Following Jesus – The Basics

jesus-following

I suspect that, if you’re reading this post, you want to follow Jesus.

Now, let’s be clear. People don’t get into Heaven by following Jesus and by doing all sorts of good things. St. Paul clearly tells us that we are made right in the eyes of God through the gift of God’s love (Romans 3:24, Ephesians 2:16). And yet, God is still a God who calls us to “follow Jesus,” and Jesus is still a Lord who calls us to “take-up the Cross” and follow Him. But, what that means isn’t easy to understand. If you had a “discipleship coach” to help you figure-out God’s plan for your life, what do you think the coach would tell you? As a budding coach and as a Christian who’s served the Church as a pastor for nearly 30 years, let me set some ideas before you for consideration (and please be sure to follow the links in the text for more insights and information):

1. We “follow Jesus” as we live-well among God’s faithful people.

Many people try to figure-out what it means to “follow Jesus” in isolation – making their journey of faith into something private. Many Christians have decided that it’s not important to attend worship, or to pray with their children at bedtime. Many of the Christians in America don’t participate in the life of the Church because they feel like the Church is filled with hypocrites. And yet, Jesus continued to gather people together, to feed large crowds, to spend time in the synagogues, and to call people to love and forgive each other. “Living Together as God’s People” is an important part of following Jesus because God created us to live in community with each other. In the community of God’s people, we encourage each other and build each other up – we learn to forgive each other and spur each other on. Following Jesus always brings us together and creates community. Following Jesus calls us to come out of the types of isolation that many people create and experience in their lives these days.

2. We “follow Jesus” as we gather to hear God’s Word and share the Lord’s Supper

People who read the Bible regularly will quickly discover that God’s Word is far more than a book filled with words that consistently make us feel good. The Bible is filled with words of comfort that bring peace in difficult times. The Sacred Story is one that reminds us of God’s presence in difficult times, of God’s guiding hand in times when we don’t have the answers we need, of God’s power to deliver us from illness, and of God’s promise to lift us up even after we die. But God’s Word is also a word that calls us to “take-up the Cross” and that reminds us that “following Jesus” isn’t for the faint-of-heart. “Hearing God’s Word and Sharing the Lord’s Supper” is an important part of “following Jesus” because God’s Word (called the “Sword of the Spirit”) both comforts us and drives us out into uncomfortable places. The same Sacred Story that sustains us and gives us hope continues to challenge us and to convict us. And that’s why we also need the Lord’s Supper – where God forgives us, nourishes us and refreshes us. If we want to “follow Jesus,” we will continue to hear God’s call to ground our lives in the teachings of God’s Word and we’ll continue to gather around the altar where God forgives us and nourishes us with the Lord’s Supper.

3. We “follow Jesus” as we share the Good News of Jesus through our words and deeds.

Those who “follow Jesus” understand that we have a life-giving message of hope and peace to share with the world. God isn’t sitting up in Heaven unmoved as He watches what’s happening in our lives and in the world. God’s helping people, just like us, to transform our world and to re-create what is far from what God intends. Christians are joining hands to fight hunger and poverty throughout the world. Christians are fighting homelessness, diseases, racism, bigotry and violence. Christians understand that we are standing in a “great chasm” between what we see in the world today and what God intends for the Creation. But, quite honestly, Christians sometimes cling to things that stand in the way and keep them from fulfilling their mission. “Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ” is an important part of “following Jesus.” But, as we try our best to share that good news, we need to allow Christ to work in our lives and to clear things out of the way; so that, we can fulfill our mission more effectively. When we “follow Jesus,” we discover that there are thing in our lives and in our ministries that need to change before we can move forward. Part of following Jesus is allowing Jesus to change us as we learn to embrace and serve others in more effective ways.

4. We “follow Jesus” as we serve other people.

Almost every Christian can recite John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” The Sacred Story reminds us that faith is “incarnational.” Now, what in the world does that mean? Some religions teach that God lives up in Heaven, and that people need to climb up to Heaven to reach God. The ancient Jewish faith taught that God sat on the “Holy of Holies” – and so, people came to the Temple in Jerusalem to perform sacrifices and to pray. But Christianity speaks of a God who came into the world to be a part of our lives, and that’s a key insight that we need to grasp when we want to “Serve Others Following the Example of Jesus”. What would the Church’s ministry look like if we could move past the idea that our ministry’s primary goal is to get more people to come into our buildings during a particular time of the week? Perhaps, we can “follow Jesus” by creating places where people who don’t want to come into our buildings can pray with each other? Perhaps, we need to take the Sacred Story that we’ve been given into places like community libraries and public parks? Perhaps, the Sacred Story is one the calls us to become more active in our communities, and to help parents (who don’t regularly come into our buildings) to raise healthy children? When we “follow Jesus,” we are not sucked inward – we are pushed outward. Our ministry needs to be “incarnational.” “Following Jesus” calls us to reach into the world, and to touch people where they live and work and raise their children.

5. We “follow Jesus” as we strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

Jesus didn’t die because He was quiet and meek. Jesus stirred people’s nests and spent time with the wrong kinds of people. Jesus touched lepers and called religious leaders of His time “white-washed tombs.” Those who “follow Jesus” understand that there’s no such thing as being a disciple of Jesus without bearing the Cross. There’s no such thing as being a follower of Jesus without “Striving for Justice and Peace in all the Earth”. Those who want to “follow Jesus” understand that what’s happening in our world is not what God originally planned. Those who “follow Jesus” will continue to hear Christ’s call to take-up the Cross, and to put some skin in the game, and to put their lives and their reputations on the line because those who “follow Jesus,” sooner or later, will be set on fire by the passion-generating power of the Holy Spirit that drives people into the world to change it. It’s not easy to speak truth to people who are in positions of power. It’s not easy to point to the fact that the “way things are” isn’t the way that they could be. If we want to “follow Jesus,” we need to be people who are willing to stir people’s nest and stand-up for what’s right. But, as we do that, we also need to realize that, when we “follow Jesus” in that way, people may want to make us disappear in the same way that they tried to make Jesus disappear!

So, there you have it. I hope that this short post can help you to better understand what it means to “follow Jesus” in our modern world. May God bless you richly as you continue to discover what God’s calling you to do with your time and energy, and may God use you in big and powerful ways to accomplish His deepest purposes for your life!

 

As We Enter Lent

Ash Weds

Many Christians entered the Season of Lent yesterday.

Lent is a time of reflection when we think about the connection between our daily lives and our journey of faith. Lent is a time of the year when we remember that, sometimes, we are a part of what’s wrong with the world – and that, sometimes, the best thing that we can do to change the world is change ourselves. We don’t always love God with our whole heart and mind and strength, and we don’t always love other people the way that God does. Our lives are often tainted by pride and impatience, anger and envy, prejudice and contempt for others, and by a lack of concern for people who aren’t “like us.” And Lent is a time when God calls us to abandon those ways of living and to come home.

“As We Enter Lent” is a message that’s created to encourage people to stop for a moment and reflect upon their lives as they enter Lent.

Jesus once attacked folks who lived their lives trying to convince the world that they are somehow better than other people. There’s a difference between being “religious” in a way that causes you to be noticed by other people and being a “person of faith” who is struggling to make sense of what it means to follow Christ. There’s a difference between being “religious” in a way that makes you think that you are somehow better than other people and being a “person of faith” who struggles to find a way to bring God’s love into the world.

We are created to live in a relationship with God, and we’ve also been created to live well with other people. God created us to live well with each other – encouraging each other, spurring each other on, building each other up, and equipping and empowering each other for life and ministry in our quickly-changing world.

Living together as God’s faithful people challenges us to explore what it means to live in a world where other people don’t always think the same way that we do, or look like us. Hearing God’s Word and sharing the Lord’s Supper provides strength for our journey. Authentic and honest listening and prayer can help us to more clearly see the difference between “where people are right now” and “where God wants to take them in the future” – which can help us to serve others more effectively and proclaim the message of Jesus in more relevant ways. Striving for justice and peace in all the world isn’t easy because it’s never going to be easy to speak God’s truth to people who are in positions of power; but, as we gather as God’s people and live well with each other, we can discover new ways to discuss difficult issues, and to equip and empower each other for life and ministry.

Faith is about far more than an invisible relationship between me and Jesus. It’s about discovering Christ’s continuing love in a fallen Creation and it’s about learning what it means to live well with other people.

Welcome to Lent. May God richly bless you in this reflective time of the year and bring you out of the holy Season – Strengthened, Renewed and Sent.