April 11, 2004, Easter Sunday and my twentieth birthday. I remember it so clearly. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s back up to the night before. Dustin and I, newlyweds, threw a party in honor of yours truly. We called our friends, grabbed some games, plenty of alcohol, and the party began. Midway through our party, my mom pulled into the driveway. Even though I was a big girl, married and living on my own, the thought of disappointing my mom with this party, crushed me. So, we hid the alcohol, and I met her in the living room to see what she needed. She said she was just there to drop off our Easter card, and she’d see us at Granny’s for dinner the next day. Whew! Dodged that bullet (because surely she was clueless), and the party continued. As Dustin and I were climbing into bed that night, I remembered the card. Being broke newlyweds, I opened the card hoping for at least an Andrew Jackson, but totally cool if it were a couple of Washington’s. But to my disappointment, I found a card full of conviction and zero cash. JESUS, the car exclaimed, in big, bold letters across the front. That was enough to cause Dustin and I to show face at church that Easter morning.
I have sweet memories about that day. And it being my birthday just adds to the grandness of what happened when I arrived at church that Easter Sunday. Walking in, we made our way to the front near my great-grandparents, Mama and Papa Bowman. I wish I could tell you what the pastor preached that morning. I’m sure it had to do with the resurrection, but specifics, I don’t recall. What I remember was the feeling of God’s love drawing me in. Jesus gripped my heart and Dustin gripped my hand as we made our way to an old, tear-stained altar to give our hearts to Jesus. I’ve not regretted it once, I only regret that I didn’t make it personal much sooner.
I grew up going to church. I’m grateful for grandparents who would drag me to church when I was too little to understand. The only thing I received from church at such a young age were my granny’s deposit slips to write letters on and the view of a church pew from underneath where the pastor’s words would often lull me to sleep. I remember nothing about the preacher’s words, or much about Jesus from that stage of life, only the love of my grandparents. The same love that caused them to drag me to church week after week, would one day bear fruit in my life, but it wouldn’t happen overnight.
As I grew up, like a lot of us, I started chasing the things of the world instead of the creator. I spent my teenage years knowing what I should do, but doing the opposite, and praying each night that Jesus have mercy on me, fearful that if I died, I’d spend eternity in H. E. double hockey sticks.
By my teenage years, both my parents were serving Jesus. Their lives were changing, and they forced me to be at every service. Even though I continually rejected the message of Jesus, I’m grateful for my parents’ push to show up, and for the incredible youth pastors who keep preaching at deaf ears and a hard heart.
I wasn’t living for Jesus, but I believed in Him and I believed in His love for me. Every Sunday and Wednesday night I showed up for my parents, for my youth pastor, and I sang the songs, played the games, attended the events, but lived as far from Him as possible the rest of the week. It wasn’t personal for me. If I’m being totally transparent, it wouldn’t become personal for many years, even many years after that Easter Sunday. But make no mistake, on Easter Sunday 2004 my heart belonged to Jesus. My heart was pure in serving Him, in living for Him. I wanted to do this Jesus thing right. I wasn’t interested in hypocrisy. Dustin agreed, and we started our new journey.
From that point on, we did our best to be good church people. We changed our speech and our habits, raised our babies in church, and Dustin became a deacon. We were faithful to church, served faithfully, and did our best to do the Jesus thing right. Despite it all, we found ourselves unsatisfied.
Fast forward to 2012.
Dustin is working over the road and gone way too often. We struggled, wanting to be together, but financially it seemed impossible. We are unsatisfied on so many levels and we felt God nudging us into a deeper relationship with Him, but we did not know what that looked like or even meant. For me, I tied the depth of my relationship to my deeds (which is a bad theology, but a conversation for another day), so I approached my pastor about starting a small group for young adults. He loved the idea, and I ordered our first study. At that point in my life, I couldn’t imagine teaching the Bible to anyone. I barely knew it myself. So, I ordered a study called Not A Fan by Pastor and Author, Kyle Idleman*. God used Not A Fan to teach us about following Him. We finally understood what the dissatisfaction we had been feeling was. And then came the realization that my relationship with Jesus wasn’t personal. I was living off of my pastors Jesus, my moms Jesus, my grandparents Jesus, everyone’s Jesus but my own. I didn’t have my own Jesus. I loved Jesus so very much, but was clueless that following a list of rules, being a good christian, wasn’t actually a personal relationship with Him. Was I living like the world? Absolutely not. But I wasn’t seeking Him personally, either.
When the woman with the issue of blood pursued Jesus that day (Luke 8:43-48), it says in scripture that the streets were crowded. So many people were pressing in on Jesus, but this woman made it personal. She knew what the cost could be if someone were to see her in the crowd; she was unclean. She understood exposing her issue to the crowd was punishable by law. She knew the embarrassment she would endure if her pursuit left her unchanged, but she chased Him anyway and she got personal with Him despite the cost. That’s what Jesus is looking for in you and I. He’s looking for people who will pursue Him on a personal level, who will pursue Him despite the cost. Get to know Him and embrace His extravagant love toward us.
“Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” —Luke 9:23 CSB
Jesus says to us, if you want to follow me, then follow me. Chase me. Pursue me. This takes self denial and sacrifice to chase Jesus. Chasing Jesus has nothing to do with being good enough. Not because we shouldn’t be good and do good, but because when we choose to get personal with Jesus, when we pursue Him and deny ourselves, our relationship with Him causes us to be good and do good.
Following Jesus isn’t about what we do for Him, it’s about what He did for us. It’s about His death and His resurrected life, not about following rules or about mimicking the most spiritual people you know. It’s about a genuine relationship with Jesus.
It takes getting personal with Him, to live like and to look like Him. It’s in our intimate relationship with Him, that we can put on His character and bear the fruitful life that we were meant to live.
To be continued…
*Dustin and I now serve as online group leaders for Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, where Kyle Idleman is lead pastor. Following your own Jesus is an adventure full of sweet