Monday, November 8, 2010

Follow Me

Jesus walked into my cube today. He said, “Follow me.” I thought about the other times He spoke those words. In those days He still walked the earth in physical form. Peter and John dropped their fishing nets and immediately went with Jesus. They did not know where He was going. They did not ask questions. They left their father behind to continue the family business. As far as I could tell from reading God’s Word, these men forsook everything and followed Jesus. Later on Peter demanded from Jesus reparations due him for leaving everything behind. He wanted to know, ‘what’s in it for me?’ Jesus replied, “For the kingdom of God’s sake, you’ll get more in this life, and eternal life in the next world.”

Matthew left his job as tax collector. No questions asked. No knowledge of the future. Like Peter and John, he may not have ever seen or heard of Jesus before now. I have the luxury of God’s Word to tell me all that happened next. What about me though? I sit here pondering my answer. I know where Jesus went after He called His disciples. I know what He did, said, thought, felt, and ultimately endured. I know a little bit about what He does today but that is a rather sketchy. If I follow Him, I will do it blindly, just like those first men. There is one major difference however.

Jesus picked these guys up and remained for the most part in familiar territory. He met them at the Sea of Galilee. The first places they visited together were the familiar Galileean synagogues and then the surrounding mountains. The men probably felt comfortable in these places. Maybe they didn’t know where Jesus was going or what He was doing, but they certainly knew where they were. I don’t know what questions went through their minds when Jesus said, “Follow me.” But I do know they didn’t have to worry about hopping on a plane, getting in a car, taking a train, checking email and phone messages, or any other modern string like we have. They just dropped their nets and left their father. We don’t even know if they said goodbye. We can surmise that by following Jesus, they knew that in the short term at least, they weren’t going very far.

I’m not too worried about where He would lead me. I’ve been all around the world, eaten lots of strange food, slept in some pretty nasty places. I’m sure there’s worse but that doesn’t really phase me. Like those men, I have a job and family. Jesus said, “If you don’t hate your family and your own life, then take up your cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple.” I think it all comes down to one simple question. The question is simple because the situation is simple. If I really leave everything behind, all I have left is Jesus Himself and some level of faith and trust that He will do everything He says. It would be like climbing a sturdy tree, crawling out on a main branch, hanging onto a limb, grasping a twig, then finding all that’s left are filaments of carbon nanotubes. They are invisible to the naked eye. Science tells me they are stronger than steel. But I’m about to plummet and cannot see or sense in any other tangible way something to grab. Like Peter in the middle of the sea, I start to see the waves even though Jesus is standing right in from of me. Common sense says that if I grab for Him, we both go under. Jesus chided Peter for his doubt and little faith.

Right now Jesus knows what I am thinking. He hasn’t said another word since, “Follow me.” No coercion. I wonder if He ever called anyone else like that and they didn’t follow. God’s Word does not say. But it does talk about the many who left Jesus because they were offended by Him. They would not forsake their religion and tradition which told them how to get to God. Jesus said He was the only way.

Can I get to God and still continue on my current path? Is He in my office? Is He where I work? Does He have any interests here such that if I arose and followed, He would remain in this familiar place? What would He have me to do? What would He do while I followed? Would I be like the disciples and ask a lot of dumb questions? Would I be so thick-headed to rarely get the point of what Jesus was saying and doing such that He had to explain most everything twice to me, once in a parable and then again in plain language? Then He would teach the same thing all over again the next day and for the next three and a half years. Even after His resurrection some of them still doubted. It seems like they really didn’t get Jesus until He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Ghost. Suddenly these men were bold. God did all things through them. They took credit for nothing, still forsaking all, still hating their own lives, still taking their crosses and following Jesus. But how did they recognize Him and follow Him now that they could not walk in His footsteps? How did they know where to go and what to say?

Jesus said He filled me with His Holy Spirit too. So why am I so different from the post-resurrection disciples? Why do I feel like I’m still Peter sinking fast?

What compelled these men to follow Jesus in the first place? Why did they stick with Him? At one point they all forsook Him. But after that Holy Ghost filling it seems like they never turned back. But some others did. Ananias, Sophira, Demas, are infamous examples. Have I blown it so badly that I’m like one of them? Or what about the countless thousands who God saved and filled with the Holy Ghost in those early days. I never read about them again. Were they as bold as Peter and John? Did they go on to be like Paul in other parts of the world? Did God choose not to record their acts in His Word but only in His books of judgment? Or were they like me – unsure, questioning, always studying, hoping I’m doing it right, groping forward, falling backward, wondering if God is really there, if I’m really filled with the Spirit, if Jesus will really do more than could be recorded in books which the world could not contain?

Are these the questions of a faithless man? Unconvinced? Fearful? Pragmatic? All the above and very confused at times. And all the while Jesus stands there waiting for my answer. I start to wonder if His patience will run low and He will walk away, never to ask again, never to hear a yes or no from me, not available to answer some clarifying questions. As a father, my patience is short and I force my children to reckon with me. They always get the choice to answer or clarify. They always receive a list of consequences depending upon their ultimate choice. That doesn’t seem like Jesus at all. Sometimes His choices are black and white. Many times I sense gray, left to myself to decide with no compelling evidence to sway me either way. Just like the question before me now. While the answer may be simple, there is no compelling reason to decide either way. I’m stuck grasping, gasping, failing, again.

Why did He make this question so hard? It feels like the Groundhog Day of final exams. I keep getting the question over and over until I answer it. Who knows what will happen next depending upon my answer. Am I afraid of the answer itself? Is it wise to take this long to answer? Maybe if I ignore Him He will just go away. What if I try to change the subject to stall for time? What would we talk about? What could possibly interest Him? He makes me so uncomfortable just standing there. Can’t He come back tomorrow, leave a message, put it in an email instead? Get with the 21st century? Shouldn’t He check with my wife and kids first? My mom would certainly have an opinion about it.

Maybe all He expects is an answer of affirmation but not actual commitment at this time. Sure, I’m willing to go. But since you don’t seem to be in any hurry I guess we don’t have to leave right now. I can follow later. There, that feels much better. I took the pledge, signed the card, showed up for attendance. Now I can get back to whatever I was doing before this whole dissertation came to my mind, obviously something of much greater than importance than following Jesus. Couldn’t He tell that I was busy? Doesn’t He know that it’s rude to interrupt? Why can’t people respect my time and space? Hey, wait a minute! Where are you going?

“Many who say to me, Lord, Lord….”

“Do ya know me Bert? Ha ha! Whaddaya know about that Bert? My mouth’s bleedin’. My mouth’s bleedin’! Merry Christmas!”

“Unless I see the nailprints in his hands, and his side, I won’t believe.”

Take up your cross and follow me. A dead man has no claim to anything. Being dead makes it easy to forsake all. Nothing matters to a dead person. The instant you revive who do you see? That is the one you will follow. When Jesus died, He left it all behind – family, friends, familiarity. That’s what He brings to us in the new life – nothing but Himself. He is not standing here with an offer of door #1, #2, or #3. He is the door. He is on the other side of the door. There has to be more to the exclusivity of Jesus. After all He is King of kings, Lord of lords, creator God of the universe. Everything is His to give liberally as He wants to . Why oh why do I seem to want all the goodies and not the giver? Just Him and for ever after just let Him dish out what He wants to in order to accomplish His purposes with me. Go ahead, surprise me Jesus. If it has to be just you I follow, then let there be a few surprises along the way okay?

Apparently that was not the answer He was looking for. He’s still standing there. At least tell me a parable or something. Explain it to me this call to follow you. Right now? Are there any rest breaks? Vacation? What is your preferred mode of transportation? I want to get around like Philip. He was caught up in the Spirit and somehow just transported around from place to place, materializing like some Star Trek officer.

It’s a day later and He’s still standing there and I’m still sitting here. This is worse than the Cold War. At least bring me a crisis so I can take some definite action. The call to “follow me” just doesn’t get the creative juices flowing, doesn’t pump my adrenaline. There is no urgency in His voice. No hinting gleam in His eye that some consequence awaits. No wink wink, nod nod. It’s not even a dangling participle, something I can grammatically correct. It’s a short sentence, clear, concise, coherent. I understand it perfectly. Hard as I try to add to, take away, or modify it, the simple meaning is clear. Follow me. Yea, and then what? Is this a contest of wills? Trying to see who’s fencepost is wider? While I totter from side to side, Jesus is perfectly still as if there is no precarious perch at all. He is quite well balanced on a wide plain, farther than the eye can see. Is there no tipping point with Him? Where’s the center of gravity, the fulcrum, the end of the lever? Maybe if He moves the perspective changes and with it everything else. What if I move Him? Rush Him just a bit to make Him flinch? Would that change His tune? I try it and it’s like I pass right through Him. He does not move. Is He real? A ghost? Or is He really fast, moving out of my way and then right back, imperceptible to my eyes? None of these seem fair. He has the Star Trek beam thing and I don’t.

There’s just no reckoning with Him on this plane. I’m wondering if He even knows what I am writing or thinking. Probably does. Problem is, I don’t know what He is thinking. This field is not fair. How do I change the game? Is that even possible? Let me ask Him whether He would consider changing it.

Is He thinking about it? No word. Still no word. I need a potty break. Time out. Be right back. I check all my room sensors – pressure? No movement; camera? Stood there the whole time; sound bug? Not a peep. At least He blinked. I am beginning to think that this is entirely up to me. Nothing happens until I decide one way or the other. Perfect Newtonian physics law #1, 2, and 3 all in one. He won’t move until I move first. He won’t move. I’m quickly deteriorating. Is the entropy taking me to the chaos of my own life or the order of His? Do I trust Einstein or Hawking for that one? No, no, no. This is not a science test. And I never took a class in the spiritual things. Although I remember a girl once in high school who was into metaphysics. That still sounds weird. A contradiction. But that’s almost what is going on here. Nothing seems to adhere to the rules with Jesus around. Everything is a contradiction to what I know and believe.

Therefore, I would love for Him to just strip all that preconceived stuff from my brain. Help me to unlearn all the wrong things. Purge the bad thoughts. In with the good air, out with the bad. C’mon breathe stupid breathe! You forgot to breathe! I seem to recall something about being transformed by the renewing of one’s mind. Is that what this is all about? Do I do that first and then answer? He won’t say. Another stupidly injected prerequisite on my part. Sorry. This is getting old.

Follow me. Paul said that. Follow me as I follow Jesus Christ. Nervy guy. How did he figure it out? Hey, is there anybody out there? Anyone at all who has done this? What was it like? What did you say in reply? What happened next? What did Jesus do? How about you? Was your experience the same? No? That doesn’t sound like what happened to you either?

I wonder if I can call this a tie. How about a truce, a cease-fire, a draw? What do we have to do here Jesus to make this a win-win? Anything to sweeten the pot? Do I need to cut costs somewhere? Add a few features? What about you? Here I am back at Peter’s question. Suppose I follow you. What’s in it for me? It really drives me nuts to get back to the same point after a thousand words. Wasted breath. Tired fingers. Taxed grey matter. I haven’t the energy to even burn off the frustration. No desire to even sleep on it. And it just won’t go away if ignored. Any normal person would have given up long ago. How can he stand there like a statue just waiting for me? So calm. Serene. His face is hard to describe because it changes appearance constantly yet remains constantly the same.

Folks talk like that when they look at the Mona Lisa. But this is even more. I’m looking into the face of the eternal Son of God. Not at. Into. Kinda through. It’s a face of love. Then it’s a face of fire. Then the face of a lamb. An innocent lamb. The a face as blue as the sky, yet full of storm clouds one moment, wispy clouds of spring the next. Each face is indescribably pleasant. No fear there. No expression of anger, judgment, or wrath. Even that face of fire is just the warm glow of a wintry hearth or a campfire surrounded by friends. That’s the one that gets to me. He beckons me to sit by Him and join the silent mates. They look at one another. They look at Him. Each one knows. They know. I can see it in their eyes. Their expressions all read the same. We’re all one here.

Wait, what’s this vision? A campfire on the other side? Is that what you saw? No? A beachhouse with those same people gathered? A crowded city street where they’re gathered around silently watching a sidewalk chalk artist? But you all see the same people, just in different places at different times? I don’t get it. But they are all happy. Wouldn’t have it any other way. None of them are bored, scared, confused, or regretful. None of them look the other way. They all look at one another and yet at the same time they all look at Jesus. One. The simplicity is beautiful. It draws me. Entices me.

Is that the look Jesus gave to Peter, Andrew, John, and the rest when He said, “Follow me?” Did they look into His eyes when He called? Or did they just hear His voice, not yet taking their eyes off their nets, change tables, or tents? Was His voice just as tender as those eyes? He only asked me once. He only asked them once. Do they remember His voice still? Do I? Wait a minute and let me bring it back. He said I should know His voice because I am His sheep. It should ring distinctive, unique, and clear above any other voice or noise I hear. Did it come through like that? Definitely. I would not have spent two-thousand words on it otherwise. If you are reading this I hope you just skimmed to this point to read the end. I hope you answered Jesus way back in the beginning. I hope you did not have to live through all my pain added to your own. I certainly would not want to endure your story of getting to “yes” with Jesus. I just want to know that you got there.

I just joined the campfire. Now I’m looking at the ones in the circle and we’re all looking at Jesus. Not even paying attention to you anymore. Suddenly it’s just me and Jesus. I no longer see outside. The door is closed. It’s a Matrix kind of thing. I went through the door with Jesus. The door is no longer there. I don’t even have to turn around to check. I’m following Jesus. I can see His form surrounding me and sense His presence within me. My body does not even look the same. There is this translucent aura around me. I’m not following Jesus behind Him watching every step, pausing every so often to see where He is and where He is headed. I’m not walking by His side and certainly not in front. And I’m definitely not walking on that sandy beach with just the one set of footprints that are really His. It’s still me. It’s still Him. We are one. My size-11’s are His. His sandals are mine. We fit into one another perfectly, yet I only see Him. That we may be One and I may behold His glory. Follow me.

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