It’s been quiet on “Becoming a Follower.” Let me give you an explanation.
Over the past few months I’ve been following and straying in silence. Silence, at least my “blogging voice” has been silent. Not silent in my conversation with others who are following also. I meet with other brothers that are following Jesus and caught in this starting/stopping pattern also. But now, I have the bug to write again.
Some of you may already know that I serve in the role as “teaching/preaching pastor” at a mid size church in rural Minnesota. I love the role God has led me to in His church. I enjoy using the spiritual gift(s) He has given me to build up His church. As a guy in that role I’m tempted to say, “When you are actively pastoring, you learn a lot.” That would be a misleading statement. Even a stifling statement. Why? Because it supports the idea of clergy. (In some way, the idea that I’m “more spiritual” or have a “better connection” with God than other Christians do. I don’t believe that.)
The reality is, “When WE are actively following Jesus, WE learn a lot.” Actively. What exactly does that mean. I don’t think it is as easily defined as we would like for it to be. My experience is this. When I am “actively following” Jesus, I also find myself straying a lot. Now, the first thing that’s probably happened here is you have allowed your mind to wander off by asking the instinctive question, “Where has he strayed off?” The answer is pretty simple. All the same kinds of places you stray.
That’s right. I haven’t figured out how to flawlessly follow Jesus. My brain and my body ends up in all the same kinds of places that everyone else’s brain and body end up. Now mind you, our sins may not be specifically the same. For instance, I haven’t been engaged in trying to defend myself from a public scandal by telling lies to cover my tracks and defend my reputation. However, I have been guilty of trying to “save face” by not admitting or confessing all of my struggles or, BRACE YOURSELF, the sin in my life. That’s right. I have sin in my life. I’m not proud of it. I’m not okay with it. I tend to feed some of it, and starve other sins that are “easier” for me to manage.
Perhaps there is a reader or two of this blog that is tempted by homosexual pornography or tendencies. I haven’t struggled with homosexual oriented temptation. However, I did find myself in the checkout lane of the local big box store gazing at the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Issue. (It’s not “homosexual” in nature, but it is a temptation towards sin that is based upon sexuality.) I don’t mean “observing.” I mean, clearly I was entertaining more about that photo than Jesus wanted me to. It wasn’t appreciation, it wasn’t observation, it was me looking, oh scratch all the churchy wording…LUSTING. I turned away, and found myself pondering, “I love my wife. She is beautiful. I have no desire for anyone but her and she completely satisfies me as a wife, a friend, mother and ministry partner (read sister disciple). I don’t really have a desire for anyone else…however, there is something in me that for a moment detours me from the reality of my life into sinful contemplations. Will this temptation to entertain and give in, even for small moments to entertaining innapropriate (read SINFUL) thoughts ever go away?”
(The above is just one scenario. Trust me, we have something in common, even if neither of us want to admit it. We may share the common sin of over indulging in food, “one upping,” gossiping, slandering or holding grudges. I don’t particularly like the fact that I associate with some of your sins either. But we have “all sinned and fell short of the glory of God.”)
That’s when God spoke to me. Yep. I really mean it. He spoke to me. Let me share what that sounds/looks like:
Romans 12:1–3 (ESV)
A Living Sacrifice
12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Gifts of Grace
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Did you catch that? (Yeah, His voice doesn’t alway sound like Morgan Freeman in my soul either.) His answer to my question is right there. His voice, softly speaking into my life.
I am in the process of transformation. I struggle with stuff (read SIN). Sometimes I even give in to it. Sometimes, sadly, sin masters me. I’m not proud of it. I’m not okay with it. But the moment that I begin believing that I have mastered sin is the moment that I do the most disrespectful, heretical action that any of us can ever do…act as if we don’t really need the blood of Jesus (anymore?). The blood of Jesus is what has covered and is covering me. It’s what has redeemed and is redeeming me. It’s as if we are still stuck in the moment that the Israelites have already lived through.
The angel of death was passing through Egypt and passed by the houses that were covered with the blood of the Passover Lamb. In the frame of eternity, we have been passed over, forgiven. In the frame of our present mortality, the angel is still passing through.
Jesus paid for my redemption and it is actively taking place, in eternity, it is finished, in my struggle it’s happening.
I believe that God is transforming me. I believe that He already sees me as sinless, because I am clothed in His son. However, I’m still in this failed and dying body, with its weaknesses, cravings and inferior, fallen state. While here, His grace is sufficient for me. My faith in His work will carry me through.
I believe God is winnowing out the desire for me to give in to every desire I have, mentally and physically, that does not bring Him glory or suit the purpose He created me for. There are some things I used to be chained in bondage to. Smoking (some of what I smoked was cigarettes, other things even included the leaves that fell off of the trees, but that’s another blog on my struggle to understand “Total Depravity.”)
While I’m following, I experience victory. While I’m following, I experience my failure…and Jesus triumph over my failure. While I’m following, it’s Jesus that is really carrying me. While I’m offering myself as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) I tend to crawl off of the altar when the coals get to hot. I believe Jesus is tending to me and living in me.
I’m not in “la-la land.” I recognize there are some of you that feel you have “arrived.” I’m sure there is someone that will read this and really feel like I’m some kind of lost soul. You may see this different than I do.
First, I know I’m not a lost soul, because Jesus found me.
Second, hang with me as many of the people you know are like myself. We are growing towards maturity in this new life in Christ.
We are following, and we tend to stray off from time to time, just to find Jesus patiently beside us saying, “Yeppeth, I diedeth to cover that too…”