I know folks who were turned off by bad experiences in church, but I don’t know anyone who walked away from a true relationship with Christ.
I am happy with where I am now, professionally. I absolutely love teaching college students and exploring my research ideas. My schedule is such that most mornings, I’m able to take my younger kids to school, and I even have time to run errands in the middle of the day now & then. I didn’t land my dream job overnight, though; my current success came at a large personal cost. In total, I spent about 10 years of my life in college, and I’m still paying off loans from grad school. I didn’t watch TV for about four years, because I needed every moment of free time in the evenings to study and write. I tried not to miss any big events, but some play time with my kids was also sacrificed during those years when I needed to work late or study.
All that is to say: there’s a cost to be paid in pursuit of our life-goals. Honestly, the same could be said for our spiritual lives. We’ve been working on a new song for the worship team recently, and one of the lines says, “Take it all, take it all, my life in your hands.” Every time I sing those words, I’m reminded of what it costs to follow Jesus. It’s not about having an emotional experience at church or camp; it’s about letting Jesus have total control of every aspect of your life.
In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus had a very frank conversation with a large crowd of wannabe disciples. They wanted to come along for the ride, but he needed them to understand that following him would be costly. Verse 26 often gets misinterpreted as Jesus advocating that we should hate our parents and siblings, but that’s not what he’s saying. I believe what he’s trying to communicate is that we are to have so much dedication to him that our relationships with everyone else – and our view of ourselves – pale in comparison.
The question is: What are you willing to sacrifice? What amount of free time, financial resources, mental energy, and elbow grease are you willing to put on the line to follow Jesus? Following Jesus is truly rewarding, but like the earlier analogy of my job, it takes effort and commitment to bring it to fruition. Proverbs 20:25 (NLT) warns, “Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God and only later counting the cost.” If you are going to sing a song like “My Heart is Yours” or “I Surrender All,” then you need to mean it.
Just when I thought I was caught up, I realized I missed an entire week’s worth of posts. Here ya go …
Matthew 11 gives us a beautiful picture of the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. (Unfortunately, John the Baptist is tragically killed three chapters later by the order of a drunken king and his vindictive wife, but that’s a story for another day.) We know from the account in Luke 1 that Mary (Jesus’ mom) and Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mom) were related, but the Bible isn’t very clear about their exact relationship. I’ve always heard that Jesus and John were cousins, but perhaps that’s my southern upbringing where “cousin” can be a catch-all term for extended relatives. At any rate, they were related, to some extent or another.
I find it interesting that even though John probably grew up being around Jesus at family gatherings, annual Passover festivities, etc., and he had the distinct honor of baptizing Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry (Matthew 3), John the Baptist still had to come to terms with his own understanding of Jesus as Messiah.
In Matthew 11, we read that John the Baptist is in prison, but he has been receiving word about Jesus’ activities. In verses 2-3, John sends messengers to ask Jesus flat-out: Are you the One? Let that sink in a moment. John the Baptist needed clarification about whether or not Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.
There are no shortcuts to salvation, even for insiders. Jesus’ own family had to decide for themselves whether to accept him as Lord and Savior, and so do we. It doesn’t matter if your daddy and your granddaddy and your great-granddaddy were pastors; you still have to decide for yourself. It doesn’t matter if your mom’s best friend’s sister-in-law knows Billy Graham personally; you still have to decide for yourself. It doesn’t matter if you attended a private, religious school and memorized prayers and creeds; you still have to decide for yourself. It doesn’t matter if you were baptized as a baby or dedicated in a church as a child; you still have to decide for yourself. There are no shortcuts.
Faith is not inherited. Of course, we should pass down our testimonies, teach our children, involve them in church, and encourage them to develop their own relationships with the Lord, but that last step is not something that we can do FOR them. They have to decide for themselves, just as John the Baptist had to reconcile his own beliefs about Jesus. So, who is Jesus to you? Is he the Messiah, the long-awaited One?
(Sunday) I like shortcuts and avoiding traffic as much as any other driver, but when it comes to our faith-journeys, there is only one way via Jesus.
(Monday) Read Matthew 11:11 and let it sink deep into your heart. John the Baptist was a rock star of the faith, yet we can be also!
(Tuesday) You know the cliché about riding an influential person’s coattails to get ahead in life, but faith doesn’t work that way. You alone decide.
(Wednesday) Matt. 11:10 says that John the Baptist was the prophet mentioned in the Old Testament (Malachi), yet even he had to opt in & believe Jesus.
(Thursday) How do we convince ourselves that somehow we could ever be good enough (or at least not too bad) to win God’s approval? It’s all his grace!
(Friday) Whether you’re the first Christian in your family or you come from a long line of faith, the decision to follow Christ was yours to make.
(Saturday) It’s usually a passage reserved for Christmastime, but read Luke 1 and marvel at God’s strategic plan for Jesus & John the Baptist.
Think about your closest relationships. Who knows you better than anyone? What would it take for you to know God that intimately?
How would you describe your relationship with God? Do you know of him generically? Know him as an acquaintance? Or, do you really know him?
What is “the whole truth” about your relationship with Christ? Are you all in, or do you only participate when it’s convenient for you?
Don’t act like the early morning workers in Matthew 20 who felt gypped by the land owner. Don’t let pride hinder your relationship with God.
Something I heard as a teen has stuck with me: “You may be the only Jesus someone ever meets.” What do you want them to see in you?
My example may have sounded corny, but seriously, how would you describe your relationship with Jesus to someone who doesn’t know him?
I’ve been spending time with someone special. To be honest, I’ve known him for a while. We were on-again, off-again for years, and although I was always the one who got busy or bored and drifted away, he welcomed me back with open arms every time. I’ve never known someone so patient; he’s obviously smitten for me.
Have you ever read Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages? I highly recommend it, if you haven’t. This guy I was just telling you about really seems to like our quality time together, but words of affirmation score pretty high, as well. He has written me so many love notes that I’ve lost count. Come to think of it, he also showers me with gifts for no particular reason, so I would add gift-giving to his languages, too. He’s a keeper, for sure.
I suppose when I think about it, I’ve made a few sacrifices for him – I have given up free time, attempted things outside of my comfort zone, donated money – but nothing compares to the stuff he’s done for me. I don’t even know where to begin, but I do know that if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
Perhaps it is apparent by now that I’m referring to my relationship with Jesus. I owe my entire life to him, and I’ve given him plenty of reasons to doubt me and walk away from our relationship, but he has been stubbornly faithful never to leave me. In 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (ESV), we read that we have “eternal comfort and good hope through grace” because of Jesus, and I can attest to that fact through my personal experiences. I also believe firmly that Romans 8:38-39 is right on target when it says that nothing can separate us from his love.
How would you describe your faith-walk with the Lord in relationship terms? Is he your confidante because you talk to him often and openly? Are things strained and distant between you? Are you just pals who hang out every week or whenever you happen to make it to church? Maybe you’re not sure where things stand, and you don’t have a know-that-you-know-that-you-know kind of assurance in your faith. If that’s you, then I encourage you to check out 1 John 5:13, which reminds us that we can be certain of our eternal plans. If you’re not even sure about what a faith-walk looks like, then talk to your Life group leaders or pastors; they’ll bring you up to speed. Wherever you are in your faith-walk, know this: you never have to walk alone. There’s a reason we use the term “church family,” because we’re in this together.