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So you want to be a follower of Jesus do you?

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I admit it. I’m old school.I was taught that anything worth having was worth working for.That if I were to ever accomplish anything or have anything nice I had to put my nose to the grind stone.That no one was going to give me anything.Boy,has this proven to be true!

I’ve basically lived my entire life with this being one of my guiding principles.I started working for wages at 15 years of age at a local farm.If any of you have bailed hay from the time the dew has dried until dusk you know what hard work is.

I recently retired after nearly 28 years at an automotive manufacturer,and my total working career is somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 years.In that time I’d like to say that I think I earned my keep. At least I tried to.

I see that same philosophy of hard work and dedication being necessary in the Lord’s work as well.While the current wave of easy believeism and “no cost” church membership is all the rage,I maintain that there is a price to pay if we’re to follow Jesus.

Rest assured,I am not referring to salvation here.That is not something any of us could ever earn by our own merit,works,or good deeds.Salvation is the ultimate free gift that the Father has given to all of us,bought and paid for by His only Son Jesus.

No,the philosophy of hard work and dedication I’m referring to is an essential component of true discipleship.A study of the gospel of Matthew points us to this fact as Jesus is teaching his disciples about the high cost they must pay to be a follower of His.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  Matthew 16:24

Prior to this particular verse Jesus has just shared with his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem,be killed,and raised on the third day.After sharply rebuking Peter for not accepting this word,Jesus tells them of the high cost they must pay if they are to follow Him.

There is something both powerful and frightening about this.

Powerful,because in these words Jesus clearly lays out the “formula”for becoming a follower of Christ.It could not be any clearer.I hear many today touting their own version of a plan,or formula.Sadly,most of these involve your money.

Which is why the worldly church of today has invented a “discipleship for dollars”,aka sow a seed method for discipleship. Let’s face it,giving money is very easy compared to denying ourselves anything.Why deny myself anything when I can just write a check?

This verse is also frightening because what Jesus expects of us is perhaps the most difficult thing he could have asked of us.To deny oneself is not easy.In fact,it is extremely difficult.Especially for those of us that like to do things our own way.Which is nearly all of us.

Lets look closely at this three step discipleship mandate from Jesus.

  1. They must DENY themselves
  2. The must TAKE UP his cross.
  3. Only then can they FOLLOW him.

This denying of oneself is something most of us rarely think about,especially in the consumerism driven world that we live in.If you think about it,is there ever a time when we are not bombarded with the media telling us that we deserve it? TV,Web,Magazines,it’s seemingly endless!Whatever it is…we have to have it!

The entire world of commerce is predicated upon the belief that the consumer is number one.This is 180° opposite of the command of Jesus to deny our self.If I can be very plain here,Jesus is actually telling us that if we are to follow Him,WE can no longer be number one! How does that sit with us?

Perhaps you know someone like this.No matter the subject,it inevitably comes back around to them.It’s the American culture,it’s all about ME because I’m special,or to be blunt it’s because we have exalted ourselves in such a prideful manner that we can scarcely think of anyone but ourselves. We are number one and that’s just the way it is.

Kind of hard to deny ourselves with that mindset,isn’t it?

Jesus then tells the disciples that they must take up his cross.Did you see how Jesus personalized the cross? They must take up his cross. That’s right,your cross.Did you know you were expected to pick up your own cross?

The cross was known for one thing,a cruel method of crucifying the flesh that ultimately ended in the death of the one who was crucified.That’s what Jesus is saying to his disciples and us,that if we are to be a follower of Him we must crucify this flesh.

Just as the straw is burned when it comes in contact with fire,so must our selfish desires burn away that we might take up our cross.We are to take up our cross and gladly carry it through the good times and the bad.This friends,is the mark of a follower of Christ.

When self has been denied,the cross is more easy to bear.

It is only after we learn to discipline ourselves through denying this flesh,then taking up our cross daily,does Jesus invite us to follow Him.This is the only way,just as Jesus is the only Way.There are no shortcuts beloved.This road can be long and dusty,but a journey worth the effort.

My hearts cry for the church is that it will return to the command of Jesus to deny ourselves,take up our cross,and follow Him.The world needs this more than it can imagine.

Jesus,the Hope of Glory must work through His church.You and I make up His hands and feet,His very heart.This world is dying a painful and horrific death,alone and destitute for the love of God. The love of God that must come through you and I.

I wonder sometimes,do we as the church somehow think that God is going to do this all by Himself? If that were so,why would He need you and I? The easy believeism I mentioned earlier is a perfect example of this.

I see it all the time: “repeat this prayer after me,now say… I am saved”. That’s all there is to it they say. But where is the discipleship?Where is the instruction on how to walk with the Lord?This is one reason why so many who start out for the Lord fall by the wayside!

So you want to be a follower of Jesus do you?

Well get ready,because it’s going to cost you something.

Just remember:anything worth having is worth working for.

Have a great Thursday everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

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A new comfort zone?

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Comfort zone…

We all have one,or maybe several.

Our comfort zone is that place where we are most comfortable and can live in a way that pleases us.

There are comfort zones at work, comfort zones at church, even comfort zones within our own homes.

They’re places where we can just be ourselves without fear of judgment or backlash from anyone.

And we all LOVE our comfort zones, don’t we? And we HATE the notion of being uprooted from them!

Having been involved in church ministry for over 37 years now I know a thing or two about comfort zones at church. There can be great comfort in working alongside others who are all a part of the bigger ministry team.And there is a lot of comfort in knowing that every Sunday you will be delivering a sermon to (mostly)friendly people who share the same values as you do.

But what happens when our comfort zone begins to become a place of discomfort? Like when going to church every Sunday hearing the same music and listening to the same sermons and seeing the same faces no longer seems to satisfy our soul?

Ever been there? I certainly have,and in fact I have been in that place of discomfort for nearly a year now.

I’ve grown stagnate.I’m not growing.The rituals of religion are choking the life from me.

Being a minister I know all the stock answers to this dilemma because I’ve handed them out to others for many years.

I know all of the scriptures that we use to lift up and encourage the faithful.

And I still believe in every one of them.The answers are found within the pages of God’s word and I have never doubted that for a moment.

I still read…I still pray…I still encourage the discouraged….I still desire to extend the mercies of Jesus to the hurting.

Yet my comfort zone has been swallowed up with a yearning for something more than religion or even church as we know it.

Within my heart burns this thought that God did not save me from the life of Hell I was living to simply spend the rest of my days as a “Sunday Performer”.Turn it on.Turn it off.

Enough already!

I’ve been reading through the Old Testament and today began reading the story of Moses in the book of Exodus,and was reminded of his battle with his own comfort zone.Here are a few verses of the story:

1Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
2And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
3And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. Exodus 3:1-4 KJV
Moses’ life started out in a way that could hardly be called comfortable.Born at a time when all male children were supposed to be killed at birth,his mother instead placed him in a small ark and placed him at the rivers edge,choosing to place her baby in the hands of fate rather than see him killed.
Being rescued from this predicament,Moses was raised in the house of Pharaoh.Along with that came the many privileges of education and training alongside every other Prince of Egypt.Moses certainly enjoyed the good life for quite a while,yet there burned within him a different spirit.An unquenchable yearning for something more.
A spirit that manifested itself one day when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew kinsman,and in defense of this man he killed the Egyptian and buried his body in the sand.
So long Comfort Zone!
Moses made a fateful decision that day,a decision that would forever alter the course of his life.In an instant he was transformed from a prince of Egypt to a man with a price on his head.It was this event that turned Moses’ life upside down as he became the hunted and fled for his life. He who had enjoyed the perks of royalty had been humbled to become nothing more than a tender of sheep, which is where we find him in the verses above.
While this is just the beginning of the story,I want to focus your attention on the first verse where we find Moses on the back side of the desert. No where’s ville. The other side of the tracks. A place where only the worst of the worse go to hide out.
Now consider the disparity of his former life and the life he now lived. A life of pleasure has become a life of solitude and hardship.A life of tedium and danger. A life so far removed from his former existence that the two can hardly be compared.
From the ultimate comfort zone to the back side of the desert. Worlds apart.
Of course,we can all agree that Moses is far worse off than he was before.
But is he really? Let’s look at this from a different perspective.
From a simply materialistic point of view Moses has made a left turn and is headed the wrong direction.Say good-by to “Your Best Life Now” Moses!
Yet I happen to believe that in his heart Moses had reached a point to where he could no longer look past the status quo. He had to stand for something or continue to march along side everyone else’s cookie cutter life.I mean, why be different when we’ve got it made,right?
So let me get to the point with this thought: right where you are,right now,in whatever comfort zone you happen to be in….are you pursuing the God of heaven with passion and fervor?
Or are you like the masses simply going along with the crowd content to just be in that number?
I have many more thoughts about this man Moses and his divine purpose which I will share later,but for now let me close with this thought;
We can stay in our comfort zone and be content that we’re doing all we can,or that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.Follow the program…Don’t deviate…Dress the part…Act the part….Eyes on the prize.
Or we can take a look at our lives from a broader perspective and ask ourselves: is this really all there is to this Christian walk? Is following God really just about Sunday attendance, an offering, a prayer, and see you next week?
Am I really that content? Should I be that content?
Think about it!
Be blessed,
Ron

A Follower of Jesus?

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What exactly is a “Follower of Jesus”?     Can anyone be a follower?

This morning as I was reading my bible,I came upon the verses below from Luke’s gospel that deal with the topic of following Jesus.And so I got to thinking about this subject and what it really means.And it has prompted me to do some very critical thinking all day today.

Actually,it’s pricked my heart is what it’s done.

I hear a lot about following Jesus. A lot.I suppose every person who goes to church would say they are a follower of Jesus.It’s what church folks do,right? We follow Jesus.

So how do you know a “Follower” when you see one?                way to Jesus

Now there’s a great question isn’t it?

I mean….do they look different than everyone else?

Do they talk differently than everyone else?

Do they act differently than everyone else?

All good questions I think. So lets take a look at what Jesus Himself said about this. After all,He would be the expert on the subject,not me.

23 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.

24 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

25 “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?

26 “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His [own] glory, and [in His] Father’s, and of the holy angels.

[Luk 9:23-26 NKJV]

One of the first things we notice here is that if we are to follow Jesus we must do something. Well, right away some are not going to like that because lets face it…we don’t like being told we have to do anything. It’s that pride thing don’t you know.

As a matter of fact the first requirement to be a follower of Jesus is likely to be a major stumbling block to most of us.The words “let him deny himself”immediately causes us to wince in pain at the thought of us,or self,not being the most important thing on the planet.

Ouch.

Funny how that life has a way of distorting our priorities as “Followers” isn’t it? This is especially true of those of us who call ourselves Christian.For example,if you listen to any of the hundreds of con men masquerading as men of God you would think that God exists for one purpose,and that is to serve them.

And yes,I know that some don’t like to hear those things but I’m long past worrying about whether or not I hurt someone’s feelings because I call out their favorite TV rock star preacher for stealing from the sheep and sowing discord among the brethren.

Ouch again.Sorry….couldn’t resist.

How pathetic we must appear to a lost world that is dying and going to Hell if all we can offer them is the same old tired mantra of “sow your best seed now and God will bless you”….Or translated for those who have ears to hear “send me your money so I can get rich at the expense of the needy”.

Why would anyone who can discern even basic biblical concepts think that such a thing is what Jesus meant when He told us to deny ourselves? These are “Followers of Jesus”? These are our examples? God help us.

OK, sorry for the diversion……….back to the topic at hand.

In addition to denying ourselves Jesus then said we were to “take up our cross daily”….Take up our cross? What is that all about?

A lot of people think this means bearing burdens and suffering hardships for the Lord. No doubt there are times when that is the situation we find ourselves in.In fact,when I was a young Christian that was the prevailing sentiment in the church.But there is a deeper meaning if we consider the entire context.

  • What is the purpose of the cross? For one thing,it is an instrument of pain and affliction but more than that,it was an instrument of death and complete and total sacrifice.
  • Jesus said to take up our cross and follow Him. He bore His cross and we must bear our cross and follow Him.
  • So….”taking up your cross” refers to sacrificing your whole life to God, just as Jesus was about to give His life for us. As I mentioned previously,this often involves bearing heavy burdens, but it actually goes far beyond that.
  • It is a total,complete dedication of our life to Him.Our whole life is to be given to His service.

All of which started me thinking this morning about my own track record of following Jesus. And you know what?

I’m doing wonderfully,fantastically,incredibly great at it.No problems here!

NOT!

Deny myself? Really? Me,the guy who wants what he wants when he wants it and has very little patience while I’m waiting on it?

Me?

Here’s what I think. I think if I lived like Jesus has told me to live,which means a sold out,crucified life to Him,I think I would have far less “stuff” and a whole lot more Jesus in my life.

I think I would focus a whole lot more about eternal things than I do my 401K,or terrorism,or the up and down price of a gallon of gas.

If I was living a sold out crucified life I would care more about the hungry and poor among us,rather than which team will win the football game.

So what about you? How does your walk stack up to”deny himself” or “take up your cross”?

Notice any gaps in your life? Anything you need to work on?

To answer an earlier question, followers of Jesus do look,act,and talk differently than everyone else.

Because they understand that their life is not their own,but rather they have committed it all to Jesus.

And Jesus makes all the difference in our lives.

Be blessed,

Ron