All across our conference, this morning, pastors and churches are welcoming one another into new communities and ministries. It is something we are living into, as well, as we begin life together and enter into this new season of ministry.
I am humbled and honored to begin life with you and partner with you as we seek to follow Christ where our Lord leads. In so many ways, you have blessed us with your warm welcome and encouragement. We are excited about being in Latonia and Northern Kentucky. This is already becoming our home.
That is a welcomed blessing, especially after some difficult lessons I have learned during this most recent appointment process. One of those lessons I want to share with you, because I think it is something we may have in common.
When I was approved as a provisional elder in March, it meant that I would enter the appointment process to receive a full-time appointment. One part of the process is a time to discuss with your district superintendent about your dreams and desires. I took that to mean personally advocating for my family’s needs. I wanted to make sure Abbi and Noah were cared for in the move, especially since Abbi had just started a new job. I didn’t want to move so far away to as require her to leave this job.
My hope and expectation was that God would honor this desire. As a pastor, I am called to go where the Lord sends me to proclaim the Good News, to serve all people, and to help our congregation to reach out to serve others in love. My calling as a pastor is just one aspect of what it means, for me, to follow the Lord.
Yet, I learned there are, sadly, limits to how far I am willing to go with Christ. I wanted the terms of following Christ to be on my terms. Once there are things that I am not comfortable with or would challenge my family, then the trust level fades. Of course, in time, I would be reminded that God was there throughout the process. Through we moved a far distance from Abbi’s job, she was able to keep her position and we were blessed with an amazing church and congregation to be with. God was there and was guiding the entire process.
I mention this to you, because I believe this story is common to all of us. As much as we want to be completely dedicated to following the Lord, there are times when our devotion to Christ is tested by the things of our lives. We know that our faith can be tested by bad things, but often times our faith in God is tested by the most honorable of things and intentions of our lives. Have you ever said or thought something like this, “God, I will follow you, but can it not interfere with my work,” or “God, I will follow you, but can it wait until after I’ve put the kids to bed?,” or “God, I will follow you, but I need to focus on my health right now.”
All of these seem understandable. We can understand why someone would say each of these statements. It is also why we can understand the three people who interact with Jesus in our passage from Luke 9:57-62.
Jesus is talking with three people about being followers of the Lord. The discussion comes in the course of Jesus’ ministry and likely each of the three have seen and witnessed the power and majesty of Jesus’ words and power. When approached by Jesus to follow him they come up with what seems to be understandable excuses for more time in making the decision. One wants to make sure he has a place. Another wants to take care of family needs. The last wants to say goodbye to family and friends.
These seem like reasonable requests. We almost expect to hear Jesus say, “That’s fine. Just join us on the road to Jerusalem when you are ready.” But, Jesus doesn’t say the things we would like. Instead, Jesus challenges the three speakers and each of us to a deeper devotion. He doesn’t relent on his desire for all of us to follow Christ.
When we think of following Christ we are talking about something very specific. To follow someone means to imitate who they are and what they do. This is especially the case when it comes to following the Lord. Following Christ means we go beyond simply saying, “I believe.” It means we are saying that we believe in Christ so much that everything we do, everything we are, and everything we seek to be is defined by our relationship and love of the Lord. Our devotion to the Lord is central to who we are and involves every part of our lives, whether it is our personal life, our careers, our passions, or even our church.
To follow Christ, we must be willing to be completely committed to the Lord’s desires and will for us. That was something the three potential followers did not understand. They wanted their devotion to be on their own terms. The followers were willing to go where the Lord wanted, but only if it meant that they would be protected, provided for, and cared for in their walk. That was their expectation and if these weren’t met they were going to walk away.
They were not completely committed to following Christ. To follow Christ means we must be completely committed to the Lord. Our devotion to Christ must be the most important thing in our lives. We live in a time where we are told that other things are more important than our faith in God. Our families fight for our time. Our careers want more of us. Our ideologies and interests demand complete adherence. Yet, all those things, as good as they are, can never promise us what a life of complete devotion to the Lord offers. That is that no matter what we face, whether it is in good times or bad, God is with us and will always be there for us.
That is the cost of following Christ. When those things that we hold dear and personal to us are challenged by our faith in God, how will we proceed? The three potential followers could not face a devotion that was not on their own terms. They wanted to control the definition of their devotion. Following Christ is not about us. It is about allowing the Lord’s will and desires to become central to who we are and everything we want to be.
Everyday we make a decision of whether or not we will follow the Lord. We think of our decision to follow Christ a one-time moment, but truly is is an every day reality of whether or not we will accept what it means to follow Christ. Everyday and moment, Christ asks us to make the decision to follow him. We make the decision to follow Christ in our homes, in our jobs, as we shop, or even as we rest at home. Christ desires all of us and not just the things we want to allow to be defined by our devotion to the Lord.
What Jesus reminds us is that making the decision to follow Christ means that devotion to the Lord rises above all things. Are we willing to be totally committed to God in our families? In our jobs? In how we serve others? Are we willing to say that it is not about us, but it is about what Christ is doing in us and through us?
The cost of following Christ is that it means God must be Lord of all things and our entire life must be aligned with who Jesus is and what he desires for us. God must be the Lord of even those things we have a hard time letting God have reign over. It is not easy to follow Jesus’ words and teachings. Jesus never promised us that following would be easy. He asks us to come with him and to trust that as we learn to give our lives fully over to the Lord that Jesus will be with us, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, to guide, shape, and mold us into the person and follower the Lord desires.
That is my hope for us this morning and in this new season of life. My prayer is that everyday we seek to be people who are defined by wanting to follow the Lord in all areas of our lives. God desires us to follow the Lord’s lead in all aspects of our lives, not just in the difficult moments but also in the pleasant ones.
I want us to be known as people and a church that is committed to following the Lord in every aspect of our lives, to being dependent upon God’s desires and presence, and to being shaped by his passion for us, our church, and our community. It will be costly to fully giving ourselves over to the Lord, and completely trusting that God is active in all things. We must be willing to let go of control and say it is not about us, but Christ working in us and through us. Though the costs are high in following the Lord, my friends the fruits are worth it. The fruits are of love, hope, patience, kindness, generosity, and so many others. That is what comes out of lives that are fully committed and devoted to the Lord.