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Thoughts, Musings, & Tips For Finding More For Your Life.
When it comes to following Jesus, what’s the payoff?
What is that, when you’re 70 or 80 years old you look back and say: “I’m so glad I followed Jesus because ___________.” When your kids & grandkids are gathered around your deathbed and you tell them: “Following Jesus pays off because _____________.” What is that?
Let me start by telling you what it’s NOT.
The Payoff For Following Jesus Is NOT:
1) That You’ll Be A Better Person
Although you will be a better person, it’s not the payoff. When you follow Jesus, you’ll be more forgiving, more generous, more kind, more patient, more peaceful, more loving. But Jesus never says: “Follow me and I’ll make you a better person”. He never say: “Follow me and I’ll make you a better husband, better father, better student, better employee”. Although some of the best people I know are Jesus-people, that’s not the promise.
To be honest, Jesus doesn’t talk much about you going to heaven at all. He talks about the Kingdom of God. He talks about heaven, but it wasn’t the end goal of following Him. In fact, there’s this strange story where Jesus promises to provide heaven to a guy who never followed Him at all. It’s in Luke 23:42-43. Here Jesus is hanging on the cross between two criminals and one of them looks over at Jesus and says: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
That’s it! Boom, heaven! The message is not follow me everyday of your life so you can go to heaven. Now, if you follow Him will you get to heaven? The Book clearly indicates that you will, but it’s not the payoff.
3) A Magic Formula for a Pain-Free, Problem-Free Life
We need to be leary anytime someone says: pray this prayer, touch this cross, repeat these words, use these hand gestures, recite this and I guarantee God will do this or God will do that. When you hear this kind of stuff…FLEE! Because that’s not called Christianity, that’s called magic.
Magic says: “do something a certain way every time and you’ll get certain results”. Now, here’s something to understand about magic: all magic works some of the time. Good luck charms, traditions, cross your fingers, count to 10, etc…they can seem to work some of the time! But for many of us, we grew up in an environment where magic-thinking got mixed up or mixed in with Jesus-thinking. You remember…recite this, repeat this, light this, burn that…
For me, it was when someone told me I needed to be “filled with the Holy Spirit”, that I would need to say this, repeat that, talk like this, raise my hands, close my eyes, empty my mind (huh!?!..empty my mind?!), and say a bunch of gobbly gook. I can tell you, in that environment, it wasn’t Jesus, it was magic.
Now, I believe in what’s ACTUALLY called the baptism in the Holy Spirit because it’s in the Bible. I speak in tongues everyday, but it didn’t come through a formula, it came through prayer.
Here’s another example…
There’s this little guy called St. Joseph the Carpenter that you can buy on Amazon for $7.99. The theory is that if you want to sell your house, all you have to do is take this little guy and bury him in your yard and pray to St. Joseph everyday until your house sells. The problem is, the only people who benefit from this statue are the people who sold the statue…because all magic preys on someone’s desperation & innocence all of the time.
Yet another example…
Since we have so many people in church on a Sunday morning, I could get up behind the podium and say: “If you’re having a hard time finding a job, I’ll tell you how to find a job! On Monday morning, wake up, put on your clothes, stand at your front door with your Bible, and read the first 2 chapters of the Book of Job for 2 weeks, and I promise you’ll get a job. But don’t laugh, because, if you don’t believe, it won’t work.” (Isn’t that always the way? Your lack of belief, or your lack of faith will be the reason it doesn’t work!) If I said all of that, within a week, I would get an email: “It worked!” This is because all magic works some of the time.
But Jesus didn’t come to be your magician.
So, anytime you see people weaving Scriptures with formulas or potions or rituals, just know, it has nothing to do with following Jesus. Because, there’s no formula or ritual that can keep you from trials & tribulations & tests. It’s why Jesus’ brother James tells us: “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” – James 1:2-4. A pain-free, problem-free life is not the payoff, it’s not the promise.
What’s the Real Promise? What’s the Real Payoff?
Let’s look at a conversation between Jesus and His disciples…
In Matthew 10:16-17, Jesus says to His disciples: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.” [Flogging involved whipping, usually on the back, with long strands of leather sometimes embedded with bone or rock or glass. Yes, people died from being flogged.]
Verse 18: “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” [This was prophetic, it happened in the Book of Acts.]
Verse 19: “But when they arrest you…” [WHEN they arrest you, not IF they arrest you.] “do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say.”[I’m pretty sure people were like – don’t worry!?! When we’re ARRESTED!?! Why are we gonna be arrested? I thought the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand? I thought you were the Messiah? I thought you were the Anointed One? I thought you were the Chosen One? I thought you were here to take over? I thought You were here to overthrow Rome. Arrested? Flogged? Don’t worry about what to say?] [And in verse 20, Jesus was like: yeah, don’t worry…] “for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” [They still would have been like – it won’t be me speaking? If God is able to speak for me, why doesn’t He just keep me from being arrested or flogged in the first place?]
Later in verse 28, Jesus says: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Here’s where Jesus takes His followers (including us)….
He takes us to a place where our faith in God is so big & is so strong, a place where we are so secure in God’s love, that even in the midst of circumstances where it looks like God has forgotten us, we hear Him whisper: “Fear not, for I am with you.”
The message of Jesus wasn’t: ‘don’t be afraid, I won’t let bad things happen to you’…because that’s magic! The message of Jesus was: ‘don’t be afraid WHEN bad things happen to you!’ Because that’s faith!
Faith overwhelms & overshadows our fears. Faith asks: ‘What decision would I make if I weren’t afraid of the attorney, the diagnosis, the performance review? What decision would I make if I was fearless?’
But, what does fearless faith look like?
3 Things Fearless Faith Does
1) Fearless Faith Honors God
Living with fearless faith brings honor to God. It says, it may not look like it, but God is GOING TO work it out. As a parent, if I overheard my kids having a conversation where they said: ‘It may not look like it but it’s all gonna work out because I know my Dad and you can trust my Dad!’ Wow! Wouldn’t that make you feel honored? Fearless faith honors God.
2) Fearless Faith Frees Us To Love Other People
It takes fearless faith to love an ex-wife or ex-husband who’s on your case all the time. It takes fearless faith to love a nosy neighbor or belligerent boss. But Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44.
Most of us think, ‘I don’t even pray for my friends, but I’m supposed to pray for those who persecute me, I’m supposed to pray for my enemies?’ Yeah! Because in loving those who hate you, you’re loving the God who loved you when you hated Him.
It’s also been put this way: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” – 1 John 4:18.
When your fear to love goes away, then your capacity to love goes up. Fear & love are incompatible. Jesus came to love the whole world and He expects His followers to do the same thing. The only way to do that is to get rid of the fear. The only way to do that is to follow. The only way to do that is through fearless faith.
3) Fearless Faith Trusts God
Fearless faith trusts God in spite of the circumstances. Have you ever met anyone like that? The world’s falling apart but they’re not? “Well, we’ll just have to trust God. We’ll just have to wait & see. God’s up to something. This didn’t take God by surprise. God can use this for His good. This isn’t what I would’ve chosen but…” Aren’t people like that annoying!? Isn’t there a part of you that thinks they’re in denial? Isn’t there a part of you that thinks this is just pain management? That maybe they’ve taken something or they need to?
There’s a guy in the Bible who probably understands this more than anyone. It’s the Apostle Paul. He wasn’t one of the original disciples. He was a guy who, even though he never met the pre-resurrected Jesus, changed the world, and wrote half of the New Testament.
About 20 years after Jesus’ death, Paul writes to some Christians in Rome. You didn’t want to be a Christian in Rome. They were beheaded, crucified, burned alive, boiled in oil, fed to hungry lions. Paul writes to THESE people with THESE Words: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28.
Imagine living life with that kind of confidence?
Paul, who wrote those words to those Christians in Rome, personally understood what struggle was: “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” – 2 Corinthians 11:24-27.
Back to the Romans, Paul goes on to say: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” – Romans 8:35.
Shall joblessness separate us from the love of Jesus? Shall diminishing health? Shall prodigal children, divorce, or dishonest bosses, or unfaithful spouses?
God says in Isaiah 41:10: “Fear Not, For I Am With You.”
Fearless faith. We can have it because when we love God, we have been called according to His purposes, and in all things, we can trust that He is with us.