Monday, August 26, 2013

A Jesus-Follower (or, I Don't Want to be a Christian Anymore)

“Follow me!”  Those two words concisely make up Jesus’ call, not just to His disciples, but all of us who claim to believe on His name.  Two words with influence; but what does it really mean to be a follower?  I’ve been contemplating these words all week, especially in light of some of the discussions I’ve been overhearing.  Discussions about “those Christians.”  “Those Christians” don’t have a very good reputation.  “Those Christians” are really bad tippers in restaurants.  “Those Christians” don’t keep their word.  “Those Christians” are hypocrites.  “Those Christians” are judgmental.  “Those Christians” come off with the assumption that everyone they meet is headed for hell in a hand-basket before they even know a person’s story.  “Those Christians” are ignorant about the world and it’s pain.  “Those Christians” dislike anyone who disagrees with them.  “Those Christians” take themselves too seriously.  Here’s a good one:  “Those Christians” are more concerned about numbers (AKA: notches in their Bible) than they are about Jesus.  Of course, the most often heard:  “Those Christians” are such hypocrites.  The un-churched don’t dislike Jesus; they dislike Christians.  I have to say that I don’t disagree with some of the commentary.  The name “Christian” has a poor reputation, not just in our world, around the entire globe.  Not just off church campuses, but on them, as well.  I know one thing:  I don’t want to be a Christian anymore.  (Read on before you panic…)

Interestingly, Jesus never used the word “Christian.”  Christians were first called by that name at Antioch.  It was a term coined by unbelievers because they didn’t know what else to call these fanatical people.  It was, in many a sense, a term of persecution and derision as the folks at Antioch spit out the word, meaning “Little Christ’s.”  They meant it like a swear word.  On the other hand, Jesus consistently used the word “follower.”  I like the word follower.  I want to be a Jesus-follower.  Here’s why:

A follower isn’t perfect; a follower is a learner.  A follower is allowed to make mistakes.  “They are just a follower.”  I’m human.  I’m gonna make mistakes.  I’m going to slip and be judgmental; at times, I may make assumptions I shouldn’t; I may be ignorant and hypocritical.  Yep, I may even take myself too seriously...way too seriously.  I may behave badly, and not look at all like Jesus.  Yet, there’s a little extra grace given for a follower.  I know that because of my hikes up in the national forest with my husband.  I am a s.L.O.wWwWwwWwW follower.  I can’t quite keep up.  I can’t always go in just the exact places my leader takes me.  Sometimes, I have to circumvent his steps and go around a different way – and, when I do, I often get myself into more trouble than if I take the time to go where his steps lead.  Sometimes, I slip and fall (OK, a lot of times).  Yet, my guide rather expects this of me.  He knows my size 6.5 can’t quite keep up with his 16’s.  He doesn’t jump all over me; get irritable and angry, because I get it wrong, stumble, and sometimes fall.  In fact, he doesn’t just impatiently stand and wait for me to catch up.  Sometimes, all of the time really, he retraces his steps and comes back to lend me his hand and make sure I get back on track.  He loves me in my failure, and knows that, eventually, I will get it right (even though, eventually, in my case, is probably a long time in the future distance).  After all, I am just a follower (for now).  Followers get more grace from the guide; and I give myself more grace in my following, as a result.  I don’t want to be a Christian anymore.  I just want to be known as a follower…………………; and, while one day I may be called on to lead, by the time that happens, my lessons in learning may have increased my skill level.  I know this, because the leader will never call unless he has equipped first!  The biggest question I must ask myself is this:  Am I really following?  Oh, and, “How closely am I following?” 

Please, though, don’t introduce me to your friends as a Christian.

Chew on these verses with the above in mind:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.  For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.  Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 1 Peter 1:2-7

Monday, August 19, 2013

Follow in the Leader's Footsteps

I’ve officially decided I don’t like to lead.  If I'm in unfamiliar territory, I want someone who's been there before.  Leading is frightening, and I get lost easily.  Following me would be like the old adage, “the blind leading the blind.”  I never pick the right path.  I stumble easily.  I am directionally challenged.  All in all, I am just not very confident when it comes to taking charge.

I know this because my husband and I have done some little bit of hiking in the national forest/wilderness, behind our house, since returning to Colorado.  I’m perfectly content to take a position directly behind him.  I let him pick the way.  I walk where he walks (granted, it takes me two or three steps to his one).  I don’t want to pick the way.  He knows the national forest behind our house like the back of his own hand. He's been there A LOT!  I’ve tried going up there by myself.  I’ve ended up walking in circles (seriously), several times, before I’ve found my way back.  Again, I am not joking.  When I’m picking the way, I feel very much like the children of Israel wandering in the desert, “Oh, I’ve seen that tree before…”  And, I don’t learn quickly from my mistakes.

It’s true in life, too.  I’m just not very practical when it comes to taking charge.  So, when I read that Jesus' first words to his disciples were an invitation to follow, I’m really OK with that.  Following is a lot easier than leading, and it doesn’t have such huge responsibilities that come with it.  Or does it?

Here is what Jesus actually said to them: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).  Immediately they left their nets and followed him (vs. 20)." The invitation was to step behind, to watch and to walk in his steps.  There was a purpose in following.  The purpose was to be a learner.  The purpose was to be transformed into Jesus-like men. Men who would not catch fish anymore, but catch men for the Kingdom – to do exactly what Jesus was called to do, “seek and save the lost.”  The men they would “catch” would then follow them as they followed the Master (that’s exactly what Paul was telling us in Ephesians 5:1, when he said, "Imitate me...").

We can’t stay followers in Jesus’ agenda, no matter how much we might want to do so.  When we decide to follow Him, we are committing to lead, eventually.  So, we need to pay close attention.  We need to position ourselves to let him do the transforming….and we better take note of the way, because there isn’t time in the mission for getting lost and wandering in circles.

Following always turns into leading, whether I want to lead or not...  So, I'm learning:  follow the leader as closely as possible! I'd hate to lead someone else in circles.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Way In the Wilderness

I know several women who are going through some kind of hardship right now (you may be one of them).  These are women who seem to have been led into a wilderness (a dry, difficult place, filled with temptation, trials, and "snakes").  This is part of the journey, the current chapter God is writing in their lives.  It's not a fun vacation.  There is no real roadmap for how to get through to the other side.  However, the only way out is through.  One of these young women was heavy on my heart as I began reading the first part of Chapter 4 of the book of Matthew.  As I began to read about the Temptations of Jesus, I stopped as I read verse 1.  The part that hit me, I will emphasize in bold font:

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

It rather surprised me that the Spirit often leads us into the wilderness.  If so, then I figure it is with some great purpose in mind.  That was true for Jesus.  Must be true for us, too.  I read the rest of that section, stopped to reflect, "pondered and stored,"some of my reflection in my journal, then wrote the following letter to this dear, dear young lady.  Maybe you need these words, as well...

...reading through Matthew, I came to chapter 4, where I read Jesus is "led" by the Spirit into the wilderness...  Of course, the omniscient Spirit knows that Jesus will be tempted there.  Tempted, in his humanness to give up, to succumb to the desires of his human heart, and to live out the rest of his life pridefully self-seeking. I know that old hymn says, "All the way my Savior leads me..."  So, I know that the Spirit will lead, even as he did Jesus into dry places (wildnernesses), and even difficult places (like the garden), and sometimes even to death (the crucifixion). But, I also know that no temptation is so great that the Spirit doesn't allow for how much we can bear, and, then, provide an "escape".  For Jesus, the escape came as a WORD, which then allowed him to endure, be strengthened, and stand firm.  

I have you much on my heart, with your current life circumstances.  I know that it is a wilderness for you - a hard place - even a crucifixion of sorts, as you have to "die to dreams..."  You aren't alone there in that place - you have your family, and more than that, you have the Lord, who KNOWS, oh, how well He knows, what you are going through.  So, my prayer for you is that you find your "escape"...whether it be a sense of the presence of the Lord in the midst, or a Word of encouragement that you can repeat over & over again, or a sense of the blessings He does provide, even there in the middle of the desert.  

I am convinced of something else...God has a ministry for you bigger than you are, a ministry just like Jesus'.  Jesus couldn't go on and begin his mission until he went through the difficulty.  You, either.  You must go through it, so that you can come out on the other side, and be a "fisher of men."  Your pain will be heaven's gain - I am certain of that fact.  So, today I am praying for you to find your "escape."  Jesus knew his God, knew his mission, and knew the Word that would sustain.  As you reflect on these things, I pray you find God's place for you in this current wilderness...  

I pray the same for all of us as we go through those very difficult, dry spots on this journey called life...

Monday, August 5, 2013

"Pedicured in Humility"

I reckon, while we’re talking feet, the discussion would not be complete without a look at John 13.  After all, if you were to ask any believer what passage about feet stands out the most in their minds regarding this topic, they would take you directly to the chapter where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.  Washing and massaging other people’s feet has changed my whole perspective about this passage.  Serving another in this way is a wonderful gift of sacrifice.  It’s a reminder that no one is greater than another. 

Ah, I get ahead of myself.  Please read John 13:5-20.  Here’s a link, just in case your bible isn’t handy:

Jesus gets up from the table, on the night before he would be crucified, and does what nobody else even thought to do: wash feet.  That was the slave’s job, but no servant had been present.  Well, technically speaking, you could purchase a good slave for about 30 pieces of silver.  Hmmm…ring a bell?  Jesus, the servant, gets up, pours water in a basin, and proceeds to wash the filthy feet of the men who would soon betray, reject, and abandon him; and he knew it. 

In the middle of the passage, John records a conversation Jesus has with Peter.  It’s an important conversation.  I’ll come back to it.  When he ends the foot washing ceremony, Jesus gives the lesson (his object lessons lasted to the final minute).  “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you (13:13-15).”  The simple lesson: all that Jesus did, we are to do.  However, I think this is more than just about serving others, and learning humility.  This is a valuable lesson to be sure.  It’s just half the teaching.

So, let’s back up to Jesus discussion with Peter.  Peter didn’t want his feet washed.  They are, as previously mentioned, filthy.  That’s the point.  Often our feet are very reflective of our hearts.  That’s why Jesus says to Peter, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet. But is completely clean…”  He also tells him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you shall understand later…”  They got it when it came to his servant-hood and humility.  What the disciples didn’t totally get was the “clean part.”  Soon, they would be bathed and washed in the blood of the sacrificial, Passover Lamb.  But every so often, their sinful feet  (hearts) would have to be washed - again.  Like Peter, we may not often see our filthiness, until we slip our shoes out of our sandals, and someone else examines the “souls”…  Sometimes, we need each other to gently, filled with grace and truth, help us recognize the sin, so we can be washed clean once more. 

This is simply a personal reflection on this passage.  Yet, I believe the truth of it is two-fold.  Spiritual pedicures involve 1) servant-hood and humility, but they also involve, 2) a willingness to help each other with our spiritual blinding to our own sinfulness.  If #1 is being applied, #2 will be done without judgment or criticism. 
Paul seemed to grasp this truth:

Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentles; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one examine his own work (Galatians 6:1-4a).

Spiritual pedicures:
A readiness to go…no matter the circumstances.
An obedience in following.
A humble, serving spirit.
A willingness to love one another in grace & truth, fulfilling the law of Christ, through gentle correction (we help each other with our outward display of holiness).  Not a practice most of us are either willing to do, nor willing to receive (me, either).

Beautiful feet!