Friday, February 27, 2009

Stepping In the Footprints of Jesus

Loving Jesus, I mean really loving Jesus is a lot harder than I'd sometimes like to accept. The disciples themselves told Jesus His teachings were "hard" and many of them defected. That's a pretty big thing considering that anyone who devoted themselves to becoming a disciple had literally given up everything else--career, home, family--to become like this man. The Bible says in John 6 that Jesus was aware that some of his disciples were complaining that His teachings were too demanding and He specifically asked them, "Does this cause you to be offended?" Jesus knew they were offended--his message can be offensive to our personal agendas and bents. When it is, then we know we've encountered an area in our lives where we haven't released ourselves fully to Him. He went on to tell them, "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." The Greek in that passage means that Jesus words are literally life-producing. Just yesterday the boys and I were cracking open rocks and marveling at the dark brown lines and layers passing through the hard stones. Here in the center of these rough chunks of our earth were minerals and elements like iron--ingredients completely and utterly necessary for the production of life. My eldest son--an avid ingredient label reader--exclaimed, "Mom, those are in the food we eat!" Exactly right. The very element that courses through our blood giving us energy and saving us from severe lethargy is found within the hardest stones. The truths of the Spirit of God are often layers of nutrients embedded in the difficult ways of Jesus. And they produce life. Now let me give you an example of what this looks like in my life. Paul in Philippians wrote a verse that God often uses to...well, to haunt me, if you will. "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things." (4:8) I know it's a commonly quoted passage and for good reason--it's full of iron-rich nutrients of the Spirit of God. The problem is that often it means I've got to quit focusing on something that doesn't meet that criteria. For example one of my absolute favorite authors of all-time falls short of this criteria. His writing is flawless. His stories are like long hot cups of coffee and lazy Saturday afternoons. And yet each of his books contain images and phrasing that I know grieve the heart of God. Every time I begin one of his books I am hopeful that it will be different and every time God passes that verse through my heart and whispers, "It's not commendable, Sarah. He took the incredible ability I gave him to write and allowed it to become something I never intended." And some of you might say, but it's art. And to that all I can tell you is the truth. Only a short distance into the book I was already aware that I'd need to return it to the library when my husband picked it up. I cringed. My entire body tensed as he began to look at the book because all I could think is how embarrassed I'd be if he read a few pages. Well, obviously it wasn't "praiseworthy" or I'd of been insisting he read the entire thing. So the book sits unread and waiting patiently to be returned. Hard. Maybe not hard for everyone, but for a literature lover it's hard to accept. We all cling to different things--struggle to hold onto different parts of our old life. Just this morning while pulling out an old shoe box for the boys to place some of their newly cracked open rocks in I noticed a slogan on the inside of the box. There was a large shoe print and the words "What kind of footprint will you leave?" Paul in verse 9 of Philippians 4 said, "And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you." Do you not find it incredible that this man had such confidence in his obedience to Christ that He actually had the boldness to say, "Hey guys, mimic me. Be like me. Practise what I practise. Preach what I preach. Live how I live and the God of peace will be with you." That's amazing to me. Frankly, there are times when I have to sit my little boys down and say, "Boys, what you just saw mommy do? That wasn't what Jesus would do. I have to ask Jesus to forgive me and I need to tell you it was wrong. Will you forgive me too?" But Paul knew exactly what kind of footprint he was leaving and he wanted others to follow in it. After all, that's what a disciple is, isn't it? A follower? So, my question is, are we really following? Really? Listen, I know it's tough sometimes. Sometimes I feel like I'm giving up everything...but then Jesus asks us for what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? See I'd rather keep my soul and lose the world. Jesus said in Luke 6:46-48, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord, and don't do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and puts them into practice I will show you what he is like: He is like a man building a house who dug down deep, and laid the foundation on bedrock. When a flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built." A foundation on bedrock. I had a friend who recently built a house and they ended up having to blast into the earth with dynamite because they discovered her house location was solid rock. It cost her an extra fifteen thousand dollars, but she's got a foundation built on rock. Her house is going nowhere. It is permanently embedded in the rock. If I take Jesus at His word and obey it--follow it as closely as I understand it, I am digging down deep and leaving a footprint that I can be confident I want my own children to follow in. You know that passage in John when the disciples said it was too difficult to follow Jesus' teachings? My Bible says, "After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer." The literal Greek translation of that means "Many of his disciples went back to what lay behind." What lay behind. I can't help but think of the Israelites' repeated claims that they were better off as slaves in Egypt. For the follower of Jesus what lays behind is always shaky ground. It's always less than what lies ahead. Imagine a house that actually shifts it's position from the solid foundation on which it lays to the sandy soil behind it? A house can't sit on two foundations and remain stable. That's not the footprint I want to leave. When we lived in Ontario sometimes we'd get a big snow overnight. If Jeff didn't have time to shovel before he left for work I'd go out and try to step directly in his big booted footprints in order to get the shovel. But when I missed even slightly, I always got snow down my boot or up my pants leg. Following in the footprints of Jesus takes every ounce of effort--it takes our all. He'll leave nothing untouched, but the payoff is a foundation built on rock so full of nutrients that we get a life only the spirit of God can give. Most of all, what I love is the promise that when we put these words and deeds into action, "The God of peace will be with you." (Phil. 4:9) We're not promised a trouble free life. We're not promised an easy life, but when we give all of ourselves to all we know of Jesus we are walking in the company of the God of peace. The peace to sing with the Horatio Spafford's great hymn, "It is well with my soul." It may not be easy, but it will be well. Of this, I am sure. Pray with me: God of peace, Spirit of God, Jesus, teach me to take your yoke. Teach me to follow in your footprints. Show me that the life you give is far greater than the life I release to follow you. God I miss the mark so often and I thank you for your forgiveness. Help me to love the peace that you give more than the temporary fulfillment I'm offered by those things to which I want to cling. Jesus may my life honor you and may my children find a solid footprint in which to follow. Amen."