No matter my travels over the past year or so three concepts keep popping up in Christian circles: Follow Me, Call, and Gifts. These concepts are heard just about everywhere we gather. They cause great consternation for most of us. Our limited understandings dilute their purpose, mission, and intention.
Follow me is the trigger to our confusion! What does it mean to ‘follow’ Jesus? In mission circles, it’s seen as ‘conversion’ – “I’m going to follow Jesus forever!”. By the time it gets to Church, we all just assume that since we’re there, well —- duh??!! We got as far as the Sanctuary!
Call is the easy one. That’s for Pastors. “Brothers Peter has a ‘true calling’”. Rarely, rarely does our ‘Inward Journey’ speak loudly enough to us that we hear God whisper our name. Maybe that’s the problem! He should perhaps speak a little louder!
Gifts happened back in the 1960’s, didn’t they. Isn’t that that ‘speaking in tongues’ thing?
Following Jesus is the abandonment of all those comforts that hold us together – things like sensibility, routine, jobs, materialism, isolation, escapism, self-love — these being just a few. While following Jesus is the fodder of far too many sermons, it’s rarely taught. In fact, we spend far too much time talking about ‘grace’ and ‘forgiveness’ because of the very fact that following Jesus is so radical and so life-changing. If one spends anytime at all in the Urban Outposts of our communities, those who Follow Jesus to the ‘least of these’ are so few they are barely noticeable. We have to get our “feel good” fix from the closing moments of the nightly news programs in order to think — “Well “the person of the week” is there! God bless them” and on to “Wheel of Fortune”! When we truly decide to follow Jesus, we learn the wisdom of A. A.’s “Just Do Today” or “One day at a time”. It’s hard just to manage that! The spiritual battles press in. Our sensibilities are taxed and become painful in the reality of the suffering around us. One day at a time is all we can manage, until we become more strong, more confident, more sure of stepping on the heels of Jesus.
We have the sure and certain hope that God never gives up on us. He always sees our future for us. He has something in mind for all of us – not just the religious, not just Pastors, not just Church leaders. He needs all of us, and so He calls us out to an adventure that will harvest the lost, the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry, the naked. But here’s the catch. When God calls us out, he raises up a community. Now remember, Jesus had the twelve. The frustration when this happens is that we’re not used to functioning this way. There are Boards, Committees, Councils, Pastors, Constitutions, Doctrinal Discourses. Think of this. When is the last time you felt “called” to something” and dared to share it. Then you discover to your amazement that someone you know and care about felt the same thing. Suddenly one is two, two is four, four is eight. Why is that? Because God never calls us out to fail. The voice of God is best heard in community. Others – no matter how insignificant or powerless or inadequate you feel – see that possibility in you. They affirm the call. In turn the Call then affirms God in your midst!
If you feel God calling you to a specific task, mission, ministry, or life-changing direction, know too that Jehova Jira – God provides. His gifts will bless your sacrifice to Follow. There are some 85 spiritual gifts mentioned in the Scriptures. Think of Matthew 25 and the story of the talents. Everyone got at least one talent – some more than others. Spiritual gifts are the energy of Follow Me. They take us in directions we never considered possible. Spiritual gifts are not magic. They are sources of energy which as in Call are best seen, defined, and experienced in community. The members of your Christian community are going to see in you the gifts God has given you long before you do! Why is this? Because the Enemy loves doubt, insecurity, inadequacy, and shame.
It is not lost on me that Churches who are alive in ministry, who are growing in numbers, growing in their understanding of what it means to Follow, are those who are dedicated to small groups. Yes, Jesus spoke to the 5,000 a couple of times. But most of his ministry was to the 12. It’s how the Urban Outpost was born.