Friday, May 16, 2014

What Does It Mean To You To Follow Jesus?

The mistake that preachers and teachers like me make is in assuming that everyone is where we are in our understanding of the Word of God. We spend hours in prayer and in the Word every day, looking for the Spirit's revelation of the Word for us and for our people. We often forget that not everyone is even reading the Word let alone studying it, so some of the basics are not understood. We are preaching from a certain foundation but the students do not have that foundation and often do not understand our words.

It may not seem like a big deal that I am teaching from a foundation that you may not have but it means that I see the world one way and you see it another. It means you will not understand the things I am referring to. It means you will not understand when I say it is normal to suffer for Jesus. It's the difference between a farmer and a passerby.

I used to own a small apple orchard which I looked after with much affection and hard work. If you had visited me you would have seen a lot of trees. But when I looked on my small orchard I knew each of those trees intimately. I knew which ones were strong and which ones I was nursing back to health. I knew which branches had been pruned, which had open wounds, which were fighting off pests, which I had to defend recently. You would look for fruit but I would have been watching for pests. Two different perspectives. The same happens spiritually.

Due to the fact that so many people are neglecting the Word of God we are getting major differences in the perspective of life and the world. For far too many people, Jesus is more of a hobby on the side while they put their energy into their "real" life. But here is one of the basics for you that blows that perspective out of the water:

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me."  (Luke 9:23)

Jesus had just told his disciples that he was going to suffer, be rejected by the leaders of Israel, be killed and he would rise on the third day. Then he says, the same is going to happen to you. Now before you dismiss this as applying to the disciples I want you to note that it says, "The he said to them all". In other words, he turned from his disciples and addressed the multitude, which includes you and me.

If any of us want to follow Jesus we first have to recognize that it is no longer about us. It is not about the benefits of being a disciples. It's not about the great blessings because we are only stewards of those blessings which are suppose to be distributed by us. We have to disown ourselves. We have to let go of our own interests, in fact, we have to completely lose sight of ourselves. Just like Jesus, we have to set our own interests aside in order to lay down our lives for the lost, to continue on with the mission. What other words can I use to try to emphasize this point?

Does that describe us? Can we say that this is our perspective of things, that we are mere servants, not looking out for ourselves, denying ourselves so that we can serve wholeheartedly with nothing held back? If we are honest with ourselves we would have to say no. We are distracted and seduced by all the pleasures of this world. We are more interested in protecting our rights, our interests than we are in sacrificing ourselves for others. There is a whole lot of repenting that needs to go on in the Body of Christ.

What about this cross thing? Jesus was heading into a period of suffering and warned us that we would have to face the same thing. His cross was his privileged duty and there was a lot of suffering associated with it and those who follow, follow in like manner. Jesus told us not to avoid it. In fact, he said that if we try to avoid it, if we are ashamed of it, that he would be ashamed of us upon his return. He said that those who would follow him must take up their cross daily.

Again, does that describe us? Most of us avoid any form of suffering associated with the mission of Jesus. If we do happen to face it we complain and whine and go on about it. Some of us are actually surprised by it. Jesus told us to stand up in it, to love our enemies, to pray for those who do persecute us, to turn the cheek. We have to stop seeing it as people coming against our "rights" and act like the apostles who rejoiced in the privilege of suffering for the Name. With everything that is coming our way we had better ask the Spirit to change our attitude or we are not going to get very far. In fact, many of us will turn back from the flames and deny Jesus instead of denying themselves. Let's not be among them.

It isn't about following a certain pastor or teacher. It isn't about being a member of a certain church. It isn't about attending certain Bible Colleges. Then again, it isn't about your financial or career success either. It isn't about the size of your house or the car that you drive. It isn't about fame or glory. It is about Jesus. It is about following Jesus. It is about him being the reason, motivation and purpose of your life. It is about you giving up the control and allowing Jesus to lead.

Does this describe us? Does this describe you? Jesus is not a hobby, he is everything or he is nothing. No half measures. We can't be in love with worship, or our studies, or the ministry, or our church, or our pastor. Jesus must be our first and greatest love from which everything else flows. If this is the case then we will have no problem walking in his footsteps, suffering daily for the sake of the mission, in obedience to the Holy Spirit. May we all lean on the Spirit to strengthen us in faithfulness until Jesus calls us home.

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