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Losing the Way

Do you know anyone who’s walked away from Jesus? I do – quite a few. I remember growing up in church hearing lots of dramatic stories that went something like this…

“I fell away from the Lord. Got into all kinds of brokenness…drugs, alcohol, hard living. But then…[insert random dramatic encounter with God]…I surrendered my life back to Jesus.”

These were super exciting stories to hear, and they sure made church more interesting. (They may have been heightened in my imagination because I grew up without TV)! However, I’ve realized after many years this isn’t the whole story.

In my pastoral experience most people who walk away from Jesus don’t return. They quit and they don’t come back with some dramatic story of turnaround transformation. Sure, there are the exceptions but we’ve done a disservice to not tell the community of faith the whole story. As a result we have countless youth and young adults who consciously or subconsciously have the impression they can dabble in worldly things but it’ll all come right in the end.

For the record I just want to say this isn’t so. Jesus talked about this, fairly candidly. He said people would hear an invitation to the kingdom of God (the gospel) but they would have different responses. He said some people would receive the good news but then would fall away.

I’ve often wondered why. Why do people quit Jesus? As much as I find it hard to fathom there are various indications in scripture as to why this happens. The passage I’ve been pondering lately seems to apply, almost universally, to my friends who no longer follow Christ. They’ve succumbed to what Jesus described as the “thorns”, which are the cares of this world and the pursuit of wealth. The NIV says it this way,

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 
(Matthew 13:22)

Sure, you and I may know a handful of folks who’ve walked or taken a hiatus season spiritually because of some tremendous suffering and subsequent disappointment with God. But pause and consider how many folks you know who’ve simply gotten sidetracked by the values of the culture and lost their way with Jesus.

I have a number of people I pray for each week who fit this category. I value them and miss their presence among the people of God. They have gifts and beauty that I want shared. But in addition, truthfully, I fear for them. I pray for them because I can see they’ve lost their way – even if they can’t see it. Money is never going to make them happy. Acquiring accolades, promotions, or more material possessions isn’t going to lead to their personal fulfillment. They are running on a path that leads to disappoint and futility. Matthew 6: 19 - 24 says,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

I want to encourage us to be people who are wholeheartedly devoted to God – not to getting more stuff, pursuing success, or anything else. Let’s teach our kids to pursue Jesus, not stuff. We need to both model it and talk about it. Keep praying and reaching for relationship with people who’ve lost their way and got caught up in pursuing the wrong treasure. And let’s be careful to sow a true narrative into the lives of youth and young adults in our communities – because truthfully not everyone easily finds their way back to Jesus.

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