Jesus Is My Homeboy: forgetting Him + falling in love all over again

I remember turning 15 and my cousin buying me the now infamous, early 2000’s “Jesus is My Homeboy” pink tee. At the time this felt like the mark of effortless punk-meets-prep… me rocking that tee in my Hollister jeans and black Converse. Maybe add a choker and now we’re talking.

It’s funny thinking back on that memory, almost 15 years later, and realizing that my relationship with Jesus was pretty vague. I’m only fully grasping that now, as I’ve had some time to do some massive soul-searching and introspection. See, as someone who’s been a Christian for over half my life (this fall will be 20 years exactly!), I’ve had a lot of time to “learn” what it is that I believe. It’s wild to look back now and realize that there was a huge chunk of my faith that had almost been laid untouched, unexplored, and not fully understood.

Let’s take it back.

I was born into a culturally Muslim family, who was extremely apathetic to the traditions of Islam. Namely due to the fact that Islam was shoved down the throats of Iranians in the late 70’s. Understandably so, my parents and extended family were uneasy and uninterested in being forced into a particular set of rules and regulations to adhere to.

When we were exposed to the Christian faith, ironically it was through a predominantly Iranian-American church. There was a powerful intersection of culture and faith. There was a level of liberation from oppression that Christianity presented. Something we were desperate for.

As I began to grow in my faith, I realize now how much of the focus was on God as Father and Holy Spirit. All I wanted to do was make God proud of me. Believing as a ten-year-old wasn’t so much of a challenge; I was excited, hungry, and elated that the God of the universe wanted to have a relationship with me. I felt so incredibly loved and seen.

Being a complete rule-follower at heart, I would definitely now label myself as becoming a bit legalistic as I was growing in my faith. I remember being absolutely crushed if a friend did something morally wrong or “fell into sin.” I developed this routine of constantly needing to do everything right in order to be a “good” Christian in God’s eyes. I had fallen into this mentality of believing that the stronger I was in my faith, the more faithful God would be to me. Of course that got tiring. The relationship grew weary and out of touch. I remember going to high school youth group on Friday nights because it was the right thing to do and then sneaking out with friends to drink a 40 in the park because I was so longing to “feel something.”

And there definitely were moments where I’d feel something. Our church was extremely charismatic so it was only normal that we’d go to summer retreat and have this “life-changing” experience, this camp high.. only to come home the next day with extreme Sunday blues and feelings of emptiness. I remember crying out to God in these moments saying, “God your Holy Spirit encountered us this weekend. I feel so touched by Your presence. Why is the feeling going away?”

I realize only now that I viewed Jesus as merely the access key to God. That was it. He was more of an idea I understood vs. a reality to live transformed from. Once I was “in” I kind of forgot about Him. Isn’t that sad? I knew my Bible so well that my faith had all become this automated sort of transaction. I was quick to walk people through the “Romans Road” and quote John 3:16 but it was just this fact I tended to gloss over.

To be honest with you, dear reader, I can be pretty hard on myself. Accepting God’s abounding grace over my life has always been hard to grasp. I’m a recovering “older prodigal brother” if you will. But that’s another part of my story for a different day. My aim through this entry is to implore you to get to know Jesus for who He is. To be a disciple. And yet, how can we be true disciples without Jesus at the forefront?

Let’s get vulnerable for a minute. I have always struggled in the area of self-worth and confidence in myself. For example, with any interpersonal relationship, when I experience rejection or isolation it absolutely crushes me to my core (just your average Enneagram 2w3). I recall moments like finding out I wasn’t invited to something and sitting there feeling heartbroken, dispensable, and unwanted. I can still recall my mom’s voice ringing in my ear to “remember your identity in Christ.” I would repeat that saying over and over in my head, as if it was this mantra that would make my problems go away. I realize now I didn’t even fully grasp what in Christ meant. I didn’t understand how God regards me in Christ. That He calls me to “let Christ bear the burden of significance for you.”

Tim Keller in his book Encounters with Jesus talks about the concept of there being two advocates; the Holy Spirit and Jesus. Many who have grown up Christian know that the word advocate is often attributed as a characteristic of the Holy Spirit. He is our comforter, counselor, and advocate. And yet, Keller unveils the truth that in fact JESUS is the first advocate. It is only through Jesus we have the second advocate — the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is the one who goes before and defends us to the Father. He speaks on our behalf. He pleads our case and steps in as the substitute that flips the entire script from damnation to grace. He is the unanimous jury vote that gives me the blank slate that I do NOT deserve.

Thanks to this radical love, God sees us as “in Christ” — what does this mean? It means God sees us as united with Christ.

Beautiful. Cleansed. Found. Free.

It means I no longer belong to myself. I am part of someone else. This is what 1 Corinthians 1:9 talks about when it mentions God has invites us to enter a life of communion with Jesus. The Aramaic translation says “we are invited to the wedding feast of the Son” — where we are the bride.

This is the hope to which He has called us. What a beautiful, satisfying, and overwhelming hope it is.

It’s sobering to acknowledge that I was once living out what Dallas Willard refers to as having a “bar-code faith” — just exchanging my sins for Christ’s righteousness & a ticket to heaven as a mere transaction. I had missed Christ entirely. Contrasting that with right now, my desire is that I would daily understand with fresh revelation that this new life in Jesus is one of transformation. John Ortberg reminds us that “it’s not about ending up in the right place (heaven) but being made into the right person.”

And we cannot do it without Him.

Rankin Wilbourne in his amazing book, Union with Christ, says “Union with Christ is the missing link that connects the grace Christ offers with our experience of God’s love. Union with Christ is the thread that holds it all together.” Meaning, we can’t experience God’s love apart from Jesus. He is the very reason we can have a reciprocal relationship with God. I’m reminded of John 1:51 when Jesus tells His disciples: “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.” He bridged the gap between heaven and Earth; God and man.

May we make Him the room He deserves in our lives. As a millennial would say, I am absolutely “shooketh” by Rankin’s words as he continues with this mic drop truth: “It is not the quality or degree of our faith that matters as much as our being united to the object of our faith, the perfect Christ.”

As someone who grew up constantly wanting to “grow deeper” in my faith, thinking there was this finish line to sprint to, it’s extremely freeing to be let off the hook. To realize the beauty in that our role as Christ-followers is to remain in Him. To be transformed through knowing Him more. And in this transformation, to realize that we are enough, we are worthy, and unconditionally loved for exactly who we are. No need to perform, impress, or live up to anyone’s standard.

What a gift that this transformation isn’t just a one-time static operation, but a fluid, multi-faceted process we get to experience with Jesus daily. It takes intention, sacrifice, and obedience — and it is so worth the journey. The fruit this relationship yields does not compare to any satisfaction this world could offer.

“there is nothing to writing — all you do is sit at a type writer and bleed.” // Connections Director at Awakening Church. Host of the Nas-Talgia Podcast.

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