Axia Jane Denison was born on January 10, 2014. Watching my son hold his daughter was a moment I’ll never forget as long as I live. She’s barely two weeks old now, but already she has taught me so much.
One: My granddaughter has taught me that little girls are cuter than little boys. I had a brother and raised sons—Axia Jane is my first foray into the strange world of raising little girls. Our boys looked like boys—hairy, long-limbed, rough and tumble from their first moments in this world. Axia Jane, by contrast, is dainty, soft, and sweet. Of course, it helps that she’s the most beautiful granddaughter in human history.
Two: She has taught me that when you gain a grandchild, you lose a wife. When Ryan and Candice asked Janet if she would come to Houston for a week to help out, my wife thought, fasted, and prayed about their invitation for two nanoseconds. She is there now, having a wonderful time. I knew I was in trouble when I watched her hold her granddaughter in the hospital—her look of joy and contentment was too beautiful for words. A neighbor recently brought over some baby toys with the note, “Now the fun begins!”
Three: On a more theological note, Axia Jane has taught me that God loves me for who I am, not what I am.
Janet and I do not love our granddaughter because she has brown hair rather than blond, or because she weighed 7 pounds 4 ounces at birth and not 8 pounds 6 ounces. Not because she is a girl rather than a boy, or because she is quiet rather than boisterous. We love her because she is part of our family.
The world values us for what we do—our performance, possessions, and popularity. A man stood at a busy street corner and asked those who passed by, “Who are you?” Every person, without exception, responded with what he or she did: “I’m a doctor” or “I’m a teacher” or “I’m a minister.” By contrast, God values us for who we are—his children.
There’s a Fifth Great Awakening happening around the world today. More people are coming to Christ than ever before in human history. More Muslims have found Jesus in the last 15 years than in the previous 15 centuries, many after seeing dreams and visions of Jesus. I’ve met such miraculous converts in Bangladesh, the Middle East, and America. When I was in Beijing, I was told that as many as 100,000 people come to Christ every day in the People’s Republic of China. I’ve witnessed the spiritual awakening taking place in Brazil, Australia, and Cuba.
This remarkable movement shows that God loves Muslims, Cubans and people in China as much as he loves Christians in America. Galatians 3 contains this remarkable declaration: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (v. 28). Axia Jane reminds me every day that God loves me for who I am-a child of my Father.
Four: God sees me as if I’d never sinned.
Babies are easy to love, in part because they have never disappointed us. Axia Jane has never once hurt me with something she said, or done something to upset or offend me. When I look at her, I see no sin.
God looks at me the same way. He forgives every sin I’ve confessed to him (1 John 1:9), separating my sin from me as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), burying it in the depths of the deepest sea (Micah 7:19) and remembering it no more (Isaiah 43:25). The next time I confess a sin I’ve already confessed, he won’t know what I’m talking about.
There’s even more good news: the Father loves me as much as he loves the Son. Our youngest son, Craig, writes a daily devotional for our ministry called First15. He recently called attention to Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17: “That they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (v. 23). I had never noticed before the phrase, “loved them even as you loved me.” “As” translates kathos, “to the same degree that.” Think of that—the Father loves you as much as he loves his perfect, sinless Son. Despite all our sins and failures, he loves us that unconditionally. As I see Axia Jane, so he sees us—as if we’d never sinned.
Five: God wants me to serve him in gratitude for his grace.
Janet is spending her week with our granddaughter, serving her every need. She feeds her when Axia Jane is hungry, holds her when she is fussy, sleeps when she sleeps. She is doing all this despite the fact that Axia Jane can do nothing for her. As Janet writes blog posts for her website, her granddaughter is no help at all. If my wife needs technical support with the wifi in Ryan and Candice’s condominium, Axia Jane will offer no assistance. My wife is serving her granddaughter despite the fact that her infant granddaughter cannot serve her in any way.
The world’s religions are transactional in nature—the Greeks sacrificed to Athena when planting a crop or Mars when going to war. Muslims keep the five pillars of Islam in hopes of earning a place in heaven. Buddhists follow the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Noble Path in hopes of achieving Nirvana. Hindus follow their ascetic disciplines in hopes of a higher state after reincarnation. Orthodox Jews keep the Torah so as to secure the blessings of God.
Christianity, by contrast, is a transformational relationship. Jesus calls his follower to “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). He wants us to surrender our lives to him every day (Romans 12:1), to be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). In return, he will transform all we trust to him (2 Corinthians 5:17), using our lives for his glory and our good.
In other words, he wants us to serve him—not so he will love us, but because he does. Not so he will bless us, but because he has. He wants us to serve him as our King in gratitude for his grace.
I love the Holy Land. It has been my privilege to take my wife and both our sons there. One day, the Lord willing, I will bring my granddaughter there as well. We will go to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus watched the soldiers march out of the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem, down the Kidron Valley, and up the Mount of Olives to arrest him. He had nearly and hour to flee into the countryside and escape. Instead, he stood and waited, knowing that he would be whipped, beaten, and nailed to a cross as our sins were laid on his sinless soul. He did all that for us.
When I lead groups to the Garden, I always tell the story of the drawbridge engineer who brought his young son to work one day. He showed his son how he pulled the levers to raise the drawbridge so ships could pass beneath, then lowered them so trains could pass over.
The engineer heard the air horn of an approaching ship and began maneuvering the levers to lift the drawbridge. As the ship was sailing through the raised bridge, he noticed that his son was not with him. Looking out the window, he spotted his young boy climbing and playing on the gears. He started out to get him when he heard the ear-splitting whistle of an oncoming train. The bridge must be lowered, immediately.
In that moment he realized: if he rescued his son, the passengers on the train would crash and die. If he lowered the bridge, the passengers would live but his son would be crushed and killed. It was the most horrible of dilemmas. The father pulled the lever.
Your Father loves you for who you are, not what you do. He sees you as if you’d never sinned. He calls you to serve him in gratitude for his unconditional grace. My granddaughter has taught me this: the next time I wonder if God loves me, I’ll look at a cross.