Monday, March 4, 2013

Following Jesus

"What changed when you became a Christian?"  The question was not out of the blue.  The young man who asked the question had been learning about God for several months and was trying to imagine what life as a Christian might look like.  

My husband and I puzzled over how to answer. On the one hand nothing changes.  The day after our sins are washed away we wake up to the alarm, eat breakfast, and go to work or school. We do the same chores, drive the same car, and sleep in the same bed.  On the other hand everything changes.  Yesterday we were a slave to sin and Satan and today we are slaves to righteousness and followers of Jesus Christ.  (Romans 6:17-18)

We often think of following Jesus as a way to a healthier, more comfortable life.  As if Christianity were like joining the Rotary club, taking a year of therapy or hiring a personal trainer. In the beginning when we start walking in step with Him, that might be the sort of thing we experience.  We learn to forgive, learn to refrain from judging, and learn not to envy. We have lives and relationships more in balance.  Our marriages improve. We become happier, healthier, and better, and that is all certainly true.

However, following Jesus Christ has its own cost, its own consequences.  It's been compared to dying, to going to war, to becoming a soldier, to training for the Olympics, and to being crucified (Luke 14:27-33, 2 Timothy 2:4-5, Matt 10:24). Following Jesus is dangerous business, something I wanted to impress on my friend. No matter what the next morning looks like, the foundation of the world has shifted.  The most ordinary things are shaken by his footsteps.

Take my address for an example.  There was a time when we lived in a cute little subdivision.  Nothing special or high-class, it suited us perfectly.  All summer we grilled out in the backyard, ran the water hose down the slide on the swing set, and planted marigolds by the mailbox. When Melissa and her husband came to visit, we'd walk their dog all around the neighborhood and talk.  It was a happy house. Then we sold it and moved to another country. 

Sound abrupt?  It wasn't.  It was just that following Jesus step by step, over the course of many years, resulted in us selling everything we own and being for a time homeless.  

Turdus philomelos -New Zealand -nest-8
Every creature under heaven has a home.  Nesting is a basic instinct. Yet, Jesus was homeless.  He commented on it once on his way to Jerusalem to die. "As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, "I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Luke 9:57-58). Women crave comfort, consistency and safety especially when their children are small.  But Jesus warns that  following him is the sort of business where all those things are in jeopardy. 

Does that seem radical?  It shouldn't.  This is one of the least harsh things Jesus said could happen if we follow him.  He said anyone who wanted to be His disciple had to "hate" his family (Luke 14:26). Although clearly Jesus loved his own mother and siblings, on several occasions his ministry came first (Luke 2:41-50, Luke 8:19-21, Mark 3). He taught that being his disciple meant life on death row; "take up your cross" he said and "follow me" (Matthew 16:24).  

I don't mean to say that Jesus will be mad at you if you buy a house!  Or that he is peeking over a cloud waiting till you buy one to suddenly call you to change diapers in an orphanage in Guatemala. But when we commit to follow Jesus we are saying in effect, "Lord, I am willing to follow you into homelessness, conflict with my family, or even to a nasty death." Are we then not willing to commit to the radical hospitality, love for the poor and disenfranchised, painful honesty, and culture-defying holiness that he practiced every day?  Still though we must not forget, the Man who taught us to take up our crosses is the God who said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30).  No one who truly follows him regrets it in the end, but the road promises to be narrow and perhaps even dangerous (Matthew 7:13).  

I'm guessing if you are reading this blog regularly, you know God and love him.  You are like me and want to follow him.  Have you thought about where he went and what he did?  Who he loved and how he died?  Following him might be more uncomfortable than we first supposed.  Join us for the next several weeks to talk about the act of following Jesus.  
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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