Failing, Falling and Living for Jesus

I’m a sucker for those motivational speeches in sports movies. As canned and cheesy as they may be, I love it. There’s power in speech to move us to action and keep us going in life, and every now and then, you just need to hear Sylvester Stallone say, “It ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

I have been hit since I moved to Jonesboro. While I love my job, and I’m enjoying this fine city, spiritually…I’ve been decimated by the change, and I have failed to live the godly life God has called me to. I have allowed my job to take God’s place. I have allowed trivial things like sports, Netflix, and just the stress of living on my own to keep me from God’s Word, prayer and evangelism. I have struggled with anger, laziness, irritability, among other besetting, annoying sins.

It has been an exciting two and a half months, but it has also been a very rough, very difficult two months. Up until today, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I wasn’t sure I would be able to continue living a vibrant, successful Christian life here, because so much has changed, and I was struggling.

It was easy to spend a lot of time in the Word in college and working part-time. It was easy to spend time listening to sermons, reading Christian books and discussing theology and what it meant to follow Jesus with Christian brothers and sisters over the last few years, going back to when I was saved. I had more time. I didn’t have to worry about a full-time job. I didn’t have to worry about paying bills, getting groceries, etc.

I realize for those reading this that you may laugh, and say “Welcome to life,” but please understand and think back to when you first stepped out into “adulthood.” It’s not so much that doing those things is difficult. In fact, I haven’t been delinquent on any bills; I haven’t missed a meal, and I’m doing relatively well at my job for a rookie reporter. It’s not that it’s hard, so much as it is that it takes up more time, and it changes my schedule (which is bad because I’m schedule-oriented), it changes the focal points of my life, and my reality and context is totally different than what it was at Montevallo and during my time in retail. And all of a sudden, reading the Bible is more of a chore. Sharing the gospel becomes just another thing to do. Worshiping God doesn’t sound as nice as watching Netflix or listening to the Hamilton soundtrack for the millionth time. And because I’m so caught up in my job, and this new life, God is hardly ever on the forefront of my mind. This leads to all sorts of sin.

What has to happen? Learning to live for God in a strange new context. Learning to do that which helps me live life like Jesus, knowing Him, thinking of Him, being like Him and sharing Him with others, in a new land. Luckily, there’s a biblical example of someone, really, someones, who did that.

Daniel and his friends were taken by the Babylonians during the exile. The king, Nebuchadnezzar, took him and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, better known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They were told to eat the king’s food, drink the king’s wine, study Babylonian culture and ultimately, worship Babylonian “gods.”

Daniel and his friends said no. Chapter 1, verse 9 says, “And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.” Daniel feared God, trusting that God would take care of him, and God responded by doing so. Daniel did not earn God’s grace, but understanding it caused him to live a life that honored God, despite being far from Israel.

In the same way, we must realize as Christians we are in a foreign land. We are not yet home. And I have recently allowed this temporary place to become home, and abandoned the passionate Christian life I lived before. Tonight that changes. I go back to consistent, engaged Bible study, passionate prayer, a mind stayed on God and His Word, a heart seeking opportunities to share the gospel, and a lifestyle that worships God and glorifies Him. This can only be done by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, so that’s what I’m praying for.

Christian, your home is not here. Your home, your citizenship, is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Join me in returning to a life that looks like that. Abandon a life centered on careers and entertainment and let’s center our lives on the eternal King.

Lord, may we love you more than life. May we center our lives on you. May we, in failing and falling, get up and return to you. May we trust in your grace to restore us, and may we live lives that glorify you.

God bless,

Neal E.

I will return to writing regularly on Wednesday mornings at 10 a.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m. this week unless otherwise noted. Your readership is greatly appreciated.

Death or Life: Which Will You Choose?

That seems like a pretty easy question to answer, doesn’t it?  If I were a betting man, I’d be willing to bet that 100% of people, when presented with a choice between life and death, will choose life.  I believe it’s safe to assume that we like living more than we like dying.  Most people, when they’re asked if they’d like to have eternal life, will say yes.  Again, I don’t have statistics to back that claim up, but I feel like it’s a safe assumption.

But do we know how to gain eternal life?  There’s no denying that we all want it, but Jesus makes it clear that not all will have eternal life.  Not all will be with God forever.  While we all want to have eternal life, or as Kenny Chesney put it, “everybody wants to go to heaven,” how can we know that we will go there?  How can we be sure that we have life?  Jesus has answered that question for us in Matthew 7:13-14.

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Jesus lays out two possible paths for us to be on: on a hard road, having gone through a narrow gate, or on an easy road, having gone through a wide gate.  All of humanity is on one of these roads.  There is no middle ground here.  And Jesus says the gate that we enter by and the road we are on determines whether or not we have eternal life.

The way of destruction that Jesus describes is the way of the world, the way of those who don’t know Jesus.  The gate is wide because there’s room for all kinds of beliefs, all kinds of behaviors, all kinds of (false) saviors.  There is no one way through at this gate.

It’s not hard to look at the world around us and see that there are a lot of different religious beliefs.  Christianity is not the only religion in the world.  It is certainly not the only religion that claims to be the one and only way to heaven.  This broad gate accepts all sorts of beliefs.

Some will ask, “Why is that so bad?  Shouldn’t all beliefs be honored as equally valid?”  Not if they’re not true.  There’s a reason we don’t accept the opinion that the world is flat anymore–we know it to be false.  As someone who’s crossed the Pacific Ocean, I can testify that the world is indeed round, and not flat.  There’s a reason that children all across the world lose points on their math tests if they answer that two plus two equals seven.  Two plus two is four, case closed.  And when we argue about the existence of God, and the nature of who He is, and what we must do to be in right relationship with Him, we cannot afford to treat it as just another talking point.  There is nothing more important than understanding and knowing who God is, and being in right relationship with Him.  The wide gate leads to destruction because it allows false beliefs about false gods to creep in, meaning that those who are on it are not right with the real God.

The way that leads to destruction is also easy.  On this road, there is no sacrifice, no commitment, no change.  There’s no repentance, or change in behaviors.  It is the road of the “good life,” the “easy life,” the “my life feels like a vacation life.”  It is the road that justifies sinful behavior by promoting self-rule.  It is the road of “your best life now.”  If your best life is now, you don’t know Jesus.  For those who know Jesus, we know our best life is yet to come, because our life is in Jesus, and He is coming back to finish making all things new.

So if you choose the easy road, that requires no commitment to God, if you choose the wide gate that leaves room for all sorts of “gods,” you may have an easy life here.  You’ll have fun following the “gods” of self, sex, money, power, etc.  But 20,000,000 years later, you’ll be separated from the real God, the one you rebelled against your entire life, and there will be no way to get out of hell, out of separation from fellowship with God.  Scary?  Yes.  But praise God Jesus’ sermon doesn’t end there.

Jesus next describes the way that leads to life.  This way goes through a narrow gate.  Now, understand that Jesus isn’t preaching a works-based salvation.  He isn’t saying that the gate is narrow and you have to work really hard, and do a lot of good things, to pass through it.  The gate is narrow because there’s only one way through–Him.

You enter by the narrow gate when you give up on yourself and lean on the finished work of Christ alone for your salvation, and trust in Him alone to be your Lord and to lead you in a new life of knowing, trusting and obeying Him.  In other words, we are saved, by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

But isn’t that, someone may ask, insulting to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, etc.?  Yes, it is.  It’s insulting to me, too.  It’s insulting to all of us.  The cross is insulting because the cross is humbling.  We want to save ourselves.  We want to pay back our sin debt.  We want to be in control, and we want God to listen to us.  We want the Creator to be at the mercy and will of the created, and that’s just not how it works.  You can’t be your own God and have God as your God at the same time.  You can’t have life while rejecting the God who gives life.  The question is not, “Is the cross insulting?” but rather, “Will I let God kill my pride that I may be saved through Christ?”

The Christian life is hard.  Sometimes, we like to dress it up like it’s a party, where we’re constantly in worship, constantly growing to be more like Christ, always smiling and happy.  We never struggle to believe God, or to give our time and money and energy to the kingdom of God.  But that’s not the truth, and anyone who’s trusted in Jesus for more than five minutes can testify to this fact!  On top of the sufferings and struggles every person, regardless of their relationship with Jesus, experiences, such as medical problems, job loss, relationship tensions, etc., Christians are also in a war with their sin.  A Christian is one who has made Christ their Lord and has made sin their enemy.  We hate our sin.  Jesus is in charge now.  He has given us His perfect righteousness.  He has forgiven us through His precious blood.  We recoil at the very thought of offending Him because of His great love for us.  But we do sin.  And we sin a lot.  And we sin horribly.  Some of the things I most regret in my life have come after I came to know Christ.  The difference is in how we respond to our sin.  Instead of simply shrugging our shoulders and getting on with our lives, we confess our sins before God.  We agree with Him that our sin is wrong.  We trust Him to help us follow Him, and we rest in His righteousness and in His forgiveness of our sins.

That’s hard work!  There’s joy in knowing we’re forgiven, but the pain of daily repentance and the effort required to daily pursue God threatens us and entices us to turn away from Him, and live our lives like He does not exist.  But Christ has not left us that option.  He is Lord.  And those who fight sin and trust Him for the entirety of their lives will be saved, and will have a joy beyond compare in the life to come.  Let’s choose that life today.

This is not the popular way.  To renounce self and put my dependence on Christ and follow Him as Lord never has been and never will be popular.  The result of Jesus’ ministry was public execution.  The result of some missionaries’ preaching of this gospel is their death.  But will we be popular, or saved?  Will we be with the world, or with God?  Will we be famous and living the easy life, or struggling for the glory of God?

Will you choose death, or will you choose life?

Lord, may we choose you.  May we trust that you love us, that you save us, that you lead us, and that no matter how hard this difficult road gets, we won’t ever walk it alone.  May the gospel rid us of all fear and doubt and lead us to give our lives for your sake.  May you be glorified in the lives of those who choose to enter by the narrow gate and embark on the hard way.

God bless,

Neal E.