When I came to Christ, I GOT it:
Me = dirty, filthy, guilty, broken, desperately needy SINNER.
Jesus = The Sacrifice, the Holy One, the Cleanser, Redeemer, Healer, Lover of my soul.
You put the two together, and it was radical - LIFE CHANGING!
And Psalm 130 - (go read it) I TOTALLY got it... even though I didn't know much about the Bible, or Psalms or anything specific to those verses - I GOT it.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I don't know exactly when it started to happen, but it did. Someone probably praised me for something I had done - reading my bible maybe, or memorizing a verse. It was like being given a little ribbon, being told, "Well done." And it felt like I was earning points.
I kept doing, and the ribbons kept coming - I really started working on making sure I was looking good. The list of ways to earn my ribbons got longer and longer - monitoring how I spoke, and what I wore, what I watched and listened to... check, check, check... ribbon, ribbon, ribbon.
Then after a while - I started looking around at other people... and I started judging them for their "ribbon earning power." Oh no, no, I'd think... you shouldn't watch that... drink that... wear that... you won't earn your ribbons. And then I would even look down on them because they weren't working the ribbon system at all.
Somewhere along the line, I lost a lot of my focus of that Jesus who came to set me free, and found myself unknowingly bound by my beautiful ribbons. Truth be told there were times I was pretty darn impressed with myself. I liked my ribbons, and I thought they made me look good. People told me they did. And people were always pressuring me to earn more, but no one pressured me like I pressured myself.
I spent a lot of years in a place where everyone was impressed with one another's ribbons. You had to earn certain ribbons to qualify for certain opportunities, if your ribbons were missing, or even tattered or torn, you were disqualified. You were benched. Overlooked. Disregarded.
I know this, because there were times when I was doing the disqualifying, the benching, the overlooking, even the disregarding - sometimes actively, sometimes just in my own mind.
Once in a while I would get this pang of futility - looking down at all my ribbons, and I would realize they just didn't feel like enough. And too many times my expectations of others to jump on board to the ribbon earning bandwagon pushed people away, or worse, pushed people down.
I had become a full blown Pharisee and hadn't even applied to the school. The scary thing about being a Pharisee is you really don't realize that's where you've come. In your own heart and mind all the ribbon earning is acts of devotion, but the truth is, you tend to forget a lot about the One you are devoted to.
You forget that the One who swooped in to rescue and gave His very all to know you, to be with you, to love you - the One who paid for you with his very own life in a brutal and violent death - He came when you were aware, when you were BOTH aware of your filth and of your need.
You have to go and stand back at the scene of the crime to get some perspective. Not all the little crimes you committed a long the way, the BIG one - the one where YOU hung Christ on a cross, you nailed his hands and feet. The crime where you let an innocent Man pay the penalty for you.
You have to linger there.
You have to look close.
You have to remember...
He did it willingly. Wantingly. Lovingly.
Stand there with all your ribbons and you will without question realize that they are all but filthy rags. You will drop to your knees and shed them as quickly as you can and drop your face to the floor in gratitude.
For me I had to walk away from a LOT to have my eyes opened to see what I had become. I still loved Jesus, but not the way He wanted me to love Him. I was coming to Him on my terms, not His - and worst of all I had completely abandoned one of His most basic commands: I had stopped loving others.
It didn't just manifest itself inside the "club" of others who had accepted the sacrifice. That was a big part of it, it was like a tier system and if you didn't have the right ribbons, or enough of them, well then... It was like Dr. Seuss's Sneetches gone bad. But worse, judgment closed the club. I found myself looking down on the ones who didn't know anything about ribbons at all.
I stopped concerning myself with the dirty, filthy, guilty, broken, desperately needy SINNERS who desperately needed Jesus to swoop in and save them... just like He had me.
I had become a card carrying legalist - gold member.
I think about how grieved that must have made the Lord. The truth was IN me, but I just buried it under all those ribbons...
When I laid down my ribbons, back at the scene of the crime, that's when the real work began. My mind had been changed and it had to be retrained. It's been a process ever since. I call it being "systematically undone."
I refer to myself as a "Recovering Legalist" now. Sometimes my training rises to the surface and I have to make a choice to think or respond a different way. I am a woman of a lot of opinions, so it's not always easy, and sometimes I fail. But I have to go back to the conversation that the Lord and I had when I came back to the foot of the cross to shed all my ribbons there.
"Love and Worship," He said. "These are to be your focus."
He really had to lay it out for me. If I wasn't loving others, then I wasn't loving Him. And the purest form of worship is to love and build up and invest in others - in the club, and out.
He has a commission and a purpose and a plan for me - but it isn't about ME at all. It's about Him, and His kingdom, and doing all I can to help make sure no one is left behind, and those who are following along, don't lose focus like I did. That we are not what or where we once were - but not because of our works, but because of His.