Today's "thought" took me back to the days just prior to, and shortly after becoming a follower of Jesus. I was 23 and could barely think of much other than Jesus -- who He was, what He had done, what His call on my life meant, and how obeying that call would change everything in my life. I did lose friends. One called me a "religious fanatic." Others politely avoided me. And, yes, I'm not faultless. I did suffer from earnest zeal without knowledge or the wisdom that comes from experience. It's not all that untypical for a person who finally discovers that Jesus is real and wants to make sure everyone else does too (mistakenly thinking it's totally up to them). Sometimes (I have to confess) I've wished I could go back in time and approach some people and situations a bit more wisely than I did, for in some cases I'm sure I did more harm than good to the cause of Christ.
Yet, in other ways I miss many aspects of that "first love" stage. That spiritual discovery stage where everything about the faith is so new and fresh! A time when I was less "balanced," had not gotten into many of the burdensome or restricting routines and responsibilities of life, and was more of an adventurer and risk taker for Jesus. Maybe some of you can remember that stage in your life. And if it is merely a memory, with little of it remaining, maybe you need to ask what happened to make it fade? Do you miss it? Have you prayed for the Lord to restore it? Have you followed Jesus' spiritual prescription for those who have "lost their first love" where He says in Revelation 2:5: "Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent (for letting it happen), and do the things you did at first." Consider this excerpt from Kyle Idleman's book, "Not a Fan," and see if you (like me) might not need to repent and seek a new portion of God's ever-fresh and spirit-renewing grace. Enjoy.
"In Matthew 19 we find a man whose name we don't know. We learn enough from the Gospels to know he is referred to as the "Rich Young Ruler." He's followed a path that has led to wealth and power. (That's the path most of us are trying to find.) He comes to Jesus with a question. In verse 16 he asks: "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"
You have to give him credit for asking the right question. He wants to know how to get to heaven. But even the way he asks it reveals the heart of a fan [and not a follower]. He asks, what must "I do"? That word could be translated "acquire" or "earn." He thinks it's going to be an impressive resume that will get him in. Eventually Jesus tells him what he must do. In verse 21 he says: "Sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven. Then come, follow me." Jesus invites the man to become his follower, but first the man is told to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. He's faced with the choice of following Jesus or keeping his stuff, but he couldn't do both. There is no way to follow Jesus without denying himself. Many people want to make this story about money, but it's not as much about money as it is about following Jesus. Jesus puts this man at a crossroads. He can follow the path that leads to money, or he can follow Jesus; but he can't follow both.
So what does this mean for you and me? Is selling everything a requirement to follow Jesus? Well, it may be. In fact, I would say the more defensive you are of Jesus' words to this man, the more likely it is that Jesus might be saying them to you. What is true is that everyone who follows Jesus will find himself or herself at a similar crossroads as this man in Matthew 19. You won't be able to take the path of following Jesus without walking away from a different path. He wanted to follow Jesus, but when forced to choose between Jesus and his stuff, he chose his stuff. He wouldn't deny himself. What choice will you make?
A few years ago I was pretty deep into some tribal areas of Africa. One night I finished preaching a message to a crowd of a few dozen people. I presented the gospel and the invitation of Jesus to follow him. There were two young men, probably in their twenties, who accepted Christ and committed to follow him. The following afternoon these two men showed up at the house where we were staying. They each carried a good sized bag over their shoulder. I went over and asked the local missionary we were staying with why they had come. He explained that these two men would no longer be welcomed by their families or in their village. When I heard that, I was afraid that maybe this was going to be more than they would be willing to go along with. About that time the missionary said to me, "They knew this would happen when they made the decision."
They were choosing Jesus over their families. They were choosing Jesus over their own comfort and convenience, and "fans" don't do that. Only true followers are willing to deny themselves and say, "I choose Jesus. I choose Jesus over my family. I choose Jesus over money. I choose Jesus over career goals. I am his completely. I choose Jesus over looking at porn. I choose Jesus over a redecorated house. I choose Jesus over my freedom. I choose Jesus over what other people think of me." A follower makes a decision every day to deny himself and choose Jesus, even if it costs everything. When we sacrificially deny ourselves for Christ's sake it is the clearest evidence of our committed love. A committed love is best demonstrated through sacrifice. When we deny ourselves for another person it communicates true love."
In light of what he says each one of us must ask: "What path do I follow? If love is shown by sacrifice and self-denial for the sake of another, do I show such a love for Jesus in my life? Since I cannot follow two paths (or two Masters), when given the option between family, money, career goals, porn, freedom, a redecorated house, what people think of me, or Jesus, what do (or will) I choose? What have I chosen in the past? Am I still just a fan, or have I become a follower? Do I admire Jesus from a distance, sitting in the stands and cheering, or have I walked down onto the field of play to become a true, committed, disciple?" Read Revelation 2:1-7. Do you remember the heights from which you have fallen? Has the Holy Spirit convicted you with the need to repent? Will you take Jesus at His word and return to, "doing the things you did at first"?
In His Service, Pastor Jeff