Pastor's Blog

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Trying to Follow Jesus

Today is the first of September, and while most school districts begin classes sometime in August these days, Labor Day weekend still has that sense of marking the end of summer and the beginning of the school year.

Reflecting on my childhood and adolescence, I recall I was never a great student. If you look up average in the dictionary, you might have a picture of me. However, each September as the start of school approached, I was filled with anticipation, and a resolve to do better. I loved the new folders and notebooks, and assured myself this was the year I would be more organized and stay on top of my homework. But alas, within a week or two, I was overwhelmed, underprepared, and most likely behind on an assignment or two—and lacking motivation.

Eventually, I figured out how to be a better student, and did quite well in university and graduate school. But reminiscing on my fitful educational efforts as a child and young person, got me thinking about my successes and failures in seeking to follow the way of Jesus. And actually, what started this whole stream of thought was a brief remark from a  parishioner who stopped by to drop something off.

Lamenting some relational frustrations with people in our lives, I casually threw out the phrase regarding the situation I was addressing, Well, I think they are just trying to follow Jesus, to which my conversation partner immediately replied, Well, aren’t we all? While I was being rather flippant in trying to assign a positive motive to someone’s irritating behavior—and not so subtly casting myself in a more noble light—my friend's response grabbed my attention and brought me up short.

In the gospels, Jesus' followers are referred to as disciples—students who have given up everything to understand his teaching and learn his ways. And the call of Jesus is clear and uncompromising as demonstrated in Matthew’s account: Then Jesus said to his disciples,  Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24 – NIV)

That’s quite a syllabus for Following Jesus 101! And Apostle Peter, in his first letter summarizes the call of a disciple of Jesus with the word, holy. In 1 Peter 1:15-16 he says: But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

As I consider the words of Jesus and Peter, I have a real desire to say yes again to the call of God on my life. I am convinced that the way of Jesus is the way of life and light. And the fact is, I said yes to Jesus as a very young man—a child even— and have sought to follow Him faithfully throughout my life, as I am sure many of you reading this article have. But truthfully, much as in my early school days, at times I find myself lacking in zeal (to use the converse of Paul’s phrase in Romans 12:11), and lagging in my efforts to follow Jesus as He has called me to and as I desire to.

Thus, my friend’s words ring true: Like most of you, I am trying to follow Jesus—but not as consistently as I would like, nor as He requires. What to do? Should I give up? Am I so far behind that I’m doomed to spiritual detention? Are the eternal grades already turned in so that there is no point in trying anymore? The answer is definitely not! We should never give up on following Jesus, seeking to live the lives of holy love to which He has called us.

First, it’s not all up to us. Jesus not only calls us, but also promises to be with us, and has given us himself by his Spirit. In his gospel, John recounts Jesus’ words to his disciples near the end of his earthly ministry: If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:15–18 NIV)

And not only do we have the greatest tutor ever in the Spirit of Jesus, but Paul also assures us that, he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, (Philippians 1:6 NIV). What an incredible, motivating promise!

Second, we have each other! While we are called by Jesus individually, we are required to work together. This is a group project, where we all do our part to support each other through good times and bad. Again, the words of the Apostle Paul are an encouragement to us: But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:24–27 NIV)

Finally, God is merciful! While his holy requirements are firm and the call of Jesus is clear, he is sensitive to our weaknesses. God is more than a distant creator, he has revealed himself as our loving Father. And Jesus is both our savior-king and our brother. As the psalmist says: As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13–14 NIV)

In his first letter, the Apostle John both exhorts and encourages us this way: My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1–2 NIV)

As we head into fall and continue in the school of discipleship, let us all keep trying to follow Jesus, knowing that he is more committed to our success than we are. And let us heed the words of Hebrews where the writer says: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24–25 NIV)

—Pastor Scott


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