What Does It Mean to be “Fit” to Follow?

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Jesus never called anyone to be a “Christian”. He called people to be a “disciple”.

Why? A disciple is a “learner,” and to learn from Jesus you must be with him, and follow him as you obey him.

And what did that call to follow him look like? What were the expectations when Jesus called a person to “Follow me”?

Let’s read Luke 9:57-62 to find our answer:

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 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.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (NASB)

Upon initially reading this passage, many typically respond with a comment such as, “Man, Jesus is harsh!” But that response alone reveals the influence of culture and letting others tell us about Jesus and what it means to follow him, instead of letting the Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus himself influence and define that call.

Honestly, Jesus isn’t being harsh, but truthful. Instead of deceiving us, or playing on our emotions, as some do today, Jesus is describing what it takes to be an effective follower of his.

And what does he say?

First, based on verses 57-58, a disciple realizes the call of Jesus is not a call to comfort but a call to sacrifice!

Why?

Animals such as foxes and birds naturally have a place to rest, which brings a measure of security and protection.

A disciple of Jesus is not promised this.

Why?

It’s not that you can’t have comforts, or even nice things, but you’re not here for those nice things! The comforts of life can distract us and consume an exorbitant amount of our time as we seek to gain more and more of them.

A disciple of Jesus has another purpose for being here.

Second, based on verses 59-60, a disciple realizes the call of Jesus is not a call to cultural obligations and religious rules, but a call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus!

In Judaism, a son had a crucial responsibility to fulfill his obligations when his father passed away. It was such a sacred obligation that the son was exempt from all other responsibilities to the Torah (the Law) until that was complete.

Is Jesus saying those responsibilities don’t exist anymore? No. All Jesus is stating is as crucial as that task is, the son now has a more pressing responsibility: “[G]o and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”

In other words, as important as a funeral was with celebrating and explaining the significance of the life of the deceased, now a disciple is to go about celebrating and explaining (that’s what “proclaim” means) to all who will listen what the reign of Jesus is like.

Consequently, this potential disciple discovered you can’t let cultural dictates or even religious rules supersede the call of God.

Lastly, based on verses 61-62, a disciple realizes the call of Jesus is not a call to make Jesus a priority, but a call to make Jesus the priority of your life!

Undoubtedly, relationships are an important part of life, if not the most important part. But again, Jesus has something to teach us about relationships.

Jesus declares it’s not that we can’t have relationships and fulfill our responsibilities, but in comparison to our relationship with Jesus, all other relationships are subordinate, or to be blunt, it’s as if they don’t exist!

And to close, Jesus gives a beautiful picture of what’s he’s asking of each disciple, using imagery everyone would have been familiar with back then – a farmer plowing his land. Israel could be a rocky land, and to plow a field, it took one hand on the plow, one hand guiding the animal, and continuously looking forward to get those lines straight.

Total dedication, not looking back but forward, and guided by one Master is the picture.

Only that kind of person is “fit” or “well-placed”, and truly “useable” in the kingdom of God.

We don’t know what happened to these three individuals, but it’s unlikely that they followed Jesus. The first person probably was unwilling to renounce the comforts and securities of this life. The second and third individuals came to Jesus with a “but first” request. After Jesus’ discussion, we know a “but first” request is never “fit” for kingdom life.

What’s your response?

Here’s what I believe the challenge is: don’t just be a Christian who is satisfied with their ticket to heaven and attending church as a spectator sport, but be a disciple: one who is willing to go on an adventure with our Lord, putting nothing before Him.

Let’s stop trying to redefine the nature of the call, and just start obeying.

That’s what a disciple does.

RA

Advent Season: Now the Wait!

 

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It seems recently everyone I speak to is waiting on God for something.

One person is waiting for a desperate prayer request to be answered.

One person is waiting for career guidance as they discern God’s will for his life.

Another person is waiting for that right man to come into her life so they can get married and start a family.

Tis the season!

What I mean by that glib comment is it’s Advent season. The word Advent literally means “coming” or “arrival” and it refers to the coming or the arrival of the Messiah Jesus Christ. The surprising thing to remember is that by the arrival of the first Advent, waiting had been a major part of the experience because it had been over 400 years since a word, or a “coming” and “arrival” of God had appeared to the Jewish people! Consequently, one could say the Advent season embodies waiting.

As for me and I’m sure my friends mentioned above, there’s one problem – I despise waiting!

I despise waiting in line at the store.

I despise waiting at traffic lights.

I even despise waiting for my popcorn to pop in the microwave (How spoiled are we?).

I could go on, but you get the point. We are a culture that expects things instantaneously. Technology has spoiled us and we take that expectation into relationships, even our relationship with God.

In all honestly, there are times I don’t even like waiting on God! That is a significant problem for two reasons: Waiting as I just described it is foreign to the Scriptures; and waiting is not just part of Advent season, but it’s an essential part of the life of faith!

First, a cursory look at what the Scriptures say about waiting reveals it’s not like the waiting we commonly think of. If I wait for something today, I think of it as a passive experience, just killing time, and usually accompanied with bellyaching and whining at some point too.

But according to the Scriptures this type of “waiting” is not waiting; that’s impatience and immaturity!

Ouch!

On the other hand, the Scriptures teach that while waiting, we should wait:

Expectantly

“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” Psalms 5:3 (NIV)

Patiently

But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:25 (HCSB)

Blessed

“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” Isaiah 30:18 (NIV)

Faithfully

“Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” Isaiah 26:8 (NIV)

Renewing our Strength

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)

Scripture teaches that waiting is not a passive activity we endure, or a waste of time. Waiting is, in the words of theologian Walter Grundmann, a “burning expectation” in which we exhibit all the characteristics above, and more! In his new Advent book Waiting Here For You: An Advent Journey of Hope, Louie Giglio says while we are waiting, God is with us, and working; and I would add so are we as we become more expectant, more patient, acknowledge how blessed we are, stay faithful, and gain needed strength through the waiting.

That doesn’t sound like a passive “just-killing-time experience” to me.

Secondly, Scripture teaches that ultimately this biblical waiting, described as a “burning expectation” is not only a part of Advent, but also the entire Christian experience. Read this passage in Hebrews 9:28:

“. . . so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.” (NLT)

That phrase “eagerly waiting” is a rich compound word that literally means “to welcome or receive from out of” with the emphasis being, based on Paul’s usage too, that we welcome Jesus’ coming and all that it brings – the glorious transformation of our lives – as we also come “from out of “ the world. In other words, we longingly look for and welcome Christ while turning from all else.

Finally, this is not just a part of the Christian experience, but creation itself is waiting! Notice the same word is used in Romans 8:19:

 “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” (NIV)

So during this Advent season, will you commit to the following:

  • Celebrating the “coming” and “arrival” of the Messiah;
  • Recognize that waiting is a natural part of Advent;
  • Exhibit the biblical definition of waiting as an active experience, a “burning expectation” inherent with all the above characteristics and more;
  • And sincerely grasp that waiting is not to be despised but embraced as a time of growth and intimacy with God.

So if you’re waiting on God for something, wait with an active “burning expectation”. It shows your dependence upon him, and your expectant eagerness to see his “coming” and “arrival”.

Just like at the first Advent!

RA

 

 

 

 

Gratitude: It’s Important!

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“As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”  Luke 17:11-19 (NLT)

Who are you in this story?

This is a curious story about Jesus. He has healed many people before this, but in this narrative, the emphasis is not on the healing, but the response of those healed.

Why?

Numerous answers are possible, but I believe it may be best summarized by the noted author and Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton who once said: “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

Ah! Now, do you see yourself in this story?

If you are a believer, you have been healed! You have tasted of the goodness of God and been a recipient of his grace and love.

Have you come back to express your gratitude (V. 15)?

Why are some people not grateful? I can only surmise, but possible explanations are:

  • They think they did it.
  • They don’t know whom to thank.
  • They are too busy.
  • They are not happy with what they have.
  • They believe they deserve more!

Nancy Leigh DeMoss, in her book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy writes especially about that last possibility – that many of us are ungrateful because we actually think we deserve more. Notice how she discerns the real issue:

“That’s because we forget God does not owe us anything. We are debtors. We are the ones who owe. We think we deserve more (or different or better) than we have, and therefore we forget or minimize the blessings God has already given and continues to give.”

I don’t know if that is the answer for why the nine didn’t return to thank Jesus, but I know that comment stings. I’ve been guilty of that: minimizing the blessings God has already given! For instance:

  • I have a car, but I want a nicer car.
  • I have a house, but I want a bigger house.
  • I have plenty of clothes, but I want fancier, more expensive clothes.

I want to be like the one leper in this story and as I see it, this passages teaches us several things about gratitude:

  1. Gratitude must be expressed!

One of the primary points of this story is that gratitude must be expressed through our thanksgiving. Ten lepers were healed, but only one returned. Jesus didn’t un-heal those other nine, but he did ask, “Didn’t I heal ten? Where are the other nine?” (V. 17).

Also look at 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (NLT)

We are meant to demonstrate our gratitude because it allows us to express how thankful we are for what God has done for us.

I don’t ever want Jesus to have to ask where I am.

  1. Gratitude rests on the goodness and graciousness of God!

The one leper who returned, he fell at Jesus’ feet and “gave thanks” which literally means “good grace” or “good favor”. In other words, he was a recipient of good grace and he freely expressed his thanks for that “good grace”.

All of us can and should be the one who returned because we have all been recipients of God’s goodness and his gracious love. Psalm 106:1 beautifully reminds us of this:

“Praise the Lord!

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,

for his steadfast love endures forever!” (ESV)

Frequently I still have to remind myself that a mark of maturity is recognizing that while I may not have all I want, I have more than I deserve, and for that I am grateful for the goodness and gracious love of God.

  1. Gratitude realizes all of life is a gift – the good and the challenging!

I do not know why the other nine didn’t return to thank Jesus, but I do know why the one did – he knew it was an undeserved gift. We should seek to remind ourselves of this daily. Again DeMoss is perfect here:

“[Gratitude] It’s a choice that requires constantly renewing my mind with the truth of God’s Word, setting my heart to savor God and His gifts and disciplining my tongue to speak words that reflect His goodness and grace until a grateful spirit becomes my reflexive response to all of live.”

We are grateful because God’s ‘good grace’ has been shared with us!

We don’t know exactly why the other nine lepers didn’t come back. All we know is one did come back.

Have you?

RA