“Are you ok?” It was a fellow student asking me that question, someone that I had played poker with countless times my freshman year at Muhlenberg. I was sitting under one of the academic buildings with a breezeway and a bridge over the top. I had been praying and was crying. Both tears of sadness, but even more so tears of joy.
“Never better,” I replied to him. Life finally started to make sense. Jesus is God. I had sinned against Him, and He chose to forgive me by dying on the cross for my sin. Those who didn't believe would never get to be with Him, but for those who believed, they would experience eternal joy basking in His Presence. It was late September of 2005 that I accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, that I truly became a Christian. As a tribute to ten years since my rescue, here are ten things I've learned as a Christian.
1. Our Greatest Reward is Jesus – When I first became a Christian, I was motivated to be the best Christian I could be. I wanted to share Jesus with more people, be more morally sound, and recite the scriptures from memory so I could be known as a great Christian man. There were other things I wanted as well as I grew in godliness, including a godly wife. As time has gone on, I see the need for evangelism to the lost, a need to grow as a man of integrity, and the need to cling to the scriptures. And I deeply love my wife. But they are means to a greater end, which is to love Jesus Christ as our treasure, and in doing so, becoming more like Him. Without Him, these other things grow dull.
2. Suffering is Required – A biblical worldview requires us to look at life soberly. The Psalms show us there is suffering from persecution, suffering from our own sinfulness, and suffering because the world is decaying. I've experienced all three (the first being minor, the other two being more prevalent in my life), and often my response is to try and escape the pain, or to avoid pain. However, as Christians we must embrace the suffering, knowing Jesus is working to redeem and renew all things. As we suffer well, we treasure Christ and His grace more. (Phil 1:21)
3. Jesus Has His Own Agenda – We have growth plans in DiscipleMakers, which helps us target areas to grow both in ministry skills as well as character goals. They are very helpful, but I rarely grow in the way I want to, in the areas I want to, at the pace I want to. He also uses us in ways that He wants, rather than how we would choose. I would much rather be known as the dynamic preacher and worship leader who leads countless men and women to Christ, but instead, I'm known often more for my transparency and willingness to admit my weakness. To me, that's often not what I want to be known for (mainly because in my selfishness I want my own glory), but it has been that very thing that has encouraged others to grow and seek after Christ.
4. You Can't “Arrive” – If you asked me ten years ago what I would like as a Christian 10 years later, here's what I would have said: I no longer struggle with lust, pride, or anger. I know the Bible like the back of my hand and can quote it on command, and people would see me as an excellent leader and example to follow. Man! I wish I could go back and help 19 year old me realize how I was setting myself up for failure! What's really happened? God has shown me deeper ways that I give into lust, pride, and anger... and has shown me other sin patterns as well. I know a lot more of the Bible than I did ten years ago... and I know enough of it to know that I'm still not adequate in knowing God's Word deeply and intimately enough. And I'm not going to touch the excellent leader and example... my best examples are often the ones in which I tell you, “Don't make the same mistakes I did...”
5. Growth Means Seeing More of Your Sin – Don't hear me saying that you can't overcome sin. However, part of the beauty of salvation is that as you see more and more the depths of your heart, more and more you see your overwhelming need for Jesus as your Savior, and the depths He went to to win you back!
6. It's Easy to Lose Your “First Love” – In Revelation, Jesus address the church in Ephesus. They are fighting the good fight, fighting against false teaching and bad doctrine, and they are commended. However, Jesus sternly warns them that He will take away their “lampstand” because they lost the love they had at first. Good doctrine and fighting for truth does not always mean our relationship with Christ is good. I'm learning that firsthand, as I struggle often to remember the awe-inspiring God who set me free from sin everyday. Why is it that Christians who are first rescued are so passionate, and Christians who have been so for a while can seem jaded? It's because we forget our first love. The Gospel becomes nothing more than a building block to other things, rather than the radical news that we could be saved, and that we are saved by Jesus' Blood.
7. It's Easy to Elevate “Good” Things Above Jesus – Family. Friends. Career. Political stance. Country. Sports. All of these things are good to some degree. How often, though do we put Jesus underneath them rather than above all. All it takes to see this is the current presidential primaries. We try to fit Jesus in our own agenda rather than trusting His. When our choice for political leaders “fails” us, we need to trust Christ in His infinite wisdom. When our friends disappoint us, we need to remember that Christ is our better friend that will never disappoint. We need to trust Jesus even when it means that He might divide “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother...” (Luke 12:53)
8. Everything Requires Faith – When does the Bible become a textbook? For me, the moment that I get into it without faith in Christ. If I read it just as my checkbox for the day, all I've done is increase my pride and self-righteousness. However, if I remember to be in God's Word because by faith I'm going to believe that it will satisfy my soul and lead me to a deeper relationship with Christ, then I'm preparing my heart to be led by Christ. This is true in all of life. We all put faith in something, and we are constantly putting faith in the wrong object, even during times of “faith activity.” What's your motivation for getting into the Word? For me, I often have to come saying “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
9. Feelings Don't Tell You the Truth, But They Help You Know if Something's Wrong – The world, our culture, the media, they all tell us to “follow our hearts.” Disney has made a fortune from this. But the scriptures show us what's true about our hearts; they aren't trustworthy. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, it's desperately sick, who can understand it?” What the heart does do, however, is remind us that something is amiss. And it's an opportunity to turn to Christ in the weakness of our brokenness. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
10. Jesus is Worth It – I've been in ministry for seven years. I've been a Christian for ten. And it's been hard. I've failed. I've doubted. I've struggled. And there are days where I'm ready to hang it up. The world just looks so much better. But then I remember that while the world offers temporary bliss, it doesn't last, and it never truly satisfies. Jesus, however, satisfies now. And how much sweeter will He be for all of eternity. I long for the day that I'm no longer distracted by the world. I long for the day when sin will be a distant memory. I long for the day where I will be able to be free of all the other gods calling out to me, trying to vie for my attention. Until then, I ask for Jesus' help to fight the sin that so easily entangles, to finish the race that God has set out for me, and to worship Him and Him alone in the midst of a distracted, sin-ridden, broken world. Because He's worth it. And He's the only one that is.