18 Years

I turned 18 today. 18 years of walking with the Lord as a Christ follower.

After a crazily busy day that isn’t over yet, I’m finally sitting down to think about my spiritual birthday.

Birthday Cake with Candles
I still remember the night I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior. It was February the 7th of 2002. My family and I had just returned from a concert. I don’t remember what was said at that concert, I just know the Holy Spirit opened my heart to truth I knew that night and I desired to receive the free gift of eternal life held out by Jesus. I knew I was a sinner, I needed saving and I desired for Jesus to be my Lord and Savior.

Fast forward 18 years later.

The year leading up to my 18th spiritual birthday has been the toughest year I’ve ever faced as a believer.
I have always believed there is a cost for following Christ and that it is worth paying. Yet, it has become extremely personal this past year.
For I've been scarred very deeply by following Jesus.

I think of the words Jesus spoke in
Matthew 10.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”

What did Jesus mean when He said this? To borrow a line from Agent 316,
“Truth is a beautiful thing sir, but it does divide.”
This is what Jesus is stating here. The gospel is a beautiful thing, but it does divide. I think of family members I love and desire to see saved who aren’t. I think of friends and family that I love, but who are against the truths we as believers stand for. Therein lies the division and the turning against Jesus is speaking of in this passage.

But what about the second paragraph? What is He saying there? Is He telling us not to love our families? Of course not!
Yet, to follow Him means if there is a conflict between something Jesus teaches and something someone we deeply love believes, we are to choose Jesus 110% of the time.
So when it comes to the people and friends I love the deepest, if I must choose between any one of them or Jesus, I must choose Jesus every time, painful as it might be.

That’s what I’ve had to do this past year and it has torn me apart. I don’t enjoy confrontation, I don’t enjoy having to take a hard stance on truth. I am by nature an encourager, so when I have to stand up for truth and in love give a wound that can be trusted as Proverbs speaks of, it tears me apart. (Proverbs 27:6)
Yet, because I love, I must firmly yield no ground when it comes to the truths of God’s Word, costly as it might be for me personally. I love the people in my life too much to see false teachings, false doctrines and false ideology pull them away from the truths of the Savior.

But oh, it has been hard!

My heart has broken so many times as dearly loved friend after dearly loved friend has walked away. Friends that I have shared in the deepest fellowship with, friends that I have fought with side by side in the trenches of life.
I’ve painfully learned that there is only one who will never let you down and that’s Jesus.

Yet every walkout, every accusation, every indifferent attitude, every lie, every absence, every abandonment and every opinion has cut me very deeply. There is a reason I am wrestling with a cynical nature, for my inner circles have crumbled.

Yet, my Savior demands that I love as He loves. That I care as He cares.

Cross on Mountainside with Sunset
One problem with that heart attitude though. Loving like Jesus opens one to the pain if those people walk.
Loving like Jesus is risky. Loving like Jesus is costly. Loving like Jesus can be extremely difficult, can be incredibly lonely and is very draining.

For that matter, following Jesus is just downright hard.

Yet, even in the midst of my incredible pain and immense loss, where else can I go? Who else has the words of eternal life?
I feel like Peter when Jesus asked Him if the twelve disciples were going to leave Him too like so many others.

Peter’s response.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

I can’t help but agree with Peter. Yes, following Jesus is extremely hard. Yes, His teachings are hard to accept, I mean, who loves their enemy really? Who forgives freely after being wounded deeply? I mean, that’s crazy!
Yes, following Jesus brings persecution. Yes, following Jesus can lead to many wanting nothing to do with you.

Yet, where else is one going to go? Who else has eternal life and the forgiveness of sins? Buddha doesn’t, Muhammed doesn’t, the atheists don’t have it, the religious don’t have it, the Hindus don’t either, nor do the moralists or the pleasure-seekers.

There’s no where else to go, no one else to turn to, but Jesus.

So as I reflect over 18 years, I am going to be honest. Following Jesus has been a beautiful thing, but it has been a hard thing. A very hard thing. Yet oh, the joy of knowing one’s sins are forgiven and that one is loved by the God of the universe! What joy knowing that His Son died for you, so that you might live with Him eternally in Heaven and enjoy His presence in this life and the next! Oh, it far outweighs the momentary afflictions I am facing now.

If someone was to ask me,
Nathaniel, if you could have fast-forwarded to now and seen everything following Jesus was going to cost you, would you still have received Him as Savior and Lord back on that day in February?

My answer would be yes every time.

As long as the Lord gives me breath, so help me God, I will live for Him. He gave His all for me, how could I do any less?

Yes Lord, You are worth my all. You gave me Your all, You died in my place and rose again from the dead.
Jesus, You owed me nothing but eternal wrath in Hell and yet, You chose to give me Your love and forgiveness.
I praise You for this and I glorify You in the midst of my pain. I’d rather be a doorkeeper in Your house than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
A day with You is better than a thousand elsewhere.
Better is Your disgrace than the riches of this world. May I bear the disgrace of Christ with joy and honor.
I am weak, but You are not. Strengthen me according to Your immeasurable power. I love You Lord and I will follow You till the day I die and beyond, no matter the cost.
I love You Lord.
Glory be to You alone. Amen and amen.