Following Jesus (Jon Fryer)

So this guy comes up to Jesus and he says “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go”. Jesus looks at him, and knows what he really wants from life, and said “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but if you follow me, you won’t have anywhere to live”… and the man goes away sad.

Jesus says to another guy “You, come and follow me!”, but the man says “Lord, I’m only young… let me wait until I’m older and I don’t have to do as my family say, and I’ve made some money and I’ve got enough stashed away to get by, and then I’ll come and follow you”

Another guy says to Jesus “Teacher, what good things do I have to do to get eternal life?” Jesus says, “Obey the commandments” and the guy says “Which ones?”, and Jesus says “Do not murder, don’t sleep around, do not steal, do not lie, obey your parents, and love your neighbour.” The guy says “I’ve kept all of those”, and he’s telling the truth, ‘cos he’s a good guy, but Jesus sees what is really important to him and says “There’s one other thing you need to do: Sell everything that you own and give the money to the poor, and then come, follow me.” … and the man went away sad, because he was very rich.

All of these guys refuse to follow Jesus, because they are not willing to pay the cost. They are not willing to trust Jesus to be in control and lead them. They are not able to let go of the things that they are important to them, whether that is money, or a nice home, or a good job. Now saving the world is an expensive business – it cost Jesus everything.

Take up your cross...Two challenges: Firstly, for you guys who say that you want to follow Jesus, the challenge to you is: is that actually true? Do you really want to follow him?

Listen to this:

'Jesus said: If anyone wants to become my follower, let them deny themselves, and take up their cross daily, and follow me.
Jesus said: If anyone wants to be my disciple, they must be prepared to die for me, every day.

Jesus said: If anyone wishes to follow me, they must put down their own desires and ambitions and selfish wants every moment of their lives.

Jesus said: Anyone who says that they believe in me but do not give up their own comfort when I call them to pray has no part in me.

Jesus said: Anyone who says that they trust me, but do not lift up the broken can not be my disciple.

Jesus said: Anyone who values time with the TV or their food or their Xbox more than time with me does not know me, or my Father.

…And on hearing this many of Jesus’ disciples turned back, and no longer went about with him.'

Jesus said “Does this offend you? Remember, the Spirit gives life, but the flesh, the things of this world, are nothing but a stinking corpse. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him”

Do you still want to follow him? Are you willing to give up the things that are important to you, in order to do the things that are important to him?

One of the things that is important to most of us in the West is security – and if you look at the things that the men in the story were worried about, they all come down to security – I want to know where I will live, I want to know where we are going, I want to make sure my family will support me, I want to make sure that I can support them, I want to make sure that I’ve got enough cash in the bank to cope with anything that the world throws at me, I want to be in control of my life. In the West we call these things wise, we call it prudent, we expect people to make sure that they do these things. We base our society on being secure. Here’s the news for you: Jesus doesn’t. Jesus expects you to take risks. He expects you to risk your reputation. He expects you to risk your security. He expects you to take the risk of trusting Him to know what He is doing. He expects you to follow the Holy Spirit wherever He takes you – the Bible says that you can’t tell where the wind is going or what it will do next, and it is the same with people who follow the Spirit – you never know where He will take you next. If you are following Jesus then your friends should be writing your addresses in pencil, ‘cos they never know where you are going to be next. Now the good news: Wherever Jesus asks you to follow, He will look after you. Whenever He leads you through a difficult place, if you look back, all you will see is His goodness. You will find that however rough it gets, He was carrying you all along. ‘Cos what the world calls ‘security’, what the world calls ‘safe’, isn’t.

Jesus said: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Every thing you see around you, all of the things that we put our trust in here in the West are fragile. They can be taken away from you in an instant. Our society is so fragile. Some of you will be old enough to remember Yugoslavia, a nice civilised European country, a bit like Wales. And then one day, suddenly this nice quiet holiday resort next door is tearing itself apart in civil war, and places just like your town were now home to children with machine guns desperately holding off the death squads coming to kill them because they are a different race or religion. If that ever happened here, how would your job or your cash or your Xbox save you? The one who dies with the most toys is still dead. Everything around us is fragile, and we don’t like to think about that. We put our trust in America to keep the world peace, just as people trusted the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day, but where is the Roman Empire now? The anthropologists tell us that you can tell an Empire is dying, that a society is sick, by three signs: The young are violent. The adults are confused. There are no elders. Read the papers and you see these things – we are living in the last decades of the American Empire. Everything you see around you will one day be swept away in fire, it will fall to dust and blow away, because this world is as temporary as a tent in a hurricane and it is passing away. The only things that will be left, the only strong things, are the things that Jesus gives – these are the only things that will last. This world has nothing for you – it might seem to have everything that you want, but it has nothing that you really need. When his other followers were leaving him saying “This teaching is too hard”, Jesus asked his disciples “Do you want to leave me too?” but Peter asks Him “Lord, where on earth could we possibly go? Only you have the words of eternal life, only you have the things that will last”. Following Jesus is the only security.

So that’s my first challenge – what are you putting your trust in? Are you determined to stay here in the beliefs of western society, to stay in the mundane world, getting a normal job, with a normal life devoted to making the most cash and getting the nicest house and the newest car… or are you prepared to take a risk and follow Jesus on the great adventure wherever he would take you? You can’t do both – one is following, and the other is just staying where you are, and you can’t kid yourself otherwise.

OK, next challenge.

Jesus said: “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.” A ploughman who does not follow his course but looks back leaves wobbly furrows in the field – you can’t stay on the straight and narrow if you don’t look forwards. More importantly, you might hit a stone and break the blade, and in Jesus day the plough with an iron blade was state of the art technology, really expensive, and often half a dozen farms would band together just to afford one – you don’t drive your new Ferrari at 90mph while looking out of the back window! Are you following Jesus and looking forward to see what he wants you to do next, or are you looking backwards?

The writer to the Hebrews said of the great men and women of faith in the Bible that “they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one.”

Quite a lot of Christians when they find themselves in a rough place look back to where they used to be, to the good times that they used to have at their old church, or to how good it was when they first became a Christian. The thing is, when you stand there looking back, Jesus carries on moving, and you’ve stopped following. Rather than moving through the bad place to where Jesus is taking you, you’ve chosen to stay in the bad place for longer! Or worse, you’ve decided to stop following altogether in order to try and get back there… but life isn’t like that – its like free running, you have to go forwards and you can’t ever go back.

Other followers of Jesus keep looking back at bad things. They say to Jesus “I can’t go to the place where you are going ‘cos they did this to me” or “I can’t follow you there because this happened” They use what happened in the past as an excuse to not follow now. They hold onto the things that hurt them, which is the opposite of forgiveness. I’ve said it before, but if you hold on tightly to anything, how can you receive from Jesus? Your hands are clenched. To receive you need to let go, and open your hands. We do it when we pray. The hardest things to let go of are things that happened in our past. Many Christians suffer from things that happened to them in the past that they simply can not let go of in order to move forward. They believe, subconsciously or otherwise, that ‘It’s in the past and can’t be changed, this is who I am now’. Jesus however wants you to follow him out of the past and into the future He has planned for you. Jesus says ‘You must be born again.’ The past has to be not erased, but released into service for God. When Jesus said this to Nicodemus, Nicodemus asked ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he can not enter the womb a second time to be born!’ This is actually one of the most sensible questions anyone ever asked Jesus. Nicodemus knew from a human point of view that the past is the past and can not be changed, but God’s grace is not limited by time.

When Moses asks God who He is, God said three words in Hebrew: eyheh asher eyheh. With these three words God said two things. Firstly He said ‘I AM WHO I AM’. God IS, at all times and in all places, and therefore God can deal with anything, anywhere, anywhen.

Secondly, He said ‘I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE’. God is our future, in whom we put our hope and whom we trust for our security. The one thing He never says is ‘I WAS’. God is never a has-been, and to God nothing is ever past or unreachable. If there are problems in your past then, yes, they may be impossible for you to fix, but don’t let them poison you – rather, give them to God, ‘cos He wants your whole life, even the parts in the past, and even the parts before you met Him; nothing is ever too late with God – there is always the second time, the second chance – you must be born again!

Sometime it seems that your problems, whatever they are, have been with you so long that if you let God deal with them then part of you would be missing, that you wouldn’t be you anymore, but Satan is lying to you - God says that to follow Him you have to give up all of your problems to Him. Your problems are not your identity. Your grudges and your history are not your identity. Your hurt is NOT who you are. God is our identity, and who we really are is found only in Him, and you’re going to hurt until you find out who you really are, by following Him, and Him alone.

The hardest person of all to forgive is ourselves, at least for most of us. Far too often you hear Christians say ‘You don’t know what I’m like on the inside…’ – yes I do. In 1 Cor 6;18 it tells us that all sin is outside of us. You may say ‘My life is so crap, how can God possibly love me?’, but let me tell you right now that crap washes off, and so does everything in the past, because it is all on the outside. Every time that you look in the mirror you may see someone ugly, but in 1 Corinthians it tells us that mirrors are just distorted glass, and only through God can we see ourselves clearly. So yes, I do know what you are like on the inside, ‘cos on the inside you are still the perfect, beautiful person that God created you to be, and everything else will eventually wash off. Song of Songs 6;10 says ‘ Who is this that appears like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, majestic as the stars in procession?’ – that is how God sees you, and this is how we need to learn to see ourselves and to see each other. On the outside you might look crap, but on the inside, on the inside we shine.

The one thing that I know, the one thing of which I am absolutely certain, is that God loves you. He loves you! He loves you, and He loves you, and He loves you, and God help me, sometimes He even loves me! Because of this, nothing is impossible, and the things that seem so huge to us can be dealt with easily by God if you choose to let Him – ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ – choose to forgive, to let go of your hurt, to stop looking to the past, and God will give lead you forward out of this place where it is always winter and never Christmas, and onto new places in His Summer Kingdom that you have never even dreamed of…

So the second challenge – are you following, or are choosing to stay in the past rather than moving forward? Following Jesus is about looking to who you can be, rather than who you were, so where do you get your identity – by looking to the past, or from following Jesus?

Last thing – we never follow Jesus on our own, even if it sometimes seems like it - we all travel together on the Way… so pray for one another.

Jesus says: Follow me, and I will make you the salvation of men…

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