Throwback Thursday – This post was originally published March 8, 2010

In the digital age, it’s easy to follow someone. With one click of a mouse, you can become a follower of most anyone on Twitter. A decision to follow Christ can be the same. Just click on the “follow” button for Jesus and read the scripture tweets each day. But a true follower of Jesus will go much further than that.

When the disciples decided to follow Jesus, they left behind everything to follow Him. Simon (Peter) and Andrew left behind their career as fishermen and followed Jesus’ call (Mark 1:16-18). James and John also left their fishing career behind to follow Jesus and left their father Zebedee and his hired hands holding the nets (Mark 1:19-20). Matthew immediately left his tax collection booth to follow Jesus (Matt. 9:9).

Their choice to follow Christ required self sacrifice. Imagine Zebedee calling after his sons as they walk away with Jesus, “Hey! Where do you think you’re going? There’s work to do here.” Imagine how Matthew felt when the Pharisees criticized Jesus for dining in his home with the likes of tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 9:11). To the disciples, this wasn’t some casual friendship. They left behind their old life and took on a new life with Christ.

A commitment to follow Jesus  means replacing self with Christ. It’s a decision that must be made each day. In Luke 9:23, Jesus tells the crowd, “If anyone of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.” (NLT) His promise is that if you give up your life for Him, you will find true life.

In reading the book of Exodus, I am struck by the similarities between the Israelites back then and Christians today. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we are in a foreign land full of sin and false gods. At times, when our struggles become too much to bear, we cry out to God to save us. Just as God sent Moses to save the Israelites, God sent his son Jesus to show us the way out of enslavement to sin.

Yet Satan is not so quick to let us go free. He is the Pharaoh of our day who attempts to tighten his grip on us, trying to keep us repressed by sin. He tries to intensify our struggles on this earth, tempting us with discontent, anger and idols. But God is the victor. Even though armies may pursue us, God shows us the path to freedom.

We must remain determined to continue to follow Jesus, to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. As we wander through the desert of this world parched and hungry, let us not desire to return to the enslavement of the land of sin. May we focus on God’s promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. May we listen to the words of Joshua and Caleb, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good (Numbers 14:6-7).” May our faith in Christ Jesus and our love of the Lord God grow deeper in the midst of temptation to return to our old life.

“The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” – Exodus 15:2 (NIV)

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

Throwback Thursday: This post was originally published March 4, 2010

John the Baptist was a master at editing his life down so only Christ remained evident to others. He wore clothes made from camel hair with a leather belt and ate locusts and honey (Matt. 3:4). He did not worry about having a nice building to accommodate the crowds that came to hear him preach. His message cut to the point: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 3:2 NIV) – simple words that easily fit into a text message or Twitter post.

John’s life was not cluttered with things that confused his message. He did not try to impress people, rather he tried to impress upon them the need to repent of their sins and prepare for the coming of Jesus. In Matthew 11:8-10, Jesus points out that the people did not come to see John dressed in fine clothes, they came to see a prophet. People traveled into the hot and dusty desert to hear John’s message, not to see his outfit, sit in a beautiful building with air conditioning, or dine on locusts and honey with him.

Many of the people that crowded around John in the desert were tired of trying to impress others with their deeds and appearances. They were hungry for a message of true repentance that would free them from the burden of their sins. John focused on their spiritual need for a savior. He pointed them away from himself and toward Christ. In Matt. 3:11 he explains how one is to come who is more powerful than him, how he is not fit to carry his sandals. John’s life was edited down so only the message of Jesus came through each day.

As a follower of Jesus your greatness and your identity is not in this world. John continues to show us true life is in Christ. Jesus commends John saying, “There has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” He goes on to say that we have the potential to be greater than John, that “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matt. 11:11 NIV)

Bruised and injured I lay on the ground

My adversaries advance, closing in for the kill

I pull my belt tight around my waist, secure my breastplate

I see their angry faces as they move closer

They taunt me with their screams, “Where is your God now?!”

I try to pull myself up, my feet ready with the gospel of peace

My bones and muscles ache from countless skirmishes

I can barely stand, as I try to get a glimpse of my enemy

In the advancing darkness I see a line of archers form

Flaming arrows pierce the sky as bowstrings snap

I stumble and fall, as I raise my shield in faith

My muscles strain to steady the shield as arrows impact

Yet no harm comes to me, the evil one’s intent is smothered

I adjust my helmet and pull out my sword from its sheath

“Give up!” The enemy shouts as they continue to pursue me

Again I pull myself up, this tired old warrior presses on

Armed with the word of God, I place my hope in the Lord

I take refuge in my God, my strength and my shield

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Ephesians 6:12-13 (NIV)

I stood there a moment in my mom’s old apartment looking at what was left of her possessions. I stared at the room full of furniture and other items. Each one seemed to have a story, a memory; each item a treasure. It was hard to focus on the task at hand and not let my emotions get the best of me.

The previous week we had moved my mom into an assisted living facility because she was no longer able to live on her own. Because her room in the assisted living facility was significantly smaller, we could only move a small portion of her belongings with her. This meant we had to sift through her remaining possessions and decide what to do with them. It was a poignant moment that reminded me of how quickly time passes and what is important in life.

For a moment I paused in my mom’s old apartment and noted how my family had come together to help with my mom’s transition to assisted living. We were together for this moment, pulled together by my mom’s need to make a change in her living arrangements. It was a reminder to me of the importance of family relationships. This was the real treasure in the room.

Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (NIV).”

He walked the streets surrounded by wicked people. It seemed evil thoughts dominated everything in the community all the time. Corruption was everywhere, yet he chose to remain faithful to God. He pursued righteousness in a world of unrighteous behavior.

This is the world of Noah before God revealed his plans for the ark and the flood. Noah had been tested in a thoroughly corrupt world yet he remained devoted to pursuing God. This is why Noah found favor in God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8); why God entrusted him with the building of the ark (Gen. 6:14-21); why “Noah did everything just as God commanded him (Gen. 6:22). Noah’s obedience to God was built on a life of faithfulness to God even when surrounded by a world saturated with evil.

This helps me understand Noah’s determination to finish building the ark. His desire to do everything God instructed was built within him before God revealed his plans to destroy the world with a flood. Scripture tells us about the world Noah lived in, but it does not reveal what must have been a daily struggle for him to remain faithful to God while surrounded by evil people. Noah was tested and proven faithful to complete the overwhelming task of constructing the ark.

When I read about Noah, I try to put myself in his place. Would I continue to live a righteous life in the midst of a world obsessed with evil? Would I become discouraged being surrounded by wicked people all the time? Would I find favor with God as Noah did? Would I willingly accept God’s command to build the ark?

Some day God will again destroy the earth and all its evil, replacing it with a new earth (Rev. 21:1-4). Like Noah, God is looking for his faithful in an evil world, the faithful who will answer the call to obedience. He is seeking true followers of Jesus Christ determined to accomplish seemingly insurmountable tasks for the Kingdom of God. He wants us, like Noah, to be prepared to do everything that God commands us to do.

The news was not surprising, yet it was still hard to hear. Hospice was being brought in because it looked like the end was near for my wife’s stepmom. In the last few months she had told me not to visit because she was not feeling well. I suspected her cancer was getting worse and she did not want me to see her.

As I thought about the inevitable, I reflected on how this feisty woman in her 80s had been such a blessing to me. She could be offensive at times, full of insults, swear words and anger toward people, particularly religious people. Yet she taught me so much about God’s love; taught me that God’s love and grace is even for the so-called unlovable.

Because of her temperament, my wife’s stepmom did not have a good relationship with the family. Over the years, her sharp tongue didn’t help bridge that gap. As it turned out, by God’s design, my wife and I were the only ones with her when her husband died six years ago. Afterwards I felt compelled to visit her at her home more than just around holidays. She lived a few hours away so I would visit her maybe 6-8 times a year. Usually when I was in town on business.

Eventually her health declined to the point where she had to move to an assisted living facility. With each visit I saw my heart transformed from being a bit scared of her to a genuine love for her. When I first started to visit her, I thought maybe I could change her to becoming a follower of Christ. Instead I was the one changed by her.

During each visit she would share stories about her life over the last 80 some years. As her tough exterior veneer began to peel back, I learned about the pain and abuse she had suffered at the hands of others. I began to understand why she was so bitter and angry, I started to empathize with her. I learned that God knows people from the inside out. He sees through our exterior veneer and knows our true self and our pain. He wants to heal us if we’re willing to let him. God is the one who equips us to offer his love and grace to people who desperately need it.

I’d like to say she eventually came to Christ, but I do not know for sure. She never expressed it to me, that is between her and God. Occasionally we would talk about God and religion, but she never showed an interest in going deeper. But at the end of each visit I would give her a hug and tell her, “love you.” It was sincere and from the heart. Ultimately I felt she was the one teaching me about God’s love, teaching me how to love the so-called unloveable. Showing me that he is the one that gives us the strength to do what we often see as impossible. Demonstrating that sometimes all an unsaved person needs is to feel God’s embrace and the words, “love you.”

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

There’s a phrase “putting down roots” that describes someone settling down in a place. I have heard this phrase used to describe people I know who have finally settled in one place after jumping from job to job and one town to another. But do we think of this phrase in the spiritual sense as settling down with God?

To settle down with God is to focus on building a relationship with him. It means putting down roots deep into his scripture; spending focused time in prayer with God; drawing deeply from solid relationships with other believers. The challenge is to not get distracted by customs and beliefs in this world that can uproot our faith in Jesus. This is what happened repeatedly to the Israelites in the Old Testament. Psalm 106:34-35 tells us how the Israelites repeatedly disobeyed God by mingling with other nations and adopting their customs.

When we put down roots with God we secure ourselves to his eternal grace and love. The deeper our faith in him, the more we can draw on God’s strength and not our own; the better prepared we’ll be for the storms of life. Jeremiah 17:7-8 tells us, “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit (NIV).”

After Jesus died on the cross and was buried, before Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples were hiding out of fear they might meet the same fate. All they knew was that Jesus was gone. They had yet to experience his resurrection. This was a period of fear and doubt, the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

To live without salvation through Christ is to be caught between Good Friday and Easter morning. It is an eternal darkness without the hope offered by the resurrection of Christ. It is a place of constant night with only the fading light of a man-made lamp to illuminate the way. It is a state of hopelessness without any chance of salvation from sin. Yet because of God’s love for us we do not have to remain trapped between Good Friday and Easter.

Salvation is ours through faith in Christ. This Easter embrace the hope of the resurrection. Leave behind doubt and disbelief and run with Peter to see the strips of linen lying in the empty tomb (Luke 24:12). Share the joy of the women who saw the risen Lord and ran to tell the disciples (Matt. 28:8). 1 Peter 1:8-9 tells us, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls (NIV).”

My prayer is that the dawn of this Easter morning will dissipate the darkness of night with the radiant light of the risen Lord. May we express the joy of our salvation with the proclamation, “He has risen!”

What would you have done that day if you were standing in the crowd when Pilate offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas (Matt. 27)? Would you have shouted “Barabbas” like the rest of the crowd or would you have shouted “Jesus”? Would you have been persuaded to choose a rebel and murderer, instead of the Son of God, the Messiah?

Mark 15:7 tells us that Barabbas was “in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” While Jesus chose the will of God, Barabbas chose to join others who decided to take matters into their own hands with a violent uprising. Pilate asked the crowd that day, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews (Mark 15:9)?” The crowd was swayed to choose the insurrectionist Barabbas over Jesus. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8)!”

What’s amazing about that day is that even though the people in the crowd chose to reject Jesus, God still offered redemption to them with the death and resurrection of his Son. Like Barabbas, we are rebels condemned to die for our sinful, selfish desires. Yet in God’s infinite mercy and love, he offers us freedom and eternal life through his son Jesus Christ who paid the price for our rebellion so that we could forever live in the Kingdom of God.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9

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