The Risk of Following Jesus

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Before I became a Christian, everything I heard about following Jesus Christ was good and attractive—and I think this experience is shared by many other believers. But as I started reading the Bible, I realized that Jesus does not promise that the journey will be easy for those who would want to follow Him. One has to take serious considerations about the implications of being His disciple. He, in fact likens following Him to carrying the cross on a daily basis. Our concept of the cross has been distorted due to the time and culture gap between us and the time of Jesus. For us it is a harmless or even beautiful artifact or piece of jewelry.  But during the era of the Roman Empire, only those who were about to be executed carried their crosses to the place of crucifixion. So, carrying the cross is akin to dying—and on a daily basis.

Those who take a stand for what Jesus stands for risk being hated, called names, ostracized, treated unjustly, imprisoned or even killed. The story of Joseph of Arimathea illustrates the kind of boldness every believer needs in order to identify with Jesus. Although, he was among the most respected people in the Jewish religious establishment, Joseph risked his reputation and perhaps his carrier to identify with Jesus. Hitherto he had been a secret disciple of Jesus. But Joseph was not alone. There were two other women following. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph had been with Jesus right for most of His public ministry. They followed their Master to the end.

Why would anyone risk being shunned by family and close friends, arrested or killed for the sake of Jesus? It is not because of what the world could offer us in this life but rather of what Jesus promises us both in this life and the life to come. Although we might lose everything—including our own lives, when we have Jesus we have everything.

Have you ever had to make hard choices for the sake of following Jesus? How are you going to live for Him today; this week?

when we have Jesus we have everything

The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (VI)

Simplicity

Nehemiah 5:14-16 (NIV) Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year– twelve years– neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. But the earlier governors– those preceding me– placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land. Click here for more

Simplicity is one quality of leadership that is perhaps not rated as highly as the other qualities. Some people erroneously think that simplicity is about shunning material things—that’s akin to asceticism. True simplicity is premised on viewing all life from the perspective of God’s kingdom. Simplicity is refusal to live by the standards of the god of this world, which is materialism. Here are some lessons we can learn from Nehemiah’s simplicity:

Down to earth

Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain” (verses 1-2). A leader who possesses the quality of simplicity is not afraid to associate with all categories of people—whether mighty and sophisticated or lowly and simple. By all standards, Nehemiah was no ordinary citizen. His service in the palace as a king’s “cup bearer” meant that he rubbed shoulders with the king quite regularly.  But he was also very approachable and listened to the concerns of the ordinary people and gave them an appropriate response. When the spiritual leader’s identity is in Christ, they are not afraid to associate with any category of people. They are not bossy but rather, they work with and for the people.

Living Justly

When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them (verses 6-7). Nehemiah had the audacity to call the “priests…nobles and officials” (verse 12) to order because of the exemplary life he lived. The rich were giving out loans to the poor at very exorbitant interest rates. Consequently, the poor would fail to pay—losing their land, houses or whatever else the owed the rich. Although Nehemiah too was lending money to the people, he and his people refused to charge excessive interest.  He refused to exploit the poor like everyone else did. When we live simply, we have the freedom and authority to stand up for the justice of those who are marginalized in our societies.

Generosity

But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land (verses 15-16.) A leader is marked more by how much they give out (literally and not metaphorically) than what they amass for themselves. Leaders know that although their positions may attract privileges, those privileges should be used for the betterment of the people they lead.  In Nehemiah’s case, he noticed that the previous leaders had put a heavy levy on the people in order to subsidize their lifestyle. Nehemiah refused to follow suit; instead he invited his fellow leaders for a sumptuous banquet every ten days (verses 17-18).

True simplicity

How do you exercise this quality of simplicity? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.

 

The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (V)

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Focus 

When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it– though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates–Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. Nehemiah 6:1-4 (NIV)

One of the qualities any leader must have is focus—not being distracted from one’s calling, vision and mission. Nehemiah is an example of a leader who was focused and intentional about his assignment. He refused to be distracted by his enemies. Every day we are faced with a challenge to stay focused on what God has called us to do. Let me share some of the distractions we can encounter.

Good things/programs

This is the easiest to distract us from our mission. Life sometimes offers us  many good things. Some of these things or programs may be even more attractive and appealing than our primary commitments. They may offer better positions, opportunities, or remuneration than the ministry God has called us for. It takes immense discipline and intentionality to keep focused when such situations arise.

The enemy

Satan is diabolically opposed to God’s purposes. He distracts us by making us focus on the challenges at hand than the big picture of our mission. The enemy can use diverse strategies to make us fail in our mission. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Apostle Paul clearly says that several times Satan hindered him from going to certain places to preach the Gospel. The encouragement we have is that with Lord’s help we can overcome Satan.

Life challenges

Life is a journey, and so it has its ups and downs. There are times when every leader has to deal with a crisis—whether it is a loss of a loved one, an illness, financial challenge, or a divorce. These challenges can threaten our commitment to our mission. What keeps us going is the assurance that God is with us even in the fire that we might be going through.

Past victories or failures

The hangover of yesterday’s victory or the guilt of past failures can derail us from our calling. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray that “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). Yesterday’s victories cannot guarantee today’s success. Similarly, you might have failed yesterday but that’s not a reason for you to give up. Every leader needs fresh spiritual nourishment and strength for the tasks and commitments of each day. God’s mercies are new every morning. Like Apostle Paul says we need to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13).

Keep your Focused on the Goal.
Like an athlete, leaders need to be stubbornly focused on their mission. Our lives must be wholly committed to the mission God has given us. Like Apostle Paul, we need to say “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Like Nehemiah, when we encounter the challenges that would distract us, we should be able to say: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down” (Neh. 6:3).

The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (II)

Divine Connection

Nehemiah 2:4 (NIV) The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven

What essentially differentiates a spiritual leader from any other leader is the one’s relationship with God. Nehemiah’s life was marked by an unwavering faith in the God of Israel. His devotion to God was greater than his personal comfort, safety or reputation. It was this relationship with God that motivated him to go to Jerusalem to facilitate the rebuilding of the wall. We can know about Nehemiah’s relationship with God through his prayers which are all over book of Nehemiah.

Likewise, our relationship with God is enhanced by a lifestyle of prayer. One’s prayer life tells us a lot about their faith in God. If we take God and His promises seriously, then prayer must be an essential part of our lives. It is like the air we breathe.

One may ask, “But when and how should we pray?” First of all, the Bible tells us to pray at all times–without ceasing (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Nehemiah prayed at all times. When he received disturbing news about the state of the people and the city of Jerusalem, he prayed. He worshiped, confessed his sins and those of his people, pleaded with God for mercy and favor (Nehemiah 1:5-11). When he stood before the king he prayed for wisdom (Nehemiah 2:4). When he was confronted by his enemies, he prayed for protection (Nehemiah 4:4-5). Spiritual leaders pray at all times with all kinds of prayers.

What makes prayer effective? Effective prayer should be honest. God doesn’t respond to the volume of our prayers. Some prayers are hardly audible but that doesn’t make them less effective. Others are very loud, and that’s still okay–after all God doesn’t have heart problems. God does not respond to the length of your prayers. Some can be spontaneous and short, like the one Peter prayed when he was sinking (Matthew 14:30). Others may take days and weeks. We should always remember that God is not a mean and an unjust judge (see Luke 18:1-8). He is our heavenly Father. What makes prayer effective is the honesty of the one praying and the faith that God will answer us when we call on Him.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Do you have a personal relationship with the heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ?
  • Is your life as a spiritual leader marked with fervent prayer?
  • How can you make prayer an essential part of your lifestyle?

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Shepherding God’s People

1 Peter 5:1-4 (NIV) To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers– not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Feed God’s Flock

Apostle Peter reiterates the same charge that he himself received from the Lord Jesus Christ (see John 21:15-17). The one single most important role of the pastor or elder is to be “shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care” (verse 2). This includes providing pastoral and biblical oversight, discipline, instruction, counseling so that the people of God can grow into Christ-like maturity.  Shepherds need to guard themselves against the negative motivations for pastoral ministry such as working out of obligation, being greedy, or bossy. Instead they should serve because they are willing, eager, and exemplary.  Shepherds should also know that they are really under-shepherds, with the Chief-shepherd being Jesus Christ who will at the end reward those who are faithful.

Do you have a pastoral responsibility in your church (such as pastor, elder, small group leader, women’s leader, etc.)? How do you measure up in light of today’s passage?

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Humble Yourself before God

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:5-7).

Young people are ambitious and active. But they can also be easily entrapped by pride. Pride may cause them to despise the wisdom of those who are older than them, thus making the pastoral ministry hard. We all need to know, though, that pride is not exclusive to the youth. Pride puts us on the wrong side of God. “God opposes the proud”(verse 5). No one would want to have God as their opponent. In the highly competitive world that we live in, it is easy to get worried about promotions, accomplishments or worldly accolades. Keep in mind that it is always rewarding when God promotes us in His own time. We, therefore, should not be anxious or stressed out about human accomplishments but rather look up to God who deeply cares for us.

Do you sometimes find yourself in unhealthy competition for recognition and promotion? It is wise to wait on God to “lift you up” in His time.

 

 

Instructions for Christian Living

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 (NIV) Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

Relating with Other Christians (12-15)

Christian living is all about relationships. We relate vertically with God by worshiping and obeying Him. On the horizontal plane, we relate with other people. The Word of God tells us to honor our spiritual leaders. Pastoral ministry is a high calling and rewarding but it can also be hard and stressful. Pastors work hard to lead, teach and guide the people of God. Therefore believer are instructed to respect and honor them.  Respect for our spiritual leaders is a Christian virtue (see Hebrews 13:17). Have you been an encouragement to your spiritual leader lately? Find a practical way to let your them know that you appreciate the work they are doing.

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Christian Spiritual Disciplines (16-22)

Christian life is dynamic. For a Christian to grow in one’s relationship with God they ought to practice certain Godly habits. The Word of God highlights some of them such as: joyfulness, thanksgiving, being open to the work of the Spirit in our lives, discernment, and moral purity. We can be confident that living out the above disciplines is possible because of the grace of God available to us. The grace of God empowers us to do the will of God. God is wholly committed to us. He provides all that it takes for us to lead a life worthy of Him. Where in your Christian walk do you feel you are doing well? Which Godly habits do you think you need to develop?

 

Being Caring Christ-Like Community

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Mark 10:13-16  (NIV) People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

In the last couple of weeks I have been sharing on the implications of our identity and purpose as followers of Jesus Christ. We have been called by God to live for Him—to make Him look great. How we express our purpose, of living for God, largely depends on our different contexts.

For starters, let’s ponder on these questions?

  1. If you were a pastor of a local church, what kind of people would you pray that they come to your church? What motivates that desire?
  2. Which kind of people do like to you associate with? What motivates your choice of friends?

In the story of Jesus blessings little children we see in the disciples’ response a reflection of many of us when it comes to living out our faith. As we know, Jesus’ actions almost always shocked everyone, even those closest to Him. His actions were unconventional and counter-culture. But there was also something predictable about Him in whatever He did; He wanted to please the Father. He touched and cleansed lepers, ate and drank with sinners, was anointed by former prostitutes. He reached out to those regarded as the dregs of the society. He loved those who rejected Him. He died for those who crucified Him.

In the Bible passage above, Jesus’ disciples felt that He should spend His time doing better things—meeting the important and influential people. But Jesus had a different idea. He chose to spend time (and bless) the children. Children were: vulnerable, often ignored by adults, powerless and had no social, political or religious influence. Therefore, according to the disciples, time spent with children was considered wasted. We demonstrate Christ-like character when we act the way Jesus acted—by choosing not to live by the dictates of our societal values but His.

The community in which our local church is located has very many children. We minister to hundreds of them every month by sharing with them the word of God, dancing with them, offering them a cup of hot porridge and bread. As church, Children’s Ministry is one of our local expressions of what it means to be a Caring, Christ-Like Community.

Reflection:

  1. Who are “the least of these” (cf. Matthew 25:40) in your community?
  2. What is an appropriate expression of what it means to be a Caring, Christ-Like Community in your context?
  3. What is God calling you (as an individual or body of believers in Jesus Christ) to do in your community?