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

 

The Search For Joy

Joy. grace

According to the the Merriam-Webster dictionary, joy is defined as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”

I strive for joy. I yearn for joy. Yet when I chase after joy in the sense of its worldly definition, I’m left empty. You see, the Webster definition doesn’t exactly lend itself to the idea of having joy in all circumstances. Instead, joy is the emotion associated with being healthy, successful, fortunate, and having possession of what one desires. So what about the times when we’re unhealthy, unsuccessful, unfortunate, and devoid of our desires? What then?

The book of Philippians is saturated with the idea of sovereign joy. It is built upon the belief that joy is wrapped up in the fact that God is our deepest desire, and that because of Christ, we can truly possess communion with the One we love.  It is filled to the brim with the idea of learning to have joy in every circumstance, because we know that God is sovereign, and that all He does is for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory. It’s easy to just rake over the leaves of this Pauline letter without digging down deep and seeing the wonderful depths of this dramatic and incredibly applicable thematic thrust of having sovereign joy. We see also in the book of Philippians that this joy is often produced and built up through the trials and sufferings of life, rather than the happy and easy moments. This joy is most prevalent when we unashamedly pursue the mission of God, the spread of His Name and fame.

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:1-2

In just the opening of the letter to the church at Philippi, we can glean where we can find joy. I love beginnings, and so I always seem to pay extra close attention to the greetings in Paul’s letters. What I’ve come to learn is that Paul would infuse even his greetings with gospel truth. In the words of John Byron, “In Paul’s hands everything, even the opening address, becomes an opportunity to remind his readers of God’s work in their lives.” 

In the case of the search for joy, this greeting awakens our hearts and opens our eyes to the joy we can find in serving God and the joy we can find in being God’s.

1. Joy In Serving God

Paul refers to both himself and Timothy as ‘servants’ of Christ Jesus. In some translations the word used is ‘slaves’. The Greek word used here is ‘doulos’ which according to Strong’s Concordance means: ‘one who gives himself up to another’s will; those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing His cause among men.’

Paul found joy in submitting to God’s will and advancing the cause of the gospel, and he was willing to give his life for it. – Britton Sharp

Paul’s life was not devoid of struggles, trials, pain, or suffering. Yet we see that Paul also lived with a joy that was again founded on the sovereignty of God. Even still, his joy was multiplied by his submission to the Lord, and His commitment to advancing the cause of the gospel, no matter what the cost.

Brother or sister, there is joy to be found in serving God. There is joy to be found in advancing the Name and fame of the one who has redeemed you. There will be trials and tribulations in the journey of missional living, but there is unending joy to be found in full submission to the mission.

Consider giving yourself up as a servant of Christ. Trust His will, trust His hand, trust His heart. Find joy in the advancement of the gospel.

2. Joy In Our Position Because of Christ

Let’s not gloss over what Paul refers to the church at Philippi as. He calls them ‘saints’. Now, we know that the church at Philippi was indeed doing exceedingly well. However, they were not devoid of struggles or sins. Yet Paul knew that in the eyes of God they were considered to be saints because of Jesus Christ.

As someone who sins, it is a joyous realization that my sin doesn’t change my position before God. Because of the perfect life of Jesus Christ, I am seen as a saint. No matter what. My struggles do not change the way that God sees me.

I am more and more convinced that if we were to grasp at the heart level the truths of who we are in Christ, of what the gospel message says about us, then we would find the fountain of never-ceasing joy. This is why re-preaching the gospel to ourselves every day is so vastly important. Let us remember what the gospel says that we are.

You and I, as followers of Christ, are saints.

Find joy in the mission of Jesus Christ and in the position we have before God because of Jesus Christ.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

God Speaks

I’ve never heard audible words from the Lord. I’ve never had some overwhelming Damascus road experience where I saw with my own eyes the risen Christ. I’ve never had some immensely emotional response in worship. But even still, God has spoken to me time and time again. And today, He is speaking to you. In creation, In His Word, in the preaching of a pastor on a Sunday morning and the words of a friend on a Tuesday afternoon. God speaks to us daily.

That is something I wish I had come to grips with a long time ago, and it is something I think many of us will fight to believe in during our lifelong walks with the Lord. For me, I would have seasons of my life where I struggled with doubt and disbelief because I had never had some amazing emotional response to the gospel where I heard the Lord audibly speaking to me. For me I was a seven year old who accepted Christ and placed my faith in the gospel in my parents’ bedroom. It was childlike faith, living and moving and having my being in the Lord from day to day.

Somewhere along the way I accepted a lie. Somewhere along the way I convinced myself that if I wasn’t hearing from God in some awesome, audible, amazing Exodus-style way then I wasn’t walking with Him well. So I would try and conjure up these emotional experiences. I remember sitting on the back row of youth group trying to will myself into an encounter with the Lord that I would be able to look back on as some incredible moment where I heard from God. Embarrassingly enough now, I would try and conjure up tears so that if I emotionally responded to some message than surely God would reward that with some indisputable word from Him.

This lie lingered in my mind throughout the years. It was triggered by sin. I would fall into a sin of some sort and immediately begin to doubt the strength of my relationship with the Lord simply because I felt like I wasn’t hearing from the Lord. Now this wouldn’t happen all the time but it would rear its ugly head over the years.

These past few months in Phoenix has simply obliterated and decimated that lie.  I’ve come to realize that God speaks to all of us daily through creation, friends, the truth of His Word, and the preaching of the pastoral shepherd we are under.

Creation. Scripture testifies over and over that creation speaks to us about God. The stars proclaim His glory (see Psalm 19:1-2). Looking at creation proves the existence of a Creator much as a painting proves the existence of an artist. Beaches, forests, mountains, sunsets, birds, dogs, snow, rain, stars, moon, sun, the Grand Canyon. When we immerse ourselves in creation we can find ourselves overwhelmed with the magnitude and creativity of the Lord. Open your eyes to the world around you and worship Him who made it all with just the words of His mouth. Worship in wonder.15226581_1112302335554109_839234830_n

Friends. This can also extend to family, or anyone at all you are in Christian community with. The Lord uses the words of a friend or family member to remind you of the truths of His Word. Don’t discount the words of a friend spoken in love. It’s been crazy to me how often God has reminded me of one of His promises or truths just in the middle of simple conversation while playing ping-pong, watching TV, or eating dinner. The Lord speaks to us daily through normal conversation.

God’s Word. My mom recently told me, “If you want to hear God audibly speak to you, then read the Bible out loud.” How impactful is that. What a beautiful reminder. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is God-breathed. The entirety of Scripture is God’s written words to us His church, useful for teaching and correction and reproof and training in righteousness. Don’t discount getting in God’s Word. Dive deep and discover the depths of God’s grace in every story, song, and letter. Let His Word be ever in your mind and on your lips.

Preaching. As followers of Christ we should all be engaged with a local body of believers. As a result of being a part of a local congregation, we are all under the preaching and teaching of the pastor, the shepherd God has appointed to care for us and teach us God’s Word. Romans 10:17 says that faith comes from hearing the message of Christ. A sermon is more than just a thirty minute scolding or fortune cookie anecdote. It is God speaking to us through a man He has chosen. This should lead us to all pray for our pastors, that they would weekly preach the gospel, no more and no less. Listening to God’s Word through the preaching of our local pastor is a way to hear from the Lord.

More often than not our lives will be more like the book of Ruth than the book of Exodus. It will be a life filled with normal activities rather than miraculous signs and audible voices. Yes God speaks audibly to whom He wills. Yes there are more avenues of God’s communication with us than just the ones I have listed. Yet if you like I have struggled to see the extraordinary and eternal in the ordinary and temporal, let these ways I have listed above be an encouragement to discern and discover God’s voice and communication with you.

God speaks to us all each day.

In His Name,

Nate Roach