Monday, August 19, 2013

Jesus Follower

Have you ever wished there was a "trending now" list for religious phrases?  At the top of the list would be "Jesus Follower." (Don't believe me?  Google it!) It seems like everywhere I turn somebody or other is identifying themselves that way.

I don't know how to feel.

Well, ok, as usual I feel a little baffled.  Everything changes in America so quickly that from the other side of the world I am always suffering a bit of whiplash.  But there are other reasons for my confusion.  

I want to like the phrase.  I do.  I love the idea of following Jesus.  In every aspect of our lives we need to share his heart, his actions, and his words.  I want to be a disciple, the student of one teacher, and I want that teacher to be Jesus. I'm a Jesus follower too, so what's the problem?

I want to know when trendy "Christians" stopped saying they were "Christians." 

Are they a little worried about all the bad press that word gets?  I could understand that. Maybe they feel a need to put a little distance between themselves and our badly behaving cousins out there.  You know the sort I mean.  The kind of people that go around shouting "I am Christian" in one breath and "I hate you, you stinking _____" in the next. I get that too. 

I do have a creeping suspicion that underlying the phrase is something rather hipster.  A gentle disdain, a quiet snobbery, the difference in a 6 shot skinny latte and a cup of joe.  I suspect a redefinition of the more old-fashioned word "Christian." "Christian" implies a religion and all it entails-antiquated moral codes, insistence on outward observances like church attendance, and demands to love and compromise with the hypocrite sitting two pew over. "Jesus Follower" indicates a person who loves Jesus.  

I want a new word. A word that means what Christian should mean- Mini Christ.  A word that means what "Jesus Follower" should mean- a disciple of Jesus.  The problem with words is people use them.

Does it all seem like semantics to you?  There's no reason to get worked up about words, right?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Sometimes changing the name, changes the thing itself.  Christians are organized by definition into churches-messy, arguing, fallen, human churches.  Jesus followers, I fear, are free to try to focus on following Jesus without worrying about everyone else who's trying to do the same thing.  But it just doesn't work that way.

When we set out to follow Jesus, we will find ourselves in a group of people.  There's no avoiding it.  When Matthew left his tax booth, there was Simon the Zealot.  Not easy bedfellows. (Matthew 9:9-13, 10:1-4) When Paul set out, his first companion was a guy who argued with God about having to go see him.  Not an auspicious beginning.(Acts 9:1-19)  There will be fellow travelers down the narrow road, and we have to deal with them! 

Worse, we have to love them.  John says plainly that if we don't love our very visible brother we do not love the invisible God (1 John 4:20-21).  Hebrews enjoins us not to give up meeting with them (Hebrew 10:25). Jesus was adamant that the way to recognize his disciples was by their love for one another (John 13:35).

If the book of Acts has examples of anything, it is the planting of churches.  Paul baptizes Lydia in Acts 16 and before he gets kicked out of town there's a mysterious group of "brothers" who can be found at her house (Acts 16:40).  He's always signing letters with greetings to old friends and the churches who meet at their house (See Romans 16:3-15 for multiple examples).  Antioch, the great sending church of Paul and Barnabas as missionaries, is the place where believers were first identified as Christians (Acts 11:26). To be a Christian or a Jesus Follower is to be in relationship with other folks who love Jesus.  There's no getting around it.  

What do you say about yourself? I say I'm a Christian.  I don't mention any "affiliation" although I'm happy to tell you all about my church home if you ask, because they are awesome.  I try my best to follow Jesus and I know that this causes me to step out of line sometimes with the Christian culture around me. I try not to judge but still to discern the good and perfect will of God.  

That's me.   What about you?  If you call yourself a "Jesus Follower," would you comment, please and relieve my confusion?  I'd love to talk more about it!   
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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