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11-14-2011 (Monday) Final thoughts

Saturday morning I awoke at 4 AM with what I interpret God speaking to me.  It was in the solitude of laying there in bed with my mind not focused on any particular subject and then God spoke.  He put the thought into my mind in the form of a question, What does it mean to follow Me?  I thought about that question and it kept being asked.  So I got my notebook and wrote down several phrases that would trigger more thoughts and words as I worked through this list.  At that I fell to sleep and slept another hour and a half.  Saturday was busy enough with travel and shopping that I didn’t get a chance to review my list and expand on the various points I had written down.  Yesterday morning I awoke again about 4 AM to the same question being asked of me.  I thought about what I had written the day before and kept hearing the question being asked of me.  So, this time I decided to get up and get ready for the day so I could have some time to work on this question and write down my thoughts.  As I lay in bed wanting to stay in the supine position under warm covers I kept listening to that question and thinking about my answer and then I heard in my mind the order to get up, get around and deal with the question.  I believe God was speaking to me to address this question since I have been discussing discipleship all week and have practiced following Christ in San Lorenzo.

When Christ invited me to follow Him it was an invitation for me to walk with Him as we journeyed down life’s path together.  He determines the direction of our walk and the pace.  We view the path together and He shares with me His perspective on what is ahead.  Through His instruction, teaching, and prodding I then take the next steps to follow Him.  Sometimes these steps are over treacherous terrain that is filled with danger and I am almost too frightened to move.  Then He will gently tell me not to fear because He fully intends to walk with me through this time and He even takes my hand and leads.  At times He puts his arm on my shoulders and holds me.  What we have is a deep relationship based on mutual love.  When I am in this relationship, life becomes easy and comfortable because I am living it as Jesus would live it if He were me.  When I wander off the path because of some attraction that grabbed my attention, I lose that relationship temporarily and suddenly my little adventure becomes lonely and frightening.  In regret and shame I return to Him and He dusts me off and gently and lovingly says, “Follow me.”

I think about what I see in our churches today and I see a distinct pattern that troubles me.  Dallas Willard in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, calls this “consumer Christianity.”  What he means is the church is filled with Christians who have accepted Christ as their savior but do not live a life according to their testimony.  We see so many Christians who come to church and go through the motions of worship yet when they walk out the church door they resort back to life absent of any influence of Christ.  The term consumer Christianity gives me the impression that we take our relationship with Christ much like we shop for things in a store.  We pull the box of faith off the shelf and put it in our cart and then take it home and put it on the shelf but do we really incorporate what is in that box?  Is that all of what faith is, just a commodity that gets us into Heaven?  It is like we have acquired the ID card that we swipe at Heaven’s gate and our magnetic strip contains the code that opens the gate and allows us in.

Is that what it means to follow Christ?  I think not.  I don’t see in Scripture that faith in this manner without any fruit being produced is much of a faith.  In his epistle James states that faith without works (fruit) is dead.  If you say you have faith but your life doesn’t show it, that faith is dead.  This is what I see in consumer Christians, or Sunday-only Christians.  They look good on Sunday but when Monday morning comes there is no evidence of their faith as they deal with their world.

In Matthew 19 we read about the encounter Jesus had with the rich young man.  A similar account is in Luke 18 and Mark 10 and all three are likely describing the same event.  This man came to Christ wanting to know what he must do to get eternal life.  Jesus listed the elements of the Ten Commandments to which this man confidently stated he had followed every one of them perfectly.  Yet, the man still felt he lacked something.  Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and give the money away and then to follow Christ.  The man had a choice.  He could continue to pursue his life filled with wealth or he could follow Christ.  We see in this story that the man could not let go of what actually filled his heart – his greed and possessiveness.  He walked away in sorrow for he just could not let loose of what was keeping him from following Christ.  Would you be like this young man?  If Christ said the same thing to you, what would you do?  I have to put myself in these questions as well.

What Jesus wants is for us to be ready to sacrifice everything in order to follow Him.  In Matthew 16:24-26 he tells his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  What good will it be for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”  Are we going to be like the rich young man and walk away with everything but actually have nothing?  Will we do what we can to gain the whole world yet forfeit our own souls?  I wonder how many consumer Christians are following this path.  They work very hard at looking good and struggle to gain the world and in the process miss it all.  It is like climbing the ladder of success and when you finally reach the top you find it leaning against the wrong wall.  Do we want to be in this position at the end of our life?

What does denying myself really involve?  In Matthew chapter 10 Jesus said, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  In Luke 14 Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.”  Does Jesus really mean I must hate my family, those closest to me?  How does that reconcile with what Paul stated in Ephesians 5 where he says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”  Paul says we are to love our wives, our family.  What does Jesus mean when He uses the word “hate”?  Does “hate” really mean hate?

In trying to bring what Jesus said in agreement with what Paul said, I see the word “hate” meaning a willingness to sacrifice whatever we need to, even relationships, if they get in the way of following Christ.  It seems quite clear throughout the Gospels that being a disciple means putting Jesus ahead of everything else in my life.  In Luke 14 Jesus even states, “…any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”  Who would want a disciple who has other loyalties that would distract or interfere?  As an employer or team leader I would want followers who will truly follow me and be responsible enough that I could count on them all the time.  I would not want to coach a team of players with mixed loyalties.  That doesn’t produce a winning team and in the cause of Christ that would not go far in bringing His kingdom into our lives.

It appears to me that Jesus wants my relationship with Him to be based on love, a love that is valued above everything else in my life.  This love is the attitude and conviction that Jesus is first and foremost in my mind and in my life.  A true disciple will sacrifice himself, his relationships, even his life, to keep his relationship with Christ intact.  Jesus is looking for that level of devotion and He will not accept anything less.  So the question comes, am I ready to give all for Christ?  What about you?  How would you answer that question?  If you don’t have an answer, take the time to think it through and evaluate your relationship with Jesus Christ.

I look at Dr. Jane Weaver and see the sacrifice she has made to be a disciple for Christ.  She has the skills and talent to be a very successful surgeon and the world would say that she is foolish for not making tons of money doing surgery.  However, success to her is being the hands, feet and mouth of Jesus Christ, being a follower of His and going where He leads and doing what He asks her to do.  Success to her is to hear Christ tell her, “Well done, Jane.”  Jane presents to me what needs to be done to be a follower of Christ.  She “hates” her potential income as a surgeon, her position in our community in Fort Wayne, even her family to be in San Lorenzo, Ecuador, to do the work of Jesus Christ.  There she presents Jesus to many people and through that work many people not only receive physical healing but also spiritual healing.  When I ask myself the question of what it means to follow Christ, one of the first thoughts that come to mind is seeing Dr. Weaver working in San Lorenzo.

God awakened me out of sleep two consecutive mornings to ask me what it means to follow Him.  I hope I have shed some light on this as God brought t mind the various scripture passages and thoughts that helped me answer this question.  Don’t just read these words and then go on with life without seriously asking yourself the same question.  How would Jesus live your life if He were you?  If what you are doing is completely different than what your answer would be to that question, you have some homework to do.  Nothing is more important than to have your priorities straight in this.  Don’t spend your life trying to gain the world and then lose your soul.

Father, this has been an incredible week for me.  You provided recovery from my recent surgeries so I could take a trip like this and then You led me to San Lorenzo to work with You there.  I get to witness, experience and participate first hand in serving You through serving the people there.  You stood by us in surgery and guided our hands and thoughts so we could do the correct procedures.  You protected the patients and touched them to provide healing.  Lord, this trip was because of You and for You.  All praise and honor go to You, Lord.  Thank You for giving me the opportunity to study Your Word and understand more fully what discipleship means.  Lord, I am ready to follow You.  Thank You for the opportunity.  I pray I can continue to be Your representative in the world in which I live and work.  Please bless Jane and her team as they continue to do a great work for You in San Lorenzo.  Thank You for Jane’s example to me and others of what being a disciple involves.  Thank You, Lord, for this great week of service to You.  Amen.

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