Choosing Vomit or Jesus

One time at the zoo, I watched a gorilla puke out the contents of its stomach. This alone was disgusting, but I was appalled to watch him return to his vomit and start to eat it, only to puke again and restart the cycle. This happened over and over until I was whisked away to watch the shenanigans on display in the next exhibit.

You want to know something?

The Bible teaches that we can be just as nasty and disgusting.

This prior week, I was at youth camp with our students, enjoying the worship and Word. I saw many of our students take intentional steps toward Jesus. I was encouraged and amazed and overjoyed.

As the time came for us to have our last devotional together, I had been reminded of the realities of the broken world we live in. Many of our students were exiting the camp high, just to enter the darkness of broken homes, broken communities, broken hearts, broken dreams. Worse than this, many of our students were returning to friend groups that would guide them away from Jesus, not to them.

Falling back into the same old actions and sins is a foolish thing.

Look at this passage with me.

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” – 2 Peter 2:20-22

Peter is addressing those who were in sin, heard the truth, and then returned to sin.

I told our students this week that it would have been better for them to have not come if they were simply going to return into the same lifestyles of sin (not sin struggles, that’s different. That’s going to war.) after camp.

Peter’s teaching is honestly pretty harsh. We don’t like harsh. But here it is anyway.

So where are you at?

Have you had an experience where God has recently clearly called you out of a certain sin in your life, but you find yourself back in the same lifestyles that Jesus rescued you out of? If you are, the Bible describes that aspect of your fleshly desires and actions as a dog returning to vomit.

If I’m being honest, I’m like that gorilla.

I return again and again to the same vomit.

I return to the same sins instead of using my knowledge of Jesus to redeem my thoughts, words, and actions.

Let me offer us some hope as well though. Look at this verse from the next chapter.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9

God is patient with us. God has a desire to see us come to repentance rather than perishing.

So how do we choose Jesus rather than the vomit?

The answer I’ve found is this.

We must be taking small and intentional steps toward Jesus.

I personally am not a fan of altar calls, emotional songs playing as everyone cries and makes shallow decisions for the Lord. Because in the face of brokenness, emotional decisions brought about by borderline-coercive and manipulative moments fall flat. They aren’t followed through on. August and September steal away emotional decisions. When school starts back, students fall into the same rhythms they had in the Spring.

That’s why in my youth ministry we don’t do them. We share the gospel every week through the lesson and then tell our students to come talk to one of our leaders if they need to. If a student isn’t able to forsake volleyball and gaga-ball to talk about becoming a Christian, then they are likely not ready to go all in with Jesus. They haven’t counted the cost.

While I believe kids and teens are most susceptible to this emotionalism, adults can fall into it too.

There is one big decision in the life of a Christian, and that is the salvation decision, where we actively place our faith in Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross.

Every other decision is small, ordinary, boring even.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18

This passage is always so encouraging to me. We are being transformed into the image of Jesus from one degree of glory to the next. It comes from the Spirit, not our own discipline or actions.

So, for you, maybe you need to just take a step.

Set that alarm for five minutes earlier than normal and pray. Read through a book of the Bible over the course of a month. Share a percentage of your income with others through church offerings and non-profit involvement. Meet with a younger or older man or woman to grow in your faith.

Take a step.

Invite your neighbors into your home for a meal and conversation. Volunteer at the local food pantry. Find where the foreigner and refugee are in your midst and provide them with the necessities of life. Call your estranged sibling or parent or cousin. Repent to a friend. Confess sins. Forgive.

Take a step.

Grandiose proclamations of life change more often than not don’t pan out. Simple, small steps toward Jesus always produce results.

So what step can you take this week?

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Christian, There’s Nothing More You Need

Something must be missing.

I’m still fighting sin. I’m still fighting loneliness, worry, and anxiety. I’m still feeling like I can’t truly show my church family what I’m going through. I look around and I see others who seem so in tune with the Lord. I listen and hear testimonies of the miraculous at work in others, and I’m not seeing that same power in my life.

Something must be missing.

Something must be wrong.

I used to be so on fire for the Lord. I mean, not recently. But for real, back when I first got saved, I had a big desire for Him. I would go to church excited, expectant. I would be so overwhelmed during the worship. I would feel His presence in prayer, or during the preaching.

But now, now is different.

I’ve been betrayed by friends, I’ve been rejected. I don’t wake up excited for church. I mean, there are some weeks when I don’t even want to go. Where’d the fire go?

Something must be missing.

Something must be wrong.

Maybe you have felt some of the above. We all have to some degree if we’re being honest. Any Christian could find themselves in these examples. Maybe right this moment you have a nagging feeling in your gut that something’s off.

So what do you do?

My brother or sister in Christ, let the following passage seep into your bones.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. – Colossians 2:6-10

My brother and sister in Christ, according to God’s Word, you have been brought to fullness. If you have placed your faith in Christ, you have been filled up with all you need.

According to this passage, there are some dangers present when we start to feel incomplete: “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Here’s what they look like in our lives.

Legalism

When I start to feel this off-ness, I turn to my good friend legalism. I start to look at the spiritual disciplines as a checklist that I better live up to fully.

Legalism is me saying “Christ isn’t enough, I need to do good.”

So traditions we grew up in, even though they aren’t founded in the Scriptures, become the missing piece of our walks with Christ.

So you best believe I’m never going to miss Sunday School. I’m going to always wear a suit to church. You won’t see me at movies and you definitely won’t see me engaging with the lost world around me.

Sunday School isn’t a Biblical mandate. It is a gift when utilized properly, but it’s not a mandate.

Wearing suits to church isn’t a Biblical mandate. As a matter of fact, in some ways we can become a place where people don’t feel welcome if they don’t dress right. God deserves our respect, but if our personal beliefs about dress are determines our opinions about others, we are out of line with Scripture.

When we refuse to be with those who aren’t following Christ, we hunker down into bunkers full of Christians that will eventually die out because we’re not reaching others in our communities with the love of God.

Legalism is insidious and we’re all guilty of it in varying degrees.

God’s Word and prayer are amazing things, but if we turn to them in order to ‘do good’ rather than respond to the grace of God, we’ve got things wrong.

Many of us will turn from feeling off and empty towards legalism in order to soothe our souls.

Christ isn’t enough, we must do good.

Emotionalism

The other thing I turn to when things feel off in my life is emotionalism.

Deep down in our hearts, we all want to feel loved, cared for, wanted. That’s a perfectly normal desire.

But what about when I don’t feel that?

When I don’t feel loved by God or by others, something must be wrong.

So I turn to emotionalism.

Emotionalism is me saying “Christ isn’t enough, I need to feel good.”

Emotionalism is me pursuing spiritual highs, for lack of a better term. If a new church, or experience, or program promises me a feeling of God’s presence or love for me, I chase after that. As a young man in ministry, I’ve catered to this and pitched opportunities accordingly. Come feel God’s presence, come feel His love.

Now, let me say, Jesus’ ministry was full of moments when He did just that. Where He poured out His love on those who needed to experience His love. But emotional spirituality can be dangerous.

Just as only ever catering to the mind creates legalists, only ever catering to the emotions creates emotionalists. The former is what I fall into now, and the latter is what I grew up in. I grew up in a youth ministry that created an atmosphere to play to the emotions of myself and others. When I look around today, having emotional encounters with God wasn’t enough for many of my peers. They were led astray.

Emotionalism in our hearts shows itself as spiritual FOMO. We bounce around from experience to experience, maybe even church to church, in order to find a weekly or daily moment that helps us to feel good or feel God’s presence.

The problem with emotionalism is that feelings are fickle.

If I based everything off my feelings, there would be days I wouldn’t come to work, wouldn’t love my spouse, wouldn’t pursue Christ.

So what then is the answer?

This passage gives it to us.

We have received Christ as Lord. We are to continue to live our lives in Him, rooted in Him, built up in Him, because in Christ WE HAVE ALL BEEN BROUGHT TO FULLNESS.

Christ is enough.

I don’t have to do good, or feel good (obviously this statement is in the context of this blog).

We are immature and foolish. We lean towards legalism or emotionalism. In these moments, we aren’t believing Scripture.

On ordinary days, and in ordinary ways, let us remain rooted in Christ.

Your life may look more like the book of Ruth, than the book of Exodus. There may be moments you feel like something is missing. I would encourage you strongly to pursue Christ in His Word and in prayer.

This week has been a doozie for me. I woke up this morning agitated and exhausted. Yet when I intentionally opened His Word today, something I neglected to do all week, I was strengthened to keep going.

Christ is enough.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach