Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.
– Matthew 16 [New Living Translation]
I know it’s a bit faddish – or at least that’s what I’ve been told – but I prefer being called a Christ-Follower to being called a Christian. Although there are many reasons to hold onto the typical label*, the term Christian gives off the impression that conversion and purification is something that has happened at a specific moment in time. It is as if I’ve been Jesus’ed – as if Jesus had happened, and there is nothing else to be done. A moment in time, a simple prayer, some recitation and closed eyes and it’s over. The rest is just waiting to happen.
But Jesus called his disciples to follow him. Daily. The book of Philippians instructs us that we are to follow in Jesus’ acts of humility. Jesus told his first followers to pick up their crosses of sacrifice and forget the ways that the harsh, cruel, cynical world was teaching them. The world taught them to act in bitterness, told them to love and accumulate power, to bow down before the emperor as if he was a god.
And it only makes sense to, right? After all, the king’s seat is the center of power and wealth. And if those are good things, surely those who control them are blessed by the gods, right?
Rather, Christ’s followers are to follow him in submission. We see how the God-man acted in his sacrifice – in his actions of becoming a lowly, working-class “slave”. In his
We are to follow him by turning our backs on the ways of the world and towards the things of God.
Although many Christians would agree with that assessment, I’m not sure they understand what the ways of the world are. And I’m particularly troubled that they may not understand what the ways of God are – whom God values and treasures. So though their intensity in the struggle may be commendable, the direction of their struggle can be easily misguided. We’ve gone very far, but in the wrong direction.
Jesus made it clear that his way is the way of the humble, the meek, the lame, the blind, the outcasts, the poor, the shepherds, the prostitutes, the dirty protesters, the aliens, the outsiders, the rejects, the mentally handicapped, women, people who look different than us, who sound different than us, those whose ways are strange to us…
According to Jesus and his early followers:
- We cannot worship both wealth and God in our churches – or our politics.
- We cannot consume all the world’s resources while most of the world starves and follow the same Jesus who reviled gluttony and sided with the poor. That’s gluttony. The US must repent, starting with Christians, for our consumptive culture.
- We cannot simultaneously hate Arabs and Muslims and claim to love Jesus.
- We cannot bear false witness while honoring the ten commandments. Such bold lies as when we allege that Muslims are trying to take over the Western world. Or that Sharia Law is a danger to the US Constitution. Or that Islam is a cult. No religious group that has been around for over a hundred (er, thousand) years and has over a million followers (let alone a billion) can be reasonably called a cult by any reasonable explanation.
- We cannot mock homosexuals and yet keep the two commandments (Love God, love neighbors).
- We either follow the desires of the world – fame, money, wealth, exclusion, power, gratification – or of Jesus – inclusion, healing, peace, service.
I am not suggesting that I am wonderfully following in these ways. I recognize that I let my anger and rage – often a selfish-influenced anger – get the best of me. I recognize and know my short-comings – or at least a few of them. I feel as if I’ve only crawled five miles in the general direction of Jesus. But that’s not what this is about. This is about the error, the sin, of letting the sins of the prevailing culture – the ways of the world – take precedence over the gospel of freedom and deliverance for all – including the poor, the outsiders, the aliens, the sick, the hungry, the cold, the imprisoned, the lepers…
*The sense of identification, the family, the history, the traditions, the security, etc. These are not bad in and of themselves and are in many ways a positive benefit of belonging to the universal church. In fact, in general they are good and necessary, and with a bit of soul-searching (apologizing and making up for past and present abuses, for instance) these attributes can once again be a blessing to the world and the name of Jesus. For now, however, we have some demons to exorcise.