Names are something that have had different meanings all through history. Unfortunately, we live in an age when names are rather neglected parts of our existence. We have come to a place in time when names are almost second-thoughts. But in different ages names meant a great deal. At some points in time they were closely guarded, because it was believe that to know someone’s true name was to have power over them. At other points in history, names were very carefully considered because it was believe that names had the power to change or influence the kind of person a child would become. At still other points in history, a person’s true name was not given to them until their character had revealed itself in puberty or adulthood. In fact, it was not uncommon in some periods of history for people to have more than one name throughout their lives.
As we continue our journey this week though chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, looking at “those who overcome”, we will come to a promise from Jesus to give us new names, names only known to Jesus and the individual. While there have been many attempts over the centuries to explain and understand this new name, I have always taken a rather simplistic view of the matter: Jesus knows me better even than I do. He knows me, not in my fallen, sinful state, but in the redeemed, purified, justified state that will be “me” when I spend eternity with him in heaven. That new “me” will need a new name, a name that identifies me not as the broken person I am now, but as the redeemed son of God that I will be then. That new name will embody everything God intended me to be when he breathed me into creation.
I think that is pretty cool.
In Luke 9:25, Jesus asks his disciples a very pointed question. He asks: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” That’s the NIV translation. The Living Bible puts it this way: “and what profit is there in gaining the whole world when it means forfeiting one’s self?” Jesus asks this question on the tail end of one of the many times that he talks about the cost of following him. Luke 9 specifically talks about two of those costs: taking up your cross daily to follow Jesus and losing our life for Jesus’ sake in order to find life.
By asking this question, Jesus cuts to the very heart of the issue we humans have when considering the costs of following Jesus: is it worth it? Is having Jesus interfere with our lives worth it? Is following Jesus on mission worth it? Is becoming more like Jesus worth it? Is sharing our faith journey with other followers worth the inherent risk that comes with close relationships? Is being a slave to Jesus worth the cost of our independence?
It would seem much more fulfilling, much more beneficial and much more “rewarding” to chase after the things that provide us with more immediate and earthly benefits. Good jobs, good standing with friends/family, financial comfort, a nice home, a reliable car, etc. But Jesus puts all of those things in a much different light with this question. If you were to gain the whole world, everything this life has to offer (and certainly our world now has far more on offer than the world of Jesus’ day did), for the fleeting time that we spend on this world but at the cost of your very self and your eternal soul, is that worth it? Is the stuff of this world worth the cost of your values, your ethics, your personality, your self-respect?
I would challenge our thinking in a different way in this matter as well. When we consider the cost of following Jesus (and perhaps consider the costs too high), I would propose that we are making the automatic assumption that there are no or very few rewards that come with the following. That following Jesus is nothing but a one-way street of sacrifice, slavery, sorrow and loneliness, that is all about costs flowing from us to Jesus, that there is no return from Jesus to us.
Of course there is the immediate response to that assumption, that Jesus has already put out more than we ever will in terms of cost when he lived and died for us. But if we put that assumption aside and consider it closely, Biblically, I think we will find that indeed there are rewards and benefits to us, in the here and now, when we follow Jesus.
It is those benefits that we are going to explore this week as we wrap up the sermon series Fan or Follower.
See you Sunday.
I have made the point on a couple of occasions that Christianity is not a religion. To some of you, that statement may seem a bit off, even a bit heretical. But I assure you, you will find no scriptural support for the view that Christianity is a religion. Religion is a man-made construct, the forms and rituals in which we express beliefs, traditions or dogmas. From the time of early Hebrew worship, God struggled to help his people understand that their worship of him was not about ritual; it is about the state, the humbleness and the motivations of their heart.
Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Psalm 51:16-17 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
1 Samuel 15:22 But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
Again and again through scripture, God tells us that his delight is not in sacrifices, but in a heart and mind that are more and more aligning themselves with God’s ways. Obedience to God’s law, meekness in light of God’s majesty, praise in light of God’s glory. Those are the things that are pleasing to God.
The New Testament makes this even clearer. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3;18)
So Christianity is not a religion, it is a life-transforming faith in Jesus Christ. I asked this question in my sermon two weeks ago: “If you are not fishing, are you really following?” in reference to Jesus’ call to Peter and Andrew, that he would make them fish for people. That if we are following Jesus then we are following him on mission. I think I could just as easily say that if you are following Jesus then you must be more and more conformed to the image of Christ.
Galatians 5 outlines for us the fruit of the Spirit, fruit that should be more and more evident as we follow Jesus more deeply. Paul proclaims, in Ephesians 4:17-24, that we are to put off the old ways of life and put on the new life that is made in the likeness of God.
Our faith is a transformative faith, not an empty religion. A follower is constantly striving for less of themselves, and more of Christ.
When you look in the mirror, who do you see? Yourself or Christ.
I think we can all agree that Jesus says some pretty shocking things throughout his time of ministry on the earth. Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the poor in spirit…Whoever wants to be first must be last…Go, sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor…Woe to you Pharisees, you hypocrites…Follow me and I will make you fish for people…
I could go on, and I’m pretty sure you could add your own to the list, things that have stood out to you as pretty shocking as you read them for the first time…or perhaps were still socking even reading them for the tenth time.
I could be wrong about this, but I think that some of his most shocking statements were made to people who wanted to follow him, who came to him and asked to follow. You see, in Jesus’ day, Rabbis took applicants for positions as their students, and the recruitment process was brutal. Applicants were told to recite whole books of the Old Testament (can you imagine reciting the book of Numbers from memory!?!?!?), or answer questions about obscure people or figures in the scriptures.
So it made some sense that people who came to Jesus asking to be his disciples met some pretty strict questioning…but it was not the kind of questioning that they were expecting. More often than not Jesus questioned these potential followers, not about their memorization techniques or how faithfully they followed the rules of the Jewish religious system, but about whether they were willing to accept the cost of following him.
He said things like: From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. (Luke 12:52-53)
Or: Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39), and then there’s the story of the three men who desire to follow Jesus and the rebuttles each of them received (from Luke 9)
In each of those instances, the unasked question Jesus puts forward is: “Can you handle the cost of following me?” We are under a great delusion if we think that following Jesus means simply saying a prayer for Jesus to “come into my heart” and that’s the whole deal. No where in the Gospels do we see this picture modeled by Jesus. In fact, we see the opposite. We see Jesus saying: you want to follow me? Fine, but it will cost you your comfort, your family, your freedom, your possessions, possibly even your life. That’s the cost. Anyone can come, but come counting the cost.
The clearest place that Jesus lays this out is in Luke 14:25-34. Those are the nine verses we are going to dig into on Sunday as we explore what it costs to be a follower of Jesus. Read those words of Christ over and consider what he is saying.
If you are anything like me, you have a distinct and deeply embedded definition that comes to mind when someone says the word “mission”. Truthfully, if you grew up in the 80’s like I did, you may have two definitions: the one you got from 80’s action flicks and the one you got from church. The 80’s action flick definition usually had to do with large guns, a larger than life hero and going up against impossible odds.
It’s the church oriented definition of mission that I’m thinking about today…and that particular kind of mission seemed distinctly less exciting or glamorous than the ones depicted in 1980 action films! For me, growing up, Christian mission was something that someone else did, usually somewhere else in the world or in the dingy back alleys of the inner city. Mission was something that someone was “sent away” to do. There was a distinct line drawn in my church teaching between mission and evangelism. Mission happened “cross-culturally” or in another country, and evangelism is what Christians “at home” engaged in.
What if that definition is wrong? When I joined the EMCC back in 2003, it was amid growing conversation among evangelicals that we had gotten it wrong over the past couple of hundred years in drawing this distinction between those who went on mission and the rest of us Christian folk. That somehow going on mission was some special calling that the rest of us were excused from. Then our culture began to change. Christian values began to slip, taking a back seat to socialist agendas and the concerns of liberal minorities. Suddenly, people were not walking into churches looking for God…in fact, people stopped walking into churches altogether. Even more disturbing, people began to walk OUT of the church in droves.
Why? Because North American Christianity had become nothing more than empty shell religiosity for many, many people…all form and no substance; all tradition and no experience. Suddenly, the church found itself having to justify its existence and value. The “seeker sensitive” movement grew out of this, trying to discover and implement changes that would draw people back to the church, scratching their spiritual itch so to speak and then sneak Jesus in along the way.
This movement ultimately failed, because it created and fed nothing more than a consumeristic group of Christians who walked away as soon as something happened they didn’t like.
In the midst of all of this, a curious thing was happening on the edges of evangelical Christianity. The word “mission” began to be used in a different way. It was no longer used to describe men and women who served Jesus on other continents. Instead, it began to be used to talk about how all Christians should follow Jesus, wherever they are. Suddenly mission fields were no longer talked about just as remote pieces of jungle in Africa, but came to describe the local neighbourhood where any Christian lived, or the place where Christians worked or the coffee shop where Christians gathered to sip hot beverages.
It’s like the blinders had suddenly come off and North American Christianity began to realize that the Great Commission had been offloaded onto the “professionals” (at home and abroad) while the average, every-day Christian lazily coasted their way through their spiritual lives. The leaders in denominations and churches began to see that the church could not longer be filled with observers who merely showed up on Sundays to listen to their favourite songs and hear an entertaining message. If the church was to survive in this increasingly un-Christian culture, then the church needed to start being the church: it needed to start being gatherings of committed Jesus-followers who were cooking full tilt boogie for the glory, honour and proclamation of the great name of Jesus Christ. (If you got that reference to the helicopter movie “Thunder
The only way to do that is to teach people not to be enthusiastic admirers of Jesus (fans), but to be disciples of Jesus; followers of Jesus; and not just follower of Jesus, but followers who are passionate about making more followers of Jesus…of making disciples who makes disciples, who make disciples. That’s been the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada’s mantra for the past decade as it has awakened to this renewed vision of what the church needs to be about.
As we journey further in our sermon series “Fan or Follower”, we are going to explore the truth that a follower of Jesus is following Jesus somewhere, namely on mission. The really critical part of that discussion is that the mission can’t be my mission, it has to be Jesus’ mission. Remember when we started into this thing, I mentioned that Jesus only calls us to believe in him about 5 times in the gospels, but he calls us to follow him about twenty times…and we have to be following him somewhere. That somewhere is our mission.
Take some time before Sunday to ponder John 12:26. See you Sunday!
Good Friday afternoon my friends! We are beginning a couple of new journeys this year at PEMC. We launched the new Bible Challenge for 2015, a year-long journey through the New Testament. I mentioned already that I am not going to be blogging as much as I did last year, and the focus of these ramblings will be a bit different. I am going to blog Fridays and Tuesdays, and the focus of those blogs will be the message that I am going to bring Sunday morning. Fridays will give you an introduction to the themes and scriptures coming up on Sunday morning, with a question or two to get you thinking. Then Tuesdays blogs will be dedicated to reviewing the message’s main points and giving some questions for you to ponder or maybe journal about.
Before I go any further, I must say that this blogging format is not my brainchild. In fact, it is the format used by my friend Andrew Mills, who pastors the EMC church in Plattsville. So I give him kudos for that.
This Sunday we are beginning a new series called: Fan or Follower. This past year, I picked up a book by Kyle Idleman called Not a Fan, and in the book he draws some distinctions between what it means to be a follower of Jesus versus being just a fan of Jesus. That book really got me thinking, and that thinking has lead to this sermon series.
Over the whole of the series, I’m going to be challenging you to answer this question: Are you a fan or a follower of Jesus Christ? I know it’s a bit unfair to ask you that question out of the context of the series, but that question is the heart of what I’m going to be preaching on for the next 8 weeks or so. We will explore what it means to be a follower. We will explore the costs and the blessings of being a follower. We will talk about following in community, among many other things. Each week, I will draw a distinction between a fan and being a follower.
We will also be tying into something the EMCC has developed called: “The 7-fold way of following Jesus” (you can visit here for more information on that).
“Follow me”. Jesus uses those words about 20 times in the gospels. What do those words mean to you?