Following and Sacrifice

At first thought, following Jesus seems easy. It seems a matter of changing your mind about who Jesus is, recognising and accepting him as Saviour, and acknowledging him as King and Ruler. I suppose it is easy, relatively speaking, to see ‘following Jesus’ as a ‘decision’. Western Christianity often focuses on people making ‘decisions’ to follow Jesus, or to accept him as Saviour. In some places, these decisions are pretty much the only thing that matters. So, evangelism strategies and even services are focussed around getting people to make those decisions.

Many people who operate from an atheist or agnostic point of view will sometimes ‘the decision’ as the major battleground: with the focus being on the intellectual arguments as to why someone should follow Jesus, or whether there is a God, or an afterlife, or whatever. This makes some sense, because the primary battleground is the inner realities of human life: the heart, the mind, the will, the soul. People do need to assess who Jesus is with their mind, they do need to yield their will and bow before Jesus’ supreme and majestic authority. People do need to offer themselves – to give their heart – to this King as worshipful subjects.

Even so, if all I give is my inner realities, as significant as that may be, I don’t think I have begun to follow Jesus the way he intends me to follow. The inner realities are the starting point, sure, but those realities are connected to my behaviour and my attitudes. Here’s the rub: Jesus wants the change in your inner reality to come to concrete, consistent, continual expression in a changed life. Behaviour. Values. Attitudes. Talk. Generosity. Relationships. Business ethic. Lifestyle. Eating habits. Sexuality. Yep, pretty much everything.

This is why yesterday’s thought was so challenging: ‘think of those areas where you are not obeying Jesus, and start changing them now.’

See, friends, it is easy to ignore the call to changed behaviour and attitudes, and just concentrate on the ‘inner life’. We’re OK with change, as long as we can ‘spiritualise’ it, and restrict that change to comfortable areas like ‘growing in knowledge’, or ‘having a stronger faith’. Stressing ‘inner change’ while neglecting behaviour change is like paying attention to the safety features of your car, but still driving like a maniac. It makes no sense. It endangers to your life and the life of others. James the Apostle reminds us that the Devil has excellent knowledge of God, and that inner faith without outward expression is nothing but death.

So, God is calling you and me to change. Real change. Change that will be difficult. Jesus, in Luke 9, says that following him is like losing your life (9:24).

Are you up for that?

Are you prepared to change those things in your behaviour and in your attitudes that you know really do need to change? Are you prepared to put to death your love of wealth? Or your proclivity to gossip? Or your thirst for influence? Are you prepared to step into the compassionate lifestyle God calls you to have? Are you prepared to reduce your personal comfort to maximise your engagement with God’s mission? Are you committed to loving the people as an expression of the love for God in you?

Jesus gave his life for you on that terrible torturous cross. He counted his heavenly glory as nothing. But is following him actually costing you anything?

True. There are burdens that come as a consequence of truly following Jesus. They are felt when you start working out what God has worked in you (Philippians 2:12-13). And while it’s not a popular thing to say to comfortable western Christians, these burdens hurt and they chafe and they are weighty. This is what Jesus calls your cross (Luke 9:23).

You want to follow? Then take up your cross. Take it up daily. And, knowing he has called you, this cross, his cross on your shoulders, becomes easy, and light.

One last thing: Jesus never calls you to do this work on your own. Through his Spirit, he is present with you. He will give strength and endurance. He will give you all you need to follow, to change, to carry his cross.

So, about that change: what will it be for you? Make a commitment now: write it down, share your change with a friend, and ask them to keep you accountable.

Why the ads on this blog?

Good question…

I have not placed any advertising on this blog, nor have I given approval for anyone else to do so. It seems these ads are something that WordPress allow. I’ll be looking into what I might do to stop them, but I am not sure how all that will work out.

For now, this disclaimer: “Advertisements that may be seen on this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the the writer, who would like his readers to know he has no control over placement of advertising. Please ignore any ads on this blog. Any advice on how I can get them to cease would be appreciated…”

Grace and peace,

Dave

Follow Me!

Reading Matthew 4 this morning I was again struck by how this very simple passage communicates such profound and (possibly) unnerving truths about Jesus.

Jesus shows up at the Sea of Galilee, and proceeds to call his first disciples. There is no promotional tour, no bus with a banner, no advertising campaign. Jesus just shows up, and says ‘Follow me”. Two words. Two little words. But they contain a universe of meaning.

Surprising

Jesus words are surprising in their simplicity. Simon, Andrew, James and John had no idea who this Jesus was. And we do not know what compelled them to leave their livelihoods, their trade, and follow. But they did. It is a surprising outcome.

Uncompromising

Jesus words are uncompromising. Very un-politically correct. There is no ‘please consider’ or ‘if you wouldn’t mind’ or even an ‘excuse me, but…’. They are a bold, bare imperative. A command. “Come, follow me”. Amazingly, the four men left their nets and followed him immediately.

All of us have behaviour and attitudes in our day to day lives which are destructive and which have to stop. Or things which are disobedient to God, which work against the world he desires. Or the sort of pure and simple indifference where we couldn’t give a toss. Jesus uncompromising call comes to us today and says, “follow me.”

George MacDonald, quoted in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, says “It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him, if you do not do anything he tells you … but you can begin at once to be a disciple of the Living One, by obeying him in the first thing you can think of in which you are not obeying him. We must learn to obey him in everything, and so must begin somewhere.”

It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him, if you do not do anything he tells you

So: think of those areas where you are not obeying Jesus, and follow his uncompromising call. Why wait? Do it now.

Audacious

It’s an audacious claim, isn’t it? Whether it is Jesus’ words to the four followers, or his word to you, the implication is that Jesus’ rule over people is both universal and absolute. The audacity is that Jesus’ claim is presented as simply true. True, whether you accept this reality or not.

Jesus’ call to the four men, and their surprising and equally uncompromising decision to follow – and therefore obey – shows us not only that Jesus is true ruler. His claim also shows us that his rule starts in the hearts and lives of those who follow him. With people. Jesus’ followers are, in a sense, under new management. Jesus is directing their lives, and the impact is seen very clearly. In a sense, every follow says ‘Jesus is in charge, and this is what it looks like.’

Q: what would be the first things to change in your life if you were to follow Jesus and obey him in those areas where you currently are not obeying him?

PS. If you are intrigued by the phrase “Jesus is in charge, and this is what it looks like”, and you’d like to know more about Jesus (without all the religious clutter) I encourage you to get a copy of NT Wright’s new book, “Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters” . Wright’s book opens our eyes to deeply scriptural emphases and to the life changing reality of Jesus. Koorong still notes the book as ‘not yet printed’ but you can definitely get it on line at Amazon and The Book Depository (and the latter does not charge freight!!). If you have a Kindle, iPad, or other eReader, you can access a copy right now.