Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Jesus Followers


Eph.5: Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.

Over the years those that profess Jesus embrace many labels. Believers, Christians, and even denominational labels like Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and others. But those that believed on Jesus in the early days were recognized by their life and not their statenmens5t of faith or church membership.

Acts 9: And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

How was Paul to know who were “of this way”? He wasn’t going to sift through their theology or doctrinal statements, and most could not even read or write. It was evident that those who were believers had a lifestyle which openly revealed their faith. And it was not being pro-life or against gay marriage. It wasn’t even their stance on other moral issues, although some of that was evident. But the fruits of the Spirit and the word of their testimony was a sure sign that they were “of this way”. That speaks of the way of Jesus, which although is based upon the truths of Scripture, is overwhelmingly manifested in a person’s life.

But what does it mean to follow Jesus? I mean does having the right doctrine, the right Bible version, the right theology, or the right truth, or the approved set of moral tenants, do those things mean you are following Jesus even if some of those things may be important? Is truth something that can be captured on paper and framed in a doctrinal museum, or must it have expression and life through a believer? Since Jesus is not presently in bodily form upon this earth, then just what does it mean to follow Him? Obviously it means that we know and obey His teachings. But do we actually know what He taught anymore?

In this modern age of convenience and self pleasure we have constricted the Christian faith in order to live comfortable and without much notice, to say nothing of sacrifice, in this hedonistic culture. As long as we say “uh-uh” to a certain set of doctrinal suppositions we are not only considered born again, but we are considered followers of Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth. Following Jesus comes with a high price as men measure cost. But how can our lives be so common and so filled with personal frills and still be following Jesus? Read the narrative of His life and teachings and see if you can squeeze your life into all their fullness.

The Sunday morning church “services” are a scandal which comforts the flesh but has little if any affect upon the spirit. Paul speaks of “reaching forth” and "pressing toward” and yet who really vigorously and passionately brings their lives daily into conformity to the ways of Jesus? The redundancy of our scheduled lives indicts us and reveals how very little we sacrifice to say nothing of suffering. Just what kind of sham have we constructed and applied a definition to that cannot be anything less than a lie?

Just what does it mean spiritually and practically to follow Jesus? Can we buy bigger and better houses, bigger and better cars, more and more clothing, bigger and better televisions, and still be following Jesus? Can we gorge ourselves every day and spend much unnecessary money on restaurant meals when we could eat at home, and still be following Jesus? Fanatical, you say? Extremism, you suggest? Legalism, you protest? Yes, it surely must seem that way. But if we take Jesus at His Word then we cannot hide behind our protests. You see, our expectations of how to follow Jesus have become so diluted and so unremarkable that any suggestion that is more than just more Bible study and that requires a lifestyle revolution is almost cultish.

But why were the first century believers so persecuted? Why also were they so easily recognized? I mean they had no church pamphlets. They had no statements of faith. They had no organized theology. They had no church membership rolls. So again, how were the singled out for persecution? It was their lives that gave them away. And it wasn’t their stand against things that made them peculiar. It was their love and grace and humility and the way they respectfully refused to get entangled with the affairs of this world. It was also their humble refusal to give their allegiance to the Roman government because Jesus alone was their Lord. It cost many their lives.

People are not drawn to Jesus because we believe in the Trinity or the virgin birth or the inspiration of Scripture. Paul himself taught that we are the epistles sinners read. But somehow we stand upon our set of doctrinal truths and with that our consciences are soothed. That kind of thinking grows churches and denominations but it does not reach the world for Christ. People are looking for a demonstration of faith, not a definition. It is the fanaticism and complete surrender which draws people to false cults. But Christianity is an easy religious fellowship which ministers to the earthly life and calls no one to forsake anything.

Lk.14: 33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

Well He cannot mean all. But that is what Jesus said. And we know we need food and clothing, so instead of discarding the essence of that teaching, let us assume he means everything and work our way back. But we have assumed God wants us to have and enjoy everything unless it is blatant immorality. But there are many, many sins that have to do with material things and luxuries splurged upon our flesh. And in the context of material ownership and usage, what does it mean to follow Jesus? I know, no one likes to even hear such things.

The question then arises, “Do we really want to follow Jesus?” Some desired to follow Jesus and He told them He had no place to lay His head. He asked them to count the cost first. What cost? Did he mean giving to the building fund? Did he mean providing for staff salaries? Did He mean giving up smoking? Or was He speaking of a sacrifice and self denial that was foreign to this world but which would be a source of great glory? Was Jesus saying that if we would extricate ourselves from the allurement of the things of this world we could enter into a spiritual contentment and glory that transcends human understanding?

And if that is what He was saying, is that what we are living? Do we walk daily with a keen and consuming sense of the eternal? Do we walk daily with a moment by moment experience of His matchless presence? Do we see the needs of sinners above their sin? Are we almost immobilized by the grace God has shown to us? And are we energized to reach out sacrificially and show that grace to others? This is the life that follows Jesus, and somehow we have lost it completely.

Are we ready to forsake all until Jesus tells us what we should keep? Wow, you talk about a dangerous proposition. If believers would stop for a week and take a serious inventory of their lives according to the teachings of jesus, unvarnished and unfiltered by the culture, they might be completely broken before Him.

Oh to serve and follow Him with abandon and without taking thought of our own needs and wants! Isn’t anyone tired of this mundane and predictable life that follows in the footsteps of the well travelled culture and avoids the nail scarred footprints of the Savior? Can you honestly say you are well satisfied with your definition of being a follower of Jesus? Somewhere deep within your soul do you not thirst to see and experience something miraculous and life changing? If there was a life that followed Jesus in such a way that people were unexplainably drawn to the salt and light that was being spread, would you be willing to seek it with all your heart. Do not look around, is the Spirit speaking to you?

But if you are willing to offer yourself a living sacrifice, and if you are unwilling to make a spectacle of yourself, and if you are unwilling to enter into a self denial on that scale, well you may stay just where you are. Go ahead and read a few more chapters a week. Go ahead and give a little more to the church. Go ahead and get up early for Sunday School. Go ahead and place a tract on a car. Go ahead and do more of those things. But do not be self deceived. To follow Jesus will require not only a significant inconvenience in the things you now do and enjoy, and it will require more than just a little outward tweaking.

In fact if you actually wish to follow Jesus it will require your life. All of it. Every single part of it.

You will be ridiculed. You will lose friends. You will suffer great inconveniences. You will be asked to clear up some things that are unexpected. You will be asked to love people who you now despise. You will have to relinquish the entire direction of your life. And there may be more to it as well. So if those things sound distasteful and so unappealing and difficult that you will not even begin, then at least you have been honest.

But if you desire to follow Jesus you must forsake all. There is no other way.
Those are the Jesus Followers.


Chris Baumgart said...

Amen to your words Rick. Just over two years ago the Lord warned me to adjust my lifestyle to live out his continued plan for me... Shortly after, I found out if I had not heeded His advice I would have died of a heart attack. One of the other revealed things was "accepting" or "getting" a new look at just how temporal this earthly life is. I am a grandfather, and love my grandson... But I needed to come to terms with stepping up into the reality of handing over what I was clinging hard to without realizing it. Letting go of those and the things I love, trusting God to take care of them. That He is able. That I should minister as he has called us to... No matter at what price. I choose to follow Jesus. Praise you Lord.

Anonymous said...

While this message is all true, it sure is something to receive with much thought and meditating.

Lately, I've been thinking in the same vein. I'm taking inventory on how immersed in culture I am.

I'm just sharing another point to this. In my personal experience, my life was pretty much controlled by a parent with a personality disorder and abuse. So, in my later years, I became emotionally disabled, fearful, insecure, and a yes-woman to everyone. Once meeting Jesus, it took small steps for me to allow Him to work through me and help heal many things, and me change my bad attitudes. But there is still pain that I can't even describe what it is. I know of a lot of people who spend their whole lives fighting these demons, from abuse, neglect, whatever. I expect every adult has issues in his/her life that keep him inprisoned in their mind.

And even though much of this society lives bountifully, amassing things and excess, they still are not happy. One problem in living in a wealthier culture is that it hides the unhappy unfulfilled souls. It creates an image that prosperous people are all happy. The outsides are beautiful, but inside they are filled with dead men's bones.

I think the lie that a prosperous nation tells is that prosperity makes a christian a happy fulfilled chritian. But the truth is, many christians have had painful pasts and problems that brought them to their knees looking for more than what materialism can bring. But they continued in the thinking that God rewards them not only with forgiveness and salvation, but with increased goods. The become a new breed of christian: forgiven, yet still feeling entitled to the best of everything.

We always hear about the stories of how rich people keep heaping more on themselves, trying to comfort their souls, but never arriving, because they haven't found the true satisfier of their souls, Jesus. I've rarely ever read a book (coming from a christian book store) that is written by an author who gives a testimony of giving all his wealth away and becoming a missionary. Most christian authors write about a certain gospel revelation they received and want to market it, so others can be blessed, or they write about how to be healthy, prosperous, receive a hundred fold, expect more than one could ever dream of. And, then some write about their broken pasts, but it's hard to find any glory towards Jesus because the author is now a christian idol running the speaking circuit, making big bucks speaking at conventions, basically selling their testimony for a price.

Average, lonely, broken christians who have no 'personality', or 'looks', or 'charisma' or 'attractiveness' in any way do not get the masses attention. America has created the "idol" and we are reaping what we have sown. Broken people have learned that no one cares, therefore they'll just fill that void with materials, big plasma tv's, pets, vacations, etc. The real christians who have a lot less, can't reach them, because first of all, they don't belong in their social circles, and live in a gated community with like-minded others who've reached the pinnacle of success.

It's almost as if there are no solutions to this great church problem. All things, though, seem impossible, but with God all things are possible. Somehow, these people will be reached. All we can do is pray and be ready and be thankful to the Lord for this site that can wake up some up that are seeking and hungry.

sinner saved by grace said...

Above all, however, remember that Jesus is the Vine and his followers are the branches. Apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). As Andrew Murray put it: " was Jesus who drew you when He spoke, 'Come' (Matt. 11:28), so it is Jesus who keeps you when He said, 'Abide' (John 15:4). The grace to come and the grace to abide alike are from Him alone."

Avoid the trap that caught me for so many years. Dwelling repeatedly on all the things I want to do but can't; all the things I should stop doing but don't; all the ways I feel I don't measure up to this high calling but so long to. This trap makes my life all about me. My gaze is fixed on me and not the Lord Jesus. Not only that but it opens the door for the evil one to stir up chaos and unrest.

No. Abide in Christ. Rest in Him. Be still and listen. Then whatever He says to you, do it. (John 2:5)