To Follow Jesus by Rocky Fleming
Day Five - Perseverance
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” Philippians 3:13 (ESV)
From my own experiences:
As a follower of the word of God, if I consider myself as the final authority on what is biblically right and correct, it is because my pride has not yet suffered a sifting, and I have little awareness of my own sin.
As a follower of the word of God, if I put myself as judge, juror, and prosecutor against someone else’s faith in Jesus, it is because I do not know the heart of the Word that says no man is given the right to judge another (James 4:11-12).
As a follower of the word of God, I have discovered that I can know the word but not the God of the word. There is a difference.
As a follower of the word of God, when I do not know the heart of the Incarnate Word of God, then my understanding of the written word is empty and limited only to my point of view.
As a follower of the word of God, when I deny the work of Holy Spirit in another follower of Jesus Christ, I do not understand it is because I am not spiritually discerning (1 Corinthians 2:14).
As a follower of the word of God, I have discovered that I can worship the written word in the Bible. But not the Incarnate Word, who is Jesus.
As a follower of the word of God, I have discovered it to be a treasure map that points me toward the Treasure, who is Jesus. The map is not to be worshipped, only Jesus, to whom it leads us.
As a follower of the Incarnate Word of God, I have discovered that suffering because of my faith, and when declared foolish and rejected because of my faith that I am blessed more than what I suffer, because I feel God’s approval, and that is all that matters.
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12 (ESV)
As a follower of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, I have discovered that remaining steadfast, faithful, and immoveable during persecution is what perseverance means. Persecution comes from many sources. There were, and are, several sources of persecution. Rome persecuted Christians because they would not worship Caesar. The idol worshippers of the Greeks persecuted Christians because they were bad for business. But worst of all, there were religious leaders of the day who followed Paul and the other Apostles around to discredit them, and to cause anger and dissention against them. They did it with lies and with personal self-interest to stop The Way from leading people away from them. This is the work of the evil man, the Accuser, and it continues today, for he never changes. I have discovered the Accuser does his best work through Christians against Christians. A true follower of Christ does not join him against other Christians.
As a follower of the word of God, I understand that beginning with the Pharisees and other religious authorities of the day, it was never then, nor is this day, about the truth. It’s about protecting self-interest, status-quo, and religious hierarchy. But here’s the truth. They battle against the Spirit of God, and as we have seen the last two thousand years, those who follow the Spirit will prevail, if not in this lifetime, surely in the one to come. But those who deny the Spirit of God, have nothing to look forward to in this life, or the one to come.
As a follower of Jesus, I’ve been given a hope that my world longs for. If I do not share Him, am I really His disciple?
As a follower of Jesus, am I not to expect the same rejection by the world and even religious leaders who do not know Him as has happened for 2,000 years? He said I would see this if I am His disciple.
As a follower of Jesus, am I prepared to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Him, no matter the cost?
As a follower of Jesus, have I presented myself to Him as a living sacrifice, to not be conformed to this world, but rather to be transformed by Him?
As a follower of Jesus, am I committed to guard my thoughts, yoke my tongue, speak less, hear more deeply, and like Him, be a servant leader? After all He is my Teacher. Am I His disciple and serve as He did? Does my life reflect Him and His Spirit within me, or does it reflect the old man that still fights for control?
As a follower of Jesus, is my daily mission and ministry singularly about His glory and making Him famous, or myself? When I speak, do I sound like Him? When I act does it point toward Him? When I serve, is the applause directed to Him? Does the fruit of the Spirit show in me giving evidence that I abide in Him?
As a follower of Jesus, I have discovered that the path I walk on is narrow and difficult, but it is good, for it leads to good. He is good, and He walks with me on this path. I have found it to be the good path, the best path, and the right path. I can say without any reservation that my journey with Jesus on this path is the best of my life and has produced the best through my life, and it is well worth the perseverance that is required.
As a follower of Jesus, I have discovered that as I abide in Him and He in me, all things are possible, even being a true disciple who represents Him well. It is when I abide in Him that the possible meets the impossible and overcomes it. When I abide in Him my old man is driven back, and the new man that He transforms emerges. When I abide in Him, I find my deepest longing for intimacy with my Creator to be realized. When I abide in Him, all things are right, no matter the circumstances. When I abide in Him, I have discovered what it means to be a true follower of the Incarnate Word of God, who is Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.
Day Four – A New Identity
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10 (ESV)
It is two days before Thanksgiving when I am writing this blog. Perhaps you will read it on Thanksgiving Day. Today, I feel God’s leadership to point our eyes toward He who gives us great reason to be thankful. The thankfulness for this celebration began in 1621 with a three-day harvest festival. Present were fifty Pilgrims and ninety Wampanoag Native People who attended. However, we need to go back to 1620 to understand the dreadful, starving condition of the Pilgrims until the gracious Wampanoag people intervened to teach the English men and women how to plant crops, where to fish and hunt. They also taught them survival skills that would prove necessary for existence. These things drove the Pilgrims to their knees to thank God for His abundance to them, and for the people He sent to help them with their survival.
I find it interesting that Wampanoag means People of the First Light. It doesn’t escape my thought that these people provided a light of goodness to the Pilgrims. It doesn’t escape my thought that God shed His light and protection on these persecuted Christians who left England to find religious freedom. I’ve seen how God sheds His light in many situations, whether it’s through people, such as the Wampanoag, or divine revelation that challenges religious status-quo when a church loses its heart and demands compliance, which was the case with the Pilgrims and the Church of England. That’s a history lesson for all of us to know, and I recommend your research in it. But I want to get back to the present day, and the primary reason to be thankful, at least for me.
In the passage above we see the gift of becoming sons and daughters of God. We are called God’s people, a royal priesthood, a people for God’s possession. What does this mean? It is how God sees us. It’s how He identifies us. This is how He picks us out of a crowd today. This is the identity that He has granted to those who follow Jesus Christ. But do we embrace this identity, or do we still hold on to our old man identity? Do we hold an orphan spirit in our life that keeps away God’s gift of a new identity? I find that many Christians do. How foolish this is. Think of the Pilgrims being willing to accept the Native People’s help. The Wampanoag people knew who they were. They saw themselves as a light in darkness and they lived out their identity with the Pilgrims. They could have been suspicious, cautious, distrusting. But that was not their identity and they lived up to their identity. What if the Pilgrims refused their help? How would they be identified a year later? Dead, and no longer existing. Instead, they are known as the first colony in New England and for shaping the future of the American colonies. As the People of the First Light did for the Pilgrims and they received it, let us also let the Light of Christ shine over our need to embrace the identity He gives us. The benefit of this will indeed create a thankfulness in us that goes beyond one day out of the year.
I have discovered that there are a lot of joy robbers in life, and great effort is given at times to attack this joy and take it away. Would you agree? But I have also found one joy that cannot be removed from me, which is the joy of being identified as God’s beloved child. God granted this title to me and no man or demon or any other power can remove this designation. It is secured and paid for by my Savior Jesus Christ, and because of this nothing can change it. Of all the reasons I have to be thankful, and there are many, the most important one drives me to not only celebrate thanksgiving with a grateful heart, but to my knees to worship my King. The joy of sonship is the greatest reason to be thankful. But I do like it when my family gathers to do what we’ve done all our lives … to celebrate Thanksgiving together.
I share my personal perspective in hopes that someone who needs to read and take in these thoughts about your identity will do so. Let the light of Christ envelope you with His love, a love of a Father for His child that brings you close to Him on this day.
Day Three - Trust God's Plans Above All Plans
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9 (NASB)
I once had a friend in one of my Journey Groups say that he wants to have a conversation with God when he goes to heaven and ask God why He didn’t respond to him when he prayed and asked for His help. He trusted Him and God didn’t come through, was his complaint. He felt that he deserved an answer. Do any of you feel this way as well? After the man said this, I replied, “You will be approaching Almighty God who created you and all of creation, and you want to hold Him accountable because some of your prayers were not answered? You want to demand an explanation? Is that what you are saying? (pause). Well … after you do this … let me know how that worked out for you if you make it back.” I think he got my point.
But seriously, don’t we often want, and even demand, an explanation from God why some great difficulties come into our life, and He didn’t intervene as we wanted? We think, if God loves me, why does He let me be attacked, or cheated, or slandered? He has the power to stop it. But He stays silent. A bigger question is do we trust Him when we don’t understand Him and His ways? Are we willing to trust His plans for our future, and that He has allowed such perplexing difficulties into our life for a reason, when we can see no reason why they were permitted? Sure, we need to ask the first question, “What have I done to bring this on me?” If we see a reason, we should repent and correct, and God will be faithful to forgive us. That’s an easy one. But what if we can see no reason, and what has been done to us in so unjust, vicious, and from the influence of a dark evil that can only be understood as coming from hell itself? What do we do then? Will we trust Him? Will we trust His plan? Will we continue to love Him when we feel as David did, abandoned, alone, forgotten, and forsaken? He said:
“With my voice I cry out to the LORD; with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.” Psalm 142:1-4 (ESV)
David was God’s anointed king. He was a courageous warrior. He had many experiences with God’s deliverance. However, he was still just a man. There are unexpected deep, dark times that fall on us, as with David in this incidence, and it seemed that God was not around. When this happens to us, will we still trust and love God even though we don’t feel like it, or we are frightened, bewildered, alone and slandered? We must, for He deserves it, and He will never forsake us or leave us to the wolves, for He is our Good Shepherd. That would be shown to David. God would prove that He is faithful, and He will always be that to His child.
I am amazed at the number of stories in the Bible where God purposely stacked the odds against people who followed His leadership. I think of Gideon, whose army was whittled down from thirty-two thousand men to three hundred. Why? This is what God said:
“The people who are with you are too many for Me to hand Midian over to them, otherwise Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has saved me.’” Judges 7:2 (NASB)
Now get this. With God’s help, the army of three hundred men that Gideon led, defeated 135,000 Midianites. Great odds against them, but God was on their side, and that was enough. Can we see in this instance that God was teaching Gideon and Israel to trust Him under all circumstances and in all challenges, though they seem greater than our ability to stand. That has not changed. God still uses that same process, so that through Him and His deliverance against great odds, we see His intervention and we then grow in faith … and He gets the glory, not ourselves. May God pity the ones whose hearts are as hard as the Midianites, for as with them, their day is coming. They battle against the work of God and His Spirit, and that will not go well with them, unless they repent.
Does it help us to think that God will avenge us? Be careful with that thought. Do we want Him to punish and even destroy them? I don’t think we will if His Spirit controls our thoughts and compassion. Though we gain comfort in our hope that He will intervene and stand against those who embrace evil to stand against us, wouldn’t we rather that Holy Spirit shine His light on the people and cause them to see what they are in league with? Do we hope and even pray that He will intervene for their good, and their sake rather than to avenge us? The Holy Spirit speaks to my heart through His word and guides me to believe that this is the way He desires that we react.
Some might think that I’m passive with my response against slander and such. Believe me I have taken a different course in the past, and grew to regret it, for I interfered with what God wanted to do. Some might think that I should battle against people like I speak of with harsh words and my own campaign against them for they have done so against me. I assure you that I am in the battle and will use the weapons for spiritual warfare that wins, for that is what we deal with. It is a battle against evil, and God wants to deliver us from evil, even those who do not realize that it is evil that drives them. I’ll close with this scripture as my marching orders in these battles, and I hope it will help you in yours:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Ephesians 6:10-12 (ESV)
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” Remember this, for we need to realize the source of evil to people and through people is darkness. That is where the battle must be fought.
Day Two - Loving Obedience
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:23 (ESV)
I find it interesting that Jesus connects our love for Him with our obedience to Him. Which comes first? Before you answer consider what scripture says. The Apostle John states in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” It is His love to us that teaches us and motivates us to love Him. Then what does He say?
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34 (ESV)
So, what do we see as we connect the spiritual dots? Jesus wants us to feel His love, for it begins there. Then we are to return our love to Him, for He wants a loving relationship with His followers. Finally, we are to express His love to others through our life, and by this prove that we follow Him.
Now truthfully there are some people who we have a hard time loving. But Jesus said following Him would not be easy, and these hard to love people prove His words. If we are left up to our feelings, or the fairness of it, or even the darkness that certain people are led by against us as a reason to not love them, then we are not living in obedience to Jesus. We are challenged with a decision to make. Do we love Jesus more than we detest these awful people? If we do not, then we will launch into them with both barrels. We will return fire with fire. We will get down and dirty as they are. We will slander them because they have slandered us.
But, if we love Jesus more than ourselves, more than the insults, more than the hurt or anger, then we will love Him by loving those who persecute us. Impossible? Yes, if left up to our feelings and any rights to ourselves that we still cling to, it will be impossible. However, it will be possible only if we see that our obedience to love them despite our feelings about them, is a way to worship Jesus. This becomes a pure, selfless worship, and an unpolluted love for Him. Now which would you rather have? To invite a root of bitterness in your life that the Evil man inspires and promotes, or to respond to the challenge by worshipping Jesus in a way that pleases Him. It’s a choice that we make. I’ll tell you, my choice. I choose Jesus and I will allow His light to shine on the situation. Perhaps He will save difficult persons that are in my life from the clutch of evil? I for sure do not want to hinder it because I don’t love Jesus enough.
In my previous blog about following Jesus, I referenced that Jesus says denying our self is necessary. Unless we empty our rights to our name, reputation, and our life, we will not be able to follow Him when darkness comes. For you see darkness inspired by the Evil man looks for vulnerabilities in our life, and then concentrates on that area of our life.
“I have learned to hold all things loosely, so God will not have to pry them out of my hands.”
As a disciple of Christ, we will be tested and tempted. Will we stand faithfully when we are? When those things, even the good things that we hold on to are gripped too hard, then sometimes a painful release is required to put it back where it should remain, which is under the sovereign rights that Jesus has to our life, including those good works. Will we remember that when difficult times come that we had already answered that question with, “Yes Lord. I am Yours. Do with me as You see fit for Your glory and purpose. I yield my rights to you. Take what You will of me, for Your plans.”
It is in the conditions of denying self, and blessing those who persecute us as a way to worship Jesus more deeply, that we prove to be His follower. Let us keep following Him and making disciples. Let us allow Almighty God to deal with the evil man’s work against us. Let us remember that people become his pawn in a scheme, and they often don’t realize it. Pray for them, and despite how we feel … let us love them not because they deserve it, but rather because Jesus deserves it.
Day One: Deny Self
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 (ESV)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleship in 1937. He was a German theologian and centered his thoughts on Jesus’ message found in the Sermon on the Mount. He wrote what he believes it means to follow Christ. Living it out as a disciple of Christ led to his execution by the Nazis in 1945 because of his activity in the resistance. Though it led to his physical death, I believe his death to self was when he placed his life before Christ as a living sacrifice by denying his personal rights and giving them over to Jesus. (Romans 12:1-2) It is my desire to write a five-day series with my take on the challenges a disciple must face to follow Jesus, for I think that history is repeating itself in many ways, as persecution is showing up from the most unexpected sources, especially toward those of us who are ministers. But there is nothing new about that. It has happened for the last 2,000 years. It’s the cost of following Jesus, and if we are living it out, truly following Him as He instructs us to live, living in stark contrast to the “darkness” that lives in this world, it will draw “darkness” toward us to try and overwhelm us. But it is the greatest privilege a man or woman can have with being a disciple of Christ, even though it may lead to persecution, and yet it also leads to God’s power and protection. Simple rule. Light overcomes “darkness.” Therefore, walk in the light of Jesus Christ, and He will prevail over the “darkness” that attacks us.
As I always do, I’ll use God’s Holy Word to speak of each challenge that I’ll present. I’ll also ask the Holy Spirit to open my heart and mind to expand the application of His Word to understand it better. To be clear I’m asking for the Holy Spirit’s inspiration from His word to understand it better, which He gives. I ask you to do the same. We need to ask and allow the Spirit to inspire us and to teach us, for that is His work in the Christian’s life. Now hear me on this if you wish to follow Christ, hearing or sensing the Spirit’s leadership is essential. If there is self-interest it will interfere with our communication with Him. Therefore, denying our rights to our self becomes essential, to be pliable and responsive to the Spirit of Christ who lives within our life as a follower of Christ.
What does is mean to deny self and take up our cross to follow Jesus? It starts with understanding what the cross represented for Jesus. There was pain, humiliation, mission, and purpose. It represented suffering, agony, and intervention for others. It represented obedience to His Father. Did Jesus ask that the “cup” be removed from Him if it was the Father’s will? Yes, He did, for He knew what He would be facing. Nevertheless, Jesus drank that cup down to the dregs, for His cross was His mission. That cup represented all the sins past, present, and the future for all who believe in Him. The implications of the cross were greater than the physical pain He encountered. We have no idea how deep His pain went. In a similar way, we have no idea what our cross will require to follow Jesus as His disciples. We might be told that we are fools, or heretics or blasphemers because we are used by Jesus to lead others to Him. Our cross may include slander, hatred, misunderstandings and even ridicule from people who do not understand the things of the Spirit. Jesus and the disciples received this. But draw comfort in the fact that when it this shows up in your life, it shows that the work you are doing places a target on your back from the enemy of your soul, and you are doing a good thing that Jesus approves of. Don’t be surprised by it if it comes. Jesus said it would.
I have a friend who was a Navy Seal. I asked him who the most dangerous fighter that he ever faced. He said that’s an easy one. It is the man who has no fear of death, and he fights with reckless abandon because of it. Can you see how the denial of our self, and presenting our life before Christ as a living sacrifice is symbolic of dying to self and living for Christ? Do you also realize that this infuses courage to live with abandon and trust in Jesus Christ. Believe me when I tell you this. God will never waste or abuse a man or woman who lives with such dedication to Him. Remember this and take comfort from the words of Jesus:
“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.]”
John 16:23 Amplified Bible