horrible death imaginable.
And He'd done nothing, not a single thing, to earn any of this.
He'd spoken the truth, and told people the way to get to Heaven. And they didn't want to believe Him, because they felt they were good enough, all on their own.
Sound like someone you know?
After He suffered all manner of humiliation, having His clothes gambled for, wearing a crown of thorns and being further mocked, He took on that sin you commited yesterday. You know, the lie you told. And that porn you browsed through last week? He paid for that, too. The harsh words you spewed at someone because you thought they needed to be knocked down a peg or two? He covered it. The lie you told to your 4th grade teacher? Paid for. The fight you started with someone, to prove that you were "right"? He took that for you. The secret affair you had? Done. The years you've spent ignoring and rejecting the God who created you, the lustful thoughts you've had about that hot co-worker in the next cube, the defiling television shows you've watched, the abortion you had or paid for, the insolence you showed your parents, the secret thoughts of anger you harbored toward your sibling, every one-night-stand you've had, every hateful and offensive thought you've ever had--all forgiven.
Every sin you've comitted. Every one.
IF you accept the gift that God is holding out to you.
Not tomorrow, when you'll be less busy.
Not when you're old and on your deathbed, so you can "have fun now".
Not sometime in the future, when you might actually believe all this stuff.
But right now.
Because believing in the eleventh hour does you no good if you die in the tenth. You can't go back in time to a day when you had a choice and made the wrong one. And if you haven't accepted God's free gift to you and think you are not actually making a choice, trust me--you are. You are choosing to reject that gift.
But God has chosen to keep holding it out to you.
Because when He was on the cross, dying a death He didn't deserve, YOU were on His mind.
He did it for you.
He loves you more than you can imagine.
Let's correct a couple of misunderstandings:
God doesn't want you to live a fun-free life of slavery and boring servitude and Dana Cavey Church Lady-esque hats. Sometimes Christianity is portrayed that way. What a shame. What a sham.
Being alive in Christ means the chains have dropped off. It's liberating, not life-ending. Imagine being free of the guilt that you carry around, free in the knowledge that you are eternally protected, free in the knowledge that you are truly an "adopted child of God"--not simply a creation of His. Like a loving mother who pulls her child out of the street just as a truck is bearing down on him, God wants to protect us, and His "rules" do just that when we follow them. But like that little child, we tend to be angry, hollering at the parent who saved us from danger. "You never let me have any fun!" says the child who has no concept of what a 4-ton truck could do to a toddler body. We can fight God all we want, but He truly knows what is best for all of us, even if it's contrary to what this world tells us. We automatically believe that if it doesn't "make sense" to us, it cannot be right.
We're just like that little child pouting at his mama.
God also doesn't want you to be a mindless robot, giving Him your intelligence and personality as a tradeoff for life in Him. On the contrary, some of the most intelligent people this world knows are Christian. They didn't let their "intellect" get in the way of the truth. They didn't accept what the world tells them is true to the exclusion of what God says in His Word, the Bible. They didn't say they have an "open mind" while rejecting all things spiritual.
They believe the unseen.
Disbelief in the unseen is not an excuse to ignore this message. Love is unseen, and everyone believes that love exists. So is faith.
I'll bet you have more faith than you realize. Most of us do not understand fully how a microwave oven works, but we trust that when we put into one a frozen burrito and push the proper buttons, it will exit, hot and tasty, three minutes later. I certainly don't understand how my car's engine works, but I know when I press the big pedal on the right, the car moves forward. Every time we depress the car's brake pedal, we have faith the car will slow down and stop. Each time we get on an airplane, we have faith it will go up really high, bring us to an exotic foreign locale (or maybe Ohio), and land safely on terra firma.
You have much more faith than you realize, and you trust more than you give yourself credit for.
All God asks for is a little of that same trust and faith.
You don't have to "understand" all of what's in the Bible to actually have an open mind. Although it was written as God's love letter to you--and intended for you to read, not for someone else who is "smarter" to read and somehow interpret for you--there are mysteries in that Book, and sometimes we won't understand a certain passage--the same way that toddler can't understand why his mom pullled him out of the street. The good thing about the toddler is that he will grow up and understand one day. The good thing about believing and trusting God is that we also grow and His Word begins to take on new meaning and shape to us as we mature in Him.
You may have seen the bumper stickers that say, "Not Of This World". This life of ours is a kind of first-act. We are here an average of 80 years, and will spend eternity elsewhere. Our souls live on forever, long after our bodies decay. Where will you spend eternity? That is the question I want you to ask yourself on this Good Friday. For although there seems nothing good about today, when seen from the eyes of our Heavenly Father, there is nothing but goodness in what His only begotten son did for us--all of us. You and me and that weird guy you go to school with. He died, so that we may live.
He died so that we may be adopted into His family.
He died so we have a choice: to believe on Him and be called "Children of God", or to reject Him.
It's that simple and that complicated.
He took on all our sins and nailed them to that cross upon which He died. When He rose again (that's what Easter is all about), which was historically recorded and witnessed by over 500 people (more than many events in history, btw), He defeated death--which means that His true believers will "defeat" death as well.
I like the saying, "One birth, two deaths. Two births, one death."
If you are born again of the Spirit, trusting in Jesus, you will die only one death--the physical one. If you choose to reject Jesus, you will die two deaths--one physical and one spiritual.
Today, you can make the right choice. It doesn't matter one bit to God what you've done in the past, how "horrible" you've been. He is holding out His hand to you, drawing you near to Him.
He's been waiting for you!
His love is scandalous--He loves even murderers who truly repent and put their trust in Him. He said so on the cross, when He forgave the repentant thief beside Him and told him, "See you in Paradise." He loves the sexually immoral, the chronically angry and the suicidally depressed. He loves those who have made a disaster of their lives by drinking themselves nearly to death and losing everything He gave them. He forgives those who ask forgiveness and He can forgive you, too.
He is the only One who can.
No earthly human, no matter what title we may bestow upon them, no matter what "penance" they assign to you, can forgive you.
None of the good works you do can buy your way out of the sin you've commited.
Jesus is the One who nailed your sin onto His cross and died to obliterate it.
I know this is a lot to swallow. I know it might seem very, very weird to you. I felt the same way for years. I may have phrased something in such a way that seems downright crazy to you personally. Don't let that stop you from asking me, "What the heck???" I will do my best to find the answer for you or direct you to someone who knows. I hate to sound scary, but Hell is scarier than anything on earth. If you knew someone was headed for a terrible car crash, wouldn't you stand in the road waving a flag, yelling, "Go the other way! Take THAT road! This one will kill you!"
The truth is, no one knows when their time is up. No one wakes up and thinks, "This is a good day for an aneurism! Or a fatal car crash! Or a massive stroke!" The vast majority of people who will die today did not expect to.
One day, you will be one of those people. One day, so will I.
And I'm prepared.
I welcome your input, and love you enough to bring up this possibly uncomfortable topic. I'm OK with your discomfort. I'm not OK with facing God one day knowing I have to answer His question about why I didn't show more love and risk your discomfort. I thank God that there were people who cared enough for my soul to keep on keeping on with me, despite my stubborn pride. They knew I was in a burning house and took the time and effort to let me know, "There is a door from which you can escape." Even when I didn't think I needed that door. Don't let your pride keep you from the the greatest gift you will ever receive, the precious, hard-won gift of a gracious Savior and His plan for you--eternity in Heaven.
Thanks for reading,
(No Scripture here, intentionally. So you can call or text me: firstname.lastname@example.org, 408-621-4352)