Follow Me!

In None of These Diseases S.I. McMillen tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college. However, her heart sank when she read the question on the application, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter of acceptance from the college:

          Dear Applicant:

A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at        least one follower.

Welcome!

I must ask you this question. Do you consider yourself a leader or do you consider yourself a follower? Jesus is looking for followers. That takes us to our Gospel lesson for today.

We find ourselves today in the first chapter of Mark. It is early in Jesus’s ministry.

The only things prior to this story are the stories of John the Baptist, and the baptism and temptations of Jesus. Our scripture reading begins with the sad news, John the Baptist had been arrested. His incarceration signals the beginning of Jesus’s earthly ministry. Verse 15 is significant. Jesus, himself, says, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” The first thing Jesus does is collect a few followers. Jesus is at the Sea of Galilee. I have been there. It is a beautiful place, 14 miles long and 6 miles wide. The coast was filled with professional fishermen and it still is. Two of the professionals were Peter and his brother, Andrew. Jesus invites them to follow him. Later, he invites John and his brother, James. The four, in the end, decide to follow Jesus. Do not jump over that line too fast. The four follow Jesus. That means the four let Jesus take the lead. At this point, Jesus is not looking for them to be leaders, Jesus is looking for followers. That is an amazing concept in our time because we are always looking for leaders.

Over the past few decades my desk has been covered with a variety of workshops and continuing education events on the topic of leadership. In most cases the church has borrowed business principles to solve our leadership vacuum. Years ago, the name Peter Drucker (1909-2005) burst on the scene. He was an Austrian management consultant, educator, and author. Everyone seemed to be reading him. He tried to cultivate the leader hiding within all of us. He said a leader must trumpet the organization’s goal and hold fast to five basic qualities. These five qualities are the secret to turning you into a leader. Here is the five:

          (1) A leader works

          (2) A leader sees his assignment as responsibility, not privilege

          (3) A leader wants strong, capable, self-assured, independent associates

          (4) A leader creates human energies and vision

          (5) A leader develops followers’ trust by his own consistency and integrity

How many of those qualities do you possess in your life?

I think, it is humorous that the church had to look to Peter Drucker to teach us about leadership when we have had studying the greatest leader in the history of the world for generations, Jesus! If you do not believe me take those five qualities of leadership and apply them to Jesus.

          (1) Jesus was not afraid to work

          (2) Jesus saw his assignment as responsibility, not privilege

          (3) Jesus looked for independent associates

          (4) Jesus cast a vision

          (5) Jesus created trust because he was a person of integrity

The question for today is not, was Jesus a leader? The question is, are you a follower? Years ago, Jesus invited Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him. They accepted the invitation and it change their lives. The problem is everyone is not comfortable following. The reason is simple. The reason is change. Some do not like change. Followers must change. Leaders do not have to change. Think about this for a moment. Many say they follow Jesus, but they refuse to change. If you do not change then you are not a follower. What is your story? So, let me ask you the questions again. Are you a follower, who will take direction from the leader? Are you a leader, who refuses to change? Jesus is looking for followers.

Today, I want to talk about three changes you must make in your life if you are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ. These points are not original. The came from United Methodist preacher James W. Moore (1938-2019). He was a graduate of the Methodist Theological School of Ohio. They are worth examining.

A New Focus

I remember reading this piece of scripture when I was young. I wondered how the disciples could instantly leave everything and follow Jesus. Mark does not give us any prior history the disciples had with Jesus, they just left. At that time in my life, it did not seem logical, or responsible. However, as I have grown older, I have grown to understand why they did it. I believe, they accepted Jesus’ invitation because they needed something new in their lives. Their lives had grown stale, and they hungered for change. You can say they wanted an adventure. Time reminded them that life in this world is limited. They wanted to leave this world a better place. Jesus offers his followers a new focus. If you are going to follow Jesus, then be prepared for a new focus. The temporary is no longer vital. The eternal suddenly becomes all consuming. How important is eternity to you?

It is interesting only John died of old age. Some believe he lived to be 100. The other three, Peter, Andrew, and James, died as martyrs. Tradition tells us, Peter died in Rome. He was crucified upside down at his request. He was not worthy to die as Jesus died. Andrew was also crucified in died in day Russia. He was crucified too. James was stoned and clubbed to death in present day Syria. The other eight did not fare much better. Thomas was in India where he was pierced through the side by four solders. Philip went to North Africa and was tortured. Bartholomew was martyred in Ethiopia. Simon the Zealot traveled to Persia and was killed for not worshipping the sun god. Just think about it. Eleven of the twelve died of unnatural causes for the Gospel. Not even one complained because their eyes were fixed on eternity. They are had a new focus. Their eyes were fixed on eternity. Are you more concerned about the temporary? Are you more concerned about the eternal? Where are your eyes fixed? If you are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then you better be prepared for a new focus. If you are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then you better be prepared for a new future.

A New Vision

Do you have someone in your life that will not let you forget the past? It may be a mother or a father. It may be a brother or a sister? It may be a friend. Is there someone in your life you hate seeing because they are constantly reminding you of your mistakes or failures? Maybe this is a better question, how much time do you spend resenting your past?

William Glasser (1925-2013) was an American psychiatrist who made his impact on the world of psychiatry. He has developed something called “reality therapy.” His approach is a little blunt, but it sounds good to me. While most of the fields of psychiatry spend a great amount of time untangling your past. For example, why you hate your mother and why you resent your brother. Reality therapy spends time on your future. It says you have the rest of your life to live, get over your past and do something with your future. Do you spend too much time in your past? Do you have someone in your life who spends too much time living in the past? Wouldn’t you like to tell them to get over it and start living today?

Jesus may have been the first reality therapist. Have you ever noticed how little time Jesus spent talking about the past? He is much more interested in the future. When he found the woman in the adulterous relationship, he forgives her and says, “Sin no more.” (John 8:11) When Nicodemus appeared on that dark night with the question Jesus told him to move forward in life. You must be born again. (John 3:3) In the parable of the prodigal son the young brother messed up but they father accepts him back and has a party. (Luke 15:11-31) Jesus is not interested in your past. The same is true for you. He is more interested in what you are going to do in the future then what you did in the past. When you learn to completely follow Jesus you can expect a new future. If you are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then you better be prepared for a new focus. If you are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then you better be prepared for a new future. If you are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then you better be prepared for a new lifestyle.

A New Lifestyle

In February of 2016 18-year-old Malachi Love-Robinson was arrested in in West Palm Beach, Florida for pretending to be a doctor. He impersonated an anesthesiologist at the St. Mary’s Medical Center. He was found guilty on 14 charges and served three and a half years in prison. I find that story interesting because the one thing people will not tolerate is a fraud. Our society values people who are genuine. It is especially true of the Christian community. Our society will not tolerate a hypocrite.

Our society is extremely critical of the church and our society is extremely critical of individual Christians. That means your world is watching you to see if you are a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Four times in the New Testament says we are Christ’s ambassadors in this world. That means you are representing Jesus. What are you teaching your world about Jesus from your behavior? What are you teaching your world about Jesus from your attitudes or opinions? What are you teaching your world about Jesus from your words? Jesus loved everyone unconditionally. Jesus forgave everyone regularly. How are you doing serving as Christ’s ambassador in this world?

Let me ask you these two questions. You can consider them a test of your genuineness. What have you said about our new president in the last few days? What have you said about our former president in the last few days? Remember, you are an ambassador of Jesus Christ? Are you a follower who is embracing a new lifestyle, always forgiving, and always loving, or are you a leader who refuses to change? Jesus loved everyone. Jesus forgave regularly. The great reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) said it best, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”  On this inauguration week, let me end with this patriotic story.

In 1789, an uncertain George Washington (1732-1799) was urged to seek the presidency of the United States by Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816). Morris was a man of great influence. He was a delegate from New York to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. From 1792-1794, he served as the Ambassador to France. From 1800-1803, he served as a United States Senator. He saw Washington as a natural leader. Morris wrote Washington these words: “No constitution is the same on paper and in life. The exercise of authority depends upon personal character. Your cool steady temper is needed to set the tone for a new government.”

Here is the good news for today! No one is asking you to be the president. (Aren’t you glad?) No one is even asking you to be a leader. The only thing I am going to ask you to do is be a follower. Follow Jesus and experience life as God intended from the very beginning. When you learn to follow Jesus, you will discover a new focus, a new future, and a new lifestyle. How much has the Gospel changed your life? So, let me ask you the question of the day one more time. Are you a leader? Are you a follower? Jesus is looking for followers.

Discipleship 101

In 1857, John Henry Hopkins Jr. (1820-1891) wrote one of the great hymns in the history of the church, We Three Kings. At the time, Hopkins served as the rector of the Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. However, he wrote the carol for a Christmas pageant in New York City. The carol is a combination of Bible and tradition. Tradition, not Bible, tells us there were three kings. Tradition, not Bible, tells us the names of the three kings. If you picture your nativity set, Then, you can see them. Melchior was an old gray-headed man with a long white beard. He brought the gold, the gift for a king. Caspar was young and beardless. He brought the frankincense, the gift for a priest. The myrrh, the gift for one who was going to die, was brought by Balthasar, who was dark-complexioned. That is interesting, but that is not Bible. We are a Biblical church, which means we are only interested in what the Bible says about the Magi (not kings). So, what does the Bible?

In the second chapter of Matthew, we find the story of the Magi. The Bible says it happened after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Judea. So, Jesus was born five miles south of Jerusalem. Matthew goes on to pinpoint the date. It was when King Herod sat on the throne. He sat on the throne for thirty-three years, from 37 – 4 B.C. He was

appointed to his position by the Roman Senate. Over two thousand years later, he is still remembered for being ruthless and insecure. His insecurity led him to murder many in his family: his wife, three sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and uncles. In our reading for today, we learn his murderous ways extended beyond the family. You know what the Bible says. The combination of the uninvited visitors and the insecure king produced one of the greatest stories in the Bible.

The story of the Magi is rich in many ways. I preach on this text annually. I looked at my past sermons from the past decade. Through the years I have looked at this story from several different angles. Maybe you remember one of these themes. In the past, I have looked at the odd gifts they presented the toddler Jesus. They were gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In the past, I have looked at the symbolism that surrounds the Magi. They were Gentiles, non-Jews, entering a Jewish world. However, in God’s plan of salvation of the world everyone, even Gentiles, are welcomed. The Magi represent us! In the past, I have used the Magi to illustrate a cruel point. Life is hard! Why did innocent babies have to die? That fact upsets me. Today, I want to look at the Magi from a different angle.

The Magi illustrate for us the basics in discipleship. That is important because we are in the discipleship making business. Do you remember the mission statement of this church? Western Reserve will develop disciples who reflect Christ’s love through worship, fellowship, and service. The mission statement of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. So, what the Magi did to become a disciple we must do. They did three distinct things once they found Jesus. Each one is found in the story.

First, the Magi bowed down! Look at the text with me. The entire story revolves around a group of tired travelers, the Magi. Here is a question you must answer. Who are the Magi? Many have been trying to answer that question for years. It will have to suffice to say they were spiritual astrologers. By studying the stars, they had discovered that the king of the Jews had been born. Their knowledge of the stars is impressive, but their understanding of the scriptures is limited. They assumed the king would be born in the capital, Jerusalem. The scriptures tell us he would be born in Bethlehem. That single mistake ignited the insecurities of the present king, Herod. However, it is Herod who sends them in the right direction. When they arrive, we are told they bowed down and worshipped Jesus. (Verse 11) By then, Mary and Joseph are no longer staying in the4 barn or manger. They have moved to a house. However, this is a more important question. What does it mean to bow down? It means the Magi, with all their worldly influence and power, were humbling themselves before Christ. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you must humble yourself before him. How humble are you?

The late Dawson Trotman (1906-1956), founder of the Navigators, was visiting Taiwan on one of his overseas trips. During the visit he hiked with a Taiwanese pastor back into one of the mountain villages to meet with some of the national Christians. The roads and trails were wet, and their shoes became very muddy. Later, someone asked this Taiwanese pastor what he remembered most about Dawson Trotman. Without hesitation the man replied, “He cleaned my shoes.” So, this is my question for you. How will you be remembered? Will you be remembered as a prideful person? Will you be remembered as a humble person? If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, then you must be humble. Do the people in your life consider you humble?

Second, the Magi opened-up! Look at the text with me again. The Magi did not just bow down. They also offered him gifts. There was gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Each one of the gifts reveals something about the life that Jesus is going to live. The gold was a gift for a king. The frankincense was a gift for a priest. The myrrh was a gift for one who was going to die. The gifts reveal the Magi’s insight, but the gifts also reveal the Magi’s generosity. One of the great secrets of the Bible is, what happened to the gifts? Many believed they were sold to pay for life because life has always been expensive. The Magi gave their best. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you must give him your best for the business disciple making. How much of your life are you giving?

There is the 90/10 Principle. I have spoken of it in the past. I repeat it because you need to hear it. It is not a complex principle. It simply says, 90% of the work done and 90% of the money given is done and given by 10% of the people. It does not just happen here. It happens in every church. So, this is the question you must answer. Are you part of the 10% who does or gives 90% or are you part of the 90% who does or gives 90%? The answer is obvious. Are you proud of your answer or are you ashamed of your answer? The Magi were generous with their time, they looked for Jesus for years. The Magi were generous with their money, they gave expensive gifts. Do the people in your life consider you a generous person when it comes to the disciple making element of the church? The Magi bowed down. The Magi opened-up.

Third, the Magi changed! Look at the text with me one final time. The time came for the Magi to go home. They had experienced the king of the Jews and were ready to go home. They were prepared to go home in the same way that they came. There is no reason to believe they would have changed their itinerary, but they have a dream that warns them to go home a different way. Verse 12 says, “They returned home by another route.” Jesus had changed their normal way, and they tried a new way. How much is Jesus changing your life? Are you willing to try something new?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) called it “cheap grace.” It is when grace is experienced in your life, but there is no discipleship. It is grace without price; it is grace with cost. It is grace without change. How many people do you know proclaim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, but they refuse to change? They expect to go to heaven, but they refuse to forgive or love unconditionally. How much has the Gospel changed your life? The Magi bowed down! The Magi opened-up! The magi changed!

I heard this week 84% of all Americans kept their New Year’s resolutions to some degree from last year. So, let me ask you the question. What is your New Year’s Resolution? I am not the first one to ask it. The people at GoSkills.com say these are the most common New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Exercise More
  2. Lose Weight
  3. Get Organized
  4. Learn a New Skill or Hobby
  5. Live Life to the Fullest
  6. Save More Money
  7. Quit Smoking
  8. Spend More Time with Family and Friends

Is any of those your New Year’s Resolution?

This is my New Year’s Resolution. This year I am going to more like the Magi. I am going to take my discipleship more seriously. I am going to humble myself. I am going to be more generous. I am going to be more open to God leading. I hope you are going to be more like the Magi too. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was an American revivalist. He once wrote, “Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.”