no neutral groundSo here at MRC you hear us say certain things a good bit.  You hear the term “disciple”, or “follower of Jesus” a lot around here don’t you?  Have you ever really thought about what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus?  Well that is where we are headed today, we are going to look at what it really means to follow Jesus.  There may be nothing more important, more life changing, and frankly there might not be anything more impossible for you to do on your own!  Yes I just said that, on our own strength it is impossible to follow Jesus.  Thankfully we don’t have to do any of this on our own because Jesus gave us a helper…our helper is called The Holy Spirit and we will get in all of that today, so yeah…this is a big topic!  Following Jesus is really what the mission we speak of a lot around here is all about!  I mean this is a common theme from Jesus, he looks at someone and asks them to follow him.  It’s found all through the gospels, let’s look at how he gains his first few disciples…

Matthew 4:18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.  NIV

Later in another interaction we read this…

Matthew 8:21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”  NIV

He then comes to Matthew the tax collector…

Matthew 9:9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.  NIV

I could spend our entire time together showing you moments where Jesus says “follow me.”  I find it really interesting how people respond to this question.  I mean the Bible is pretty clear that some of these people just go, no questions asked…others hesitate, and some just flat out say no.  There is something about that phrase…”followme” isn’t there?  It demands a response, and in saying yes and following Jesus, our lives can be changed forever…and you know what, that is what it’s all about, life change!  Life change is real, it’s meaningful, and it’s about living differently after your encounter with Jesus.

Look, I know that you weren’t on your job site earlier this week doing your thing like Peter and his brother Andrew, and Jesus walked up and said these words to you “follow me” and you had to leave everything to follow him…but for you and I today being a follower of Jesus should have a bigger meaning than you think.  It’s much more than just showing up here at church on a Sunday morning.  It’s more than just telling people you are a Christian and looking good on the outside.  It is so much more than obtaining that precious get out of hell free card, ensuring your trip to heaven someday.  Being a follower of Jesus means that you are accepting a call to learn, to grow as a person, and to obey God.  So while you weren’t down by the sea working on nets and just dropping everything and following him…spiritually speaking, that is exactly what you are doing.  Because following Jesus means that I will live differently.  I believe this is why Jesus’ disciple Peter would later write about getting out of the “old grooves of evil” that we all have.  We all have desires in us that lean us towards sin.  We all have a “way” that we live.  Peter had them, you and I do to and Peter knows from experience that to follow Jesus is to get out of that old life style and live differently.

1 Peter 1:13 So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. 14 Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. 15 As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. 16 God said, “I am holy; you be holy.” (MSG)

You see this is what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  It’s about life change.  It is about learning, it is all about developing a new pattern of living!  Which makes Christianity so real.  This can be so challenging because most of Jesus’ teachings really go against every instinct or desire of our humanness.  So to be a follower of Jesus means that I will accept the call to learn, to grow as a person and to obey.  It all starts with me asking Jesus into my life, acknowledging my sins for what they were, and believing in the good news of the Gospel!  That God loved us enough to give us his son and that his son Jesus came and washed away my sins, and did for me what I couldn’t do for myself.  Jesus takes away our sins, and as we believe it, we start to wrap our minds around this amazing gift of grace, this unearned love of God which fuels our desire to follow Jesus.  We want to spend time with him and we want to learn from Him and we will obey Him.

A Call to Learn.  You can really see this desire to learn from Jesus in probably his most famous of all teachings.  It is called The Sermon on the Mount which is found in Matthew 5-7…it is incredible and if you haven’t ever studied it, I would really encourage you to do so because it’s in this teaching that Jesus is really giving us foundational words to live by!  Do you know how I know that?  Because at the end of this teaching he says that these are foundational words to live by…

Matthew 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” NIV

Here is what is really interesting about this teaching, at the end everyone cheers, but everything he was teaching was so opposite to what they would have always been learning.  Jesus wants us to learn a new set of values that transform how we act in all aspects of our lives.  That means he doesn’t care how we act here on a Sunday morning, if we act differently at work, and at home, or at school or in other areas of our lives.  He doesn’t even care how holy you look in your social media!  He wants us to be real.  He is after our hearts, and our actions and our motives…this is different than just going through the religious motions.  So I think at the end of His teaching there was a line drawn in the sand.  Some were probably inspired and wanting to live this way.  Some wanting to go back to the way the religious scholars taught, some just wanting the teaching to not be so direct at people’s hearts…but they clapped and left this amazing teaching, but the wheels had to be churning in their minds…right?  This was so counter cultural.  This was so, different.

This was a call to develop a whole new pattern of living and Peter talked earlier about those grooves we get into…this is a bit challenging.  Most religious teaching focused on the outside, but Jesus doesn’t care what things look like, Jesus cares about what is going on in our hearts.  For someone to drop their nets and follow Jesus means that they are going to understand that their heart condition, their motives, and their attitude is going to be very important.  Let’s look at some of this teaching and just how opposite it can be from how you and I would want to react in these situations…

Matthew 5:38-48 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrapyour best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best — the sun to warm and the rain to nourish — to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. (MSG)

Let’s just be honest here…this is one of “those” moments in scripture right?  This is the whole turn the other cheek thing that has led many Christians to turn into pushovers, over the years…but that isn’t what Jesus is doing here.  He isn’t telling you to allow others to hurt you, it is so much bigger than that!  This is a challenge to forgive and love your enemies.  Our human instincts don’t land us here do they?  In the spot of forgiving people and loving people who hurt us.  Jesus all through this section of teaching is going after our hearts.  He seems to take forgiveness and take it a step further.  He hits other subjects too…like purity.

Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. NIV

Hey guys, I am not trying to pick on you but I have spent a lot of time in construction sites, and working with men out in those environments.  Where the phone is getting passed around, or the young lady is walking by the job site and we know what can often happen there.  When it comes to lust I have heard a lot of men justify what they are doing by saying “hey, I’m not doing anything but looking, right?  What is it really hurting?”  Well Jesus goes right after that, why?  Because he is focused on your heart.  Listen, why you do things is very important to Jesus, because a follower of Jesus is real.  He challenges the way we think and drives into the heart of the matters…tough matters like forgiveness, and purity.  Jesus is always after our motives in why we do things!  It’s always internal…check out how much this is stressed in the area of prayer…

Matthew 6:5 “And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? 6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. 7 “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. 8 Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. MSG

I’m sensing a pattern here, how about you?  It’s about what we do on the inside that matters to Jesus.  So to be a follower of Jesus we have a call to learn, and there is so much to learn because everything he teaches is just so opposite of our human nature.  It’s about your heart, your motives, and your attitude.  Not quite as easy as simply jumping through a few religious hoops is it?

A Call to Obey.  So we are called to learn as followers of Jesus, but the second part of being a follower of Jesus is huge…we must obey his commands.  Jesus says…

John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”  NIV

You see following Jesus in full obedience says something very important.  It says that you are putting Jesus in first place in your life.  This doesn’t mean that you become that guy who wakes up each morning and just grits his teeth together and works really, really hard at not sinning.  You know the guy that just tries super hard to not swear, and not listen to the wrong radio stations, and who doesn’t watch the rated R movies (unless Jesus is in them).  Good luck focusing on not sinning, and trying to muscle through life like that!  Surely we have learned by now that we aren’t perfect, and that there is more to being a disciple of Jesus than that!  Now don’t twist it up, we are working towards holiness but we know that we all sin…we all mess up.  Even the person sitting beside you today that looks like they have it all figured out.  They sin too!  Even the person who is pointing out your sins, that really messed you up growing up around church, they sin too!  We all fall short…even “that guy!”  They are just way better at pretending than you.  So obedience is bigger than “not sinning.”  It’s about putting God first.

Let me share something with you about me that you might not know.  I’m not great at receiving criticism.  Especially if it’s in area of my life that is really, really important to me.  Actually, it’s in every area of my life that I struggle to handle being criticized.  So whether it’s here at MRC where I will admit I can get a little too wound up, or hold onto the bat a little too tight at times, or maybe when I have spent a ton of energy trying to coach a soccer team, and I’m soaked in sweat, tired and ready to go home, and a parent who has been sitting in their air conditioned car comes up to share their opinion with me about my coaching decisions a funny thing happens to me.  As this person starts telling me the things they see in me that they don’t like, or that I didn’t do to their satisfaction, I begin to very clearly see many things that I don’t like about them, and begin putting together a list of things that they need to work on too.  This is the fleshy human part of me…but I also know as someone who is following Jesus I have been commanded to care for others, to love, others and to forgive.  Sadly I typically take the high road and then have really good imaginary arguments with those people later…but as a disciple of Jesus I’m taught to forgive, to love, and to care for people…too leave that hurt, forgive, and then pray for them.  When I obey Jesus’ commands my heart changes…

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  NIV

And when I pray for my enemies and those that persecute me, I drop the very clear list of issues I see in that person, and I realize that they have a soul, and a heart, and are in need of the love of Jesus too…and I no longer need to win anymore…why?  Because I am a follower of Jesus.  Does this mean I am perfect no…I will probably still giggle if you criticize me on the soccer field, and then you get your beautiful car stuck in the mud as you are leaving!  So I’m still working on stuff but it means that I have made a commitment to live differently.  All through Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount we see him taking a simple command and then taking it further.  I mean think about some of what he is saying, when are we blessed again?

Matthew 5:3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. 4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

Well that sounds like fun right…being at the end of my rope…losing what’s most dear, or how about this one….because we all love being persecuted.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. 11 “Not only that — count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. MSG

I mean this is really interesting.  Jesus takes everything these people know and everything they have been taught…he takes their laws and says you have been taught this…but I say this…Jesus is challenging them, and all of us isn’t He?  Jesus takes everything they know and takes it a step farther!  So he takes the bar and seems to raise it.  I don’t know about you but there are some big things that I feel like I have under control!  I can handle the big sins right?  Well, Jesus takes things like murder and says so you think you are good because you can handle not killing people?  Well that’s great, but it’s about your heart, your motives, and who you really are that matters more than the outside.  So yeah, you don’t murder but the hate filled rage in you, is murder.  He takes adultery and says a lust filled look is just as bad in our hearts.  He takes forgiveness and revenge and says that if you are going to obey me you are going to love others, and forgive and not need to get even.  Which is a little different isn’t it?  So Jesus’ teaching is all about what is going on inside me…and frankly it can be a little intimidating to engage this type of life, because it seems impossible to live this way doesn’t it?  I mean this is going to take more than just a willingness to learn right.  You know it’s not easy to obey, and I started this talk telling you something that is very important.  You and I can’t get this done on our own.  If I don’t have help, my fleshly instincts will take over and I won’t be able to live out the life that Jesus tells us to live.  That is why Jesus sent us a helper.

The Holy Spirit.  So we are seeing what it means to follow Jesus.  We know that it really is a call to learn, to live differently, and to obey and it is the Holy Spirit living and active in us that allows this to take place, this is what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit coming…this is so important.

John 16:7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. 12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. NIV

Yes living as a follower of Jesus is a challenge on our own, but Jesus is saying you won’t be alone.  He is saying that the Holy Spirit is so important that he HAS to leave, and the Holy Spirit HAS to come!  He is our guide.  He leads people to Jesus.  You know when someone hands you their phone at work, and says look at this, and you know darn well it isn’t something you should look at, you feel that conviction in you not to do it don’t you?  That is the Holy Spirit working in you.  The Holy Spirit is our guide to live like Jesus lived in this very challenging, very godless culture.  We live in a world that is full of sin, and we know that our enemy has no power over us because of Jesus and what he did for us on the cross but we are still tempted…well Paul lets us know that it is the Holy Spirit that helps us deal with temptation.  We have an enemy working hard to knock us off track, to keep us feeling guilty and feeling the weight of our sins and mistakes, but Paul says this…

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. NIV

Do you see it?  When the Holy Spirit is living and active in our lives we will live differently.  Our lives will look differently, inside and out.  It just simply isn’t in our nature to live the way Jesus lived.  That is why he sent us a helper, the Holy Spirit who empowers us, he strengthens us and helps us to live differently and what begins to come out of our lives is a noticeable difference.   We will begin to produce what Paul calls through Fruit of the spirit in our lives…

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. NIV

You know it’s hard to read the Gospels, without seeing that we are called to follow Jesus.  For some, they drop their nets and are off to follow Jesus without question.  For others, they respond differently, some hesitate and some say NO…but you know, living your life as a follower of Jesus is an incredible journey.  It is so much bigger and more satisfying that just pretending to live one way on a Sunday morning while living an entire other life all week long.  It is the difference between living an exhausted life of rule keeping, and acting like someone you are not, and engaging into that life to the full that Jesus told you he came to give you.

You can have that, today…it begins with you asking Jesus into your heart and believing in Him.  As you ask for forgiveness of your sins and begin to feel the unconditional love of God, who loved you enough to send Jesus to take care of all of your junk for you, and grace begins to wash over you, that’s when the fun begins.  Where Jesus will lovingly look at you and say “come on my son, come on my daughter…follow me.”  And for the rest of your life in this beautiful creation it’s about opening yourself up to the call to learn, to live differently, to break free from those old grooves of evil, and to obey his commands…all of which happens as we allow the Holy Spirit, God in us to guide us along the way.  Will you never mess up again?  Well you are human so my assumption is you will mess up…and you will know it because the Holy Spirit will convict you in those moments…but you get to spend the rest of your journey moving towards Jesus, who will come directly at your heart condition and your motives.  Why in the world would he do that?  It’s because He loves you so much that he wants this journey of yours, this life that you are living to be real.

So yeah, we have heard about following Jesus a lot.  Well when we accept that call, we are accepting a call to action.  We are accepting a call to learn, to grow, and to obey, and with the help of the Holy Spirit we spend all our days doing just that…following Jesus.