Today I turn 21; I do not enter the promised land, nor do I suddenly hold the keys to true masculinity. Today I turn 21; I am not finally free to live like a drunkard, nor do I begin to solve my problems, social inquiries, or relationship issues by way of a bottle. No, today I just turn 21.
A friend texted me last night, “enjoy this weekend… you deserve it!” and I could not help but think of her words and ponder what, truly, I deserve. After some thought, I could think of no such thing. I was born into a world filled with beauty, from people to mountains to music and art; I got to attend schools in safe neighborhoods and lived in luxury compared with the rest of this world, never feeling hungry or physically endangered; I have had a roof above my head every single evening of my existence; I have experienced the joys of many sports, watched many through media, and played on a variety of teams of different skill levels; I am attending a public university with significant financial support; I have heard the sounds of urban streets in London and Paris, the sounds of a rainforest, and the tones of many instruments combined in harmony…..on and on I could go. And more even than the sum of all of these is a gift of grace unmatched by anything or anyone. It is the unfair trade in which I came out the winner. It is the sale of a bad debt in which I came out profitable. Jesus Christ, the man who did not sin, entered the world that we corrupted and willingly died, accepting the eternal punishment for all sin on himself, who deserved no wrath, and by resurrecting declared us righteous and clean from all of our shortcomings. The Perfect took the place of the imperfect so that the imperfect might be viewed as Perfect.
In none of these cases do my efforts contribute whatsoever to the victory. Yet by faith in this Great Exchange I now get to join in the glory that is life, victory, joy, and peace. Oh, what grace that I am given much!
Therefore, do I deserve a good birthday? No, I do not. I survived another year, another day from April 22nd–how, from this, do I “deserve” good things to happen to me? To quote my favorite pastor Matt Chandler, “‘Deserve’ is a stupid word. You don’t deserve anything.” God could pull life from me at any moment of any day, yet here I am today with countless graces from him by no merit of my own.
This is surely the essence of the word “gift.” The object given must be without expectation of reciprocity, and that received is usually unexpected; and I feel compelled to add that a gift is even undeserved. For what good is a gift to the recipient if he previously knows of its reception, or considers himself worthy of it?
So may the God of Grace keep me humble this day. May he keep it just another day, one that happens to be the first time one more liberty of this nation’s legal system has been granted to me. And may I be bound to the Spirit of the law that points glory upward into the unseen things, guiding me in wisdom and humility in this sea of culture that threatens to pull me away.
I feel the need to give this occasion considerable weight and prayer, as the world has so many unwritten practices with which it seems to impose direction upon blind followers. Yet what good came to the man who lacked opposition? “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life,” said Jesus himself, “and those who find it are few.” [Matt 7:14]
This is no time to celebrate me who lives life, but He who gives it.