The Winter Olympics 2010 are upon us. Athletes across the globe long to skate like Ohno and ski like Mancuso. Even if they don’t win the gold, they hope to score a cushy endorsement deal with Swatch or Wheaties. Nike’s got a spot! Will Tiger leave a hole???
As Christians, most of us are keeping score in life. We know Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Yet something inside of us can’t accept the fact that we don’t earn our salvation. We still keep racking up brownie points for God in hopes that we can please Him on our own. Why can’t we receive God’s free gift of salvation in simple faith?
Long-time Christians and pastors are suckers for legalism. We can be “good enough,” by golly! I began trying to get on God’s “nice” list at an early age. My third-grade year, it was my all-consuming desire to win the Sunday School perfect attendance pin. Practically perfect, the blue and silver shield had “perfect attendance” emblazoned upon the front like a banner from heaven. In order to receive the coveted award, I not only had to show up on time every Sunday without fail, I had to read the weekly Sunday School lesson and bring my offering envelope.
On the Sunday before Labor Day, Mrs. Brumit marched Randy Phelps to the front of the classroom and announced he had won the coveted prize-the perfect attendance pin. He proudly stuck out his chest and Mrs. Brumit penned his award from Jesus to his freshly washed IZOD polo shirt. Applauding wildly, I had a revelation from the Almighty. When I looked at Randy’s bespectacled face, for one brief shining moment I thought I saw a halo encircling his blonde buzz cut. I determined that morning that the next year I would stand before God, the angels, and the cheering crowd sporting that silver emblem on my gingham dress.
But “perfect attendance” wasn’t an easy feat to perform. Three Sundays in November I hacked and sneezed all over Sandy French because I wasn’t going to let the Asian flu keep me from my trophy. In April I puked twice in church after eating too many donut holes before the sermon started-or was I sick? I can’t be sure. After my breakfast preceded me, everyone looked a little green around the gills. Debbie McCoy and Vicky Palmer contracted the virulent strain of intestinal flu I so graciously shared with the class. Undaunted, I came week after week after week after week......
Twice I almost lost the competition because of an errant offering envelope. One windy March Sunday, it fell out of my pocket when I hopped out of our Pontiac and onto the pavement. Sweet Mrs. Bentley saw the little white square under the car and returned it to me in the nick of time. The second envelope fiasco came the Saturday night I decided to hide it in my Bible between Nahum and Habakkuk. I hoped the fiery minor prophets would hold it fast until I arrived at class. When Sunday School started, I frantically thumbed through the Bible pages hoping to locate my nickel for Jesus. Where did it go? I scoured all of the “ah” prophets: Isaiah, Hosea, Ezra, Jeremiah, Jonah, Nehemiah, Zephaniah and Zechariah.. My tithe was nowhere to be found. Suddenly I recalled a Lucky Strike commercial from the night before. The book had something to do with tobacco-no, it was Habakkuk. I found Habakkuk, placed my envelope in the offering plate and breathed a sigh of relief. After twelve months of hard work, I reached my lofty goal and wore my heavenly treasure, my Baptist banner, with pride.
Be honest. I’m not the only Christian around who struggles with legalism. You’ve been there, too. But once I stopped trying to get into God’s good graces and start trusting Jesus for salvation, life just got a lot more fun. My walk with God is no longer a religion, but a relationship.
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