A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/10

And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19

Of all the words of Jesus these may be some of the most well known and famous. Yet for all the familiarity we have with these words, they may be among the most ignored words of Jesus, if not also misunderstood. The call that Jesus placed on his first disciples is the same call that has been placed on every follower of Jesus since that day, follow Jesus and make disciples.

In Christianity today there is a great deal of emphasis placed on believing in Jesus. Altar calls are given on a regular basis calling people to invite Jesus into their hearts and believe in him. Yet from the start Jesus called people to follow him. He wanted people not only to believe in him, and trust him, but Jesus calls for more. In calling disciples to follow him he is saying that the goal is not just to believe but to actually become like Jesus. In first century Judaism a disciple would do everything they could to become just like their master. Jesus wants us to become just like him.

The hard part is what does it mean to become like Jesus? The best clue to that is found in other words of Jesus, Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Being fully devoted to God means having every part of our lives devoted to bringing glory to God by the way we live. Loving those around us is the most clear way to demonstrate our devotion to God. That kind of love requires sacrificial living for the sake of others. It is exactly what Jesus did by coming into the world and giving his life for us. If you want to be more life Jesus then it means being more loving to those God puts in your path day to day. That is not always easy. Sometimes doing the loving thing is difficult and means we sacrifice for others. That is what Jesus did for you.

The second part of the words of Jesus gives a very practical way to show that love of others, be a fisher of men. What Jesus meant by that was that when we follow him we are to go out a reach others, bring them in, help them to follow Jesus as well. Being a fisher of men means to be a disciple maker. As you live your life following Jesus that means helping others to follow him as well. Yet sadly, most followers of Jesus never tell someone else about following Jesus. But being a fisher of men is not just about telling people about Jesus, it is also about mentoring others, being a disciple-maker.

If you are a parent, your first responsibility to your kids is to mentor them by being an example of a follower of Jesus. If you have friends, neighbors, co-workers, or people who God has simply put in your path, you have the privilege of being an example for them of what it means to follow Jesus. But it doesn’t happen by accident. Being intentional in following Jesus and helping others do the same is the only way to be a fisher of men and be like Jesus.

Who has Jesus put in your life for you to help become like Jesus? Who do you know who needs Jesus? Who do you know that you can spend time with like Jesus spent time with his disciples? Start by praying for God to show you who and then pray for them on a regular basis. Pray that God gives you the opportunity to be an example of what it means to follow Jesus. Have conversations with them about what Jesus means to you. Dig into God’s Word and let that word shape you and shape how you become a follower who helps others follow him as well.

What is the Direction of Your Relationship With Jesus?

Think of it this way. Right now is your relationship with Jesus characterized more by Him coming towards you, or you going towards Him? Is Jesus pursuing the relationship with you or are you pursuing the relationship with Him?

My contention is that most people would have to answer that the direction of the relationship is one of Jesus coming to them. It is best described as Jesus heading in their direction and not them going towards Jesus in His direction. I think our language about our relationship with Jesus shows this and the passive state of most Western Christianity proves it.

Certainly the initial direction is that Jesus comes towards us. He begins it all by becoming one of us. The Incarnation is the Biblical doctrine that Jesus being fully equal with the Father according to Philippians 2, was willing to come into the world in order to make salvation available to us. He came to us. He came seeking the lost in order to rescue them. But we need to see that a shift takes place. Jesus comes to us, comes in our direction and then says, “Come follow me”. He says, I have come near to you, come in your direction, so that you can come in my direction. It is a crucial pivot point in our relationship with Him. We all are running away from God, going in a direction opposite Him. Jesus comes chasing after us and calls out for us to turn around, (read repent here), and follow Him. We are to be actively striving after Jesus, doing all we can to follow after Him and be like Him.

Much of our language about our relationship with Jesus demonstrates that we really don’t think in terms of actively following Jesus. We certainly don’t think of actively pursuing Jesus with a burning passion to be like Him. Think about it. When we call people into a relationship with Jesus how often do we say that you are to “invite Jesus into your heart” or “ask Jesus into your life”. The image is of us being where we are and letting Jesus have a place in our lives. We give Him some room. We accommodate Him where we are. The only thought of going in another direction is that now you can be assured of going to heaven when you die instead of hell. Even our language of believing in Jesus can be nothing more than an intellectual assent that doesn’t bring about any real change in life. Lot’s of people “believe” in Jesus. Even the demons believe that He is the Lord. But they certainly don’t follow Him. They are not heading in a direction of pursuing a deeper relationship with Him.

Most if the time when Jesus comes to someone in the Gospels the language He uses to call them to a new life is the language of following. It is an active thing. We are to be taking steps towards Him. He initially comes to us but then says, “Hey, start walking in a new way. Start walking in the direction I am going. Follow me”. That following is intended to give us a new purpose, a new meaning for life. Asking Him into our hearts and staying passive seems to have the purpose of making our life more comfortable and secure. We pray a prayer of salvation and think life is complete because now we have Jesus in our hearts. Jesus said that He will make our life complete if we follow Him. He gives us purpose. Follow Him and He will make you a fisher of men. He will make you a changer of lives, a restorer of justice, a comforter of the poor, a visitor of the prisoner, a healer of the sick, a chef to the hungry, a clothier to the naked, and a host to the homeless.

If the relationship is simply one of believing in Jesus and having Him in your heart then there is really very little about your life that needs to change. He came and now hangs out like a polite guest. You like having Him there because it is a comfort and He really doesn’t ask much of you. Life goes on. You just feel better about yourself because you have Jesus with you. But if the relationship is of following Him, then it is a matter of become more and more like Him everyday. Romans 8:29 says that we are to be conformed into the image of Christ. In other words, we are to become more and more like Jesus all the time. In order for that to happen we must be heading in His direction, pursuing becoming like Him.

In the corporate world you are either moving up or moving down the corporate ladder. There is no sitting still. The people who supervise you see you either heading up, or not. If you are not, then you are already on your way down. You just may not know it yet. With Jesus you are either heading towards Him or away from Him. If you think you are simply maintaining then you are sadly mistaken because like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, “Jesus is on the move”. That is why He says, follow me.

Paul says to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. The great comfort is that God has you in His grip and is working diligently in your life. The great challenge is that we are to do everything we can to pursue Jesus and become more like Him. Look to Jesus and run after Him with all your might. Don’t just sit and give Him space in your life. Run to Him and give Him your whole life as a follower, becoming like Him in all ways.

What if Atheists are Right?

I wonder if atheists have really thought through the implications of what they believe. By that I don’t mean the implications for what happens when you die. That is usually the first place Christians want to focus the discussion. Rather, I wonder if they have really thought about the implications of what happens when you live.

I heard a sermon this weekend by Steve Brown in which he pointed out that a group of atheists have spent $40,000 to put advertisements on buses and billboards in Washington D.C. trying to convince people to NOT believe in God. It is a campaign designed to lead up to Christmas telling people that there is no God to be good for. You should just be “good for goodness sake”. Well that might sound great coming from Bruce Springsteen on his version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but it makes for lousy philosophy. Do they really want to promote that we be good, simply for the sake of goodness, as if goodness is some universally agreed to principle that is for the betterment of us all? If so, then they are completely violating their own position of atheism.

Here is what I mean by that. If there is no God who is responsible for the created order we see around us, then the only real alternative we have to explain all that exists is a purely materialistic, Darwinian naturalism. That is a position that says there is no spiritual realm and survival is based on the strong survive and the weak die. It is truly survival of the fittest. If it is indeed survival of the fittest then I have absolutely no motivation what-so-ever to do anything good for anyone other than my own family. After all it is my gene pool that I want to see survive. If you and yours get in the way of me and mine, then I need to do whatever it takes to get you out of the picture. You are nothing but competition for resources. Maybe I can find some personal benefit in extending some care to you and yours if you live near me and it will improve my life. But surely I have no reason to even begin to be worried about the starving people of Darfur, or the people dying in the D.R. Congo civil war, or AIDS orphans in Swaziland.

The Russian literary genius and Christian, Dostoevsky said “if there is no God, everything is permissable”. In other words, if the is no God, no supreme moral authority, then we may do whatever we want, whenever we want. Naturalism, Darwinianism, should in fact then rule the day and we should behave only in a way that further secures our own survival and comfort and that our our clan or tribe. Now some will say that all humanity is one large tribe or family and so we need to care for one another througout the world. Sorry, but that is like the situation that develops when someone wins the lottery. All of a sudden a host of never before heard from cousins come out of the woodwork wanting a share. No, if you are not in my immediate sphere of family, those I am directly responsible for, then if I follow atheism to its reasonable conclusion, I don’t care what happens to you. Not only that, but if I can get over on you and improve my life at your expense, then so be it.

But in reality, there is a God and he is a God who is moral and just, as well as merciful and forgiving, then it changes everything. Then, and only then do I have a true motivation to live for others. Then I am called to indeed “Love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and love my neighbor as myself”. Atheists want to experience the benefits of a world that believes in such a God but not the responsibility of submitting to and following such a God. You can’t have it both ways.

Sadly many Christians are functional atheists. By that I mean that we too want the benefits of such a God. We want to have the peace and joy and comfort that comes from His existence. But we reserve the right to live our lives as we want to, as if He really did not exist. Or we at least act like He does not matter when we make decisions on how to live. How many really think through the implications of what they do with their money each day as it relates to God? I suspect most of us only think about God when the money runs short or we are making a major life changing purchase. How many of us really think about God when we are planning our leisure time, or hobbies, or what we will eat, or when we must deal with the hurt feelings we have towards someone else? You see, if there is no God then indeed, do whatever you want, whenever you want. But if in fact there is a God and He is the God of the Bible, then all that we do, at every moment of our lives, must be done and lived out of love for Him and for our neighbor. In doing so, we will indeed be followers of Jesus who did not concern Himself with his own survival and comfort, but instead sacrificed all on a cross so that we could survive. Then He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him, sacrificing ourselves daily out of love for Him and others.

Not a simple task.

Maybe that is why atheists dont want Him to be real.