Following Jesus

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” John 12:24-26.

One of the noteworthy things about Jesus, as He is described in the synoptic gospels especially, is His indiscriminate healings of everyone who was sick around Him.  This was most obvious in the physical healings he did so often but Jesus also healed people from sin, guilt and shame.  He spoke words of healing that minister to us to this day and into eternity.

Healing ought to be a sign that He is in our churches also.  If Jesus is truly with us then one of the signs that this is so is that our church is a place of health and healing in all senses of that word.

Losing your life

If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. Matthew 10:38,39.

Everyone lives every day in the shadow of death whether we want to acknowledge it or not.  The physical life of our body is a precarious thing.  It can dissipate easily under the influence of sickness or accident.

As a result many people spend a lot of time and energy trying to ensure it lasts just that little bit longer or isn’t taken away suddenly.  This extends to our immediate loved ones as well.  Telling people to “take care” is such a common phrase that we hardly notice it.

This is all very natural but runs counter to what Jesus tells us to do if you want to be His disciple.

It also doesn’t make sense, especially if you are a Christian who believes in the resurrection of the dead and a better life to come because of what Jesus did on the Cross for us all.  Why spend all this time and energy trying to put off the inevitable when what comes afterwards is so glorious?

However, no where in the bible does it say that it is a good thing to be reckless with your life or to take it so you can get to heaven sooner.

What Jesus does say is this:  Trust your life to Me and I will take it and do what I want with it.  Don’t worry about your life, how you will get your next salary, for your heavenly Father knows you need these things.  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well.

Difficult Passages

Jesus is the most lovely person that ever lived but He sure said some difficult things at times.  Some of the more difficult are those things He said concerning those who will call Him “Lord, Lord” on the Judgment Day:

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ Matthew 7:21-23.

I don’t know about you but I can’t say I have seen many people who prophesied in Jesus’ name, cast out demons in His name and performed many miracles in His name.  It seems hard to imagine anyone doing those things and then going on to break God’s laws, never mind the many that Jesus says will.  But Jesus says there will be many who will do this.  I guess “many” is a vague term but it certainly is not a few.  It could be tens of people I suppose.  Maybe it is not that hard to imagine that of the billions of people that have ever lived that there could be tens, hundreds, thousands or even millions that fall into this category (don’t worry, everyone struggles, except God, when it comes to handling numbers this large).

But there is one category of people that you will never hear Jesus saying that they won’t make it.  Despite the fact that the way is narrow into the kingdom of Heaven and few find it (again “few” is a relative term, it could be millions) the poor are always welcome.  There are those among us who will be first and others will be last.  You may overlook them.  Jesus doesn’t.

 

Faith Tests

So God speaks to you, not once but often, promising something huge.  He tells you to do something about it and you obey.  And then all hell breaks loose.

First of all, the exact opposite to what God promises happens.  You pray for healing believing God has spoken to you saying that that person, or yourself, will be healed and you feel more sick.  You pray for money because God has promised you will be rich financially and your poverty gets worse. You ask for that deliverance from addiction that you know He has promised and you fall more heavily than ever.

If that is your experience you are in good company.  Moses had exactly the same experience in spades. You can read all about it in the first 6 chapters of the book of Exodus in the bible.

There was no doubting God had spoken to him in that burning bush.  He had seen the signs of the rod turning into a snake and his leprous arm miraculously clean.  Aaron, his brother, was with him and he also knew that God had spoken to them both.  Then they went and did what they were told.  They went right up to the ruler enslaving their people and told him that the Lord had commanded him to let the people of Israel go.

So now Pharoah rolls over and out walk the people of Israel taking with them a bunch of Pharaoh’s people’s goods and money.  You wish!!

No, the first thing that happens is the very opposite of what they asked for: the slavery gets worse.  The people are discouraged and no one believes Moses and Aaron anymore.

22 Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? 23 Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!” (Exodus 5:22-23).

God then repeats His promises and explains why He is going to deliver the people of Israel.  Moses is still not convinced that it will happen if it has anything to do with him:

12 “But Lord!” Moses objected. “My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect Pharaoh to listen? I’m such a clumsy speaker!”

In my own experience I have found that when something God has said to me is challenged I don’t doubt God, I usually doubt myself.  The promise is clear enough and there is no doubting God’s ability to bring something about.  So I reckon that the reason it is not happening must be to do with me.  It seems the most logical explanation.

Moses did have something to do.  He and Aaron were given orders from God for the people and for Pharaoh.  The Lord commanded and they obeyed.

Now if you are reading the passage that I am referring to in Exodus 6 you will notice a strange thing happening at verses 14-30.  The writer goes into this seemingly pointless listing of Moses & Aaron’s ancestors.  I can just imagine this story being told around a camp fire by a Jewish village elder to children and others who may have been hearing it for the first time.  The suspense is deliberate.  Our heroes have been told by God to do something and all that has happened has been the opposite to what they have been promised.  Instead of taking us out of our suspense we are left waiting.  What will happen next?  How will God deliver His people as He has promised?  When will it happen, next week, next month, next year? In 400 years?!

In this case we know the story.  The miracles of the rod and Moses’ leprous arm are almost petty in comparison to what God does next.  It doesn’t take God long to fulfil His promise to deliver the people out of slavery and it sure is spectacular when He does.

There are, of course, other stories in the bible of people who got a promise from God and then experienced the exact opposite immediately or soon afterwards.  Abraham is one example, David is another.  In their cases the time spans between the promise being given and being fulfilled were quite different and called for even more patience.

However, in every case the promises God gave were fulfilled.

If you are in the middle of waiting for a promise from God to be fulfilled and it looks like the opposite – or nothing – is happening, take heart, you are in good company.

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

Hebrews 11:1,2.

Liberals and Conservatives

Mankind just loves to put people into categories.  Once we do that we can then begin to take a position.  Once we take a position, the other position is wrong.  We love to fight and argue and we need positions to argue from.

There are many ways of creating categories but one of the most popular is to put people into the position of being a liberal or a conservative.  The danger is in expressing an opinion on something.  Once I express a position I am immediately put into a camp.  I am a liberal if I support climate change regardless of any other position on any other subject I may hold.  I am a conservative if I am against abortion, again that is regardless of any other position on any other subject I may hold.

But of course Jesus was neither a conservative nor a liberal.  C.S. Lewis has this to say about extremes:

“I feel a strong desire to tell you—and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me—which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”

Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (p. 77). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

He who believes in Me

“If anyone thirsts let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me in the way Scripture says, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.”

These are the words of Jesus quoted in  John 7:37, 38.  I love the way the Old Testament foreshadows this in unexpected ways:

The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; The fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook. Proverbs 18:4.

The distinction between a babbling fool and a bubbling brook of wisdom is critical here.  The source is always the most important thing.  The channel it comes through is also important.  Jesus says that you have the capability to be a channel for His wisdom.  It is a holy task to find out how that works in your life so that you can continually be a bubbling brook of refreshing and life giving words to those who are thirsty for them.  It is also a lifetime’s work.

What is the Church?

A couple of people close to me recently asked me a question which seemed to betray a misunderstanding of church.  The question was: “Why do people get hurt going to church?”  The implication was that if the church is part of the Body of Christ how could God’s body do anyone any harm?

I think the misunderstanding is most easily cleared up by using a diagram:

What is the church

In the diagram I show a large circle in the centre which shows the Body of Christ worldwide.  Around the edges and to one side I draw three other circles that represent what most people call churches.  The first thing to note is that no church (as the term is commonly understood) consists fully of people in the Body of Christ.  I can say with confidence that there is no large group of people meeting on a Sunday morning on this earth whose members are all members of the Body of Christ.  There may be smaller bodies of people who meet together, particularly in countries where the church is persecuted, that are all members of the Body of Christ but, even then, it can be a very hard thing to assess.  How do you know whether everyone you meet with knows Jesus or not?

Among these churches I have drawn a distinction between three types of congregations.

Type 1 is what I would call “life giving”.  These are churches you need to go to if you are a member or aspire to be a member of the Body of Christ.  They encourage you to love Jesus and through Him to love the Father , your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and your neighbour as yourself.

Type 2 is what I would call “life sucking”.  These are congregations of people that do not encourage you to love God with all your heart or your neighbour as yourself.  They are often dying in the sense that they are reducing in numbers but that isn’t always a reliable sign.

Type 3 is just plain dead.  There actually may be some people in it (unlike in the diagram) that are in the Body of Christ but they might as well not be since the church itself is doing nothing related to Jesus.  These types of churches are all too common.  There main distinguishing feature is that they are more interested in continuing their existence than they are in the well being of their attendees.

Diagrams like the above are of course limited in reflecting reality which is often more complicated and messy.  The main point is this: don’t expect churches to act like the Body of Christ should act.  Not even most of the time.  They are not the same thing. Be prepared to be hurt by people in church and you will be a bit more prepared and less disillusioned when it happens.

Mere Christianity

C.S. Lewis was asked by the BBC to give a series of talks on the radio during the second world war called “Mere Christianity”.  These were later expanded into a book which is one of the best summaries of Christianity out there.

One of the most famous passages from this book is the following statement about who Jesus is.  It is commonly known as “Lewis’ trilemma” or  the “Mad, bad or God” argument.  It is well worth reading this passage in context and, indeed, reading the whole book:

“Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings. I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (p. 24). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Faith & Waiting

There is a pattern of God’s working with men that seems almost like He is teasing us, but the aim is to test and show our faith, remove idolatry and make us more dependent on Him.

When Abraham was told at the age of 75 that his descendants would be like the stars of heaven or the sands of the seashore his expectation was probably that he would have a son almost immediately and that there would be at least tens of descendants before he died.  As it turned out, he had just two descendants (Isaac & Jacob) to whom the promise applied by the time he died 100 years later.

Joseph might have been forgiven for thinking that the trajectory of his life would not have involved kidnapping, prison and servitude from the age of 17 to 40 after getting dreams of his parents and his siblings bowing down before him.

Moses probably didn’t anticipate Pharoah making things much harder for the the people of Israel when he was sent to deliver them from bondage.  Watching the bondage actually increase when he was told that God would deliver them must have been hard.  God didn’t tell Moses that that was going to happen first and it didn’t exactly inspire faith in his story in the ones he had come to deliver either.

Another significant example of the same principle in practice can be seen in the life of David.  He was anointed king at around 17 but was running for his life for a large part of his career after that and didn’t see the fulfilment of the promise until he was 30.

So, if like me, you have been given a promise from God and the exact opposite seems to be happening don’t be surprised.  You are in good company.

God will come through for you.

Faith and Desire

God knows your deepest desires and isn’t surprised by any of them.  I believe that He has an answer to them all in Christ both for this life and the next.

As believers one of the things we have to get used to is that the line between this life and the next is very thin indeed.  There is a major transition involved, we need to shake off this mortal body and put on an immortal one.  But apart from that nothing else changes – much!  It does take faith to look over that gap and see our lives continuing on.

However, one of the keys of living a contented Christian life here is to hope and believe in satisfaction and contentment throughout our existence.  Some desires will be satisfied here during this mortal life, many will be satisfied there during the immortal stage.

God commends this kind of faith.  In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer ends up his panegyric about the heroes of faith in chapter 11 by saying this:

“All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

The saints of the Old Testament are still waiting for our time to come to a close before they will get all they desire.

So, if you are facing unfulfilled desires in this life, ask yourself whether God hasn’t planned to fulfil them in the next.  No, better still, ask God.  You might be surprised at His answer.