It is funny really. I mean here I was thinking that the summer was going to drain my resources (and it would have -- down to the nub), and now I have two summer classes to teach. God is so good to me, so very good to me. He has provided two classes, one on campus and one online for me. In total, I will earn a nice little sum of money to cover me until my fall courses start in mid-August. I was worried about how I would make ends meet, and as per the Lord, He stepped in and graciously provided a way for me to stretch my "oil" a bit further. Now, I am not flush by any means, but I should be able to breathe a little easier knowing that my summer will not be quite as dry as it had once appeared to be. He is marvelous, so wonderful!
I was telling my good friend the other night how I had nothing to do this summer -- now that my dissertation has been pushed back a semester. I was saying how I felt the Lord pressing on me to work on curriculum, to create some syllabi with lessons, etc. just so I would have them on hand SHOULD a teaching opportunity come to my attention. In fact, I started to do this toward the end of the springtime, but with my push to get my proposal finished, I simply couldn't start another project. I did update my website, and I added some links to helpful files, but I didn't really complete the project as I had hoped. I said to my friend, "I think this is what the Lord wants me to do this summer," and as of Monday, that was to be my plan this week. Then yesterday, I get a call asking me to teach and boom! I am now in full-swing curriculum planning mode. I have to prep for a 9-hour week next week, and frankly, I am scratching my head to figure out how to do it. God is good, so very good to me, and I am trusting Him to lead me, but still the task seems a bit overwhelming. He is good, though, so very good to provide this wonderful teaching opportunity.
God Leads and We Follow
I mentioned that this past Sunday, my pastor, Jamie Rasmussen, taught on John 10. He gave a good message on the allegory of the Good Shepherd. It was a message I needed to hear, and even though I have heard the story told and taught many times, his approach to the story, his clarification was helpful to me. I came away convinced of my need to embrace "followership" more fully. Much of what he said, I already knew. I mean, I have been following the Lord as a disciple for now on 10 years. My life has been radically transformed from what I would call a "traditional Christian," a person who is saved, believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, trusts Him for salvation and eternal life, but generally walks according to their own plans, to that of a disciple, a person who has completely surrendered their life to "follow" after the Lord. And when I say I walked after my own plans, I don't necessarily mean sinful plans. No, I mean as a person who is fully in control of their own life, who walks in a way that they think is best, and who for the most part, tries or attempts to do the "right thing" whenever possible. Let me explain...
For near on 30 years, I called the shots. I made the plans. I decided what to do. And, while I did read my Bible, study the Word, listen to pastors and teachers preach and teach, I pretty much made up my own mind. I tried very hard to be a "good Christian." I tried to do what I thought would please the Lord, and I tried to make decisions that didn't go against His word or His Holy Spirit. I wasn't very successful as my own boss, suffice it to say. I adhered to the belief that it was okay for me to do things my way -- so long as I wasn't hurting anyone -- and I was trying to be a good person. Yes, my approach that said, "I am doing it my way, and I am praying the Lord blesses my effort," didn't really pan out well for me. It was hit-or-miss at best, with mostly misses the majority of my Christian life. Then one day, when I was at my lowest, my breaking point, something happened. I met Him, I really met Him, and in a revelatory and experiential way, I came to see the awful truth. I came to see that I had put Him in a little box, a box that had me as its owner rather than the other way around. I was in control, firmly, pitifully in control. My way wasn't going well, and frankly, I felt like I was at the end of my rope. I had tried my best, done what I thought best, and in the end, I found myself up against a wall, and losing the biggest battle of my life. I needed help. I needed a way out. I needed a new way that would lead me to see the truth, would guide me into that truth, and would provide for me a way whereby I could walk and live in that truth day in and day out. Yes, I needed to give up my control. I needed to fully surrender to Him, and I needed to trust that His way was different. In that moment in time, I came to understand is not up to me to make the plans, but rather it is up to me to follow the plans He has for me. In a turn about, I surrendered fully, accepted His way, and in doing so, my life was transformed. Now He leads, guides, and provides -- and -- I follow.
It took a long time, a really long time for me to understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I hear this bandied about a lot. People today will say "I am a follower of Jesus" rather than "I am Christian." They do it because it sounds so much more spiritual to say they "follow" Jesus than to be lumped into the large group that defines themselves as Christians. You see, the name "Christian" has a negative connotation these days. Evangelical Christian is worse, so many people, choose instead to dissociate themselves with these labels, and choose instead to say they "follow Jesus." The problem is that for many who do this, really, they are just not willing to wear the tag that fits. They don't follow Jesus; they like Jesus. They don't listen to Jesus; they consider what He has to say and then decide if what He says fits their worldview. If not, they pick and choose what they like about Him and they follow those parts. They follow Him casually, not formally. They don't attend church because churches are corrupt in their view. They may read the Bible, but again, only the parts that please them. They like some parts, but not the other parts. They consider Jesus to be a good man, a holy man, a prophet. They don't follow Him as Lord nor have they surrendered fully to Him.
There is a cost associated with followership, and most people I know who prefer the label "Jesus follower" or "Christ follower" simply do not get the whole "I will follow you with my life" part of followership. They follow Jesus like they follow some superstar on Facebook. They click the "like" button on Jesus. Yes, the follow Him, but not as He calls us to follow after Him, to be His disciple, and to lay down their lives for Him and for others. No, this is not the followership they choose to own. But, this is the followership that Jesus calls us to enter into, to join, and in doing so, we are permitted to experience intimate fellowship with Him. We become a disciple of the Master, our Lord. We learn what it means to be discipled.
The word, "follower," means "an adherent or devotee of a particular person, cause, or activity" (Dictionary.com). Merriam-Webster adds the following, which still doesn't get to the deeper meaning of the word. They state that a follower is "someone who supports and is guided by another person or by a group, religion, etc." or is "a person who likes and admires (someone or something) very much." These worldly definitions are clear, yes. They suggest that I am a follower of Jesus just like I follow TV shows such as Inspector Lewis, Downton Abbey, and Grantchester (Oh, I love a good dramas and mysteries!) In this way, I follow these shows because I like them very much. I watch for the new series to be advertised, and then I book my TV viewing so I don't miss their debut. I like these shows, the characters, the stories, etc. a lot so I follow the media to keep up with all the changes. I am a follower of PBS Mystery, so I guess you could say I wear that label. The problem is that my relationship with Jesus is so much more than simply "liking" who He is or what He stands for or what He did for me on the cross of Calvary. No, I don't like Jesus -- I love Jesus. Joyce Meyer says it this way, "When you really get the revelation of what Jesus has done for you, you don’t just love Him for it, but you fall in love with Him. You understand He is your everything and has done everything with you in mind."
In an interesting turn, in Biblical times, followership was synonymous with idol worship. However, the Old and New Testament use the word "follow" to demonstrate various characteristics of discipleship (Keefer, 2016). Discipleship, therefore, is treated differently than simply followership. "The term disciple," in Christianity, "refers to students of Jesus and is found in the New Testament only in the Gospels and Acts" (Wikipedia, 2016). Curiously, the Bible speaks often of the many followers of Jesus, yet we know that only some of these "followers" actually became disciples (Wikipedia, 2016). Thus, it is important to know what it means to be a disciple or a true follower of Jesus Christ. Biblestudytools.org has a great page that outlines the definition and Biblical importances of the word, 'follower'.
I would say that the day I became a wholly devoted "follower" of the Lord Jesus Christ, was the day I became a disciple. I made the Lord my everything, as Joyce Meyer says, and my life has been transformed as a result. I am a disciple, and with that role, comes everything that is good, blessed, and wonderful. However, there is a cost associated with discipleship, and for me that is significant. The cost associated with being a true follower means that my life is not my own anymore. I don't get to go where I choose, do the things I want to do, or even be the kind of person I think best. No, I am now under His leadership, His guidance, and as a result, I receive His blessed provision in every area of my life. My life belongs to Him now. The box I once held that attempted to put God in a neat little compartment has been shattered by the light of His glorious reality. If anyone is in a box today, it is me. I am in His glorious box, whereby He protects me and keeps me safe. I am kept by my Lord who loves me and does for me what He thinks is best. Always, His best.
I titled this blog post, "Moving On" today because I think I have crossed a threshold of sorts. You see, I was so stuck the past week, feeling like I was in "neutral," and thinking that God had me in this perpetual holding pattern. Then I received two job offers for summer work, and I realized that the plans He has for me are coming to pass. His word as revealed to me is actually taking form, taking shape, and I am receiving blessing again from His good, good hand. This means that what I believe is true, is actually true. What I think will be, seems to be. This suggests that my faith is working together with my belief in God's revealed will for my life, and as a result, the hoped for things are starting to materialize. I realize that His timing, while perfect, is not something far off anymore. It is here, it is now, and the tasks, the small steps, are all starting to appear illuminated by His glorious light. I can see my future unfolding before me, and I can see the path He has laid out for me to walk on. I am walking in the light now. I am walking where I can see the truth. What had been formerly hidden, has now been revealed. I am ready to embrace the life He has for me, and that life, is a good one. It is good, so very good.
Today, thus, I thank the Lord for His goodness toward me. I thank Him for what He has done for me, what He has allowed to come to pass in my life. While I feel overwhelmed at times, I see that He has me in His care, and that I am not alone. I am in a good place, such a good place. He has provided for me, and I am blessed, so very blessed.
In closing, I give Him all the praise for this good, good day. I give to Him all the honor, the glory and the praise for He alone is good to me. He is so very, very good to me.