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Friday, May 27, 2011

Are You Still Fascinated With Jesus and His Kingdom Way?

Over the last few months, through a number of ministry activities where God has challenged me to raise the bar in talking about (and trying to live) what it means to follow Jesus in light of what he actually said was the way, a persisting thought occurred to me:

"The people I've read about in the Scriptures and in books written by or about Jesus-followers who had a substantial, faithful Kingdom influence on their world, were all utterly fascinated by Jesus and his Gospel of the Kingdom."
An uncommon passion and remarkable devotion characterized their following him. They were gripped and they persevered in it even if their lives were consistently hard, or they suffered mightily for their devotion. They were captivated, enthralled and so taken by him and his message that they surrendered their hearts and followed hard after him until death. They were broken men and women for sure, but they lived from a single-minded fire in their bellies.

Conversely, I thought how throngs of us in churches all over America, if we honestly and courageously reflected, would realize we live from accommodated, divided, tepid hearts in matters of authentic discipleship. We're deeply embedded in the American Dream (or our cherished version of it) which defines the good life as one of pursuing our preference for comfort, security and fulfilled aspirations. As Americans, we instinctively place a high value on the freedom to pursue what promises to make us fulfilled and content - what gives us personal meaning. In that sense, we are substantially-devoted followers of the American Promise of individual "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

But over the last few months, I've talked with a number Christian people completely enmeshed in lives becoming increasingly unmanageable. As a result, they've sunk into a spiritual malaise much like sleep-walking. The demands of actually following Jesus as he speaks of it in the Gospels appear impossible given the frazzled lifestyles most of us accept without "counting the cost" of so doing. Truth be told, many of us are enslaved to debt, fracturing busyness, and the strain to maintain our particular status quo, i.e., "It is what it is."

I also realize that the lukewarm followership many live is not what Jesus modeled and summoned them to, perhaps not even what they "signed up for." The problem remains they're so entangled in the spiritually unexamined way of life they accommodate and its overwhelming consequences, they've come to a kind of  spiritual stasis, and have gradually sunk into the religious duty of mostly just showing up at church on Sunday. I know that's not what initially pulled them to Jesus, but it's now what they've settled for and worse, come to expect.

So I've done a little thinking about what is this fascination with Jesus, and subsequently adopting his way. Here's what I've come up with so far:

1. Jesus fascination is a work of God offered to all his people, but we need to persistently desire and long for it.
2. It grows from the accumulated benefits of pursuing intimacy with Jesus through the spiritual disciplines, especially listening prayer, study of the Scriptures (particularly the Gospels), and reflective examination of how a person is actually living.
3. Jesus fascination is best modeled and passed on by individuals in a consistent "life on life" relationship.
4. It is also nurtured in a community of believers who are jointly habitually working on following Jesus, and living his way of life guided by his subversively redemptive values.
5. A person fascinated with Jesus will "be in the world, but not of the world"; his or her fascination gradually will not be surrendered to the prevailing worldly or surrounding cultural fascinations and loyalties.
6. Jesus fascination will result in a man or woman willingly embracing what matters most to him, and obediently conforming all to his values and way of life, whether it be through career, raising a family, recreation, use of money, time or talent, etc.
7. Jesus fascination ultimately will lead to a habit of joy, a transcending humility, a freeing life of love, stubborn peace, and surprising Kingdom transformations.

I realize fascination with Jesus is not a feeling or a project or the domain of the spiritually elite. It's a gift of grace to a heart which longs for authenticity, depth and making a difference through service in the Kingdom. Fascination is not just admiring Jesus from the pew, focusing mostly on sin management as the best we can do, helping the pastor if he asks every once in a while. Nor is it listening your favorite Christian music and reading your favorite Christian authors. It's not even taking that once-in-a lifetime mission's trip or singing in the choir.

It's more a matter of the transformed, rejuvenated heart and will. Paul summed it well in 12:1-2 of his letter to the Church in Rome when he said because of the extraordinary mercies of God, our reasonable (intelligent) response is to present ourselves to God as "living sacrifices" utterly surrendered to his purposes and glory. Paul also warns us, therefore, not to be conformed outwardly to what the world (in rebellion from God) continually tries to entice us to prize, submit to, and live. Because we are literally new creations in Christ we should not submit. Rather, Paul says we are to change our thinking so that what is presented to us by the world, is put it to the test of God's standards, and thus we can apprehend what is valuable and pleasing to him. Therefore, fascination is a 24/7 response of worship, i.e., surrendering all as a fascinated living sacrifice, fully engaged and fully devoted.

If you can't say this about yourself, don't settle for "Oh, well." Complacency stinks. Go talk to someone you admire and ask for help. In fact, ask God to begin clearing the jam-packed decks of your life so you can find a mentor and become trained to follow Jesus with all you've got. When everything's said and done, it doesn't matter nearly as much as you think about how important you are to the business right now, or what your neighbors will say if the lawn isn't mowed every Saturday, or your kids need to be on every sports team known to man because, for sure, they'll be complete failures in life if they aren't. (You know I'm poking a little fun, right?)

The point is Jesus is summoning you to pick up your cross and get on with it. Did I mention He's the Lord of all and he picked you to follow him from a fascinated and courageous heart?

At the same time, some of you, I know, are tired and discouraged. You are living under great stress and pressure. The problems you face seem infinitely more than there are solutions. Maybe sin has got you ground down and your life is hidden or out of control. Perhaps you've been hurt by people in the church and question if any of this is real at all. Maybe church and Christianity just seem boring and pointless. Even so, the reality is, because it's the living God we're referring to, whatever has dulled your heart can be revived by him. So earnestly pray for fascination, and go find someone who is fascinated by and following hard after him. A simple conversation can open God's fascinating future for you. Try it.
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