Keep Going

I’m back after taking a few months off to focus on the spring semester. I’ve made it no secret that the last almost year I’ve spent in Jonesboro, transitioning to full-fledged “adulthood,” has been a very trying and very stressful time, and it has been a time filled with failures, more than I can count.

I have struggled to pay attention to God’s Word. I have seen my pride and laziness reach unseen and unusual levels, and I’ve seen idols in my life rob me of time with God and joy in God. I have gone from a mindset and lifestyle centered exclusively on God to a lifestyle where God becomes just another part of my life, another box on my to-do list.

Yet, as I reflect on the many ways I’ve failed God, I cannot count one instance where He has failed me. As I write this tonight, I see where God has forgiven me and is working to overcome these failures and sins in my life. I am excited about what God is doing in the future, and by God’s grace, I know I am growing more and more into the man God has called me to be, day by day. Slowly but surely, God is not only restoring me to the life I had before I moved, where Jesus was front and center in my life, but He is working to help me love Jesus more, trust Jesus more and live more fully for Him. While I have failed, God has not failed, God is not failing and God will never fail me.

As hard as it is to confess my own failures, we cannot speak of God’s grace if we don’t speak of our need for that grace. God’s grace is great because our sin is wicked and because we are worse than even we know. And I believe that not only is it time to move forward in my life from almost a year of a less-than-satisfying Christian walk, it’s time for some reading this to do the same. While you may not find yourself struggling in the exact same way, we all, at different times in our life, hit a snag in our following of Jesus. What we do in those moments is crucial. We will either continue in that struggle, turn our back on Jesus, or we will keep going.

So how can we keep going? What can we do to do that?

  1. Pray honestly and earnestly. If you’re going to keep going and keep following Jesus, and you see things in your life that would keep you from doing that, the first person you should tell is God. Get honest about what’s keeping you from living fully for Him, and trust God to forgive you and help you. Prayer is a vital, necessary component of a life fully centered on God.
  2. Trust your Savior. No matter how far you’ve fallen, how much sin you see in your life, how bad your struggle is, there is blood that has been shed that can cover that sin. Confess it and turn against it and turn to Jesus. Trust in His power.
  3. Seek fellowship with other believers. God has used my new church home, as well as godly brothers in Christ, to convict me, encourage me and remind me of the promises of God.
  4. Worship. Spend time singing to the Lord, meditating on His Word, attend church consistently and make your life about God by praising Him daily.
  5. Spend time in God’s Word. This is where I’ve struggled the most. Bible reading, study and memorization are vital to applying God’s Word. All four of those actions must be taken, but it starts with reading God’s Word. Don’t put it off. Don’t get bogged down trying to catch up in your plan if you use one. Just get in God’s Word.

God loves His children, and He disciplines them because He loves them (Heb. 12:6). Let God’s discipline and God’s grace lead you to repentance, and let it remind you how good life with Him really is. So if you’ve fallen, if you’ve lost that focus on God or joy in God, remember Him and come back. Don’t give up. Keep going.

Lord, may we never give up in the Christian life. May we keep going. May we remember your grace is strong enough, not only to save us when we began following you, but every single day. May we read your Word, pray more, worship more and trust you more. May we keep going, by your grace.

God bless,

Neal E.

How Will You Respond to Jesus?–Matt. 7:24-29

Tonight we finish the series on the Sermon on the Mount.  God has been gracious to speak to us through His Word, and I hope and pray that by His grace, we’ve learned more of what it looks like to be a follower of Christ through this series.

We finish up with a reminder that the words of Jesus are serious, and how we respond to Him impacts where we spend eternity. Join me in Matthew 7:24-29:

“‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.’  And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”

Whether the people listening to Him realized it or not, the reason Jesus spoke with authority was because He is the authority!  According to Him, how we respond to Him shows not only whether or not we are wise, but whether or not we stand in the storm of God’s judgment.

In the story Jesus tells, the one who endures through “the storm” will be the one who builds their house on the rock, and the one who dies is the one who builds their house on the sand.  As is always the case with the words of Jesus, this is serious.  Jesus is talking about life and death.  He’s not talking first and foremost about the “storms of life.”  Although that’s a popular viewpoint, it’s wrong, and the context of the passage helps us see that.

Jesus has just finished talking about those who He will send to hell because he never knew them.  Before that, He discussed how those who fail to bear the fruit of true faith will be “cut down,” that is, they won’t be joining Him in heaven.  And, lastly, before that, Jesus discussed the way into eternal life with Him, through a narrow gate and hard way.  Based on the context, the “storm” Jesus is describing is the coming storm of God’s righteous judgment.

So what does it mean to “build our house on the rock?”  How can we make sure we have done this, and will stand secure at the judgment?  By listening to the words Jesus has said.  This is in reference to the previous words in the Sermon on the Mount. Make no mistake, the Sermon on the Mount is not a guide to earning salvation.  Jesus, in the beginning of His sermon, commends those who know they need mercy, and commends the broken-hearted, and calls them blessed.  All of the moral imperatives flow out of the gospel, out of a relationship with Jesus.  I had a seminary professor explain it this way: “The Sermon on the Mount is not a guide on how to get into the kingdom of God, but a description of what life looks like in the kingdom of God.”  Listening to Jesus’ words and obeying them is commanded, but it is only possible if we are a disciple of Christ.  So, the next obvious question…how do we become a disciple of Christ?

Before Jesus preached this sermon, He preached a much shorter sermon (at least from what’s recorded), in Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand: repent and believe in the gospel!”  We build our lives on the rock when we trust in Jesus as our God and receive Him as our Savior.  We build our lives on the rock when we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Repentance involves a confession of sin, an agreeing with God about our sin, and a turning from it, a desire to no longer go on in it, and a trusting in Christ as Lord to help us obey Him and kill our sin.  As we turn from sin and trust Christ to help us follow Him, we trust Him to save us, to give us His righteousness, to forgive us through His death on the cross.  We trust that what He’s done He’s done for us.  So following Christ, then, is not an exercise in earning righteousness, but in living it out.  We’ve come under the Lordship of Christ, and He has given us His righteousness.  He has changed our hearts.  He has forgiven us of our sin.  We now live to be who we are in Him, to bring Him glory and to tell others about Him, and toward this end, we listen to and cling to every word He says.  This is why Bible study is essential for the life of the Christian.  Simply put: You won’t follow Jesus well, if at all, without consistent time in His Word and in prayer.  Jesus Himself knew the Scriptures and prayed daily….how much more should we?

Knowing Jesus is what makes you wise.  Knowing Jesus and being united to Him is what allows you to live out what He’s said in the previous three chapters, and knowing Him in a saving way is what allows us to stand righteous before the Father on that great day of judgment.  Know Him.  Trust Him.  Follow Him.

Did you notice what happened to the other guy?  The guy who built his house on the sand?  In case you didn’t catch it, let’s read it again: “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” 

Not listening to Jesus’ words, not submitting to Him as King, not admitting I need Him and trusting in Him as Savior, leads to eternal damnation.  We must not be so naive as to think that God is simply okay with us telling Him we’re not interested.  He’s God.  It doesn’t work that way.  Would it ever be acceptable for a child to look at His parents and say, “You know, I know you created me and everything, but you really don’t have a place in my life?”  Of course not!  Assuming the child has decent parents, there’s no excuse for such disrespect.  In the same way, while only those who know Jesus are children of God, we have all been created by God, and all have a responsibility to recognize Him as God, and when we don’t, God is rightly offended.  God alone is God, and it is terribly wicked for someone or something else to be recognized as “God” in a person’s life.  The punishment for our sin is hell.  Praise God He’s sent a Savior so we don’t have to fear judgment or hell, but can rejoice in Him forever.

If you learn nothing else from my posts, learn to trust in the finished work of Christ for your salvation and to commit your life to Him.  Learn to repent, to confess your sin and trust in Christ to help you follow Him.  Trust His grace.  Trust in Christ.  Learn Christ.  If you forget everything else, learn Christ.  If you forget everything else from the Sermon on the Mount (and I hope we won’t!), remember to build your life on the words of Christ, in this passage and in all of Scripture.  Make your life about Jesus.

Lord, may we never stop praising you for who you are.  May we continue to listen to your Word and follow you.  May you graciously lead us as our Lord and continue to stand for us as our Savior.  May you be glorified in all we think, say and do.

God bless,

Neal E.

I’m not sure when the next blog post will come.  School has started, work is picking up, and I’m involved in a new ministry this semester, so blogging unfortunately gets moved to the back-burner.  But if you subscribe, I promise you won’t miss anything!  Again, God bless!